McDonald in Nature

The Environment Editor of the Irish Times, Frank McDonald, has written in Nature.

It is interesting to compare some of the notions of journalistic neutrality (Wikipedia and Irish Times; Nature‘s mission statement is surprisingly silent on impartiality) to McDonald’s choice of words, such as “dark forces”.

McDonald uses language that is more usually associated with activists to describe the alleged threats of climate change, and attributes events in sub-Saharan Africa to climatic change in a way that is unsupported by any science.

Werner Kraus has a different take.

42 replies on “McDonald in Nature”

Climate science is a religion.

That doesn’t make it wrong, mind you. Religions like Christianity teach us to be kind to our neighbours and to attempt to do good. Personally that appeals to me.

But one thing about religions is they intend to impose their dogma on others.

For instance, liberalism is a dogma which says that all people [] are equal no matter what. No scientific evidence to the contrary would even be tolerated. Cut funding to the researcher who suggests the blasphemy of even asking the question. If I build a successful company with my own sweat and bricks and then decide I don’t want to hire [GROUP A] or [B], liberalism has no problem dispatching the State to put a gun to my head and force me to do otherwise, even if I can provide convincing scientific evidence that hiring these groups will hurt my well-deserved profits.

This aggressive notion of equality no-matter-what might appeal to Richard Tol, and so he does not feel particularly constrained by its dogma the way he does by the dogma of climate science.

But one imagines that the spokeperson for [] might feel differently.

Who is right? Depends entirely on your values.


I indeed believe that people are equally worthy and that it is the duty of the state to stop discrimination. That belief affects the way I think, speak and write about climate change and climate policy. It is not particular for this thread.

I think people of a socialist disposition generally, love latching on to the delusions of human induced Climate Change (or Climate Disruption) (or Clean Energy Future). Global Warming is so 90’s.

Here they have the platform to dismantle the sovereignty of nations and to preach their religious mantra to career politicians who in turn latch onto the doctrine of which the really know zero about. Frank Mac has no scientific qualification whatsoever but it doesn’t stop him taking sides in a scientific debate. The science is very much divided. Climate Change is politics not science you see.

Politicians, NGO’s, like minded journalists learn phrases like climate change denier and climate change skeptic and make statements like we need to take firm action now.

The implications of course mean: being able to use your hairdrier once a week. A global one child policy. Halving the national herd. Maybe no national herd. Regular power outages. Air Travel limited for business purposes only. Mandatory home inspections for unecessary energy waste. How else will we achieve 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050 from 1990 levels? Go back to the stone age!

An Taisce are promoting a Green Schools Programme. Many schools have their Green Schools flag flying at school entrances. I’ve also seen some of the literature school kids are being taught around reducing CO2 output becuase CO2 is a “pollutant”. I wonder how teachers cope teaching photosynthesis where CO2 is taken in by plants to make food. All our food is the result of a pollutant. Great stuff. Whoever said journalists reported both sides of a debate rather than the personal opinions and agendas of the writers?

Biblical stuff. Impartiality is more commonly expected of scientists on the public payroll than of journalists.

Anyhow keep it coming. Your articles are enjoyable to read. A social scientist with little understanding of human behaviour provides great characterisation for your narratives.

Matthew 7

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.


“For instance, liberalism is a dogma which says that all people [] are equal no matter what. No scientific evidence to the contrary would even be tolerated.”

Surely it is a qualitative judgement to say that all people are equal. How do you propose that it can be tested empirically?

@ Ultan

I can understand that there is far from scientific consensus on the degree of human induced climate change, but is there really an argument that human activity has no impact on the environment?

If in 100 years time we are pumping out 2x-3x the CO2 in to the atmosphere that we are now and continue to do so for the indefinite future, do you think it is reasonable to imagine that will have no impact on the climate? If we cut down all the rainforests of the earth, that will not have an effect?

Also, I think your argument that the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 80% between 1990-2050 will have us back in the dark ages is overly pessimistic. People are smart and very adaptable. Europe’s energy usage per capita is far below that of the US for instance. Americans can become much more efficient energy users without seeing a fall in living standards. This is happening already. US auto average mpg is set to rise by about 50% between 2004 and 2016 and by a further 34% between 2017 and 2025 through tightening legislation.

“there is far from scientific consensus on the subject”

Richard Tol doesn’t have any data . Did it fall behind the couch?

Are there any plans to bring the global eco summits to “the world’s first carbon neutral convention centre*”?
(*according to the National Convention Centre Dublin’s website).

It seems that there’s a market to be tapped here. I’m not thinking about green technology/reseach but green bureaucracy/ talking shops / negotiations. There’s lots of free office space in Dublin, is there demand for an international green bureaucratic hub?

The State Run Spin should also show documentaries or host discussions where the “consensus” of Climate Change or Kyoto is challenged. Apart from Pat Kenny, I can’t think of a single programme where such a debate happened. The BBC is often challenged on their bias of the “consensus” of Climate Change becuase it is financed with taxpayers money.

Channel 4 produced “The Global Warming Swindle” for example. Wouldn’t you think RTE would show documentaries from both sides of the debate?
Not on your life.

The Brocasting Authority of Ireland wrote to me stating that RTE can say and do as they like on the subject of Climate Change becuase it represents the “consensus opinion”.
Consensus in science is an Oxymoron. Anyway, I complained about a programme produced by RTE and the EPA last year called “A Burning Question”. Not a single skeptic of political or scientific persuasion was interviewed. The usual of course were wheeled out for the cameras: The EPA, Mary Robinson, John Gibbons, even David McWilliams. But no Richard Lindzen, no Henrick Svesnmark, no Bob Carter, no mention of the Sun causing climate change. RTE did have NASA’s James Hanson for example so they could have had Lindzen or even Ray Bates from UCD who admits the Medieval warm period.

Balance is not for RTE. Why should it apply to the Irish Times?

I don’t really care about much of the data anymore as it is all so ideological.
One thing that sparks my interest though is by some measures France has a lower per capita co2 emission then China.
Now at this moment in time France has a higher living standard by & large, at least today or maybe 10 o clock tommorow the markets might change that statistic.
But it eats more meat – even energy intensive fois gras , drives more cars per person , they go on longer holidays etc etc.
But anyhow – there you have it.
Now I know China is the workhouse of the world & all which makes a massive difference to every calculation.
But perhaps the cleaner air and lower Co2 emissions over France has something to do with them guys splitting a lot of atoms & the Chinese still doing a lot of chemical reactions to coal – maybe.

My question is – Why do most of these guys want us to do Windmills & waterwheels ? – do they have a deindustrilisation agenda ?
Me thinks they do as that is the only other method of reducing Co2 on a large enough scale to make any bit of difference.
I want to eat well & stay warm – I don’t want to die young for a idea that maybe open to debate.

@ Carson,

I think you may have missed my point. I don’t propose that it be tested empirically. I merely point out that even an attempt to test such a thing empirically clashes with the dominant dogma of liberalism under which we live.

The reason I bring it up is certainly not to question the rightousness of such dogma – it happens I subscribe to the dogma as fervently as Richard Tol – but merely to make a point:

The fact that something is dogma – and that the prevailing religion forbids any considered debate on the tenants of that dogma – does not make it wrong.

Indeed, if we do not allow for at least some dogma, we cannot even define “right” or “wrong” as concepts.

My point was to enlighten Richard Tol to the fact that his questioning of the dogma of climate science strikes people in very much the same way as he (and I) might feel about ours.

Equality as a religious belief may not be supported by any evidence at all, no more than the religious belief that we should all act to reduce our carbon footprint, but both (and indeed other religious beliefs) share one very positive, very common trait:

They are motivated by an idea of what is wrong and what is right. They establish modes of social behaviour which create coherence and help organise human activity on a group level.

Humans need to feel they are doing something good, whether it be fighting against atmospheric pollution, fighting against discrimination, or convincing the inhabitants of continents they have invaded to accept a certain set of scriptures and to pray to a certain prophet.

@ Ultan Murphy

” But no Richard Lindzen, no Henrick Svesnmark, no Bob Carter, no mention of the Sun causing climate change”

No mention of the fairies that cause the bread to rise in any cookery books. Just Jamie Oliver and Darina Allen.
No balance .

Seafóid translates as “nonsense”. How appropriate.

I usually believe repeatable experiments. Refer me to a single experiment which measures the warming effect of CO2 raising it from 0.03% to 0.04% using an IR light source at 15 C.

Anything coming close will do fine.

Contrary to your other little put down, Cern verified this year that cosmic rays do indeed seed cloud forming particles. Svensmark actually has independent scientific evidence to back up his thesis.

As MIT Prof Richard Lindzen said: “the consensus was reached before the research began”.

btw ultan. richard lindzen is an extreme contrarian. he also thinks smoking doesnt cause lung cancer not to mention the fact that [SMEAR].

its a bit ridiculous to cite the @great global warming swindle” as a serious piece of work. its was a hacket job. look into it, its not a serious piece of work.

From wiki:

“Carl Wunsch, professor of Physical Oceanography at MIT, is featured in the Channel 4 version of the programme. Afterwards he said that he was “completely misrepresented” in the film and had been “totally misled” when he agreed to be interviewed.[7][30] He called the film “grossly distorted” and “as close to pure propaganda as anything since World War Two”,[31] and he lodged a complaint with Ofcom. He particularly objected to how his interview material was used:
In the part of The Great Climate Change Swindle where I am describing the fact that the ocean tends to expel carbon dioxide where it is warm, and to absorb it where it is cold, my intent was to explain that warming the ocean could be dangerous—because it is such a gigantic reservoir of carbon. By its placement in the film, it appears that I am saying that since carbon dioxide exists in the ocean in such large quantities, human influence must not be very important—diametrically opposite to the point I was making—which is that global warming is both real and threatening.[7]”

@The Dork of Cork
fwiw the commentators/scientist i read generally call for a mixture of nuclear and renewable. obviously it’d be great if we could get all the energy we need from renewables but most people realise that this aint the case.

@Ultan murphy

I believe in systemic risk. Climate breakdown is a systemic risk. There is no diversification option. We only have one planet. We are running out of time to do something .

Most of the “experts” you cite are [SMEAR].

Ireland has already had 2 major national disasters with forget about it it’s grand laissez faire au marché thinking. Climate breakdown has the potential to dwarf both. Doing nothing is insane.

@Ciaran, Seafoid
Please note that we do not permit smear campaigns here. If you feel it necessary to accuse somebody of something, please provide facts and make yourself known so that the accused can take you to court if needed.

Repeat offenders will be banned.

I think most of the big renewable stuff has been done already …… see Norway’s Hydro electricity network for example although theres always room for more I guess but not if it is inherently not intensive.
These fashionable diffuse renewable networks just don’t produce much for the amount of capital invested which means it takes money away from the likes of Nuclear which is also capital intensive but you get a lot of bangs for your buck if you have a plant time span of 40+ years.

What gets to me is this rush to Gas / wind optics withen Ireland & elsewhere – the spin was this was less carbon intensive then Coal , which is right up to a point , but it is a very narrow point.
Anyhow this was part of the sale and not the real reason for the rush to Gas.

So we burn Gas instead of other less valuable fuels to make electricity which is very very wasteful.
But what would happen if we did not burn this stuff for electricity production ?
It would more efficiently create heat or be burned directly in a combustion engine with less transformation loss.
Creating a surplus for more investment or indeed consumption – depending on how Protestant your disposition was.

What the environmentalists do not want to know is that many of their solutions are even more wasteful.
Their rural detached from Industrial concentration idyll may be nice on a individual level but catostrophic on a larger scale.

What I am saying is before we do the high hanging fruit of things such as farm Biomass generators lets try to stop the 3,024KTO of NG used for electricity last year in this country from the 4704KTO total NG consumption.
That stuff is very high value energy – its such a waste !

The Global warming Industry seems to want to promote waste for some funny reason.

fair enough but is it ok to quote from other sources??, i think its important since people tend to brandish lindzens name about like a talisman , look a real scientist(“from mit” wow so he must be right) and use it to create the impression of some great scientific debate. which in reality doesnt exist. now personally i dont necessarily think that he’s corrupt , id more emphasis the fact that he’s way off the consensus on the subject(i notice in the harpers link below that he was previously a “skeptic” on cfcs destroying the ozone). however i dont think my comment was that out of line.

from harpers:

“Lindzen, for his part, charges oil and coal interests $2,500 a day for his consulting services; his 1991 trip to testify before a Senate committee was paid for by Western Fuels, and a speech he wrote, entitled “Global Warming: the Origin and Nature of Alleged Scientific Consensus,” was underwritten by OPEC. Singer, who last winter proposed a $95,000 publicity project to “stem the tide towards ever more onerous controls on energy use,” has received consulting fees from Exxon, Shell, Unocal, ARCO, and Sun Oil”

“Finally, we find it curious that Lindzen chose to include this very lawyerly disclaimer at the end of the piece:

[Lindzen’s] research has always been funded exclusively by the U.S. government. He receives no funding from any energy companies.

Richard, one thinks thou dost protest too much! A casual reader would be led to infer that Lindzen has received no industry money for his services. But that would be wrong. He has in fact received a pretty penny from industry. But this isn’t for research. Rather it is for his faithful advocacy of a fossil fuel industry-friendly point of view. So Lindzen’s claim is true, on a technicality. But while the reader is led to believe that there is no conflict of interest at work behind Lindzen’s writings, just the opposite is the case.”

@Richard Tol: Neutrality?! Frank McDonald has written a column, a comment piece. It’s labelled as such. In fact, seeing as he’s expressing his opinion, his lack of neutrality is entirely appropriate and reasonable.

Journalists need to be balanced and fair. That doesn’t mean they have to be neutral, if they’re writing an opinion column. Is Vinnie B neutral in the Irish Times? Is Fintan O’Toole? Is Eoghan Harris neutral in Sindo? Is Matt Cooper neutral in the Sunday Times?

No debate on the environment is complete without an understanding of the nature of capitalism.

“Over the next few decades we are facing the possibility, indeed the probability, of global catastrophe on a level unprecedented in human history. The message of science is clear. As James Hansen, the foremost climate scientist in the United States, has warned, this may be “our last chance to save humanity.”1 In order to understand the full nature of this threat and how it needs to be addressed, it is essential to get a historical perspective on how we got where we are, and how this is related to the current socioeconomic system, namely capitalism.

Fundamental to the ecological critique of capitalism, I believe, is what world-historian William McNeill called the law of “the conservation of catastrophe.” For McNeill, who applied his “law” to environmental crisis in particular, “catastrophe is the underside of the human condition—a price we pay for being able to alter natural balances and to transform the face of the earth through collective effort and the use of tools.” The better we become at altering and supposedly controlling nature, he wrote, the more vulnerable human society becomes to catastrophes that “recur perpetually on an ever-increasing scale as our skills and knowledge grow.”2 The potential for catastrophe is thus not only conserved, but it can be said to be cumulative, and reappears in an evermore colossal form in response to our growing transformation of the world around us.

In the age of climate change and other global planetary threats McNeill’s thesis on the conservation of catastrophe deserves close consideration. Rather than treating it as a universal aspect of the human condition, however, this dynamic needs to be understood in historically specific terms, focusing on the tendency toward the conservation of catastrophe under historical capitalism. The issue then becomes one of understanding how the exploitation of nature under the regime of capital has led over time to the accumulation of catastrophe. As Marx explained, it is necessary, in any critique of capitalism, to understand not only the enormous productive force generated by capital, but also “the negative, i.e. destructive side” of its interaction with the environment, “from the point of view of natural science.”


Environmental destruction was far greater under communist and socialist regimes than in the capitalist west. Environmental standards were never a priority for such regimes. Further, environmentalists were not tolerated as their criticisms were regarded as a threat to the state.

@ Richard,

I think Frank’s views are well known. Impartiality is not a criterion for op eds anyway.

I am a great believer in energy efficiency BECAUSE IT SAVES ME MONEY.

I live in a timber-frame house and upgraded my insulation BECAUSE IT SAVES ME MONEY.

I drive a fuel-efficient car, cut down on household waste, recycle, etc. BECAUSE IT SAVES ME MONEY.

I believe we should cut down on our use of oil as much as possible because it (largely) transfers billions of dollars to corrupt Arab regimes.

I hate to see litter because it is ugly on the environment. I hate to hear of domestic septic tanks polluting the ground water because it might transfer infections to me.

I support all public policies that reflect my views above.

However, I have no interest whatsoever in the politics of climate change and global warming. The world may be getting warmer or it may not be – who gives a s**t. I haven’t noticed much of a change where I live.

The only observation I have on those who espouse the view that there is man-made global warming is that they remind me of religious fanatics. I even heard one journalist (or it may have been a Green Party member) calling an opponent a ‘climate change denier’. It reminds me of the ‘Life of Brian’ sketch.

Am I unique in supporting policies that are a consequence of the Green Party/climate-change lobby while not believing (or at least being agnostic) in the reasons for their policies?

@ Dork

Thanks. I’ll know what car to buy next time. But Skoda are owned by the VW Group. Big dilemma: buy more oil from corrupt Arab regimes or buy goods from (supply own adjectives here) Germans.

@ Veronica

Communism only got a couple of decades. The Aral sea resulted. It was appalling for the environment but it wasn’t global. It wasn’t better than the current system. The current system is also a joke.

“The forest has no economic value when it is standing up” says Paulo Moutinho of Ipam, an Amazonian research institute in Brasilia.”

That is our system.

Environmentalists are tolerated in the West but have no power. If they did we wouldn’t have wasted the last 30 years. We wouldn’t still take people like the poor man’s Bjorn Lomborg seriously on environmental matters.

Yes the world is full of Dilemmas.
For instance the Fiat 500s new .9 litre seems the most frugal (yet quick) of the petrol cars.
Its Got a amazingly powerful for its size 2 cylinder engine.

but it looks like a woman’s car…… unless you are a Italian male.

Me thinks we will Target 2 those payments to our German overlords.

@Richard Tol

“Please note that we do not permit smear campaigns here.”

I think this is pretty ironic given that you started thread by accusing Frank McDonald of poor journalistic standards 😉

Looks like the Italians were cheating with their EU emission tests.

Or more likely the much smaller engine block compromises the quality of the EU tests.
In the real world, the engine has to work extremely hard(relative to an old fashioned larger displacement engine), assisted by the turbo(and turbos improve fuel consumption over a similarly sized NA engine).

Fiat says in the official tests that the Twinair is 23% more efficient than the 1.4 in the 500 but offers similar performance.

They fail to mention the fact that the 1.4 in the 500 does not have direct injection or Multiair, so in a like for like comparison this engine is NOT 23% more economical in theory, and with only 37 -40 ish mpg in the real world.
It seems the Skoda Greenline beats the offical tests hands down in the real world while the Fiat .9 litre is a sporty slightly thirsty little vehicle.

Maybe they sacrificed real fuel consumption to get below 100 g / km which I think is tax exempt in the UK !!
The carbon rabbit hole gets deeper.

@ Seafoid,

Last time I looked, seventy years was a tad longer than ‘ a couple of decades’. Disregard for the environment was systemic throughout communist model regimes. It’s unfortunate that people allow their ideological preferences to blind them to observable realities in terms of its appalling legacy of environmental degradation and irredeemable damage – the Aral Sea is only only one small example of how the system plundered or polluted the natural environment for its own ideological ends. As for environmentalists having no ‘power’ in western democracies, that is not correct either. The environment has been a mainstream media and political issue in western-style democracies for half a century now. Environmental NGOs are embedded within elite institutions and organisations, including the UN and EU, and exercise considerable influence and power over decision making and policy definition.

I don’t think that this post is the kind of thing that IE should be about.

Richard writes some really interesting posts, but this is the kind of thing that would be best-served by his own blog. No particular economic insight, just a thought that someone on another blog should use more objective language in a comment piece. Meh.

I indeed believe that people are equally worthy […]. That belief affects the way I think, speak and write about climate change and climate policy.

It must be an entirely different Richard Tol, then, who explicitly set up his models to put a lower value on the lives of Third World citizens.


And as others note, it takes a certain chutzpah to wail about other people being mean to your very good friends in the climate change denialist camp when your article is clearly intended as a smear.

@ veronica

It’s unfortunate that people allow their ideological preferences to blind them to observable realities

Not only ideological preferences, unfortunately! You’re forgetting motives such as being employed as a lobbyist for a major polluter (for the sake of argument, let’s say “BNFL”).

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