Coastal flooding doom awaits us

I mentioned recently that more and more reports are coming out reminding us yet again of the horrendous outcomes if we don’t cease and desist our use of fossil fuels NOW. It is all to do with energising the world to notice the UN Climate Summit that is to take place in New York tomorrow, about which I will write a word or two afterwards, if the spirit moves me.

As I write now, on Sunday, billions of Australians are marching to, for, or against climate to show their solidarity with each other, and to press our politicians to DO THE RIGHT THING. That too appears to be an orchestrated event, because while the Kiwis and ourselves can always do things first, if the event is to take place on a specific day, many more billions of people around the world will join us later in marching about climate. How did they know we were going to do it?

Our so-called Climate Council has joined the activity, completely coincidentally, I’m sure, and produced a ‘report‘ telling us about what will happen as the seas rise in protest against selfish and ignorant humans. Since the Bible also has a few lines about this kind of event, I looked to see if the Council has a Noah-like figure to speak for it, and indeed it appears to be Professor Tim Flannery, who does have a beard, though not as long as the one Noah had, as I remember from Sunday School a while back.

The introduction was not a good start for me, because I came across this passage at once: Virtually all of this infrastructure has been designed and built for a stable climate with known ranges of variability. But the climate system is no longer stable. Sea level is rising and so are the risks for our coastal infrastructure.

Just think about that. Did the builders of Sydney, Melbourne and the rest sit around in the 19th century and talk about ‘the known ranges of variability’ in the climate? I don’t think so. They built with ordinary common sense, as available at their time. Did they have a ‘stable climate’? The CC thinks that our climate is no longer ‘stable’. When was it stable, exactly? What is the test of stability? Floods, droughts and extreme temperatures seem to have been as notable in the 19th as in the 20th century, let alone now.

Sea levels are rising. Yes, I’d have to agree. But they were rising in the 19th century as well as the 20th, and to be sure of that you only have to go the Report’s Figure 4, which shows three separate estimates of sea level from 1880 to the present. Sea level seems to have risen at about the same rate over that 130-year period. Is there an acceleration of that rate now? Some say so, and some say not. The observational evidence is scanty, and we are talking of fractions of a millimetre per annum.

Why is the Council concerned? Well, it relies on the IPCC’s AR5 and uses the concept of ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’ (RCPs), which relate to the rate at which human greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) are proceeding, on a couple of options. One is RCP4.5, in which GGE have been stabilised by 2100, but temperatures have risen probably more than 2 degrees Celsius. The second is RCP 8.5, in which ‘business as usual’operates, and GGE are unchecked; temperature rises by about 4 degrees C.

Where does all this stuff come from? For the masses, apparently, that doesn’t matter really. It is enough to be concerned. But silly old agnostics like me do want to know where all this comes from, if only because temperature rises of the kind that occurred in the late 20th century seem to have stopped. Yes, it is hotter than it was in say 1995, but only by a tiny margin, and the most recent trend is downwards — cooling. If somehow we are going to have an increase of temperature by 2100 of 4 degrees C then the rate of increase from now on will have to be stupendous. There’s no sign of anything like that, anything at all.

You would think that at this point the authors of the Report would talk about uncertainty, and probability, and error. If they did, my eagle eye missed any such reference. No, they charge on happily to tell us what could happen if these projections were correct, with the air of those who know that these projections are FACT.

And since I wrote about Bjorn Lomborg only last week, I can only assume that the authors have never heard of him: While the costs of transforming to a low carbon economy are frequently estimated and widely debated, the costs of not making this transformation are much less known. Lomborg says that the costs of transforming are much higher than of not doing so. Perhaps they should read him.

That prompts me to say that the concept of ‘business as usual’, as applied in this Report, is truly silly. Competitive business is a ever-changing and dynamic activity. Yes, it is true that every business would like to be in a monopoly situation, where risks, uncertainties and stress were of no account. But very few are ever in that position or, if they are, for long.

Since the Report appears to very conscious of the end of the present century, let’s consider the situation in 1914. If BAU in 1914 had actually continued thereafter then almost everything we take for granted today, technologically speaking, would not exist — no computers, mobile phones, television and so on. Real money was made in railway stocks.

Unlike the IPCC I have little confidence in my capacity to predict what the world  will be like in 2100. But I feel safe to suggest that today’s ‘business as usual’ will not be in evidence.

This CC Report is like the others I have read. It is propaganda masquerading as science, and no-one would have heard of it had not the ABC, and to a degree the media generally, taken it seriously. But to them it’s about disaster, and the mainstream media love disaster.



Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • DaveW says:

    Hi Don,
    I’m going to assume that you summarised this non-news so well that no one felt they had anything else to contribute. However, I will admit that I didn’t even bother to read the articles. As soon as I saw the headlines my eyes glazed over.

    The ABC,of course, was one of the major offenders, but there is so much that is offensive in ABC reporting that I couldn’t even get that outraged by the sea rise Armageddon report. The ABC seems to assume their readers are about 8 years of age or such brainwashed Labor voters that they will accept anything they are told.

    I see there has been some discussion of merging SBS into ABC. I think that is arse backwards. SBS, in spite of all its political bias, still manages to mount some real adult programming. It is erratic, but not as uniformly sad as the ABC (and now that Margaret & David are retiring, why would anyone watch the ABC?). Full credit to the Government for stopping the influx of boats and getting the carbon tax repealed, but why isn’t Abbott (or Turnbull) trying to fix the ABC? If they can’t balance the budget, then at least they should try to rectify some of the waste in the current spending and reform the public broadcaster into something that serves the public (not just the Greens and left Labor, and even them poorly).

  • David says:

    If somehow we are going to have an increase of temperature by 2100 of 4 degrees C then the rate of increase from now on will have to be stupendous.
    Well 4 degrees in fact. 🙂 Why use a number when an adjective will do.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      I’m not sure what you mean by ‘4 degrees in fact’. What do you think the rate of increase would have to be from now until 2100? There has been nothing like it since the quick end of the Younger Dryas, many thousands of years ago. What’s wrong with ‘stupendous’?

      And all this assumes that the slow cooling rate for the last few years is to turn around and rise very rapidly? For what reason? And if you have a reason, how does it not account for the long absence of significant warming?

      • David says:

        Ok Don I will walk you through the math.

        Assuming a linear trend, a predicted 4 degree rise in temperature over 100 years equates to 0.04 degrees per year. If there were zero increase in temperature for first 15 years then the predicted temperature increase would now have to occur at 0.047 degrees per year over the remaining 85 years.

        Should a 17.5 % increase in the yearly rate be called “stupendous”? If you want to make a claim go the extra yard and present some supporting evidence rather than rely on vague and unsupported subjective argument.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          And you have found another such trend, exactly where in the last n-thousand years?

          • David says:

            The whole AGW hypothesis is that predicted temperature increases in the next 100 years will be greater than increases experienced in the recent past, because of an increase in CO2.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            But there hasn’t been any significant warming for a decade and half, though CO2 has risen in the same fashion as before. On what basis would you expect a return of warming — and when?

          • David says:


            This has become a rambling discussion. I refer you to your original statement. I have capitalized some key words.

            “Yes, it is hotter than it was in say 1995, but only by a tiny margin, and the most recent trend is downwards — cooling. IF somehow we are going to have an increase of temperature by 2100 of 4 degrees C THEN the rate of increase FROM NOW ON will have to be stupendous.”

            What I have questioned is you use of the word “stupendous” to describe an increase from 0.04 to 0.047 degrees per year.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            As I have argued elsewhere, all judgments are relative. So my use of the adjective refers to my view that there has been no such increase in the Holocene save at the sharp end of the last ice age and at the same end of the Younger Dryas. A shift in temperature of 4 degrees upwards in a hundred years does not have any other example. Yes, your mathematics is fine, but you are not comparing what is predicted to occur with what has occurred in the human past, but with two hypothetical possibilities in the same period.

          • David says:

            There was no increase in temperature from 1940 to 1970, either. CO2 is not the only factor to affect temperature. So I don’t expect temperature to increase year on year. There will be variations.

Leave a Reply