This letter is a response from Monbiot to Bellamy in a debate between regarding global warming. For the entire debate, visit http://www.zmag.org/MonbiotBellamyDebate.htm . For more debates, visit http://www.zmag.org/znet_debates.htm
18th August 2004
In your letter to the Guardian on Saturday, you ask me â€œWhy are the so-called greens backing a cartel of multinational companies which are hell bent on covering some of the best of our countryside with so-called wind farms, which can neither provide us with a sustainable source of future energy nor have any measurable effect reducing the amount of carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphere?â€
Like you, I am sceptical of the idea that we can simply replace our carbon-based economy with other forms of energy. The main effort has to be massively to reduce consumption. But if I am to answer your question, you will have to explain it to me. What do you mean when you say that wind turbines canâ€™t â€œprovide us with a sustainable source of future energyâ€? Is wind about to run out?
You say that they will have no â€œmeasurable effect reducing the amount of carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphereâ€. Well of course building a wind turbine doesnâ€™t reduce CO2 emissions. But if we produce energy from wind which would otherwise have been produced from coal or oil or gas, and unless the embodied energy in windfarm construction exceeds the total carbon emissions/watt from fossil fuel generators, then plainly the use of wind turbines will â€œreduce the amount of carbon dioxide pouring into the atmosphereâ€.
You then go on to say: â€œIf he can disprove the latter â€“ which is the mathematical truth â€“ I will fall into line over global warmingâ€.
Mathematical truth, eh? I suppose a mathematical truth can be different from an evident truth, if, that is, you are engaging in quantum maths. Either way, this statement requires some explanation. But I struggle to understand what the performance of windfarms has to do with whether or not anthropogenic climate change is taking place. I would have hoped that your decision about whether to â€œfall into line over global warmingâ€ would have been based on an assessment of the science of global warming, not on my ability or otherwise to disprove a quantum mathematical construct about how windfarms might behave in a parallel universe.
And the science is now about as unequivocal as the science of a complex system can be. I checked every one of the statements you made in the Daily Mail with climatologists at Oxford University and the UK Climate Impacts Programme. Some are quite correct, for example, â€œIt was round about the end of the last ice age, some 13,000 years ago, that a global warming process did undoubtedly beginâ€, but bear no relation to the argument you are seeking to make.
Others, I am sorry to say, reveal that you havenâ€™t the faintest idea what you are talking about. If you really believe that a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere â€œwould produce a rise in plant productivityâ€, I can only assume that you have not read a scientific paper on this topic over the past five years. If you really believe that carbon dioxide is not an important greenhouse gas, I can only assume that either you have not read the IPCC reports and any of the thousands of papers demonstrating the role CO2 plays, or you have read them and chosen for reasons of your own to ignore them. Your citation of the Oregon Institute petition, so long after it was so publicly and spectacularly demolished, suggests that you have simply given up reading.
And yet you feel qualified to write about this subject. Do you have any idea how much damage your articles and interviews have caused? Do you have any idea how your name is now being used by everyone from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to Exxon executives to suggest that â€œif even an environmentalist like David Bellamy says global warming isnâ€™t happening, then it canâ€™t be trueâ€? Do you have any idea what the consequences of helping these people to deny climate change might be? Do you have any idea how you have destroyed your own good name among people who formerly respected you?
You claim that you are still an environmentalist, yet the harm you have done to environmentalism over the past few months is incalculable. May I respectfully suggest that you brush up on the science (and I mean all the science, not just a few selected studies of the kind you cite) and talk to some mainstream climatologists (not just the cranks whose work you champion) before writing any more on this topic?