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July 27th 2012 print

John McLean

Praise be! The Climate Commission in Melbourne

Melbourne was treated to Brother Tim's Travelling Salvation Show, aka the Climate Commissioners, calling on the faithful to force carbon sinners to repent.

On Tuesday, 24 July, Melbourne was treated to Brother Tim’s Travelling Salvation Show, aka the Climate Commissioners, calling on the faithful to force carbon sinners to repent. 

It was a revivalist meeting, complete with pictures and snake oil. 

The elixir from Brother Tim and his brethren offered the solutions to all our ills. It was the remedy to rising temperatures, rising sea levels, the threat of extreme temperatures, drought and lo, it would save the planet for future generations. Glory be! 

Like all snake oil, whether the problems truly existed didn’t seem matter for they would be cured. It was cheap too and we were told that happy customers were already seeing the benefits. 

But snake oil was all that it was … well, snake oil and hyperbole. 

Things didn’t start well. In her opening sentences, compere Tracey Curro showed that she too had caught exaggeration-itis by thanking us for attending "on this chilly winter evening". Chilly?  It was 14 degrees outside on a late July evening. A few degrees warmer and I wouldn’t have needed my light jacket. Not a good start to the evening but a portent none the less. 

For the next fifteen minutes we were lectured by three climate commissioners, Brothers Tim and Will, then Sister Lesley (Flannery, Steffen and Hughes respectively), with glib patter worthy of an illusionist. 

Talk about smoke and mirrors, and hell-fire and brimstone. We had it all. 

We were shown the bell-shaped normal distribution curve and told that it represented the normal range of temperatures. Warmer temperatures, we were told, would shift the graph to the right and we’d experience more cases of extreme weather. There was not a word about humans acclimatising to the swathe across the centre of the range and that it too had shifted to the right, meaning that warm days relative to the new average temperature would be no more common than today. 

A graph of annual average heat content of the upper ocean since 1960 was shown and it soared from lower left to upper right.   Nowhere in the stage props was the corresponding graph of sea surface temperature, which shows a rise of just 0.3 degrees over the same time. 

Destroyed by fire or destroyed by flood? Brother Will told us that seas were rising and we’d be swept asunder, or at least that anyone living near the coast would. He didn’t mention that Brother Tim owned a house on the water’s edge on a tidal inlet. 

And woe would visit upon our future generations according to Sister Lesley, who talked of her children, and her children’s children, and how they would – no ‘might’ or ‘could’ or ‘were predicted to’, but WOULD – face temperatures rising towards six degrees warmer than today by 2100. 

And what’s the proof that higher global average temperature, greater amount of heat stored in the top of the oceans, rising sea level, droughts, bushfires and all manner of pestilence (sorry, I got carried away) are caused by man? Nothing more than an assemblage of the output of a collection of climate models.  

Models that the IPCC 2007 report showed can’t possibly be accurate. Models whose output varies despite the science being supposedly settled. Models that greatly exaggerate the theoretical warming of less than half a degree that CO2 might cause by 2100. Models that are padded with CO2-induced warming to make up for the shortfalls in knowledge of numerous climate forces. 

All from a modelling industry that would collapse if it couldn’t find a way to claim a human hand in every possible climate variation. 

No religion is fully supported by logic; there’s always a gap somewhere, before, if we are lucky, internal consistency returns. Brother Tim’s climate religion doesn’t have a gap but a chasm, one that he tried hard to ignore. Or maybe he thinks he can walk on water. He said that he thought we’d "moved on from the science". As Tonto might say "Who’s this ‘we’,  kimosabe?" Moved on? More like sidled around. Brother Tim and his brethren have been too scared to confront the fact that observational data refutes their claims, too scared to openly face their critics and debate the matter. 

And of myths worthy of religion we had them too. Brother Will even broke into a smile as he told us that the models weren’t the only proof of manmade warming. "I could go on all evening. There’s a whole heap of evidence." 

Maybe he should have because climate models are far better known for their failures than their very rare successes, well, successes in sense of "is consistent with" rather than demonstrable completeness and accuracy. 

Brother Will’s evidence seems to disappear faster than an illusionist’s assistant. No sooner it is said to exist than it vanishes. 

And don’t look behind the curtain, thank you. 

You might discover that there’s been no warming for the last 12 or 13 years despite the increase in CO2. Maybe you’d notice that despite global average temperatures rising from 1977 to 1997 there had been no change in the steady rate of sea level rise that’s existed since around 1860.   Maybe you’d even understand that Melbourne’s 2009 heatwave was caused by winds drawing hot air down from the very dry western New South Wales where all the sun’s heat was going into driving temperature because there was no surface or plant moisture to evaporate. 

The 2009 heatwave was cited by Brother Will as an "example" of what we could expect to see more often in future. Talk about careful language! But it contrasted with a newspaper article the previous day by Brother Will in which he claimed there was "strong evidence that climate change influenced the extreme events Victorians experienced over the past decade." Where’s that strong evidence? Sorry, it’s disappeared again. 

When it came to the magic solution there was nary a word of cost for large installations, be they of wind turbines or solar cells, no word of the amount of land that would be demanded, nor any hint that backup sources would be necessary when nature failed to oblige. 

And after all this patter the audience was invited to ask questions. 

In the first 25 minutes only five questions were asked. Audience members insisted on making ramblings statements prior to their questions, and climate commissioners repaid in kind, but finally things did improve. 

One audience member asked about psychology and how he might convince more of the public. The commissioners’ response was revealing – "Ignore those who don’t believe. Talk to the converted and get them to take action".   That sure seems to be how the climate commissioners work. 

Another claimed that sceptics of manmade warming had no science to support them. Was that comment like the hyperbole of a "hallelujah" or made from ignorance? I suspect the latter because the person had just bemoaned what he saw as the lack of support from the mass media – I kid you not! – and suggested that the commission might have to resort to paid advertisements to get its message across. 

Someone asked what difference a change in emissions in Victoria would make. The response avoided the question by quickly shifting into a global context and then claiming quite falsely that all countries believed "the science".  The science? Is there only one? You mean it’s not the one that shows CO2′s warming potential at current levels to be tiny and diminishing? It’s not the one that shows a good correlation between CO2 and global average temperature only for the 21 years from 1977 to 1997? It’s not the one that’s been active for billions of years and gives Earth its climate? 

Politically correctness showed its head too. One audience member had the temerity to suggest, somewhat hesitantly, that maybe Australia should talk about nuclear power. The response from one commissioner mentioned its possible expanded use in Europe was neutral and the question of political will and community will, but Brother Tim was more definite regards Australia, declaring that electricity consumption was decreasing and we should be looking to photovoltaic cells. Burst of applause from the audience. 

No-one seemed to mind that responses were inaccurate or distorted. Germany was said to be on track with switching over to renewable power when in fact the country is struggling and is likely to abandon the effort because of the costs and unreliability. 

Another response referred to floods at Lakes Entrance, but back in June the predicted floods, caused by a combination of good rains in river catchments and a high tide rather than rising sea level, failed to materialise and local referred to them as "the flood non-event". Lakes Entrance floods will, we are told, become more frequent as greenhouse gases increase. What’s the source for this? More of the same climate models. 

In an audience largely of the faithful, such as the members of QuitCoal and BeyondZero who both asked questions, there was none of the interrogation that was required. No questions about Brother Tim’s involvement in companies that have benefited from government largesse. No questions about the required number of further years with no warming before the climate commission will admit it is wrong. No questions about the hundreds of peer-reviewed papers that challenge the commission’s mantra. 

Perhaps I could have asked them myself but not far away was a young man whose hand was raised for the entire question time and was ignored.  

It was all such a revivalist meeting that I almost expected some of the audience to stand up, wave their arms in the air and shout "I believe". Fainting from the delirium of euphoria was too much to expect because the tone of the questions was more of despair and frustration at the carbon heretics. 

The same was expressed in Brother Tim’s benediction, which he ended by claiming "we’ve come a big distance in a decade". Big applause from the faithful. 

And so the evening ended. 

Religion and state are supposed to be separate but Brother Tim’s Government-Sponsored Travelling Salvation Show will doubtless play in more centres sometime soon.