By George Monbiot, AlterNet. Posted May 14, 2005.
Climate change denial, as David Bellamy's claims
show, is based on pure hocus pocus.
For the past three weeks, a set of figures has
been working a hole in my mind. On April 16, New
Scientist published a letter from the famous
botanist David Bellamy. Many of the world's
glaciers, he claimed, "are not shrinking but in
fact are growing. ... 555 of all the 625 glaciers
under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring
Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing
His letter was instantly taken up by climate
change deniers. And it began to worry me. What
if Bellamy was right?
He is a scientist, formerly a senior lecturer at
the University of Durham. He knows, in other
words, that you cannot credibly cite data unless
it is well-sourced. Could it be that one of the
main lines of evidence of the impacts of global
warming -- the retreat of the world's glaciers --
The question could scarcely be more important.
If man-made climate change is happening, as the
great majority of the world's climatologists
claim, it could destroy the conditions which
allow human beings to remain on the planet. The
effort to cut greenhouse gases must come before
everything else. This won't happen unless we can
be confident that the science is right. Because
Bellamy is president of the Conservation
Foundation, the Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife
International and the British Naturalists'
Association, his statements carry a great deal of
weight. When, for example, I challenged the
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders over
climate change, its spokesman cited Bellamy's
position as a reason for remaining sceptical.
So last week I telephoned the World Glacier
Monitoring Service and read out Bellamy's letter.
I don't think the response would have been
published in Nature, but it had the scientific
virtue of clarity: "This is complete bullshit."
A few hours later, they sent me an e-mail.
"Despite his scientific reputation, he makes all
the mistakes that are possible." He had cited
data which was simply false, failed to provide
references, completely misunderstood the
scientific context and neglected current
scientific literature. The latest studies show
unequivocally that most of the world's glaciers
But I still couldn't put the question out of my
mind. The figures Bellamy cited must have come
from somewhere. I e-mailed him to ask for his
source. After several requests, he replied to me
at the end of last week. The data, he said, came
from a web site called www.iceagenow.com.
Iceagenow.com was constructed by a man called
Robert W. Felix to promote his self-published
book about "the coming ice age". It claims that
sea levels are falling, not rising; that the
Asian tsunami was caused by the "ice age cycle";
and that "underwater volcanic activity -- not
human activity -- is heating the seas."
Is Felix a climatologist, a vulcanologist, or an
oceanographer? Er, none of the above. His
biography describes him as a "former architect."
His web site is so bonkers that I thought at
first it was a spoof. Sadly, he appears to
believe what he says. But there indeed was all
the material Bellamy cited in his letter,
including the figures -- or something resembling
the figures -- he quoted. "Since 1980, there has
been an advance of more than 55 percent of the
625 mountain glaciers under observation by the
World Glacier Monitoring group in Zurich." The
source, which Bellamy also cited in his e-mail to
me, was given as "the latest issue of 21st
Century Science and Technology."
21st Century Science and Technology? It sounds
impressive, until you discover that it is
published by Lyndon LaRouche. Lyndon LaRouche is
the American demagogue who in 1989 received a
15-year sentence for conspiracy, mail fraud and
tax code violations. He has claimed that the
British royal family is running an international
drugs syndicate, that Henry Kissinger is a
communist agent, that the British government is
controlled by Jewish bankers, and that modern
science is a conspiracy against human potential.
It wasn't hard to find out that this is one of
his vehicles: Larouche is named on the front page
of the magazine's web site, and the edition
Bellamy cites contains an article beginning with
the words "We in LaRouche's Youth Movement find
ourselves in combat with an old enemy that
destroys human beings ... it is empiricism."
[ LaRouche's NZ agent is, or anyhow has
been, rtd coal scientist Peter Toynbee of
Wellington - who of course gets in the NZ
Horrid readily - RM ]
Oh well, at least there is a source for Bellamy's
figures. But where did 21st Century Science and
Technology get them from? It doesn't say. But I
think we can make an informed guess, for the same
data can be found all over the internet. They
were first published online by Professor Fred
Singer, one of the very few climate change
deniers who has a vaguely relevant qualification
(he is, or was, an environmental scientist). He
posted them on his web site www.sepp.org, and
they were then reproduced by the appropriately
named junkscience.com, by the Cooler Heads
Coalition, the National Center for Public Policy
Research and countless others. They have even
found their way into The Washington Post. They
are constantly quoted as evidence that manmade
climate change is not happening. But where did
they come from? Singer cites half a source: "a
paper published in Science in 1989." Well, the
paper might be 16 years old, but at least, and at
last, there is one. Surely?
I went through every edition of Science published
in 1989, both manually and electronically. Not
only did it contain nothing resembling those
figures; throughout that year there was no paper
published in this journal about glacial advance
So it wasn't looking too good for Bellamy, or
Singer, or any of the deniers who have cited
these figures. But there was still one mystery to
clear up. While Bellamy's source claimed that 55
percent of 625 glaciers are advancing, Bellamy
claimed that 555 of them -- or 89 percent ñ are
advancing. This figure appears to exist nowhere
else. But on the standard English keyboard, 5 and
% occupy the same key. If you try to hit %, but
fail to press shift, you get 555, instead of 55%.
This is the only explanation I can produce for
his figure. When I challenged him, he admitted
that there had been "a glitch of the electronics."
So, in Bellamy's poor typing, we have the basis
for a whole new front in the war against climate
science. The 555 figure is now being cited as
definitive evidence that global warming is a
"fraud," a "scam," a "lie." I phoned New
Scientist to ask if he had requested a
correction. He had not been in touch.
It is hard to convey just how selective you have
to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change.
You must climb over a mountain of evidence to
pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates
in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of
science, the statements of the world's most
eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of
papers published in the foremost scientific
journals. You must, if you are David Bellamy,
embrace instead the claims of an eccentric former
architect, which are based on what appears to be
a non-existent data set. And you must do all this
while calling yourself a scientist.
George Monbiot is the author of Poisoned Arrows
and No Man's Land (Green Books). Read more of
his writings at Monbiot.com.