Hear the alarm

Here’s good sceptical climate information all wrapped up in a lovely example of how to deliver it.

My good friend Bryan Leyland, engineer, sent this exchange. He gives us an admirable example of the best practicality and erudition, conjoined as only Kiwis do it, leavened with a charming humanity.

Some while ago Bryan gave an address to IPENZ (Institute of Professional Engineers NZ) members in Whangarei and one of his audience has been thinking carefully about what he said. Bryan just received a letter from this colleague, who describes himself as an environmental engineer, and Bryan replied. Below, the letter writer, with his name and details withheld to preserve his privacy, is quoted in the green text.

In his responses, Bryan listens to the anxiety and the honest intent of a person who looks like an opponent, keeps a level head and gives informed answers that address the substance of the opposing view. It’s an object lesson for us all, on both sides of the great climate divide.

I’ve lightly edited both sides of the conversation for publication, but other than that, this is how it went.

First is Bryan’s covering letter.

Dear [name withheld],

Thank you for taking the trouble to respond to my presentation.

First, let us agree on one point. Climate change is happening and I have never said it is not. Climate changes naturally. Whether there is a significant human influence, nobody is yet certain.

Kind regards,
Bryan Leyland

Now follow the enquirer’s questions and comments, alternating with Bryan’s answers.

On 1/08/2012, at 11:20 AM, [name & details withheld] wrote:

Hi Bryan,

I was listening to your speech in Whangarei a few months ago and I am still very shocked about your “shortsighted” message that climate change is not happening and that we need more nuclear energy in the world.

As I said above, climate change is happening. I didn’t say we need more nuclear energy, I merely pointed out that nuclear energy was capable of providing all the energy the world needed. I also pointed out that the dangers of nuclear power are hugely exaggerated.

Do you ever read international newspapers?

Yes, I read many of them and I’m very much up to date with what is happening in the climate change business. I have many international friends involved in this.

Do you have a long-term vision of what is happening in the world?

Yes, indeed, one of the biggest dangers to the world is that prosperous well-meaning people will restrict the availability of energy to poor people. This would be a serious tragedy.

While even the greatest scientists agree on the fact that climate change is happening!

I would like you to confirm that statement. Are you referring to the 97 scientists in a poll by Oreskes? In science, nothing is certain. In science, consensus means nothing. Most great advances in science were against the current consensus. The most important thing about being a scientist is to continue to be sceptical. In the words of my father, believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see. That is my guiding principle.

Did you ever look to what is happening in Europe in the field of solar energy? Germany has already replaced more than five nuclear power stations with solar power.

It has not replaced any nuclear stations with solar power to my knowledge. But, as a result of shutting down some nuclear stations, Germany is burning more coal. The capacity factor of solar power plants in Germany is about 9%. So you need 10,000 MW of solar to produce the same energy as 1000 MW nuclear. But even that doesn’t work, because the solar cells produce most power in the summer when it is not needed and virtually none in the winter when it is needed. The subsidies that are driving the solar power business are a serious drain on the German economy. They are now in the process of reducing them and, all over the world, solar cell companies are going broke. Solar power is not economic and it is unlikely to be so in the foreseeable future. Even if it was dirt cheap, you still have the problem of storing huge amounts of energy in the summer to use in the winter. There is no technology that can do this economically – or at all (apart, of course, from coal stockpiles and stockpiles of nuclear fuel). But, for a nomad in Mongolia, a solar cell is a wonderful thing! There is a place for them [see photo at end of post].

Prof Richard Mulller, one of the greatest scientists, has changed his mind and says that climate change is real and is created by the human race! See NYT and Guardian and other newspapers.

His paper failed peer review twice and has not been published. See http://www.rossmckitrick.com also http://thegwpf.org/opinion-pros-a-cons/6274-william-briggs-why-nobody-really-cares-about-muller-light.html.

Anyone who claims that most of the increase in temperature over the past 150 years or more is caused mainly by man-made carbon dioxide has got to be a fool. Carbon dioxide levels only rose after about 1950. Even the IPCC knows this.

His latest study was financed by Charles Koch, who normally helps fund the non-believers. 🙂

What does that prove? Does it prove that what he says is dictated primarily by where his money comes from? If that is the case, then he is no scientist.

Get real, Bryan, and stop talking nonsense to naive Kiwis that you hope to convince of your story.

I believe that I have done my homework. I will remain sceptical of everything until I have evidence that it is not nonsense. I do not believe in anybody’s opinion unless it is backed up by analysis and data that I have confidence in. I suggest you do the same.

As an engineer you should be more responsible and act more ethically.

I do not believe that it is ethical for people to be told that the world is warming when it is not. I do not believe it is ethical to support squandering huge amounts of money in a futile effort to reduce carbon dioxide concentrations when there is no solid evidence – outside of flawed computer programs – that shows that carbon dioxide causes dangerous global warming. I do not believe it is ethical to adjust temperature records to show spurious warming. See http://thegwpf.org/science-news/6275-new-study-shows-half-of-the-global-warming-in-the-usa-is-artificial.html.

Open your eyes to what is happening worldwide, like ongoing floods, fires, extreme droughts,

If you look at the data, there is no increase in droughts and floods and fires. There is certainly an increase in the amount of damage they cause because people are living in dangerous places. Under the influence of the environmentalists, Australian householders were not allowed to clear nearby trees from around their houses, so they burnt to death. The Brisbane floods were mismanaged because the government was advised there would never be any more floods. So they let people build houses in an area that was flooded even more severely in 1974. There were even bigger floods in the 1880s.

increasing food prices,

Increasing food prices are, to some extent, caused by the fact that 40% of the American corn crop is being used for biofuels. This has jacked up the price of food grain all over the world. Your friends support biofuels, even though it has been shown that they do not result in any reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared with fossil fuels.

increasing energy prices, fuel poverty,

Increasing energy prices are, to a large extent, the direct result of huge subsidies on wind and solar power. The other reason is an idiotic electricity market which, as you may recall, I am strongly against.

more diseases because of overheated oceans, etc.

The oceans are not overheating. There is nothing unusual about ocean temperatures, except that they have not increased as predicted by computer models.

and ask yourself as an engineer how you can help these millions of people.

I do everything I can to help these people. Unlike you, I have worked all over the world in developing countries. At the moment I am in Mongolia working on a hydropower station. The “environmentalists” oppose almost every development that would bring low-cost energy to the masses. It is quite disgraceful.

The planet is going through the most extremely stressful period ever and you claim nothing is happening.

The planet is behaving quite normally. The big fear I have is that we’re heading for a period of cooling like the Little Ice Age. That would cause real stress.

Instead of acting like a blind person, you should act more positively and think more about solutions instead of just denying the facts!

I spend a lot of time thinking about solutions, as you would have picked up from my address. The solutions to the energy problem are in nuclear power, shale gas and burning coal more efficiently.

Also worldwide they admit that methane is a great worry, so let’s think how New Zealand can stop producing so much of it.

Who are “they”? Methane is a short-lived gas in the atmosphere and, like carbon dioxide, there is no hard evidence that it causes dangerous global warming.

In your speech you were unfortunately showing me how New Zealanders in general think about ecology. New Zealand looks green but is NOT clean and is very short-sighted on environmental issues.

If you want to see real pollution, deforestation, desertification of otherwise good agricultural land, do as I have done and visit developing countries.

Because NZ looks green, many Kiwis refuse to accept ongoing problems because they don’t really feel it in their own backyard. But the evidence of many ecological problems is there, so we need to start thinking preventative instead of conservative!

Only rich countries can afford to look after the environment. Which, overall, New Zealand is doing very well indeed. A prosperous economy is a pre-requisite.

Below, part of the article from a Belgian newspaper about climate change. “Muller says climate change is real and the cause is the human race.”

“Professor Richard Muller van het Department of Physics aan de University of California in Berkeley, één van de meest prominente sceptici over de opwarming van de aarde en de rol van de mens daarin, heeft toegegeven dat hij fout zat. “Climate change is echt en het is de mens die ze veroorzaakt”, aldus de 68-jarige fysicus. Hij trekt die conclusies uit de resultaten van een grootscheeps onderzoek door zijn team, eentje dat nota bene gefinancierd werd door ondermeer Charles Koch, een notoire kolenmagnaat en financierder van klimaatsceptici. Muller gaf toe dat hij zelf verrast was door de uitkomst, maar “as scientists, it is our duty to let the evidence change our minds.”

He can say what he likes, but he needs to produce evidence that will stand up to review – and his paper failed peer review.

With this email I hope to start a positive debate within IPENZ and ESR about the role of engineers like you.

I hope so too. So I have sent this e-mail to IPENZ as well.

I strongly believe that we must think differently and act more responsibly towards future generations.

I think a lot about future generations and I am very worried that we will finish up poverty-stricken and unable to look after our environment.

I do not agree with your story and will do my very best to prove that you are wrong.

You are most welcome to do that. But you must produce hard evidence – not merely quote the opinions of others that are not supported by the evidence.


[name withheld]

IPENZ – ESR member
[ESR stands for Engineers for Social Responsibility]

Mongolian yurt with solar panels

Views: 62

13 Thoughts on “Hear the alarm

  1. Andy on 02/08/2012 at 8:07 pm said:

    Prof Richerd Muller, one of the greatest scientists….


  2. Doug Proctor on 03/08/2012 at 3:22 am said:

    The exchange breaks down quickly from a key philosophical position: reliance on authority vs reliance on an individual’s knowledge.

    I have done my own work and backchecking ( Max Temps in Central UK see Tallbloke’s Talkshop under my name). So I’m on the individualist side. Inevitably I became a skeptic.

    Post-normal science: as I consider the times, post-normal science is when the educated layman with access to raw data audits the conclusions of professional scientists, and publishes on the ‘net (and also professionally) the divergence he finds. Post-normal science practices are criticisms, but extremely worthwhile in an era where postulating literally controls our tax dollars and our governmental policies.

    The writer disagrees. He operates with the engineer’s bete noire: the Unique Solution Syndrome. The USS says that there is only one correct or most correct solution to any problem. There are processes and procedures for getting to this solution. Any well-trained and disciplined mind, i.e. the mind of a typical engineer, can get to this unique solution. Any other solution offered by definition is either incorrect or less correct. And can be dismissed.

    The USS means that one does not need to rework anything if a registered, i.e. recognized, technically proficient person has done the work. The USS means than this work is replicable right down to the details of every conclusion. Only incompetence, fraud or misdirection will lead to another – incorrect – solution.

  3. David on 03/08/2012 at 11:14 am said:

    Plain speaking indeed. And well said. I see David Evans has had an article published in both Stuff and in the Oz media. The usual suspects are up in arms about it calling for supression of these types of views.

    • Alexander K on 03/08/2012 at 4:41 pm said:

      David, I flicked over to Stuff and read the comments generated by David Evans’ article; one can almost feel the heat of the true believers’ ire at the temerity of Stuff’s editors for printing a well-researched paper which is also supported by established scientific principles and findings.
      It’s always worrying to witness the human urge to enjoy being irrationally scared!

  4. Alexander K on 03/08/2012 at 4:26 pm said:

    Having had my ‘threescore and ten’ and still chugging along, I have seen enough of the world to have major worries about the influence of organisations such as ESR and the appallingly unscientific ‘Union of Concerned Scientists’ which prey on well-meaning people who don’t have the habit of thinking for themselves. When I checked out the UCS a couple of years ago I discovered the only membership criteria was a functioning credit card; Anthony Watts’ (of WUWT) dog, Kenji, which looks very much like an American King Charles Spaniel, is a fully paid-up member of the UCS!
    Bryan’s responses to this particular alarmist are admirably cool, factual and rational – and incredibly patient.

  5. Flipper on 04/08/2012 at 11:24 am said:

    Monday Mirthiness – another hilarious video
    Posted on July 30, 2012by Anthony Watts
    Elmer, of Minnesotans for Global Warming famous “Hide the Decline” fame, has a keen eye for comic opportunity, much like our esteemed cartoonist, Josh. He’s produced a new video today. Normally I don’t allow videos of this type, what with the “d-word” and all, but when its about you, I think I can grant myself a pass. Have a look.
    Continue reading →
    Posted in Humor, satire|Tagged Climate Change Skeptics, global warming|16 Comments

  6. Flipper on 04/08/2012 at 11:27 am said:

    If you have not already seen the video mentioned aboveit is worth your time. “Herr Hitler” (aka Mann (?) in this context) sticks it up Hansen, Muller et al

  7. The language of the ESR Member is telling:
    “His latest study was financed by Charles Koch, who normally helps fund the non-believers. :)”

    i.e. it’s a religious thing.

    I’ve long considered myself to be an infidel as far as anthroprogenic catastrophic global warming is concerned.

    Bryan should note that what comes out of a computer is the evaluation of a hypothesis; not evidence. Evidence is a natural phenomenon that can be independently quantified (measured) in the real world using instruments.

    Bryan does make the good point which is often overlooked by those with romantic visions of nature; that Mother Nature is a heartless bitch and we must do all that we can to survive in spite of nature. Engineers are the key because they implement technologies to increase the chances of the survival of others. Well, the ethical ones do.

  8. Niff on 08/08/2012 at 4:51 pm said:

    Wonderful dialogue that demonstrates to anyone who cares to read it the fallacies, dogma, and pressurising of the environmentalist lobby on an individual level. I particularly reacted to the idea that we should be “thinking preventative rather than conservative”…stop everything, let’s go back to the middle ages, sing, dance and be merry.

    Spread this widely, don’t let weight of numbers overawe argument.

  9. My motto is “don’t believe anything, not even what you think.” Everything must be checked out and UNDERSTOOD, as well as fitted in with other knowledge. We’re living in an upside-down world where professional scientists can no longer be trusted but outsiders can; where Russian news is more reliable than that of the ‘free’ West BBC/NBC/REUTERS/ABC/etc/; where Western ‘democracies’ are the worst terrorists; where the worst culprits/warmists are found in the righteous Royal Society/AAAS/etc; where skeptics/deniers are mostly right and mainstream consensus is not.
    We’re in a DILEMMA (choice between two hells) where only education may bring clarity.
    So educate yourself about how this planet works (land, sea, air) to gain the necessary UNDERSTANDING: http://www.seafriends.org.nz/issues/global/climate.htm – a labour of love from an ‘outsider’.

  10. Plain speaking indeed. And well said. I see David Evans has had an article published in both Stuff and in the Oz media. The usual suspects are up in arms about it calling for supression of these types of views.

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