Doomed Planet

Dipolaxing the Bushfire-Climate Change Nexus

As the fires rage, so do the climate wafflers, ranting hither and yon that “it’s a wake-up call for the world.” From Hollywood to Helsinki, from newsrooms to boardrooms to Room 101 they rage with righteous indignation, determined to immolate any tendril of rationality left on planet Earth. They rage in the streets too, chanting: “Denial is death!” They know the science is “settled”, so why look behind the curtain? Why risk digging deeper when it could reveal a few inconvenient truths about climatic cause and effect?

Russell Crowe has been affected personally by this disaster.  Forced to defend his 320-hectare rural property in Nana Glen, near Coffs Harbour, from bushfires for the second time in two months, he missed the  Golden Globes ceremony at the Beverly Hilton on January 5. Crowe won a Best Actor award for his portrayal of Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes in The Loudest Voice in the Room, and Jennifer Aniston read his acceptance speech in absentia. Echoing Greta Thunberg, Our Little Lady of the Apocalypse, Crowe called for more action on climate change. He also wants a faster move to renewable energy.

Make no mistake. The tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate change-based. We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is. That way we all have a future. Thank you.

Ms Cate Blanchett added: “When one country is facing a climate disaster, we are all facing a climate disaster.” The jet-setting luvvie has been concerned for a long time. On the eve of 2009 UN Copenhagen conference she delivered a message on behalf of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Hi. My name is Cate. I’m concerned about the impact climate change will have on our future. I’m concerned about the global response to climate change. Most of all, I’m concerned about the lack of an effective response.”

When a celebrity or media person says “climate disaster” or “climate change-based” he or she invariably means an event caused by the West’s Great Satan, anthropogenic – or if a feminist, “man-made” – carbon (dioxide) emissions. Meanwhile, over at ITV’s Good Morning Britain, someone must have spiked the muesli and English Breakfast tea.  How else to explain the Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid “get your head out of the sand” ambush interview with Liberal MP Craig Kelly?

It is never a good morning for anyone prepared to question the “dangerous anthropogenic climate change” belief in public (or, increasingly, the Liberal party room), or to recite the climate waffler’s sacred mantra: “Every extreme weather event is caused by manmade climate change.”

KELLY: To try to make out, as some politicians have, to hijack this debate, exploit this tragedy and push their ideological barrow, that somehow or another the Australian government could have done something by reducing its carbon emissions and that would have reduced these bushfires is just complete nonsense.

MORGAN: There is you, Mr Kelly, with respect, a senior politician who still doesn’t think [the fires] have anything to do with the heating of our planet: nothing to see here, nothing to worry about, as your entire country is eviscerated by fires. (6.00min.)

KELLY: I follow the science. (Interruption.) This is a terrible natural disaster, one of the nation’s worst. In the past we all did whatever we could to fix it, rather than trying to score political points. Unfortunately, that is what’s happening now.

MORGAN: Mr Kelly, we have to leave it there (6.43 min.). I’ve just got to say: Wake up! Wake up! Climate change and global warming are real, and Australia right now is showing the entire world just how devastating it is. And for senior politicians in Australia to still pretend there is no connection is absolutely disgraceful. (7.04 min.)

REID: As Laura Tobin might say: “get your head out of the sand.”

GMB ‘s crew believes “climate deniers” pose a real and present danger to the human race and planet. Its talking heads’ sanctimony brought to mind the Monty Python She’s a Witch satire on the Inquisition. The knight’s question comes to mind: “Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?”

Displaying a prejudice worthy of the Holy Grail witch-burners, the GMB hosts gave a fine performance of hectoring, hand-waving and finger-pointing, all the while depriving Mr Kelly of his right of reply. His heresy: to suggest the bushfire crisis was due primarily to a lack of hazard-reduction burning. Watch out for his entry in the coming edition of the Climate Compendium Maleficarum. As for “the heating of our planet”, one struggles to get excited by 1C or even 2C of warming, whatever its source, on an Earth where the daily temperature variation fluctuates between -40C and +40C.

The World Meteorological Organisation has done it again with a press release that serves very well the purpose of any climate-related press release – to be reported uncritically. The news media, even those that claim to have ‘analysts’ to look behind the habitual hype, did not disappoint and simply regurgitate the spin. Dr David Whitehouse, Global Warming Policy Forum, Dec 5, 2019)

Perhaps Mr Kelly should have been warned that GMB has joined The Guardian, the former Fairfax rags, The Conversation and Big Climate’s Ministry of Truth in the media crusade to protect orthodoxy from any kind of scrutiny by banning any and all who beg to differ. The hit-person on this occasion was Ms Laura Tobin, a “broadcast meteorologist” by her own reckoning but a “TV weather girl” to viewers. “You are burying your head in the sand,” she said. “You’re not a climate sceptic, you’re a climate denier”.

TOBIN: Australia have just had, in 2019, their highest year temperature wise ever recorded. At the moment we want everyone in the world to commit to lower our global temperature rise. You have the second-highest carbon emission per person on earth and you are burying your head in the sand. This is a climate emergency.

Ms Tobin later tweeted that she was “frustrated” that Mr Kelly could not — or would not — make the link between man-made climate change and Australia’s bushfires.

KELLY: The weather girl had no idea what she was talking about. These facts have to be said. If you go on these shows and they cut you off, there’s nothing I can do about that.


WHO is right? The climate wafflers insist they have the bone in this dogfight. They constantly claim their twaddle is “consistent with” — upper-casing required — “The Science”. So let us take a closer look.

Climate wafflers, ironically, seldom mention the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), a regional “aperiodic oscillation of sea-surface temperatures” (see diagrams). Yet research during the past decade has identified it as the “main driver” of Australia’s heatwaves and droughts. Dr Wenju Cai, Director of the CSIRO Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research, is an IOD expert, leading research into regional and global climate variability and change. Two weeks ago, Australian Financial Review journalist Bo Seo, quoted Dr Cai in an article headlined “For hope on drought and fire, look to the Indian Ocean.” The connection to bushfire conditions is very strong,” Dr Cai said. “They are much more strongly connected to IOD than to El Niño.” There have been eleven negative (good) and ten positive (bad) IOD events between 1960 and 2016, based on Bureau of Meteorology data.

Dr Occam’s conclusion: there is no causal relationship between the observed IOD negative-positive switching pattern over the past half century and the 27 per cent increase in global atmospheric “carbon” (dioxide) emissions — from 317ppm to 403ppm — over the same period. Carbon dioxide emissions – whether national, regional or global — therefore do not determine IOD behaviour (type, frequency), and hence Australia’s bushfire vulnerability. IOD behaviour is unpredictable and determined by natural climate variability, not a consequence of so-called human-induced climate change.

Paul Homewood and others agree: “It has nothing to do with [dangerous anthropogenic] climate change. Inevitably attempts have been made to link its strength with global warming, but there is simply not enough data to make such a deduction.” Researchers Sarah Harris and Chris Lucas concluded last year that “the dynamics of global warming and its interactions with modes of inter-annual and decadal variability and its effects on fire weather in Australia remain uncertain”.

It is clearly a complex issue. For some, ocean weather cycles apparently do not explain the rising average temperatures and lower rainfall in south-east Australia over the last 45 years. Their default explanation: human-induced climate change is probably driving it. For others, like Roy Spencer, “the claim by many that human-caused climate change has made Australian bushfires worse is difficult to support, for a number of reasons.”

IOD influence on our weather and climate has been recognised for at least a decade. In early October 2009, Dr Cai et al. published this paper: Positive Indian Ocean Dipole events precondition southeast Australian bushfires. It concluded:

The devastating “Black Saturday” bushfire inferno in the southeast Australian state of Victoria in early February 2009 and the “Ash Wednesday” bushfires in February 1983 were both preceded by a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (pIOD) event.

Is there a systematic pIOD linkage beyond these two natural disasters?

We show that out of 21 significant bushfires seasons since 1950, 11 were preceded by a pIOD. During Victoria’s wet season, particularly spring, a pIOD contributes to lower rainfall and higher temperatures exacerbating the dry conditions and increasing the fuel load leading into summer. Consequently, pIODs are effective in preconditioning Victoria for bushfires, more so than El Niño events, as seen in the impact on soil moisture on interannual time scales and in multi‐decadal changes since the 1950s.

More controversially, the paper also suggested that, “given that the recent increase in pIOD occurrences is consistent with what is expected from global warming, an increased bushfire risk in the future is likely across southeast Australia.”

This was a brave call based on an assumption – that the “projected IO warming pattern” would “continue to manifest as an increased frequency in pIOD occurrences” – not on actual empirical data. Indeed, the proceeding years showed no such trend: a nIOD in 2010, 2014 and 2016, a pIOD in 2012, 2015, 2018 and 2019, with a “spurious’ pIOD in 2017. In any case, extrapolating three or so years of pIODs is surely insufficient to infer a trend.

In mid-2014, Dr Cai et al produced another paper: “Increased frequency of extreme Indian Ocean Dipole events due to greenhouse warming.” He made another brave call: “We project [note, not “predict”] that the frequency of extreme pIOD events will increase by almost a factor of three, from one event every 17.3 years over the twentieth century to one event every 6.3 years over the twenty-first century.”

This raises another issue: model fallibility, for the entire climate modelling cabal of computer “in silico experimentation” is riddled with mathematical mystique, arcane and contestable assumptions, logical fuzziness and incomprehensible complexity — surely a shaky foundation on which to erect a grandiose global Zero Carbon plan in the vain hope it will deliver “climate stability”.

A late 2018 paper by Chang Hui and Xioa-Tong Zheng, titled “Uncertainty in Indian Ocean Dipole response to global warming: the role of internal variability”, admitted “the response of IOD to global warming is quite uncertain in climate model projections”. Another paper the same year – the “Influence of internal climate variability on IOD properties” – also stressed that “analysis of individual CGCMs (climate general circulation models) or multi-model ensembles does not account for internal climate variability as each model has its own internal variability and biases.” It was “important to remember that there may be biases in the model.”

Fortunately, two whistle-blowers recently admitted that climate models are “not fit for purpose”. Tim Palmera and Bjorn Stevens did so because they want bigger supercomputers and more money. Perhaps they also sense the sector is fast approaching – or already is impaled on — the pointy end of credibility.

…for many key applications that require regional climate model output or for assessing large-scale changes from small-scale processes, we believe that the current generation of models is not fit for purpose.”

“By downplaying the potential significance that model inadequacies have on our ability to provide reliable estimates of climate change, including of course in terms of extremes of weather and climate, we leave policy makers (and indeed, the public in general) ignorant of the extraordinary challenge it is to provide a sharper and more physically well-grounded picture of climate change, essentially depriving them of the choice to do something about it.

What is needed is the urgency of the space race aimed, not at the Moon or Mars, but rather toward harnessing the promise of exascale supercomputing to reliably simulate Earth’s regional climate (and associated extremes) globally.”The scientific challenge of understanding and estimating climate change,  October 21, 2019)

This presumably means that, despite decades of modelling and billions already spent, there remain significant “modelling inadequacies”. (Have we, dear reader, been duped for years, if not decades?) Nevertheless, such reservations about model integrity and accuracy have not deterred naughty folk in the profession from assuming – and publicly promoting – them.

Professor Nerilie Abram of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes is fond of models. Two quotes from her recent article: Australia’s Angry Summer: This Is What Climate Change Looks Like:

The catastrophic fires raging across the southern half of the continent are largely the result of rising temperatures…… Of course, unusually hot summers have happened in the past; so have bad bushfire seasons. But the link between the current extremes and anthropogenic climate change is scientifically undisputable.

Climate change is making Australian wildfires larger and more frequent because of its effects on dryness and fire weather…… The current summer has presented the perfect storm for wildfire. Long-term climate warming, combined with years of drought, colliding with a set of climate patterns that deliver severe fire weather… In the tropical Indian Ocean, one of the most severe positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) events on record played out this year. The unusually cold sea-surface temperatures in the eastern Indian Ocean cut off one of Australia’s critical moisture sources, adding to the ongoing drought in southern parts of the country … Again, climate change is part of the story, because anthropogenic warming is causing positive IOD events to become stronger and more frequent

Dr Occam has a different view. He showed earlier there is no evidence in the form of actual data to support the claim that “anthropogenic warming is causing positive IOD events to become stronger and more frequent.” As for modelling outcomes, they are more akin to scenarios or storylines, not predictions. And what precisely is meant by “link”?

Professor Abram concluded the LNP government had been foolish to “scale back our greenhouse-gas-emissions”, as it would have “made difference to where we are today”. Our leaders, she opined, “are literally fiddling while the country burns.”

Climate waffle and reality are, alas, at least a dipole apart.

9 thoughts on “Dipolaxing the Bushfire-Climate Change Nexus

  • pgang says:

    Oh, another climate change piece?

    When can we get an article on the facts, as compared with the savagery myths, of pre-Roman British history – about how their king rode a garlanded horse, they minted their own coins, and they had an advanced knowledge of Latin?

  • Tony Tea says:

    At work whenever someone says something clever I ask “Who are you, who are so wise in the ways of science?” If they know the quote I know we’ll get on.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    If accused of “climate change recalcitrance” by the Inquisition, a handy quote from Mandrake’s giant Nubian slave : ‘mebbe so not’.

  • ianl says:

    A timely article. This business of the aperiodic oceanic oscillations (ENSO, IOD) becoming more “severe” and “frequent” due to CAGW is the climate academies scrambling to downplay many hundreds of their own papers saying exactly the opposite.

    For example:

    A now deceased (and very much missed) Professor of Geology at a major regional university in NSW once told me in response to my puzzled question that the basic reason academics fight each other with such snark is because there is so little to fight over. CAGW grants have increased the intensity of this, it seems.

  • pgang says:

    I posted this elsewhere but it deserves another run. President Trump at Davos. Outstanding (from Breitbart).
    ‘The president criticized the experts and the critics who repeatedly predicted economic and environmental catastrophe for the world.
    “We must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse. They are the heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortunetellers,” Trump said.
    He recalled false scientific predictions of overpopulation, mass starvation, and an end of oil in past decades.
    “These alarmists always demand the same thing, absolute power to dominate, transform, and control every aspect of our lives,” he said. “We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy, wreck our country or eradicate our liberty.”
    He defied the government bureaucrats who burdened Americans with onerous regulations and government controls.
    “Today I urge other nations to follow our example and liberate your citizens from the crushing weight of bureaucracy,” he said. “With that, you have to run your own countries the way you want.”’

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    If Trump wins the second term that the Democrats are working so assiduously to guarantee, maybe he will take the next logical step to withdraw the United States from the United Nations, the source and sustainer of all this nonsense.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    With regard to IOD intensity, it would be good to see a graph of the Indian Ocean Dipole Index over the past half century.
    The rule seems to be if temperature difference between the two “poles” is greater +0.4C it’s classified as a positive IOD, and if less than -0.40C, a negative IOD.
    In 2H 2015 it went up to +1C (pIOD), in 2H 2016 down to -1C (nIOD), in 2H 2018 up to +1C (pIOD).
    The 2H 2019 was exceptional, assuming accurate data, in that it exceeded +2C for a short period until late arrival of the monsoon in early January this year. .

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    The fierce Donna Laframboise has been fighting the good fight for years. Here’s her latest:

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    If you use an Occam’s razor, you have to be prepared for a close shave.

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