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April 10th 2013 print

Des Moore

Climate queries? Ask a paleontologist

Would you hire a plumber to re-wire your home? If the answer is "yes", then the qualifications, such as they are, of the Climate Change Commission's members will be enough to persuade that the planet really is on its last, overheated legs. The more astute will not be so easily convinced

The attempt to portray a picture of ever-rising temperatures continues despite the absence of supporting evidence. It is typified by frequent references to purported and much-repeated "records”, such as “the hottest start to April for eight years” and the supportive claims of “experts” with Nobel Laureate awards in a science, but not necessarily ones awarded for achievements in climate climate science.

For example, The Age recently ran a letter from Professor Peter Doherty denying  a  pause in temperature increases and arguing that a sceptical Spooner cartoon was based on misinformation. Doherty argued that climate scientists are not likely to make errors because they could be subjected to claims of scientific fraud. The professor, it should be noted, won his 1996 Nobel for advancing understanding not of climate or meteorology but the human immune system. (for Spooner’s response to Doherty, see the bottom of this column)       

About a month ago Quadrant Online published my analysis of published temperature data, compiled with help from physicist Dr Tom Quirk, showing that the global average recorded a fall in February. The latest data (see the chart below from John Christy, University of Alabama at Huntsville, and drawn from satellite data) shows there was no change in March and confirms there has been no substantive change in annual global average temperatures between 2002 and 2012. I also pointed out that there has been no change worth noting in the 16 years from 1998, while adding that account needs to be taken of the effects attributable to the “high” El Nino activity of that year.

For Australia, following the fall in February, there was an increase in average temperatures in March, but the increase did not fully offset the February fall, and the March level could scarcely be described as “high” (see the chart below). As I have previously pointed out, the failure in recent years to witness a coincidence of temperature and emission increases – supposedly the basis of the scientific consensus — is nothing new, also having been evident in earlier years.

It remains the case that, while there was an increase in average temperature in the Australian summer (defined as December, January and February), whether that summer temperature was a recent “record” depends on the data source used. Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) data shows that the average temperature in the summer just passed was fractionally higher than in previous summers of the past 25 years or so, while satellite data shows the average was lower than a number of previous summers (see the chart below).

In my earlier Quadrant analysis I drew attention to the Angry Summer report of March 4 by the government’s Climate Commission and to one of the false claims by its head, the paleontologist Tim Flannery, who said: “If you look at the whole Earth system, you can see that strong warming trend”.

Earlier this month the Commission published yet another report with the following heading and introduction:

THE CRITICAL DECADE: Extreme weather

How quickly and deeply we reduce greenhouse gas emissions will greatly influence the severity of extreme events our children and grandchildren experience. But due to additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the climate system now contains significantly more heat compared to 50 years ago. The severity and frequency of many extreme weather events are increasing due to climate change. Extreme weather has always occurred.

This means that all extreme weather events are influenced by climate change.”

The way in which the phrase “climate change” is used here is, of course, nonsensical: extreme or other weather events must reflect some change in climate. The question is what is causing the change? More substantially, is there evidence that extreme weather events have increased over the past 50 years? If so, does this reflects increased emissions of greenhouse gases?

The IPCC published a report in March 2012 on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation”, but this did not advocate quick and deep reductions in greenhouse gases.  While it concluded that “climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century”, it also noted that while “some extreme weather and climate events lead to disasters, others do not”. The report suggested that “policies to avoid, prepare for, respond to and recover from the risks of disaster can reduce the impact of these events and increase the resilience of people exposed to extreme events”. In short, its authors advocated policies of adaptation to climate change, rather than the urgent reduction of emissions.

“The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not,” said Chris Field, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group II, which together with Working Group I produced the report. “The challenge for the future has one dimension focused on improving the knowledge base and one on empowering good decisions, even for those situations where there is lots of uncertainty,” he said.

“The IPCC released the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the report in November, 2011. The full report … provides the basis for the key conclusions first presented in the SPM. It offers a greater understanding of the human and economic costs of disasters and the physical and social patterns that cause them. It enables policy-makers to delve into the detailed information behind the findings to examine the material on which the IPCC based its assessments.”

In adopting an adaptation approach to extreme weather problems, the IPCC report on extreme weather is clearly not on the alarmist track being followed by the Climate Commission. Could the Commission be accused of committing scientific fraud?

It claims to have been “established to provide all Australians with an independent and reliable source of information about the science of climate change, the international action being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the economics of a carbon price”. It also claims to be “made up of experts from a range of fields relevant to climate change and is not subject to Government direction. The Commission is also supported by a Science Advisory Panel.”

A case can clearly be made that, at the very least, the Commission is not a reliable source of information even by the low standards of the IPCC. The status of the Commission was discussed last Sunday in an interview by Andrew Bolt with Professor Bob Carter (the transcript can be found here), who pointed out that none of the Commissioners is an expert on climate science.

The best that might be said of their expertise is that they make fit correspondents for the letters page of The Age, which perhaps says even more than their lack of credentials about the degree of seriousness with which their utterances should be taken.

FOOTNOTE: In the following day’s Age, Spooner took Professor Doherty to task:

I am concerned as to why Professor Peter Doherty (Letters, 8/4) does not consult the authorities relied on by the IPCC when lecturing deniers about global warming since 1997. I refer him to an interview with Professor Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (BBC, 13/2/2010); James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in his paper of March 28, 2013; the UK Met office (Hadcrut 4) graph published 24/12/12 and acknowledged by none other than Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC (Graham Lloyd, The Australian, 22/2/2013).

None of these sources oppose the possibility of dangerous climate change but they all confirm there has been no statistically significant increase in annual global temperatures for between 12 and 17 years. If carbon dioxide emissions have risen about 8 per cent for the last 16 years, why haven’t temperatures risen in line with all the computer model projections?

John Spooner, The Age


Des Moore, a former Deputy Secretary of Treasury, is Director of the Institute for Private Enterprise