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June 16th 2009 print

Transcript: Ian Plimer interview

Transcript of Brian Carlton’s interview with Professor Ian Plimer on ABNNewswire: 

Brian Carlton: This is Brian Carlton for ABNNewswire. Professor Ian Plimer is from the University of Adelaide, the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He’s Australia’s best known geologist, he is the emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne. He also has done way too many things to mention in this intro, but he has just published his seventh book, which is called Heaven and Earth – Global Warming: The Missing Science. Professor Ian Plimer, welcome to ABN.

Ian Plimer: Thank you very much.

BC: You’re a bit of a poster boy for the climate change skeptic movement.

IP: Well, I’m not sceptical about climate change at all. Climate’s always changed. They always have, and they always will, and that’s in many ways the purpose of the book that if you ignore history you come up with a conclusion which just doesn’t fit in with the evidence, and that is that we’re suddenly in a period where climates change. We’re not. Climates always change, they change much quicker and much greater than anything we measure today.

BC: So you completely refute the argument that a human induced climate change is occurring, there is climate change but humans aren’t causing it?

IP: There are local climate changes that humans influence, and that’s mainly from land clearing. So we see the retreat of the ice on Mount Kilimanjaro is from land clearing; a minor extinction of a frog in Central America is from land clearing. But in terms of global climates, no, climates have always changed, they’ve never been driven by carbon dioxide in the past, they’ve been driven by much, much greater forces.

BC: You accept, though, that there’s been some warming, particularly in the period between 1976 and 1998, but again not human induced?

IP: Well, I accept that there’s been warming since The Little Ice Age finished in 1850. It warmed and then it cooled and then it warmed again and from 1940 to 1976 it cooled, then it warmed to 1998, then it was static for a little while, and then it’s cooled again since 2003 so temperature’s always changing; it’s quite normal.

BC: So the thousands of learned scientists who have been propagating the human induced climate change ‑ what would you call it, almost a religion now from your point of view ‑ they’re all wrong?

IP: Science works on evidence, it doesn’t work on consensus, that’s what politics is about, and we have a really good example of that. Some years ago we all thought that we got stomach ulcers from an acid stomach, everyone thought that, everyone knew it. All the scientists said this was the case until these two West Australian scientists said: No, no, no, it’s due to bacteria. And no one listened. And eventually they had to ingest bacteria, gave themselves ulcers, and showed that the whole scientific community was wrong. Now science has its fads, it has its fashions, it has its leaders, it has its dictators, it has its fraud and what we’re dealing with human induced climate change is one group of scientists, and they are the atmospheric scientists, have taken the atmosphere completely out of the earth, ocean, ice, life, sun and heavens and just tortured that to death with their computer models and eventually the atmosphere has confessed. So that group of scientists have dominated the airwaves and the reason for that is that they’re giving us a disastrous future and people are getting frightened: Oh, my God, we’re all going to die. And that’s dominated thinking.

BC: Is it not true, though, that the massive release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past 100, 150 years is bound to have some effect in a closed system like the planet’s ecosphere?

IP: The earth is not a closed system, we have 40,000 tons a year of material from space dropping in on to earth. The second thing is we have some really good ice core work from the South Pole where, with drilling in the ice, we’ve been able to work out what the temperature was and what the carbon dioxide content was and the temperature rose and then suddenly went down again, and it rose again and suddenly went down again, and carbon dioxide also rose about 800 years later. Here we are, 800 years after the Medieval Warming when we had a 400 year period when it was incredibly warm, where it was so warm that on Greenland there was barley and wheat grown, there were sheep and cattle, and we’re 800 years after that so our global warming catastaprohists have never explained why carbon dioxide is increasing. They say it’s industrialisation but it equally as well could be the Medieval warming; that’s never been explained. 

BC: So do you think it would have any effect on the atmosphere at all, all that CO2?

IP: Carbon dioxide has an effect on the atmosphere and it has an effect for the first 50 parts per million and once it’s done its job then it’s finished and you can double it and quadruple it and it has no effect because we’ve seen that in the geological past, and we’ve seen it in times gone by when the carbon dioxide content was 100 times the current content. We didn’t have runaway global warming, we actually had glaciation, so there’s immediately a disconnect. So carbon dioxide is absolutely vital for living on earth; it’s plant food, all of life lives off carbon dioxide. To demonise it shows that you don’t understand school child science.

BC: So why are the scientists who are putting this theory forward, what’s in it for them?

IP: Oh, I think you’ve just got to follow the money. There have been climate institutes set up where they’re lavishly funded, they’re popping up all over the place, they’re going around frightening people with this. They’re filled by people in all sorts of odd disciplines who really don’t work in science, or work in atmospheric science, so I think its the case of follow the money. It was 50 years ago we had the same sort of institutes looking at nuclear science, we’ve got the same sort of institutes popping up for other great causes and fads. So I think you’ve just got to take the normal view you take if you were going out and buying a secondhand car.

BC: So the process would be the scientists lobby the politicians but what’s in it for the politicians? Maintaining the status quo is always the easiest thing to do for any group of politicians, why have they jumped on the bandwagon and upsetting business, upsetting households, generally upsetting people? Again, what’s in it for the politicians?

IP: Well the politicians want to get re‑elected and there’s a significant green vote especially coming out of cities and the politicians are followers, they’re not leaders, and it is the green vote that’s pushing politicians often in public to say things which in private they have a different view about. I spend quite a bit of my time in private with politicians. I also spend a lot of my time as a geologist looking at rocks in the bush, and when you look at a rock you can actually see previous sea level changes and climate changes, and I’m yet to find people in rural Australia that would argue that humans change climate. So we’ve got a city/country divide, we’ve got fairly wealthy city people that are feeling guilty about being wealthy, they’ve got a cause and they push government very hard and government is resisting but it’s following a little bit.

BC: There’s two fairly clearly delineated caps in this argument.  Is it not true that we’re only going to know definitively based on the science when, or if, the climate changes or if it doesn’t?

IP: Well, we humans have experienced massive climate change. We’ve lived in glaciations, we’ve lived in times where it’s been much warmer. So if you moved from, say, Melbourne to Hong Kong there’s a huge temperature increase; you don’t die because of that, you adapt. Humans have done that over history, archeological and geological time. We have adapted so temperature change is not going to kill us. What it will do is that if we put in policies without a massive due diligence we will put ourselves out of work, we will put our children out of work, we will shift businesses in Australia which have a great advantage like mining, smelting and energy industries, we will shift them offshore. So if you want to be cautious about the future, don’t put yourself and your children out of work because we humans can survive warm times.

BC: You’ve called for an open and transparent debate on this issue. Why has it not been open and transparent so far?

IP: A story that frightens people witless sells much better than saying things are not as bad as they seem to be. There’s never been a debate, it’s only been dogma. We’ve had people talk down to by pompous, arrogant scientists, there’s broadcasting networks trying to make people feel guilty, we’ve had people who are intuitively saying: look, I don’t think this is right. They haven’t had the science so they feel helpless and they feel disenfranchised and as soon as this book came out three weeks ago it became a best seller because people have finally got something to say: here is a complete view of the way the planet works, I now have a book that reinforces the view that intuitively I came to.

BC: Is the public generally well enough educated in science to make these sorts of distinctions without books such as yours? 

IP: No, they’re not but the public is not stupid, and they’re getting treated as if they’re stupid. Intuitively people in rural areas know that there are cycles of climate, they don’t know at what time they are but there are cycles of climate driven by the sun and driven by wobbles in the air’s orbit and driven by where we are in the galaxy and driven by tides and then in the occasional event like a big volcano, they know that but they don’t know the exact numbers on it so the public is being treated as if they’re stupid. I think in many ways they’re rebelling and saying: no, we don’t accept what we’re being told, we’re going to read another view.

BC: And yet your critics would argue that many of those other causes for climate change that you’ve just mentioned have been analysed and rejected.

IP: Well, this is why the sub‑title of Heaven and Earth is Global Warming: The Missing Science. There’s a huge amount of science which is in the peer reviewed refereed journals which has never been looked at by my critics, they only look at the atmosphere. So I’ve dealt with the whole lot and if they cherry-pick and selectively take the atmosphere then they get a story that’s unrelated to the way the world works. Most of my critics are playing the man, they’ve never, ever discussed science with me and as soon as someone plays the man you know you’ve won the game.

BC: I’m speaking with Professor Ian Plimer, whose brand new book is a terrific read; it’s called Heaven and Earth – Global Warming: The Missing Science. There’s a little picture of it for you.

Now you’ve actually been criticised for using the endorsements of politicians for books given that you’ve criticised, say, the IPCC for being a politicised body. How do you react to that sort of criticism?

IP: I’ve had endorsing on the back of Heaven and Earth, I’ve had Valclav Klaus, the President of the EU, he has written a book on this subject, he’s certainly a politician. Nigel Lawson, a former politician, and he’s written an endorsement on the back. He’s also written a book on climate change. I go into history a lot and I’ve had Australia’s foremost historian, the economic historian, Professor Geoffrey Blainey. So I have certainly used people who have published work on this subject, I’ve done that very deliberately because there’s not only a divide between city and country, a divide between people who have a big view of the world and a very narrow view of the world, there’s also a political divide and conservatives in the left and conservatives in the right share this view.

BC: So this has almost been picked up as a new form of fundamentalist religion; in fact you pretty much describe it as that in the book. Is it that rampant/rabid?

IP: Yes. In chapter eight I go into a comparison between the hallmarks of fundamentalist religions and deep green politics, and I once wrote a book on fundamentalist religious; I’m moderately familiar with the way they operate. In this book I argue that the failure of European socialism, the failure of European Christian causes and the fact that a lot of people are now wealthy they need something to believe in, they need something to hang onto.

BC: So this is filling the void in our lives in many ways?

IP: This is filling that spiritual void. And this is why there are many people who have no science, have grasped on to the fact that we must do something. They don’t know what it is and they don’t want it to hurt, but we must do something. So I argue from a spiritual basis in the last chapter, and I’ve had a number of my theologian friends look at it and give me the tick of approval.

BC: So some have even called for your trial and incarceration for purporting these sort of views. You know that there’s something going on when it gets to that stage.

IP: Once they call for my trial and incarceration you know that they’re not going to argue science and that they’re rattled, and if I’m incarcerated well I’ll happily have a life sentence with a lovely blonde.

BC: Oh, where do you go from there? Okay.

IP:  You get a second life.

BC: What would you say to the argument that even if there is some slight chance of the worst case scenarios being thrown out there happening, is it worth trying to do something now to stop it, and what sorts of things could we do or is your fundamental position: hey, this is a complete waste of time?

IP: Firstly, carbon dioxide is plant food. It’s fabulous stuff. We pump hot carbon dioxide into glasshouses to make horticultural businesses thrive. The second thing is we humans have lived in warm times, we’ve lived in cold times, we can adapt. The third thing is from looking back in history, the great boom times economically were the current times, the Medieval warming and the Roman warming. And we know that every time it’s warm we have booming economies. I hope I’m wrong ‑ that means we will have the warm carbon dioxide rich planet and economies will thrive.

BC: In saying that, though, are you not taking into account the fact that, say, sea level rises is likely to wipe out coastal communities around the place and there’s a deleterious economic impact there?

IP: Sea level rises are [????fourth] quite considerably. The biggest sea level raises and falls we have in the past are 1500 metres. In this last glaciation, which has been going for 37 million years, we’ve had sea level go up and down by about 130 metres. 6,000 years ago it was two metres higher than now. And not only do we have sea level go up and down, we have the land level go up and down. So here we have England, they’ve got a Scottish Prime Minister, there’s a Scottish Parliament independent from Westminster, and Scotland’s rising and as a result Eastern England is sinking. So they’ve got the trifecta there, they’ve lost everything. And this we know, we can measure land level going up and down and sea level going up and down, and what happens is we get migration. It’s always happened. The next great sea level change will be a fall because we’ve probably got the maximum rise because in previous times when we’ve had sea level rise we haven’t melted the ice sheet because we’ve still got an inch of ice there which we can measure, so we’ve not had those changes in the past and there’s no reason why we should look at them in the future.

BC: One of the scary predictions being made by some of the climate change scientists, and they seem to be having an impact on politicians as well, is that we’re going to get hoards, if not millions, of flooded refugees heading south to inhabit the north of Australia. You don’t buy that argument, obviously?

IP: I’m old enough to have seen those arguments dressed up in different ways in politics. This is scare tactics, it’s hype, it’s ideology unrelated to evidence. What I’ve got is a book of evidence, it’s the missing science, it covers a great spectrum of science, we look at sea level in great detail in this book, I think it’s the least we have to worry about.

BC: Should we do anything at all about CO2 emissions?

IP: CO2 emissions are in many ways tied into pollution and in the western countries we certainly have been addressing pollution because pollution kills and we don’t want to be putting muck into our waterways and our airways and into our soils so we’ve been addressing pollution. At the same time, we’ve been stopping the salt [?…rif gases] coming to the atmosphere but we’ve still been pumping carbon dioxide out into the atmosphere, so we can separate carbon dioxide and pollution. We are well down that track. In many growing economies they still have to do that, and that will happen. We know from England, only 60 years ago, the massive fogs killed people. They now still pump out carbon dioxide but they don’t have those filthy fogs, so we can do it as long as we are wealthy. 

BC: Professor Ian Plimer, let me run some things by you, a sort of pop quiz here, and I want you to tell me whether in your opinion they’re rubbish or not. Quickly. Inexorable global temperature rise caused by humans?

IP: Zero out of 10.

BC: Zero out of 10, okay. Stronger, more catastrophic cyclones and hurricanes?

IP: I think we’ll have to keep you in after school so you can learn a bit more.

BC: Fantastic. More extreme weather events?

IP: I think you have to go back to the drawing board.

BC: Accelerated polar melting?

IP: I think you need to put ice blocks in your drinks.

BC: And glaciers receding?

IP: You need to understand that glaciers recede and advance. With that one I’ll give you five out of 10.

BC: What about the shutting down of the north Atlantic ocean current?

IP: It’s never shut down. The only way we will shut it down is if we stop the earth spinning and if you can stop the earth spinning, best of luck.

BC: Ocean acidification?

IP: The oceans have never been acid. They will only be acid when we run out of rocks.

BC: Species lost?

IP: We’re always getting species lost, we’re always getting species turnover, it’s a normal phenomenon; nothing to be worried about.

BC: Incidentally I notice that was happening pretty significantly before there was any real global push for anthropogenic climate change.

IP: Not quite, but different badge, same bandwagon.

BC: Tropical disease, migration to temperate areas?

IP: That’s mainly a reference to Malaria. Malaria actually thrives in cold climate areas as well as tropical areas.

BC: I notice that’s one thing your critics get stuck into you about. Why to they say you’re fundamentally wrong when you say that?

IP: About Malaria?

BC: Yeah.

IP: Well, I only used Paul Ritter who is the world authority on Malaria and he quotes Shakespeare and the AIG and the incidents of Malaria in Siberia and Scandinavia ‑ Malaria has been quite widespread in cold climates. You get rid of Malaria when you have an annual average income of more than $3,100 US. Malaria is a disease of poverty.

BC: And finally, Al Gore?

IP: Oh, I think he should go back to Hollywood.

BC: That was a very short answer. Would you like to expand a little on that? The Inconvenient Truth is one of the best selling DVDs, lots of money …. Is he completely wrong?

IP: What comes out of Hollywood? Hollywood fantasy comes out of it, so we give them a tick for that. Hollywood fantasy to frighten you witless, we give them a tick for that. You get a good Hollywood blockbuster, you make a lot of money, he gets a tick for that. But I hope you’re not arguing that something that comes out of Hollywood is related to reality.

BC: No, I wouldn’t argue that.

IP: An Inconvenient Truth is a wonderful piece of entertainment and then you go home and think: well, that was fantasy at its best.

BC: I’ve spoken to people who were genuinely frightened having watched that DVD.

IP: I can remember as a kid I was genuinely frightened by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Wasn’t true.

BC: Scary movie, for sure. Tell me whether any of these are a waste of time or not. I think I know what you’re going to answer. CO2 emissions reductions policies?

IP: Send us broke.

BC: Carbon trading schemes and/or taxes?

IP: I want to know more about it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to make a scam and to skin people alive.

BC: So you believe the market boys have jumped on this one thinking they can ‑ ‑ ‑

IP: Oh, very much so. And unregulated billions, that’s the good part about it.

BC: What about large scale solar and wind energy generation?

IP: Wonderful memorials to our stupidity.

BC: So that’s all they’ll be?

IP: The amount of energy you need to put in a wind farm is far more than it will ever produce in its working life. Secondly, it’s efficiencies …. that you never know when you’re going to need to power. 

The third thing is they surge and blow up the power systems and the fourth thing is they produce a pathetically small amount of electricity.

BC: What about large scale geothermal?

IP: Large scale geothermal is a possibility. That is, of course, national nuclear power. It’s developmental, it’s experimental and I’m a great supporter of following that further down the line because you could actually put some very large steam generating plants on to your thermal systems.

BC: I have to mention it, nuclear power?

IP: Nuclear power, I don’t know why we don’t have nuclear power in this country. We need huge amounts of cheap base load power to create water and to put electricity into the grid to attract industry, to employ people that gives us a taxation basis.

BC: It’s an interesting argument, isn’t it, on the one hand we must reduce this from the politicians, we must reduce CO2 emissions, therefore we must reduce our reliance on coal. The argument from the industry, the coal industry, the minerals industry, says: hang on, that’s crazy. And yet we have this other substance in abundance ‑ Uranium ‑ and we’re not using it in any real way at all, are we, and yet there’s other countries screaming for it.

IP:  Australia has 40 per cent of the world’s Uranium.
We’re exporting Yellowcake, we have the grid systems already there, the technology is there to almost go down to your local hardware store and buy a 200 metre watt generator now, it is so simple. Yet we are exporting all of this energy ‑ my argument is we put nuclear into the grid as well as coal because we have two forms of reliable cheap base load energy and if I were king of the world I would argue that not only do we mine Uranium, create the Yellowcake, we then create the fuel rods which we lease, we repossess, we keep the repossessed material for later fuel. We could actually control proliferation worldwide, plus we can control nuclear energy. It is a generational opportunity, you get these once in a generation. Australia is not taking it.

BC: How do we overcome the fear factor?

IP: We fear things we can’t see, like carbon dioxide in the air. Like Alpha particles and Beta particles and Gamma particles, but as we sit here we’re getting two Gamma particles go through our head every second, we’re getting irradiated all the time. The fear factor is more than of ignorance, but if we look at nuclear power we’ve really had only one serious accident. Three Mile Island was a success, all the systems worked, the shonky Russian system that fell apart was actually a human disaster, it is the safest form of power we can have.

BC: There’s a big push on for biofuels at the moment, the obvious downside there is you’re using land that you could otherwise use for growing food to grow fuel. You’re not a fan, are you?

IP: Not a great fan, for that reason. The second reason is that there are other biofuels that could be made from floating organisms that undergo photosynthesis, that is a possibility, but again it takes up huge areas of land.

BC: A couple of the ones that are tying policy makers in knots at the moment. Add scientists to an extent as well as industry. Clean coal technologies. Doable?

IP: I think clean coal technology, rather like geothermal, hot dry rock geothermal power, should be explored. It is very distinctly possible by burning something and creating steam, or having a radioactive decay and producing steam is a very inefficient process. One of the great things that’s come out of the current green movement to frighten us witless about global warning is that we are looking at having raw efficient energy, and I think that’s wonderful.

BC: What about sequestration of carbon?

IP: The numbers don’t add up. You can certainly sequester carbon dioxide into deep holes, that’s where a lot of carbon dioxide comes from. 

We’ve got one old oil hole in Australia, the …? Caroline Number 5. Well, we pull carbon dioxide out of that hole and Carlton and United Breweries use it to add to their beer. 

So we know that we can store carbon dioxide underground but the sheer volume that we need to store, it just doesn’t add up.

BC: How long do you think it will be for the planet to collectively recognise that we have been sold a pup here?

IP: I don’t think it will take too long. I think the economic crisis is certainly focusing people’s attention on costs and I think if we have what many of the solar physicists are suggesting, Sunspot Cycle number 24, we could be in for quite a cold period. If they are correct that will focus people very quickly.

BC: It’s curious, isn’t it, the climate change argument really picked up big here when we had our ‑ I think it was the last hot summer in the drought, the most recent drought in South Eastern Australia. I notice in some other parts of the world at the moment where they’re having cold snaps they are in fact going: hang on a sec, it’s gotten a bit cold, maybe this isn’t really happening. Is it that simple in most people’s minds what’s happening around them now is what’s happening more broadly?

IP: No, we’re looking at the weather and one swallow doesn’t make a summer. However, previous droughts ‑ say in the Darling River system ‑ have been massive and those droughts have dried up the Darling River. We are still pumping water out of the Darling River, it is still flowing yet we are in a drought so it isn’t a big drought compared with previous droughts.

BC: How do you plan to use your position here as the so‑called…. poster boy for climate change scepticism? Apart from writing the book, which is terrific, are you actively lobbying governments? Are you talking directly to politicians, policy makers, to industry who are in many respects starting to dovetail in behind the politicians?

IP: Well, yes, I’m talking to politicians of all colours, I’m talking to industry groups. I am in the business of professing my discipline and my knowledge is world and planetary history and I’m putting all that together and when you take a step back and look at this then you will say: well, wait a minute, we’ve had all these phenomena before, what’s so special about today? And we haven’t had the warmers yet tell us any reason why today is any different from 1,000 years ago.

BC: When will we have the proof one way or the other?

IP: I think the proof will come fairly quickly, and that will be coming from the sun, when Sunspot Cycle Number 24 really starts to bite, then we’ll be looking at proof within 20 years.

BC: Professor Ian Plimer, it’s a great read. It is called: Heaven and Earth - Global Warming: The Missing Science. And I urge anybody who is interested in the subject to have a read. Appreciate your time, sir. Thank you. 

Transcript provided by the Institute for Private Enterprise