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TV star Johnny Ball says plants-in-the-ocean theory calls into question man-made climate change

Maths whizz Johnny Ball.
Maths whizz Johnny Ball.

Michael Alexander hears why, despite a global concensus that climate-warming trends are ‘extremely likely’ to be man-made, other scientific views persist.

In an age of rising sea levels, supercharged storms and rapidly melting glaciers, the need for environmental action and better management of resources should hardly be more evident.

Yet just weeks after a survey suggested that Angus has the second highest rate of climate change deniers in Scotland, former children’s TV presenter Johnny Ball has fuelled controversy by defending the controversial views that got him into hot water with environmental campaigners 10 years ago when he claimed the arguments for man-made climate change just don’t add up.

In an interview with The Courier, the 81-year-old said he believes children across the world are being scared unnecessarily by the declaration of a ‘climate crisis’ at a time when millions worldwide have been mobilised by the campaigning of child environmentalist Greta Thunberg.

The former Think of a Number presenter, who recently spoke about maths in Dundee, said there was “no question” that humans are having a negative effect on the environment whether that be plastic pollution or wasteful resource depletion.

However, the man who once claimed “farting spiders” caused more damage to the environment than fossil fuels, will not accept that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are the main cause of climate change – instead taking the view that rising CO2 levels are part of a natural cycle.

Johnny Ball recently gave a maths talk in Dundee

“Of course the climate is changing and always is,” he said. “I do not believe that CO2 is the main cause of climate change. I do not believe it at all because the main cause of climate change has to be the water in the atmosphere, and the weather is changed by that.

“Man is a great weight on the earth – there’s no question about that. Plastics pollution [is] terrible. That’s got to stop. The polluting of the oceans – all that I’m with.

“I will not accept that CO2 is the main cause of climate change or that man is the main cause of climate change.

“I cannot accept it and I never will because I have enough facts behind me to know I’m on the right tracks.

Environmental protesters of Extinction Rebellion group take part in a demonstration outside BBCs headquarters in London on December 21 2018

“There are natural processes. Man does have an effect. We are talking about the fires in the Amazon, which are terrible. They say the Amazon is 20% of the Earth’s plants. It’s not. It’s four per cent. Why? Because 80% of the plants on Earth are in the oceans.

“People misconstrue the science and misconstrue the facts.

“Eighty per cent of all plant life is in the oceans and if the Earth was smooth the oceans would be 4km deep. That’s a hell of a lot of water with a hell of a lot of plants in it. All breathing CO2. Where is the CO2 coming from?

Planet Earth

“It’s a natural cycle being reproduced and reproduced and reproduced, and that’s how it works. Man is unquestionably a terrible weight on the earth. We’ve got to be careful what we do. We’ve got to be careful we don’t wreck the earth. Of course we have. But CO2? No.

“That all started with the anti-oil and fossil fuels lobby. I won’t go into more detail than that. My belief is that CO2 is not the main cause of climate change. And that’s where I stand.”

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​According to NASA, 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists now agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are “extremely likely” due to human activities.

This global concensus has led the Scottish Government and councils including Fife and Dundee to recently declare a climate emergency, with Extinction Rebellion protests bringing parts of the country to a standstill and protests against climate change worldwide.

Andy Llanwarne, co-ordinator, Friends of the Earth Tayside, said: “Whilst Mr Ball is of course entitled to his opinion, it flies in the face of the scientific consensus shared by virtually all climate scientists around the world.

“We know unquestionably that humanity continues to emit CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane from our industrial activities, transport, heating of homes and offices, and agriculture.

“These emissions continue to increase and build up in the atmosphere, remaining there for decades. They now exceed 400 parts per million, a level not seen before in human history. This can be demonstrated without doubt.

“We should all be scared of the future, not just our children – Johnny Ball’s comments distract attention from this essential objective.”

Mike Robinson, chief executive of the Perth-based Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS) said there was no longer room for the unsustainable “business as usual” mentality of the world economy.

Royal Scottish Geographical Society chief executive Mike Robinson

He said: “We have known since the 1800s that adding CO2 to the atmosphere increases temperatures and since the 1930s that human burning of fossil fuels has significantly added CO2 to the atmosphere.

“It has risen from a level of 280ppm in the 1800s to over 410ppm today, and the rate of increase is accelerating.  Suggesting any other reason is misguided.

“Up until the 1970s it can be argued that climate change was the accidental consequence of being unsustainable, but since the late 1970s, despite the scientific evidence being overwhelming, we have largely ignored it, so it is now an active choice.”

Climate protest by Extinction Rebellion

Retired Aberdeen University geoscientist and emeritus senior lecturer (geography, geology, physics and mathematics) Dr Michael Wood OBE said there’s no doubt humans have a stewardship responsibility for the planet, and in some areas, whether that’s plastics in the oceans or air pollution, “we are not doing well”.

However, having researched the data in depth, the former president of the British Cartographic Society and International Cartographic Association, who is a Fellow of the RSGS, agrees with Johnny Ball that the scientific arguments for man-made climate change just don’t add up.

Tracing the climate change “lie” back to the agenda of the late Canadian multi-millionaire Maurice Strong who coined the climate change phrase in the 1970s and influenced global policy since, he blames “bad science” for a “totally flawed” argument that is now seen as the “absolute truth”.

Retired geographer Dr Michael Wood, emeritus lecturer at Aberdeen University

“I am shocked how the so-called ‘science’ of climate change is scaring the world – including poor children like Miss Thunberg,” said Dr Wood, who says he has never been a climate change denier as the climate changes all the time, but he is a “real scientist” sceptic.

“This is especially relevant as there has been very little global temperature change since the late 1970s. Using the official NASA Aqua satellite data, the global climate trend since December 1978 is only +0.13 C per decade – insignificant. The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is very low – barely 410 ppmv – parts per million by volume – and CO2 makes up only 0.04% of the atmosphere. A tiny amount. But it is essential for plant life.”

Dr Wood said that contrary to the impression given by the media, fires in the Amazon in 2019 were only about 25% as bad as they were 10 years ago.

Also, with slightly increasing atmospheric CO2, he said there has been a 50% increase in global leaf cover over 33 years – clearly visible on satellite images.

“According to one of America’s top physicists, we are currently in a CO2 famine,” he said.

“If it dropped below the feeble 410 ppmv to 150 ppmv, all plants would die, as would we! I can hardly believe that proper physicists even if they are supporting the charade, would not understand the nature of CO2.”

However, Dr Wood said wider debate may yet be changed.

He added: “There is now very detailed real science which is predicting that we are about to enter a serious ‘solar minimum’ – like the mini ice age of the 17th Century.

“Although solar scientists across the world agree that this situation is nigh, Professor Valentina Zharkova, of Northumbria University has provided the most convincing evidence. Her models are believed to be 97% correct and she is predicting that our climate will start getting colder from 2020, and this may continue for about 35 years.

“Her belief is that the northern hemisphere will get much colder and that more of our food will have to come from Africa.”

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