About ten years ago I began to read widely in the area of ‘the environment’ for a book I was then writing about Australia’s next fifty years. It soon became clear to me that I would have to deal with the apparent threat of global warming, which was much in the news from Greens and the Left generally.
The more I read the more unhappy I felt. While global warming was not a field in which I had any competence, years of reading scientific papers and assessing scientists’ requests for money for research had given me some capacity to interrogate argument and inspect data. In any case, there wasn’t much abstruse science in the global warming issue. A bit of radiative physics, a bit of solar physics, a lot of data of various kinds, large GCMs — global circulation models — and a good deal of extrapolation. Plus, of course, the message: a set of policies about curbing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of fossil fuels.
It just didn’t add up, to me. The data and argument weren’t good enough to sustain the forecast catastrophe or the policies to prevent it. I asked Ian Castles, an old friend, one of our notable Australian Statisticians and a man of common sense, what he thought about it. He was sceptical about the modelling done by Nicholas Stern, but said that I would need to read the IPCC’s latest Assessment Report and make up my own mind. I had barely heard of the IPCC, but got to work.
The long book-length section on the science (WG1 of TAR) seemed to me OK save that it really only looked at carbon dioxide, as though it explained everything. But it couldn’t, and didn’t. For example, there were two apparent periods of warming in the 20th century, if you accepted the IPCC’s account of things. But carbon dioxide couldn’t account for the first one, on the IPCC’s own argument. I asked Bob Carter*, a colleague when I was head of the ARGC and then the ARC, what he thought about it all, and he was most critical. Read this and that, he suggested. I did. I stopped writing my book on the future when John Howard lost office, as my publishers thought the book was no longer necessary (presumably Kevin 07 was our future). Instead I wrote a long paper called ‘A Cool Look at Global Warming’, unaware that Nigel Lawson in England was writing a book with the same name at the same time. His book and my long paper were published in the same year (2008). You can read my paper, given as an address to the Planning Institute of Australia. The link is at the end of this essay.
My address, and the consequent publicity in the media, caused a great fuss. I was accused of reprehensible crimes. ‘You must not say these things!’ the German scientific attache told me at a Rotary occasion after I had given a short version of the address. ‘The future of the world is at stake!’ All I could say was that I didn’t agree, and he was welcome to show me the errors in what I had written. I heard nothing further. Robyn Williams of the ABC gave me two successive ‘Ockham’s Razor’ talks to set out my position, and both he and I were given the rounds of the kitchen by the vociferous defenders of the AGW faith. How dare I say these things! How dare the ABC provide a platform for them!
I was astonished at the abuse I received — though there were a few supportive commenters as well. I went back over what I had written. Where was I grossly wrong? I couldn’t find gross errors. Now hooked on the topic, I began to read even more widely, met some of the prominent sceptics in London, began to explore the blogosphere, and corresponded with some people whose papers I had read. In 2010 Judith Curry, Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech., started a website called ‘Climate etc’, which I read every time it was published. In time I offered her essays that she might like to publish, and four of them appeared in her blog (link below). Two years later I thought I should set up my own website, and that has meant that I have written very little for anyone else. This website consumes a great deal of my time and energy, as I said in the last post for 2015.
A great deal has happened in the ten years since I became interested in ‘climate change’ and I have learned a lot more about the issue and the science underlying it. The Copenhagen Conference was a flop. The Climategate emails exposed some of the chicanery within the climate science community — at least, that part of it devoted to securing universal acceptance of the dangers of fossil fuels. Warming levelled out, contrary to the IPCC’s predictions. Governments that had been ideologically committed to carbon taxes and ETSs lost interest as they had to deal with the global financial crisis. The Paris CoP21 meeting came up with an agreement that everyone was able to sign because it committed nobody to do anything, and had no penalty clause.
But the Climate Botherers — a few climate scientists, a few politicians and a noisy league of single-issue lobby groups and NGOs — keep going with their scare, because there’s a congregation of believers out there for whom it is real and important. And the media love it. It spells danger, headlines and graphic photos of steam coming out of large structure, parched earth, floods, ice, polar bears, and fire. Everything can be linked to ‘climate change’ and hardly anyone in the media steps back to ask real questions. There aren’t many left in the media to do investigative reporting anyway.
In the ten years have passed nothing scary has happened to climate.The Botherers no longer tell us that doom is around the corner; it has moved, and is now around the 2050 corner. There is still a contingent of believers, who fasten on to ‘climate change’ and what we must do to forestall it, and most of them are uninterested in reading or hearing anything that is critical of their belief. But most people just get on with their lives, and the political parties are not talking as much abut it as they did several years ago. The climate models have proved to run far too hot, climate sensitivity looks like being around 1 or a little more. And so on. I can’t summon up the irritation that I had several years ago, and will set out in this and successive posts what I think is really the case, and why I think so. I may be wrong, of course, and if I find that I am I’ll say so.
Further Reading: This website has a lot of material on it relevant to this first essay. Interested readers might start with ‘A Cool Look at Global Warming’ (http://donaitkin.com/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/climatechange/A%20Cool%20Look%205.4.08.pdf), and two other public addresses I gave on this subject in the last decade. The first is the Sir John Young Oration (http://donaitkin.com/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/climatechange/The%20Sir%20John%20Young%20Oration.pdf), and the second a presentation called ‘The Debate over Anthropogenic Global Warming’ (http://donaitkin.com/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/climatechange/The%20debate%20over%20AGW.pdf). There is some repetition in each of these addresses.
The papers I wrote for Judith Curry can be inspected on her website by typing in ‘Don Aitkin’ in the search bar. They are better obtained there because you can read the comments, more than 700 for one of them.
A friend asked me to comment on the matter of ‘consensus’, and you can read that here: http://donaitkin.com/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/climatechange/Three%20Assumptions.pdf
*Bob Carter has died, aged 74. I have posted the following tribute on a number of websites:
‘Bob was a lovely man. He was appointed to the Australian Research Grants Committee in 1987 when I was its Chairman, and stayed on in the Australian Research Council’s Earth Sciences group when the ARGC became the ARC. He was a feisty fighter for his discipline. As was common, he got to the position of assessing requests for money by having been a highly successful seeker of research funds himself. When I became interested in global warming ten years ago, Ian Castles, a great and former Australian Statistician, suggested that I should read his take on the issue, and Bob and I became in close contact again. Over the last ten years he has been one of the world’s best sceptics in this awful field of ‘climate change’. He writes well, bases himself on what is known, is alert to error and does not exaggerate. His passing is a great sadness to me, and will be to thousands of people he never met.’