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April 05th 2013 print

Peter Smith


The warming monster inspires barely a yawn these days, except from professional alarmists like the ever more manic Tim Flannery. If climate change does pose a threat, it is that governments will continue to fund its shrieking priests and tax-hungry apostles

Nobody with a life outside of “Greensville” cares very much anymore about climate change, earlier known as global warming. Do you even hear it now being discussed over cafe lattes in Balmain? No, you don’t. Only Tim Flannery and his alarmist ilk care. But political parties in Western democracies, as we have learnt to our great cost on the immigration front, have a life of their own, distant from the populace.

They have great moral purposes to pursue. Therefore governments of whatever complexion continue to pour billions of dollars of borrowed funds into schemes and businesses to support the production of inefficient energy. Nothing like this has happened before. We know that because industrial progress has largely been unremitting; built on cheap and progressively cheaper energy. Going backwards has not heretofore been favoured, if for no other reason than nasty nations, insistent on making progress, would have taken advantage, and invaded and subjugated their more primitive neighbours. And we know that because it regularly happened.

Is it possible that governments have collectively lost their senses? Yes, it is, when plagues of locusts or other pests in future years might effectively ground the ethanol-dependent US fleet and Air Force. Ditto here, if the Katter Party, aka, the Ethanol Party, has its way.

The risk to alarmists is that governments will catch up with the climate insouciance of their electorates and stop wasting money. Among other things, money will be saved by sacking people like Flannery and removing all of those research grants directed towards proving the undisprovable, which is that climate change does indeed exist and will eventually engulf our grandchildren in the most horrible of fates. Only research grants based on climate propositions which potentially can be shown to be false, in Popperian fashion, will be left standing; and few in number they will be.

What to do? The answer chosen by the alarmists is to become more alarmist in the hope of panicking the common man and woman or, at least, raising them from their torpor.

Hence we had Mr Flannery spruiking the latest report of the Climate Commission. He spoke of the angry summer; of 123 records broken; of it all taking us into new climate territory; and so on into what the PM might call hyper-bole. I don’t want to comment on this except to say that in Sydney I thought it was a very mild summer. Those who want a less personal, more scientific, debunking of Flannery’s flannelling might care to look at an excellent article in The Australian by Murray Salby, professor of climate at Macquarie University. He shows conclusively, so far as I can tell, as a non-scientist, that the summer just gone was unexceptional.

What does this all mean? In my view it means that alarmists seemingly have little affinity with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This doesn’t mean that carbon dioxide is not warming the planet and thereby laying in store future grief. It means that snake-oil salesman are pushing the line and lessening our ability to find the truth. Let me give an instance from Flannery’s performance on the ABC’s 7.30 program.

Leigh Sales referred to figures showing that global temperatures had plateaued for the past 15 years or so. Flannery could have said, as did Dr Rajendra Pachauri when similarly challenged, that 15 years was too short a period to draw a conclusion or he could have tried to give some possible scientific reasons why the effect of CO2 emissions was being offset. Instead he chose to say that temperatures had not plateaued, but had continued to rise, when the temperature of “the oceans, the air and the land” are taken together. This is pure and simply sophistry at its most blatant and disgraceful. How can anything this man says be taken seriously after this?

If I were to suspend a solid body in a pan of water over a fire, the water would gradually heat as the hot air rose and transfer its heat to the surface of the solid body and, in turn, to the innards of the solid body. If I were to extinguish the fire I would expect the temperature of the whole mass of water and the solid body to continue to rise for a while. This is only my schoolboy physics or is it common sense?

In any event, the point at issue is not whether the temperature of the water and land are rising but whether CO2 emissions are materially heating the atmosphere. If the atmosphere cools or remains at a constant temperature for long enough in the face of rising CO2 emissions, it will be difficult to maintain the view that man-made global warming is a problem requiring the expenditure of billions of dollars and a resort to wholesale reliance on inefficient and unreliable green energy.

What is at stake is much too important to be the plaything of vested interests, fools or charlatans on either side of the argument.

According to Professor Salby, who I referred to above, the mean temperature in Australia in January this year was lower than in two previous Januaries during the time since 1979 when (accurate) satellite measurements have been available. And he notes that the summer from December to February “is even less remarkable”. If this is so, and it is surely verifiable, how can this summer be evidenced as being particularly untoward and “angry”?

We need people of objectivity and moderation in the climate arena, not snake-oil salesmen, if we are ever to get at the truth and put in place whatever practical and cost-effective action might possibly be called for; if in fact any such action is required.

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics