James Delingpole’s game is everyone’s loss

James Delingpole and friends aren’t interested in science, but that doesn’t stop them attacking it.

James Delingpole as he likes to be seen.

James Delingpole as he likes to be seen. PHOTO Breitbart News

It all started with some good news a fortnight ago, that a UK-based study had found the Paris “aspirational” climate goal of a 1.5C warming limit might after all be achievable.

A paper in Nature Geoscience, by an international team led by Richard Millar of Oxford and Exeter Universities, concludes that global carbon emissions for the past two decades were greater than previously estimated.

The team found that underestimating past emissions had led to discrepancies between climate models and actual temperatures. It recalibrated the global carbon budget in three separate exercises using different models, all of which yielded similar results.

The paper concludes that the amount of carbon we can still release into the air while staying below the Paris “aspirational” target of 1.5C by 2100 (0.5C warmer than at present) is more than we’d thought – about 880 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or 20-odd years of current emissions.

Based on this the team estimates that current 2030 emissions reduction targets should be about 10 per cent tougher to meet the newly-assessed carbon budget. Countries will have to continue cutting at a similar rate for 20 years beyond that if we are to remain below the 1.5C limit.

Millar and his colleagues concluded that the world needed a steady year-on-year decline to zero emissions in under 40 years, starting now. It still won’t be easy, they say, but getting warming under control is an achievable challenge.

Co-author Michael Grubb of University College London said the study had led him to revise his former view that staying below 1.5C was incompatible with democracy. He now thinks that with swift, decisive action the Paris goals are within reach.

Enter James Delingpole, a UK opinion writer who describes climate science as a false, self-serving attempt to destroy fossil fuels and wreck the economy. As is his wont, he launched yet another attack on the “climate alarmist establishment” in Breitbart News and London’s Sun newspaper.

“What [the Millar paper] effectively does is scotch probably the most damaging scientific myth of our age – the notion that man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) is causing the planet to warm at… dangerous and unprecedented speeds,” he said.

In the Melbourne Herald-Sun a day after Delingpole’s Breitbart piece, Andrew Bolt chimed in with his own critique of what he called a “landmark paper”. (They may despise “warmist scientists”, but when it suits them both Delingpole and Bolt cite their work as gospel, which is a win of sorts.)

The Millar paper, Bolt said, “now concedes the world has indeed not warmed as predicted, thanks to a slowdown in the first 15 years of this century.” He then took the opportunity to bash old climate predictions by Tim Flannery and Bob Brown, as if that had any relevance.

In their haste to condemn, Bolt and Delingpole claimed modelling for the “landmark paper” showed past research outcomes had exaggerated current and future warming. But the modelling didn’t (and couldn’t) do that because it was set up just to illustrate a research point about carbon budgeting.

Millar wrote a written response to Delingpole’s attack, published by the Guardian, pointing out that the study’s warming projections for coming decades were identical to conclusions of the 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The response indicates that Delingpole never contacted Millar or any of his colleagues involved with the research paper. He may never even have spoken to a scientist about it.

If he had explored further he might have learned what the authors were really saying, about how they reached their conclusions and how they continue to debate their work with others around the world. He might have been able to see more clearly how a lay person can get things wrong.

But that would have blurred his line of attack and spoiled his story, which is his bread and butter. What he has to say doesn’t bear any sort of objective scrutiny, but he continues to get airplay because he has a nifty turn of phrase and plenty of devoted followers.

The bottom line is that Delingpole, Bolt and their like aren’t interested in science. Their focus is the game of politics. They’re political animals through and through.

Time and reality are against them. Eventually all but the loony fringe will accept science’s assessment of climate change and regard the rise of renewables and energy storage technologies as a natural and necessary progression in the march of history.

But in the meantime these people continue to do great damage. Back in 2009 Delingpole claimed that hacked scientists’ emails revealed scientific fraud. The affair, which he called “Climategate”, saw scientists subjected to public abuse and international action held back for years. Multiple official inquiries found his charges were baseless.

False claims about good science continue to give traction to a phony public debate that can still be heard in some business and political circles. In our own federal government it has stymied effective abatement policies.

Delingpole now writes that “the scientists” (whoever they are) “owe us an apology so enormous that I doubt even a bunch of two dozen roses every day for the rest of our lives is quite enough to make amends for the damage they’ve done.”

For what, Mr Delingpole? Studying our climate and telling us and our governments about how it is changing? It’s not scientists who should apologise for damage done. It’s you.

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