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March 05th 2013 print

John McLean

Another dose of Flim-Flannery

The latest Climate Commission exercise in rampant alarmism and twisted stats is a case study in selective omission. Why let the facts get in the way of a good scare?


The latest exercise in hucksterism from the Australian Climate Commission continues its tradition of distortion by omission and makes a mockery of any pretence to independence and reliability.  The previous statement’s sleights of hand saw the commission shoot itself in the foot.  In combination, the pair of documents amount to two barrels, both feet.


To put things in chronological order we must go back to February 23, when The Australian reported that Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, acknowledged there had been no statistically significant warming over the previous 17 years.  Personally, I think that should be 16 years, but the overall flat or near-flat trend can easily be demonstrated from the monthly time series provided by the folk responsible for the HadCRUT3 temperature data set.  That some people have  paraphrased Pachauri’s comments as indicating no warming whatsoever is an interpretation that has riled your more ardent warmists. All the same, and however minute any increase might be, a difference that is not a statistically significant difference, which this isn’t, is not a difference at all.

By early afternoon the next day the Australian Climate Commission had released a "summary statement" saying that focussing on temperature was wrong and that we should be concentrating other symptoms of an overheated planet.  That the IPCC was established precisely because temperatures were said to be rising, apparently inexplicably, in the late 1980′s seems to have escaped the commission’s notice.  If it wasn’t for the existence of the IPCC and its frequent, doom-laden assertions it is unlikely that the Climate Commission would have been created, albeit 14 years after warming apparently ceased.

See also: Sins of Omission and Climate Commission

By dismissing temperature as an irrelevance the commission was undermining an IPCC chairman who apparently thought the matter sufficiently important to mention.  Its statement appears intended to address the growing attention being paid to "climate sceptics", who have had the temerity to point out what the observational data is showing.  Readers may recall that, in 2012, Christopher Monckton was ejected from an assembly at the DOHA climate change talks in Durban for saying much the same.

It is tempting to suspect the commission’s statement was put together overnight as a form of damage control after Pachauri spilled the beans — a frantic reaction, bordering on panic, after a most inconvenient truth about static global temperatures had somehow escaped the Chief Warmist’s unguarded lips.   That is unlikely, however, as there is so much undiluted alarmism in the statement that it must have taken at least several weeks of concerted effort to pull it all together.

The ABC was ready and waiting, as always, to brandish "The Angry Summer", the latest missive from Climate Commission, and amplify its message, seemingly oblivious to the document’s plethora of flaws and distortions.  I use the word "seemingly" because I’m not sure whether the ABC is unable to critically evaluate these reports or if it simply chooses to ignore their failings. The first option would represent incompetence, the second collusion.

It almost goes without saying that the report attempts to lay blame human activity for "record-breaking heat", severe bushfires and extreme rainfall in the  summer just ended.

Claiming that we mortals exacerbate heatwaves is tricky for both sides.  It’s not easy to prove the claim false, but surely the onus is on the Climate Commission to prove it true, which it doesn’t. As with most Climate Commission reports, it’s instructive to look at pertinent facts that were omitted.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s report "Special Climate Statement 43 – extreme Heat in January 2013"describes the meteorological situation in detail, commencing with the rainfall being below average in southern Australia. Certain warmists seem reluctant to tell you that less rainfall means less surface moisture to evaporate and more heat energy available to heat the ground surface. To absorb that concept, think of a what wet towel and a dry one hung out on the clothes line. The latter will get hotter faster because of the absence of moisture.

The climate statement goes on to describe multiples instances of winds drawing very warm air from central Australia onto south-western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. This is confirmed by the Bureau’s various monthly weather reviews, which add precious detail. For example, the review for the Northern Territory says:

"Throughout the month several high pressure centres moved along the sub-tropical ridge. These slow moving, dry and very stable air masses allowed for high temperatures to persist across the central NT."

It then went on to say:

"Beginning on the 15th, a surface based low pressure system formed over central Queensland and began moving to the northwest in the ensuing days. At the middle levels of the atmosphere the monsoon trough began shifting south to meet the surface low. This caused the onset of the North Australian Monsoon on the 17th of January. This came about three weeks later than usual, but still within the standard deviation of the monsoon timing."

In a nutshell, the heatwaves were caused by warm conditions in central Australia, a monsoon running late, and winds distributing the warm air. I wonder which part the Climate Commission believes is under the influence of human activity. And perhaps it could also explain why heatwaves have been irregular over the last 16 years, when average global temperatures have been flat, and why Australia’s recent heatwaves came at the end of the three coolest years of the last eleven?

On reading the latest report one might gain the impression that summer temperature soared and remaind consistently high. At quick look at Sydney’s temperature record shows how wrong that would be. On just 3 days of January the temperatures at Sydney’s Observatory Hill exceeded 30 degrees: 42.3 on the 8th, 31.2 on the 12th, 45.8 on the 18th. On all other days the maximum temperature was in the range from 20 degrees to 30 degrees. Omit those two very hot days, when warm north and north-west winds dragged hot air into Sydney and the average maximum for the month falls by 1.1 degrees. That reduces the much-trumpted 27.6-degree average to a modest 26.5 degrees — just 0.5 degrees above the 1961-90 average.

Comparing Mildura in January 2013 and 2010 produces another interesting insight. The average minimum temperature was 0.025 degrees higher in 2013, the average maximum 0.032 higher, and the average daily sunshine 0.08 hours greater. Not much change there.

Data for Melbourne in January, 2012, is not available to compare with 2013 but February data is and might be a guide. The average maximum temperature this year was 29.2 degrees and last year 27 degrees. Average daily sunshine this year was 9.19 hours and last year 7.75 hours. Who would have thought that more sunshine causes higher maximum temperatures? Just about everyone I would have thought.

The Climate Commission’s report goes on to do some arm-waving over January bushfires, especially in New South Wales. Again the Bureau of Meteorology’s monthly weather review for NSW sets the record straight.

"The combination of very dry conditions during recent months as well as the severe January heatwave resulted in widespread bushfire activity across the state. Total Fire Bans were declared on eight days, with Catastrophic fire danger ratings observed for the first time since December 2009. In many cases these fires were ignited by dry lightning strikes, associated with surface troughs which failed to cause significant rain on the 8th and 12th/13th."

It’s a pity that the report doesn’t tell us whether it was the hot, dry weather or the lightning strikes that were caused by human activity.

The Climate Commission goes on to talk about extreme rainfall and floods in Queensland and northern NSW. If nothing else you have to admire its chutzpah, given that, just a few years ago, the commission’s head, Tim Flannery, predicted such a dire reduction in rainfall that Anna Bligh’s Queensland was inspired to build a gold-plated desalination plant. Worth noting is that Flannery has worked as environmental consultant to German-based Siemens, a major player in the desalination business. But I digress.

It’s not until page 8, when the readers have been well and truly pressured into conceding their role as despicable humans in all this climatic mischief, that they are told the fading ex-tropical cyclone Oswald was the major source of all that excess precipitation. Did you cause that tropical cyclone? I don’t think I did.

The commission’s report tells us that Australia’s average temperature has risen 0.9 degrees since 1910, but it makes no mention of the number of observation stations in use back then compared to now.

It then asserts that higher temperatures will mean a greater number of hot days and backs this claim with the very phony argument that the temperature distribution is a bell curve, with most daily mean temperatures near the average temperature and very few that are greatly different from it. It then says that an increase in average temperature will move the entire bell curve towards high temperatures (e.g. over 35 degrees).

One fallacy of this argument is illustrated above. Had those two high temperatures in Sydney been 36 degrees instead of over 40 degrees the average temperature would have been lower, but there would still have been only two days above 35 degrees. Another fallacy is the assumption that the distribution of temperatures will describe an evenly balanced bell shape. The third is the assumption that all days, or close to all, will warm equally. In other words, the assumptions behind the shifting bell curve are fatally flawed.

For many parts of Australia the hottest days are those with winds from specific directions. Some summers in Melbourne have seen just a few days with maximum temperature between 30 and 35 degrees but a greater number above 35 degrees, which happens when northerly winds bring hot air from the interior. Any change in the number days with hot winds will alter the average temperature. A change in the temperatures where those winds originate will likewise alter the average temperature where the winds are heading. Despite this being no more than basic meteorology, the report’s only mention of winds is in relation to bushfires and storms.

Add this distortion-by-omission to the usual claptrap about man-made CO2 emissions causing significant warming and it’s clear that the Climate Commission is not the independent and reliable body that its web pages claim it to be.

Tony Abbott has already said that his first task as Prime Minister will be to scrap the carbon tax. Let’s hope the Climate Commission is high on his hit list.

John McLean was co-author with Chris de Freitas and Bob Carter of a paper that became the centre of controversy when submitted to the Journal of Geophysical Research. Their experience with the censors of science can be read here.