Academics Fall Out Over Climate Change

Geraint Talfan Davies reports on another blast at climatologists delivered in Cardiff last night by economist Michael Beenstock

The current row over the alleged weaknesses in the some of the arguments advanced by the International Panel on Climate Change had an echo in Cardiff last night when Professor Michael Beenstock mounted a wholesale attack on climatologists while delivering the annual lecture of Cardiff University’s Julian Hodge Institute of Applied Macro-economics.

In a talk that was a mixture of statistical argument and political polemic, Beenstock, a former UK Treasury official who is now Professor of Economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, attacked climatologists, and the International Panel on Climate Change in particular, for not being statisticians. This, he said, is what has led them to them making a ‘spurious correlation’ between greenhouse gases and global temperatures.

There is nothing like a row between different disciplines in the academic world, and there was certainly an edge to Beenstock’s lecture, entitled Global Warming: the Greenhouse Gas Illusion.

According to Beenstock climatologists are naïve data analysts and more volatile than the climate. “They don’t understand statistics,” he said. Global warming was “a fluke”. The panic about global warming was the result of a “doomwatch psychology” initiated by the Club of Rome 40 years ago. IPCC predictions are “unfounded” he declared, adding that there was “no need for carbon abatement”. The Stern report was “much ado about nothing”. It was “fortunate that Copenhagen had failed”. European carbon policy was a “white elephant”.

His argument was that data from the 20th Century does not support the greenhouse theory, but that when carbon emissions accelerate, global temperature increases temporarily, but not permanently. “Global warmers have made the simple error of confusing a temporary effect with a permanent one”.

He was asked why no-one else had spotted this fundamental statistical error. In response he referred to the “tendentious” nature of climatology, and claimed that he was “99.8 per cent” sure of his conclusions – always a dangerous contention. He said he had been attacked for his views “as a simple economist who had strayed out of his area”.

This was an altogether a more no-holds-barred, and political, performance, than Colin Robinson of Surrey University delivered at the same event in 2008, although even he spoke of the climate change lobby as a religious movement that regarded sceptics as heretics. Robinson even quoted the same 1975 Newsweek article that Beenstock cited, worrying about prevalent fears of a new ice age. Both espouse a benign view of the capacity of markets to deal with issues.

The Hodge lectures have often provided a valuable contrast to economic orthodoxy, especially valuable in social democratic Wales. But do I detect a trend in these lectures, and perhaps an orthodoxy of view within the Institute of Applied Macro-economics? Discuss.

Geraint Talfan Davies is Chair of the IWA.

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