A summary and analysis of selected events and papers relevant to global warming, in Australian political context. Climate Review: I is here.
January to June, 2011
Stimulated by research spending of billions of dollars, inexorably, and month by month. torrents of new scientific information appear that are relevant to the twin issues of global warming and climate change.
No one scientist, or group, can possibly absorb and précis accurately the full range of this literature, though valiant efforts are made both by the IPCC and by its essential counterpart, the Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).
To date, research findings are consistent with a largely natural, though still incompletely understood, origin for modern climate change. Discounting virtual reality computer model studies, no recent paper has provided empirical evidence that dangerous human-caused global warming is occurring; and neither the atmosphere nor the ocean are currently warming despite the continuing increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
With no pretence of being comprehensive, Parts II and III of this Review provide summaries of a representative selection of events, enquiries and new scientific publications that occurred in 2011 and were germane to the topic of global warming.
33 of these events are analysed, presented in the monthly order in which they occurred. A hot-linked index of selected topics, also arranged in date order to match the text, is here.
Provided in parallel, too, are monthly examples of some of the often painfully conflicting, and at times exquisitely ironic, political statements that accompanied the bulldozing of carbon dioxide policy through the Australian parliament, and finally into law on November 8th.
IN THE BEGINNING – JANUARY, 2011
In late November, 2009, and just before the COP-15 climate conference in Copenhagen, an unknown person released into the public domain more than 2,000 emails and documents that were sourced from staff at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) – which is the custodian of the planetary surface temperature record that is used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The emails caused a sensation because of the scientific malpractices that were revealed to be occurring amongst CRU staff and their influential IPCC colleagues – practices which included denying access to public data, the disparagement and bullying of scientists who disagreed with IPCC global warming dogma, and attempts to censor the scientific literature (and hence IPCC reports) of research papers that supported such disagreement.
The imbroglio inevitably came to be called Climategate, and no fewer than three separate enquiries were convened to investigate the matter, one by the House of Commons and two others headed respectively by a retired senior civil servant, Sir Muir Russell, and by geologist and former Chairman of Shell, Lord Ron Oxburgh.
In January, 2011, The Science and Technology Committee of the UK House of Commons reported that these enquiries into the conduct and integrity of CRU scientists and their colleagues were biased, lacked balance and had failed to restore trust in British climate science.
Particular deficiencies included (i) that the University of East Anglia Vice-Chancellor misled the House of Commons Committee over the nature of the Science Appraisal Panel, which was not fully independent; (ii) that Oxburgh Review panel did not investigate the science; (iii) that the panel also lacked rigour and diligence, and failed to investigate the prima facie deletion of emails in response to an FOI request; and (iv) that none of the enquiries determined if CRU staff actually contacted the journals that they had discussed making threats against.
Member of the commons Committee, MP Graham Stringer, concluded that the three enquiries had been an utter failure, saying "We are now left after three investigations without a clear understanding of whether or not the CRU science is compromised."
Meanwhile, back in Australia
Julia Gillard announced at Parliament House, and flanked by the Greens, Mr Combet and key independent MPs, that:
I’m determined to price carbon, the time is right and the time is now. I do not believe Australia needs to lead the world on climate change, but I also do not think we can afford to be left behind.
The Prime Minister meant carbon dioxide, of course.
The Kyodo News reported (Feb. 15) that not one of the Japanese government’s 214 biomass promotion projects — supported by public funding of ¥6.55 trillion over the past six years — had been effective in reducing global warming. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry alone spent ¥1.6 billion to produce livestock feedstuff from unsold boxed lunches from convenience stores; the project was abandoned after its management firm collapsed. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, which produced the report, urged that the agriculture and five other ministries conducting biomass projects using sewage sludge, garbage and wood, take corrective action.
On February 19, the House of Representatives passed a budget amendment that would prohibit $13 million in taxpayer dollars from going to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization which has now been much criticized for more than 15 years.
Afterwards, the sponsor of the amendment, Blaine Luetkemeyer commented:
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is an entity that is fraught with waste and fraud, and engaged in dubious science, which is the last thing hard-working American taxpayers should be paying for at a time of out-of-control spending and historic debt, which is why I am extremely pleased that my amendment passed.
Helmut Schmidt told an audience at the Max-Plank-Gesellschaft that a full inquiry needs to be held into the credibility of advice on global warming that stems from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In his speech, Helmut Schmidt said:
In addition to all the aforementioned problems caused by humans, we are also concerned, at the same time, by the phenomenon of global warming and its alleged consequences. We know that there have always been naturally occurring ice ages and warm periods; what we don’t know is how significant the human-induced contribution to present and future global warming is and will be.
The climate policy adopted by many governments is still in its infancy. The publications provided by an international group of scientists (the IPCC) have encountered skepticism, especially since some of their researchers have shown themselves to be fraudsters (Betrüger). In any case, some governments’ publicly stated targets are far less scientific, but rather politically endorsed.
It seems to me that the time has come that one of our top scientific organisations should scrutinise, under the microscope, the work of the IPCC, in a critical and realistic way, and then present the resulting conclusions to the German public in a comprehensible manner ….
The Max-Plank-Gesellschaft is Germany’s most eminent science organisation, and that Helmut Schmidt should deliver his lecture there is highly symbolic. But in calling for an investigation by one of Germany’s “top scientific organisations”, Schmidt shows that he only appreciates part of the problem, that part which involves the integrity of the IPCC.
An equal problem in nearly all western countries (Russia perhaps excluded) is the integrity of the advice being given by national science academies and leading scientific organisations, many of whom, under the leadership of the Royal Society of London, have been acting as cheerleaders for the IPCC for the last ten years or more.
Meanwhile, back in Australia
Paul Murray reported in the West Australian that Julia Gillard’s new carbon dioxide tax would be used to help Australia meet its share of a $100 billion-a-year United Nations fund directed to undeveloped nations to help them adapt to alleged global warming (Australia’s share being $550 million annually). This reflects a UN agreement that Minister Combet signed at the December IPCC meeting in Cancun, Mexico, under which about 10 per cent of carbon taxes raised in developed nations will go into a UN Green Climate Fund.
Minister Combet commented (Feb. 25) that:
You know what we’re doing we believe to be the right thing. It is very important that we tackle climate change. The scientific evidence is very clear about the warming in average temperatures internationally.
Two days later, when asked to name the top five things people could do to minimize their costs from the carbon tax, Mr Combet said it was best to reduce energy consumption:
And the main way to do that is by saving energy, to turn things off at the wall. Maybe think about how often you use the airconditioner. Using a cheaper-to-run hot water system. Changing the light bulbs. Have you got insulation?
As a poster child for dangerous global warming, the snows of Kilimanjaro have been predicted to disappear as early as 2015, which was taken as key evidence for global warming by Al Gore’s 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”.
Now (March 19), however, Douglas R. Hardy, from the University of Massachusetts, regrets having made the prediction:
Unfortunately, we made the prediction. I wish we hadn’t. None of us had much history working on that mountain, and we didn’t understand a lot of the complicated processes on the peak like we do now. Since 2000, we’ve lost about 30 percent of the ice area as of 2009, but the thickness of at least the main glacier, the northern ice field, hasn’t changed a great deal. It was 50 meters thick then and now it’s on the order of 45 meters thick. The glaciers are still shrinking, and in the next decades they will almost certainly disappear, but it will probably be on the order of three or four decades, maybe five, but we don’t know for sure. It might be in only two.
H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Texas, said that the Kilimanjaro prediction:
is just one in a number of global warming scare stories that scientists have had to recant or at least modify in the face of substantial counter evidence. The Kilimanjaro predictions were suspect at the time they were made. Critics noted that there was abundant evidence that the snow caps on Kilimanjaro had been in retreat decades before greenhouse gas emissions began to rise dramatically in the middle of the century.
Contrary to IPCC predictions, Florida State University scientist Dr Ryan Maue shows (March 21) that the occurrence of tropical storms has reached a possibly “unprecedented” low point. He reports that:
The March 21, 2011 00Z ECMWF deterministic 10-day forecast does not indicate another tropical cyclone developing during the month. This will bring the previous 12-month total of global TCs down to 63 — by far the lowest in the last 40-years or more”.
Meanwhile, back in Australia
Commentator Terry McCrann wrote an excoriating account of the government’s lack of comprehension of the critically important difference between “carbon” and “carbon dioxide”, and several thousand people assembled in front of Parliament House, Canberra, to protest against the introduction of carbon dioxide taxation.
Some people arrived on the more than 30 buses that came from up to 1,000 km distance away.
The rally was held under the auspices of the Consumers and Taxpayers Association (CATA), and was addressed by leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott. CATA spokesperson Chris Johnson, expressed the general view when he said that a new election was needed to test the government’s mandate for a carbon tax, because "the Australian public have not had a chance to vote or have a say on the issue".
Using observations from the Kuroshio current in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, Eric D’Asaro et al. (April 10) found that the rate of energy dissipation within the current’s boundary layer was 10-20 times stronger than expected. The boundary layer is where the ocean and atmosphere meet, and heat and gases like carbon dioxide are exchanged, which has major implications for the mechanisms controlling climate change. The new results indicate that the atmosphere does not supply the energy for the boundary turbulence, the ocean does. This contradicts the prevailing scientific wisdom and shows once again that the unreliability of current computer climate models.
As the authors themselves concluded:
These results are consistent with recent theory on submesoscale processes and thus encourage incorporation of this theory into boundary layer models. Such physics is not accounted for in present-day climate models. Fronts associated with the Kuroshio, Gulf Stream, and Antarctic Circumpolar Current are key players in the ocean-atmosphere climate system. Inaccurate representation of the boundary layer and flow energetics in frontal regions could thus significantly affect the predictive skill of climate models.
In 2005, the United Nations Environment Programme provided a map that showed the most likely hot-spots for the 50 million climate refugees that were expected by 2010. The refugees, it was said, would flee from disasters that included sea level rise, increased numbers of tropical storms and disruption to their food supply.
Revisiting the matter on April 11 this year, Asian Correspondent commented that the top six subsequently fastest growing cities in China, (Shenzzen, Dongguan, Foshan, Zhuhai, Puning and Jinjiang) fall within the shaded areas identified as being likely sources of climate refugees, and that
the places identified by the UNEP as most at risk of having climate refugees are not only not losing people, they are actually among the fastest growing regions in the world.
In response, and embarrassment, UNEP deleted the map from its website, which subsequently provided the false error message:
Dear visitor, it seems like the map you are navigating by is maybe not fully up-to-date, or that it might have an error in it, or is it that your GPS is not loaded with the correct data?
In a paper presented at a European Geophysical Union meeting in Vienna, Bouziotas et al. concluded that:
Analysis of trends and of aggregated time series on climatic (30-year) scale does not indicate consistent trends worldwide. Despite common perception, in general, the detected trends are more negative (less intense floods in most recent years) than positive. Similarly, Svensson et al. (2005) and Di Baldassarre et al. (2010) did not find systematical change neither in flood increasing or decreasing numbers nor change in flood magnitudes in their analysis.
These analyses are contrary to IPCC assertions, and indicate that floods are not increasing, or are even in decline, while most people have been encouraged to believe the opposite.
Meanwhile, back in Australia
The Labor government’s Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, announced in an address at the National Press Club (April 15) that more than half of all the revenue collected through the proposed carbon tax will be returned as compensation to low- and middle-income households.
Combet and Prime Minister Julia Gillard claimed that, as a result, “millions” of Australians will actually be “better off” once the carbon tax is introduced.
Habitat loss and extinction driven by global warming is one of the IPCC’s signature conservation alarms. A paper by He & Hubbell (May 19) shows that the consequent loss of species is at least twice as slow as previously thought.
The common method used to estimate extinction rates uses a species–area accumulation curve, extrapolated backwards to smaller areas to calculate expected species loss. The resulting extinction rates are almost always higher than those actually observed, and this discrepancy has given rise to the idea of an ‘extinction debt’, in which some species are ‘committed to extinction’ from habitat loss but not yet actually extinct. He & Hubbell’s paper shows that the extinction debt as currently defined is largely a sampling artefact and the key result is that these extinctions require a much greater loss of habitat than was previously thought.
Therefore, the basic measures of species loss used in reports like the 2005 UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) "Red List" of endangered species are based on "fundamentally flawed" methods that exaggerate the threat of extinction. Hubbell comments that "based on a mathematical proof and empirical data, we show that previous estimates should be divided roughly by 2.5”.
Finding a way to extend the Kyoto Protocol has been central to IPCC efforts over recent years to negotiate further reductions of carbon dioxide emissions.
On May 29, at the G8 summit meeting in Deauville, the four large western nations of France, Russia, Japan and Germany indicated that they would not join a second round of carbon cuts under the Kyoto Protocol at the IPCC meeting in Durban in December. The USA also reiterated that it intends to remain outside the treaty.
Meanwhile, back in Australia
In a major report released on May 23, the Climate Commission warned that Australia is already suffering from significant impacts of a changing climate, and supported the government’s plans for a tax on carbon dioxide emissions.
The commission noted that (i) the number of record hot days in Australia has more than doubled in the past 50 years, increasing the risk of heatwaves and associated deaths, as well as extreme bush fire weather; (ii) that sea levels have risen by 20 centimetres globally since the late 1800s, affecting many coastal communities; and (iii) that the biodiversity and tourist income from the Great Barrier Reef are under threat, noting that the reef has suffered from nine bleaching events in the past 31 years.
Both Julia Gillard and Greg Combet welcomed the report as bolstering the case for urgent action on climate change, despite the fact that many statements in the report conflict with the latest scientific data and that nowhere is it explained why the impacts noted by the Commissioners are believed to have stemmed from human rather than natural causes.
JUNE, AND THE TAX STATEMENT BECKONS
NASA scientist Frank Hill told the June 14 annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division in Las Cruces, New Mexico that the familiar sunspot cycle seems to be entering a hibernation period unseen since the 17th century, and that this pattern that could have a slight cooling effect on global temperatures. Recent signs of an unusually quiescent sun include a missing jet stream, fading sunspots and slower convective activity near the poles. Hill said that this pattern was both highly unusual and unexpected, and indicated that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation.
This could have major implications for the Earth’s climate, and an immediate question is whether this slowdown presages a second Maunder Minimum, a 70-year period with virtually no sunspots [which occurred] during 1645-1715. The Earth – far from facing a global warming problem – could actually be headed into a mini-Ice Age. During the last Little Ice Age, many European rivers that are ice-free today – including the Thames – routinely froze over, allowing ice skating and frost fairs to be held.
A paper by Kench & Webb (June 3) used historical aerial photos and high-resolution satellite images to study changes in the area of 27 Pacific islands over the last 60 years. During that time, local sea levels rose by 120 millimetres, or 2 millimetres per year on average, despite which just four islands have diminished in size since the 1950s. The area of the remaining 23 has either stayed the same or grown because of a ready supply of coral sand.
Against the background of a lack of increase in the long-term rate of sea-level rise, this new paper serves as a timely reminder that computer model projections of global sea-level change are useless for environmental planning in specific coastal locations – where erosion is controlled by a mixture of sea-level change, substrate movement, sediment supply and oceanographic exposure.
The U.S. Committee on Science, Space and Technology today (June 17) reiterated a previous request to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, calling for the adoption of a Conflict of Interest Policy for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), writing:
Recent press reports have once again highlighted the need for the IPCC to address conflicts of interest. If these press reports are true, it would seem as though one of the lead authors of Chapter 10 of the IPCC ‘Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation’ was not only an employee of the advocacy group Greenpeace International, but also the co-author of one of the studies being reviewed in that Chapter.
The Committee called on the UN to immediately adopt specific protocols to prevent further conflicts, politicization, and manipulation, writing that it is “imperative for the IPCC to adopt a rigorous conflict of interest policy before its 34th Session, tentatively scheduled to take place in January 2012”.
Late in 2010, the US (Chicago) carbon dioxide trading market crashed and, two weeks later, closed. In mid-2011 the European market was headed in the same direction. After flourishing earlier this year, after former IPCC Commissioner Yvo de Boer confirmed that the Kyoto Protocol was dead, trading prices tumbled on June 25 to €12.21/tonne, down from €15.41 a week before and marking a 20% drop in a week.
Rather than actually helping to combat speculative global warming, carbon dioxide markets are instead open to the kind of speculation and fraud that led to the 2008 global financial crisis.
In 2002, the ABC’s flagship current affair program, the 7.30 Report, was predicting the imminent demise of the Great Barrier Reef, saying:
It’s not just Australia’s farmlands which are threatened by global warming, the greenhouse effect could also spell disaster for coral reefs around the world, including our own natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef.
In contrast with that alarmist statement, a new publication (June 29) by scientists at the Australian Institute of Marine Science reported that:
Monitoring data collected annually from fixed sites at 47 reefs across 1300 km of the GBR indicate that overall regional coral cover was stable (averaging 29% and ranging from 23% to 33% cover across years) with no net decline between 1995 and 2009…. Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) outbreaks and storm damage were responsible for more coral loss during this period than either bleaching or disease despite two mass bleaching events and an increase in the incidence of coral disease. While the limited data for the GBR prior to the 1980’s suggests that coral cover was higher than in our survey, we found no evidence of consistent, system-wide decline in coral cover since 1995”.
As Andrew Bolt concluded in the Herald Sun, “You have been deceived again and again and again”.
Meanwhile, back in Australia
Minister Combet held a press conference on June 12 to inform reporters that:
the government has now committed an amount of $12 million to a national advertising campaign to provide information to the public, both through television and print, about the government’s policies and plans for establishing a carbon price.
Noting that the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee had not yet recommended specific policies, a reporter commented that
You’re announcing 12 million dollars, you don’t know what you are advertising, you don’t know what it’s going to say and you’re deferring to your department; what are you actually announcing?
Independent MPs on the MPCCC were not impressed either, with Rob Oakshott saying that announcing the ad campaign fund before details of the tax were known was “a dumb call at the wrong time”.
ADDENDUM. The Australian for February 9th, 2012, carried the following update on this matter:
The Auditor-General has found the $20 million carbon [dioxide] tax advertising blitz breached financial regulations, may not have delivered value for money and failed to effectively sway the public as the government scrambled to mount the campaign. The audit discovered that at the height of the carbon [dioxide] tax controversy, the Gillard government awarded a $2.7 million contract for the printing of an information booklet after a tender of just 36 hours and demanded companies update quotes within 90 minutes”.
The Auditor-General was apparently not asked to adjudicate on the accuracy of the material in the advertisements, which is probably just as well; for the information presented was mostly tendentious at best and factually inaccurate at the worst.
Climate Review: I is here…
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