Book Review: AIR CON: The Seriously Inconvenient Truth About Global Warming by Ian Wishart
LEGAL NOTICE: Criticisms of individuals in this review reflect the author’s honest opinion, for reasons outlined in the text or generally known at the time of writing.
You might think “alarmist” is a cheap shot. Aren’t I just mimicking this book’s constant use of such disparaging and emotional terms to discredit climate science and scientists? But I think I am justified. After all the author’s message is alarmist – but about the politics, not the science.
Just like Chicken Licken, who frantically told everyone who would listen the sky was falling in, Ian Wishart is raising a political “alarm.” He is frantically trying to convince everyone there is a plot to impose a “world government” on us. And the findings of climate science are just a con. An invention of a greenie, communist, capitalist cabal to foist this on an unwilling population.
This One World Government intends to redistribute wealth from the west to the developing countries and “bomb humanity back to the stone ages.” And he can prove it. He has multiple quotes (in some cases as with the “bombing back to the stone ages,” unattributed) and multiple authorities.
You have to do a bit of interpreting of the quotes. “Global issues demand global solutions” becomes a “push for a de-facto world government.” Statements in the 1994 UN Development Program’s “Human Development Report” are presented as “barely hidden references to a future world government run by the UN”
He quotes Yale University’s plans for its Climate and Energy Institute which “will provide seed grants, support graduate study, sponsor conferences and workshops, and foster interdisciplinary research spanning from basic atmosphere science to public policy.” Then he tells you what that “really means.”:
“Make no bones about it, they’re aiming to beat you down so much with terrifying bought and paid for “scientific” studies that the gray matter inside your own skull turns to mush and you simply surrender, pay the new taxes and sell your children to them for medical experiments.”
And you have to be a bit shameless to accept his authorities. Two of his chapters start with prominent, highlighted, quotes from William Jasper’s book “The United Nations Exposed” – published by the John Birch Society. This is an extreme right-wing US political group younger readers may not be aware of. Formed at the end of 1958 it accused President Dwight D. Eisenhower of being a possible “conscious, dedicated agent of the Communist Conspiracy.” In the 1960s it was in the forefront of opposition to desegregation and has always campaigned for US withdrawal from the United Nations. My generation saw it as an openly racist organisation akin to the Klan.
With friend like these ….?
A political agenda making use of science
So, that is Wishart’s agenda. And he gives the science of climate change, or at least his distortion of it, a prime role in this:
”In my view, anthropogenic global warming theory is nothing more than a propaganda stunt; manufacture the appearance of a crisis, then present the public with a solution. Climate change theory, driven by the UN IPCC, is the UN’s Trojan Horse gift to the citizens of the world.”
Oh well, I guess we have become used to people attacking science for political reasons. And perhaps we can understand those who concerned about possible economic results of legislation like New Zealand’s Emission Trading Scheme. Wishart has been happy to ally himself with political groups, such at the NZ ACT Party and the Centre for Political Research campaigning against such policies. But his particular political agenda is one of the most extreme.
So, he devotes the rest of the book to making climate science and climate scientists part of a political conspiracy fitting his agenda. He uses the “tried and true” methods of many other climate change deniers and contrarians. One could do a detailed analysis, show the mistake and distortions behind each claim. John Abraham usefully did this with one of Christopher Monckton’s speeches (see Don’t trust Monckton!). But here I will simply highlight some of the general methods Wishart uses to discredt the science and the scientists.
Weather – climate confusion
This is one we always get when a region goes through some cold weather. Wishart does admit at one point he is referring to “weather events” rather than climate trends but it doesn’t stop him quoting at length typical newspaper reports of “an unusually severe winter.” He does the old trick of claiming “the planet is cooling down” because “temperatures have dropped from their 1998 highs”. And of course “CO2 and methane emissions have surged upwards” ”proving” these have nothing to do with global temperatures!
The figure below (not from the book) shows how he tries to “hide the incline.”
At one stage he even says “Between January 2007 and Febhruary 2008, global temperatures plummeted – - wiping out on paper virtually an entire century’s gains due to ‘global warming’”
That’s an incredibly naïve confusion. Talk about ignoring the wood for the trees and comparing oranges and apples. He has confused variation at a monthly level with temperature trends measured over several decades! Again the figure shows his distortion.
Similarly when he discusses the extent of ice coverage in the Arctic ice cap he would rather stress short-term variation (especially increases in ice coverage) and ignore the long term trend (see figure below – again not from the book).
He also juggles oranges and apples with his claim that “of all the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere every year, only about 3.4% is caused by humans.” He loves to quote IPCC sources for this figure but he is comparing the “orange” of new CO2 inputs into surface pools (atmosphere, oceans, biomass) from the earth (in this case fossil fuels) with the “apple” of total emissions from these surface pools to the atmosphere (which are balanced by uptake of atmospheric CO2 into these surface pools.
The correct comparison is the fossil fuel carbon contribution from human activity (6.4 GtC/y) with that from other sources within the earth such as weathering and volcanic activity (0.2 GtC/y) (see Figure 7.3 from the IPCC Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007).
When we compare oranges with oranges we can see why the IPCC attributes the current rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 “most probably” to anthropogenic activity.
Scientific support – or otherwise.
One of the most egregious bits of distortion in this book is the attempt to claim most scientists oppose the IPCC conclusions on global warming and humanity’s role. He claims: “the numbers of scientists prepared to publicly and visibly speak out against global warming hysteria seriously outnumber those who publicly list themselves as believers.” Ignore the purple prose and the fact that petitions don’t determine scientific truths. He is claiming the overwhelming scientific support for the IPCC conclusions is a lie!
We can see some of the manipulation he uses to get this conclusion from his quoting of two polls – the Oregon Petition and the Doran and Zimmerman survey.
Wishart uncritically quotes a reference to 31,000 scientists who signed the Oregon petition. Have a look at the video which describes the fraudulent nature of this petition which, anyway, contains names of only 39 climate scientists!
On the other hand he does dig deeper to dispose of the survey conducted by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman - Examining the scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Here he searches for the most favourable (to him) figure – “18%…. don’t believe that “human activity has been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures”. But he ignores completely that 97% of those active in climate science research did accept human activity as a significant factor! Instead, he wants to place more trust in the economic geologists only 47% of whom accepted human causes – for reasons which are probably obvious (see Global warming is real – climatologists).
Playing hockey with authorities
As one might expect, Air Con presents the party line on Michael Mann (“another of the global warming religion’s high priests”) and the “hockey stick” graph (“the infamous hockey stick, it was utterly wrong,” “fake” and “widely discredited”).
I have been into this issue previously (see Climate change deniers’ tawdry manipulation of “hockey sticks”). It is not fake and is not discredited – far from it. However, here I will only add that Wishart exposes his manipulation of evidence by using the brief and non-objective Wegman report “Ad Hoc Committee Report on the “Hockey Stick” Global Climate Reconstrutions.” The blog Deep Climate is currently exposing this as politically inspired. But he completely ignores the authoritative and far more substantial report of the US National Research Council “Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the Last 2,000 Years”.
Mind you, the book’s biased use of authorities is really obvious by its preference for quotes from contrarians, non-scientific bloggers (even a commenter on a blog) and politicians as support for his scientific claims. People like Vincent Gray, Christopher Monckton, US Senator Inhofe and journalists Andrew Bolt and Christopher Brooker. Even Investigate Magazine. And well known climate change denial blogs like TBR.cc, Junk Science, Watts Up With That, and Climate Audit. And of course material from Fix News, The Heartland Institute and their climate conferences.
And the quotes! I am used to groups pushing an anti-science message such as creationists, quote mining and using excessive quotes. They will even go so far as quoting Darwin or Dawkins to disprove evolution! Have a listen to the Discovery Institute’s podcasts hosted by creationist apologist Casey Luskin. His constant use of “quote,” “close quote” is distracting. I keep wishing he would use Victor Borges “Phonetic Punctuation” method of pronouncing quote marks!
My first impression when I opened Air Con was the number of quotes. So I decided to analyse the proportion of space devoted to quotations. Seventy % of one chapter (“Unsettled Scientists”) are quotes! The book as a whole is about 43% quotes. I can understand why authors must use quotes – but why so many? To my mind excessive quoting undermines credibility.
A problem of style
I also found the book’s style tiresome. Partly because I reject the message. But I am used to books on scientific issues presenting objective information and basing conclusions on this. Here Wishart is using an approach I think of as “theological”. He starts with the conclusions and then selects, or distorts, the scientific “evidence” to support his own agenda.
Compare this with the style of the IPCC Reports, or Andy Resiinger’s book “Climate Change 101: An Educational Resource” which summarises information from the IPCC report. Even Hansen’s “Storms of My Grandchildren.” Besides being objective these later books do not resort to name-calling or slurs. Nothing like Wishart’s “lying like a flatfish,” “scientists make things up,” “numbnuts of the loony left,” “true believers,” “new anointed,” criticism of an individual as “agnostic bordering on atheist” or scientists who are “high priests” of the “global warming religion,” “the global warming gravy train,” accusing scientists of trying to “brainwash” people, describing New Scientist as a “bastion of global warming worship” which tells “outrageous fibs” which are “bogus,” and so on.
(By the way, I always find it strange how some of the theologically inclined (which includes Wishart) think that accusing their opponents of belonging to a religion is a put down. Interesting psychology there!)
I don’t expect such language and ad hominen attacks from scientific sources – and of course they do nothing to provide any credibility to the book. I found this constant derogatory tone tiresome.
A new edition
Finally, I have only seen the first edition of this book. Wishart launched a new edition in May containing extra material relating mainly to the “climategate” emails fiasco. Given the style and message of the first edition we can imagine what this extra material is like. I am not aware of any effort to correct the mistakes and distortions littering this first edition.
While this book won’t appeal to those genuinely interested in the science of climate change, or those familiar with the normal style of popular scientific writing, it will still have an audience. Unfortunately there are plenty of people who do search for material like this to support their preconceived biases. So I am sure climate change deniers and contrarians will lap it up.
If only those people would consider the moral lessons of the Chicken Little myth. Wikipedia suggests:
“it could well be a cautionary political tale: The Chicken jumps to a conclusion and whips the populace into mass hysteria, which the unscrupulous fox uses to manipulate them for his own benefit, sometimes as supper.
Another moral interpretation is that if one wishes to convince a populace of imminent doom, choose the dumbest individual and convince them that “the sky is falling”! In turn, this individual will convince others based upon the belief that more intelligent beings will be persuaded by the dumber being.”
I leave you to suggest who is the “fox” and who the “dumber being” in the Air Con fable.
But I can’t recommend the book to anyone else, except perhaps those interested in the connection between conspiracy theories, paranoia about a “one world government” and the denial of scientific issues like climate change, evolution, etc.