“Computer models are no different from fashion models: seductive, unreliable, easily corrupted, and they lead sensible people to make fools of themselves.” –Jim Hacker, Yes, Prime Minister
Sir Humphrey Appleby
Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
Special Policy Adviser
Later in Act One, Scene Two
The phone rings. They all look at it.
Claire Hello? It’s the BBC again. I see. Thanks. (She hangs up.) Piling on the agony. A big new story about global warming has just broken, they’re adding that to the Sunday programme too. Global warming computer models have been proved wrong.
Humphrey How shocking!
Claire The new models show that it’s even worse than previously thought. Much more severe. And happening faster.
Jim Is that supposed to be my fault too?
Claire Everything is at the moment. They want to know why the government is dragging its feet on CO2 emission controls.
Jim (losing it) Do we have to deal with that tonight? As well as …(much has gone wrong for Jim earlier in the play)… Is there anything else, anything else we can pile on me tonight? Oh yes! Global bloody warming, thank you very much!
Claire It’s just that they’re going to add it to the catalogue of your failures. (He gives her a look.) Alleged failures, I mean.
Humphrey Meanwhile, may I suggest that you don’t worry too much about global warming?
Jim Right. I can’t do anything about that tonight, can I?
Humphrey Tell me, how do they know we’re all going to drown in years when the weather forecast was so wrong last Friday?
Jim Because all the scientists agree.
Humphrey So they say. So do the computer models. I know. But why should global warming computer models be any more accurate than financial ones?
Humphrey Wall Street computer models were designed to prove subprime mortgage derivatives were low risk. These computer models are designed to show global warming is getting worse.
Jim Come off it, Humphrey.
Humphrey Remember mad cow disease? Computer models for that proved that we’d be dying in our hundreds of thousands by now. The only thing is, virtually nobody died, did they? Same with the salmonella-in-eggs computer models. Same with swine flu.
Jim You’re suggesting … what, exactly?
Humphrey Global-Warming models leave out nearly all the other possible causes except CO2. And then they say ‘Look, CO2 has caused all this climate change.’
Jim What other causes are there?
Humphrey If the earth were actually getting warmer, one might start by looking at the sun. Solar activity, water vapour, cosmic rays, sunspots, underwater volcanoes –
Jim If? The world is getting hotter, the science is overwhelming, everyone knows that.
Humphrey There’s been no rise in temperature since 1998.
Jim Really? But it was rising, wasn’t it?
Humphrey From 1975 to 1998, yes, absolutely.
Jim That’s what I mean.
Humphrey But it fell from 1940 to 1975. Even though that was a heavily industrialised period, when CO2 shot up. And overall the temperature isn’t rising at all: the hottest year in the twentieth century was 1934.
Jim I read that two thousand five hundred top climate scientists contributed to the last IPCC survey and they all agreed that manmade global warming is a proven fact and trapped greenhouse gases are the cause.
Humphrey Nearly fifty of them agreed. The others didn’t, actually. But their views were left out of the summaries given to the press.
Claire Haven’t you seen that film of the melting icebergs in the Antarctic?
Humphrey Yes. Beautiful, aren’t they?
Claire That’s caused by CO2.
Humphrey No, that’s caused by warm water masses from the Pacific.
Claire Why are the polar bears becoming extinct?
Humphrey Are they?
Claire The computer models say they are.
Humphrey But the people who actually go and count them have found more than there were thirty years ago.
Jim For heaven’s sake, Humphrey! If it’s all such nonsense why does everyone believe it?
Humphrey (amused) Hard to understand, I agree. But some scientists believe it, lots of others want the billions of pounds you can get for research that seems to show that global warming is caused by greenhouse gases, and most of the scientists who disagree can’t get published. Journalists love shockhorror stories, governments want to look virtuous to the voters, lefties want a way to rubbish big oil, and it makes the tree-huggers, whale-savers, anti-capitalists and everyone at the BBC feel holier than thou and warm and fuzzy inside. What’s not to like?
Jim Why hasn’t anyone else said all this?
Humphrey They have. No one wants to hear it.
Jim So wind farms don’t make sense?
Humphrey (chuckles) They certainly do, for all the businessmen who are getting enormous government grants for them. But there isn’t enough wind to be practical. The total output of all the UK wind turbines put together is one-fifth of one decent sized coal-fired power station.
Claire You don’t believe in global warming?
Humphrey My job is not to believe or disbelieve. My job is to weigh up arguments and produce answers. That’s what the Civil Service is for.
Jim I really think you must be misinformed somewhere. Al Gore got the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global Warming.
Humphrey So did Dr Kissinger for his work on the Vietnam War.
Jim has no answer to that.
Jim You think it’s all a scam? I can’t get my head around this.
Humphrey For some people it’s a scam. For most, it’s just the greatest outbreak of collective hysteria since the witchcraft trials in the seventeenth century.