Doomed Planet

Malcolm & the believers

I can imagine, in earlier times, Malcolm Turnbull explaining to the adoring ladies of Double Bay that on the best scientific advice miasma causes infections and they’d best avoid too much deep breathing for fear of fetid vapours. He might have regaled them with accounts of his trip to London where he stood in awe of the Piltdown man in the British Museum.

One of the frustrating characteristics of the climate debate is the unquestioning faith, among lay believers, in today’s conventional wisdom on climate science. They seem oblivious to the history of science as a moving feast. What is believed today can be quite different from yesterday’s belief and different again from tomorrow’s.

Often scientific beliefs are of little consequence for everyday life, whether right or wrong. Sometimes they are of consequence. The belief in global warming is of profound consequence. It threatens to turn the world upside down. The prosperity of the developed world and the economic aspirations of the developing world depend on the supply of cheap energy from fossil fuels. There is no practical alternative. We are told by numbers of climate scientists that the use of these fuels has to be drastically reduced to prevent catastrophic warming.

You would think that the most rigorous and objective scrutiny would be applied, if science offered up this scenario. On the contrary, switch off the lights and ditch your cars. It has taken on the character of a religious faith propagated by infallible scientists. And those who have the temerity to question it are, Mr Turnbull implies, “deluded” [and] “believe the CSIRO is part of an international Green conspiracy to undermine Western civilisation or that leading scientists like Will Steffen are subversives”.

Even though I don’t know him, I personally doubt very much that Will Steffen is a subversive. I just think he possibly could be wrong as so many scientists have been on so many matters in the past. And, generally, when science heads in the wrong direction, it means that most (sometimes all) scientists are wrong. Scientists like other professionals tend to gravitate to whatever is the conventional wisdom. And what an alluring and rewarding conventional wisdom this is, with riches, influence, and fame, beyond the dreams of climate scientists of yesteryear. If counting heads is a flawed process for getting at the truth, as Aristotle perceptively pointed out, this case must surely qualify for the application of particular circumspection and healthy scepticism.

Of course, as a non-scientist, I don’t know whether the current conventional wisdom on global warming is right or wrong. I am simply dissatisfied with the process of finding out. I don’t want be told in patronising fashion that it is a risk management decision to tilt at the problem (so to speak) by despoiling the landscape with ineffective and costly windmills. There are lots of risks in life but we don’t guard against the fanciful or unproven ones; particularly if the costs of doing so are cripplingly high. It is not practical. Jumping at a shadow is fine if it costs $2; when it costs trillions of dollars (worldwide), hard and convincing evidence is called for not pats on the head.

The HadCRUT global temperature record shows that the average temperature warmed from the 1900’s decade (1900 to 1909) to the 1940’s decade by .37 º. Why did it warm and by nearly as much as the recent warming, when carbon dioxide emissions (Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre) in the 1940’s decade were only 1/6th of their level in the most recent (2000’s) decade? Why did it cool during the 1940’s to the 1970’s decade when emissions were growing strongly and getting much closer to current levels? Why have temperatures levelled over the past decade or so? Disbelievingly, I once read, as though it were evidence, that only by plugging in emissions could the climate models explain recent warming. Well, plug in mobile phone sales. That will do the job. It is called spurious correlation, unless it is shown to be robust over all of the available historical record, in addition to having theoretical plausibility. Even then care is required in case it is travelling in lockstep with the real culprit.

My wariness, in simply accepting the conventional wisdom, is further fuelled when many reputable scientists disagree with the conventional wisdom. It is all very well, as Turnbull did, to use Lord Monckton as a fall guy; but it is disingenuous to avoid mentioning, at the same time, the names of any of the many well-credentialed scientists whose views he is substantially reflecting.

Turnbull and other politicians with access to government scientists need to ask hard questions and to test the answers with numbers of scientists like Bob Carter who have a different view. They need to justify their part in spending trillions of dollars and making the world correspondingly poorer by setting out the evidence, not by spouting ex cathedra dogma. To be clear, Will Steffen is not the Bishop of Rome.

PS: Want some fun?

Go to The BoM put me onto it. It allows you to plot various temperature graphs.

I plotted the HadCRUT global temperatures since 1910. Against this I plotted the linear trend for the hundred years from 1910 to 2010 and for 1910 to 1960 (halfway).

As you can see, the trends are the same. Hard to see how accelerating emissions fits into this linear picture. Of course, it matters where you start and end graphs.

The trend becomes steeper from 1960 to 2010, but it wouldn’t if you started from 1935. It just goes to show how statistics can be manipulated.

Believers take note and start asking awkward questions before it is too late.

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