Somethin’ stupid…

by Gareth on May 3, 2009

Airconcover.jpgI hardly know where to begin with this book. It appears to come from another planet; it has a view of the world so far removed from the reality that most of us operate in that it’s difficult to know whether the author is misguided, malicious, or malignant. Consider the mental space occupied by someone who is willing to write, publish and promote this (p247):

What they ["wild greens"] really mean is that they want ordinary families and kids to become extinct, leaving space for the Green elite to run the planet and enjoy exclusive bird-watching excursions while feasting on the bones of six year olds who’d earlier been sold to Asian brothels.

In Air Con: The Seriously Inconvenient Truth About Global Warming, Ian Wishart appears to have held the techniques of Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels a little too close to his heart (he certainly refers to Goebbels often enough… four times in all, the first time on p16). An intense dislike of all things “green” seems to make him lose touch with any concept of good taste or accuracy in a mad rush to denigrate the green movement and environmentalists.

Wishart wants us to believe that he has reviewed the entire field of climate science, and determined that “anthropogenic global warming theory is nothing more than a propaganda stunt” (p227). “I wanted to go on a voyage of discovery about global warming and to follow the evidence where it leads, using my experience as an investigative journalist,” he says early on. Sadly, the only evidence he seems to have followed is to be found on sceptic web sites around the world. He denigrates Michael Mann and James Hansen, but accepts the “work” of Monckton (a proven faker of graphs and shameless hypocrite) at face value. There is no sign that he has attempted to actually understand the way that the climate system works, because on virtually every page he shows a misunderstanding of physical reality.

In his discussion of solar effects and why he thinks they dominate, for example, he latches onto the fact that as the planet warms out of an ice age CO2 rises lag behind the initial temperature increase. This leads him to the following amazing paragraph (p86):

So much for the popular theory that CO2 levels increase first, then warming. All of this is vital in identifying the culprit behind the current warm period. If these two studies are to be believed, then it’s conceivable that the Earth is currently heating as direct result of the sun’s warmth during the Medieval Warm Period in AD1000. Jump ahead 800 years, and the planet starts to warm up around 1850, a warming trend that continues into the present.

This statement betrays such supreme ignorance of climate basics that it brings to mind Dashiell Hammett‘s story The Golden Horseshoe, where the central character considers a sign in a seedy Tijuana bar:

“Only Genuine Pre-War American and British Whiskeys Served Here.”

I was trying to count how many lies could be found in those nine words, and had reached four, with promise of more…

In how many ways is Wishart’s speculation wrong? He clearly doesn’t understand how the climate warms out of an ice age — orbital changes trigger ice sheet melt in the northern hemisphere, which creates an albedo change as white snow and ice is replaced by dark vegetation, reinforcing the warming. Eventually there’s enough extra heat to warm the oceans and start CO2 outgassing. In other words, the oceans are not responding to heat somehow stored from an earlier period — they respond to heat as it arrives. If the Earth had been as warm as Wishart believes during the Medieval Warm Period (warmer than today, he repeatedly asserts), then the oceans would have emitted CO2 then, and an amplified warming would have taken place. Instead, the MWP was followed by a Little Ice Age. Wishart also has to ignore the isotope evidence that “modern” CO2 comes from fossil sources, and that the observed acidification (a 30% increase in H+ ions over the last century) shows that oceans are gaining, not losing CO2.

He elaborates his case by “Exposing the icons of global warming” (as he titles chapter 15). Let’s look at them in turn.

Record Arctic ice loss

It is true that the Arctic lost a lot of summer ice in the mid 2000s. It is also true that the ice grew back. The scientific studies show a trend to equilibrium between the two poles, so that while one pole is losing ice the other gains it, and there is no significant net change. [...] So far, the Arctic is failing to live up to its poster child status as proof of anthropogenic global warming.

By way of contrast, consider this paragraph from the executive summary of latest Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme report (PDF), published last month:

Since publication of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment in 2005, several indicators show further and extensive climate change at rates faster than previously anticipated. Air temperatures are increasing in the Arctic. Sea ice extent has decreased sharply, with a record low in 2007 and ice-free conditions in both the Northeast and Northwest sea passages for first time in recorded history in 2008. As ice that persists for several years (multi-year ice) is replaced by newly formed (first-year) ice, the Arctic sea-ice is becoming increasingly vulnerable to melting. Surface waters in the Arctic Ocean are warming. Permafrost is warming and, at its margins, thawing. Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere is decreasing by 1-2% per year. Glaciers are shrinking and the melt area of the Greenland Ice Cap is increasing. The treeline is moving northwards in some areas up to 3-10 meters per year, and there is increased shrub growth north of the treeline.

Looks like poster child status is confirmed.

Polar bears

The bear population is not in danger. Some small groups of bears are facing hardship for a number of reasons, but most of the world’s 25,000 bears are doing nicely, thank you.

Not according to the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group. The bears are listed as vulnerable, threatened, special concern or rare in every country in their Arctic range. They are very vulnerable to further loss of sea ice, and the polar bear experts are certain there’s only one way to ensure their survival — “longer term: reducing greenhouse gas production is the only conservation cure (last slide here).

Antarctic warming

While the North Pole has been shedding some ice, satellite measurements suggest the great southern continent has been gaining it, except for one portion — the Antarctic Peninsula and the adjacent West Antarctic ice sheet. There can be no denying that temperature readings on the peninsula show a gradual warming since the 1940s…

Some “portion”! The West Antarctic ice sheet contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 6 – 7 metres if it all melted. The satellite data (not just the single paper he cherry-picks, but the balance of all the evidence) show that Antarctica is losing ice mass overall, and suggest that the rate of loss is increasing. And that “gradual” warming on the Antarctic Peninsula is actually the fastest warming seen anywhere on the planet — a full 2.5ºC over 50 years. If that warming happened in New Zealand, it would be like moving Invercargill up to Auckland.

Modern warming is unprecedented

This is the icon that actually sinks the global warming belief system. Climate scientists and the UN’s IPCC actually misled the public by providing false information. If human-induced global warming is true, its believers should not have had to fake scientific data.

Air Con is littered with similar accusations of fakery and chicanery by leading scientists. In discussing the hockey stick controversy, for instance, Wishart draws heavily on the Wegman report, but fails to mention the National Research Council report (which was explicitly supportive of the original paper) at all. He is also very happy to demonise Michael Mann:

For a start, we should be worried about Michael Mann’s work. He was the man responsible for the now widely discredited “hockey stick” graph used in Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. He needs something to restore his credibility and continue to bolster belief in global warming. (p49)

Mann used his dodgy data to construct an even dodgier graph [...] the infamous hockey stick, it was utterly wrong… (p70)

Perhaps that’s why he puts this disclaimer at the front of the book: Criticisms of individuals in this book represent the author’s honest opinion, for reasons outlined in the text, or generally known at the time of writing. Weasel words, if ever I saw them, and no defence against the dishonest misrepresentation of individuals and their work throughout the book.

Wishart also sails very close to the wind in his interpretation of copyright. He quotes an entire 1975 Newsweek article about climate cooling, and what seems to be most of a column from the Irish newspaper the Sunday Independent (amongst others), yet the book has no acknowledgement that permission to reprint these extracts was either sought or obtained — which would be normal practice at most publishing houses.

But the planet is still heating up

Again, based on current data not true. Overall, temperatures have been on a downward slope since 1998. Between January 2007 and February 2008 global average temperatures plummeted – and I use the word advisedly – by between 0.59ºC and 0.75ºC, wiping out on paper virtually an entire century’s gains due to “global warming”.

This is just risible. Overall temperatures have been on an upward slope since 1998, and looking at the difference between one month and another tells us nothing — repeat, nothing — about annual averages or long term changes. But it does tell us rather a lot about Wishart’s agenda.

The full extent of the sun’s drop in activity isn’t expected to hit until late 2009 and into 2010, because of the thermal lag in the oceans. In other words, the cooling is likely to increase.

At least this gives us something to look forward to. Unfortunately for Wishart’s prediction, with a La Niña coming to an end, and an El Niño likely at some point in the next year or two, global temperatures are likely to rise. I wonder if his beliefs allow him a little wager?

Glacier melt

No evidence of significant glacier melt caused by human induced global warming.

Not what real experts say. There are significant and accelerating signs of glacier melt all round the world, according to the World Glacier Monitoring Service (2008 report here(PDF), p54).

The global average annual mass loss of more than half a metre water equivalent during the decade of 1996 to 2005 represents twice the ice loss of the previous decade (1986-95) and over four times the rate of the decade from 1976 to 1985.

This stuff isn’t difficult to find. If Wishart didn’t stumble on it, then his internet search skills are poor. If he did find the data, but chose to ignore it — then we can see just how far he’s prepared to go to misrepresent the truth in service of his agenda.

Sea levels are rising

Most of the ocean level rise can be accounted for through thermal expansion of the water, and that’s consistent with increased solar activity over the past century heating up the oceans. Some of the sea level rise may be attributable to tectonic shifting of the sea floor and volcanic heating, but that data was overlooked when climate scientists were constructing their computer models for the IPCC.

One possibility that Wishart fails to consider is that tectonics and volcanoes weren’t ignored and their effects are trivial. He admits to thermal expansion but does a poor job of misdirecting the reader from the key facts: that warming means more melting of land-based ice, and therefore more sea level rise. The more warming, the more rise.

Having disposed of the science, he moves on to consider why this great propaganda coup has been undertaken. Turns out it’s all the fault of an evil cabal of child-eating greens, supported by mega-rich capitalists (George Soros gets a chapter to himself) who are intent on imposing socialism on the world through the UN. So all the world’s climate scientists, save a brave few supported by the downtrodden fossil fuel companies of the world, are complicit in a global conspiracy to impose socialism and world government. With this penetrating analysis, Wishart ultimately undermines his own work. If his cavalier attitude to climate science and the facts of climate change weren’t enough to destroy any credibility he might possess, then his portrayal of a great global conspiracy manipulating the world condemns his opus to the lunatic fringe.

Not having read any Wishart before, I was expecting something racy, pacey and persuasive. Air Con is none of these things. It’s a crude mishmash of crank propaganda, wild and intemperate accusations against the people the author defines as the enemy, and displays a marked lack of any “investigation” worth the name. It’s not even well written. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but Air Con, with its back cover cover blurb by potty peer Christopher Monckton and IPCC proof-reader Vincent Gray makes a compelling case for so doing. It’s certainly not worth the money, time or trouble to read.

[Robbie & Nicole]

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

hicksville May 3, 2009 at 2:53 pm

I’m embarrassed to say that I drew cartoons for Ian’s magazine (‘Investigate’) way back at the turn of the millennium.

Back then, he seemed a mixed bag. On the one hand, he was the journalist who’d done the most work on the Winebox tax ‘avoidance’ scandal – on that, he was a little melodramatical, to say the least, but he’d certainly been effective in drawing attention to what was, after all, a genuine story.

On the other hand, ‘Investigate’ seemed to wobble between proper journalism/commentary and silly conspiracy theory stuff. Ian’s writing was kinda breathless and overexcited at the best of times.

From memory, I contributed cartoons and comic strips for about 6 months (including a caricature of Richard Prebble as a rat which I’m still kinda proud of). But by then, lack of time and a growing sense that ‘Investigate’ was veering a bit close to the wingnut category for my liking led me to quit.

Since then, Ian has become one of NZ’s most thoroughly ridiculous political voices – almost as though he set out to become our very own carbon copy of the vilest American right wing wingnuts (Ann Coulter in drag, anyone?). Unfortunately, his years as a ‘proper’ journalist have enable him to spread his increasingly bizarre polemic pretty widely, via his magazine, his books, and the blogosphere.

For the most part, I’ve tried to ignore his public stupidity, but this book is more than annoying – it’s downright dangerous. So I would like to formally state here that I am ashamed to have ever been associated with Mr. Wishart and his accursed magazine.

hicksville May 3, 2009 at 2:57 pm

(Oops… “melodramatical” is not, of course, a word. Although it does have a certain whimsical charm…)

Kiwiiano May 4, 2009 at 10:33 pm

Quoting hicksville:
“Oops… “melodramatical” is not, of course, a word….”
Well, it is now. If it’s good enough for Bill Shakespeare to invent words willy-nilly, why not you. ;^)

HORansome May 4, 2009 at 1:44 pm

I’ve read ‘The Paradise Conspiracy’ and ‘Eve’s Bite’ (due to my professional interest in Conspiracy Theories) and Wishart is one of the worst writers of his genre. Not only is he arrogant in his inaccuracy but he can’t actually write. This kind of material needs to be presented breathlessly and in an exciting fashion (so that it can appear moderately convincing; readers should have no time to get around to thinking ‘Actually, is what is being presented here true?’) and Wishart makes reading his books a chore. The man needs an editor.

samv May 4, 2009 at 4:54 pm

That’s an excellent quote. I read Wishart’s “investigation” into CFLs – largely hype based on an unrealistically low environmental mercury level in one part of NE US – and buried in the 14,000 words of drivel was an interviewer challenging him to show that the level was not plucked out of thin air, which he did not follow up on. He also completely failed to compare the levels of Mercury intake from what to me seems the most obvious other source in a typical person’s living environment – fish. No investigation of that at all. 1kg of fish can legally contain up to 1mg of Mercury and he’s worried about sub-microgram/m³ levels in the air. FAIL! See my post to him

steph June 10, 2010 at 3:49 am

Good review. I read Eve's Bite mainly because as a Dawkins/Sagan/Hitchens fan I like to read their opponents as a 'balance' (or a laugh). And the front cover was pretty good. No longer satisfied with pushing a conservative religious agenda Wishart is now plumbing the depths of the popular 'anti-science' movement a la Fox News contributors. My concern is that Wisharts and his ilk are using the slow rise in scientific illiteracy to garner popular support. I can't see this as a good thing for humanity.

Previous post:

Next post: