Refuting the climate change misconceptions of Finweek’s Stephen Mulholland

Cattle produce around 20% of greenhouse gases related to human activity

Cattle produce around 20% of greenhouse gases related to human activity

Dear Stephen,

I refer to your latest column (Finweek, August 27, subscribers only, 700MB pdf), and wish to challenge some of your contentions.

“It’s beyond belief how many events and dangers can now be laid at the door of climate change brought on by man’s emissions of noxious fumes into the atmosphere.”

I would agree, but must assume from the context that what you in fact meant was, “It’s beyond belief how many events and dangers are being laid at the door of climate change brought on by man’s emissions of noxious fumes into the atmosphere.”

If the fumes we are emitting into the atmosphere, are indeed, as you say, “noxious”, surely that’s a good reason to stop emitting them?

“emissions by cattle are greater than those of all human activity”

a) Is keeping cattle not a human activity?
b) Do you have a reference from a peer-reviewed scientific journal for this fact? (I have seen reputable references (the FAO) to cattle producing 18% of human activity related greenhouse gases, but certainly not for cattle producing over 50% of these gases, as you suggest.)

“floods are natural”

Not necessarily. Not that this directly relates to whether or not global warming is real, or if so, caused by human activity, but floods are in fact very often caused by human activity, which alters the course of rivers, changes patterns of run-off, removes mangrove swamps which protect coastlines, etc.

“But to imagine man can bend the weather to his will defies logic.”

a) Those concerned about human-induced climate change are not arguing that “man” is “bending the weather to his will”, only that human activity is affecting the environment.
b) Why does it defy logic? Are you saying that absolutely nothing that human beings could do would ever have an effect on the climate?

“Current deserts could transform into fertile areas while fertile areas could become deserts.”

Quite right. Climate change worriers like myself do not deny the existence of natural climate change, or even deny that some climate change might be “positive”. Rather, we point out that when climate changes faster than human beings can adapt, this is likely to create great human suffering. Also, that the balance of effects of climate change is highly likely to be destructive.

“This, as described in a scientific site, is what causes deserts to emerge on earth.”

a) What is the “scientific site” to which you refer?
b) You omit to mention that human activity, such as slash-and-burn agriculture, also can and does cause desertification.
c) Does the “scientific site” you are referring to specifically deny that human-induced global warming can contribute to desertification?

“Man’s activities determine atmospheric conditions”

Climate change science does not suggest that human activity “determines” atmospheric conditions, only that it increasingly influences them.

Do you agree that natural events, such as bush fires and volcanic eruptions, can have an effect on climate? They do; if you’d been alive the year after the eruption of Krakatoa, you’d probably not have been in doubt. If adding “natural pollutants” to the atmosphere affects weather/climate, surely combustion related to human activity on a suitable scale could have similar effects?

Some further questions, not immediately related to your article:

a) It seems you hold that the carbon dioxide and other warming gases currently being added to the atmosphere by human activity is not sufficient to influence global climate. Do you think that no amount of additional carbon dioxide would affect the climate? If not, at what point exactly (level of emissions) do you think we might start to see an effect, and what effects might those be?

b) The climate change scientific consensus acknowledges that there remains a vanishingly small chance (less than 10%, according to the IPCC) that we are wrong. But the measures proposed for stopping climate change (mostly doing away with fossil fuels) would increase energy security for individual countries, reduce the incidence of wars like that in Iraq, and reduce or eliminate many other forms of pollution.

Since there is but a finite supply of fossil fuels, humanity will eventually need to replace them anyway.

Given all these factors, why are you, it appears, opposed to measures that will be needed eventually anyway, but which adopted sooner rather than later can avert the risk of dangerous climate change?

At the Editors’ Briefing on climate change on August 6 (which I helped organise), you seemed to say to Ed Milliband (UK secretary of state for energy and climate change) that you consider that the risk of dangerous human-induced climate change is 50-50 (though it’s not clear where you got that figure). That’s not the IPCC’s 90% certainty (which would have been 99% but for political intervention from China), but it’s still pretty high. Why take a chance?

c) Lastly – this is hardly a scientific question, but as a matter of curiosity: how do you account for the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffett being concerned with human-induced climate change? (I refer to their qualities of being astute, highly successful, and, like yourself, generally ever willing to defy conventional wisdom.)

best regards,

David Le Page

PS Some other useful resources on these issues:

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/corporate/pressoffice/myths/index.html
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11462

About David

I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.
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2 Responses to Refuting the climate change misconceptions of Finweek’s Stephen Mulholland

  1. Marius Theunissen says:

    Did you ever receive a reply from Finweek?

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