Doomed Planet

Similes to scare the suckers silly

Is Professor Tim Flannery unwell? Despite being on a salary the envy of every Newstart single mother and significant other, he had the aura of an ostracised prognosticator suffering from more than heat-stress during his four-minute ABC interview last week.

Has the mammalogist, palaeontologist, discoverer of the great monkey-faced bat (Pteralopex flanneryi) – who, after many adventures in the jungles of Melanesia and the South Australian museum, cannily re-invented himself as the first Chief Commissioner of the government’s Climate Commission (CC) – heard the tom-toms of doom beating louder outside the Canberra Carbon Cargo Cult Club (CCCCC)?

One therapy has been remarkably successful in treating atmospheric alarmophilia (AA). Many have been – if not cured, then at least – consoled by cognitive de-biasing and regular readings of Matthew 13.57: “And they were offended by Him. But He said unto them, a prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house”.

In Flannery’s case, there is fortunately no risk his AA will constellate as ESLD Syndrome. Identified only last year as a chronic illness by renowned merchant-of-doubt, Naomi Oreskes, and three other North American researchers, their intriguing hypothesis claims climate change prognosticators are now feeling so intimidated by public scepticism it is affecting their objectivity.

They are, apparently, “biased not toward alarmism but rather the reverse: toward cautious estimates, where we define caution as erring on the side of less rather than more alarming predictions. We call this tendency“erring on the side of least drama (ESLD).””

But I digress. According to the Commission’s latest report, The Angry Summer, Australia’s recent bout of extreme weather (heatwave) was made worse by climate change.

It is apparently “already adversely affecting Australians”. Extreme weather events (EWEs) are having significant impacts. There will be “serious consequences” if we fail “to adequately address climate change”.

The CC’s infallible crystal ball has revealed that “the decisions we make this decade will largely determine the severity of climate change and its influence on extreme events for our grandchildren”.

It neglected to mention (among other things) that – even accepting manipulation of the Earth’s thermostat is possible – the decision-makers actually will not be us, but the coal-burning citizens of the developing world.

Readers familiar with the catastrophist lexicon will know that “climate change” no longer describes the natural process of (unpredictable) variability, which has been with us since the planet acquired an atmosphere. It has morphed into CCCCC code for “dangerous” anthropogenic climate change (DACC) – itself the alleged consequence of “dangerous” anthropogenic global warming (DAGW) – and now widely promoted as a key threat to humankind’s future, especially by carbon capitalists and United Nations agencies.

Another phenomenon has emerged too: the use of dodgy analogies – athletes and cyclists on steroids, boxers, GPs, drunken sailors, young alcoholics, loaded dice, etc. The more controversial and complex the claims, the more fanciful they seem to be.  

Analogy, n., 1. An inference based on resemblances: things that are alike in most respects are alike in the respect in question. 2. Formally, if A is like B, and if A has property P, therefore B has property P; if and only if A is like B. 3. False analogy: If A is not like B, the argument is invalid. Eg: The Earth’s climate is not analogous to a dice, a boxer, an athlete on steroids, etc. 

"I think one of the best ways of thinking about it is imagining that the baseline has shifted," Flannery said last week.

“If athletes take steroids, for example, their baseline shifts, they’ll do fewer slow times and many more record-breaking fast times. The same thing is happening with our climate system, as it warms up. We’re getting fewer cold days and cold events and many more record hot events. In effect, it’s a ‘climate on steroids’.”

ABC News: “How have you been able to make this link between extreme weather and climate change this summer?”

Flannery: “Well, what we’ve seen is 32 weather records broken. And because these are things we’ve never seen before, it indicates the climate has already changed, it is already shifting. This is what climate scientists have been saying is going to happen for several decades, and we have seen the reality this summer. All of these things relate to the energetics of the atmosphere.”

Energetics, n., 1. (functioning as sing.) The branch of science concerned with energy and its transformations. 2. (Psychology) Use of principles and techniques of Integrative Body Mind Psychotherapy™. The process powerfully converts character weaknesses into high energy levels, creativity, happiness, success and pleasure. See Energetics Institute. 3. (Climate science) Used as an obscurum per obscurius explanatory term, especially when knowledge of causal linkages is absent or unclear.

Flannery’s fellow Commissioner, Professor Will Steffen, Executive Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, also stressed last summer was a record-breaker, especially in its duration and extent.

Among the many unhappy with the CC report was Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, aka Monckton of Arabia, Bearer of Glad Tidings, and Monckton of Myanmar. He is in Australia on a speaking tour: "Carbon tax, climate scam, UN Treaties: can democracy survive all three?”

“A 90-day period was far too short to draw any conclusions”, said Monckton. What of the recent “angry winter” in North America? “About 652 snow-fall records were broken in only a week. What set of records should we accept here? Neither. They do not tell us anything about the underlying (global) trends.”

According to the BOM, “Average summer temperatures across Australia were 1.1°C above the 1961-1990 average, surpassing the previous record, set in 1997-98, by more than 0.1°C. Daytime maximum temperatures also set a record; they were 1.4°C above normal, and 0.2°C above the 1982-83 record… Australia has warmed by nearly a degree Celsius since 1910. This is consistent with warming observed in the global atmosphere and oceans.”

Others were surprised that average summer temperatures and daytime maximum temperatures, while exceeding previous records, had done so by such small amounts.

BOM’s Blair Trewin and Carl Braganza made a brave prediction: “It’s going to keep getting hotter [despite no global warming for the past 16 years]. Over the next century, the world will likely warm by a further 2 to 5 degrees, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases [AGHGs] emitted into the atmosphere.”

But is climate change (DACC), as they assume here, caused primarily by anthropogenic GHG forcing? Do climate models based on this assumption have genuine predictive power?

Paradoxically, Trewin also told The Australian’s Brendan O’Keefe on 2nd March how summer’s abnormal heat was driven by two meteorological factors – a weak and late monsoon and persistent high pressure over Australia’s southern half.

“When the monsoon is more active, there is widespread rain in the tropics and that cools things down…That didn’t really happen this year.” Instead, there was a build-up of heat under clear skies in the continent’s arid zones. This was then transferred west (towards Perth) with prevailing easterly winds, and then east when low pressure troughs ventured towards the Eastern Australia.

While there have been some vague assertions, neither Trewin – nor (to my knowledge) anyone else – has provided a convincing explanation for this sequence of events; or illustrated precisely how – or whether – AGHGs had caused it.

Steffen also played the steroids game. When asked by ABC RN Drive on March 4 how confidently the recent heatwave could be related “back to climate change” [DACC], this was his response, as he tip-toed around the c-word. (Hazy talk about “influence” is presumably less risky than making a testable claim about causation.)

Steffen: “We have a couple of strong lines of evidence. Now the way we frame this is that these [extreme weather] events are naturally occurring. They are not caused by climate change, but they are influenced by climate change. They are made worse.”

“The analogy we use is an elite athlete taking steroids [2.12min.] An elite athlete is already an elite athlete without taking steroids. But when they take steroids, their performance is enhanced. They can run faster and jump higher.”

“The same thing is happening with the climate. There is more heat in the atmosphere. There is more heat in the surface ocean, more moisture in the atmosphere. So the physics is pretty clear here. When you have got more heat – background heat – in the atmosphere, you are more prone to see high temperature records and less prone to see extreme cold temperature records broken. And indeed, over the last 50 years here in Australia – when we look at all the data – that is exactly the trend we see. These are some of the lines of evidence that are telling us there is an influence here of an underlying shift in the climate.”

RN Drive: “Climate scientists have been reluctant to conflate climate and weather. There has always been this distinction between them. Yet you seem to put the boot on the other foot here.”

Were they now behaving like chameleons, conveniently adjusting their hypotheses to “explain” current weather in terms of AGHGs?

Steffen: “The difference here is that we are framing the question differently. I think in the past a lot of climate scientists were asked: “Is this EWE – a particular event – caused by climate change?” We have never said it has been caused – we use a very different concept and different word – and that’s “influenced”.” 

Socrates, holding his nose due to the stench of an aged red herring, might have asked Steffen: “But what is the difference between “caused by” and “influenced by”? And how, precisely, does one determine “influence”?

Steffen:These events would have occurred anyway. But just like an elite athlete would be very, very good anyway, their performance gets even better if they are on steroids. So that’s what we are seeing. We are seeing the influence of the background shift in climate pushing (causing?) these temperature records to go even higher than they otherwise would have been. It would have been a hot summer anyway, but not an extremely hot summer.”

Groaning with déjà-vu? The CC’s steroids analogy was not original. It appeared recently in a post by ex-engineer Tony Mohr, an early favourite for the 2013 (Naughty) Analogy of the Year Award.

 A program director with the Australian Conservation Foundation, Mohr is another activist who has warmed to the climate-weather nexus. While Australia has heatwaves all the time, Mohr also argues “it is getting hotter. Climate change is making things worse. What Australia – and the world – is seeing is [not climate, but] weather-on-steroids.”

Steffen used another analogy when releasing the CC’s NSW state climate report in May last year. He compared his colleagues – not to spin- or witch-doctors – but to the family GP. (Here he is on "Hug a Climate Scientist Day".)

Yet planetary health, however defined, is not analogous to personal health. The family GP knows – or should know – much more about medical pathologies, diagnosis, prognosis, blood flow, etc., than scientists do about climate change or EWE causation. A GP’s advice is based on experience and real evidence, not the speculative “projections” of fallible models.

But GPs have no more relevance to climate change than does an athlete on steroids or a loaded dice. They should be on standby, however, to ensure alarmists (and denialists) have a healthy ticker, especially those with past episodes of apoplexy.

Steffen and Flannery also warned NSW was “highly vulnerable to climate change”. They predicted an “increasing risk of hot weather, heat waves, bushfires, and changing the patterns of drought and heavy rainfall”.

Deconstruct this warning and you will see why the Climate Commission’s edicts seem to have more to do with old-fashioned scare-mongering than with science. Whatever happens atmospherically – heavy rain or big drought – its “explanation” is always that wily demon, “climate change”, and always our fault.

Flannery predicted a surge in mental illness with the rising temperatures, especially in Sydney’s western suburbs. “People get a little bit confused” when heat stressed, he said. They get angry too, especially when “sitting in a traffic jam when it’s stinking hot outside”; and presumably asking themselves why the Federal Government’s anti-carbon [dioxide] policies were not working.

EWE attribution is the new black art of climate divination. Why has the orthodoxy embraced this it with such enthusiasm? As I wrote last month, it protects the AGW hypothesis from deeper critical scrutiny by making it essentially unfalsifiable. Any situation can be “explained away” by vague sleight-of-hand statements – about natural variability, “energetics in the atmosphere”, “interia in the system”, and so on.

Consider, for example, the “missing heat” conundrum. Just when the planet’s mean temperature plateaus for over one and a half decades, climate scientists now suggest that surface temperatures are not so important after all.

RN Drive: “Some argue the planet’s warming has been suspended, that there has been a 17-year pause?”

Steffen: “Well, that’s certainly incorrect if you understand the climate system. Let me explain why that is so. Ninety percent of the extra heat trapped by GHGs goes into the ocean; only 3 percent goes into the air. Climate scientists actually don’t look at the air that much, they look at the ocean. And when you look at the ocean temperature – heat content – it’s still going up. There’s been no pause, no drop in the rate. It continued to go up through 2010, the last year we have measurements. That’s where 90 percent of the heat is going. So there is absolutely no doubt the Earth has not stopped warming”. 

Flannery was on the same page on the ABC 7.30 Report.

Flannery: “There has been no plateau. If you look at the temperature of the Earth, we have to measure the oceans, the air and the land. And there, we see a continually strong rise in temperature. If you look at the whole of the Earth, we’re seeing a very strong warming trend. And indeed, if you look at the atmospheric record for long enough, you see exactly the same trend.”

Tim must be obliquely referring to the deep oceans here, “ commented Joanne Nova. “Why doesn’t he just say, the greenhouse gases up at the height that planes fly are heating the water a kilometre under the ocean surface?”

“Every skeptic (and taxpayer) ought to know that since 2003 (when we started measuring oceans properly) the oceans have been cooling: See Douglass and Knox, 2010.”

“Five years of planetary heating amounts to a massive amount of energy. That’s 2,000 days of the sun bearing down on an atmosphere with growing levels of CO2. According to the IPCC-favoured models, the extra heat stored should be 0.7 x 1022 Joules per year (or 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules per annum or 7,000 quintillion joules).” Where is it?

“Flannery also didn’t mention that even if some heat (and it’s not enough) is hidden in the deep abyss, it is tricky to explain how it affects storms on the surface. Storms like Sandy which travelled on a water surface that isn’t any different to past normal storms”.

According to its website: The Climate Commission was established to provide all Australians with an independent and reliable source of information about the science of climate change, international action being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the economics of a carbon price.”

Yet the Commission betrays a bias by its silence on controversial issues, and by being economical with the truth. Desperate to project an “authoritative voice”, it has succumbed to promoting speculation when it should be providing reliable information on uncertainties in the climate space.

Who would know, for example, that “attribution of extreme events shortly after their occurrence stretches the current state-of-the-art of climate change assessment”; or that “there are many scientific challenges to be faced in developing a robust assessment process for extreme events”?

Michael Kile, March 2013

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