Friday, July 17, 2015

Mini Ice Age in 2030: the new anti-science meme?

Image from Gallup

The past decade has seen some truly clever media tricks being used against climate science. The most successful one was the so-called "Climategate" scandal of 2009. You can see its effects on the Gallup poll, above.

Climategate was a very successful "meme", a term created by Richard Dawkins in analogy with "gene" - a meme is a reproductive unit in the mediaspace. It works like a virus, and, as a virus, it tends to lose its potency when the system develops ways to fight it. So, the climategate meme lost potency in a few years after its introduction and the Gallup curve started going up again.

2012 saw the birth of a new and powerful anti-science meme: the "climate change has stopped" one, created by David Rose with an article in the Daily mail. The effect was less pronounced than that of the Climategate meme, nevertheless the idea of the "pause" went viral and it is probably the origin of the drop/stasis in the Gallup curve from 2013 to 2014.

But also the "pause" meme has lost potency; with 2015 on track to become the hottest year ever recorded, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain that climate change has stopped. So, with the Paris conference on climate approaching, it is probably the right time for a new anti-science meme appearing in the media.

Not surprisingly, the media is all abuzz with the idea of a"mini ice age" that should occur at some moment in the 2030s. Look at the results of a "Google Trends" search. Remarkable, indeed!

This avalanche of Internet hits was triggered by a presentation by Prof. Valentina Zharkova of Northumberland University at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in early July. Even without going into the details (but, if you are interested in a critique of Zharkova's ideas, look at this link) it is clear that we are discussing about something that might happen in two decades from now on the basis of an untested model, not even published in a refereed journal. And that should stop us from doing something against global warming, that's happening right now? Come on......

The question is, rather, whether the "mini ice age" idea will be a good anti-science meme; maybe affecting the results of the Paris conference, in December. Of course, we have to wait and see, but it seems unlikely. The mini ice age meme is weak. Compare it with the "climate change has stopped" meme. One of its powerful features was that David Rose had positioned it as a conspiracy, with scientists in the role of the bad guys trying to hide the truth from the public. And a meme that involves bad guys works almost every time. Then, how many times have you been questioned by someone absolutely sure that climate change had stopped? To answer, you had to explain to him/her (most commonly him) that no, it had not stopped, that it had only slowed down, that the heat had gone into the oceans, etc. It never really worked.

But the "mini ice age" meme has no bad guys to blame, and that makes it weak from the start. And then, picture yourself facing someone who states "they say that in 15 years from now there will be a new ice age". It should be enough to look at him (maybe her) with an appropriately skeptical expression and say, "are you sure?"

It looks like climate denialists are going to have a hard time. And that's exactly what they deserve!


  1. No you can't see such a thing, Ugo. Your own graph shows that the decline started well before the release of the emails, then reversed not long after.

    1. Unfortunately, the graph lacks the data for 2009, so you can't say that the decline started "well before" the release of the emails. And the reversal was very slow, and not completed, yet

    2. To explain it more clearly, note how the data show that the belief in AGW was near its maximum in 2008, and it had dropped considerably in 2010. In between these two years, in 2009, there was the climategate story.

      So, the correlation is evident from the available data. Of course, one could always question the causation. However, it is hard to find another factor, beside Climategate, that could have affected the debate so much.

    3. What's the data, BTW? Gallup is at least generally US-only.

      We could argue about the details, but broadly speaking I think the decline was a consequence of a considerably ramped-up disinformation campaign, in part responding to An Inconvenient Truth.

      Also, recall that three other things occurred more or less contemporaneously with the email leak: Obama's failure to pursue climate legislation, the IPCC AR4 WG2 report flubs and the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit. One would need some pretty detailed survey data to disentangle all of these factors.

    4. Steve

      Climategate was highly infectious - it rapidly reached my village near the Scottish Border and I was instantly approached with it by a retired engineer friend who was previously not a religious defender of BAU. Another retired engineer I had known locally for 25 years when we were both working had approached me two or three years before Climategate to tell me that "I had been right all along about clmate change".( I had not known before his approach that I had that local reputation!) Well, after Climategate I heard no more urgent discussion from him as to what might be done about it and how to look after the grandchildren.

      That's the way often of old age of course and scepticism can turn into cynicism often directed at those trying their hardest to extend observation more reliably and to report it fairly. Or we feel helpless. The future is beyond us. I expect the 'mini ice' age meme to pop up soon enough locally when I get time to circulate socially again.

    5. Of course, the Gallup poll is for the US only. But what people think in the center of the Empire is more important than what they think in the colonies.

  2. First, the "no warming since" spiel probably started with Bob Carter in 2005. However, it was the rebranding of it as "the pause", and David Rose's presentation that made it a common discussion point in anti-science mainstream media (notably the Murdoch Press).

    Second, it is possible that college educated, and non-college educated opinion have responded to different factors. If that is the case, non-college educated opinion starts declining in 2003, probably with the release of the McIntyre and McKitrick critique of Mann, Bradley and Hughes, 1998 and various misrepresentations of the importance of MBH98 to the IPCC and for the case for the existence of AGW.

    1. The changes in the non college educated opinion before climategate seem to me mainly non significant oscillations; but it may be also that they started reacting to the campaign against Mann and the "Hockey Stick". That was also a stubborn meme, perhaps more stubborn than others. Entire anti-science books were written on that story and I had even people with good scientific credentials telling me that "the modern increase in temperatures has been demonstrated to be false". On the contrary, it would be hard to think that someone could write a book on a non-existing "pause".

      Still, I think that the "Hockey Stick Hoax" meme had potency only with a very limited section of the public opinion; those who enjoyed rabidly targeting scientists as "enemies of the people". But, in general, it was too abstract for most people to grasp

  3. Climate Change is ongoing and unstoppable. It's not even important whether it is Anthropogenic or Geotectonic in it's fundamental cause., or whether as seems likely to me the two effects are working in synergy.

    What is now important is to figure out how to survive on a planet where the Average Global Temperature will reach 22C. That seems doable to me.


  4. The meme of Ice Age by 2030 has been taken up by ABC, a far right Spanish newspaper:
    * Una nueva Edad de Hielo para el año 2030 *

    j. m. nieves. El proceso sería similar al que congeló buena parte del mundo durante el siglo XVII

    La noticia ha causado impacto entre climatólogos de todo el mundo. Y no es para menos. Un grupo internacional de investigadores, liderado por V. Zharkova, de la Univesidad de Northumbria, acaba de revelar, durante el Encuentro Nacional de Astronomía en Llandudno, en Gales, que estamos a punto de experimentar una nueva «Pequeña Edad de Hielo» similar a la que congeló una buena parte del mundo durante el siglo XVII y principios del XVIII. Será entre 2030 y 2040.

    In Madrid some people can not live without their daily dose of "abeceína" (from ABC, the name of the rag) a drug more addictive than heroine, nicotine, etc.

    1. Also in Italy, the right wing press has reported the meme. It is summer, they think that people will love a "cool" story. It will pass....

  5. The link to the critique of Prof Zharkova's presentation is inoperative.

  6. There are other memes that, in effect, function as denial. The best known one is "I am not a scientist”. A more recent one, mouthed by US politicians (e.g. Jeb Bush and, a tad more intelligently, Joe Manchin) is “I am not a denier. Global Warming is real, It is dangerous. But not having cheap, reliable, dependable energy is also dangerous and is very bad for the poor. We must keep fossil fuel (or, more specifically, coal) until we have equally effective alternatives…” Interestingly, Jeb Bush & Joe Manchin both claim to be Roman Catholics. As one of the great sages of Roman Catholicism famously prayed, “Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.” (Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.)

  7. (but, if you are interested in a criticism of Zharkova's ideas, look at this link)

    Link does not work.

    1. And that link is not great... suggests we will have a 20-30yr drop in temps, which is not justified.

      New Ice Age, Sun spots, Maunder Minimum

  8. In Australia we also saw the 'mini ice age' idea pushed via News Limited (Murdoch), largely a conduit for 'what we wish you to think' - I would argue the graph above shows the result of a deliberate global campaign (including social media). It is unfortunate their contributions only muddy the waters of environmental urgency : e.g. "Hey I guess we can drill for oil in the arctic then, and it won't matter after all". Unhappy, but working on ways to address ...

  9. Given the fact that it might be rather unlikely that there exists "an infinity" of such potential so called memes or "ploys that climate change deniers can deploy" , (can we safely assume a "limited or bounded creativity" on their part?) and given also the relatively short shelf-life or "life cycle" of the effectiveness of such memes i.e. does their "effectiveness" go up and then down fairly symmetrically like a standard Bell curve, or does it show a different curve e.g. a sharper rise than a fall or vice versa perhaps, ...depending on the nature of the ploy and of other "environmental" or social-context factors ?…for instance any given ploy which is "ployed and then de-ployed" might be less effective if it happens to coincide with a couple of major destructive typhoons...and given also that the somewhat more effective "low hanging fruits" have probably already been deployed…is it reasonable to expect that: i) future such memes are likely to show "diminishing returns" in terms of their effectiveness and that ii) because of this, the better ones still available most likely will be "saved up" to be deployed just before important decision-making points such as the upcoming climate talks in Paris?

    If so, perhaps we could expect a climate change denial meme or two to be deployed a month or two before the Paris meeting? Maybe one of the few "good ones" still left over in their arsenal? Or maybe ten or twenty poor ones (a true flurry or salvo) all deployed at once can have the same effect as one or two "good ones"? Much as the little pellets all fired at once from a shotgun can be (at least at close range since they fan out and lose velocity more quickly) at least as lethal as a single bullet fired from a high powered rifle? Rubber bullets vs. regular ammo?

    I am not trying to make light of what is undoubtedly serious stuff, but at least we could try to get some amusement out of what those turkeys are doing? Or should we go on some well (and better) organized pre-emptive turkey-shoots instead? Should we for instance "tell the world" just before the Paris talks…Dear World kindly expect and be on the lookout for a bunch of climate change nonsense to come your way fairly soon?

  10. Its damn hot here where I live. Don't need no scientist to explain it to me. I get up before daylight to work the garden and I'm drenched in sweat before the first rays of light. Sure, summers have always been very hot yet these days its getting worst. Climate deniers and their followers are fools. Can't help them! Two thumbs up for Ugo Bardi! That mouse trap thing you did was priceless. Salute!

  11. I would be interested to know what the weather was like the year's of the dip in climate change confidence? I remember that when there are snowy conditions in Washington the clowns bring snowballs into congress as 'proof' that climate change must be a myth. In fact today has been really rather chilly for the beginning of September, so that ice age theory must be right ;-)



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)