Why is there so much preoccupation with atmospheric CO2 concentrations and reducing anthropogenic CO2 emissions when it is well documented in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that the CO2 contribution to the overall greenhouse effect is so weak that it can be easily supplanted by small changes in clouds and water vapor, or natural climate-changing constituents?


Thursday, 24 March 2011

Under the Cloak of ‘Climate Change’: childhoods sacrificed for political gain

 'When asked to choose the 3 biggest threats to the world from a list of 9, the most common answer is terrorism, chosen by more than half (59%), followed by climate change (49%).'

Extract from the results of a BBC survey of some 329 schools, with 24,000 respondents aged 11 to 16 years, published 24 March, 2011 (hat-tip: Bishop Hill ).

So, if the survey has been well-conducted( see footnotes 1 & 2) approximately half of secondary-school children in the UK regard 'climate change' as one of the biggest threats facing the world.  How can that be, given that nothing at all unusual has happened to any weather phenomena, including air temperatures, rainfall, storminess etc, and nor to commonly associated phenomena such as polar ice extents?  The answer, of course, is clear enough: very successful lobbying and publicising of the results of computer models programmed to give CO2 a large effect as a driver of climate using positive feedbacks.  Given that CO2 levels have been rising, and are confidently expected to rise further, there is clearly the makings of a good scare story here.  However, neither the atmosphere itself nor many leading climate scientists, have been sufficiently convinced by these stories to, in the case of the atmosphere, display unusual behaviour, and in the case of the scientists, display alarm.  Yet many others are alarmed, or find it convenient to act as if they are for the sake of political and other advantages.  Finance houses, political parties, environmentalists, and development organisations have all seen substantial boosts to their incomes and/or their influence thanks to the widespread publicity given to such as the IPCC.  Many well-intentioned individuals and groups have no doubt been persuaded to 'do something' by all of this, and are even trying to get schoolchildren involved in political actions.

One such group is Norwich Education and Action for Development (NEAD), whose Windmill Project was reported upon this week in the Norwich Evening News (see cutting).  Hat-tip: Dave W.
The headline, and the activities described look innocent enough.  Since our climate has always changed and is no doubt still changing, children should be taught about it as part of their nature or geography or science studies.   Who would not want that?  The changes however are quite slow and hard to detect amidst the within-year variation, and so it is unlikely that this topic ought to be a major part of any curriculum for such a young age group.  The problem though is that they may be being misled about climate risks, and that these in turn may be scaring them, and leading them into political roles which seem utterly unsuited to their tender years.  On the NEAD site, one can find phrases such as this one:
'Most importantly, children are offered information about some of the solutions to problems related to climate change. This will give children the power to make informed decisions and allow them to move towards behavioural and attitudinal change.'

Primary school children have been visited by this group in the past.  Although their teaching materials are not available to non-members on their site, my concerns that they may be the usual alarmist stuff are not allayed by listening to this song sung and partly composed by children at a NEAD event  at a school in October last year:

'The Norfolk Flood Blues'

It is quite hard to make out all the words, but it seems to begin with stamping of feet in time to the music, while chanting
'Rain Flood Rain Flood Rain Flood Rain Flood ...'

Later on, I think I heard these phrases (please email corrections or confirmations about these!): 
'Water in my home, Water in my bed'
'It's destroying everything'
'I feel doomed.  I feel scared.'

Pictures of the children and some of the adults involved in this can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nead_dec/sets/72157625120574255/detail/

I looked up the UK Met Office site to see what weather records I could find for East Anglia, the region in which Norwich lies.  Records were available for Lowestoft, a coastal town less than 20 miles from Norwich.  I extracted monthly rainfall, monthly sunshine hours, and monthly mean maximum and mean minimum temperature values for the 30 years 1980 to 2010, and used these to produce the plots shown below.  Can you see any grounds for alarm in them?


 The pupils will have some difficulty in discerning ‘climate change’ in such a display, dominated as it is by within-year variation.  Throughout this period, CO2 levels grew, along with increasingly agitated pleas and warnings from people who ought to have known better, such as James Hansen who in 1986 was warning of mean global temperature rises of several degrees by the year 2010.  Since the computer models suggest the temperature rises will be greater away from the equatorial regions towards the poles, a naive observer might well have expected more action in the Lowestoft data by now.  Could it be that the models are also useless for predicting such things?

Mercifully, the NEAD people do not seem deranged like those who produced the film ‘No Pressure’, whereby children of non-compliant parents were portrayed as being violently destroyed,  ‘pour encourager les autres’.  I suspect that NEAD attracts many good people, but people who have been misled by the IPCC, and by others.  There are further grounds for concern about NEAD: first, is it really a charity, second, is it at risk of crossing the line re political indoctrination in schools, and third, will campaigning around climate change really help the world's poor in the long run?

The 'Fake Charities' group keeps a database of charities which it has investigated, using this guideline:

We define a Fake Charity as any organisation registered as a UK charity that derives more than 10% of its income—and/or more than £1 million—from the government, while also lobbying the government. ”

Unfortunately, NEAD fits their bill, as evidenced by information in their most recent annual report:
(1) more than 90% of their funding comes from the Department for International Development (see page 17 of the report)
(2) they seek to influence policy, e.g. on page 7:
We will also call for ACTIONS to be taken to affect policy-making agendas, encourage pupils’ political and social engagement, increase involvement with and understanding about new and marginal communities, and to demonstrate understanding of our interconnectedness and the importance of our values and perceptions.'

They are also treading on thin ice as far as the Education Acts are concerned.  These specifically make political indoctrination an offence, and they provided the basis for a legal action taken against a thinly-disguised political DVD on climate featuring the American politician Al Gore. 

Standing on actual or virtual platforms to broadcast your concern for others and demand ‘action’ does not provide any magic to prevent you, in the end, making everyone worse off, not least the very people you wished to help in the first place.  You still have a responsibility to do research and check, check, and check again with good data as opposed to good intentions, or the projections of feeble models of the climate.  I think development groups in general, and NEAD in particular, would do well to steer clear of the clamour around 'climate change due to humanity'.  They may well see some short-term advantage in it, but that will change very rapidly indeed when sufficiently many people have seen through the weak science and strong PR that underpins it.  Such as the people who contribute to this site on the topic of 'eco-imperialism'.

That would help adults work on real problems, including those of world development, and perhaps give more children a chance to enjoy their childhood without being pushed prematurely, and without anything like adequate justification, into either anxiety or political action.               

Footnote 1 (added 26th March).  The survey was not a random sampling of any kind.  From the report:
'School Report invited the 804 schools, signed up to the project in the relevant period to take part, 329 did so. There was no maximum or minimum limit to the number of children at each school that could take part. The average participation rate was 73 but figures ranged from 1 to 7841. There is no claim that those responding to the School Report Survey are representative of all 11-16 year olds because of self-selecting nature of the schools that take part and the sample of children therein. However there is some evidence that the schools taking part in School Report are broadly representative of schools across the UK and that those taking part in the Survey are representative of that group2.' 

Footnote 2 (added 27th March).  That as many as 50% of secondary-age children have this melodramatic view of climate variation has not been established by this survey, in view of the self-selection involved (by schools, and by pupils within them).  It only shows that some children in some schools have this view, although the authors of the report indicate that they find it plausible that the national figure could be somewhat similar.
Footnote 3 (added 28th March).  An opinion poll reported on today (http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2011/03/25/old-men-in-midlands-are-the-biggest-climate-sceptics-115875-23013783/): 'A poll for this week’s Climate Week also found 45% of the younger generation think climate change is man-made but only 26% of people close to retiring age agree.'.


  1. This is an excellent post, and also very worrying.

    There is a Jesuit motto ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.’ That seems be the intention here, and unfortunately, it is deeply entrenched in education in this country.

  2. “.. if the survey has been well-conducted, approximately half of secondary-school children in the UK regard 'climate change' as one of the biggest threats facing the world”.
    That’s a big “if”.
    Look at Q25 of the questionnaire reproduced on p40 of the pdf of the report. Climate Change figures top of the list, biassing the results, with “Extreme weather” as an alternative choice (chosen by 17% of respondents). Listing alternatives in a fixed order, and providing two effectively synonymous alternatives are elementary mistakes in questionnaire design. The survey is worthless.

  3. The big question is "why give children such a negative and pessimistic survey?"

    Why not something positive and upbeat ?

  4. @ Jack Hughes - If they were happy and carefree it would be very difficult to brainwash them in the desired way. Only by scaring the living daylights out of them is it certain they will pay attention, and then go on to badger their parents and other friends...

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  6. Was the survey "anonymous", a secret ballot arrangement? Or were the kids performing in public?

  7. Many thanks for all these comments. The report makes it clear several times that they do not formally claim the results to be generalisable to the whole population of relevant youngsters, but they do maintain that it is plausible that the respondents were broadly representative. Re Brian H's question, the survey was an online one, and they say 'All participants took part on the understanding that they would remain
    anonymous. It was made clear that pupils did not have to respond to any question that they did not want to answer.'

  8. Old saying of "give me a child until he's ten and I'll you the adult". Think Hitler Youth. Sieg Global Wamring!!

  9. Yeah, England, no change in trend, and it's got good company, too, here in the US of A as seen in a single quick glance, here: http://oi49.tinypic.com/rc93fa.jpg

  10. Any BBC survey will be skewed to prove what they preach. Do not believe a word they say!

  11. You do need to poke a stick at anything produced by the BBC to try to sort out what is rotten and what is right!