‘A Cool Look at Global Warming’ revisited

In 2005 I published a book about the past fifty years in Australia, What Was it All For?  The Reshaping of Australia (Allen and Unwin), which was well received to the point where I started getting requests for the sequel — the next fifty years. I thought it was a good idea, and started writing. One chapter was to be about the environment, and as I assembled material for it I could see that I was going to have to write about ‘global warming’, which I had thus far taken little notice of. I knew that my friend, the late Ian Castles, a former Australian Statistician, had written about aspects of it, and asked him for advice. He pointed me towards the IPCC’s reports and some dissenting views. Before long I was hooked, and the proposed book on the next fifty years was put aside while I dealt with one chapter, which threatened to become a book itself.

My early work issued in a paper which I gave to the Planning Institute of Australia in April 2008, called ‘A Cool Look at Global Warming’. I was unaware at that time that Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer for Margaret Thatcher, was writing a book with the same title. It also appeared in 2008, and went along the same lines as my paper, though he went much further into the economic arguments than I did. The paper led to a lot of radio and media, I became known as a ‘denier’, and I kept reading.

Six years later, how valid were my reservations about what I called the global warming ‘scare’? I had put forward seven questions that seemed to me central, and it is interesting to see what I would say about them now.

(1) Is our planet warming?  I argued then that measuring global temperature is fraught with difficulties, and that the precision of the ‘global temperature anomaly’ is overstated. In any case, the IPCC had offered a century-long increase of around 0.7 degrees Celsius, which had occurred in two separate periods. I also said that there had been no increase since 1998, and that is still true, six years after I first wrote it. The solar physicists keep telling us that we are in for a cooling period. I hope they’re wrong.

(2) Is the warming of the 20th century unprecedented? It seemed to me then that the jury had to be out on that issue, despite Michael Mann’s ‘hockey-stick’. There have been several other attempts to show that the 20th century warming is special, all of them based on proxies of various kinds. All of them seem to me to suffer from defects of method that mean that their limited coverage has to produce errors greater than the warming they purport to show. I am no expert in this area, but, to put it politely, you have to be a believer to be persuaded that these papers offer convincing evidence.

(3) Is the warming caused by our burning fossil fuels, clearing forests and other human activities?  In 2007/8 I thought that this was another area where the jury was out. Since then it has become clear to me that while the jury is still out, there is increasing possibility that the human contribution to all this is much less than has been argued by the orthodox, partly because measurements suggest that ‘climate sensitivity’ is likely to be a lot lower than the IPCC’s estimates.

(4) Is the global warming likely to lead to a dangerous increase in sea levels?  I thought not then, and have not changed my mind. There are now lots of estimates of sea-level change based on measurements, and you can pick the ones you like. To me that means the evidence is inconclusive. Yes, the Arctic ocean seems to be losing sea ice in summer, but on the other hand the Antarctic is increasing its sea ice, and could be getting colder, too (though what that means, when most of it is well below freezing, is moot). There is no evidence that any of the inhabited islands is under threat from rising sea levels, whatever their politicians say.

(5) The use of computer modelling to predict future climates  In the last few years the ability of the GCMs to accurately predict future climate has come under question because of the pause in warming. If climate is inherently a chaotic matter, than modelling is unlikely ever to be able to provide accurate forecasts. But there are now dozens of models, and a feeling (certainly among the modellers!) that even more money should be spent on even more powerful models. That seems wasted effort to me.

(6) The reluctance to admit uncertainty  I wrote about an aspect of this yesterday. ‘Climate change’ has become a political issue, which means that certainty about AGW, and the authority of science, have become crucially important to the orthodox. But the longer the pause, and the greater the variety of evidence about what is happening, the less certainty there can be. In my view this is much more the case now than it was in 2007, before the leaking of the Climategate emails and the collapse of the Copenhagen meeting. To me it is really only the religious adherents who won’t accept that there is real uncertainty about it all.

(7) So, finally, what should we do about it all?  In Australia, it is possible that the September 14th elections will usher in the end of the scare, at least as far as our governments are concerned. But there are still a lot of religious adherents, and they will keep up the pressure for us to ‘combat climate change’. And I should concede, too, that there are good scientists who worry that it really is a problem.

If it is, then we will know a lot more in twenty years’ time, and also be in a better position to know what, if anything, to do about it.


Join the discussion 3 Comments

Leave a Reply