In late 2011, I was walking through rainforest in the hills above Chiang Dao in northern Thailand with about a hundred twelve-year-old children and a handful of teachers. The forest was quiet, apart from the whooping and chattering of kids happy to be away with their friends for a few days. The guide had told us that there were still a few wild tigers in this region. But the kids weren’t going to see any wildlife, making the amount of noise they were.
We were on a trip from the ‘UN-related’ international school I was working at in Bangkok. They called this annual outdoor education excursion, ‘A Week on the Wild Side’. It consisted of staying in a beautiful resort and taking day trips to do stuff like white-water rafting or trekking. So, not that wild, really. The parents of the richest kid in the school had hired a medical team which followed us everywhere, or as far as it could, in a small, well-equipped ambulance. Just in case somebody fell off an elephant or ran into a deaf tiger or something.
Arriving at the school three years earlier, I’d been impressed by the splendid atrium in the arts building, four stories high and hung with twenty-foot banners created by students, depicting polar bears huddled on shrinking ice-floes, sweating penguins and other victims of global warming and the melting ice-caps. Global warming was everywhere in the science and humanities curricula and in the service and action programmes.
Around that time – 2007 or 8 – I’d come across Martin Durkin’s 2005 documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, and my interest was piqued by seeing top level scientists of long pedigree – people like Richard Lindzen, one of the founders of the still-young discipline of climatology – dismantling the whole theory. I started reading everything I could on the subject, unravelling the dubious epistemology of catastrophic, anthropogenic global warming theory.
A few months later, all classes at the school had been instructed to take part in what was called ‘the first global election’, which was not an election but a propaganda exercise, consisting of people across the world simultaneously turning off lights and electrical appliances for fifteen minutes at the same time. I don’t remember being asked to take a vote among the students or discuss the issue; we were all simply expected to turn off the AC and sweat gently as we carried on with our lesson.
In those fifteen minutes I started writing a letter to the school administration and the Science and Humanities departments, headed ‘In the first global election I vote NO’, and accompanied by several pages of links. I criticised the school for promoting dubious science, and invited any colleague to debate the issue with me. I wanted to create a high profile public debate in which students and teachers would take part, as a ‘teachable moment’, and a demonstration of the ‘culture of thinking’ and inquiry which we were supposed to be creating among our students.
There were no takers. No scientist or geographer wanted to debate me on climate change, even though I was a mere literature teacher.
There was talk, though, I heard; word got around. But no one wanted to discuss the subject with me actually in the room. “Just don’t get him started,” was the general advice. I also become gradually aware of a subtle progressive ganging-up on me – as the only straight white male in my department, which consisted otherwise of women and one (extremely popular) gay man, I was the one getting stereotyped. If I had such strange ‘right-wing’ beliefs about the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide, who knows, perhaps I also had a hidden contempt for women and homosexuals. And if I was this wrong about environmental issues, it could be assumed that my views on everything else, from ways to structure a literature course to the application of marking criteria, were suspect.
But during that trek through the forest, an interesting thing started happening. I was walking at the back of the straggling, elongated file of children and teachers, talking intently with one of my colleagues, a polymath who taught history as well as mathematics and physics. The wide-ranging discussions I always got into with Mick were for me the highlight of the annual trip.
As we walked and talked, a girl came back from further ahead in the line and asked me, ‘Is it true you don’t believe in global warming?’
Children in IB (International Baccalaureate) international schools get indoctrinated into the global warming cult very young, and never, it would seem, meet anyone at all who disagrees – or have even heard that there are people who do – and this girl was curious about a new thing in her reality.
So she walked along beside me, and I explained in simple terms about ice-cores and reverse correlations. How reconstructions of the past show temperatures rising and falling first, followed hundreds of years later by carbon dioxide levels, so the CO2 is the result not the cause. Plants build themselves from carbon dioxide, which is not a pollutant but the basis of all life. As the seas warm up, they emit carbon dioxide. Now more plants can grow, binding the carbon dioxide into living forms. With warmth and more food, life flourishes across the planet. And that’s all that happens.
When I’d finished, she smiled at me happily and said, ‘Thanks!’ before running forward to rejoin her friends and share the good news that the world was not ending.
And then another kid came and asked me the same question, intrigued by this new thing in his world, and the same thing happened again. During the afternoon, one by one, at least half a dozen of these twelve-year-olds came to ask me ‘Is it true? I’ve heard you don’t believe in global warming?’ and all listened and then scampered off to tell their friends. None of them seemed upset to learn that everything they’d been told about this was wrong. They were just happy and relieved to be told it wasn’t true. One girl told me that her sister had been crying herself to sleep every night about the world coming to an end in 2012. She couldn’t wait to tell her about this, because her sister was mixing these two things together in her mind, the 2012 prophecy and all the depressing global warming stuff. Each belief was reinforcing the other; she thought this would help.
Imagine how it must feel as a child to be told over and over and over again that you’ve arrived too late and the party’s over. All these kids had all been exposed to disturbing propaganda animations about humans being a disease on the earth, which was running a fever to get rid of us all, or websites where they could calculate their carbon footprint and work out the age at which they would have used up their share of the earth’s resources and should in all conscience kill themselves. Many had been profoundly affected. Now imagine how it feels to be told that it’s all nonsense. The cancer is gone, and you’re still here, a free expression of the will of this planet if you did but know it.
So I made some kids feel better that day. They all seemed to believe me and to understand what I was saying, but how long it would have lasted I don’t know, before they were overwhelmed by the continuous propaganda they were subjected to every day at school and through the media. None of them were in my classes since I was teaching only the older classes that year.
None of them asked me, ‘But why would they lie to us about this?’ — the question which makes many of their elders fall victim to the argument from ignorance.
Why would they lie to us about climate change?
I don’t know.
Therefore they are not lying to us about climate change.
After speaking with me they were just happy, and it made me happy to relieve them, for a while, of their anxiety. But at that time, there were things I wasn’t aware of. Not as pertains to the carbon question, where the logic is clear. It was this ‘Why?’ question that I hadn’t yet adequately answered.
The answer I had at that time, and which I would have given to any of those kids if they’d asked me, would be primarily political: to take the world into a planetary regime. Global problems require global solutions — or rather, global solutions require global problems. A global tax funds a global government. And, of course, a good deal of personal enrichment along the way through the setting up of a whole new market under cap-and-trade regulations.
Not wrong, but not right enough.
I remember a conversation with my mother, which must have been around the same time, maybe the following summer. We were pottering around in the garden my parents had created at their house in a village near Winchester in Hampshire. The subject came up, and I explained to her my discovery that the correlation between temperature and carbon-dioxide had been reversed. As with my young students, I told her not to worry.
She cocked a gardener’s eye towards the sky, and said, “I don’t know — something’s happening.”
And she was right.
A few days after my walk in the jungle, on 20th December 2011, thousands of crows, pigeons, wattles and honeyeaters fell out of the sky in Esperance, Western Australia.
By the end of the year, a record number of of whales – a hundred and sixty – had beached and died on the shores of Ireland. Sudden deaths of fish, birds and mammals were reported from India, Australia, America, Iceland, and Hong Kong.
On New Year’s Day, 2012, five thousand or more red-winged blackbirds and starlings fell dead from the sky, in Beebe, Arkansas. On the same day, at least two hundred thousand dead fish covered stretches of Arkansas River. In that month, there were a further twenty-three mass animal death events worldwide, a high proportion of them occurring in Louisiana and neighboring states. On 4th January, thousands of dead mullet, ladyfish, catfish and snook washed up in Volusia County, Florida, and three thousand dead blackbirds were found in Louisville, Kentucky. On the 6th, hundreds of dead grackles, sparrows and pigeons were found dead in Upshur County, Texas. On the 14th, three hundred dead blackbirds were littered highway I-65 south of Athens in Alabama. On 11th February, hundreds of dead birds were found in Lake Charles, Louisiana. And then on 23rd February, twenty-eight baby dolphins washed up dead in Alabama and Mississippi. By 3rd March, the total had risen to eighty baby dolphins found dead in the Gulf Region.
In the same time period, reports of mass deaths of birds, fish and other sea-life, land and sea mammals, came in from New Zealand, England, Malaysia, Ukraine, Kenya, Canada, Turkey, Switzerland, Columbia, Ireland, Portugal, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Italy, Brazil, and Tasmania.
The rest of the year continued the same trend, with reports from around the world of the sudden deaths, in their hundreds, thousands or millions, of birds, fish, whales, dolphins, seals, porpoises, turtles, starfish, shellfish, squid, lobsters, penguins, gulls, sea otters, geese, waterfowl, swans, deer, antelopes, bison, crabs, frogs – it was happening everywhere, from China to Finland, New Zealand to Norway, from Peru to Taiwan, Alaska to Kazakhstan, Mexico to Burma. In 2012 alone there were four hundred and sixty-five known mass death events reported in sixty-seven countries.
And so it has continued. So far this year there have been four hundred and ninety-four known mass death events in seventy-seven countries.
Thousands of birds drop from the skies along the South coast of England.
Dead turtles wash ashore by the thousands on Paradip Sea Beach in India.
In remote waters off Patagonia, Chile, at least three hundred and thirty-seven sei whales beach themselves in the largest whale stranding ever seen.
In Montecito, California 750,000 bees suddenly die.
Hundreds of thousands of dead jellyfish line the shores of Cable Beach in Australia.
Thousands of earthworms are found dead in a parking lot in Komatsu city Ishikawa, Japan.
In Quang Ninh, Viet Nam, sixty million farmed snout otter clams die overnight.
Tens of thousands of dead murres wash up on the beaches of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, emaciated, their stomachs empty.
The inexorable devastation of bee colonies continues.
In 2014 the WWF announced 52% gross decline in animal life since 1970.
Sometimes explanations are ventured. The die-offs are ascribed, often speculatively, to disease, pollution, pesticides, naval exercises, volcanic eruptions, unusual weather conditions, parasites, heavy-metal poisoning, plastic debris or marine biotoxins produced by algae. Often the events are described as shocking, unprecedented, and mysterious. Sometimes ‘global warming’ is vaguely invoked, despite the fact that no warming has occurred this century, and less than a single degree of net change occurred during the last. As Professor Gliaever points out, this represents a remarkable degree of stability.
Carbon dioxide isn’t doing this.
But something’s happening.