Cambridge Engineering professor on climate

Mike Kelly

Richard Black has a piece up at the BBC about consensus in which his shaky point (I think) is that sceptics are just as bad as alarmists because they keep saying that the “consensus” is broken – or something – thereby acknowledging that consensus is important – or something.

Black is an eco-headbanger, so despite relying on the existence of the “consensus” for the last billion articles or so to justify his AGW alarmism, suddenly he’s happy to throw it under a bus if it gives him the opportunity to diss a few crazy deniers. Weird.

Anyway, what was of more interest to me (having read Engineering at Cambridge a fairly long time ago) was the views of one of its current professors, Michael Kelly, one of the signatories of that WSJ letter, whom Black interviewed for the article:

His basic position is that the kind of energy transformation through which the UK, for example, is planning to go is really tough to achieve in engineering terms, and would be financially ruinous.

To meet the goals of the Climate Change Act (notably an emissions cut of 80% from 1990 levels by 2050) he argues that “we’d really need a command economy of the kind we had in World War 2 if we were really serious about meeting the targets in full.

“What we need to do will bankrupt us if we really go for it and ignore the rest of the world.”

He would, he says, still endorse the rapid transformation if he thought the scientific evidence for needing it was compelling.

“Are you convinced that the world’s going to hell in a handbasket on the basis of the predictions and what’s been happening for the last 10 or 12 years?

“The answer is simply ‘no’.

“I look back 300 years and I find that the temperature went up by more than it’s gone up recently – in Central England from about 1699 to 1729 it went up by nearly 2C – and nobody said that was carbon dioxide.”

(UPDATE by Black: The full CET time series is graphed here, while one of the original science papers on analysis of its early years is here)

Other components of his argument are that money is better spent on aid to Africa than on a dash to renewables, that higher CO2 levels will boost plant growth, that current climate models are not trustworthy – in particular, because they project an acceleration of warming whereas over the last 17 years we have seen a deceleration – and that wind turbines may be left derelict in future when the cost of replacing the nascelles proves uneconomic.

He also cites a recent study on ocean acidification showing that natural short-term variability in ocean pH is greater than the change in the average projected to occur over the next century or so.

And he has a bet with other Fellows of the Royal Society that temperatures during the current decade will be lower, on average, than during the preceding one, the stake being a case of wine.

All of the points above are challengeable, and – playing Devil’s advocate – I did challenge him on some.

What we agreed on is that formulating climate change polity is first and foremost a question of risk judgement.

In Prof Kelly’s view, the risks of rushing into a low-carbon future, as opposed to taking the transition more slowly, outweigh the risks of not doing so; hence the WSJ article’s title, “No need to panic”.

I’m sure his arguments will find favour with many regular readers, and equally infuriate many others who contend that political leaders aren’t panicking enough.

But it is surely the arguments themselves that ought to be the focus for discussion – not what they purport to say about a cracking consensus. (source)

Suddenly it’s all about the arguments and not about consensus. How amusing, especially coming from Black.


  1. Barbara Homrighaus via Facebook says:

    At one point in the world, the concensus was that the world was flat, too.

  2. HE talks about the GLOBAL temperature between 1699 – 1729, that’s before the white fella arrived in Australia, before of invention of thermometer. Does he knows about the temperature for New Zealand for that time also? Or, those places are not on the Warmist / Skeptic’s planet? For me, one that can say something like that, he doesn’t have any credibility, full stop.

    Unfortunately, Warmist believe 90% of possibility for GLOBAL warming (the other 10% are only important, as a back-door exit) because Warmist are smart. On the other side are the Skeptics, who believe 101% in the phony GLOBAL warming… Some day when the propaganda is exposed completely… psychiatrist will become very, very rich

  3. Lew Skannen says:

    His devaluing of consensus at this late stage is a joke. He pretends to be baffled by the fact that Sceptics deride it. A clue Mr Black – we don’t deride the consensus because it is a threat to scepticism, we deride it because it is both overblown and irrelevant. It is hilarious that at this late stage Black has noticed that consensus, real or fake, does not imply truth.
    As for being devils advocate – devils sycophant would be a better description.

  4. the consensus is there is no consensus

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