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Trusting in history or computer modelling?

By James Fairbairn - posted Wednesday, 16 September 2009

A few weeks ago I wrote an article entitled “The importance of being informed” which I believed was a measured piece outlining the various different factors that influence climate change - the single most important topic of our times. After all the entire world economy is being realigned around the central tenets of this theory so it is only logical that people should be aware of all the factors in the debate.

The article itself drew a fair amount of comment on various forums, of which some, no doubt heartfelt, was particularly strong criticism of the article. One wrote “It disturbs me that distortions (intentional or otherwise) like this create even more confusion for people who just don't know”. Another said, “This is deliberate disinformation, and is not deserving of respectful debate”. One simply said “It's denialist drivel”. My particular favourite was “There is a difference between an open mind and one that is wantonly empty resisting all facts”.

To be honest such passionate attacks did make me stop and think. Perhaps I was wrong. Didn't Socrates teach “The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance”. After all I am not a climate scientist; I am just a historian, a humanist and an environmentalist. Maybe my passionate advocacy that mankind needs to focus his efforts on proven environmental destruction was blinding me to the facts. After all those comments were written by people who clearly, passionately, believed that not only was climate being changed due to man's “CO2 pollution”, but also that this climate change would be catastrophic. Had my desire for our species to live in harmony with our planet, so to ensure the survival of all mankind, mixed up the facts I had read over the last 20 years, in hundreds of history books. After all, the environmental issues that are of greatest concern to me receive less than one hundredth of the press coverage of that dedicated to climate change.


So for the last few weeks I have gone back to the library to check my facts. First I started looking in books on pre-history. From memory I was sure they had talked about massive and rapid climate change in the past, and yet the IPCC this week warned that climate change would lead to “an unprecedented warming of about 3 degrees, and up to 1.9 metres sea-level rise” in the next century.

Inconveniently the pre-historians were not obliging. Chris Stringer, of the London Natural History Museum, wrote; “The history of Britain and Europe over the last 700,000 years is littered with rapid and severe climate changes, when apparently settled plant, animal and human communities were swept away in periods as short as ten years”.

Dr Kate Prendergast of Oxford University meanwhile wrote "Prehistoric peoples faced temperatures as much as ten degrees Celsius lower than today's and at the end of the last ice age, saw them rise by seven degrees Celsius in 50 years".

Even Australia's most eminent historian, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, in The Triumph of the Nomads talked about rapid climatic changes and seas level fluctuations of tens of metres.

But what about history books on more recent times? My Roman history books were less than helpful when they talked of wine growing as far north as Hadrian's Wall. Last time I looked I didn't have a bottle of Château de Leeds in my wine cellar.

And the Medieval historians? Well Professor Gwyn Jones, of my old university, Wales, refused to toe the line in his A History of the Vikings in which he talks about Greenland in the middle ages suffering from ever shorter growing seasons, and less grass for cattle and sheep, combined with more sea ice which prevented fishing, leading to the starvation and dying out of the Greenland settlements by 1500. And yet in 1100 they had thrived, at a time when they could circumnavigate the island due to the absence of ice, something that is not possible even now. Other books too talked of a “significant and rapid cooling” of the Earth's climate in the 14th century.


No doubt many will accuse me of being selective in my references but I can assure I wasn't, and these were just a small cross section of the more than 100 books that I revisited over the last few weeks. Not one book told me that climate change had never occurred before. Not one told me the current, computer-predicted, temperature and sea level rises were anything special. In fact, if anything, they are remarkably mild by historical standards.

So how could this happen? How could historian's be telling us one story and yet the mass media, governments and scientists tell us each day the exact opposite? The simple answer is money, and the coercive power of fear. The whole carbon trading industry is going to mean big business. Very big business. The Head of Environmental Markets at Barclays Capital recently said that “Carbon will be the world’s biggest commodity market - and it could become the world’s biggest market overall”. The Wall Street Journal estimated this market to be worth in excess of US$2 trillion per annum.

And who is going to be making most of this money? The big banks. Is it a coincidence that a certain leading advocate of man-made climate change, a Mr A. Gore, has a carbon trading company called Generation Investment Management, of which he is Chairman and David Blood, former CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, is Chief Executive, and they were given their seed capital by Lehman Brothers for whom he used to sit on the board of Directors?

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About the Author

James Fairbairn, "The Historian", is co-Founder and editor of and is also Vice-President of The Humanist Society of Western Australia. A historian by training, prior to emigrating to Australia he was a parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party in the UK (2005 General Election).

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