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.
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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.

••••••

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.

•••••••

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.

2 thoughts on “Denying Climate Change #1

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