Professor Garnaut’s Magical Mystery Tour

Strange Feats are herein taught by Sleight of Hand,
With which you may divert yourself and Friend.
The like in print was never seen before,
And so you’ll say, when once you’ve read it o’er. 

A striking aspect of today’s cause celebre—climate change alarmism—has been its appropriation by so many as a rationale for promoting other agendas. Few groups have embraced the dangerous-warming hypothesis with more passion than economists and psychologists, except perhaps evangelists seeking a greener Creation, members of the activist climate science establishment, salivating carbon (dioxide) credit traders and a political class eager for the pot of carbon (dioxide) gold at the end of the atmospheric rainbow.

After kicking off its final performance at Canberra’s Carbon Cargo Cult Club on May 31, Professor Ross Garnaut’s “Just Warming Up!” show went west with a bag of new tricks and dire warnings. Garnaut was invited to present on his Final Report on June 2 by Stephan Lewandowsky, Winthrop Professor at the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychology. Lewandowsky is also founding co-principal of Shaping Tomorrow’s World, an environmental activist group, which is funded by a UWA grant. His colleague, psychologist and ex-politician Winthrop Professor Carmen Lawrence, is on STW’s editorial board.

As master magicians know, canny conjuring depends upon semantics, skill and showmanship. Distracting audience attention at crucial moments can be the key to success. Garnaut did not disappoint the enthusiastic full house that greeted him at the UWA social science lecture theatre. It was like a big night of Cups and Balls with David Copperfield. The “pea” (a sustainable zero-carbon future) turned up every time under his desired “thimble” (“mitigating” climate change). 

Legal Eagle Trick 

Trick: n. 1. A magical feat or device. 2. An adroit or ingenious act or device, knack; a trick of the trade. 3. Do the trick: Informal; To produce the right or desired result.

Garnaut told the UWA audience: “Since 2008, advances in climate change science have … led me to shift my judgement about (what I consider to be) the reputable science from being right ‘on a balance of probabilities’ to ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.” His tactical switch from statistical to legal jargon was intriguing. Proof “beyond reasonable doubt” is the standard of evidence required to validate a criminal conviction. The prosecution must prove there could be no “reasonable doubt” in the mind of a “reasonable person” that the defendant is guilty. In other words, no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime; or, in this case, that “human-induced climate change”—and not some other prime suspect, such as natural variability—actually will produce “outcomes near the midpoints or closer to the bad end of … the range of possibilities”.

But could his assessment be proved in a court, given that the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research’s March 2011 Technical Report 036, on which it relies, has this disclaimer?

The reader is advised and needs to be aware that such information may be incomplete or unable to be used in any specific situation … CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology (including each of its employees and consultants) excludes all liability to any person for any consequences, including but not limited to all losses, damages, costs, expenses and any other compensation arising directly or indirectly from using this publication (in part or in whole) and any information or material contained in it.

If doubt does affect a “reasonable person’s” belief that the defendant is guilty, then the jury is not satisfied beyond “reasonable doubt”. But where do we find a reasonable person in this debate? And if you’ve copped an atmospheric (or climatic) surprise—of which there are many—please don’t call the CSIRO or the Bureau of Meteorology. 

Naughty Boy Trick 

Successful execution turns on maintaining an impression that the precise drivers of changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation are known with a high degree of certainty, and are hence predictable by climate general circulation models (GCMs).

Garnaut reassured his audience that “the science of climate change had been subject to intense scrutiny and has come through with its credibility intact”. Yet there are no established laws of climate change, only a controversial hypothesis that insists it is possible practically for humankind to limit any global temperature increase to 2ºC by “stabilising” atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 450 parts per million.

The truth is that the jury is still out on this and other crucial aspects of climate “attribution” (causation), especially at the regional level, despite persistent claims about “settled” or “consensus” science from the Western climate establishment, the de-carbonising political class and their carefully selected “independent” advisers. Report 036 concluded, for example: “the degree to which global warming may have enhanced heavy rainfall in some parts of eastern Australia remains uncertain”. Furthermore, the much promoted “current generation of climate models” gave “no clear guidance” as to whether the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)—one of the most important drivers of the continent’s weather and climate—“will change in response to global warming. Some models have strengthened ENSOs, some weaker, and others exhibit little if any change.”

Some climate scientists such as Judith Curry are concerned too about a related issue—the possibility of confirmation bias within the global climate research community, especially the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

The question needs to be asked as to whether the early articulation of a preferred policy option by the UNFCCC [UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] has stimulated a positive feedback loop between politics, science, and science funding that has accelerated the science (and its assessment by the IPCC) towards the policy option (CO2 stabilization) that was codified by the UNFCCC … The net result of such a feedback loop is an overconfident assessment of the importance of greenhouse gases in future climate change. Which has brought us to our current position between a rock and a hard place, where we lack the kinds of information that we need to understand climate change more broadly and develop and evaluate a broad range of policy options.

According to my correspondence with a leading Swiss modeller, while the (currently non-existent) forecasting ability of climate models will improve over time, it will “do so more slowly than some people are hoping”. It could “easily take another 20 years or more to get close to that goal”. Yes, another twenty years or more—if it is ever possible—to predict future mean climatological states (MCSs). But you won’t hear that admission from any politician or government agency.

As for the ENSO frequency, “it’s an initial condition problem much like the weather forecast. There are inherent limits of predictability on those timescales.” So why are we being served this dish: that Australia’s future MCSs—and hence ENSOs—are already predictable?

John Reid, editor of the Science Heresy website, and an ex-CSIRO physicist, is asking similar questions:

S.-I. Akasofu made precisely this point in his 2009 paper, “Natural components of climate change”. Many will say this is due to the multi-decadal oscillation, but it cannot be modelled or predicted. Yet, according to them, the long term trend can be predicted. Why? Because the climate system is (mathematically) “chaotic”, they assume it must oscillate about a “strange attractor”. But this hypothesis can never be tested. It is a classic example of an “auxiliary ad hoc hypothesis” of Popper and Lakatos.

One day after the Canberra launch of the Garnaut Final Report, the Bureau of Meteorology released “Special Climate Statement 33”. It was titled: “Coldest autumn for Australia since at least 1950.” While weather is not climate, it is interesting to note that mean temperatures (the average of maximum and minimum temperatures) were 20.9ºC, 1.15ºC below the historical average, and 0.2ºC below the previous coolest autumn in 1960. So it goes in Warmerland. 

Cheeky Model Trick 

To pull off this trick requires considerable skill and confidence. How to do it, and do it well? Select an example of genuine climate change, or recent “extreme weather event” (EWE), preferably one near the performance venue. Assert or imply that the event or trend is due—primarily or partly—to nasty “carbon pollution”. Emphasise it will happen again—or continue to happen—but will be much worse next time, unless the government taxes you, or in activist argot, “puts a price on carbon”. Leverage this impression to your desired level of alarmism by using “probability” or GCM mumbo-jumbo:

I am very much aware being in Perth that the science is pretty clear that some of the early unambiguous footprints of climate change [meaning “dangerous” global warming] are there in the drying of the south-west of Western Australia. I know it’s not politically correct to refer to such things, but the science has been predicting it and when it starts to happen one can’t help noticing it …

Australians have a stronger interest than people from any other developed country in making sure that the global community comes to grip with the problems and Western Australians have a stronger interest than even the average Australian.

Warn the audience that it is likely to feel some of the greatest effects of rising temperatures. Ensure it is left with the (mistaken) belief that all climate change is bad and primarily caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (AGHGs). Stress that only national and global “mitigation” (carbon dioxide emission reduction) can guarantee a “stable” Goldilocks climate appears at some (unspecified) point in the future, which will be “just right” for everyone on the planet (see High Anxiety Trick).

The Garnaut 2008 Review noted “research showing that up to 50 per cent of the decline in south-west Western Australia’s rainfall was due to human-induced climate change”. This conclusion seems to be based on only one piece of published research—a five-page 2006 paper by two CSIRO scientists, Dr Wenju Cai and Tim Cowan: “SAM and Regional Rainfall in IPCC AR4 models: Can Anthropogenic Forcing Account for Southwest Western Australia Winter Rainfall Reduction?” While admitting that “attribution of the causes for the rainfall reduction is rather difficult”, the authors bravely concluded:

An ensemble result from 71 (model) experiments reveals that anthropogenic forcing contributes to about 50% of the observed rainfall decline … Other forcing factors (multi-decadal variability, land use changes) must be evoked to fully account for the observed winter rainfall reductions. Determination of their relative importance is essential for the projection of future water availability in the region.

To arrive at this explanation, they had to assume that “by averaging the large number of experiments the influence from internal variability is by and large removed such that the residual trend is driven solely by anthropogenic forcing, then the forcing accounts for only about half of the observed trend”.

But how robust is this research? “It’s laughable,” said another (ex-government) modeller, David Evans:

None of the climate results drawn from this nonsense are meaningful. None of the GCMs include any solar magnetic effects (see Svensmark), or any other number of possible factors that affect climate; none of them model clouds except in a very vague and unrealistic fashion; and none of them explain the warming since 1680 (instead they cheat on the data and assume the hockey stick is true). So they cannot model internal variability, nor should they even attempt it. All the GCMs are, therefore, fundamentally broken. The average of a bunch of broken models is also … broken.

Bryson Bates and Carsten Frederiksen, project managers with the Indian Ocean Climate Initiative, a partnership between the West Australian government, CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, were contacted for comment, but they have yet to do so.

The Royal Society, incidentally, noted last September in a report, under the heading “aspects [of climate science] that are not well understood”, that:

The ability of the current generation of models to simulate some aspects of regional climate change is limited, judging from the spread of results from different models; there is little confidence in specific projections of future regional climate change, except at continental scales. 

Pissant Parlour Trick 

The Pissant Parlour Trick relies on an optical illusion. The challenge here is to make the person, place or thing (such as AGHGs) nearest an audience appear bigger than its actual size or importance, relative to a person, place or thing (such as lack of international progress on AGHG reduction) far away.

Ross Garnaut told the National Press Club on May 31, “This is an argument that Australia is a pissant country. Well, I don’t accept that Australia is a pissant country.”

Pissant, noun. Also seen as piss-ant and piss ant, is one or the other of two specific types of ant. Its origin is with pismire, a fourteenth-century word for ant. The term, or part thereof, is used also as a descriptive or insulting noun and pejorative adjective. The original pissant is any of a certain group of European ant species. The name arises from the urine-like odour produced by interaction of their preferred nesting material—old climate model projection (not “prediction”) printouts—with the denialist formic acid that constitutes their venom.

Few want to be inconsequential and irrelevant. But how many want to be tilting at windmills (or worse, erecting them ad nauseam), proclaiming one’s country has influence in the world, has run and carry, punches above its weight, or is ahead of the pack of conjurors now playing a crazy game of global decarbonisation?

Australia’s population of some 22,630,000 is only 0.32325 per cent of the 7 billion persons on the planet; this percentage is more than eight times the carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s atmosphere (0.0390 per cent). This is not to suggest that there is any meaningful relationship between these two variables, or between them and the fact that this country produces only 1.5 per cent of global human greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, in the planetary scheme of things, they are surely all pissant numbers. 

Disappearing Elephants Trick 

One mantra often used to make two very big elephants, China and India, “disappear” is “per capita”. It also renders invisible an even bigger elephant in the global room. Continuing population growth in these countries and the developing world—which comprise four-fifths of today’s global numbers—will ensure their per capita AGHG emissions remain low for decades, even when national emissions continue rising. Any “modified contraction and convergence” scenario proposed for global AGHG reduction that does not recognise this trend surely distorts the picture.

The human biomass has nearly tripled since 1950, from 2500 million to 7000 million people this year. One third is located in China and India, which are also the world’s fastest growing economies. China’s population was 550 million in 1950 and India’s 360 million. China grew by 5.9 per cent during the past decade, from 1270 million to 1340 million, an additional 70 million people, or three times Australia’s population. India now has 1210 million people, or 17 per cent of the global total. It added 181 million in the past decade, nearly equal to another Brazil and eight times Australia’s current numbers.

There are interesting variations of this argument. For example, UWA cognitive psychologist Professor Lewandowsky has argued that a country’s responsibility for climate change should be determined by its historical emissions “because CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere”. He concluded that Australia, with less than half of one per cent of the world’s population and only 223 years old, apparently “has more historical responsibility for CO2 in the atmosphere than 228 other countries. In other words, we are more responsible for climate change than about 94 per cent of all countries in the world.”

But what of the future emissions profile of developing countries with large and growing populations? How can they, realistically, “converge” with the developed world in sufficient time to “save humanity” from all the alleged catastrophes apparently coming its way without “mitigation” of climate change?

There are other reasons too why quoting per capita data is tricky—and deceptive; as a blogger named “Bulldust” has pointed out:

Australia is not the end user of much of the energy it consumes … Much of it is destined for overseas consumers. The moral imperative for “carbon” taxation is therefore largely misplaced. If there were no overseas demand for our energy intensive goods, we would not be consuming the associated energy in the first place which created the emissions. 

Chinese Burn Trick 

Chinese burn: A prank where the victim’s forearm is grabbed with two hands, and the skin is twisted in opposite directions. Pl: Chinese burns. Syn: Indian sunburn.

This description can apply to any situation where a country is grabbed and twisted in opposite directions by its government, one that does not have a mandate from the electorate, yet is allegedly acting “in the national interest”. Ross Garnaut told his UWA audience:

It is a disputed matter in the debate about whether other countries are doing anything. I did say at the National Press Club that when you find someone saying he’s worried about whether Australia might get ahead of the rest of the world (audience laughter), take him by the hand and assure him there’s nothing to worry about (more laughter).

Country A might be, for example, a large exporter of a commodity, while country B is a large importer of it. In order to raise revenue, the government of country A decides to tax consumption of the commodity, allegedly to reduce its use to ensure anthropogenic salvation. Consumption of it is not taxed in country B, the consuming country; nor does it attract any export tax.

Take the case of China. However committed to reducing AGHGs it is, coal will remain the fuel for about 70 per cent of its primary energy needs for decades. The amount of energy generated from this source will double by 2030, with carbon dioxide emissions expected to increase by at least 65 per cent, from an annual 6 billion tonnes to 10 billion tonnes over the next two decades.

Another painful “twist” in this Chinese burn is that some of the energy it generates will be used to transform other imported commodities from Australia into windmills, solar panels and other eco-items for enthusiastic export back here—and to any other country sufficiently foolish to join the greatest decarbonising circus on Earth. 

High Anxiety Trick 

According to Ross Garnaut, “It is a historically important time. We are really at a critical time for dealing with the global climate change problem. We are running out of time. The requirement to take action is urgent.”

Sometimes known as the Chicken Little Trick, the High Anxiety Trick can take interesting forms. Garnaut, insisting a business-as-usual scenario “would cause the extinction of our species in half a century”, managed to project his alarmism onto others. Their “Chicken Little cries would have been even louder”, he said, had he recommended something else.

However, help is at hand. High Anxiety sufferers will be relieved to know there is now an effective therapy, the Ivaninsky Method. It desensitises the cerebral amygdala by exposing it to alarmist “predictions” of increasing intensity—such as “at 4ºC we would be in unknown territory for humanity”; “Australia will be the country most damaged and earliest damaged”; coastal assets worth (precisely) $226 billion are at risk as oceans rise (precisely) 1.1 metres by 2100; and so on—until he or she either “breaks through” into a blissful state of transcendental credulity, chains himself or herself to the nearest coal-fired power station or export coal terminal, or commits a serious act of self-harm.

High anxiety: 1. Neurology: A condition arising from frequent re-setting of the cerebral amygdala that controls anxiety levels. 2. Psychology: A disorder produced by constant bombardment of the amygdala during stress, especially periods of prolonged climate alarmism, apocalyptic fatigue, carbon footprint enlargement, internalised eco-rage, carbon dioxide expiration melancholia or any sudden change of circumstances. 3. Politics: A period of panic attacks, phobias and generalised anxiety disorders; often arising from an inability to discern unintended consequences of designing policy non-solutions to non-problems, non-solutions to problems, etc. 4. Cinema: Title of a 1977 comedy by Mel Brooks, who plays the administrator of the Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous.

According to Professor Ivaninsky, “People with high anxiety no longer need to worry. Apocalyptic rhetoric and scare mongering has its place in modern political discourse. Our research found it actually is more effective than rational debate as a way of reducing public scepticism about government policy.”

As the crowd emerged into the cool night air, a rumour circulated that over at the Carbon Cargo Cult Club they are working on a new trick—The Vanishing Lady. Watch this space.

Michael Kile is the author of No Room at Nature’s Mighty Feast—Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. His latest project is The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change.


ABC News, “Warming reception for government climate adviser,” June 3, 2011.

Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, 2011, Climate Science Update: A Report to the 2011 Garnaut Review, CAWCR Technical Report 036, Keenan, T D, & Cleugh, H A, (eds), March 2011 http://www.cawcr.gov.au/publications/technicalreports/CTR_036.pdf

Cowan, T, & Cai, W, 2007, “What causes the south-west of Western Australia (SWWA) winter rainfall reduction?”, CSIRO Marine & Atmospheric Research, 15 November, 2007.

Garnaut, R, 2011, “Climate Evidence is in, it is time to act as one,” ABC The Drum, 31 May 2011. http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/2739078.html

Garnaut, R, 2011, Garnaut Climate Climate Change Review, http://www.garnautreview.org.au/  

Garnaut, R, 2011, Speech at the University of Western Australia, 2 June 2011; http://www.shapingtomorrowsworld.org/garnaut  

The Royal Society, 2010, Climate change: a summary of the science, September, 2010.

The West Australian, 2011, “Coastal assets worth $226 billion at risk: Combet,” 5 June 2011, http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/-/article/9579441/coastal-assets-worth-226b-at-risk-combet/ 

Judith Curry —www.judithcurry.com 

Science Heresy—www.scienceheresy.com 

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