Denying Climate Change #2: Battles in the War

There have been some seminal moments in the climate debate where the issues, and attitudes (and tactics) have come to a head and made themselves very clear. Three occasions when the lid has come off and the contents boiled over.

The Hockey Stick

soonlegatesfig11988. It was a drought in the US and the Senate’s investigation of it that brought public attention to James Hansen’s views that ‘the abnormally hot weather plaguing our nation’ was due to global warming. Unknown-2James Hansen (at right) being at the time head of the NASA Godard Institute for Space Studies, one of the three primary global sources of aggregated climate data (‘GISS’ in the documentation).

That same year, Margaret Thatcher became a vocal advocate for concern about anthropogenic (human made) climate change. It was convenient — she bent her shoulder to this task at around the time she was closing coal mines in the north of England and promoting the virtues of nuclear energy. She was also, of course, a scientist (chemistry) by training. Prince Charles supported her views but, in a very different political environment, her friend Ronald Reagan did not.

Reagan’s administration, worried about the influence and impact of politically unfettered scientists speaking out about climate change, successfully lobbied for the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide reports subject to detailed scrutiny and approval from government delegations before publication.

As such matters go, this all happened fast. The IPCC, set up by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program, was created later in 1988. Its formal purpose was to prepare assessments on all aspects of climate change and its impacts, with a view to formulating realistic response strategies. (UnknownAlthough what Roy Spencer thinks is: ‘Unquestionably, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was formed to build the scientific case for humanity being the primary cause of global warming.’)

Its first summaries were comparatively uncontroversial: human influence was suggested as being only as likely as natural variability to be causing climate change. But by the late 1990s a number of teams of climatologists were producing findings that recent warming was indeed exceptional and suspicion increased that the source of this was anthropogenic.

mann_2110724bIn 1998, Michael Mann (at left), Raymond Bradley and Malcolm Hughes published a paper subjecting paleoclimatological data (from sources such as lake sediments, coral and ice cores, in this case bristlecone tree rings) to new methods of statistical analysis which they had developed to show variation in the patterns of global surface temperature in the northern hemisphere going back 600 years.

For a scientific paper it drew considerable publicity. The New York Times highlighted its finding that the 20th had been the warmest century in these 600 years. However these proxy data are inherently imprecise. Mann said so himself. ‘We do have large error bars. They become more sizable as one gets farther back in time… . There is still quite a bit of work to be done in reducing these uncertainties.’ But nonetheless the Times quoted Mann as saying: ‘Our conclusion is that the warming of the past few decades appears to be closely tied to emission of greenhouse gases by humans and not any of the natural factors’.

A further paper published in 1999 went back a further 400 years subjecting additional data to the same statistical techniques with the same results.

The Third IPCC Report gave considerable prominence to the group’s findings and the summary graph which encapsulated them. The Report was in fact launched in front of the graph as a massive background image as well as featuring it on the cover. It looked like a hockey stick. For 950 years the trend line was more or less flat then whoosh, up with a rush.

Why did it matter? If it was unusual, if it was as big as claimed, if it was happening now and if, as claimed, it seemed increasingly likely to be the product of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, it provided evidence of what some scientists had been suggesting for some time — evidence, and an image. Without these data, the heart might get chopped out of the argument.

Since 1965 there had been references in scientific and historical literature to a period called the ‘Medieval Warm Period’ lasting from about AD 950–1300. A much cooler period termed the Little Ice Age is believed to have followed. The existence of these ‘anomalies’ was noted in the first progress report of the IPCC in 1990.

In fact the two graphs looked like this. You will note in the graph on the left hand side that average temperatures in the Medieval Warm Period are above those presently being experienced.Comparison-charts

But the first hockey stick sidelined the Medieval Warm Period. It illustrated just one big kick-up commencing in the mid 20th century.

The hockey stick was an easy focus for media coverage, and immediately became a focal point for both sides of the debate.

Willie7-6-11Astrophysicists Willie Soon and ex_baliunasSallie Baliunus were two of the earliest respondents to these papers claiming that the methodology was flawed, that other data made it clear that warming had ended early in the C20th and that the Medieval Warm Period which provided evidence for alternative views had been ignored. Any contemporary variations would be the result of solar activity.

Members of the US government bought in. A Senate hearing chaired by John McCain was held in 2000 to discuss the report Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change which had been released in June for public comment. Witnesses at the hearing included Fred Singer, whose statement cited the Oregon Petition as evidence of the mainstream nature of his views. He said there had probably been no global warming since the 1940s. ‘Satellite data show no appreciable warming of the global atmosphere since 1979. In fact, if one ignores the unusual El Nino year of 1998, one sees a cooling trend.’ From this, he concluded that, ‘The post-1980 global warming trend from surface thermometers is not credible. The absence of such warming would do away with the widely touted “hockey stick” graph.’

Pat Michaels (contrarian? denier?) emerged as one of the leaders of the anti-Mann/hockey stick movement through his blog World Climate Report. Keith Briffa and Phil Jones from the East Anglia Climate Institute (UK) separately published papers coming to the same conclusions as Mann et al despite using different methods. The battle lines were forming.

The Bush administration’s Council on Environmental Quality chief of staff Philip Cooney, a lawyer who had formerly been a lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute, edited the first draft of the Environmental Protection Agency Report on the Environment removing all references to reconstructions showing world temperatures rising over the last 1,000 years, and inserted a reference instead to Soon & Baliunas’s papers. UnknownIt was in this context that Senator James Inhofe made his ‘manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated’ contribution.

steve_mStephen McIntyre (left), a Canadian with a background in mining, appears.McKitrick He believed he had the skills to audit what Mann and Co had done, and asked for and received the base data. With the help of Ross McKitrick (at right), an economist, a critique of the hockey stick paper was published six months later. ‘The hockey stick shape’, they said, ‘was primarily an artefact of poor data handling and use of obsolete proxy records.’ The Cooler Heads Coalition (a collaboration of most of the major climate change denying organisations) made hay with the paper.

Unknown-1Late in 2004 Mann and nine other scientists including Gavin Schmidt another Director of NASA’s Godard Institute, set up the blog RealClimate ‘a resource where the public can go to see what actual scientists working in the field have to say about the latest issues’. Early in 2005 McIntyre set up the competition, the blog Climate Audit.

If you read recent postings you’ll catch the flavour: Schmidt saying they need some new blood after ten years; McIntyre running through issues of his current court case v. Mann.

These two blogs will take you to most of the more sane tastemakers in the climate debate. If you want a dose you can try the Climate Sceptics Party, JoNova or Watt’s up with that. They are mesmerizing in their intensity. (Andrew Bolt sometimes writes about other things. These folk don’t.)

But if you want to find a source for all the fury, the hockey stick could be it.

In 2005 Congressman Joe Barton, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce demanded that the IPCC and the three authors of the ‘hockey stick’ papers provide full records of their work. The scientists were asked to provide not just data and methods, but also personal information about their finances and careers, information about grants provided to the institutions they had worked for, and the exact computer codes used to generate their results. Amid an outcry focusing on charges of bullying and harassment, the scientists complied. But the controversy has continued.

The blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a ‘free-market think tank’, opens an article on Mann with the line: ‘Penn State has covered up wrongdoing by one of its employees to avoid bad publicity.’ It initially included the line: ‘Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky [a convicted child molester] of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science that could have dire economic consequences for the nation and planet.’

This is not atypical of the nature of debate. In this recent case Mann chose to sue. He has by now had plenty of practice in political contestation.

Political scrutiny of climate science funding has continued. In fact a consistent denialist theme, rarely stated so gloriously as this quote, is: ‘The true solution to “man made global warming” is to stop the self-perpetuating funding of the people employed to study it.’

Some of the detail of this debate is dealt with in the next blog••• in this series. But it might be noted that even at the time of its initial publication, the hockey stick pattern was largely confirmed by four other independent studies and has subsequently been replicated by more than 20 different modeling processes using the same, similar and different data. Seven of them are contained in this graph.judge-3-640x390It might also be noted that contradictory versions, grounded in science and otherwise, are a bob a dozen. This is the deniers’ preferred version.

images-3

 

An Inconvenient Truth: ‘Ok kids I’m going to show you a film. But just before I do …’

250px-GoreFireBreathing(Graphic: Conservapedia)

Al Gore’s talk and slide show was turned into a film released in 2006 and seen by many millions of people. But not by then US President George W. Bush, who when asked whether he would watch the film, responded: ‘Doubt it.’ Senator Inhofe didn’t plan to see the film (in which he appears) either, comparing it to Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. ‘If you say the same lie over and over again, and particularly if you have the media’s support, people will believe it.’ (Godwin’s Law has proved a popular move in climate change debate. Dr Tim Ball’s contribution can be read here for example.)

The film — which featured the hockey stick mentioned above in such a way that Gore was required to use a platform lift to get to its upper limits — was intended to make a splash/cause a heatwave, and it did.

As it gathered popular momentum some politicians took steps for it to be available for school programs.

However, in the US 50,000 free copies were offered to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) which declined to take them. In correspondence the NSTA explained that the DVDs would place ‘unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA’s] capital campaign, especially with certain targeted supporters’, and that it saw ‘little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members’ in accepting the free DVDs. Different distribution mechanisms were offered via advertising space in the NSTA magazine and newsletter but publicity via paid advertising didn’t quite seem to be the point to those making the offer. Discussing this issue, the ‘Washington Post’ noted that in the previous decade the NSTA had received $6 million from Exxon Mobil, which also had a representative on the NSTA board.

In the UK, as part of a nationwide ‘Sustainable Schools Year of Action’ launched in late 2006, the British Government, Welsh Assembly Government and Scottish Executive announced that copies of An Inconvenient Truth would be sent to all secondary schools in the UK. Study of the film was included in the science curriculum for all fourth and sixth-year students in Scotland.

images-2Early in 2007, Stewart Dimmock (at left, and I’m sorry about the photos but that’s what’s available), a school governor from Kent mounted a legal challenge with the at the time undisclosed assistance of Unknown-3Christopher Monckton (below), arguing that schools are legally forbidden to promote partisan political views and, when dealing with political issues, are required to provide a balanced presentation of opposing views.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Burton, stated that the requirement for a balanced presentation did not require that equal weight be given to alternatives to a mainstream view, and ruled that it was clear that the film was substantially founded upon scientific research but was being used to make a political statement and to support a political program. He went on to rule that it contained nine scientific errors which can be read here.

Make up your own mind. There may well be an issue with hyperbole and wavering relevance. But nine among hundreds ….

The judge made a requirement that these errors must be explained before the film was shown to school children. [Imagine. ‘Hey kids …’] Failure to do so would be a violation of education laws.

The government acted on this ruling. Dimmock complained that ‘no amount of turgid guidance’ could change his view that the film was unsuitable for the classroom. Monckton remains an active campaigner against IPCC views.

‘Climategate’

The Copenhagen Summit of 2009 is a matter of particular interest to Australians because it was when the Government of the time appeared to give up on ‘the greatest moral challenge of our time’ — also known as Rudd’s meltdown. (A sidelight: Edward Snowden’s monster leak of 2014 revealed that the US and Chinese government negotiators had both been spying on other conference delegations at the Summit and formulated their tactics accordingly.)

‘Climategate’ provided some additional flavour to the proceedings. What happened? You may remember.

Several weeks before the Summit, servers at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, one of the world’s three main climatic data collection and management points, were hacked and more than 1000 emails and 2000 computer files were copied to various locations on the Internet.

Emails exchanged by Phil Jones, the head of the CRU, Keith Briffa, the tree ring expert, Tim Osborn, a climate modeller at CRU and Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research were the particular targets. These four had all contributed in various ways to IPCC reports.

At the time, a short comment appeared on Stephen McIntyre’s Climate Audit website saying that “A miracle has happened’. Very shortly after excerpts from the material began appearing on climate change skeptic websites and blogs before finding their way into the mainstream media.

The two most publicised quotes are these.

Jones to Michael Mann, Ray Bradley and Malcolm Hughes: ‘I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.’ [Nature is a scientific journal]

Kevin Trenberth to Mann: ‘The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t’.

Andrew Bolt’s commentary is reasonably representative of the climate change skeptics’ characterisation of the situation.

So the 1079 emails and 72 documents seem indeed evidence of a scandal involving most of the most prominent scientists pushing the man-made warming theory — a scandal that is one of the greatest in modern science. I’ve been adding some of the most astonishing in updates below — emails suggesting conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more.

His updates are here.

But a better sense of how they were treated by groups of skeptics can be found in a book called The Climategate Emails (2010) edited and annotated by John Costella and published by the Lavoisier Society. Mining magnate Hugh Morgan wrote the introduction in which he asserts, inter alia:

The Climategate emails demonstrate that these people had no regard for the traditions and assumptions which had developed over centuries and which provided the foundations of Western science. At the very core of this tradition is respect for truth and honesty in reporting data and results; and a recognition that all the data, and all the steps required to reach a result, had to be available to the scientific world at large.

There are two issues which now have to be addressed. The first is the damage which has been done to the standing of science as an intellectual discipline on which our civilisation depends. The second is the status of the IPCC, since that institution is the source of scientific authority on which prime ministers and other political leaders rely to legitimise their statements about global warming.

A portion of a very long response from the US Science and Public Policy Institute (otherwise known as Bob Ferguson with some help from Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon):

Let the climate criminals stand trial, and let them be fined for offenses under the Freedom of Information laws, and let them be imprisoned for their fraudulent tampering with scientific data, and for their suppression of results uncongenial to their politicized viewpoint, and for the sheer venom with which they have publicly as well as privately denigrated all those scientists with whom they disagreed, and for the insouciance with which they interfered with editors of scientific journals and with the process of the UN’s climate panel itself.

Death threats were made against Phil Jones and two of the other scientists. This is not a small matter.

No fewer than seven investigations resulted: the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee; the UK’s Science Assessment Panel; Pennsylvania State University, Michael Mann’s employer; the University of East Anglia; the US Environmental Protection Agency which was consequently petitioned by government agencies, business and industry groups and activists to overturn new regulations related to greenhouse gas because they were based on corrupt science; the US Department of Commerce to investigate whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, the third of the key collectors) had been fudging data; and the National Science Foundation to see if Michael Mann had been behaving unprofessionally.

No evidence of professional or scientific misconduct was found in any of these investigations. The two excerpts quoted above are in context quite benign, when explained more so.

Nonetheless, writing in ‘Newsweek’ about the issue, Sharon Begley noted: ‘One of the strongest, most-repeated findings in the psychology of belief is that once people have been told X, especially if X is shocking, if they are later told, ‘No, we were wrong about X,’ most people still believe X.’

In 2011 a second set of 5000 emails apparently from the first hacking was released just before the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban. It didn’t have much impact.

The emails certainly reveal informal chatter that few professionals would necessarily have wanted to become public. They’re men (and yes they are mostly men. curry_06bJudith Curry is the one of the few science women in this argument and she moves from side to side of the fence) in a hurry with a strong sense of embattlement trying to give form to a monster that they have touched and believe in, but whose shape won’t quite make itself known.

There is no bomb to explode to prove unassailably that you can split the atom, and the major end product, the outcome of your work, is something as problematic as persuading others of the legitimacy, and over time the urgency, of your findings.

So what’s true?

 

Denying Climate Change #1

‘Climate change is absolute crap.’ — The Hon. A. Abbott, at the time of writing Australia’s Prime Minister, Liberal Party function, Beaufort, Victoria, 2009

catani2

Lake Catani, Mount Buffalo, 1920. Skating on two foot of ice, an annual pleasure often lasting for as long as four months. Still happening in the early ’50s.
IMG_0778

Lake Catani, a few months ago in high winter. It’s hard to see but it’s not ice at the edges; it’s reed and sedge. I don’t know when the last time it froze was but it’s a long time ago.

IMG_0771Cresta Valley, same glorious mountain mid-winter, the site of Australia’s first ski tow and the first place I ever saw snow. When I was there 40 years ago there was heavy snow just as there was almost every winter, enough to support six ski runs. Percy Weston who lived on or near the mountain for more than 70 years is quoted in a history of Mount Buff saying: ‘In my boyhood days winters were always 10-12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than they are today.’ Every Antarctic depression brought a mantle of snow that grew to a depth of about five feet and lasted well into Spring.

If you’re reading this in July or August you can see just how much snow there is on Mt Buff right now by clicking here.

IMG_0772The lodge that serviced these runs burnt down, some say for the insurance when the snow went bad but actually during one of the many bushfires, the exceptional number of bushfires, that have run across this high plateau in the last 30 years.

Mount Buff may see five feet of snow again, but if it does it will be in weird and troubling circumstances.

When we go walking we often see changes like this over time. They might be temporary or cyclic. Or they might be something else.

[A salutary deviation. When preparing this I was looking through what Dr Google had to offer and found a link titled ‘Heavy rain melts Mt Buffalo’s record breaking snow’, an ABC report from 2011, which would have put a bit of a hole in my story. But in fact the text indicates it should have read ‘Record breaking rain melts Mt Buffalo’s snow’. I checked the date and can confirm that 180mm of rain in 16 hours is quite a lot. We happened to be there on the day, romping across to the back wall. But if I hadn’t read past the headline I would have ended up somewhere very different. Often people don’t read past headlines.]

••••••

UnknownOn ‘Lateline’ some months ago Emma Alberici interviewed Maurice Newman, an intimate of the Australian Prime Minister’s and Head of his Business Advisory Council. In this country a powerful powerful man. After not much more than a minute he’s saying: ‘Science is whatever the science is and the fact remains there is no empirical evidence to show that man-made CO2, man-made emissions are adding to the temperature on earth.… When you look at the last 17.5 years where we’ve had a multitude of climate models, and this was the basis on which this whole so-called ‘science’ rests, it’s on models, computer models. And those models have been shown to be 98 percent inaccurate.’

‘By?’ Emma asks. ‘Roy Spencer’ is the instant and sure reply.

Roy Spencer, I thought. Roy Spencer. Wow. He’s the guy. He’s the one who knows. There are things I need to investigate here.

••••••

FigureheadBefore we chase down Roy let me come clean about my own position.

1) I strongly suspect the climate is changing. And not the weather, the climate. They’re two different things.

I’ve offered an example above of why. But today it’s the 1 February and should be insufferably hot. It is actually 17.9C, which it has been more or less since the Bureau of Meteorology published its findings that last year produced record heat. Anecdotes, personal observations, true enough to that extent, to that context, to that moment — but ungeneralised, unscientific.

That said, science doesn’t begin in the lab or with satellite instrumentation. Science begins with human observation and hypotheses, hunches in all their frailty. The rather unusual job of science is to test such observations and thoughtful guesses; to go with the data, and to say, not just yes or no, but this is how to understand it, and it’s a bit like this, and these are the things we still don’t know. Be careful of certainties.

That’s what we have experts for, and while I am not in awe of expertise I certainly respect it.

2) The second thing I think is that the activity of human beings is causing the change (‘anthropogenic warming’).

There is one ‘hockey stick’ that even Andrew Bolt can’t argue about and that’s this one.350px-Population_curve.svgSorry the graph is so small. Human population, earth, 10,000BC – 2000AD. Was less than 100,000 and in 2005, off this scale — 9 billion. A new study suggests that instead of plateauing as previously assumed the world’s population might be 11 billion by 2100. If so Nigeria will probably have a population of 900 million. You cannot alter an element in an ecosystem so significantly without anticipating other changes.

The information in this graph reinforces these presentiments. And I’ve tasted and waded through Beijing’s air.

china-energy-consumption-by-source-e1347409856398

Among all the argument there does seem to be universal agreement that coal-fired power plants contribute to the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, and if consumption is growing at this pace, then I fear 1+1=2.

3) I am certain that the climate and its influences are part of a larger platform of environmental stewardship, and am quite sure that climate change has pushed matters like resource depletion, air pollution, ocean acidification and pollution, soil degradation, and destruction of above and below ground clean water systems under the public carpet. I think the next huge war is more likely to be fought over water than oil.

A good example of this displacement are the ‘errors’ the English judge found in Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. (See the next blog.)

14-lakechadIt might or might not be climate change that has caused Lake Chad to be less than one-third the size it was 50 years ago. Other reasons may be population increase, over-grazing and overuse for irrigation. Phew, what a relief!180px-Aral_Sea_Continues_to_Shrink,_August_2009

Similarly, it might be the diversion of most of its inflowing sources by Soviet Russians that has destroyed the Aral Sea (at right. You can see its former outline) rather than climate change. But is that enough to cheer us up? Not really.

It’s all hooked up, and not in ways we can necessarily understand.

I believe in careful stewardship of the environment, or we’ll cop it. And I came to writing this thinking we’ll probably cop it and perhaps before climate change really kicks in.

My confession: In daily life I mostly take public transport and walk; but we own a car. I turn lights off when they are not being used, but we’re hooked into the grid which means we are using brown coal-generated electricity. I bucket water out of the bath when there is a bath, but I otherwise water our plants from the tap. We recycle and take our vegetable waste out to where it might be composted. I wouldn’t mind doing more, but I don’t.

I recognize that these actions are negligible and more because of habit or for my state of mind than the environment. I recognise the contradictions present in our use of air travel and consumption of food that has been grown far from where we live. I think the requisite change will require large-scale decisions which will impact on me and everyone else. I anticipate they must reduce the ‘quality’ of material life. But the option of doing nothing is likely to produce far worse results. I am very concerned about what sort of shape the environment our grandchildren inherit will be in.

•••••••••

‘With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.’ — Senator James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican, Chairman of the US Environment and Public Works Committee 28/7/03)

But what’s made people so angry, so divided in their views?

This question might be wrongly framed. Of course we’re going to worry. As J.K. Galbraith wrote in The Great Crash, 1929: ‘People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than to surrender any material part of their advantage’. (He did also note in The Affluent Society: ‘Wealth is not without its advantages, and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive.’) Without any doubt at all, we’re people of privilege.

But so angry. And so snarky …

The “climate change” crowd want money and power. There are hundreds of billions up for grabs IF you spout the party line. Power, there are many would be global autocrats among us just looking for a cause. Always have been, always will be. We must reject them. The ordinary true believer is a dupe, and will go to great lengths to avoid facing the fact that they’ve been duped.  (Peter Osborne, somewhat typically discussing Dr Tim Ball’s blogpost that we need to go to Hitler’s Mein Kampf to understand IPCC processes. An excerpt: ‘The entire climate change industry is based on fiction. Specifically, the notion that the planet is doomed unless capitalism is paralysed. This myth is gradually being exposed, leading to long-awaited cuts in government support.’)

You can get a big fat read of that sort of thing here.

And so, I don’t know, disturbing?

I’m amazed at the lack of common sense in our world today. If people would just use their brains rather than believe the Man-made Global Warming hype, they’d realize, so clearly, what a farce it is. Even before I watched your documentary [‘Not Evil just Wrong’] (which was great), I didn’t believe in Man-made GW…why? Well again, from a common sense perspective, if it’s true that man and all of our industry causes this, how do they explain the warming during Medieval time??? I’m not sure, but I don’t think they had factories, cars, etc. Or, I’ve often been perplexed by the fact that what we exhale and what plant-life on earth needs to survive is somehow a pollutant. And if Geologists have proven that historically rises in CO2 occur ‘after’ warming periods of our earth’s history…well…then their theories are pretty much bunked. But for me, a picture speaks a thousand words. If anyone looks at the depictions of what a ‘trillion’ looks like, they’d be horrified at what our governments are doing. But applying that…I read that only 29% of our planet is land, and of that, less than 1% of the 29% is actually inhabited by man. And of that…how much is actually industrialized? I just don’t see how we, being a teeny speck on this planet, can possibly cause any Global events. It just seems silly!— Michelle

This almost reads like a plant from an organisation like the Heartland Institute. Covering all the touch sensitive issues in a little girl ‘don’t be so silly, use your common sense’ voice, it’s just a bit too carefully constructed. Am I dreaming or can I see a 35 year-old copy writer grinning away in the background like a Cheshire cat?

And, even if well-intentioned, so seemingly off the beam …

The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. … We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of the carbon dioxide increase. Our children will enjoy an Earth with far more plant and animal life than that with which we now are blessed. This is a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution.

This is The Oregon Petition, apparently signed by more than 30,000 people even if they did include Geri Halliwell, Daffy Duck, Charles Darwin, Chewbacca and I.C.Ewe. But it is claimed 9000 people with Ph.Ds were among them, it was sponsored by scientists and it certainly was accompanied by a letter of endorsement from Frederick Seitz, former president of the US National Academy of Sciences.

240x173xpentti_linkola.jpg.pagespeed.ic.cWgrgsQCH6Then there’s the nut jobs on the other side like Pentti Likola (at left), an enthusiast for the consequences at least of the Nazi holocaust because of its impact on population growth.

What to do, when a ship carrying a hundred passengers suddenly capsizes and there is only one lifeboat? When the lifeboat is full, those who hate life will try to load it with more people and sink the lot. Those who love and respect life will take the ship’s axe and sever the hands that cling to the sides.

In which process he will be assisted by members of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement who believe their goals might be achieved by: voluntarily abstaining from reproduction; not using medicine and eating less and less until death occurs; and using science and technology to evolve/devolve into non-sapient photosynthesizing organisms that consume the same amount of energy as they produce. I don’t know how many ‘Hard Green’ followers there are, but there are some. Years ago I was part of a group that turned down a subject to be offered at Years 11 and 12 called ‘Deep Ecology’ which promoted views like this, ‘biocentrism’ I think was its grand theme.

It’s not an issue for everyone. A 2007–2008 Gallup Poll surveyed people in 128 countries asking whether respondents knew of global warming and, for those who were aware of the issue, whether or not they thought it was human-induced. Over a third of the world’s population were unaware of global warming, with developing countries less aware than developed, and Africa the least aware. Of those aware, residents of Latin America and developed countries in Asia were most certain that climate change was a result of human activity. People who lived in Africa, parts of Asia, the Middle East, and a few countries from the former Soviet Union were most sceptical. Opinion in the United States was almost exactly evenly divided. A subsequent poll in 2014 found that that 51 percent of Americans were only a little or not at all worried about climate change, and 49 percent a great deal or a fair amount.

There’s a lot of people whose daily lives provide more urgent matters for attention. A WHO estimate of risk factors in High Mortality Developing Countries (HMDCs), for example — although it aimed to highlight the problem of climate change — discovered that climate change is only one-third of the risk factor of being overweight in an HMDC. ‘Physical inactivity’ and ‘iron deficiency’ both currently kill more than four times as many people as events attributed to climate change. The four biggest threats for people in HMDCs are being underweight, unprotected sex, high blood pressure, and lacking access to clean water and sanitation. These risk factors are respectively 24, 18, 14 and 11 times greater than mortality caused by climate change factors. At the moment. And that’s another important way of inhaling all this.

Finally, as a public issue climate change has gone off the boil. I remember in 1986 having to cull references to climate change out of Year 11 and 12 subjects in the new Victorian Certificate of Education. Just over 90 percent of all the new Year 11 and 12 subjects included climate change as an item of study in their early drafts. It seemed it had to be there. And I remember 20 years ago when heavy duty commercial Channel 9 ran a don’t-miss one-hour special hosted by Ray Martin about environmental issues which garnered a huge and uncompromised audience. This was typical; it seemed the duty of news outlets to promote awareness of the issues. Was this perhaps too successful, enough to mobilise an opposition?

According to a 2012 poll by the Pew Research Center, the proportion of Americans who believe that the earth is warming has declined by 10 percentage points in the past decade. Those who rate it as major issue has declined by 20 percentage points during the same period.

Paradoxically, by their negative stance, it is quite likely that in this country Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt have done more to enliven debate and raise awareness about climate change than any of their predecessors.

NASA_2000_2005

There’s a lot to be learnt from these reactions — things about the nature of popular discussion, things about the times, things about social and public media, things about politics, things about the role of experts (can I even write expert without inverted commas?), things about education, and especially things about the nature of knowledge and of science which are deeply disconcerting.

That’s mostly what this series of blogs is supposed to be about.

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UnknownAnd Roy Spencer? He’s a serious climate scientist who believes that global warming is a reality, but naturally engendered.

From An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming which he co-authored: “We believe Earth and its ecosystems – created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence – are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory.”

If you wish you can buy his most recent book here.

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This isn’t going to be one-way traffic. In fact serious complications will emerge, but to further add to the scenery we are going to look at some events from which controversies emerged.