Doomed Planet

‘The Science’ Isn’t Settled, Only the Spin

What is it about “climate change” that makes it so different to everything else?  It divides families, friendships and political parties, it has brought media and campus self-censorship and classroom propaganda. Minds close over, spooked. To question any aspect is the eighth deadly sin. “Deniers” are sub-human.

About anything else, research that suggests a looming catastrophe might not be as bad as at first  predicted would be welcome  news indeed.  Some of the issues in question are highly technical, but most are not that difficult.  This is a layman’s attempt – not even a particularly sceptical one — to explain them and suggest a way ahead. The nub of it is the long-term impact of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  There are respectable scientific arguments about it, as with many a complex problem, but politics, misconceptions and side issues are more and more clouding things over.

The “official” science comes from the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The main criticism is that it over-estimates future global warming – an argument easy to state but technical in detail and now smothered in irrelevance. In other words, some experts think “the science” is wrong. So far, after 30 years of operation, the global warming the IPCC  has predicted has been at the lower end of the “scenarios” its mathematical modelling predicted for now and  there are respectable arguments – as there have been from the start – that IPCC theories do not work out in practice.   

The IPCC is effectively a global climate science monopoly, with unique power to estimate long-term climate trends and ways to mitigate them, such as the Paris Accords. It has access to a budget of billions, while sceptical scientists have barely peanuts for research and publicity.  In Australia they are volunteers. 

The claim of a “climate consensus’’ or that 97 per cent of scientists agree with the IPCC approach is not true and has distorted public understanding. It came from a loosely worded question put to a small, biased sample nearly thirty years ago. The IPCC then used it – very effectively – as public relations but has now banished it to the small print of its official reports. The IPCC has actually kept a rather low profile in recent times while “climate” and environmental zealots dominate the public arena. Further observations about the IPCC will come later, but there are signs of it dividing along moderate-radical lines, as happens in religion, politics, and often difficult science too.

A few years ago “global warming”, was a reasonably precise and simple name for the phenomenon. “Climate change” suits zealots on both sides. Warmists can claim every very hot day, drought, fire or severe storm as due to “climate change”. Deniers can retort grumpily that “there has always been climate change”. Tony Abbott’s “climate change is crap” and Donald Trump’s that it is “a hoax” did not help understanding. Julia Gillard’s “the “science is settled” was not true and suggests her briefing was biased.

Some more points of confusion.

# It is not true that the January 2020 bushfires were the result of “climate change”, except in a misleading use of the term. The main cause was the exceptionally long three-year drought, caused  by an unusually strong and stubborn Dipole feature in the Indian Ocean jamming into an equally stiff Southern Annular Mode.  This blockage caused extreme drought but it was in line with the sort of natural irregularities that have brought extreme weather events since Adam was a boy.  Man-made change could not be excluded as a contributing cause but did not deserve the starring role the ABC has persistently given it.

# Sinister smoke (though it is mostly steam) pictured on TV  issuing from power station chimneys has nothing to do with the main issue, except that it makes good media illustration – and propaganda for those so inclined.

# The belief that warming is left and progressive, scepticism, let alone outright denial, right-wing and conservative is weird. Climate science is not politics or philosophy.

# Carbon dioxide (not “carbon”) is an inert, invisible gas, beneficial and naturally common in the atmosphere in proportions that vary over time.  Man-made emissions of it could affect the climate only in excessive amounts, if at all.

# “Saving the planet” is appropriate, if at all, only in the very long term, but to conflate climate change with the many other more earthly “green” causes does no justice to either. It has nothing to do with a cleaner or prettier planet.

# The charge that the “fossil fuel industry” is stopping progress towards a renewables future by corrupting governments is another furphy.  There have been barely a few squeaks of protest around the world from the coal and oil industries, while renewables, with a free hand with good publicity and subsidies, are making rapid progress. A sinister conspiracy has yet to be unveiled.

# The ABC and other politically correct media consumers have been shielded for years from critical aspects that any useful discussion of climate change should acknowledge: that there is and always has been powerful natural climate change; and there are complications in the “transition” to renewable energy, especially that it can stop generating “if the  sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow” (or blows too  hard). Similar averting of the eye seems to be common in campuses and school rooms. There is, however, typically a media and educational free hand for the pro-warming side, no matter how careless with the facts.

John Faine, the ABC mid-morning talk-back presenter in Melbourne until recently, used to bark at any  ignoramus questioning climate  change,  “Are you a scientist?”  If the answer was no, there would be a blunt dismissal. It wouldn’t happen on any other subject.

Is the world warming? Perhaps, but so far only a bit. The IPCC says in its most recent “Report to Policy Makers” (six years ago) that world climate has warmed by an average of about one degree Celsius since 1900. This is a good number to work with, though there is disagreement about it. The IPCC says “more than half” of this rise is of  “anthroprogenic” (man-made) origin, mainly caused by burning coal and oil. (This leaves a small component for warming from man-made causes other than carbon dioxide emissions — motor vehicles, for example.)

In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology until recently had average warming rising here by one degree Celsius since 1910, which was when uniform Australia-wide record-keeping commenced.  In recent climate reports the BOM and CSIRO upped this figure to 1.4 degrees.  The increase was mainly due to recent re-working of the records. One effect is to produce more record hot days. This “homogenisation” was to adjust for a switch from manual to automated measuring stations and, in the 1970s, from Fahrenheit to Celsius measurement, plus the knotty problem of “urban heat islands”, such as more cars and people over the decades warming the air near city measuring spots. The change was controversial and the BOM does not say how much of the increase is attributed to carbon dioxide. The activity of millions more people over recent times, with cars, interior warming and cooling and computers, for example, adds fractions of a degree at the surface, but all that taken together is a side issue.

One degree extra of warming is not very much. Who notices an increase at lunch time from 20 to 21 degrees?  Fractions of it can create intense scientific argument though, even the puny half a degree or so the IPCC attributes to man-made carbon dioxide so far. Normal variation in the weather, longer-term natural warming, measuring technicalities and man-made surface warming all jostle with it for a share of responsibility

What is the problem then? The main and very, very important concern is that man-made warming will continue and increase unless it is checked. When total warming reaches 1.5 degrees above 1900 – which by some accounts is not that far off – the IPCC says the oceans could begin to evaporate more. This could produce a stronger “greenhouse effect” by increasing the volume of water vapour, the main “greenhouse gas”. Like a garden greenhouse, it would slow down heat escaping from the earth and produce a drastically more uncomfortable planet later this century. Is this certain? No. There are solid scientific arguments for and against, and these have been much the same since the “warming” debate began in the 1980s. They are technical assessments by respectable scientists about what carbon dioxide can do in the atmosphere over time, what a warming atmosphere will do to water vapour and what any resulting increased vapour will do to temperatures.

As with any forecast, even by the cleverest mathematical modelling, the future is notoriously evasive.  The best we can usually do is get a bit of an idea, as hopeful guidance. 

What about natural climate change? It is and always has been a huge influence, on long-term climate as well as tomorrow’s weather.  A serious charge against the IPCC is that it has paid too little attention to this aspect. It has been known for centuries that the world has been warming since the “Little Ice Age” of the 1600s, when it was three degrees cooler than now and Londoners skated on the iced-over River Thames.  There is also evidence that grapes grew in Roman England (nearly 2000 years ago) – seemingly without oceans evaporating.

A huge amount of research over the last thirty years – the same period of time as the IPCC research – has greatly increased the world’s knowledge of historic climate.  It has not changed the established outline, but shows that big natural changes have typically been frequent, jarringly sharp and uneven; sudden, savage dips during periods of renewed warming meant a rough climatic ride to our ancestors.  Most natural change over aeons has been towards a colder planet than the one we today inhabit. Indeed, world weather seems to have been unusually steady and benign since 1850.  This is the year the IPCC often begins working from, as it is generally recognised as the beginning of the “industrial era”, when coal and oil use surged

Forty years or so ago newspapers often reported scientists, referring to natural patterns, predicting a new ice age. The stars were seen as a possible influence.  Forecasting life was not meant to be easy.


The Oceans

There might – or might not — be important change underway at sea. The IPCC suggests that a lot of it is due to the man’s burning of fossil fuels, with much of the unwanted energy this generates going into the oceans. Arguably, it warms the upper water, helping sea levels to rise, as does melting polar ice.

This theory helps explain why the atmosphere has not warmed as much yet as the IPCC at first predicted it would. But sceptical scientists are suspicious. They argue – to greatly simplify their case – that IPCC modelling of the oceans is the wrong approach. For example, local tidal gauge measuring of sea level often does not support it.  Natural land subsidence often gives a wrong impression that the sea level is rising.

Part of the problem is inadequate knowledge, despite enormous research in recent decades, of how and why the extremely complex ocean systems change over time. But it is critically important research for Australia. Ocean features such as the El Nino and La Nina events and the Indian Ocean Dipole may be increasing and bringing more drought but the underlying causes are still being guesstimated.


The IPCC itself

At the risk of impertinence as a non-scientist, I wonder if the ICCC itself might be part of the problem. It is a strange organisation.

International governments established it in 1988 to investigate why the world was warming at an apparently increasing rate and the influence on this of a plausible, old-established theory that the cause was excessive emission of carbon dioxide through burning of fossil fuel. Headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland, home of United Nations bureaucracies. There has been strong influence from the start from sections of the National Aeronautical and Space Agency in the US and the World Meteorological Organisation

Critics say this arrangement leads to domination by scientific cliques and “group think”, influenced too often by environmental zealots and careerists, far from prying eyes from the world at large. They see it as centralised and remote, “top down”, authoritarian in practice and difficult to challenge. It does not acknowledge critics. Its founding rules tend to restrict it to the carbon dioxide theory.

“Climate science” in the modern sense of attempting to comprehend what causes long-term climate change was little developed in 1988 and IPCC pioneers learned on the job. Their backgrounds were often in astrophysics, mathematics or weather bureau meteorology. It was high noon everywhere for buoyant confidence about mathematical modelling, which is the basis of IPCC research. None of this is to say the IPCC does not have very good dedicated scientists who do great work, but after more than three decades of operation perhaps  it could be considered for a review, opened to  more competition, questioning, and perhaps reorganisation, just as any other big and powerful organisation should be.

IPCC procedure is to assess research papers by thousands of scientists from around the world. The eventual result is a “synthesis” and a technical report issued every few years. There have been five so far, the last compiled in 2014 for 2015. The next is due in 2022. Dozens of “authors” and assistants, about half from English language backgrounds, write the reports, meant as a summary of the vast research. They are then submitted for approval to UN-selected committees before being published. Cynics wonder if the time lag before the 2022 report bears out the suspicion that there is revisionism in the ranks, internal disagreement about what to say next.

These reports are among the more unsatisfactory I have read. Not only is there much technical language; dogmatically, they have little sense of evaluating, after experience, the original theory and assumptions. There is much more about what will happen in the future under various scenarios, how world action could alleviate them and the degrees of confidence in scenarios and assumptions analysed.  More questions are begged than answered.

The reports give the impression of well-intentioned people on a mission impossible, overwhelmed in assessing and summarising the enormous volume of research involved, the probabilities, possibilities and changes for decades ahead while satisfying the opaque pressures of the many interests involved.

From an Australian viewpoint, the IPCC is like a multi-national corporation, with the CSIRO and BOM, its main arms here, effectively a branch office.



Further reading

The above article summarises reading about and discussing climate change over many years. I wrote it just before reading the IPA’s Climate Change – The Facts 2020 but the arguments and facts are similar – scepticism has been fairly consistent from the start.  The IPA book has detailed discussion of critical points, such as measurement controversies and water vapour. It would be great to see them debated openly rather than dismissed as from the wrong tribe.

The IPCC, CSIRO and BOM websites are on the Internet, as are those of respectable septics like Roy Spencer and Richard Lindzen (under their names) in the US.  Views questioning the IPCC, however, are grossly under publicised world-wide.

Brian Fagan’s The Little Ice Age – How  Climate Change Made History 1300 to 1850 (Basic) covers  natural climate change. Rupert Darwall’s The Age of Global Warming: A History (Quartet) notes the avidity with which the world’s politicians have seized on climate change.  Writers like Bjorn Lomborg and Michael Shellenberger argue that the world should adapt to hotter temperatures rather than try to stop warming. Shellenberger raises the sensitive point of environmental organisations stressing calamity in order to help fund raising.

Some Australian (and other) publications are, popularly but unhelpfully, not much beyond the level of good “world’s best scientists” versus bad miners.

12 thoughts on “‘The Science’ Isn’t Settled, Only the Spin

  • Harry Lee says:

    Count the ways that the marxist-inspired Big Statists are close to finally and fully enslaving the striving White productive classes of the West, esp in the Anglosphere.
    And the Big Statists are not only the old-style leftist/marxist politicians housed by the ALP, US Democrats, Greens, and the like.
    They have been joined by a strong majority of Big Money people in Big Media, Big Tech, Big Finance/Big Banking, Big Raw Resources and Big Manufacturing in firms that make everything from soap to motor vehicles to rocket ships -and the investors who invest in all these enterprises.
    In the 1930s, such an alliance was forged in a certain country on the European continent -and the results were very, very bad for all participants -except the Big Money people.
    The striving White productive classes are sunk.
    (We need Big Money and Big Business -but when most senior denizens of those institutions go bad, it’s misery and then curtains for the rest of us. And remember, 90% of the peoples of the public services are marxist-inspired Big Statists too.)

  • ChrisPer says:

    The description of overwhelmed authors summarising thousands of scientific papers entirely fails to discuss the quality of the papers’ starting conditions.
    Research grants cannot be got if you are likely to question activist claims, from what I understand of the system now.

  • J. Vernau says:

    “… helping sea levels to rise, as does melting polar ice.”
    This is true only of south polar, Antarctic ice. At the North Pole the ice is floating; the proportion of it above sea level is precisely the proportion by which it is less dense than the sea in which it floats. Its melting or freezing cannot change the sea level.
    One of several difficulties in measuring sea levels is that earth tides, although having the same causes as ocean tides, are more complicated and less uniform.
    It seems to me somewhat vain to think that we could completely understand the earth’s climate. In fact it seems something of a vanity to believe we are capable of changing it.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    This is a good paper to present to someone as their introduction to climate skepticism. It fails to express with some justified anger just how much money and political power and sheer intentional propaganda has gone into producing the ‘certainties’ that scientists are discovering today, in material which would never have been funded if there hadn’t been a need to make obeisance to climatic ‘change’ (anthropogenic of course) in the conclusions to be reached.

    Hence the thousands of articles showing the birds and the bees are finding it too hot or too cold and never just right, and explaining why my cat jumps around with joy whenever he sees me these days, for I am his love interest and the climate is clearing getting to him too. You know, really scientific stuff like that.

  • Tony Thomas says:

    “The stars were seen as a possible influence.”
    I think “the sun and planets” must be meant here.
    More weight could be given here to the absurdities of “climate models” upon which the whole forecasting edifice relies. See here for a devastating critique:

  • ianl says:

    There’s so much missing from this article, it’s too messy in a simple website comment to even begin.
    Instead, try this as an enormous and effective counterweight to the politicised IPCC (which was not begun because “it was noticed that ;world temperatures appeared to be rising”; it was started because Maurice Strong was convinced Western economic patterns would not result in collectivist utopia he yearned for and he correctly understood that destroying access to affordable, reliable energy would fatally undermine these patterns):

    Dr Richard Lindzen, Emeritus Professor of Atmospheric Physics, MIT. Not an appeal to authority here, but rather a pointer to an astonishingly intelligent and productive man. His published papers, essays, articles and speeches are done in such precise, literate and accessible language that one learns not only atmospheric science but also how to write analytically while perusing them. The basic reason that the AGW propagandists evade and ignore him is because he scares them. Obviously, not everything he promulgates is correct but his output is so accessible through his literacy that one can pick the gaps.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Must stop using the word “science” to refer to the utterly corrupt, careerist, money-grubbing, anti-free enterprise/anti-Westernist non-science that is employed by the naive and/or evil people who have declared that humans cause climate change by burning fossil fuels.

  • Francois Stallbom says:

    Global politics has now become toxic and unhinged, with the extreme-left panicking, and trying to force the neo-Marxist Great Reset on us all.

    WHY NOW? Because solar-driven global cooling is upon us, and the fraud of catastrophic human-caused global warming is about to be exposed to even the most obtuse of humanity.

    The Situation Assessment is summarized below – its perpetrators are among the most deceitful scoundrels on Earth, and to date they are succeeding.

    For decades, climate skeptics have been correctly arguing that the science of the global warming extremists was wrong, but it was never about the science – it was always a fraud – a false scheme concocted for political and financial gain.

    People give the warmist cabal too much credibility – false alarm is their tactic – the climate alarmist leaders know they are lying – they’ve known it all along.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    Unfortunately, it is virtually game-over. The public/young has been so brainwashed over the past two decades about the CC bogeyman it would agree to anything to stop it, even collapse of the West by neutering current energy production systems.
    As for the pseudoscience of “climate change”, it provides globalist elites (UN, EU, UK and now USA) and their earnest lackeys in Davos, Geneva, Washington DC, and research hubs around the world with the perfect justification to “put a price on carbon” (dioxide) – north of US$75 a tonne – and thereby engineer the greatest wealth transfer in history from the developed to the developing world. This has been the “ambition” of the latter since the 1992 Earth Summit, one it may well achieve this November in Glasgow.

    In the memorable words of Sudanese leader, Mr Lumumba Diaping – is he still in power? – the West has been “robbing developing countries of their just and equitable share of the atmospheric space”. That was on December 10, 2009.
    The UN has been banging that drum ever more loudly for the past decade – none more loudly than France, China and others – who are all in the lucrative business of manufacturing/installing RE stuff, from windmills, solar panels, EVs, etc. Mark Carney, past Bank of England governor, has just joined to help it pull off this colossal con.

  • Harry Lee says:

    Yes, “Science” has been all but corrupted, except just perhaps in a few rare, basic areas that support medicine. engineering, IT.
    And so have the “Arts and Humanities”, to say the obvious.
    Hypothesis 1:
    “No research funding is available to study and disseminate the facts of the massive, unmatched benefits provided to all the Peoples of the Earth by Western Civ of the White, heterosexual variety.
    Hypothesis 2:
    “Massive research funding is available, and spent, in disseminating huge and various BS about the great value to humankind of studies in non-Western and esp anti-Westernist cultures, homosexuality, transgenderist transitions, and the great evil of White heterosexual males”
    Hypothesis 3:
    “No research funding is available to investigate what can be done to support and improve White culture, and esp not on how to get White women to stop putting themselves at risk of rape and other violence.”
    Hypothesis 4:
    “Huge research funding is available and spent on how to encourage parasitism, affirmation action for non-competent non-Whites and male-hating feminists either competent or not, and to demonise constructive contributory citizenship by males, females, or any gender actually.”

  • Andrewurban says:

    The IPCC unmasked…by lefty feminist Canadian journo. She calls it a delinquent teenager who doesn’t know right from wrong. Reveals incompetence and politicisation infesting the ranks…

  • Harry Lee says:

    Meanwhile, the ABC online is now running an item encouraging people to feel distressed and hysterical about the Big Human-Caused Climate Change Thing .
    But to be balanced, the ABC is offering advice about how to cope with one’s Climate hysteria.

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