Saturday 26th July 2014                 Change text size:

The English literature graduate who pretends to do science



Photo: Maria Amelia Paiva Abrão via stock.xchng

The latest incoherent rant to come from Telegraph blogger James Delingpole was as callous as it was ignorant: “I would rather a child of mine went into business manufacturing land mines (which at least have a valid defensive purpose) than got involved in the wind farm industry”.

Those aware of polemicist Delingpole’s existence will also be aware of his outspoken views on climate science. He’s a prolific sceptic, and denies that climate change is problematic or exacerbated by human activity as 97% of climate scientists would have us believe.

In a piece entitled Griff Rhys Jones joins the fight against evil wind farms, Delingpole, an English literature graduate, says how wind farms are “environmentally damaging”, “economically useless” and “the greatest public health scandal of our age”. Each one of those assertions is baseless but that, of course, never stands in the way of a Delingpole rant.

He boasts at the fact that the anti-wind farm movement now has a number of “celebrity” backers, including Griff Rhys Jones, Matt Baker, David Bellamy, Louise Mensch, Johnny Ball, Bill Bryson and Donald Trump. Not a relevant qualification between them, but presumably a number of quaint country retreats whose view is being spoilt by those rotten turbines. I’m not sure vital public policy ought to be set by a vote of celebrities.

The particularly callous sentence from Delingpole’s article reads as follows:

As I’ve said before, I would rather a child of mine went into business manufacturing land mines (which at least have a valid defensive purpose) than got involved in the wind farm industry”.

If there was an award for Stupid Sentence of the Year, Delingpole would surely be a frontrunner for the gong.

UN figures report that land mines account for over 2,000 deaths or injuries every month – many of them women and children. The wind farm industry accounts for none. Land mines arguably have a “valid defensive purpose” of sorts, but their cost on innocent life far outweighs this.

Delingpole, an English literature graduate, added that the wind farm industry was “the sole domain of grubby, conscience-free, exploitative, mendacious, rent-seeking corporatist scuzz balls and has about as much to do with saving the environment as the European Union has to do with free markets, democracy and national sovereignty.” James, as we can see, is never one for understatement.

Former television presenters, chick-lit authors or billionaire US tycoons may get annoyed at the prospect of wind turbines spoiling their view or golf course. But almost every debate over wind power comes back to the same old, “not in my back yard”, aesthetic-driven argument. This is not about science, but prejudice.

With this in mind, I’ll hand over to Matthias Fripp, a research fellow in renewable energy at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, who has a degree, a master’s and a PhD on the subject. He is not an English literature graduate but writes better than Delingpole does science. For a piece we wrote on the efficiency of wind, he said:

Wind ranks very well on cost, fairly well on timing (matching the winter peak demand in the UK) and very well on environmental impacts other than its effect on the view.

No alternative is perfect: solar power has minimal effect on the view, but has worse timing than wind in the UK, and currently has much higher costs.

“Wave power is still at the prototype stage and can only be developed on a limited scale.

“Tidal and hydro power also have limited potential and have significant environmental impacts of their own.

“Nuclear power has uncertain costs and environmental impacts – estimates tend to be driven more by faith (or lack of it) than hard numbers. At any rate it may be a little reckless to develop more nuclear plants when no permanent repository has been established for nuclear waste.

The final alternative — leaving climate change unaddressed – could disrupt the UK’s heritage lands even more than developing renewable power.”

That final sentence puts Delingpole’s comment into context. There are no areas of outstanding natural beauty or green belts or wild open spaces without climate equilibrium.

With 97% of the climate science community firmly holding the opposite view to the Telegraph blogger who has no science credentials at all, he really should listen to those who know a lot more on the subject than him.

97% of climate scientists have come to the conclusion after years of careful and painstaking research that climate change is being exacerbated by human activity, and we must do something urgently to change our ways. Extracting fossil fuels is not a sustainable option, so renewable energy – in any form – should be developed and adopted instead.

Delingpole ought to feel ashamed for his callous remark. He won’t.

His stance, whilst a popular headline generator, should be ignored, along with the cherry-picked scraps of unscientific evidence that he claims support his view.

The sooner the mainstream media realises that this outlook is not only completely wrong, but highly dangerous for our children and grandchildren, the sooner we can make a real effort to fighting mankind’s biggest ever challenge: climate change.

Further reading:

Changing your mind about climate

Why our quality of life is sacrificed by the continued use of fossil fuels

The annoying perils of climate change scepticism

Anti-Wind Watch: new complaints to rebuff

Questions of efficiency


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