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French president Macron challenges Trump over climate issues

Young, progressive French president Macron takes on the Trump administration and its anti-science attitudes. That is the common narrative, but isn’t the whole climate issue actually more complicated?

France has a new president - Emmanuel Macron, 39 - who says and promises all the right things and consequently won 62 per cent of the popular vote in the elections on 7 May. He appeals to all those people in France and around the world who hate Trump and everything he stands for.

Macron is  handsome, young, politically correct and has been compared - by this writer’s French friends on Facebook - to Napoleon, even though he has never held elected office and there’s more than one conspiracy floating about that he’s actually the “banksters’” candidate wrapped in the cuddly mantle of social liberalism. You know, all the right-on views about everything that appeals to social virtue signallers everywhere, but who will end up devastating French people’s job security and destroying the generous French social model. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. We’ll just have to see if he disappoints his star-struck supporters.

One of those politically correct things Macron says is his statements about combating Trump’s climate scepticism by arguing that America must stick to the Paris climate agreement signed in 2015, which was one of President Obama’s signature achievements but which Trump repeatedly has promised to repudiate.

How wonderfully simple it is for the mainstream media to present this narrative of a courageous young French leader taking on the old isolationist bigot who knows nothing about science and is in thrall to the American fossil fuel lobby. Macron even made a video, which has gone viral, where he speaks in his accented English that American scientists are welcome to seek refuge from the new anti-science climate of the Trump administration by coming to work in France, the homeland of innovation and civilisation. His supporters loved that.

If you actually take the trouble to find out, you’ll see there are things you could question about global warming and there are even more relevant things you could question about the Paris agreement.

I love sceptics and dissenters. Even if they’re wrong (and they might not always be), they force people who think they know the answer to consider and to justify their claims. What is so bad about teaching creationism in schools? I think there is the argument that it will force people to work harder to understand Darwinism, for example. If you can’t defend Darwinism against creationism, can you really be said to understand Darwinism, as opposed to believing what you are told by authorities in science, which is really no better than the believing in the authority of religion in the old days? The key thing is to understand science, logically and analytically, by yourself, and you do that by being challenged. If your opponent’s ideas are so patently absurd, shouldn’t it be all the easier to refute him?

Anyway, there was a series of interesting testimonies from climate sceptics at Senate hearings held in the United States last spring and which were given little play in the mainstream media. One, from John Christy, a climate scientist from Alabama who is quite well known, points to the discrepancy between computer model predictions of global warming and actual atmospheric satellite measurements which show a much lower degree of heating there than one would have thought from computer model predictions used by the IPCC.  

Christy further argues that the atmosphere temperature measurements are a much better gauge of warning than surface water or air temperatures which are affected by the positioning of measuring stations and all sorts of local factors. He is one of the “97 per cent of scientists who believe in global warming” – he doesn’t think global warming is a hoax and that man-made warming is affecting the Earth; only he thinks the growth of temperature is smaller than the mainstream believes and therefore that future increase in global warming is very unlikely to turn catastrophic. A recent survey of Harvard academics found they believed global warming was the leading danger to the planet, while global nuclear war was number 10 on the list. Clearly, Christy believes that thinking represents an inaccurate understanding of the true risks facing our world.

Another climate scientist, Roger Pielke, told the hearings that despite dramatic predictions of growth of bad weather events in earlier IPCC reports, America has seen very few violent hurricanes in the last 10-year period and the disaster insurance claims globally in dollar terms have actually gone down.

Yet another scientist, John Bates, retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) last year after a 40-year career as a meteorologist and as recently as 2014 won a gold medal for his efforts at preserving climate data records. He argues that a famous paper that was rushed out by the NOAA to fuel the sense of urgency at the Paris conference about accelerating global warming was actually deeply flawed.

The paper reported that the so-called climate slowdown of the early 2000s was false and seemingly negated a UNPCC report of two years of earlier showing there had been a much smaller global temperature growth in the 15 years to 2012 than in the previous 60 years: the so-called global warming pause. This finding was a key boost for the climate sceptics. The NOAA report instead found that the UN report was wrong; in actuality, warming rates were higher and not lower in the 2000 and 2014 period.

The BBC went big on the news story, but Dr Bates argues, in essence, that the findings were based on scientists erroneously (fraudulently?) giving preferential treatment to water temperatures taken in by climate measurement ships as opposed to meteorological water buoys. This is hard to understand when you think that the ships themselves are sources of heat and that this factor varies from ship to ship. whereas buoys are more reliable – although satellites, as I said earlier, are more reliable still.

Why should Trump stick to an agreement driven by compromised science findings? Anyway, it’s worth having out.

The other thing about the Paris agreement, some commentators claim, is that it’s all smoke and mirrors anyway. All countries were allowed to set their own targets and so each could just set a target that was very high – higher than the business-as-usual scenario - so that any “improvement” could be portrayed as a victory. There are no penalties for countries that bust their targets and, anyway, an MIT report has said that even supposing all these self-set targets were achieved it would only minimally move temperatures on our planet downwards.*

Is the Paris agreement anything more than a massive wool-pulling, feel-good exercise and, if so, is it not right of Trump to challenge it - especially as one of the more concrete aspects of the agreement is the cash transfers by western countries in atonement for the climate sins of past western industrialisation? Maybe there’s a moral case for that, but who or what is to say that those monies will be put to productive use and not end up wasted, as has happened with so much of the West’s aid money in the past half century?

Macron prefers to sing with the angels and the British had better watch out, as he does run Europe’s second-largest economy, after all. Britain will be on the outside of the decision-making in Europe and if it wants to export into the EU it will have to comply with the standards that Macron may become the key figure in setting.

Let’s hope he has a sense of humour about the British cartoons that show him eyeing up Angela Merkel as an attractive older woman even as she dryly lectures him about supply-side economics - a dig at Macron’s most appealing trait, his willingness to defy convention by marrying a woman 25 years older.

Incidentally, this blog post on global warming is being written in southern Sweden on a morning, in the middle of May, at sea level, when it is gently snowing outside. I have never experienced such late snow in my whole life.  

*http://news.mit.edu/2015/paris-commitments-insufficient-to-stabilize-climate-by-2100-1022

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