A Climate Scientist’s View

by TBG

A Climate Scientist’s View

TBG Editor: On this highly contested topic, we ask our readers to consider the bigger picture, rather than just individual elements from the professionally stated opinions of this senior climate scientist. This includes assumptions regarding the extent of the anthropogenic contribution. Policy disquiet is not one-sided.  As ever, comments welcome. The essay follows below:

As a climate scientist, I find myself in a difficult position. I see very clear evidence for a range of serious environmental problems that could have profound consequences, and I see the fact being exploited by a range of groups that don’t seem to care about the actual dangers. Traditionally, a scientist’s role is just to develop an understanding of reality and report on what the likely consequences of actions will be. We then hand those results over to inform policymakers and society. We do not write the policy or direct society’s response to our conclusions. We just enable informed decision making. Many climate scientists are disappointed with the impractical and ideological responses that we are seeing. I’m concerned that as a society we are going to fail to overcome the environmental dangers, not because the challenge is too great but because our response is irrational.

I’m not going to focus here on the fundamentals of climate change. Ultimately, that is just the cause and effect of 8 billion people making their mark on the planet. What I’m going to write about here is the political and social response, and how the conversation has moved away from practical management and towards ideological distraction.

The political left and right both have policy debates about climate change and the environment, however I think that these have become very detached with the increasing polarisation of society. The left is dominating the public and corporate conversation, and is having a very significant impact of policy and international agreements. The right-wing are often left entirely out of these conversations and therefore cannot provide the traditional counterbalance. This loss of scrutiny can only be expected to lead to worse outcomes.

The left-wing activists

The public conversation is often centred on the emotional expressions of climate activists, without reference to the work of actual climate scientists. When doing outreach with members of groups such as Extinction Rebellion, I generally find them internationally focused, affluent, and postmodernist. They are not subject experts and often have not really considered the campaigns that they support. I have mostly found that when questioned about their reasoning, they have very little to say.

Some hope that climate activists just have some technical misunderstandings about the science, but demonstrate the huge motivation of the citizenry to defend their habitat. The more I engage with activists the less I agree. I see climate activism as a branch of postmodernism that abuses climate change as a tool to get what it wants, at any cost to the environment. Postmodernism’s reach can be seen in both its core movements (Social Justice theory, trans theory, critical race theory) and in topics where it gets between the experts and society (healthcare, environment, immigration). An anti-science, personal narrative-based, ideology can never honestly communicate science, it will only spread misinformation.

Examples of cross-topic Extinction Rebellion messaging (Images taken from XR NYC, Turbulent Isles, and Nation, respectively).

Despite conservation and agriculture being more traditionally concerns of the right-wing, postmodernists have claimed climate change. They are often enthusiastic to speak with climate scientists – not to hear what we have to say but to inform us of what the acceptable talking points are, as not to feed into ‘right-wing narratives’.

The predominance of postmodernist talking points has led to many on the right seeing climate change (the factual problem) as being fundamentally linked to the ideological ‘solutions’. Climate change as a societal challenge is politically neutral. The left-wing solutions are so ideological that if enacted, the outcomes would support ‘Social Justice’ but not meet the actual environmental concerns. I want to see a pushback against the postmodernists from right-wingers, centrist, and the leftists that still believe in materialism and objectivity.

Investing in nature

There are many great ideas on how to enhance agricultural resilience, carbon sequestration, and biodiversity. Good research explores how to better manage the environment while boosting food security and farm incomes, with an interesting debate focusing on the right balance of land sharing and sparing.

Unfortunately, much environmental investment is not scientifically informed and the growth of the carbon offset market has taken off in a very haphazard manner. An assessment of 50 carbon offset projects found 39 to be junk / worthless, with a further 8 to be ‘problematic’. This doesn’t surprise me. As a climate scientist, I have at times been asked to contribute to scientific reviews of carbon offset projects. While some are genuinely sensible and beneficial, others have been fundamentally flawed. I have a suspicion that some projects seeking large investment focus on marketing not practicality, and consult scientists only to be able to say that they have completed a scientific review – with no actual intention of engaging with the feedback.

Projects designed by corporations often demonstrate little engagement with the realities of local culture and potential consequences, focusing instead on ‘sounding nice’. A study of the social impacts of carbon offset projects found that 70% caused harm to indigenous peoples and local communities, including reducing food production and increasing land prices in countries such as Wales and Scotland. Earlier this year I attended an industry conference on sustainable natural fibre production for the textile market. Sessions were calling for more organic and the offsetting of production emissions, without engaging with the fact that that would require more land, which in turn would reduce food production or bring new land into cultivation. When I asked a Net Zero panel how they ensured their plans would not impact food security I got an applause and the panel had no answers. This sector needs greater scrutiny to ensure that corporations are not getting rewarded for causing harm.

International payments

The UK currently has a carbon dioxide emission contribution of 1% of the global total and a cumulative contribution of 3%. At 0.84% of world population, our contribution is above average but it is still small at the global scale. Some are looking to boost our reported cumulative emissions by recalculating the values reassigning emissions to hold colonial powers accountable for the decisions that they made. Under British rule, the Indian population boomed requiring vast housebuilding, increased agriculture, there were huge infrastructure projects in transport and sanitation that still provide value to Indians today. Under this colonial-aware scheme, the modern UK taxpayer would be expected to financially compensate the world for the associated emissions.

(Image taken from Our World in Data).

The bill for weather proofing the world is made much higher by the fact that many nations do not have the defences and safety provisions in place for baseline weather extremes. Such nations want the Western world to provide them with the infrastructure they should have done for themselves decades ago. It is crucial to ask why they don’t have the infrastructure that they should. Generally this comes down to cultural issues, corruption, instability, or simply being a non-industrial society without significant public infrastructure. These same issues have in the past led to pouring money into projects that will never be satisfactorily completed. Worse, well-meaning charity can be lost to reinforcing the strength of the local corrupt ruling elites and mafias, making life harder for local people.

I have spoken with climate activists calling for the UK to fund Loss and Damage schemes. They had not considered if there was evidence to base the payments on, such as evidence that the damage came from global activities and were not due to poor local planning or standard natural hazards. There was no consideration of whether the recipient nation should be required to spend the money on specified things, to prevent corruption or misuse. Frankly, it became increasingly clear that they were not wanting a charitable international insurance scheme, but simply calling for race-based cash transfers. Postmodernist activists are hoping that Loss and Damage can serve as a vehicle for broader ‘reparations’ that they would ultimately want with or without reference to climate change.

This has presented as a great opportunity to the oil producing nations and others that wish to prevent meaningful conversation from taking place at conferences such as COP, that can now get ‘woke points’ for prioritising the ‘Climate Justice’ of demanding money from Western nations. Preety Bhandari, senior advisor in the Global Climate Program and the Finance Center at the World Resources Institute has said, “The entire COP28 negotiations could get derailed if developing countries’ priorities on funding for loss and damage are not adequately addressed”. In my view, there is significant risk that money might be handed over, at great cost to British taxpayers and in return for little environmental good.

If the UK had simply profiteered from behaving in a destructive manner, causing economic problems for other nations, I could support an argument for reparations or damage payments. This would seem reasonable to me. However, other nations do not look with distain at our Industrial Revolution and want us to cease and desist. Having contributed none of the investment, and none of the personal sacrifice, they want to share in the fruits of our labour. Many of these nations do not have the independent means to recreate our technological achievements from our culture’s blueprints, even when the information is shared freely. Instead, they demand that we gift them the hard-earned information, pay for its installation in their lands, and then give them money in apology.

Population pressures and movements

It is possible that the greatest threat that the UK faces from climate issues is due to climate migration, which is projected to reach around 1.2 billion people globally by 2050. The importance of differentiating between global climate change (caused by the total footprint of an increasingly industrialised and heavily populated world) and local climate changes (associated with local behaviours) is often overlooked here. For example, sub-Saharan drought is primarily led by the rapidly increasing local population drawing too much water and needing higher agricultural production than the region can really support. Studies have identified that to mitigate sub-Saharan African drought risk, it may be more effective to better manage population growth than to mitigate climate change.

Projections suggest that population will rise steeply in regions that do not have the natural resources to support the expected numbers (Image taken from Flickr).

Naturally if food and water access is increasingly limited, people try to move on. This generally starts local, moving to a nearby farming community, increasing the pressure on their water reserves and accelerating them toward drought. Or giving up on rural life and moving to a city in hope of paid employment and being able to buy food, putting additional pressure on their infrastructure and food security. Ultimately, we are expecting high levels of international climate migration, for a range of reasons, and there is increasing pressure for climate migrates to get refugee status.

Recently, in what I can only see as an admission of the expected harms of mass migration, the left is starting to publicly push the claim that large-scale international migration is extremely unlikely. I have not yet found anyone who sticks to that line in private. Instead, they advise me that talking about what is expected ‘plays into right-wing narratives’ and feeds ‘Blood and Soil mentalities’. Sure it’s true, but that isn’t politically convenient. I can counter that international climate migration can only imaginably not be a humanitarian disaster with a vast amount of planning, resource, and public enthusiasm – and for these things there would need to be transparency. But I think most people are aware that it would be wildly over optimistic to think that it could work out well, for anyone.


A gulf has opened between environmental science and societal response. An anti-science left-wing ideology is manipulating the public conversation for ulterior motives. Corporations are blindly signalling virtue with wasteful and unhelpful projects. And our country is sending money into the ether instead of investing it for the benefit of the taxpayer.

To my mind, our best path to managing climate change is through motivating the wider world to make its own changes. Neither our population size nor our wealth is great enough to pay for the world’s growth and transitions. What is needed is an aspirational display of progress and success, which inspires other countries to follow our lead under their own steam. We can meet the challenges that we face through investment in our infrastructure and workforce. We should be demonstrating that to the world.


Land sharing and sparing

50 carbon offset projects

Offsets projects causing harm

Colonial aware attribution

Corruption and climate finance

Loss and Damage

Climate reparations

L&D at COP28

International climate migration

African drought https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969719303213

Climate refugee status

Left-wing false narrative on migration

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