The Great Global Warming Swindle
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The Great Global Warming Swindle (2007) is the Expelled of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), i.e. the go-to film for denialist propagandists. It rolls most of the popular points refuted a thousand times into a sixty minute-plus "documentary", so, if anything, it's a good watch in terms of seeing how deniers cherry-pick, distort, and fabricate "facts" in order to "debunk" climate change. Hint: It's not too different from creationist techniques.
How the film fails Climatology 101
A number of well-worn denialist talking points, interlaced with some classic rhetorical trickery, are presented as the "real science behind AGW," largely in the first half of the film. (The second half mostly consists of political cheap shots.)
- There was a period of cooling from approximately 1940-1970, but carbon dioxide (CO2) levels went up. The film uses this point both deceptively and repeatedly. The goal here is to try to lead the viewer into thinking that AGW theory only considers the correlation between CO2 and global temperature. Thousands of scientists would have to be pretty stupid to overlook this, and fortunately, they haven't. Aerosols play a major role in AGW theory, and there was a significant forcing from aerosols during this period that caused cooling. Hilariously, the ones overlooking evidence against their views here are the deniers who just totally ignore all of the literature on the period of 1940-1970.
- Solar activity accounts for current warming. This isn't so much misleading as it is flat-out wrong. Total solar activity has been declining over approximately the past 35 years. The graph presented actually stops around 1970 to… well, leave this part out. Other graphs related to solar activity employ similar cherry-picking tactics and outright fabrication of data (see Friis-Christensen's complaint below).
- Water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas. The film throws out the statistic that water vapor makes up 95+% of atmospheric green house gases and ties it into cloud feedbacks. This, of course, is true. But it's also a blatantly out-of-context statistic that says nothing about the effects of an increase in CO2, nor the relationship between CO2 and water vapor (i.e., that an increase in CO2 will increase vapor and water vapor acts more like a feedback mechanism than a driver), or that current evidence is showing a positive feedback effect for clouds.
- The models are broken because certain parts of the atmosphere aren't warming as shown by weather balloon and satellite measurements. Simply a lie. The film relies on more outdated and cherry-picked data (e.g., not adjusting for instrumental and other non-climatic artifacts in the data) to present this as "fact", ignoring the actual literature on how these measurements are taken that show warming in the troposphere as well as on the surface. This warming is often ignored by deniers because it refutes a number of proposed alternate theories to AGW, such as the "urban heat sink" effect.
- CO2 'lags' warming in the ice core records. Silly climatologists, how could they get cause and effect so mixed up? Some more willful ignorance from deniers. Why, it's almost as if they've never heard of things like the role of Milankovitch cycles (these are changes in the Earth's orbit) in initiating warming and the subsequent positive feedback in CO2 release. (Or maybe they prefer to just ignore the scientific literature, as usual.)
- The Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was much warmer than current temperatures, therefore, any current warming is natural and/or good for us. Put on your Viking helmets, it's time for another classic PRATT. The only "evidence" they give to support this is a graph of a temperature reconstruction based on reconstructions done back in 1966 and 1988. They conveniently forget to mention this fact, though. For bonus deceit points, it is sourced simply to "IPCC." The figure was, in fact, included in an IPCC report… the first one issued in 1990. The report itself even stated that the reconstruction was not global (in fact, the MWP was found to be largely an artifact of using only European proxies in later research). Not only does that not show current temperatures, it fails to take into account all the evidence since then that has shown current warming to be far and away above that of the MWP. Paleoclimatology has advanced quite a bit since 1990 and the IPCC itself no longer uses that reconstruction. Science changes over time.
- Volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans. This is another patently false talking point. They probably ripped this one off from Ian Plimer.
- Hey, remember global cooling? Science was wrong back then, so obviously it's wrong now! Some scientists did argue for "global cooling" back in the 1970s, but there never was a consensus and proponents of the hypothesis called for further research, not widespread political action. The primary hyping came from "pop science" publications. The serious scientists who did argue for it based their theory on: a) the cooling effects of ever-increasing amounts of aerosols (which, as we may recall from the "1940-1970 cooling" point above, caused significant cooling during the middle of the century), or b) the natural cycles of glaciation which would lead to an ice age in the next 20,000 years. Point a) was avoided by clean air acts reducing aerosol production (in other words, an intellectual victory for environmentalists), and point b) obviously has nothing to do with imminent global cooling. Deniers conveniently forget to mention either of these things.
- In addition to that, the majority of papers published in the 1970s (when the "cooling" phenomenon was hyped) were actually predicting warming.
We're not politicizing science... by politicizing science!
Interwoven with the first half of the film and concentrated on more closely in the second half is how the "warmists" have "politicized" the science and "hijacked" the scientific method and peer review process. This is where the green-baiting goes into overdrive.
- The film claims that the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is not composed only of scientists, but of economists, social scientists, governmental representatives, and representatives from environmentalist groups. (A shocking revelation!) Actually, not really. Anyone familiar with the basic structure of the IPCC knows that it's split into three working groups:
- Working Group 1, which is straight-up climate science;
- Working Group 2, which studies the environmental and societal impact of AGW; and
- Working Group 3, which focuses on mitigation techniques. It's not a state secret that the IPCC employs non-scientists. In fact, you can find all this on their own website.
- What the film is trying to do here is a classic denier tactic: Present the IPCC as the authority on primary climate research, then discredit it by implying that it's "heavily politicized." This strategy was heavily employed in the Leakegate affair. What they fail to mention is that the IPCC does not do original research, but is meant to reflect the overall literature in the respective climate-related fields. The point is to knock down a straw man and do a victory dance over its body.
- It's all about the funding! Global warming is a religion! The warmists have destroyed "academic freedom!" Yes, thousands of scientists and a host of national and international scientific organizations have simply ignored all the "evidence" against them, completely stonewalled "skeptics" to keep them out of peer-reviewed journals, and managed to con governments the world over into giving them more funding! Can you say conspiracy theory? Or big science? Or Evil Liberal Science Conspiracy? (Depending on your preferred mode of expressing your persecution complex.)
- AGW is a political movement — the Marxists jumped on the environmental bandwagon after the Soviet Union collapsed. The film is attempting to invoke the classic watermelon trope: "Green on the outside and red on the inside." However, the film can't seem to decide whether AGW is about greedy scientists trying to get grant money or it's just a political movement with no scientific backing. It's undeniable that political activists such as Greenpeace have seized on AGW as a rallying point. However, the political activism of environmental groups is ultimately a red herring/poison of the well meant to distract from the actual science of AGW.
- There's also something about Margaret Thatcher using AGW as a means to promote nuclear power, which led to the creation of the Hadley Center at the UK's Met Office. Because everyone knows the Met Office is the only research institute conducting research on AGW ever. The film acknowledges how stupid this theory sounds, but tries to dress it up with a "yes, but reality is often very stupid!" claim.
- Warmists want to limit the use of fossil fuels in Third World African countries, keeping them in poverty. Environmental classism! Human haters! Why do you hate African people so much?! To "prove" how much the warmists hate Africans, the film contrasts the image of scientists and climate policy wonks in a conference hall with a clinic powered by a solar panel that only provides enough power so that the doctor can switch between the lights and a refrigerator. Of course, if you think AGW is a "hoax", there is no risk of mass desertification in Africa, but if you live in reality, there is. Africa is the continent facing the highest danger if we continue our current rate of petroleum consumption. The film also fails to mention UN efforts to coordinate investment in renewable energy in Africa, the fact that environmental groups have been pushing for a carbon credit scheme to help make renewable energy competitive with fossil fuels, and that renewable energy sources like solar are sometimes more efficient because of how remote many villages are. Deniers couldn't be bothered with a two second Google search, though. This is all rather confusing, of course. AGW could, theoretically, be a front for one of these movements, but not all. AGW can't be a money-making scheme for greedy scientists and nuclear power companies, and a scheme for communists to take control of the world, and a eugenics programme to cull useless eaters in Africa.
- A sinister capitalist-communist-fascist conspiracy stretching across centuries? We eagerly await the Dan Brown novel.
- What, oil companies? Funding us? Oh, heavens no! The film contends that while those alarmist environmentalists often accuse those who "question the mainstream science of global warming" of "being paid by private industry to tell lies", this is in fact completely untrue. Stott, Ball and Calder all bluntly deny ever having received any energy industry funding, though in Ball's case this claim has been shown to be wrong. George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian that Ball has received funding from Friends of Science and the Natural Resources Stewardship Project, both of which have received tons of fossil fuel money.
The documentary includes a number of interviews with Climate Experts™. Who are they?
- John Christy: Climatologist who has done legitimate research. However, he has been given to misrepresenting others' research in spouting denialist talking points and has misrepresented his own research (in fact, some of his claims in the film are actually contrary to those he makes in some research he was involved in).
- Richard Lindzen: Atmospheric physicist, known as a "lukewarmer" and for continuously making predictions which fail.
- Patrick Michaels: Climatologist, admitted shill and notorious for falsifying data.
- Roy Spencer: Climatologist, a "lukewarmer" in the vein of Lindzen (though far more given to conspiratorial ranting and deep in the denialist camp these days). He has attempted to back up Lindzen's arguments about cloud feedbacks, and, while some of these findings are valid, both he and Lindzen have been trashed in the literature and scientific commentary for vastly overstating the implications of this research, relying on small sample sizes and local phenomena. Spencer's Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) claims are considered to be largely nonsense. Spencer is also an IDiot, which demonstrates that he is not averse to crank ideas in multiple fields.
- Syun-Ichi Akasofu: Geophysicist, founding director of the International Arctic Research Center. Publication count on pure climate science in peer-reviewed journals: 0.
- Eigil Friis-Christensen: Space physicist, later claimed the film fabricated data.
- Ian Clark: Geologist, publication count on pure climate science in peer-reviewed journals: 0.
- Paul Reiter: Medical entomologist, expert on malaria and IPCC dissenter, publication count on pure climate science in peer-reviewed journals: 0.
- Nir Shaviv: Astrophysicist, continues to put forth the debunked talking points about solar activity and cosmic rays.
- S. Fred Singer: Physicist (misrepresented as former director of the National Weather Service, he was the former director of the National Weather Satellite Service), notorious expert for hire, wrong on everything from tobacco smoking (including second-hand smoke) to the ozone layer to climate change.
- Philip Stott: Biogeographer, guess the publication count. (Hint: 0.)
- Carl Wunsch: Oceanographer, later claimed he was tricked into appearing and quote mined. Sound familiar? (His appearance is usually omitted in later runs of the film.)
Some other people
- Tim Ball: Former geography professor, misrepresented as a climatologist, naturally (also from the climatology department of the University of Winnipeg, which is quite the feat since the university never had a climatology department.) Also a creationist and general crank.
- Nigel Calder: Editor for New Scientist in the 1960s.
- Piers Corbyn: Weather "forecaster," looks like a crank, sounds like a crank, is a crank.
- Paul Driessen: Author of Eco-Imperialism, which repeats anti-environmental myths about things such as DDT.
- Nigel Lawson: Former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer and now a political nobody.
- Patrick Moore: Co-founder of Greenpeace.
- James Shikwati: Economist.
The film was first aired in 2007 on Channel 4 in the UK. While the film is hyped in denialist circles as the "antidote" to Al Gore (Naturally Christopher Monckton is promoting it in British schools.), it sparked heavy criticism from scientists. By heavy criticism, we mean a shitload.
- Both Friis-Christensen and Wunsch attacked the film for misrepresenting them and the scientific research.
- The University of Cambridge issued a debunking.
- Mike Lockwood produced another study debunking the solar cycles claim in the Royal Society's Proceedings A journal in response to further solar claims.
- The co-chair of the IPCC issued a debunking.
- Criticism from the British Antarctic Survey.
- The Office of Communications found parts of the film in violation of "due impartiality."
- The filmmaker, Martin Durkin, in an e-mail correspondence with skeptic Simon Singh who had criticized the film, called Singh a "big daft cock" and told him to "Never mind an irresponsible bit of film-making. Go and fuck yourself."
- However, the film was heartily endorsed by (who else?) Steve Milloy.
- Insert "Swindle" Joke Here, Ben Goldacre
- Don't Be Swindled, Brave New Climate
- Don't let truth stand in the way of a red-hot debunking of climate change, George Monbiot
- Pure Propaganda, Media Lens
- Stoat on the film's graphical games: Spot the Difference! More TGGWS fakery
- Climate Denial Crock of the Week episode on the film
- Tony Jones interview with Martin Durkin
- DeSmog Blog's "play-by-play"
- Commentary by Christopher Merchant
- Those silly climatologists, they missed decades of data that "refutes" their theory!
- Swindled!, Real Climate
- Wikipedia on global dimming
- Solar activity and climate: Is the sun causing global warming?, Skeptical Science
- Water Vapor Greenhouse Effect, Skeptical Science
- A Positive Outlook for Clouds, Skeptical Science
- Sherwood, Steven C, John R. Lanzante and Cathryn L. Meyer. Radiosonde Daytime Biases and Late-20th Century Warming. Science 2 September 2005: Vol. 309 no. 5740 pp. 1556-1559. Full text
- Santer, B.D., et al. Amplification of Surface Temperature Trends and Variability in the Tropical Atmosphere. Science 2 September 2005: Vol. 309 no. 5740 pp. 1551-1556. Full text
- See NASA's satellite FAQ for a shorter explanation.
- See also Skeptical Science's article on the "hot spot" talking point.
- CO2 lags, not leads, Skeptical Science
- On Past Temperatures and Anomalous Late-20th Century Warmth, Eos Vol. 84, No. 27, 8 July 2003
- Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years, National Research Council
- Jones D., Watkins A., Braganza K., and Coughlan M. (2007). Great Global Warming Swindle: A critique. Bull. Aust. Meteor. Ocean. Soc., 20(3), p.63-72
- Volcanic Gases and Climate Change Overview, USGS
- The Global Cooling Myth, Real Climate
- Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley, and John Fleck. The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Consensus. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Sep. 2008.
- IPCC Working Groups
- Desertification in Africa, USDA
- See the Desertification blog for a number of resources on this issue.
- Renewable Energy in Africa
- Why does Channel 4 seem to be waging a war against the greens?
- See Skeptical Science's Christy Crocks for more detail.
- Further detail at Roy Spencer's Greatest Blunder
- Statement by Friis-Christensen
- See Klaus-Martin Schulte and the Scientific Consensus and Could Cosmic Rays Be Causing Global Warming?
- Climate Change: An Inconvenient Truth for C4, The Independent
- Tim Ball profile at DeSmog Blog
- Please sir, Gore's Got Warming Wrong, Jonathan Leake
- Scientific Response to The Great Global Warming Swindle, Claire Parker, Univ. of Cambridge
- No sun link to climate change, BBC
- Mike Lockwood and Claus Fröhlich. Recent oppositely directed trends in solar climate forcings and the global mean surface air temperature. Proc. R. Soc. A 2007 463, 2447-2460. Full text
- Global Warming Swindle critique, John Houghton
- BAS Statement about Channel 4 programme on Global Warming
- In Breach: The Great Global Warming Swindle, Ofcom Broadcast Bulletin, Issue 114, 21 July 2008
- Durkin e-mails
- Must-See Global Warming TV, Junk "Science"