Friday, April 3, 2020

GWPF Newsletter: Coronavirus Lessons From the Asteroid That Didn’t Hit Earth

Pressure For Tighter Climate Goals Evaporated With COP26 Delay

In this newsletter:

1) Coronavirus Lessons From the Asteroid That Didn’t Hit Earth
Benny Peiser & Andrew Montford: The Wall Street Journal 2 April 2020

2) Deflated: Pressure For Tighter Climate Goals Evaporated With COP26 Delay
Bloomberg, 2 April 2020

3) Bandwagon Of Doom Washed Away By Tidal Wave Of Data
Andrew Montford, GWPF, 2 April 2020

4) Without Reliable Fossil Fuels The World Would Have No Chance Against Coronavirus
Daniel Markind, Forbes, 1 April 2020

5) Covid-19 And Climate Change: Asia’s Policy Choices In The Age Of ‘Crisis’
Tilak Doshi, Forbes, 2 April 2020

6) Toby Young: Dissent Over Coronavirus Research Isn’t Dangerous – But Stifling Debate Is
The Spectator, 4 April 2020

7) And Finally: Has The Coronavirus Finished Climate Hysteria? It's Too Early To Tell
No Tricks Zone, 1 April 2020

Full details:

1) Coronavirus Lessons From the Asteroid That Didn’t Hit Earth
Benny Peiser & Andrew Montford: The Wall Street Journal 2 April 2020

Scary projections based on faulty data can put policy makers under pressure to adopt draconian measures.

London: The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically demonstrated the limits of scientific modeling to predict the future. The most consequential coronavirus model, produced by a team at Imperial College London, tipped the British government, which had until then pursued a cautious strategy, into precipitate action, culminating in the lockdown under which we are all currently laboring.

With the Imperial team talking in terms of 250,000 to 510,000 deaths in the U.K. and social media aflame with demands for something to be done, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had no other option.

But last week, a team from Oxford University put forward an alternative model of how the pandemic might play out, suggesting a much less frightening future and a speedy end to the current nightmare.

How should the government know who is right? It is quite possible that both teams are wrong. Academic studies often suffer from a lack of quality control, as peer review is usually brief and cursory. In normal times this doesn’t matter much, but it’s different when studies find their way into the policy world. In the current emergency, it is vital to check that the epidemiological models have been correctly assembled and that there are no inadvertent mistakes.

Several researchers have apparently asked to see Imperial’s calculations, but Prof. Neil Ferguson, the man leading the team, has said that the computer code is 13 years old and thousands of lines of it “undocumented,” making it hard for anyone to work with, let alone take it apart to identify potential errors. He has promised that it will be published in a week or so, but in the meantime reasonable people might wonder whether something made with 13-year-old, undocumented computer code should be used to justify shutting down the economy. Meanwhile, the authors of the Oxford model have promised that their code will be published “as soon as possible.”

It isn’t only the U.K. that’s plagued by inscrutable models that describe very different futures. It’s a problem that governments around the world now face. Is there anything that can be done to make the predictions put in front of policy makers more reliable?

Peer review can’t bear reform, because there are simply too few people around with the expertise and time to do comprehensive reviews. It would be much simpler to require publicly funded academics to publish data and code as a matter of course; the possibility of competing teams checking their work might encourage development of the quality-control culture that seems lacking within the academy. It would also mean that in a crisis, when traditional academic peer review would move too slowly to be useful, a crowdsourced review process could take place.

In this way, the combined intellects of experts among the general public could be brought to bear on the problem, rapidly identifying errors and challenging assumptions. This sort of crowdsourced review would provide the manpower to take apart the abstruse models that are all too common in many academic fields. The authors of the Imperial model have argued that they don’t have time to explain to people how to get their 13-year-old computer code running. But getting computer code running is usually a problem that can be solved in a day or two when you throw enough brain power at it.

Calculations aren’t the only problem. Only a few weeks into the pandemic, we don’t have enough data to feed into the models. In particular, information about how many people are infected but remain asymptomatic is highly tentative. This means that there are a huge number of mathematical models that might explain what has happened so far, each extrapolating a very different future. New data can change predictions considerably.

Take an example from astronomy. On March 12, 1998, media around the world announced that a mile-wide asteroid was on a possible collision course with Earth in 2028. Only a day later, the global asteroid scare was over as additional observational data showed it would miss by 600,000 miles. While the initial calculations weren’t inaccurate, they were based on limited data and weren’t properly scrutinized, which made the announcement premature. A short delay while new information was collated was all it took to show that there was no risk at all.

After this scare, the international astronomical community agreed on a robust warning system based on the Torino Impact Hazard Scale, a tool for categorizing and communicating potential asteroid impact risks. Out of a scientific fiasco, a successful risk-communication tool was developed. It has since prevented many false alarms and taught the public to understand and live with the comparatively small risk of asteroid impacts. Covid-19 is no false alarm, but public health could benefit from a similar warning system, which would help governments and health officials communicate uncertainties and risks to the public.

When competing models are giving wildly different, and in some cases frightening, predictions, the pressure on governments to adopt a draconian approach can be overwhelming. But, as we are seeing, the costs of such measures are extraordinarily high. Nations cannot afford to lock down their economies every time a potentially devastating new virus emerges. Setting up an effective pandemic hazard scale would inform policy makers and the public, helping fend off media demands for “something to be done” until the right decisions can be made at the right time.

Messrs. Peiser and Montford are, respectively, director and deputy director of the Global Warming Policy Forum.

2) Deflated: Pressure For Tighter Climate Goals Evaporated With COP26 Delay
Bloomberg, 2 April 2020

Postponing the annual round of global climate talks reduces political pressure for nations to stiffen their goals to cut greenhouse gases, a major setback to the environmental movement.

The pivotal round of United Nations negotiations involving almost 200 countries was scheduled for November in Scotland and was delayed because of the coronavirus, which has triggered draconian limits on public gathering. The meeting, known as COP26, will be set for 2021.

This year’s gathering was set to take in more ambitious pledges for curtailing the fossil-fuel pollution that damages the atmosphere. Countries set out initial proposals when they negotiated the Paris Agreement in 2015 and were scheduled to update those this year. Delaying the meeting will push back that milestone. For the European Union, which is considering the most sweeping changes, the delay reduces pressure for immediate action.

“The EU is already torn between its climate ambition and the immediate need to mitigate the crisis, with the latter being the priority for many states,” said Lidia Wojtal, a Berlin-based climate expert, who has been involved in the global talks since 2007. “The postponement of COP26 may lower the expectations to quickly review EU’s 2030 target, especially that it is not likely that other countries will move forward any time soon.”

The viral crisis hit as the EU was starting to enact its ambitious Green Deal strategy to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. That program envisages dozens of measures to accelerate reductions of greenhouse-gases, including a plan to toughen the 2030 goal to a cut of 50 or even 55%. The current target is to cut discharges by 40% compared with 1990 levels.

Full story

3) Bandwagon Of Doom Washed Away By Tidal Wave Of Data
Andrew Montford, GWPF, 2 April 2020

A new paper shows that predictions of increased flood and drought are wrong

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for each degree of global warming, the amount of water vapour in the air should increase by about 6-7%. As with so many things the IPCC talks about, this small change is supposed to lead to calamity. That’s because increasing water vapour is supposed to lead to “intensification of the hydrological cycle”, in other words floods and droughts.

Demetris Koutsoyiannis, a hydrologist at the National Technical University of Athens, has taken it upon himself to undertake a major review of the scientific data to see what evidence there is for this actually happening in practice. His findings, currently up for open peer review at the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, make for uncomfortable reading for the IPCC and its fellow-travellers on the bandwagon of doom.

It seems, for example, that although relative humidity is supposed to stay constant under global warming, it is actually falling. Dew points are supposed to be increasing, but mostly they are not; in particular there appears to be little or no change in equatorial regions, where the largest share of evaporation of water from the oceans takes place. If we’re not seeing change there, then increased flooding is off the agenda.

And Koutsoyiannis finds that the amount of water vapour in the air is increasing at roughly one third of the IPCC’s predicted rate. If the rate of water vapour increase really is so low, then by the time we hit the (in)famous two-degree target for global warming, we’ll still only have experienced a 4% increase, which as Koutsoyiannis points out is negligible given the normal variability of hydrological cycles. Where are the deluges and floods going to come from?

It doesn’t end there either. There are lots of other ways in which intensification of the hydrological cycle might show up. You can measure the amount of water vapour in columns of the atmosphere. That should be increasing with global warming too, right? Koutsoyiannis finds no trend. Average rainfall across the planet should increase too – the IPCC says by 1-3% per degree of global warming. The problem with this claim is that it’s within the “noise” of normal variability anyway; no surprise then that Koutsoyiannis sees no meaningful trends in the data. The limited data on evaporation are telling the same story (or lack of one) too.

What about extremes of rainfall? Koutsoyannis reviews a variety of measures: changes in daily maxima, days with rainfall over a threshold and so on, he looks on land and he looks at sea. And he draws a blank everywhere.
As well as being an eminent scientist, Koutosoyiannis also has a deep interest in the scientific knowledge and practice of the ancient world, and this has coloured his view of the climate scare. As he says in his conclusions, the small changes that are exciting climate scientists today would not even have been discussed by ancient engineers, who would have seen them as just noise in the ever-changing patterns of hydrological cycles.

Similarly, he points out that such small changes are of no interest to those making practical decisions about flood protection and water storage. And he wonders whether, with the data refuting the climatologists’ predictions so clearly, it isn’t time that hydrologists shifted their attention away from prophecies of doom, and back onto making a real contribution to people’s lives.
You can see his point.

4) Without Reliable Fossil Fuels The World Would Have No Chance Against Coronavirus
Daniel Markind, Forbes, 1 April 2020
Without the consistent, reliable power supply of fossil fuels most societies would have no chance to fight the coronavirus. 

March 2020 will be the month the western world changed. As March began, there was relative normalcy except in China and isolated places in east Asia. By month’s end, much of the west – indeed, the entire world – was in quarantine.

Entire nations have put their lives on lockdown as we try to “socially distance” ourselves to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In these unprecedented times, the world has returned to basic truths that manifest themselves when the price of ideology is too high. One of those involves fossil fuels. In an instant, sometimes without realizing it, the world has demanded fossil fuel products, and few concerns have been raised about their carbon footprint.

First among these truths is the production of surgical masks and other protective gear. Many of the best masks are made of polypropylene, clearly a fossil fuel product. With COVID-19 raging, there has been little to no discussion of going to less effective paper masks. The paper might have less climatic impact – although fewer trees also has a carbon footprint – but almost without exception, our medical personnel have determined that their health is more important to them than the abstract potential to affect climate change. Who can blame them?

Another example is the return of plastic bags at the local supermarket. Prior to the virus hitting, many markets announced they were stopping the use of plastics bags for their groceries. That didn’t last long. It turns out, of course, that single use plastic bags are far cleaner than other bags people keep in their house, then bring to the market – carrying all the germs and viruses they’ve collected along the way with them. Now, not only are stores returning to fossil fuel based plastic bags, they are banning reusable ones from being brought in.

A third use of fossil fuels is the medicines we take. While little known outside the pharmaceutical industry, fossil fuels are the foundation for between 80% to 90% of the pharmaceuticals we use. As with surgical masks, when facing the stark reality of protecting a loved one through drugs that are carbon based or letting that loved one fend for him/herself in order to fight climate change, few choose the latter.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the use of fossil fuels, however, has been the fact that we have the consistent energy supply that we need during this time to work remotely and to take care of our sick in the hospitals. As marvelous as solar, wind, and other similar technologies are, they remain intermittent. We have yet to determine how to store and transmit power when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow. Without that consistent, reliable power supply – the overwhelming majority of which remains powered by fossil fuels – we in the west would have no chance to fight the virus.

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5) Covid-19 And Climate Change: Asia’s Policy Choices In The Age Of ‘Crisis’
Tilak Doshi, Forbes, 2 April 2020

The global focus on the Covid-19 pandemic has come at the expense of attention paid to hypothetical model-based notions of  a future “climate emergency”. Perhaps the most consequential price to be paid on the trade-off between the two policy objectives will be in Asia, the world’s most populous continent.  

The Asian continent spans a vast geographical area. The novel coronavirus emerged in the eastern part – Wuhan, China – and quickly spread to other countries within a couple of months after first reported cases in December. In Asia’s western reaches lie the Maldives, long the posterchild of the international climate change establishment which claims, among other things, that the low-lying tourist islands will be submerged as sea-levels rapidly rise with global warming.

Asian governments now face stark trade-offs, as the needs of an immediate, potentially catastrophic health crisis (and its devastating economic fallout) compete with the policy requirements of what the climate industrial complex deems as an equally threatening existential threat of “climate crisis”. As Asian policymakers grapple with immediate measures to handle the epidemic with unprecedented lockdowns of entire cities, provinces or even nationwide, they are no doubt keenly observing how their counterparts in the US and Europe are meeting this common challenge. Few if any of the developments in the West will inspire confidence.

The US Congress passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package which was signed by President Trump last Friday. But this was only after a week of partisan delay caused by the Democrats’ insistence on provisions that had little to do with handling the pandemic. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi failed in her bid to incorporate climate change provisions in the stimulus bill. In an expansive wish list, the bill included new tax credits for solar and wind energy and emissions standards for airlines by 2025 as part of the party’s Green New Deal ambitions.

To be fair, Ms Pelosi is not alone in the cynical attempt to “never let a good crisis go to waste”. Across the pond, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen doubled down on the EU’s climate commitment with a €1 trillion Green Deal. She presented the European Climate Law on March 4th, when the Wuhan virus was fast metastasizing into a global pandemic. The law, which would legally bind EU members to net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, was presented by Ms. von Leyen while flanked by none other than teenage Green icon Greta Thunberg. In an odd twist of logic, Frans Timmermans, leading the Commission’s work on the European Green Deal, said that the focus on the coronavirus pandemic “showed the need for climate laws”. In the revolutionary language of the EC’s Green Deal, all policy matters including coronavirus-related public health and economic stimulus legislation would have to be in line with net zero emissions by mid-century.

International bureaucrats have echoed these calls for stiffening the resolve to pursue climate legislation in the face of the mounting Covid-19 crisis. Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency and a prominent climate policy advocate, advised world leaders and heads of financial institutions to exploit the “historic opportunity” presented by the pandemic and “use the current situation to step up our ambition to tackle climate change.” Christiana Figueres, former head of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and architect of the Paris Agreement, tweeted “Well put @IEABirol…We have a massive crisis = opportunity on our hands. We cannot afford to waste it. Recovery must be green.”

Not surprisingly, these incessant calls for governments to finance ever-greater ambitions in emission reductions while the coronavirus pandemic imposes immediate hardships on afflicted countries have led to strong objections. One EU diplomat put it baldly: "We simply don't have the money to do everything." Another said that "Maybe it will be less on Green Deal but more on trying to restart the economies…We cannot just continue with the plans and programmes we had so far. They were developed for a world without coronavirus."

Poland’s government, never a fan of the EU’s Green ambitions, stated that the country — heavily dependent on coal-fired power generation — would not be able to achieve the EU’s climate change goals because of the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on its economy. Holland, a richer European economy at the forefront of the EU’s climate ambitions, cited the toll of the virus pandemic in announcing that no new measures will be taken to reduce emissions. Bavaria’s Chief Minister called on the federal government to provide relief from the deepening pandemic crisis by suspending carbon taxes and renewable energy subsidies which have made electricity rates in Germany among the world’s highest.

For policymakers around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a reality check, a painful reminder of what a real existential crisis looks and feels like.

Inevitably, the global focus on the Covid-19 pandemic has come at the expense of attention paid to hypothetical model-based notions of  a future “climate emergency”. Perhaps the most consequential price to be paid on the trade-off between the two policy objectives will be in Asia, the world’s most populous continent.

Japan, the world’s third largest economy and one of its richest, is the first major signatory of the Paris Agreement to submit updated plans on cutting emissions in preparation for the now-postponed November 2020 Glasgow meeting. It was widely criticised by climate campaigners for failing to intensify emission targets as called for by the ‘spirit’ of the Paris Agreement. Many an Asian policymaker will see Japan’s refusal to submit tighter emissions reduction targets in view of the Covid-19 pandemic as pragmatic and necessary.

China, the world’s second largest economy and its biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, plans a fiscal stimulus worth hundreds of billions of dollars to restore economic growth. Given the country’s economic structure as the ‘workshop of the world’, this implies the resuscitation of carbon-intensive activity, ranging from coal to oil, natural gas, petrochemicals, plastics, and refineries — and reviving jobs for the multitudes who work in automobiles, aviation, shipping, utilities, construction, agriculture, manufacturing and utilities. Hence it is no surprise that China plans to postpone automobile emission standards and “save the industry” post-Covid-19.

In the emerging countries of Asia, among the impoverished masses without access to reliable and affordable electricity systems needed to power modern medical care, the lethality of the Covid-19 pandemic can only be imagined at this stage. Vast swaths of Asia lack clean water, sanitation systems, and refrigeration for vaccines, let alone respirators and personal protective equipment for front line medical workers. These cannot be provided at scale by solar or windmill farms. The strictures against fossil fuels, as part of the liturgy of climate change belief, are egregious to the extreme when the real and immediate challenge of coping with Covid-19 faces each and every Asian today.
6) Toby Young: Dissent Over Coronavirus Research Isn’t Dangerous – But Stifling Debate Is
The Spectator, 4 April 2020

One of the paradoxes of the coronavirus crisis is that the need for public scrutiny of government policy has never been greater, but there’s less tolerance for dissent than usual.

I’m thinking in particular of the work of Professor Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial College London, which has done so much to inform the government’s decision-making. Remember, it was Professor Ferguson’s prediction last month that an extra 250,000 would die if the government didn’t impose extreme social distancing measures that led to the lockdown last week.

Anyone questioning Professor Ferguson’s analysis is likely to be met with a tsunami of opposition. Witness the furious reaction provoked by Professor Sunetra Gupta and her team at Oxford University when they published a paper suggesting half the UK’s population could already have been infected. The Financial Times printed a critical letter co-signed by a group of scientists that was reminiscent of left-wing academics denouncing one of their colleagues for dissenting from woke orthodoxy. They used the word ‘dangerous’ in their description of the Oxford research, as if merely challenging Imperial’s model would cost lives, and Professor Ferguson has made the same argument to condemn other critics of his work. ‘It is ludicrous, frankly, to suggest that the severity of this virus is comparable to seasonal flu — ludicrous and dangerous,’ he said.

But it’s only ‘dangerous’ to question his research if you take for granted that it is correct. What if the claim that 40 million people would have died if the world had carried on as normal is wrong? The Oxford modelling was criticised on the grounds that many of the assumptions made by Professor Gupta were ‘speculative’ and had no ‘empirical justification’, but the same is true of the Imperial model. The FT’s Jemima Kelly said Oxford’s research should be taken with a large dose of salt because it was ‘not yet peer reviewed’, but Imperial’s paper hasn’t been peer reviewed either. As John Ioannidis, professor in disease prevention at Stanford University, has pointed out, some of the major assumptions and estimates that are built into the Imperial model — such as the case fatality rate — ‘seem to be substantially inflated’.

A more prudent approach would be for the government not to place too much confidence in any one model, but to encourage different teams of experts to come up with predictions of their own and challenge their rivals. That’s the tried-and-tested scientific method and it has been bizarre to see respected pundits and senior politicians simultaneously argue that we should be strictly guided by ‘the science’ and that any scientist expressing dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy is behaving ‘irresponsibly’. Wasn’t that precisely the same argument used by the Chinese authorities for silencing the doctors who first raised the alarm in Wuhan? Shutting down dissent during an actual war might make sense, but in a war against a virus it is vital that we should stick to the scientific method. As Sir Karl Popper said: ‘The point is that whenever we propose a solution to a problem, we ought to try as hard as we can to overthrow our solution, rather than defend it.’

Full post

7) And Finally: Has The Coronavirus Finished Climate Hysteria? It's Too Early To Tell
No Tricks Zone, 1 April 2020

COVID-19 has not only been a nightmare for the public worldwide, but especially for “climate crisis” alarmists who have seen their agenda disappear from the media radar. And it’s going to stay off the radar for quite some time. People can take only so much panic and restriction.

Once the COVID-19 crisis subsides, and it will in a few months, the global citizenry will be in absolutely no mood to keep on panicking. They’ll want to go back to the prosperity they previously enjoyed.

“Enough sacrifice and restrictions,” they’ll be saying.

Far lower urgency

There are several reasons the climate crisis isn’t going to come back soon.

First off, it’s human nature to address only dangers that are truly present. Though many believe there’s a climate crisis, it’s one that is perceived to be years, even decades, off into the future. So there’s no sense of real urgency like the immediate sort we’ve been seeing with COVID-19. So what if sea level rises 2 feet by 2100. I can move in 30 years – long before it ever gets here!

People will be sick and tired of panic

Secondly, by the time COVID-19 passes, citizens will be sick and tired of panicking, and they aren’t going to be in the mood for a continued high level panic over something far, far less urgent. They’ll have had enough of lock downs and sacrificing and aren’t going to be very open to sacrificing for the weather.

Too many people aren’t buying the flaky climate crisis “science”

A third reason is that the climate crisis is still highly uncertain and increasingly hotly disputed. Much of the science behind it is flimsy. While it has been crystal clear that COVID-19 is urgent, especially for the elderly, the climate crisis is fraught with huge uncertainties and flaky science. Too many people just aren’t buying it. They’re going to take the let’s-wait-and-see attitude before flying off the handle again.

The media aren’t going to keep up the high panic

Fourthly, the media can’t devote the same attention to the “climate crisis” that they did to COVID-19 simply because people would just tune them out, and rightly so. Enough is enough. People will want to get back to normalcy. Who in their right mind would want to spend the rest of his life in a state of panic like the alarmists propose?

Why would people — already fatigued by the COVID-19 panic — worry about a climate doomsday when summer is finally there?

And despite all the hype surrounding Greta and Fridays for Future, a recent study by the organization Media Matters, revealed that there was only 238 minutes of climate crisis coverage by major US networks in 2019!

So after COVID-19 subsides, the networks aren’t going to keep crying doomsday. They know they’ll be tuned out totally if they do.

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The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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