Countering bogus climate claims made on British television
Bob Ward counters inaccurate and misleading claims questioning the scientific consensus on climate change made recently by Brian Catt on GB News and Talk TV.
Every reputable scientific organisation in the world agrees that climate change is real and is being driven by human activities, primarily emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Yet two of the UK’s newest television stations, GB News and Talk TV, which target viewers at the fringes of the political spectrum, are misleading their audiences by promoting climate change denial. And they have now found a new champion, Brian Catt, to join Donald Trump and other extremists in publicly dismissing almost 200 years of accumulated scientific evidence.
The most authoritative source on the scientific evidence is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the membership of which includes almost all of the world’s governments. The IPCC periodically asks governments to nominate scientists to carry out reviews of all the research and other evidence from around the world. Its most recent appraisal of the physical science of climate change, IPCC Working Group 1’s contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), was published in August 2021. The IPCC’s ‘Summary for Policymakers’ was approved line by line by every government as an accurate description of the state of knowledge. It concluded: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”
Other scientific organisations are similarly clear in their assessments. For instance, the Royal Society, which is the UK’s national academy of science, states: “Scientists know that recent climate change is largely caused by human activities from an understanding of basic physics, comparing observations with models, and fingerprinting the detailed patterns of climate change caused by different human and natural influences.”
The most recent position published by the Institute of Physics states: “The scientific evidence is now overwhelming that globally the climate is warming and that human activity is largely responsible for this change through emissions of greenhouse gases.”
Opinions over scientific credentials
Undaunted by the scientific consensus, GB News and Talk TV have carried out a search for someone who thinks they know better than the experts. Step forward Mr Catt, who is enjoying an extended period in the limelight where he can peddle foolish claims about climate change without fear of challenge or interruption from interviewers.
Mr Catt is not an expert on climate change. He is not trained as a climate scientist and has never had a scientific paper about the issue published in a scientific journal. His @catandman profile on Twitter describes him as “Physicist, Engineer, Tech Business (rtd), busy. STEM Ambassador”. On LinkedIn he is a “B2B Business Developer”, and encourages visitors to his page to “Check www.eurochannel.org for CV”. That website describes Mr Catt as “a senior partner of EuroChannel”, and “an experienced business manager with a comprehensive record of achievement creating, building and managing international businesses ranging from a $10M T/O European software startup to the taking public of a private global service provider, from invisible to doubled T/O sector leader and a $1B IPO”.
Alas, a copy of Mr Catt’s CV cannot be accessed from the current website for EuroChannel, but a cached version does provide a link. It reveals he has an upper second class Bachelor’s degree in Physics and a Master’s degree in Business Administration. It also indicates he is a Chartered Engineer and a Chartered Physicist (which is awarded by the Institute of Physics, an organisation that accepts the overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic climate change), but his CV does not list any formal experience or qualifications in climate science since he started his career in 1965.
But what Mr Catt lacks in credentials he tries to make up for with strong opinions about climate change, a combination that apparently makes him an ideal interviewee for GB News and Talk TV. On 14 August, Mr Catt appeared in the Talk TV studio as a guest on the show hosted by Richard Tice, the leader of the Reform UK political party. The party’s website includes a section on its policies on energy and environment, stating:
“The climate has been changing for thousands of years and will always change in the future. Multiple factors cause this change, such as solar variability, sea level oscillation, and volcanic activity, over the very long term. We still have much to learn about these factors and we have no control over them.
“Man made greenhouse gas emissions also impact the climate and here we can reduce some of our emissions, but it is important to appreciate the overall context. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that if the world achieves net zero by 2050, it will be hundreds of years before this makes any difference to sea level changes. We also need to prepare for the related impacts.”
Reform UK argues that the country’s climate target should be to reduce its annual emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990, instead of reaching net zero emissions by that date. It falsely claims that as Prime Minister, Theresa May “imposed a target of zero emissions”, with “Minimal debate. No vote. No costing appraisal”. There is no mention of the fact that the target of net zero emissions by 2050 was passed by Parliament in June 2019, based on detailed analysis by the independent experts at the Climate Change Committee, and the Conservative Party won a general election in December 2019 with a manifesto that included a pledge, on page 2, of “Reaching Net Zero by 2050 with investment in clean energy solutions and green infrastructure to reduce carbon emissions and pollution”.
Mr Tice seems free to choose guests who provide support for his party’s policies, and Mr Catt was only too happy to oblige, making a series of demonstrably false statements about climate change. Talk TV was so delighted with the Tice and Catt double act that it posted a recording of the first half of the 20-minute interview on Facebook.
What untruths is Brian Catt spreading about climate change?
Here are some of Mr Catt’s more bizarre claims from that 14 August interview. He stated that, “it’s a very small effect, the greenhouse effect.” This is a ridiculous assertion. Joseph Fourier first worked out in 1824 that the Earth’s atmosphere keeps the surface much warmer than would be expected from the planet’s position relative to the Sun. As NASA’s website points out, without the greenhouse effect, the average temperature of the Earth’s surface would be about -18 degrees Celsius.
Mr Catt also ludicrously asserted that carbon dioxide “has no provable effect on the climate”. We have known that this is untrue for more than 150 years. In 1859, John Tyndall demonstrated in the laboratory that carbon dioxide and water vapour block infra-red radiation escaping from the Earth’s surface, and concluded that increasing their concentration in the atmosphere would cause warming.
Mr Catt’s lack of understanding was also exposed several times during the interview when he claimed that the recent increase in the global mean surface temperature is “natural”, but without offering any explanation for the actual cause. For instance, he told Mr Tice’s viewers, “for the last ten thousand years, which is a short warm period within an Ice Age cycle, it goes up and down about a degree at the Equator, two degrees at the poles about every thousand years, and it’s perfectly normal.” This is nonsense. There have not been cycles of cooling and warming every thousand years in the global mean surface temperature. The IPCC’s assessment provides a reconstruction of global temperature based on the accumulated paleoclimate reconstructions – see Figure 1.
Notes: Shows global mean surface temperature reconstructions over the Holocene geological epoch divided into three timescales: (i) 12,000 to 1,000 years ago in 100-year time steps; (ii) the years 1000–1900 CE (Common Era), as a 10-year smoothed average; and (iii) the years 1900–2020 CE. Median of the multi-method reconstruction (bold lines), with 5th and 95th percentiles of the ensemble members (thin lines). Vertical bars are the assessed medium confidence ranges of global mean surface temperature for the Last Interglacial and mid-Holocene. Source: Figure 2.11a, Changing State of the Climate System, in ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’.
Similarly, Mr Catt told Mr Tice: “We are at one degree above the coldest it’s been in the last ten thousand years.” He added that, “two degrees cooler than the warmest it’s been in the last eight, ten thousand years, which is the Egyptian Minoan period.” These statements were also untrue, as Figure 1 shows.
Although Mr Catt suggested that he was citing peer-reviewed academic papers, he did not indicate any source. When challenged on Twitter the day after the interview, he tweeted a link to a faked graph that has been circulated by climate change deniers for more than 10 years. The graph purports to show temperature for the last 10,000 years as recorded in a Greenland ice core, and was created for a post in December 2010 on the blog ‘Watts Up With That’, which promotes climate change denial. The graph claims that it is based on data from a paper by Richard Alley titled ‘The Younger Dryas cold interval as viewed from central Greenland’, which was published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews in January 2000. But this paper could not be the source for the graph because it only analyses data for the period from 10,000 to 16,000 years before 1950.
It is clear that Mr Catt was wrong and had no justification for saying that the global temperature has been higher previously in the past 10,000 years, or that the start of the instrumental record in 1850 was the coldest point during that period. Chapter 2 of the IPCC report notes that there was a warm period in the mid-Holocene about 6,000–7,000 years ago. It states: “Taking all lines of evidence into account, the GMST [global mean surface temperature] averaged over the warmest centuries of the current interglacial period (sometime between around 6 and 7 ka [thousand years ago]) is estimated to have been 0.2°C–1.0°C higher than 1850–1900 (medium confidence). It is therefore more likely than not that no multi-centennial interval during the postglacial period was warmer globally than the most recent decade (which was 1.1°C warmer than 1850–1900).”
Wrong about climate models
Mr Catt also made false statements about the use of climate models. He said: “…their presumptions that they feed into their models are wrong … It’s called GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out… And one of the assumptions they put in is there’s no natural change. So if the change that they assign to carbon dioxide is actually natural there is no anomalous – what’s the word that I want – additional change to be observed. So it’s not actually happening.”
This was complete nonsense. There is a detailed discussion in the IPCC report of the models used to understand what is causing current warming. Chapter 3 states: “To be fit for detecting and attributing human influence on globally averaged surface temperatures, climate models need to represent, based on physical principles, both the response of surface temperature to external forcings and the internal variability in surface temperature over various time scales.”
The report shows the differences between model simulations of the climate that include only natural variability in climate, and those that also factor in human influences, such as greenhouse gas emissions. These show clearly that natural drivers, such as solar or volcanic activity, cannot be responsible for the recent warming.
Notes: Shows changes in global surface temperature over the past 170 years (black line) relative to 1850–1900 and annually averaged, compared to Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) climate model simulations of the temperature response to both human and natural drivers (brown) and to only natural drivers (solar and volcanic activity, green). Solid coloured lines show the multi-model average, and coloured shades show the very likely range of simulations. Source: Figure SPM.1, Panel (b), Summary for Policymakers in: ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.’
In summary, Mr Catt’s dearth of knowledge and understanding of climate change, which is understandable given his lack of relevant training and qualifications, has served to mislead unfortunate viewers of Mr Tice’s programme. Mr Tice is a politician and not a journalist, so was apparently unable or unwilling to critically challenge Mr Catt’s false claims.