Rusbridger’s Balls

Alex Cull has recently published two wonderfully weird transcripts of podcasts at Guardian Environment, at and at They confirm something we’ve all suspected for years. The editor and top journalists of a major newspaper have gone stark raving mad. I do recommend anyone fascinated by the death throes of a once great newspaper to to read the transcripts, and even to listen to the original podcasts, which can be found at under the heading “Keep it in the ground”. The first one is at It recounts how Rusbridger decided to celebrate his last few months as Guardian editor-in-chief with a campaign to bring climate change to the forefront of politics. It all started, (he says) with a chance meeting with climate activist Bill McKibben in Stockholm where they’d both flown to receive prizes for their services to humanity (well-deserved in Rusbridger’s case, I may add). They dined together, and Rusbridger, who admits to “being not very good at numbers” came away from the meeting with a slogan “The oil in the soil and the coal in the hole.” (As a children’s skipping rhyme it’s not bad – on a par with: “One McKibben, two McKibben, three McKibben, four…” – as a policy for one of the world’s great powers – not so much…) As I mentioned in a comment at “Few things in life are inevitable, except death and retirement, and Rusbridger is facing the latter. The Guardian podcast claims that Rusbridger caught “climatitis” three months ago in Sweden from meeting Bill McKibben, which is an odd claim given that in Rusbridger’s 20 years as editor of the Guardian he’s published about 15,000 articles on climate change, at least 25 of which were written by McKibben. In a debate sponsored by Greenpeace in 2012 Rusbridger was already boasting about having ten or eleven full time climate journalists, each one with three or four degrees (doesn’t he know that anything over two degrees is dangerous?) and about the same time Environment editor James Randerson told the Times of India that climate change was “official Guardian policy”. So it’s a bit odd to see a podcast headlining Rusbridger’s pet project and featuring Rusbridger himself claiming that he only caught the bug in 2014. But then his journalistic project is to change the world, not to pursue the normal journalistic ends of truth and rational argument. Which brings me to a tentative hypothesis about Rusbridger and the way the entire climate debate is conducted: when you’re faced with the inexorable, anything goes.” One of the most recent Guardian articles so far (but they’re coming thick and fast, and especially thick – as two short planks – or as two Plancks short of a Quark, to be exact) at begins: “The world has much more coal, oil and gas in the ground than it can safely burn. That much is physics. Anyone studying the question with an open mind will almost certainly come to a similar conclusion: if we and our children are to have a reasonable chance of living stable and secure lives 30 or so years from now, according to one recent study 80% of the known coal reserves will have to stay underground, along with half the gas and a third of the oil reserves. If only science were enough.” Alas, science is never enough. 30 years or so from now, according to the most pessimistic forecasts of the IPCC, the world will have warmed about a degree or so. An intelligent person would observe that the world hasn’t warmed at all in the past eighteen years, and might wonder about the reliability of IPCC forecasts. But Rusbridger is not an intelligent person (he admits himself in his very first podcast that maths is not his strong point.) Still, even a very stupid person should be able to see that physics doesn’t actually have anything to say about how many tons of coal should stay underground. Physicists don’t dig coal. Chinamen do that. (And Poles and Australians, and a diminishing number of Britons.) Which brings me to my politico-psychological conclusion. British coal is being kept in the ground (and I remember an article – in the Guardian – that stated that there was enough coal in one deep mine in Leicestershire to meet Britain’s energy requirements for four centuries) because of one person – the late Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher, in her battle against the miners, taught the world a lesson of historic significance, which has been well learnt by a number of democratically elected leaders since – Putin and Netanyahu among others – that a democratically elected government can do anything it likes to stifle a popular movement. The left in Britain was castrated by Thatcher’s victory over the miners. Rusbridger is the living representative of that event. His shrill cries reverberate in our media – though his petition to keep the Pole in his hole and the African in his unlighted smoke-filled mud hut received a tenth of the signatures of the petition to bring Clarkson back on Top Gear. He is a force to be reckoned with – even singing soprano.

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Are We Downhearted?

Since deciding to renounce blogging on climate science a week ago, I see that Alex has come to a similar decision
I’ve continued to stalk at theConversation, for instance at
but also on articles about jazz
and Herodotus.
Who knows how many converts may come over when mild-mannered musicologists and classicists discover that among their (alas, rather rare) fans is a rabid denialist of climate change?
Jazz fans are only too aware of the lacunae in their knowledge due to the wanton destruction of evidence. You don’t have to be a mad mediaeval psychopath to destroy precious works of art. Think of Bill Cotton Jnr, head of light entertainment at the BBC in the seventies, who reused tapes of recordings of jazz greats like Charlie Mingus (recording tape was expensive).
Herodotus, whose belief in the existence of hairy gold digging ants has been justified by modern research
was sceptical when scepticism was justified in his eyes. For example when he rejected the obviously absurd claim that the midday sun could be seen in the north:
“He also passes on dismissive reports from Phoenician sailors that, while circumnavigating Africa, they “saw the sun on the right side while sailing westwards’. Owing to this brief mention, which is included almost as an afterthought, it has been argued that Africa was indeed circumnavigated by ancient seafarers, for this is precisely where the sun ought to have been.”
Oh dear. That shows that sceptics are sometimes wrong. Are we downhearted?

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..and Thanks for the Fish

Thanks to all commenters at my antepenultimate post for their kind words. As you can see, my final curtain call was about as final as that of any “Grande Dame du théatre”.
Three things persuaded me that I couldn’t go on like this. First, a symptom of our success is that it is impossible to comment intelligently on the climate sceptic scene at the moment without first consulting the ever-growing number of intelligent climate sceptic sites, which takes an enormous amount of time.

Secondly, as a result of my promise to act as an ambassador between the French and English-speaking sites, I found myself consulting even more sites than before. And commenting in French (which I’ve been doing on all sorts of subjects) costs me no little intellectual effort.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I find myself more and more in disagreement with the sceptical consensus, which seems to be that we’re winning the scientific argument, and we only have to wait for our opponents to acknowledge the fact and roll over and die. Unlike many of the hard scientists and engineers in the sceptic camp, I believe in the importance (and validity) of the social sciences. Society moves in mysterious ways, and they’re not always rational.

Catweazle’s comment above can serve as an example of what I mean. I feel honoured to have readers like Catweazle, who is obviously infinitely more intelligent than Cameron, Hollande, or Obama. But intelligence butters no parsnips when the planet is in danger.
And of course, the ecological danger facing the planet tends to obscure certain other things happening. Has anyone noticed that one European democracy (Russia) has just invaded another European democracy (Ukraine)? (Putin, like it or not, was elected). Remember Fukuyama and the End of History?

Has anyone noticed that two thousand bonkers bandits just routed the 200,000 strong Iraqi army last June, while everyone was watching the football? The only journalist to my knowledge to give a rational explanation of events in Iraq is the Independent’s Patrick Cockburn. His father Claud Cockburn edited a communist scandal sheet in the thirties, and was resurrected by Private Eye in the seventies. His brother, the recently deceased Alexander Cockburn, was one of the founders of the American leftwing blog Counterpunch, who dared to defy the global warming consensus in a number of articles, before being silenced by George Monbiot.

Which brings me to a fourth reason why I’m going to have less time for blogging. I’ve taken to political activism for the first time in several decades, and I’ll be campaigning for our local communist candidate in the coming weeks in the election for the “Conseils Générals” (= County Councils).

The communists locally have allied themselves with the socialists, but not with the Greens. Our département (= county) has been socialist for 16 years, providing a county-wide bus service for a flat fare of one euro, and a wide range of financing for the handicapped, the young unemployed, etc. It’s a toss up whether the département gets taken over by the right (which has already taken over two thirds of the département’s communes, privatising and selling off all they can to their wives, concubines and associates) or by the far right – the Front National, whose President Jean Marie le Pen used to boast about having torturing Arabs, until it became a crime, whereupon he claimed he’d been lying and denied having tortured Arabs.

But there’s a fifth reason. I used to be an illustrator, drawing polar bears for children’s comics (oh the irony), images of Christ, Buddha and various Hindu Gods (and, dare I say it, Muhammad?) for school text books on religious instruction, and even the odd (and I mean odd) illustration for gay contact magazines.

I’ve got this ambition to illustrate the Orlando Furioso of Ludovico Ariosto, and even the Orlando Innamorato of Matteo Boiardo. Others have done it before me, (and by others I mean Fragonard, Gustave Doré and Fabrizio Clerici, not to mention Rubens and Delacroix) but no one’s got it quite right. There’s an 80-year-old guy in Marseille who’s had a good try, a couple of twins in California who’ve done some wonderful stuff, and a German lady into bondage at who’s got to the heart of the problem with some witty collages. I’ve got a lot of ideas on the subject, and I really think I can do better than any of them.

The Orlando epic starts In the corner of the south of France where I happen to live, where (according to the Orlando epics) Charlemagne’s paladins fought the son of the Emperor of China, and lost.

In the local university where I used to teach there are two thousand Chinese students who are way ahead of the local French students in terms of motivation and in terms of their level of English. One of them recently murdered the secretary of the sociology department, who happened to be the mother of a student he fancied. He is currently interned in a psychiatric hospital in France. The university invited us to provide any evidence we might have as to his psychological state. I didn’t reply. His English is excellent. He told me he wanted to go to Paris to see the tennis at the Paris Open. My evidence as to his evident intelligence and sanity could have led to him being repatriated and executed.

It’s also the corner of France where a half a million Spanish anarchists arrived in 1939 in what Nancy Mitford described in her comic novel “the Pursuit of Love” as “the greatest displacement of population in history” (There have been greater since) and where they were interned in concentration camps. It’s also where the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado and the great German communist journalist Walter Benjamin both died within months of each other, one having escaped from Spain, the other having tried in vain to escape there.

Ariosto’s Orlando epic moves swiftly from the south of France to St Andrew’s in Scotland (where my daughter did her Erasmus year) before circumnavigating the globe (several years before Magellan) moving on to the Moon and back, via Japan, the Middle East and Africa.

It’s taken me a certain effort to understand sixteenth century Italian, especially the Padano dialect of Matteo Baiardo. Believe me, it’s much more difficult, (and more interesting) than the temperature records of this or that 12’X12′ squared portion of the globe. Things happened in 16th century Europe. (Macchiavelli, Erasmus.. and then there was Giordano Bruno, who wrote to his friend, our own Sir Philip Sidney, warning him of the whiles of women, before being burned at the stake for heresy…)

It’s possible (although we’ll never know for certain) that word came to the tiny state of Ferrara of Columbus’s voyages, as well of who-knows-what voyage to the East via Venice. Whatever, it’s sure that the delicious JanThor and her images from Japanese porn sites have more to tell us about the mindset of Renaissance courtiers like Boiardo and Ariosto than the witterings of academics in a hundred Italian Literature departments.

Do enjoy the images of the very fit Jan Thor, and of the Californian brothers whose names escape me. Go to the National Gallery and appreciate their collection of paintings of the Ferrarese school – the best outside Italy. And expect something soon from me on WordPress.

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‘Allo ‘Allo

Hello again. Just to let you know about the launch of an “Association Francophone des Climato-Optimistes” (AFCO). You can read about it at
and their manifesto is at
Membership costs 50 euros, which I find a bit steep. The founder is one Christian Gerondeau, author of “Écologie, la grande arnaque” (Ecology – the Big Scam) and “CO2: un mythe planétaire”. As President Chirac’s “Monsieur Sécurité” he reduced road deaths from third world levels to a level comparable to that of the UK. As a defender of nuclear power and the automobile industry, he’s treated in the media as a cross between Jeremy Clarkson and Matt Ridley. That’s what you get for saving thousands of French lives.
I’ll keep you updated on developments.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Meanwhile our President Hollande is currently in the Philippines drumming up support for the Paris Conference on the Climate. He gave a speech in which he attributed the recent typhoon which caused 4,000 deaths (and which he correctly identified as a “catastrophe naturelle”) to global warming (or “dérèglement climatique”) citing the IPCC as his authority. He took two actresses with him, which does seem rather daring considering there are important local elections in three weeks’ time in which the socialists are expected to be wiped out. Is this his message to the electors? “Hey guys! Remember me? I’m the socialist president, the one who visits actresses at 2am on a moped. And I’ve got two of them here with me”.
I caught a political chat programme this evening on which a Green senator claimed that there were 1.2 million climate refugees in Syria, and that 60% of current conflicts in the world were due to global warming. The other participants – people with intelligent things to say about Sunnis, Shiites, Ukrainians and Russians, didn’t contradict her. How could they? It would be like disputing the interpretation of the Koran with an Imam.
One guy (a blog owner who’s become a frequent participant in TV discussions (Montford where art thou?) did say something interesting. One of the actresses accompanying Hollande to sell the catastrophic global warming message apparently believes that the 9/11 attack was a conspiracy. She also believes that the moon landing was a hoax. Should we tell Lew?

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Goodbye to All That

I intend to give this blog a rest for several months. I may be back before the Paris conference in December. (I may be back tomorrow if something gets me going, but that’s not my intention). I may drop the whole thing, in which case I’ll let you know.
I’m extremely depressed by the way the debate over the science of climate change has developed. I’ve never been more than a footblogger in the climate wars, though sometimes, accidentally, I’ve found myself in the thick of the combat. Despite the title of this post, I identify more with the Good Soldier Schweik than with Lt. Robert Graves, though unlike Schweik, I care about the outcome.
Robert Graves, after writing his account of the trench warfare in 1914-18 from which I borrowed the title for this post, had the luck to return to sanity and study classics under T.E. Lawrence. I won’t have such luck, though I hope to return to sanity and read a lot of history and social science and poetry. I may even take up Lewis Deane’s suggestion in a comment at
and read Hugh Kenner on Ezra Pound. [I found the comment when I came back to this blog for the first time in a fortnight and found that was one of the articles people had been looking at. Which brings me to another reason for stopping blogging:- I forget what I’ve written, even a year ago.]
But the main reason is that I’m depressed because I see no evidence of a positive outcome for climate scepticism. As the consensus hardens and the possibilities for rational debate are reduced, we sceptics are becoming less and less relevant. At the same time, the majority of sceptic blogs become more and more confident, as they see that the global surface temperatures are refusing to rise in line with model predictions and that the sceptical argument is being confirmed in numerous scientific papers, and sceptical blogs are becoming more numerous, and more popular, with more and more adherents in the comment columns of WattsUpWithThat and BishopHill.
But the debate has ceased to exist where it counts – in the mainstream media. In 2007, when my interest began, Lindzen or Lomborg could still be cited in the pages of the Independent or the Guardian. Since then a conscious decision has been taken to “move on” from debating the science to debating what to do, or rather how fast and how expensively to do it, and to leave us sceptics (that is, rational human beings with a respect for the principles of scientific enquiry and rational debate) by the wayside.
And the manner of debating has changed radically; witness the BlueCloud affair, as described at
A Guardian commenter (and one time contributor) posted comments at that once respected liberal newspaper joking about beheading Mat Ridley, a British politician, journalist, and “lukewarmer”, and suggesting that his death would be no loss. The Guardian moderators (who banned me long ago, along with almost all rational sceptics) took two days to remove his comments which were a clear incitement to murder. The Guardian has since apologised – sort of.
Incitements to behead members of parliament are rare these days. [For the benefit of colonials, Ridley is a Viscount, and because his father has died, he’s eligible for election by his peers to our Upper House according to the revolutionary new rules for choosing our rulers. Personally, as an unrepentant Old Leftist, I prefer this system of hereditary aristocrats choosing the least senile amongst their number to the modern system of members of the Upper House being nominated directly by party leaders, a system which has led to the teenage Baroness Worthington of Friends of the Earth being appointed a
lifelong legislator of the world’s oldest democracy on the basis of her fervent belief in the non-existent warming of the planet. But that’s just me. End of digression].
I’m depressed by the level of debate, which hasn’t progressed in the years I’ve been following it. I’m depressed by the willingness of the best of the British bloggers to waste their time on the debate on name-calling – e.g. Andrew Montford, Paul Matthews and Kevin Marshall at
and Ben Pile at
But there are positive signs. Besides the big blogs (CA, WUWT, BH, JoNova, Donna) and old hands like Ben and Hilary, there are dozens of unmissable new blogs on the block (you know who I mean) and some dormant volcanoes like Maurizio at Omnologos and Tony Newbery at Harmless Sky are showing renewed signs of activity.
One of my reasons for taking a sabbatical is the proliferation of new blogs, which is a great encouragement, but means that a growing part of any blogger’s time is taken up with following what other bloggers are up to. It’s encouraging to see Paul Homewood’s revelations about temperature revisionism and Paul Matthews’ perr-reviewed article about the nature of sceptics making waves. As one minor thread in the seamless web of things, I feel I can safely tie a knot in it without the great tapestry of climate scepticism unravelling.
So – with a warp and a woof – I’m off.

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Mortality and Climate Change

It’s commonplace to observe that climate catastrophism has many of the characteristics of an apocalyptic religion or doomsday cult. I’ve noted the weirdness of the authors of the Macmillan / Rapley epic “2071” – how Macmillan began an interview by stating that the world would be a better place if he had never been born, and how Rapley chose as the title the date at which his granddaughter would be the age he is now. I’m about the same age as Rapley and I know the funny things intimations of mortality can do to the mind. But all the same, you can’t help feeling these guys should be running an oddball cult on a mountain top somewhere, not influencing the energy policy of the planet.

There’s an article at  

which illustrates perfectly how climate change can become integrated into the innermost psychology of an intelligent educated person, affecting every aspect of their behaviour. For obvious reasons I refrained from commenting there. Instead I read it carefully several times, thinking about the mechanism by which so many Greek-educated citizens of the Roman Empire adopted the obscure religion of a sub-sect of an oppressed and despised race – a religion that overnight became the official creed of half the civilised world.

Once you’ve transformed a hypothesis about future temperature rise into an intimate part of your personality in this way, it’s easy to see how mere facts are not going to make a difference. I reproduce the article in full. Please be respectful in comments.

Live long, die green and leave a biodegradable corpse

by Robert John Young Professor of Wildlife Conservation at University of Salford

My mother died recently and at the funeral home I was asked if I had any ideas what kind of coffin she would like. For some reason I said something environmentally friendly. These words came out of my mouth more out of nervousness than anything previously discussed with my mother. Duly the undertaker showed us a catalogue of wicker coffins and we chose one made of banana leaves.

I often think of my carbon footprint – I have not owned a car in more than 15 years, for example – but I had never thought about my “green obligations” in death.

My mother may not have requested an environmentally friendly coffin, but she did state she wished to be cremated. Due to the lack of space in the UK around 80% of people request cremation – and if we think about green space being at a premium this makes ecological sense.

However the energy required to cremate a single person is equal to the energy they would use in a month if they were alive. In the UK this translates to a yearly energy consumption of a town of 16,000 people. In Asian countries where cremation is very popular there is considerable interest in using solar power to reduce such energy consumption.

Another problem with cremation is air pollution, which obviously depends on the filtering system being employed. Until recent times cremations were one of the major sources of mercury pollution in the UK due to the amalgam fillings in people’s teeth. A group of environmental NGOs recently called on the EU to curb mercury emissions from human cremation. Furthermore, the clothes worn and use of embalming fluids may also increase air pollution.

Humans have buried their dead for at least 100,000 years. Therefore, not wishing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, I looked into different burial options. A woodland burial initially appealed to me. However, I would only really approve of this if it resulted in the maintenance of a high-quality conservation area and wildlife refuge. And I wonder if it became popular enough if it could result in major reforestation of the UK. But bodies would still be rotting in the ground releasing globally warming methane gas.

Surely, there must be greener options than a standard burial or cremation? Coming from a family of fishermen I thought about burial at sea, as the fish could recycle my body quickly. But there are only three registered places in the UK and only around 50 such burials per year. As a biologist, I find the idea of becoming fish food strangely appealing. This is not a new idea: I remember reading of man who macabrely wished the meat from his body fed to the residents at Battersea Dogs Home. Not surprisingly this strange offer was declined.

As a conservationist the idea of recycling my body after death appeals: some Asian cultures have what are called sky burials, where a dead human body is laid out on a mountain top for scavenging animals such as birds of prey to feed on.

From a biological point of view I cannot see anything wrong with this, providing deceased people do not have contagious diseases. Burials in the ground are more to do with people not wishing the body disturbed by animals than hygiene considerations – hence being buried six feet. Unfortunately, as much as I like to imagine my deceased body on the top of Ben Nevis being recycled by golden eagles, I can never see it being allowed in the UK.

I suppose what really appeals to me is being fully recycled in a short time-frame. The problem is that cremation does not fully recycle the body and burials can take years for the recycling process to occur. Thus, if my body could be fully recycled quickly into the nutrient cycles, thereby allowing the burial plot to be constantly reused then I may have found a biologically acceptable method to dispose of my body when the time comes.

A company in Sweden has tested a concept of eco-burial on dead pigs (pigs are good models for the human body), whereby the animal is frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196℃, which makes the body become brittle and disintegrate. In the case of a human, the disintegrated body would be filtered for metals (such as tooth fillings) and then buried in a shallow grave.

In tests with pigs the remains become rich compost in six to twelve months. Plus this sort of eco-burial does not release greenhouse gases such as methane (from traditional burials) or carbon (from cremations) into the atmosphere. The only problem being it is still in development.

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Rapley Redux


Writer Duncan Macmillan has been talking to one of the world’s most influential Climate Scientists Chris Rapley. Working with internationally renowned director, Katie Mitchell, a new piece of theatre has been created where the science is centre stage.
Climate change is a matter of importance to everyone, but what to do about it is mired in controversy. What’s needed is a conversation. What do we owe future generations? How can we protect our children and grandchildren?
Chris Rapley CBE is the Chair of the London Climate Change Partnership and Professor of Climate Science at University College London.
After Ten Billion, Katie Mitchell’s collaboration with the scientist Stephen Emmott in 2012, and directing the German language production of Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, Katie continues her commitment to exploring the future of life on earth and climate change through theatre.
I hope the Royal Court won’t institute legal proceedings because I’ve reproduced their publicity blurb in full without permission. Its imperious tone recalls the tone of those Shakespearian actors the King and the Duke in Huckleberry Finn chapter 21. And we all know how their performance ended.
There are three sentences I’d like to take issue with. First: “Writer Duncan Macmillan has been talking to one of the world’s most influential Climate Scientists Chris Rapley.”
What does that mean? According to Rapley, Macmillan is largely responsible for the text. But it’s entirely written in the first person and recited by Rapley, including anecdotes about his childhood and his experience in the Antarctic. So who wrote it? And who says that Rapley is “one of the world’s most influential Climate Scientists”? As far as one can gather from his autobiography in the play, his scientific career has been limited to devising scientific measuring devices – an honourable and useful career no doubt, but not that of a climate scientist. Unless you think that a manufacturer of protractors is one of the world’s most influential geometricians…
Second sentence: “Climate change is a matter of importance to everyone, but what to do about it is mired in controversy.”
Wrong on both counts. Most people don’t give a flying hundredth of a degree of warming per annum about it. (Or might that be two hundredths of a degree some time in the future? Nothing in the current temperature record suggests it, but might it? Oh woe!) Try persuading the average voter that a rise of 2°C in 2100 is a reason to cut back on their foreign holidays and accept power cuts for the good of humanity – just try it.
“What to do about it” is not “mired in controversy” since all major parties are determined to cover the countryside with useless windmills till Kingdom come. They won’t succeed because democracy will stop them. Rapmillan (or Macley, or whoever finally admits to writing this pile of farm animal emissions) will by then be long forgotten. But I shall continue to try to keep the flame of their memory alive, if only for Chris Rapley’s granddaughter’s sake, so she can sleep at nights, while waiting for 2071. With a grandfather like that, she deserves our support.
* * *
A good friend of mine, who is also a work associate of Katie Mitchell – the director of the Antarctic Thespian Rapley and the serial liar not-quite Cambridge-Professor Stephen Emmott – asked me recently what I hoped to achieve by my obsessive criticism of these two individuals? I admit that I was at a loss for an answer. He took it for granted that I couldn’t possibly claim to know more about global warming than the professor Rapley, which of course I don’t. I know just enough to know that I’m right and he’s wrong.
In the course of our discussion it emerged that my friend, an intelligent educated person and a regular reader of the Guardian, had never heard of the eighteen year pause in temperature rise.
The many intelligent readers of BishopHill and the GWPF and a hundred other well-informed blogs have no idea of the nature of the task before us. Mitchell and Rapley and their acolytes are there in place for twenty years at least. Nothing except a spectacular global cooling can dislodge them. We have no more reason to predict such an event than our opponents have to predict the contrary.

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