Climate deniers and malicious maths

Telegraph climate letterI was reading The Daily Telegraph (while waiting for the dentist) and my eyes got snagged by this letter saying that 31,487 scientists state that there is conclusive evidence that increased levels of carbon dioxide would actually be good for the planet and animal environments. Hmm… thought I, worth investigating.

It turns out that there is a petition signed by 31,485 people with science or related degrees that states that there is no evidence that a build-up of carbon dioxide is bad for the planet and, amazingly enough, also states that it has beneficial effects. Wow! That’s impressive isn’t it? 31,485 is a lot of people, that group must be worth listening to, surely?

Well for a start we could just take a look at the breakdown of ‘science degrees’. It turns out that a degree in engineering or medicine gets you a guernsey as a useful commentator. There are only 39 climatologists amongst the 31,485 signatories to the petition.

But, hey, let’s be generous and assume that all 31,485 (there’s that big number again) are scientists. OK so that has to be a substantial number of scientists who believe that global warming is not the danger it is being portrayed as by those pesky, fear-mongering lefties. Right?

Well the petition was only circulated in the USA; and the USA handily keeps track of qualifications. Since 1971 there have been almost 11 million graduates with degrees covered by this petition. So 31,485 out of 11 million – that’s around 0.3% of all the people with qualifications considered relevant by the petition organisers.

Yes 0.3%, that doesn’t sound so impressive any more does it? In fact, to pick a random statistic, that’s about the same number as the proportion of the US population that’s in prison.

It’s abysmal maths like that demonstrated by The Telegraph’s correspondent that leads to such really poor understanding of the numbers involved in climate change. Maybe if the correspondent is fair dinkum he should take a look at this lovely Australian video of how to work out percentages.

Here’s what that tiny percentage of people signed up to:

We urge the United States government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.

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