Not so long ago, Australia’s latest Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel, appeared before the Senate Economics Legislation Committee, during the course of which deliberations he was questioned by the One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts. I was fascinated, to put it at its kindest, to hear Finkel rehashing all the tired clichés of his global warming co-religionists, even invoking the old stalking horse of that fraternity, Svante Arrhenius, to whom I will return.
Finkel informed Roberts and the committee that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing because of fossil fuels; world temperature is increasing as a result of the increasing carbon dioxide content from those fuels’ combustion; the greenhouse effect (described by Arrhenius) proved this; plus, the models are telling us that this will be catastrophic for civilization etc, etc. Naturally, he also pointed out that this was, as usual, the hottest year ever! When Senator Roberts politely pointed out some of the doubtful material in Finkel’s assertions and asked for specific data, he was slapped with that universal conversation stopper of the global warming fraternity “97% of scientists say so.” Readers can re-visit the encounter via the clip below.
All of this reminded me of Finkel’s predecessor and fellow catastropharian, one Ian Chubb, a neurologist, whose first pronouncement ex cathedra insisted the greatest danger facing mankind was anthropogenic global warming! As Australian Chief Scientist, Finkel is ex officio a member of the Climate Change Authority, where he joins, among others, such luminaries as
Dr. Wendy Craik, a zoologist, who opined in 2008 that the drought then gripping Australia had to be regarded as the new normal;
Kate Carnell, a pharmacist, whose tenure as Chief Minister of the ACT seldom rose above the lacklustre;
Clive Hamilton BA (History), BEc, PhD (Development Studies), a so-called “public intellectual” and strident green who is none to sure about the place of democracy on a dying planet;
…virtually all climate research in Australia is funded from one source – namely, the government department which has the specific task of selling to the public the idea that something drastic and expensive has to be done to mitigate climate change…. Over the last two years more than 100 million dollars was distributed … for exactly that purpose. So there can be no doubt that climate-research grant recipients know perfectly well that scepticism concerning the climate-change story does very little for their careers. One therefore wonders a bit about the much-vaunted consensus of the global warming establishment regarding climatic doom. The average climate scientist is extremely reluctant to go against the tide of official opinion set by the research activists of his field, whatever might be his private thoughts on the matter.
I don’t know what was taught at Monash University when the good Doctor Finkel took his first degree, but when I was an undergraduate in the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney, I was taught three basic precepts:
1. Always work from first principles,
2. Carefully examine all aspects of the problem or question (including all the pros and cons),
3. When there is a conflict of evidence or information always go to the primary sources.
It was clear from his contribution to the discussion with Senator Roberts that Australia’s Chief Scientist, at least in this instance, failed to apply the first two principles, particularly the second. True, it might appear he adhered to the third principle, but has he? This is where I return to Arrhenius, so lovingly cited in the video clip above, for it was he who first introduced the erroneous notion of the “greenhouse effect.” He attributed the idea to Joseph Fourier who, on the contrary, did not even mention a greenhouse and actually went out of his way to contrast the mechanism of the greenhouse, as examined by Ferdinand de Saussure, with that of the atmosphere. (Fourier JBJ, 1827, Memoire sur les temperatures du globe terrestre et des espaces planetaires).
Arrhenius clearly misunderstood the greenhouse mechanism and failed to grasp the constraints that Kirchhoff’s law places on the application of the Stefan-Boltzmann Equation. He went on to propose a complex energy recycling mechanism to explain an atmospheric thermal gradient already explained by convective heat transfer and the gas laws. In short, and at a risk of oversimplification, while understanding the effect of reflectivity, he calculated temperature variations on the basis of radiative transfer of heat, not on the basis of conductive transfer. On top of this he assigned black body emissivity to the lithosphere of the earth.
It would seem Finkel, while quoting Arrhenius, did not go to the primary sources. Had he done so it would have become immediately apparent that Arrhenius, in his 1906 work “The possible cause of climate variability“, while asserting, correctly that the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contributed to the increase of temperature at the earth’s surface, failed to give any empirical evidence. More than that, he was quite wrong in his theorizing, in particular his invocation of the greenhouse!
It must also be borne in mind that, despite the work of James Clark Maxwell and the definitive experiment of Mitchelson and Morley in 1887, Arrhenius still believed that space was not, in effect, a vacuum (as we now know*); but contained a material medium -“aether“. This concept, with its roots in Cartesian thinking, was first put in the form of an hypothesis by Newton (e.g. in his De Aere et Aethere and Query 31 of the Opticks); but who also questioned it, or at least showed the difficulty of detecting it (the Principia Book 2, General Scholium).
Knut Ångström, in 1900 showed by experiment that CO2 is transparent to 90% of infrared radiation applicable to temperature variation; and that those infrared bands which CO2 readily obstructs are already almost totally blocked by atmospheric CO2. This finding, that the relationship between the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and its effect on back radiation is logarithmic, has been replicated by many subsequent experimenters; all of whom show that doubling of the present carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere would only increase the back radiation by about 3.6 W/m ², which would, in the absence of other factors, give rise to an increase in temperature of between 0.6 and 0.8 C°. (Ångström, 1900 “Über die Bedeutung des Wasserdampfes“). It is worth pointing out that a multiplicity of other factors affect climate, all natural. This is not the place in which to rehearse them, but to whet your appetite here are a few for starters:
The Milankovitch effect, which is the slow, 41,000-year cycle of what might be called the central position of the axis of the earth in the Newton/Croll precession. Milankovitch showed this to vary from between about 22° and 24°. The Croll effect acts in opposite ways in the northern and southern hemispheres, whereas the Milankovitch effect is the same in both hemispheres. Sir Fred Hoyle calculated the combined effect of the two to be that, in the present epoch, the northern hemisphere would be 1% cooler than average and the southern hemisphere 3% warmer than average.
The theory of general relativity shows that the energy output (irradiance) of the sun has increased by the order of 30% since the Lower Archean (i.e. over the last 3.8 billion years), recent studies have shown that solar irradiance has increased by approximately 0.4% over the last 200-300 years, causing an increase in temperature of about 0.4C°; other studies have shown that the increase in solar irradiance over the last 30 years has been responsible for 40% of the observed global warming. (see Soon W. H., Posmentier E. S. & Baliunas S. L. Inference of solar irradiance variability from terrestrial temperature changes, 1880-1993: an astrophysical application of the sun-climate connection).
It has been established that there is a significant correlation between sunspot activity and earth’s average temperature. Late 20th-century work by Svensmark and Friis-Christensen, Lassen and others has shown this in some detail. However records are available comparing central English temperatures with sunspot activity going as far back as 1750. Other data go back as far as 1550. (Svensmark H. and Friis-Christensen E. Variation of cosmic ray flux and global cloud coverage-a missing link in solar- climate relationships).
But, of course, neither the Chief Scientist nor his predecessor give much credence to this “heretical” belief that the sun is a major determinant of temperature. Presumably, too, neither has mulled what R. S. Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at MIT; M.R.Allen, Head of Climate Dynamics Group University of Oxford; F. Seitz, Past President National Academy Of Sciences USA; S. F. Singer, Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences University of Virginia; G. W. Paltridge, Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Physics and Director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies (ANU and the University of Tasmania); the late Professor Bob Carter and Professor Ian Plimer, plus the 100 or more equally distinguished scientists who signed a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations before the Bali conference, refuting the claims of the IPCC. On top of that roster, count many thousands, yes thousands, of distinguished scientists who have signed similar letters or petitions protesting the claims of the IPCC and its coterie of self-serving, self-reviewing and thoroughly disgraced “scientists”, whose only claim to fame is that they have first-class seats aboard the gravy train of government-funded research.
It would seem Finkel and Chubb much prefer the views of carpetbagging buffoon Al Gore, the charlatan and alleged dirty old man Rajendra Pachauri, our very own chronic wrongologist Tim Flannery (who infamously predicted the eastern seaboard’s dams would be empty by 2007 and never refill) and a few, otherwise obscure, academics from redbrick universities in East Anglia, minor US colleges and others in Australia. The noise arising from them all is the sound of science being debased while cheques roll in.
Tim Flannery’s busted prophecies:
2004: “…there is a fair chance that Perth will be the 21st century’s first ghost metropolis…”
2006: “…there will be no Arctic ice in the next five years…”
2007: “…even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams or river systems…”
2007: “…Adelaide Sydney and Brisbane water supplies are so low they need desalinated water urgently…”
The desalination plant story is a very murky one indeed. Labour governments, perhaps in a knee-jerk reaction to the cries of Flannery and his cohorts, spent of the order of $10 billion on the construction of these utterly unnecessary monstrosities. Take a brief look at the New South Wales example: its announcement was the last act of the pretentious-not-prescient Bob Carr, who announced in July, 2005, the plant’s construction; it was approved by the government in October 2006 and work was commenced in August, 2007. Commissioned early in 2010, it was shut down in July, 2012. Cost of this profligacy with tax dollars: $1.82 billion!
But if you think that it is only Labour governments that have such business acumen, consider this. In 2012 the Coalition flogged off the plant for $2.3 billion to a pension fund for Canadian schoolteachers! This windfall, it said, was to be spent on the holy cows of education, health and roads (and, sotto voce, the arts and sport). The brilliance of this deal is somewhat spoiled by the fact that the government and its heirs and successors must pay the teachers $200 million a year for the next 50 years; that is $10 billion if you are as mathematically challenged as, say, a paleontologist who presents as a cklimate “expert”. In addition, it appears that if the plant has to be started for any reason, the teachers will get another cool $5.5 million a start. And at the end of the day; or rather at the end of 50 years; the teachers get the plant, lock stock and barrel. So the Canucks get about 8.7% on their investment (plus $5.5 million a start) and , eventually, the plant and, presumably, the real estate.
Flannery, of course, has other claims to fame. A mammalian palaeontologist with a Ph.D. to prove it, he was introduced to listeners by Robyn “One Hundred Metres” Williams ,who gushingly introduced him thus on The Science Show,”He’s a writer and did his first-degree in Arts in English, which might account for his abiding fluency.(sic)” (Those sufficiently masochistic to plough through the turgid prose of The Weather Makers might beg to differ) It was during this interview that Flannery came in from fairyland for a moment to give us his thoughts on Gaia (you know, the ancient Greeks’ earth goddess); here are some of his ipsissima verba:-
“I think that within this century the concept of the strong Gaia will actually become physically manifest” … We’ll never be able to control the earth (that’s a relief, coming from one who says we are controlling it to the extent of making it hotter!) But we can nudge [it] and we can foresee danger. Once that occurs, then the Gaia of the ancient Greeks really will exist. This planet, this Gaia, will have acquired a brain and nervous system. That will make it act as a living animal….. we’ll see it, I think, this century.”
All of this costly madness, beloved only by rent-seekers and alarmists infected with galloping gullibility, goes back to Svante Arrhenius, whose errors and oversights were at least blessed by illogical sincerity. Alas, the same cannot be said of those who have hobbled the Australian economy, distorted the power market to the brink of grid collapse and mined the pockets of those consumers now being saddled with power price rises that were consistently denied but always inevitable
(*Notwithstanding Fred Hoyle and others’ work on the composition of “space” indicates the total mass of the matter in interstellar space (mostly atomic and molecular helium and hydrogen) is greater than the mass of the observable universe.)