There is a certain vein of thought that says that "both sides of the global warming debate fling around wild inaccuracies" and so neither can be trusted. This is a tempting point of view for people who feel vaguely guilty but would rather like an excuse for not doing anything or trying to find out the science. In fact (as I've argued before) the state of discussion is better characterised by a vast weight of science in the middle, with small but loud extremes at each end. I've seen it recently argued in comments at RealClimate (see e.g. comments 27 and 34 to this post) that most of the extremism comes from the anti-GW crowd. So... I thought I would examine some recent stuff from Friends of the Earth - who are really quite environmental - to see what they say. Specifically, I'll pick their Energy and Climate Change document, since its conveniently available. What do we see?
Front cover: a hurricane from space (I think; it might be a visualisation of model output). Presumably there to put the idea of dangerous weather in your mind.
Page 2: text starting "Top scientists agree – climate change is real, it’s happening and it’s time to take action to stop it." As I've argued elsewhere, the first two are OK but the vital point - time to take action - is more controversial. I don't have a firm opinion myself, and indeed nor am I sure whether its up to scientists - top or otherwise - to be deciding. "... the burning of fossil fuel energy is largely to blame for the climate changes we are now experiencing worldwide." Fair enough, though what the changes are has been left undefined.
Page 3: graphic showing split of energy use: about 1/4 transport, 1/4 domestic, 1/2 industrial.
Page 4: Headlined "Climate Change Hurts", presumably to justify point 3 above. "An overall rise in average global temperatures is changing the world’s weather. Scientists use complex computer models to predict what may happen. Rising sea levels, caused by melting glaciers and the thermal expansion of sea water, will lead to the flooding of huge areas of lowlying nations like Bangladesh. Extreme weather events like floods and storms may be much more common across the world, devastating homes and livelihoods.". Reasonably fair. Sea level is predicted to rise 0.5m by 2100-ish, which (I presume) won't flood huge areas. Extreme weather *may* be more common... or may not. Examples: NH sea ice thinning by 40% (probably scaled back by more recent publications, but fair enough); spring 3 weeks earlier, possible problems for plants (true; though some people might welcome an earlier spring); higher T bleaches coral.
Page 5: Picture of severe rainstorm in New Orleans, captioned something like "over the past 30 years the number of extreme weather events has trebled". Very dodgy. Economic damage may have trebled, but not the events. See IPCC: "Some important aspects of climate appear not to have changed... Changes globally in tropical and extra-tropical storm intensity and frequency are dominated by inter-decadal to multi-decadal variations, with no significant trends evident over the 20th century. Conflicting analyses make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about changes in storm activity, especially in the extra-tropics... No systematic changes in the frequency of tornadoes, thunder days, or hail events are evident in the limited areas analysed." The temptation to try to link nice big weather changes - rather than small-sounding temperature changes - to GW is too strong, it appears.
Page 6: "Costly energy": fossils finite and problems; vested interests from energy companies; nuclear not the answer. Nuclear power is certainly hopelessly uneconomic (even now, given oil price rises?) in the UK, making that obvious was a benefit of privitisation, not that it stops the govt propping it up. Note the slight contradiction between worrying about climate change and fossil fuels are finite. Also text box: "There is enough coal to last for around 200 years but to avoid climate change we must not use it.". True. But that means fossil fuels aren't finite enough, from the climate POV...
Page 7: oil-slicked beach photo. Motto: oil is evil, in the wrong place.
Page 8: Clean, green future. Benefits, possibilities, examples of renewables.
Page 9: photo of house with PV solar cells on the roof. "Sunny delight: Susan Roaf lives in an ordinary-looking, six bedroom house in Oxford with extraordinary energy saving thanks to south facing windows, triple glazing, solar panels and good insulation. It costs £120 for a year’s energy and produces only 140 kg CO2. (A similar sized poorly insulated house produces 4,000-5,000 kg CO2 per year)." No mention of the economics of the PV system, but you can find it here (scroll down). By my calculation, the PV roof is producing electricity worth something like 1% of its installation cost per year. Thats not economic as it stands.
Page 10-13: What you can do. Various sensible suggestions, including "If you can only do one thing, then keep putting pressure on the decision makers".
Page 14: Friends of the Earth’s Climate Campaign. OK.
Page 15: Energy and climate change directory. OK. Links include IPCC, and (no surprise) none of the septics.
Overall: a bit thin on the economics; over-emphasises the certainty of dangers but not vastly so. Definitely not neutral. And yet... the public do need to be alerted to the potential dangers of climate change, and this tries to do so. Anyone who wants the full IPCC picture can just read it themselves so there is not much point reproducing it.
Coming soon... an analysis of the Dark Side. If I can think of something suitable.