'When asked to choose the 3 biggest threats to the world from a list of 9, the most common answer is terrorism, chosen by more than half (59%), followed by climate change (49%).' -- Extract from the results of a BBC survey of some 329 schools, with 24,000 respondents aged 11 to 16 years, published 24 March, 2011
So, if the survey has been well-conducted, approximately half of secondary-school children in the UK regard 'climate change' as one of the biggest threats facing the world. How can that be, given that nothing at all unusual has happened to any weather phenomena, including air temperatures, rainfall, storminess etc, and nor to commonly associated phenomena such as polar ice extents?
The answer, of course, is clear enough: very successful lobbying and publicising of the results of computer models programmed to give CO2 a large effect as a driver of climate using positive feedbacks. Given that CO2 levels have been rising, and are confidently expected to rise further, there is clearly the makings of a good scare story here.
However, neither the atmosphere itself nor many leading climate scientists, have been sufficiently convinced by these stories to, in the case of the atmosphere, display unusual behaviour, and in the case of the scientists, display alarm. Yet many others are alarmed, or find it convenient to act as if they are for the sake of political and other advantages. Finance houses, political parties, environmentalists, and development organisations have all seen substantial boosts to their incomes and/or their influence thanks to the widespread publicity given to such as the IPCC.
Many well-intentioned individuals and groups have no doubt been persuaded to 'do something' by all of this, and are even trying to get schoolchildren involved in political actions.
One such group is Norwich Education and Action for Development (NEAD), whose Windmill Project was reported upon this week in the Norwich Evening News
The headline, and the activities described look innocent enough. Since our climate has always changed and is no doubt still changing, children should be taught about it as part of their nature or geography or science studies. Who would not want that? The changes however are quite slow and hard to detect amidst the within-year variation, and so it is unlikely that this topic ought to be a major part of any curriculum for such a young age group. The problem though is that they may be being misled about climate risks, and that these in turn may be scaring them, and leading them into political roles which seem utterly unsuited to their tender years. On the NEAD site, one can find phrases such as this one:
'Most importantly, children are offered information about some of the solutions to problems related to climate change. This will give children the power to make informed decisions and allow them to move towards behavioural and attitudinal change.'
Primary school children have been visited by this group in the past. Although their teaching materials are not available to non-members on their site, my concerns that they may be the usual alarmist stuff are not allayed by listening to this song sung and partly composed by children at a NEAD event at a school in October last year:
'The Norfolk Flood Blues'
It is quite hard to make out all the words, but it seems to begin with stamping of feet in time to the music, while chanting
'Rain Flood Rain Flood Rain Flood Rain Flood ...'
Later on, I think I heard these phrases (please email corrections or confirmations about these!):
'Water in my home, Water in my bed'
'It's destroying everything'
'I feel doomed. I feel scared.'
I looked up the UK Met Office site to see what weather records I could find for East Anglia, the region in which Norwich lies. Records were available for Lowestoft, a coastal town less than 20 miles from Norwich. I extracted monthly rainfall, monthly sunshine hours, and monthly mean maximum and mean minimum temperature values for the 30 years 1980 to 2010, and used these to produce the plots shown below. Can you see any grounds for alarm in them?
The pupils will have some difficulty in discerning ‘climate change’ in such a display, dominated as it is by within-year variation. Throughout this period, CO2 levels grew, along with increasingly agitated pleas and warnings from people who ought to have known better, such as James Hansen who in 1986 was warning of mean global temperature rises of several degrees by the year 2010. Since the computer models suggest the temperature rises will be greater away from the equatorial regions towards the poles, a naive observer might well have expected more action in the Lowestoft data by now. Could it be that the models are also useless for predicting such things?
Mercifully, the NEAD people do not seem deranged like those who produced the film ‘No Pressure’, whereby children of non-compliant parents were portrayed as being violently destroyed, ‘pour encourager les autres’. I suspect that NEAD attracts many good people, but people who have been misled by the IPCC, and by others. There are further grounds for concern about NEAD: first, is it really a charity, second, is it at risk of crossing the line re political indoctrination in schools, and third, will campaigning around climate change really help the world's poor in the long run?