Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Crying wolf again?

Beddington: Latter day Malthus
Yesterday morning I listened to Today on  Radio 4 as it carried a peak time interview with Professor Sir John Beddington on population. He is the chief scientific advisor to the UK Government and one of his claimed specialisms is population studies. Today he has published his Foresight Report with dire warnings of hunger and over population.  

Of course, climate change is one of the factors making the danger more acute.  Professor Beddington has also been a prominent and outspoken commenter on climate change.  Listen again here (2hrs 10mins into the programme).

The interview qualifies Sir  John Beddington to become the latest in a long line of heirs of Rev Thomas Malthus.  Malthus's key characteristic was that he was wrong.  In 1797 he predicted catastrophe because we would not be able to feed the growing world population.  Malthus was a fellow of the Royal Society - as is Beddington.

It is difficult to know where to start in challenging the assertions on this piece. Although population was the focus, global warming was clearly one of the causes for alarm.  Here are just a  few problems from the beginning:
  • David Loin in introducing the piece claimed 2 billion people are short of food 'mainly in Africa'.  Last time I looked, the UN figure for the population for Africa was 1bn - and many of them are well fed.
  • 'We are on the brink of global hunger'.  Arguably, the number of people going hungry has not reduced in the last 5 years as it certainly did before that.
  • 'The world has ducked global warming'.  Note the assumption embedded in the thinking that global warming is a problem - not even that it could become a problem
  •  'This report was aimed at influencing government departments.'  A report, whose purpose is to influence government policy.  The context is propagandist.
  • 'This report is very comprehensive.  It is from 400 scientists from 35 countries.'  Since when did an appeal to numbers have an authoritative bearing on scientific accuracy?  We have heard that before in relation to the IPCC.  Spuriously.
  • If I recall correctly the IPCC (FAR) prediction was that a warming of between 1C and 4C would lead to increased agricultural yields.  And that did not include an allowance for improvements in technology and husbandry.
It was particularly of interest to note that scientists, who a few years ago were predicting a world population of 17 billion unless their instructions were followed, are now (apparently) agreed for the first time that it is more likely to peak at just over 9 billion. Now we won't know for a few years whether the the 17 billion figure was Malthusian (wrong).

But it does give us cause to doubt the accuracy of the current crop of alarmist scientists led by the campaigning Professor Beddington and his latest report - which is intended to manipulate our behaviour.  

1 comment:

  1. This "news" was reported every 1/2 on the hour as the lead story yesterday morning on BBC Radio 2. Subliminally, the wee people will get the message. We know better.