30 May 2013

Myles Allen and the Mail on Sunday

Good piece here by Joe Romm in response to the Mail on Sunday's latest tirade against climate change policy. It raises some interesting points.

Myles Allen who wrote this piece in the MoS is a respected climate scientist. He is now a professor at Oxford and not just any professor but head of the Climate Dynamics group at the university's Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department. That's about as respectable as a climate scientist can get. So why is he choosing to appear in the Mail on Sunday, which has been pursuing a relentless and highly effective campaign against the state of climate science?

In order to get Allen on board, the Mail had to make a concession, because no way was Allen going to say that climate change isn't happening at all, or that it won't be harmful. So here, for the first time in yonks, you have what amounts to a retraction by the Mail. They allow Allen to write:

Do I think we’re doomed to disastrous warming? Absolutely not. But do I think we are doomed if we persist in our current approach to climate policy?

I’m afraid the answer is yes. Subsidising wind turbines and cutting down on your own carbon footprint might mean we burn through the vast quantity of carbon contained in the planet’s fossil fuels a little slower. But it won’t make any difference if we burn it in the end.

Now quite what all those loyal Mail readers think of this statement, having been weaned on a diet of Rose, Delingpole and Booker, one can only guess at. But having momentarily spat out their cornflakes, normal service is quickly resumed because Allen then proceeds into a lengthy and mostly non-sensical diatribe about the wonders of carbon capture and storage (CCS), and the demerits of every other mitigation or low carbon generation policy you can think of.

What's bizarre is that Allen denounces the current crop of policies as ruinously expensive and hopelessly ineffective, whilst not presenting any evidence that CCS is any better. My two favourite sentences are:

Frankly, I’d rather pay an engineer in Poland to actually dispose of carbon dioxide than some Brussels eco-yuppie to trade it around.

Why Poland? Aren't we capable of burying our own CO2? Or is Poland being annexed (again) so that we can turn it into a waste dump?


If you’re using fossil carbon to drive a car or fly a plane, you just have to pay someone else to bury CO2 for you.

Like who? And where exactly are they going to bury the CO2 coming out of the exhaust of the plane I am flying in? Or is this just code for offsetting, the sort of scam run by your typical Brussells eco-yuppie?

Allen's CCS solution to the climate change problem is worthy of debate, but just because he's a noted climate scientist doesn't make his views on what we should or should not do about CO2 dumping any more important or relevant than any other reasonably informed individual. But if you are going to argue a case for CCS on a major public platform, you would do well to marshall some coherent facts and statistics, not to mention some indication of comparative costs. Now it may be that he has been heavily edited and that what he has to say makes more sense that it appears to in this article, but then again he didn't have to write this piece.

Allen may now struggle to hang onto the respect he has gleaned as a climate scientist. The article shows the dangers inherent when scientists leave their labs and cross over into areas of policy where evidence is sketchy at best. He's managed to get the Mail on Sunday to make an admission that climate change is real and potentially devastating, but in doing so he has made himself look like an idiot.


  1. Oh dear, he's really pinned his colours to the CCS mast. I hope he's right, but think it's probably a little early to say.

    I do agree with him that many or possibly most of the solutions currently on offer are too expensive and often largely ineffective (there was a good talk at the Building Centre in London last week on the gap between design and actual performance and it's shockingly wide). There needs to be a cull of the things which aren't effective so investment, development and economies of scale can work on the ones which do.

    I can also see the logic which says - politicians are never going to pull the plug on fossil fuels while they are still readily available, therefore we have to plan for that carbon and hopefully avoid it reaching the atmosphere. CCS might be the way, but weren't people talking about dropping iron fillings in the sea?

    In reality I think we will end up mitigating the effects of climate change while trying to deal with an energy crisis due to fossil fuels running out - it's only with that kind of challenge that the tough decisions will be made.

  2. AnonymousJune 11, 2013

    A bit like the shock and incredulity when Lovelock came out in favour of nuclear.