The case against the hockey stick

Prospect Magazine

The case against the hockey stick


The “hockey stick” temperature graph is a mainstay of global warming science. A new book tells of one man’s efforts to dismantle it—and deserves to win prizes

Messy, truncated data? Trees on the Gaspé Peninsula in Canada: one of several pieces of evidence for rising temperatures that have been called into question

Andrew Montford’s The Hockey Stick Illusion is one of the best science books in years. It exposes in delicious detail, datum by datum, how a great scientific mistake of immense political weight was perpetrated, defended and camouflaged by a scientific establishment that should now be red with shame. It is a book about principal components, data mining and confidence intervals—subjects that have never before been made thrilling. It is the biography of a graph.

I can remember when I first paid attention to the “hockey stick” graph at a conference in Cambridge. The temperature line trundled along with little change for centuries, then shot through the roof in the 20th century, like the blade of an ice-hockey stick. I had become somewhat of a sceptic about the science of climate change, but here was emphatic proof that the world was much warmer today; and warming much faster than at any time in a thousand years. I resolved to shed my doubts. I assumed that since it had been published in Nature—the Canterbury Cathedral of scientific literature—it was true.

I was not the only one who was impressed. The graph appeared six times in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s third report in 2001. It was on display as a backdrop at the press conference to launch that report. James Lovelock pinned it to his wall. Al Gore used it in his film (though describing it as something else and with the Y axis upside down). Its author shot to scientific stardom. “It is hard to overestimate how influential this study has been,” said the BBC. The hockey stick is to global warming what St Paul was to Christianity.

Of course, there is other evidence for global warming, but none of it proves that the recent warming is unprecedented. Indeed, quite the reverse: surface temperatures, sea levels, tree lines, glacier retreats, summer sea ice extent in the Arctic, early spring flowers, bird migration, droughts, floods, storms—they all show change that is no different in speed or magnitude from other periods, like 1910-1940, at least as far as can be measured. There may be something unprecedented going on in temperature, but the only piece of empirical evidence that actually says so—yes, the only one—is the hockey stick.

And the hockey stick is wrong. The emails that were leaked from the University of East Anglia late last year are not proof of this; they are merely the icing on the lake, proof that some of the scientists closest to the hockey stick knew all along that it was problematic. Andrew Montford’s book, despite its subtitle, is not about the emails, which are tagged on as a last chapter. It is instead built around the long, lonely struggle of one man— Stephen McIntyre—to understand how the hockey stick was made, with what data and what programs.

A retired mining entrepreneur with a mathematical bent, McIntyre asked the senior author of the hockey stick graph, Michael Mann, for the data and the programs in 2003, so he could check it himself. This was five years after the graph had been published, but Mann had never been asked for them before. McIntyre quickly found errors: mislocated series, infilled gaps, truncated records, old data extrapolated forwards where new was available, and so on.

Not all the data showed a 20th century uptick either. In fact just 20 series out of 159 did, and these were nearly all based on tree rings. In some cases, the same tree ring sets had been used in different series. In the end the entire graph got its shape from a few bristlecone and foxtail pines in the western United States; a messy tree-ring data set from the Gaspé Peninsula in Canada; another Canadian set that had been truncated 17 years too early called, splendidly, Twisted Tree Heartrot Hill; and a superseded series from Siberian larch trees. There were problems with all these series: for example, the bristlecone pines were probably growing faster in the 20th century because of more carbon dioxide in the air, or recovery after “strip bark” damage, not because of temperature change.

This was bad enough; worse was to come. Mann soon stopped cooperating, yet, after a long struggle, McIntyre found out enough about Mann’s programs to work out what he had done. The result was shocking. He had standardised the data by “short-centering” them—essentially subtracting them from a 20th century average rather than an average of the whole period. This meant that the principal component analysis “mined” the data for anything with a 20th century uptick, and gave it vastly more weight than data indicating, say, a medieval warm spell.

Well, it happens. People make mistakes in science. Corrections get made. That’s how it works, is it not? Few papers get such scrutiny as this had. But that is an even more worrying thought: how much dodgy science is being published without the benefit of an audit by Mcintyre’s ilk? As a long-time champion of science, I find the reaction of the scientific establishment more shocking than anything. The reaction was not even a shrug: it was shut-eyed denial.

If this had been a drug trial done by a pharmaceutical company, the scientific journals, the learned academies and the press would have soon have rushed to discredit it—and rightly so. Instead, they did not want to know. Nature magazine, which had published the original study, went out of its way to close its ears to McIntyre’s criticisms, even though they were upheld by the reviewers it appointed. So did the National Academy of Sciences in the US, even when two reports commissioned by Congress upheld McIntyre. So, of course, did the IPCC, which tied itself in knots changing its deadlines so it could include flawed references to refutations of McIntyre while ignoring complaints that it had misquoted him.

The IPCC has taken refuge in saying that other recent studies confirm the hockey stick but, if you take those studies apart, the same old bad data sets keep popping out: bristlecone pines and all. A new Siberian data series from a place called Yamal showed a lovely hockey stick but, after ten years of asking, McIntyre finally got hold of the data last autumn and found that it relied heavily on just one of just twelve trees, when far larger samples from the same area were available showing no uptick. Another series from Finnish lake sediments also showed a gorgeous hockey stick, but only if used upside down. McIntyre just keeps on exposing scandal after scandal in the way these data were analysed and presented.

Montford’s book is written with grace and flair. Like all the best science writers, he knows that the secret is not to leave out the details (because this just results in platitudes and leaps of faith), but rather to make the details delicious, even to the most unmathematical reader. I never thought I would find myself unable to put a book down because—sad, but true—I wanted to know what happened next in an r-squared calculation. This book deserves to win prizes.

Oh, and by the way, I have a financial interest in coal mining, though not as big as Al Gore has in carbon trading. Maybe you think it makes me biased. Read the book and judge for yourself.

The Hockey Stick Illusion is published by Stacey International, 482 pages, £10.99

Read what James Lovelock, Bjorn Lomborg, Ed Miliband and many other experts have to say about climate change in Prospect’s Copenhagen special

  1. March 11, 2010

    Phillip Bratby

    I entirely agree with Matt. I have now read The Hockey Stick Illusion twice; it is compulsive reading.

  2. March 11, 2010

    John Hewitt

    I too have read this book twice. I was a believer in GW, simply because I had not done any research myself. This book finally revealed to me the shocking deception that is AGW and the lengths that its supporters are prepared to go to, to perpetuate the myth. It should be essential reading for all politicians especially Ed Milliband.

  3. March 11, 2010

    Roddy Campbell

    Matthew, excellent review, excellent book. Did you see my CRU piece in March Prospect?

    Your best line (since it agrees with my piece!) is “There may be something unprecedented going on in temperature, but the only piece of empirical evidence that actually says so—yes, the only one—is the hockey stick.”

    I don’t know why people have such trouble with the ‘unprecedented’ word being fairly critical.

  4. March 11, 2010

    TG O'Donnell

    Good heavens, what’s happening down at Prospect Villas?
    First some gentle questioning from Roddy Campbell, now several more direct and challenging assertions from Matt Riddley.
    Do these straws in the wind herald a sea change in Prospect’s hitherto smooth cycle of appropriation, digestion, assimilation and ultimate regurgitation of AGW orthodoxy? David Goodhart’s editorial comment “A proper scepticism towards the data is not only legitimate, but necessary, before we change the way we live” gives some grounds for hope.

    Now perhaps Prospect will encourage debate on a topic of profound importance, where specialists can argue interpretations of the science and where the massive economic and human consequences of political action (or inaction) can be calmly evaluated.
    (Were this to happen, I could happily renew my subscription (cancelled in November in the wake of the 22 page non-feature on the Copenhagen Conference) in the anticipation of being informed, challenged and perhaps ultimately persuaded on this most urgent of issues).
    Finally, a ringing endorsement for Matt’s views on the Hockey Stick Illusion. This is a splendid and (surprisingly) a most exciting book. It will make a profoundly depressing read for any scientist as also for those who harbour the view that the scientific establishment can be trusted to make the right decisions when their research funding, their pride or their peer status is at risk.
    TG O’Donnell

  5. March 11, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Sam Carson:

    “And yet consensus isn’t uprooted.

    The article calls the hockey stick a central plank to communicating the science – then says that has been under scrutiny by someone who isn’t a climate scientist.

    Therefore, one man has an opinion and that is counter to the vast majority who specialise in that field. That’s great. Good for him. … See More

    Climate scientists themselves aren’t abandoning the thesis in great droves, the “gotcha” point is little more than the perfectly plausible idea that the mechanics of the global climate can’t be easily explained. It’s complicated and we don’t know enough to make any great claims.

    Certainly not enough to make that greatest claim of all, that we are at all safe from the effects of climate change. There is still reason to suspect that digging up sequestered carbon from under the earth and injecting it into the atmosphere at the rate of tonnes per day could be of consequence.”

  6. March 12, 2010


    Superb piece, Matt. Just superb. McIntyre is a hero for his work.

  7. March 12, 2010

    Phil Howerton

    Sam Carson: You need to realize that the Hockey Stick was created by mathermatical formulas and statistics. Steve McIntyre, a brilliant mathematician and statistician, is more than qualified to critique the works of Mann and his cohorts, none of whom are qualified statisticians.

  8. March 12, 2010


    The hockey stick is not made of the same material. The handle is made of proxy data and the blade of thermometer data. The main problem is that the recent proxy data don’t show the current thermometer warmings. If this the case, how can we thrust the proxy data along the handle of the hockey stick?

    Here is what Professor Michael E. Mann said about releasing their research data:


    This is not from second hand source; it is from his own email:

  9. March 12, 2010

    early morning bird

    Right, so have decided to go for the “raw data” on this one. Pity my daughter who will now almost certainly spend the weekend watching Snowwhite and the seven dwarfs over and over again. Pre-ordered “The Lomborg Deception” by Howard Friel in a vague attempt to hear submissions from both sides. According to this book Lomborg has also been fiddling the numbers! Oh how annoying. Why can’t people use the data/information to get to the answer rather than start out with the answer and then “chop toes until the shoe fits”?

  10. March 12, 2010


    early morning bird, you’ve ordered the wrong book then. Lomborg deliberately makes no attempt to question the assertions of the IPCC – he assumes (and believes) that the change model they publish is absolutely correct, but then uses that as input to economic analysis. He argues that the *policy* conclusions of the IPCC science are wrong. By contrast, McIntyre began the process of demonstrating how fundamentally flawed the *scientific* process of the IPCC was.

    The way Lomborg has been treated by publications like Scientific American, and by NGOs like the WWF is a scandal in itself that ought to bring great discredit on those institutions.

  11. March 12, 2010

    Douglas Cohen

    You might find the article \The Big Science Poker Game\ useful as a way of seeing how the moral failings of Climate scientists are shared by other researchers.
    The news article
    shows that this sort of self-serving scientific sloppiness occurs many places outside of climate science — such as paleontology. After reading this description, consider how it could be possible that such an obvious check on the original paleontological finding could have been overlooked the way it ar

  12. March 12, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Matt Rooney:
    “Jesus. Prospect IS turning into the Spectator.”

  13. March 12, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Martin O’Neill
    “Very depressing that Prospect is running drivel like this. Time to let my subscription lapse.”

  14. March 12, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Simon McGrath
    “fascinating that the comments above don’t actually address what the review is saying. Indeed they illustrate the point the the hockey stick is regarded as a given and can’t be questioned.”

  15. March 12, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Douglas Clark:
    “I suppose it is what you expect from the ex-chairman of Northern Rock.”

  16. March 12, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Simon McGrath:
    “any thoughts on what the review said or is his business career enough to mean you can ignore it?”

  17. March 12, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Risto Pyykkö
    “It is disappointing to see Prospect starting to peddle illiterate nonsense like Ridley’s conspiracy theories.”

  18. March 12, 2010

    Steve Milesworthy

    This is not a review. This is an uncritical repetition of the book’s claims. Surely a proper review would look at the context of the book a little more. The context being an attempt to wholly undermine an area of science by picking at a few flaws.

    It doesn’t seem likely that the curve is an accurate representation of 1000 years, and certainly Mann comes across as a little too belligerant. But in the 12 years since the curve was published there is no seriously researched evidence that the current period was globally cooler than the Medieval warm period.

  19. March 12, 2010


    Steve Milesworthy:

    “in the 12 years since the curve was published there is no seriously researched evidence that the current period was globally cooler than the Medieval warm period.”

    Er, there is. What Steve McIntyre has done is to take the data that has been used to claim the world is warmer, and show that in fact it shows no such thing – in other words, that it is ‘globally cooler than the Medieval warm period’. If that data is sufficient to prove the argument one way, it ought to be sufficient to prove it the other way.

    You can argue that it’s not ‘serious research’, but, since he’s a proper scientist, McIntyre has published his full workings. You can check them yourself if your maths is good enough, or you can be satisfied that despite all his critics, no-one has been able to find anything wrong with his maths. You can be sure we’d have heard about it if they had. Instead, there’s endless ad hominem attacks, and arguments that he has misunderstood the science.

    Recaptcha: Political Petard – how appropriate.

  20. March 13, 2010

    Francis Voller

    For all those that keep hamering home the notion that a majority of scientists are not leaving the AGW hypothesis consider this:
    The vast majority of these scientist study the effects of AGW, based on the considered “rock solid” data sets that are availabe from places like CRU or papers like Manns’s MBH98.
    Few of these people really study the causes of climate change.
    So you are working for years on projects with the help of these data sets, your funding is secure and suddenly you are confronted with a Steve McIntyre who tells the world that the data sets are wrong.
    It is only human to try to keep plugging away with the same-old, same old: you have told everybody for a decade or more that we are going to fry, that armageddon is upon us.
    You’d look pretty silly to change your tune, now wouldn’t you? Maybe the funding dries up?
    It takes courage to admit fault, I get that, but McIntyre has a brilliant mind and anybody that has taken the time to read the CRU e-mails must know that Mann et al just hate the guy’s guts.
    Oh, and by the way, for anyone to suggest to go to “Real Climate” to get some explanation why the Hockey stick is solid science is like asking a hard core Everton supporter what he thinks of Liverpool FC.
    Good luck with that!
    If there is ever anybody that deserves a medal, it is Steve McIntyre!

  21. March 13, 2010


    Bravo to Prospect for their recognition that AGW is not settled science and for putting up this important article by Ridley which tells us one of the main reasons why AGW rests on very shaky foundations.

  22. March 13, 2010

    Steve Milesworthy


    I would have thought a Prospect Magazine reader would understand that only in the criminal courts can proof of the poverty of evidence be counted as proof of the opposite.

    McIntyre has in the past declined to discuss whether there is good evidence for a warmer MWP. In his nuanced little way, he just tries to argue that if there were evidence of such a thing, a conspiracy of scientists would prevent knowledge of it emerging.

  23. March 13, 2010

    Comment via Facebook

    Jan Roobrouck:

    “While these men of science are quarreling about future climate change, fossil fuels are burning up. We are using up our water supplies. People still die of hunger in the 21st century. Climate change or not: we cannot go on like this. The debate whether centigrades are going up and Fahrenheits down is sterile. The West should begin by admitting that its wealth is based on the pillage and irresponsible use of global resources.”

  24. March 14, 2010


    Funny these facts are never mentioned in the article (quotes from Joe Romm of Climate Progress):

    “* The Hockey Stick was affirmed in a major review by the uber-prestigious National Academy of Scientists (in media-speak, the highest scientific “court” in the land).

    “* The Hockey Stick has been replicated and strengthened by numerous independent studies. My favorite is from Science last year — see Human-caused Arctic warming overtakes 2,000 years of natural cooling, “seminal” study finds (the source of the figure below).

    “* Penn State itself in recent review, concluded, “After careful consideration of all the evidence and relevant materials, the inquiry committee finding is that there exists no credible evidence that Dr. Mann had or has ever engaged in, or participated in, directly or indirectly, any actions with an intent to suppress or to falsify data.” ”

    You can read the full details here:

    Jeffrey Ball and Keith Johnson mention none of that, since those facts would under

  25. March 14, 2010


    Matt, you asked (perhaps rhetorically), “how much dodgy science is being published without the benefit of an audit by Mcintyre’s ilk?”

    See, “Most Science Studies Appear to Be Tainted By Sloppy Analysis”, by R. E. Hotz, The Wall Street Journal (14 September 2007);

  26. March 14, 2010


    Thank you Prospect for shinng a light onto this important aspect of human inquiry. DavidS

  27. March 14, 2010


    It’s not surprising that this thread is dominated by the climate sceptics, they’d be there even (or especially) if Ridley’s article was defending what could still justifiably called a broad consensus among climate scientists about the causes and extent of climate change.

    But it’s really not persuasive from those who profess to be ‘rational’ sceptics to declare themselves excited and convinced by the book in question. Because most of them (myself included) have not done thorough and extensive research on the subject. Rather, they are overjoyed that a book (and review) comes along that confirms the views they’d always wished they could hold with confidence – i.e. that all these painful measures to combat climate change(‘rolling back modernity’, as it were) are either premature or totally unnecessary.

    To praise the book in question is therefore disingenious unless you have looked into the panoply of excellent counterarguments – some of which are summarised in the above post by Shirley.

    Fair enough, it may not be sufficient to question Matt Ridley’s character and his role in the Northern Rock misfortune, but one should perhaps not accept the virtue of the book’s heroic protagonist quite so swiftly…..are there any alternative sources about his work?

    Consider, for instance, this article about another very respectable sceptic, Patrick Michaels:

    Information such as this also needs to be considered. Nor should one discount the fact that Ridley – a well-known author whose books celebrate cumulative human progress (in the tradition of the likes of Simon and Lomborg) – is certainly predisposed to dislike the catastrophist flavour of much climate science and discourse.

    To all those doubters out there: you should really know better than being so selective with your sources! Start with doubting some of your doubts, for example….and consider that in the presence of reasonable evidence of the potential for catastrophic change, the ethical decision is to take precautionary measures (and more or less severe ones are feasible) rather than focus on ignoring the weight of informed scientific opinion. The answer to this is only that all these scientist are either wrong and stupid….or it’s a big conspiracy…so take your pick, will ya…

  28. March 15, 2010


    Good article. I find it absolutely amasing that there are people who still believe in the global warming hoax!

  29. March 15, 2010

    phil clarke

    So are you saying that the exhaust from several decades of burning ~80-million barrels of oil/day (35,000 galls UK per second) has had zero impact on the atmosphere or climate?

    And when every carbon released joins with two oxygens, traps infrared from the sun… still no global warming? Then there’s all that coal the Russians and Chinese are burning these days….

    But still no effect on the atmosphere? None at all? Are you sure? Well, that is truly remarkable – a miracle, no less!

  30. March 16, 2010


    But … but … the science is settled! Who cares that the data shows it’s wrong!

    We owe a huge debt to Steve Mcintyre, but the Hoax of the Century still holds sway in spite of his work, Climategate et al. Cause celebre juggernauts aare like oil tankers, it takes an awfully long time to turn them round.

  31. March 17, 2010

    Robir Datta

    The Hokey Shtick!

  32. March 17, 2010

    Doug in LA

    So the hockey stick has become a hockey puck. What’s the big deal? The big deal is that is was held out as the God’s-finger-written-in-stone truth, as enunciated to the masses of the poor ignorants (especially those in Hollywood) by its prophet in chief, Al Gore. Mr Gore has no political or financial gain attached to doing this, does he?

    So why are more people becoming skeptics? Not because they are scientists or static wizzards, but because they look at the big picture, and sniff scandal, cover-up and misleading data. Bad data is no data at all!

    This matter of MMGW no longer passes the smell test. That much the Common Man can understand.

    Instead of playing defense, why don’t you lingering supporters of the theory set about to find the data – untruncated, unsifted, and whole – to buttress your point of view? Your collective whining about failing to move the world’s billions is not cause enough to recommit those who are leaving your ranks.

    And while you’re at it, please cancel Mexico and any futher attempts to prove the disproven, and save us taxpayers the billions you are wasting.

  33. March 18, 2010

    Mike Roddy

    There is a nonsensical statement here: “The only piece of empirical evidence [that supports] something unprecedented going on is the hockey stick graph.”

    The hockey stick is not empirical evidence, which comes from observations. The hockey stick is a visual representation of the results from these observations. There are at least 20 such hockey sticks, not just the one about tree rings, and they all follow the same abrupt blade pattern. The author of this book does not know anything about the collection and graphic representation of scientific data.

    NAS vindicated the hockey stick in a very detailed study. We are now supposed to believe this new book, written by someone who doesn’t even know the basic grammar of scientific inquiry?

    Steve, you are the subject of controversy on a recent thread at Deep Climate. We’d be interested in hearing from you there.

  34. March 19, 2010

    Gordon MacKay

    Idiot! – I have seen at the foot of Mount Everest the retreating glaciers, I have seen rock on Mount Kenya where once hung the mighty Diamond Couloir: one of the greatest ice climbs in the world. I have seen too the photographic evidence of a receding ice cap in Greenland and a shrinking Antarctic ice shelf. Above all (sic) the North Pole will soon be visited by boat!
    It does not end there by any means:-

    “… it’s hard to debate a destabilizing 10,000-foot thick glacier. With sea levels and melting polar ice-sheets already at the upper limits of 30 year projections, another 500,000 square miles of Arctic sea ice melted, and Alaska’s glaciers threatening to turn off the winter-warming Gulf Stream by decanting more than 13 trillion gallons of meltwater into the world ocean each year, and Greenland’s fast-melting 2,000 kilometres of solid ice increasing its melting rate over the past five years from a metre a year to a metre a month, and polar bears drowning a hundred miles offshore while looking for ice floes retreating another 300 miles out, and thousands of Canadian harp seal pups experiencing 100% mortality from the same lack of ice, and with the first month of 2007 3.4°F hotter than the any January ever recorded, and the snowpack serving drinking water to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest shrinking toward bare rock, and more than a quarter of the American West in either severe or exceptionally severe drought and Arizona cactus dying from lack of water… it is undeniably clear that the Inhofe is right: the planet can’t be heating up! [Reuters Mar 23/07; CBC Aug 3; Aug 20/04; BBC Radio 4 Aug 7/05; Independent Oct 2/05; Knight Ridder News Service July31/03; New York Times Mar 10/06;;
    On the other hand, an 18-inch rise in sea level would see salt water flowing into the Sacramento River Delta, destroying the drinking water for 23 million Californians. A 20-foot ocean level rise will put half of Florida under water— including Miami, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville—along with the new WTC memorial in Manhattan, and much of Washington DC, where Senator Inhofe is busily blocking climate change-inspired discourse, dancing and music. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer Mar 11/07; BBC July28/04]
    In more than 180 countries, one out of every ten people on the planet could soon be chuckling over the climate change hoax while swimming inland. Fortunately for U.S. legislators like Inhofe, only one of these countries is the United States. The rest—China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, Egypt, Thailand and the Philippines have mostly expendable non-white populations who don’t buy much stuff from the United States, which today primarily produces bullshit, weapons and wars. [Inter Press Service Mar 28/07]
    Meanwhile, the rapidly melting and slip-sliding Greenland ice sheet does not know it is a hoax and is set to raise world sea levels 20 to 30 feet, while far to the south, inland Western Antarctic glaciers uncorked by the calving Larson ice shelf are rushing to add another 20-feet or so to the rising sea level hoax. As for the melting Eastern Antarctic… think about relocating to a mountaintop with a dock in your front yard.
    Onboard a planet that is much more Ocean than Earth, the gigantic saltwater buffer covering 70% of its surface is absorbing half of our carbon folly every day. This is not so good, because all this hot water is helping to create vast fishless Dead Zones off the coast of California and Oregon every year for the last five years. Dead zones are also blooming in the waters off Chile, Namibia and South Africa. Nearly 50% of the world’s fisheries are in these areas. [BBC News Feb 17/07]
    Even worse, in contributing to a 25 million ton carbon deposit into the One World Ocean every day, we are seeing a resulting carbonic reaction that is rapidly turning this whole big watery wilderness acidic. [ Aug 13/04; Agence France-Presse July 20/05]
    And those 25 million daily acid-making tons are increasing rapidly.
    Meanwhile, the global warming hoax so stridently opposed by Senator Inhofe means that temperatures in Eastern Europe are not averaging 8° Fahrenheit above normal, even though they are. Canada on average is more than 5 degrees warmer than normal, and hoax-ridden Siberia is 9°F hotter than usual. [Agence France-Presse Feb 16/07; AP Feb 16/07]
    This is a scream because the world’s largest frozen peat bog stretches for a million square kilometres across western Siberia’s once permanently frosty permafrost. Warming faster than almost anywhere else on Earth, this time bomb tundra contains several hundred billion tons of methane that—if thawed by a few more cheap flights to Mexico—could be burped like a giant cow fart into an atmosphere already dangerously overloaded with fast-food bovine flatulence. [ Aug 11/05]
    Thing is, each teeny molecule of methane released into the atmosphere destroys millions of sunshielding ozone molecules. And despite the hoax of ozone layer depletion, last year’s 11 million square miles ozone hole over the Antarctic was the biggest ever recorded, with local ozone absence often reaching 99%. No more ozone means no more plankton means no more oxygen and no more fishies. [National Science Foundation Press Release Dec 17/03;; Agence France-Presse Dec 26/06]
    Another thing is, one molecule of methane also traps 21 times more heat than a measly molecule of carbon dioxide. [EPA]
    Suddenly—hopefully—that next drive to Burger King may not seem as urgent as leaving the key unturned in the aptly-named ignition. Because about another two or three degrees rise in global temperatures could release more heat-trapping tundra methane all at once than all the carbon released over the past 100 years. [Baltimore Sun Dec 16/04]
    But as Inhofe urges, relax and throw another log on the fire. The good news is that the latest alarming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projections showing an “upper range” temperature increase of about 11°F by this century’s end based on carbon burning trends in places like the USA, Canada and China turn out to be baloney.
    The bad news is that 1,200 of the world’s best atmospheric scientists at the IPCC forgot to factor in land-based methane releases, which are “emptying at an alarming rate,” according to Chris Freeman of the University of Wales. Apparently uninformed that methane levels already rising three-times faster than CO2 are a hoax, a frightened Freeman exclaims, “It’s a vicious circle. The problem gets worse and worse, faster and faster” as more methane heats the atmosphere releasing more methane and so on. [National Science Foundation Press Release Dec 17/03; Aug 11/05]
    Even with the terrible tundra factored in, panicked oceanographers are warning that just a few degrees more ocean warming could release another 2,000 billion tons of methane gas into the atmosphere. That’s a lot. In fact it’s enough to trigger a sudden “destabilization event” even worse than a jilted spouse.
    We won’t like it. A NASA study confirmed that 55 million years ago a similarly tremendous underwater methane burp instantly heated Earth’s atmosphere by up to 13° F within a few decades. This messed up a lot of finned, feathered and furred lives, disrupting climate worldwide for more than 100,000 years.
    Some 200 million years before that, another series of methane releases came close to wiping out all life on a lone space colony called Earth. As oxygen levels plummeted and organic life teeter-tottered on the brink of extinction, more than 94% of marine species headed for off-planet dimensions. It took between 25 and 100 million years for coral reefs and forests to regrow into their former diversity.
    For those of us who don’t like waiting for anything, such an interruption could be extremely aggravating.
    These Big Extinction Events—and other periodic warming and cooling episodes—are what people like Inhofe and your neighbors and coworkers mean when they say that climate change is “cyclical”. They’re right. But not in the way they mean.
    For example, about 12,700 years ago average temperatures in North Atlantic region abruptly plummeted nearly 5°C and remained that way for 1,300 years. The Younger Dryas is named after a cold-loving Arctic wildflower that flourished during this era in the US and European regions, where icebergs extended as far south as the coast of present day Portugal.
    Another abrupt warming took place about 1,000 years ago that allowed Norse voyagers to settle a northern green land. Three centuries later, the Norse abandoned their Greenland settlements when the climate chilled abruptly—with even more profound agricultural, economic, and political impacts in Europe. In the USA, the American revolution was nearly aborted by rapid climate shift as Washington struggled to get his thinly-clad troops across the icebound Delaware.
    “Rapid changes in ocean circulation are linked to these abrupt climate changes,” Robert Gagosian, President and Director Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution told the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland in January 2003. “A growing body of evidence demonstrating linkages among ocean-related climate shifts, ‘megadroughts’ and precipitous collapses of civilizations, including the Akkadian empire in Mesopotamia 4,200 years ago, the Mayan empire in central America 1,500 years ago, and the Anasazi in the American Southwest in the late 13th century.”
    Now a lot more people could experience that excitement again. In May 2005, climate change researcher Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, aimed sonar upwards beneath the Arctic ice cap from Royal Navy submarines and correlated ships’ measurements across the Greenland Sea to detect that one of the two “heat pumps” driving the Gulf Stream had weakened to less than a quarter of its former strength.
    “Until recently we would find giant ‘chimneys’ in the sea where columns of cold, dense water were sinking from the surface to the seabed 3,000 metres below, but now they have almost disappeared,” Wadhams said. “As the water sank it was replaced by warm water flowing in from the south, which kept the circulation going. If that mechanism is slowing, it will mean less heat reaching Europe.”
    Today, the powerful Gulf Stream that bathes Britain and northern Europe in warm waters conveyed from the tropics has slowed by 30% in the last dozen years. According to UK newspapers, “The Gulf Stream delivers the equivalent of 1 million power stations-worth of energy to northern Europe, propping up temperatures by 10C in some regions. Ireland, Britain and northwestern Europe lie on the same latitude as Siberia.” The shut down of this Gulf Stream “radiator” could lead to a century or more of no frost-free days on the northern European, UK and US Atlantic seaboards—at a time when the end of cheap oil sends fuel oil and food transport costs skyrocketing. [Sunday Times (Ireland) May 8/05; Guardian Dec 1/05]
    While unusually violent solar flares are not linked to these major climatic events, cold northern meltwater and methane releases caused by mass volcanic eruptions are. On a Gaian world driven by intricately interconnected feedback mechanisms to maintain narrow margins of mammalian habitability, volcanism may somehow be cyclical.
    But humans are cynical. And our denial is much more dangerous. As U.S. government geologist John Atcheson observes, “Humans appear to be capable of emitting carbon dioxide in quantities comparable to the volcanic activity that started these chain reactions.” According to the U.S. Geological Survey, burning fossil fuels in cars, jets, ships, wood stoves and power plants releases more than 150 times the amount of volcanic carbon dioxide—”the equivalent of nearly 17,000 additional volcanoes the size of Hawaii’s Kilauea.” [Baltimore Sun Dec 16/04]
    Inhofe says that more than 700 million cars and trucks running their motors an eggshell-thin atmosphere as enclosed as any garage are not affecting anything. [Independent Dec 6/03; Globe and Mail Apr11/98]
    Atcheson, says, “Once these methane releases really get cooking, it’s likely to play out all the way.” [Independent Dec 6/03]
    Carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are increasing at an alarming rate and could rise by as much as 75% in the next 15 years unless we stop shopping for cheap junk at Wal-Mart and similar Chinese coal-plant prodding consumption emporiums. All this shipping traffic to deliver consumer toys and oil is nearly double Britain’s total emissions and more than all African countries combined.
    For anyone who still believes in leaving their personal responsibility and children’s’ future to governments governed by corporate interests, more than 200 million tons of carbon emissions from 70,000 perpetually steaming ships do not come under the Kyoto agreement or any proposed European legislation. Few studies have been made of the vehicles that transport 90% of our not-so-goods over thousands of sea miles.
    “Buying local” takes on new urgency and appropriateness with 20,000 new ships on order and shipboard emissions heading toward more than a million tons a day by 2020. [Guardian Mar 3/07]
    Apparently still clueless that climate change is a hoax, 409 mayors have signed a climate-protection agreement requiring cities to reduce greenhouse emissions, and 29 states have already passed legislation limiting greenhouse gases. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is also seeking to terminate global; warming by imposes the first state cap on greenhouse gas emissions that will reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.
    Last Monday, the governors of Washington, California, Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico announced a regional agreement on climate change.
    On Thursday—as temperatures rose to the highest level ever for March at 11 locations across Japan—Senate hearings examined these state and local programs as models for federal legislation. [Kyodo news Mar 30/07]
    On Sunday, Vice President Al Gore won an Academy Award for his must-see documentary on global warming.
    As astonished Japanese hauled out their Saki for cherry blossom-viewing in a Tokyo sweltering under July-like temperatures, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “We are making tough choices. We are investing our taxpayers’ money. We are transforming our cities into laboratories for climate protection. In short, we are making a difference, and laying the groundwork for strong federal policies and programs.”
    Calling on Congress to pass a plan “that calls for a hard and declining cap on emissions,” Nickels insisted that cities and states should be eligible for federal grants that underwrite innovative programs and research. “We need the federal government to take on a leadership role now so that we move beyond the grass-roots innovation that is blossoming in every state in the country,” he said.
    But blowing up Iraq and Afghanistan, and getting ready to blow up Iran, Syria, North Korea and possibly Canada if we don’t fork over the rest of our natural gas, oil and fresh water for SUVs and desert golf courses, continues to vacuum nearly every shekel—er, dollar—from the U.S. economy. As Truthout’s Environmental Editor Kelpie Wilson points out, the anticipated cost of the Iraq slaughter “will be at least a trillion dollars. The installed cost of solar power is currently about $9 a watt, so $20,000 would buy a 2.2 kilowatt solar power system. That is enough power for a household with modest needs to spin the meter backward a good portion of the time. A trillion dollars would put a system like that on 50 million roofs.” [ Mar 29/07]
    With the real surge taking place not in Baghdad but across the globe, as current levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere leaped higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years and worldwide carbon fuel emissions surged past 900 tons each second, the doughty Senator Inhofe said he would fight any proposal based on California’s model that is already reducing traffic, de-stressing people’s lives and putting more saved fuel dollars in their pockets.
    “Let’s be honest about what these programs, and their companion proposals here in Congress, really are,” Inhofe said. “They are the biggest tax increase in U.S. history. In fact, they are worse than taxes.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer Mar 2/07]
    Was the Oklahoma senator perpetrating his own hoax? By becoming the first local government in the United States to deal with climate change back in 1993, the city of Portland has already achieved stunning reductions in carbon emissions below 1990 levels—while booming in smiles, improved health and cash savings.
    “People have looked at it the wrong way, as a drain,” Mayor Tom Potter patiently explained after parking his Prius hybrid. “Actually it’s something that attracts people. It’s economical. It makes sense in dollars.”
    Portland has led the way into a more fun, less carbon future by installing two light rail lines and a streetcar system, and 750 miles of bicycle paths. As a result, another 10 out of every hundred residents have left their dangerous cars chained up and are happily commuting by foot or on bicycle. [Guardian Mar 5/07; Washington Post Feb 27/07]
    The “DO NOT CROSS” threshold of a further two degree temperature rise must be avoided at all costs—even if it means turning off computers, TVs and other appliances in tens of thousands of showrooms—and similar gadgets not actually in productive use in the office or at home.
    Why not switch off global warming now?
    And put the cash savings in your jeans?
    And maybe not work so hard to keep all these machines turned on. Even when you think they’re turned off. Which could be the biggest hoax of all.
    “Number one is to turn things off when they are not in use,” Wilson suggests. “Seventy-five percent of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. Across the US, this equals the annual output of 12 power plants and costs consumers over $1 billion each year. Buy some power strips so you can take back control over these ‘vampire loads.’ Light bulbs are also crucial. Lighting is about 25 percent of US electricity use. Compact fluorescent light bulbs use about one-third the energy of incandescent bulbs. [ Mar 29/07]
    Another big blind spot is that we in North America are too often locked by our media mesmerizers and cultural conditioning into thinking that what we see and hear around us is the way things are everywhere.
    Flip on the Internet, buy a copy of the New Economist, chat up a visitor and the great and joyous news is that 95% of global humanity do not live here—and are not subjected to the ignorant bleating of Senators like I’m-a-foe, and presidential pretenders like Cheney, I mean Wolfowitz, I mean Perle, I mean JINSA, I mean Bush.
    Europe is moving fast fast fast to wean itself off a species limiting carbon addiction. So is Scandinavia. Even Big Bad China, in the midst of its coal-fired-power-plant-a-week frenzy, is acknowledging planetary peril and attempting to put on the carbon brakes while rolling out windmills, electric bicycles and paradigm-changing Lithium Ion batteries in truly Chinese quantities.
    Across the warming ocean in the other direction, to avoid a further 2 degrees centigrade temperature rise, further polar melting, and catastrophic methane releases—the woman-led German government is calling on industrialised countries to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 20% by 2020, and 60% by 2050. [Independent Dec 6/03]
    That would help. A rapid 90% low-carbon diet might stave off calamity.
    With targets—and incentives—like this, the opportunities for personal creativity, long wished for lifestyle changes, and entrepreneurship are boggling!
    “Now is our chance to develop the American low-energy lifestyle. The Japanese use half the energy we do, yet still maintain an affluent lifestyle. Many European countries do the same. We can look to Japan and Europe for models, but we can also do it our own way,” Kelpie Wilson says—while powering her family’s fully but carefully equipped Oregon home with solar panels and a micro-stream generator for 11 months of the year.
    After thousands of hours of meticulous research, this writer can say definitively that climate change is not happening.
    Forget “climate change”. The gradual warming of the Earth—which actually sounds inviting to shivering Northern Hemispherians—is nonsense.
    We are actually well past climate change. We are now experiencing rapid Climate Shift.
    And if we don’t flip off unneeded car and plane trips, appliances, light switches, deadbeat politicians, and consumption-driven network television right now—we could trip the switch on Climate Flip.
    This means us, Mr. and Mrs. North America. As Flavia Nunes at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California points out, the key finding from ice core samples and the geological record is that “the Earth is a system that can change very rapidly”—once an enclosed, recirculating atmosphere is saturated with the heat-trapping effluence of our affluence. [Christian Science Monitor Jan 26/06]
    The heartening news is that Climate Shift is causing a concomitant Consciousness Shift. A lifeboat mentality is beginning to displace our misplaced “me first” conditioning as the realization sinks in that we could all sink down if our spaceship Earth founders on the reefs not of carbon and methane, but our own denial.
    The answer to the biggest motivator for transformation yet enjoyed by challenge-loving and ultimately cooperative hominids is as simple—and immediate—as changing our minds.
    So why not pull those plugs, jump on your bike, and visit a friend or your local farmer’s market right now? The liberating lesson of climate shift is that we can move just as quickly away from fear, guilt, loneliness, and the treadmill stress of credit card serfdom to enjoy true “freedom” as masters of our destiny in a supportive and approving community.
    [The author has clicked off his nonessential electrical power bars, scrapped his old pickup, and is converting his recumbent bike to electric power.]” ff William Thomas “The Climate Change Hoax Hoax”.

  35. March 19, 2010

    Gregory Norminton

    Deeply depressing to find yet another clunking piece of propaganda and disinformation from Prospect. It seems the editor has had his brain decisively warped by the overblown response to the CRU hack.

    Goodhart clearly can’t distinguish between a tapestry and its loose threads. If I want to read this sort of crap, I can buy The Spectator. As it is, I’m seriously rethinking my subscription.

    And what is it with Viscounts and climate change denial?

  36. March 19, 2010

    Gregory Norminton

    I’m spending too much time posting science links on the PROSPECT blog. But for anyone stumbling on this propaganda piece who doesn’t have an emotional investment in believing it, here are some sites worth visiting.

    Michael Mann was exonerated by Penn State University:

    Mann is being smeared by vested interests. And now PROSPECT is joining in with a lie that kills.

  37. March 20, 2010


    I’d like to thank Matt for this review, as it prompted me to buy the book.

    Having just finished it, I have to agree with the forst two commentors.

  38. March 20, 2010


    This is the Matt Ridley who chaired Northern Rock when it was the worst run bank in Britain? The one who worked as a zoologist and wrote a book about sex and evolution? Hmm, for a zoologist, he knows paleoclimatology like he knows banking. I strongly recommend he learns the science in the relevant field and then reads McIntyre’s own work, rather than the spin journalists put on it. Then he’ll understand why it’s regarded as amateur hour nonsense.

  39. March 21, 2010

    Wm. H. P. Amos

    Sirs, with regards to Stacey’s case against the Hockey stick, I think our problem is the media. They consistantly fail to support all those who have shown the many deceptions of the acedemic establishment. I thank you for your support of the probable ‘inconvienient truth’
    Politicians haven’t the gumption to speak against the new climate religion!

  40. March 23, 2010


    Gordon Mackay
    You were doing OK until you mentioned the polar bears…..

    Every single thing you said is true if it can be demonstrated unequivocably that the earth is warmer now than in the past (eg. the Medieval Warm Period) …. because if it was warmer 700 years ago than it is today (when there may also have been less ice on Greenland), then everything you have said is irrelevant.

    Which is why it is why something like Manns hockey stick has to unimpeachable. As clearly demonstrated by Steve McIntyre, it isn’t.

    Hence why the book is such a good read. You should try it.

  41. March 29, 2010


    What exactly is the motivation for the large number of climate scientists and other scientific colleagues in joining together in an organised fashion and maintaining a highly complex conspiracy to hoodwink the entire population of the world into a very costly and difficult volte face in relation to their current and future energy use?

    Surely the most basic tenet of good science exemplified by Occam’s razor would indicate here, as with so many conspiracist theories, that it is far more likely that their views on global warming are what the evidence actually generally points to?

  42. April 4, 2010


    I think that the author being a ‘brilliant mathematician and statistician’ tells us all we need to know. Weren’t these the same people who, employed by financial institutions of all kinds, completely knackered the global economy for decades to come?

    Without wishing to re-ignite the qual / quant debate, you only have to read some of narrative provided by real people that unrestrained growth without thought for the consequences is doing the same for our economy too. Only this time the damage is permanent.

    Put your slide rule down, go out and get a life, Mr Montford.

  43. April 4, 2010


    The hockey stick is not empirical evidence, which comes from observations. The hockey stick is a visual representation of the results from these observations.

    Indeed, Mann plugges these empirical results into his model, and generated a “hockey stick”, showing no variation in temperature until the 20th century, and rapid warming thereafter. When McIntyre finally got his hands on this model – which Mann refused for a long time to publish – he discovered he could put random numbers into the model AND STILL GET THE HOCKEY STICK.

    The model always gave no variation in temperature until the 20th century, and rapid warming thereafter. It did not matter if there was any trend in the data or not.

    The model was drivel. But no one in the climate community noticed, because none of them had tried to critically examine the model. It gave them the result they expected, so they assumed it must be right.

    And they refused to disclose their own data and models, presumably in case aanyone discovered anything embarrasing about them.

  44. April 7, 2010

    Original Mike

    Montford does not paint a pretty picture of the NAS review process, but people point to it as exoneration of the hockey stick process, so I looked up the Nature editorial pointed to by Gregory Norminton. This is what I find:

    “We roughly agree with the substance of their findings,” says Gerald North, the committee’s chair and a climate scientist at Texas A&M University in College Station. In particular, he says, the committee has a “high level of confidence” that the second half of the twentieth century was warmer than any other period in the past four centuries. But, he adds, claims for the earlier period covered by the study, from AD 900 to 1600, are less certain. This earlier period is particularly important because global-warming sceptics claim that the current warming trend is a rebound from a ‘little ice age’ around 1600. Overall, the committee thought the temperature reconstructions from that era had only a two-to-one chance of being right.”

    Yeesh. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the absense of a MWP which is, of course, a crucial point.

  45. April 8, 2010


    There are several “big questions” in AGW:

    1. Is the earth warming, and if so, by how much?
    2. How much of this warming, if any, is caused by anthropogenic actions, versus external effects?
    3. Is there a limit (or, conversely, a tipping point) to any AGW effects? For example, some researchers theorize that there is a maximum to the amount of heat that can be trapped by CO2, and we’re asymptotically approaching that limit. Others theorize that we’re reaching a “cascade effect” point, beyond which we cannot stop AGW effects.

    So far, I’m not aware of solid answers for any of these questions. Even the first question, about how much the Earth may be warming, has a great deal of contention in it, due to controversy over Urban Heat Island effects and a lack of good temperature reporting over much of the planet.

    However, in order to reach answers, and to commit literally trillions of dollars of the world’s economy, I think it would behoove us to find answers to all of these questions, rather than resort to ad hominem attacks and nit-picking every time someone makes a point we disagree with.

    And now, to prove my point, someone will undoubtedly either engage in an ad hominem attack against me, or nitpick this post in some way.

  46. September 24, 2010

    Ian Murray

    Having just read Andrew Montford’s book (also twice) your review was spot on. I am not a scientist in any way shape or form but I have some experience in criminal matters. Purely from an evidential point of view, the hockey stick proposition would have failed every test of proof from the very start and would not have withstood cross examination of the ‘facts’. The herd instinct, however, is a powerful thing. Keep up the good work!

  47. November 12, 2010


    The hockey stick taught us one very important lesson that I am surprised we needed to learn.

    Until AGW scientists publish their models and their data, you know, like science demands, then all prophesies made by them must necessarily be ignored.

  48. April 19, 2012

    Salwar Kameez

    A very on-point review. I had seen, but not yet purchased this book – after reading this review I think I’ll get a copy of it post haste! Thanks very much for reviewing this; it made my Earth Day all the better.

  49. September 11, 2013


    allright, lets use some common sense.. leave aside the hockey stick and its data and climate scientists. The fact that we are using far far more resources per person today than a century ago, that too on a finite planet, should tell us something. All these resources have to be mined to create, and disposed off in the end. meanwhile forests shrink, wildlife habitat decreases, seas are overfished, water increasingly polluted, fertile land eroded of soil, and we thing all is well ? Climate change, whether it is happening ot not, is a much smaller issue than our collective assault on natural resources and the earth’s ecosystems.

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Matt Ridley

Matt Ridley is the author of Genome (Fourth Estate, 8.99).. 

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