Review of climate change documentary Thin Ice

BY IAN WISHART, author of Totalitaria and Air Con

It’s touted as an award-winning documentary on climate change, but if that’s true I’d like to know whether the judges were the three wise monkeys. Here’s why: the Thin Ice documentary made by Victoria University of Wellington and Oxford University in the UK is littered with factual errors and misleading statements.

The documentary is being toured around New Zealand high schools in a bid to drum up support for the upcoming climate treaty negotiations in Paris this December. I don’t know who’s paying for it but they must have deep pockets – barely 50 people ‘crowded’ into an 800 seat Auckland school hall, each paying a gold coin donation to see the film. But it wasn’t just the movie screening – it had an entourage. Vic University documentary maker Simon “I’m not a climate scientist” Lamb was joined by geologist and film producer Peter Barrett at the school, along with a Vic Uni undergraduate in a supporting role.

The gold coin donations were unlikely to even cover their airfares from Wellington, let alone accommodation, unless they managed to score $35 return flights each. Perhaps they pedalled the 700 km: “I hope you are cycling home tonight,” the cheery undergraduate told the scattered audience members.

“Come closer,” Barrett urged the people dotted around the hall. Few did.

The screening began with a message from “Xena the Warrior Princess”, explained Barrett, quickly realising that Lucy Lawless had starred in that role long before most of the students in the audience were born. “Maybe that’s before your time,” he added, “but anyway here she is”.

Lawless gave her ‘best supporting actress in a fictional documentary speech’, urging viewers to trust the authority of the team who made the movie and to do their part for climate justice.

I was prepared to give the film a chance, on the basis that I like to see my opponent’s arguments before critiquing them. But let’s cut to the chase.

The film begins with Simon Lamb mocking sceptics of climate change by suggesting they are alleging a grand “conspiracy” of “dishonest climate scientists”. His documentary, he said, was intended to be a neutral revelation of what the climate scientists were doing so people could make up their own minds about whether they were being honest or dishonest about climate. Within a few minutes I felt they were being dishonest, but no one in the audience would have known unless they were well briefed on the facts.

MISLEADING CLAIM #1: Antarctic ice cores show CO2 causing temperature increases over the aeons

Victoria University scientist Tim Naish made the claim in the doco while Lamb and producer Barrett imposed an ice core graph over thousands of years showing CO2 and temperature moving in “lockstep”. What they failed to tell viewers is that a 2003 study by Caillon et al and published in the journal Science looked at 40,000 years of ice core history from the Vostok site, and found that the reverse was true, that in fact temperatures rose first and CO2 levels started to rise 800 years later.

As I explained in my book Air Con, this makes sense: the rising temperatures warmed oceans and released trapped CO2 bubbles as the water warmed. The CO2 did not “cause” the temperature increases – the temp increases caused the release of more CO2. The documentary Thin Ice is highly misleading in this respect.

MISLEADING CLAIM #2: You can trust the computer models, and they show a three degree increase in temperature but it could be double

Again, Lamb plays the ingénue in this part of the documentary, going to great pains to tell viewers how clever the computer modelling is and how the models are actually understating the probable warming that’s coming.

In reality, the computer models have been rubbished by peer reviewed climate journals, as I wrote in Totalitaria:

“The UN IPCC’s fifth assessment report, AR5, based its climate projections on computer models, and in particular a series of models known as CMIP5 which was described by its designers in 2012 as “a state-of-the- art multimodel dataset designed to advance our knowledge of climate variability and climate change. Researchers worldwide are analyzing the model output and will produce results likely to underlie the forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”[i]

The most embarrassing aspect for the UN IPCC AR5 report is that CMIP5, the so-called “state of the art” simulation system anchoring the UN’s climate projections, has failed epically to account for the massive slowdown in warming over the past 15 years. In fact, the computer projections ran four times hotter for the period than the actual real observed temperature readings, as a just published report in the journal Nature Climate Change notes:

The inconsistency between observed and simulated global warming is even more striking for temperature trends computed over the past fifteen years (1998–2012). For this period, the observed trend of 0.05 ± 0.08 °C per decade is more than four times smaller than the average simulated trend of 0.21 ± 0.03 °C per decade. The divergence between observed and CMIP5- simulated global warming begins in the early 1990s.”[ii]

The UN’s AR5 report was out of date even before it hit the newsstands. AR5 claims a consensus higher than “95% certainty” that human-caused CO2 emissions are predominantly driving global warming, but critics and even many scientists are now asking, “based on what evidence?”

The assumptions the scientific “consensus” was supposedly built on are crumbling in the face of new evidence.

Confidence in the latest UN projections and journalistic fawning over them has not been enhanced by another new report in Nature suggesting the IPCC scientists are using statistical research techniques more than ten years out of date…”

So much for the accuracy of the computer models then. They’ve been found in peer reviewed studies to have overestimated actual global warming by around 400 percent, yet not a word of that inconvenient truth was revealed by Lamb and Barrett in their “award-winning” documentary. Again, grossly misleading, especially when this material is being used to con schoolchildren into thinking the science is settled.

MISLEADING CLAIM #3: CO2 is responsible “for most, or possibly all” global warming

Simon Lamb made this claim in the documentary, without citing any actual studies to back up the claim. So let me do the honours. Far from CO2 being responsible for the majority of warming, the actual peer reviewed science suggests not, as I wrote in Totalitaria:

New research from respected climate scientist Mojib Latif and others shows the big warming periods like the late 1970s through the nineties, previously thought by climate scientists to have been caused by CO2, were in fact most likely caused by natural cycles in the oceans, or what Latif calls “climate shifts”.

This is particularly important, because the last IPCC report in 2007 said it could only detect a possible “human signature” in climate change since the 1970s. That claim was based on the assumption CO2 was the primary driver. The latest research shows CO2 had little if anything to do with warming since that time. Ergo, the “human signature” detected by the IPCC scientists does not appear to exist.

“These shifts…have a profound effect on the average global surface air temperature of the Earth,” Latif says in a news release on his study. Changes in oceanic patterns turn “the world’s climate topsy-turvy and are clearly reflected in the average temperature of the Earth.”[iii]

Lamb is possibly anchoring his claims about CO2 in a highly questionable 2006 study by Ben Santer, which I laid into in Totalitaria:

“Human-caused changes in greenhouse gases are the main driver of the 20th-century SST (sea surface temperature) increases,” Santer’s 2006 study claimed.[iv]

Of course, this was music to the ears of those like Al Gore who wanted to attribute ocean-created events like Hurricane Katrina to human-caused global warming. It’s a shame it wasn’t true.

Perhaps the easiest way of pointing out the error is an example of simple physics. The sun is the main source of heat on earth by a degree of considerable magnitude. Direct sun in the tropics can create surface temperatures hot enough to fry eggs on the pavement – 46 degrees Centigrade in the air and even hotter on dark asphalt. In contrast, reflected heat from CO2 molecules (this is solar radiation that has already hit the earth and bounced back up into the atmosphere, so it’s a fraction of the initial radiation, a mere ‘heat shadow’ if you like) is accused of causing global temperatures to rise around 0.8C over the past century and a bit, in contrast.

From this bare statement of fact, it follows as a point of logic that oceans will warm far more in response to direct sunlight, than they will from the miniscule blanket effect of greenhouse gases. Any study purporting to suggest that greenhouse gases are the “main driver” of ocean warming is therefore laughable.

One of the first to debunk it was Amato Evan. He and his team figured out, like you have, that the amount of heat that gets into the oceans is far more likely to depend on cloud cover and other variables, like dust, volcanic ash, pollution and smoke, that affect how much sunlight actually reaches the surface. Sure enough, when they plugged in the temperatures and atmospheric data for 26 years, they found ocean surface temperatures were far more influenced by these things than they were by greenhouse gases.[v]

“The tropical North Atlantic is unique among tropical ocean basins because of its oftentimes extensive and heavy aerosol cover, a consequence of being downwind of West Africa, the world’s largest dust source,” wrote Evans.

In short, when there’s plenty of dust being kicked up in Africa it keeps sea temperatures cool in the Atlantic, and when there’s not much dust the sea temperatures rise – because of sunlight, not CO2.

When they finally crunched the numbers, dust – or in fact the lack of it – accounted for about 69% of the warming in the Atlantic since 1980. Less dusty times meant more sunlight managed to hit the water.[vi]

Armed with this knowledge of how the real world works, let’s return to Mojib Latif’s “climate shift” theory. Big hot and cold cycles within the oceans come around every so often and reset the climate system, effectively they are giant belches of heat into the air from huge areas of ocean, followed by periods of oceanic cooling.

As their names suggest, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation don’t cycle heat in terms of months or weeks, but over decades.

“The AMO is an ongoing series of long-duration changes in the sea surface temperature of the North Atlantic Ocean,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website explains, “with cool and warm phases that may last for 20-40 years at a time and a difference of about 1°F between extremes. These changes are natural and have been occurring for at least the last 1,000 years.[vii]

“Most of the Atlantic between the equator and Greenland changes in unison. Some areas of the North Pacific also seem to be affected.”

Research has shown that in addition to those cycles, there are even longer term oscillations deep in the sea that can take centuries to circulate and release stored heat. Scientists studying ancient ice cores have found warming comes first as a result of solar cycles, and then about 800 years later CO2 levels rise as the oceans get warm enough to release significant amounts of CO2.[viii]

The importance of this cannot be overstated. It is peer-reviewed research from an IPCC-accredited research team, that essentially says the world’s temperatures since the 1970s have been driven not by CO2 at all, but by heat stored in the oceans. By definition, given the oscillation timescales, the heat emerging from the oceans in the 1970s must have been placed in the oceans decades, or even centuries earlier. Again, this means it cannot be related to human CO2 emissions.

Whatever heat has emerged from the oceans to date has been driven by natural cycles, not man-made gases. And again, this means the much quoted IPCC claim that a “human signature” in climate change was detected after 1970 is no longer valid. It has been disproven.

MISLEADING CLAIM #4: The West Antarctic ice sheet is melting because of human CO2 production

The inconvenient truth that the West Antarctic ice sheet sits atop a massive, active chain of volcanoes was not mentioned by Lamb, even though he is a geophysicist and should have known about it.

“You are making unsubstantiated claims!” Lamb protested loudly when I challenged him at question time. Oh really? He didn’t want me to quote from the studies to the audience, but here they are:

A 2013 scientific study admits that geothermal heat appears to be a driver of ice melt under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS):[ix]

“The most common source of subglacial water is melting at the bottom of the ice sheet due to a combination of ice thickness, geothermal heat flux at the bed, and frictional heating due to rapid ice flow (Joughin et al., 2004; Llubes et al., 2006). Meltwater production could be enhanced by a higher geothermal gradient underneath parts of the WAIS (Shapiro and Ritzwoller, 2004).”

The significance of that is that volcanic activity can cause runaway melt because the water helps sluice the glacier out to sea much more rapidly, which is exactly what we are seeing.

“A volcanic eruption has the potential to produce large amounts of meltwater and, thus, could trigger a large flood event (Roberts, 2005; Bennett et al., 2009).”

A gravity survey of the earth’s crust (the barrier of rock between us and the molten interior) underneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has found the crust has thinned dramatically under the ice where a continental rift appears to be opening up, which could be letting more volcanic heat into the ice sheet:[x]

“Major crustal thinning, coupled with low lithosphere rigidity, attest to the considerable impact of continental rifting beneath this part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet…Narrow-mode rifting within the Pine Island Rift is particularly important as it may serve as a geological template for enhanced glacial flow associated with Pine Island Glacier.”

So far, researchers have established that the Pine Island volcano erupted massively two thousand years ago with enough force to punch entirely through the ice sheet and deposit ash fallout on an area of Antarctica larger than Wales. Significantly the volcano remains active, although we don’t know whether it has been active all the time or whether it has only recently burst into life again.

“We rely on the IPCC data, not just one study,” Simon Lamb claimed when I told him about the volcanoes. The objective reader can count and Google…there are far more than one study. The volcanoes should have featured in Thin Ice. They didn’t, the documentary is simply not credible.

And let’s not even get started on the pause in global warming measured by satellite sensors which have not detected significant warming for 18 years. As I told the school audience: “There is not a high school student in this room who has actually experienced an increase in global warming during their lifetimes.”

Needless to say, Lamb and Barrett were not happy that the Thin Ice propaganda-fest had been rained on by a reality check.

If your kids come home having watched a climate change documentary at school, show them this review and ask whether the film covered any of these inconvenient facts.

UPDATE: Eat that Hot Topic!

The website ‘Climate Change for Dummies’, aka Hot Topic, tried to attack the above review by studiously avoiding debating the actual points, but you may find the actual correspondence trail between myself and documentary-makers Peter Barrett and Simon Lamb more revealing:

(most recent first)

Morning Simon and Peter

What are your thoughts on this?

Echoes some of the studies I quoted in Air Con making the same point.


Ian Wishart


From: Ian Wishart
Sent: Friday, 25 September 2015 9:49 a.m.
To: ‘Peter Barrett’
Cc: ‘Simon.Lamb’
Subject: RE: Update on global warming June 2015

Thanks guys, I am familiar with the paper but it is deeply flawed and was falsified a month later by a team including Josh Willis of Argo project fame,

The conclusions of that paper are consistent with Mojib Latif’s work that I quoted about the influence of multi-decadal oceanic shifts having a much bigger impact on climate than CO2. Judith Curry has weighed in on the flaws in Karl et al’s paper you quoted. Her criticism is quite strident and relates to the integrity (or lack of it) in the terrestrial and SST databases used by Karl.

As you might have guessed, I would be even more acerbic in my criticism of the datasets, which have been subjected to Orwellian “readjustment” of past temperature records to make them fit the current global warming narrative. At the moment that anyone erases the actual temps recorded historically, and replaces them with “adjusted” figures created in the present day, you have a compromised dataset. Records are what they are. We cannot recreate the conditions of May 15 1933 today; we have no right to “adjust” the 1933 record to fit in hindsight to the story we currently want to tell. Opinions are free, but facts should be sacred.

In climate science however, it has become so politicised and agenda driven by Green industrial lobbyists throwing funding at climate scientists that facts are often the first thing thrown under the bus.

It is ironic that Thin Ice sets up the premise that climate science is not affected by dishonesty, but then falls into the trap itself.

The bottom line on the hiatus, however, is that the satellite data is showing no statistically significant increase in global warming for 18 years – this despite CO2 saturation leaping from 350ppm to 400ppm – thus casting doubt on the magical powers of CO2 in an open climate system like planet Earth, as opposed to the often quoted powers of CO2 in closed lab experiments and enclosed greenhouses. The hiatus exists, confirmed by multiple papers. As Simon so eloquently said on the night, we should not rely on “just one paper”.



Ian Wishart


From: Peter Barrett
Sent: Thursday, 24 September 2015 11:11 p.m.
To: editorial
Cc: Simon Lamb
Subject: Update on global warming June 2015

Dear Ian,

Thanks for taking the time to view our film the other evening.

You may be interested in the attached update on global warming trends a couple of months ago in SCIENCE magazine.

Kind regards

Simon and Peter



[i] “An Overview of CMIP5 and the Experiment Design”. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 93, 485–498. April 2012


[ii] “Overestimated global warming over the past 20 years”, Fyfe et al, Nature Climate Change 3, 767–769 (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate1972 Published online 28 August 2013

[iii] “Hindcast of the 1976/77 and 1998/99 climate shifts in the Pacific” by Ding et al, Journal of Climate 2013 ; e-View doi:

[iv] 190 “Forced and unforced ocean temperature changes in Atlantic and Pacific tropical cyclogenesis regions”, Santer et al, September 12, 2006, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0602861103 PNAS September 19, 2006 vol. 103 no. 38 13905-13910

[v] 192 “African Dust over the Northern Tropical Atlantic: 1955–2008.”, Evan et al, J. Appl. Meteor. Climatol., 49, 2213–2229. doi:

[vi] 193 If you are still wedded to the idea that a warming atmosphere caused by CO2 is the most likely explanation for warmer seas, try this experiment at home: Position an illuminated 60w light bulb six

inches above a glass of water for ten minutes. Measure the starting temperature and the finishing temperature. Then take another glass of water and breathe on the surface of the water for ten

minutes (it’s nowhere near exact, nor a direct comparison, but your warm breath will be significantly warmer than any CO2 in the atmosphere would get in lab conditions in a controlled experiment using

enclosed environments). Measure the temps.

[vii] 194

[viii] 195 “Deep-sea temperatures warmed by ~2°C between 19 and 17 thousand years before the present (ky B.P.), leading the rise in atmospheric CO2 and tropical–surface-ocean warming by ~1000 years. The cause of this deglacial deep-water warming does not lie within the tropics, nor can its early onset between 19 and 17 ky B.P. be attributed to CO2 forcing. Increasing austral-spring insolation [higher seasonal solar radiation in the Southern hemisphere] combined with sea-ice albedo [heat reflectivity] feedbacks appear to be the key factors responsible for this warming.” – SOURCE: “Southern Hemisphere and Deep-Sea Warming Led Deglacial Atmospheric CO2 Rise and Tropical Warming”, L Stott, A Timmerman, R Thunell, Science 19 October 2007: Vol. 318. no. 5849, pp. 435– 438 DOI: 10.1126/science.1143791

All very technical, but what this study found was that solar heat in the southern hemisphere warmed the oceans enough that ice melted and CO2 was released, but that it took up to a thousand years for the warmth to trigger CO2 release in any major way. In other words, far from CO2 being the “forcer” or instigator of warming, it was a result of warming that had begun a millennium earlier deep within the sea.

[ix] 202 “Paleo ice flow and subglacial meltwater dynamics in Pine Island Bay, West Antarctica” F. O. Nitsche et al, The Cryosphere, 7, 249–262, 2013 doi:10.5194/tc-7-249-2013

[x] 203 “Aerogravity evidence for major crustal thinning under the Pine Island Glacier region (West Antarctica)”, Jordan et al, Geological Society of America Bulletin, December 30, 2009, doi: 10.1130/B26417.1122 no. 5-6 p. 714-726.