At last, a decent book on ‘climate change’

A few months ago I reviewed what I thought was quite a good book on ‘climate change’, though written from what I call the ‘orthodox’ perspective. I expressed the view that anyone reading it needed to balance its message by also reading another good book written from what I call the ‘dissident’ perspective. This is that book.

Bob Carter, an international figure in this field, New-Zealand-born and Australian by adoption, has put together a punchy, fact-filled, well-graphed and deliciously illustrated book, Taxing Air, on the subject. He didn’t do it all himself: his colleagues include John Spooner, The Age’s own cartoonist, Bill Kininmonth, former head of our National Climate Centre, Stewart Franks, Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Tasmania and an authority on hydrology, Bryan Leyland, a New Zealand power systems engineer, and Martin Feil, an economist who has already written another book with the assistance of John Spooner. They make a formidable team, and given that five of the authors seem to have combined to write the text, I have to say that the writing is seamless.

I went to to see how many books were available on the combined topics of ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’. At page 15 of 100 possible pages I had got to 180 titles (including the one under discussion, which you can acquire electronically for a small fee). There must be several hundred of them.Why do we need another book? Two reasons come straight to mind.

The first is that new data, new papers and new arguments appear almost every week, and they need distillation by people who know what they are doing. The second is that this book is focussed on an Australian audience, and is directly relevant to our own domestic politics. Most of the others are global in their focus, or have a North American audience in mind.

What do I like about the book? Well, it has a light-hearted side to it, which is a tonic, given that so much writing on these topics is deadly serious and deadly dull. Spooner’s illustrations are great fun. The graphs are excellent, and in this field you absolutely need to compress a lot of data into graphs. I’ve seen a lot of the graphed material before in various forms — indeed I’ve seen a lot of the argument before too, but the argument is sensibly and systematically organised. What it does is to present the orthodox position, and show what is wrong with it, and in doing so it illustrates rather well what I wrote yesterday.

Almost everything you need to know is here, and the main structure is a set of chapters organised around themes, with sub-sections in the form of questions. So Chapter III concerns ‘The Record of Climate Change’, and its first sub-section is ‘How do we know about ancient climate?’ followed by ‘What is a proxy record of temperature?’

The authors claim that around one hundred different areas of knowledge are involved in the analysis of climate change, which means that there is no person alive who can be described sensibly as an ‘expert on climate change’. All of those who participate in the domain, no matter how knowledgeable they are, are expert in only a small part of it. The authors’ aim, they say, is ‘the provision of balanced, academically rigorous and accurate analysis of important public policy issues that are science-related’.

If you compare what is written and illustrated in this book to the guff that issues from our on Climate Commission, you get a sense of what they mean. I think their little summary on p.69 conveys the nub of it. There is common  ground in the debate, they say.

‘The common ground includes:

*  that climate has always changed and always will,

*  that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and warms the lower atmosphere,

* that carbon dioxide emissions are accumulating in the atmosphere as a result of industrial activity,

* that a global warming of  between 0.4 degrees and 0.7 degrees Celsius occurred in the 20th century, and

* that global warming has been in hiatus over the last 16 years.

The scientific argument over dangerous AGW is therefore about none of these things. Rather, it is almost entirely about three other, albeit related, issues:

* the amount of net warming that is, or will be, produced by human-related emissions,

* whether any actual evidence exists for measurable human-caused warming over the last 50 years, and

* whether the IPCC’s computer models can provide accurate climate predictions 100 years or more into the future.’

It would be an excellent outcome of the publication of the book if every MP and Senator got these few ideas firmly in their heads. They might still, for electoral reasons if for no other, be exercised about the threat of ‘climate change’, but they would at least have a sound basis on which to talk about their views.

I was once a member of the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council, which went into oblivion in 1999. ASTEC would have been just the body to look at the question of AGW. Having said that, I ought to concede that had it been given the task, it would probably have been swamped by the certainties of the 1990s, and told the Government that indeed AGW was a worry. There is no such body today, as the authors point out.

But the certainties of a decade ago have gone, and this book is the antidote to the endlessly repeated scaremongering that we get every day from places like the Climate Commission, the Bureau of Meteorology (alas), and most of the mainstream media. I hope that it sells in the tens of thousands!



Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Legal_Eagle says:

    Hey Don, just wanted to say that your article on academia, research and teaching in The Age today was fantastic. Cheers.

  • whyisitso says:

    It’s on my Amazon wish list (Kindle edition). Unfortunately I’ve found Kindle reproduces graphs rather badly and the tables can’t be enlarged. I have a touch Kindle, and its very good at enlarging and reducing text.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Thanks for that info. I have resisted buying one, and your advice makes me think I should wait a little lounger!

      • Mike O'Ceirin says:

        I have a Kindle MX (no longer sold) which has a 10 inch screen and does graphs okay but has no colour. Kindle is also available on Tablets or personal computers in full color with as large a screen as you like. Only downside is it is not practical to lend a book and you can not give it away.

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