My perspective on ‘climate change’ and global warming. 1: History

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.’

 

 

 

 

Join the discussion 39 Comments

  • PeterE says:

    A brilliant summary. You ought be awarded ‘Hero of the Resistance, First Class, with oak leaf cluster and purple heart’. The irrationality of humankind knows no bounds but your extraordinary work has done much to bring sanity to the debate and stem the panic.

  • Alan Gould says:

    Don,
    I endorse Peter E’s plaudit above. you identify one central mystery in this business, namely the resilience and ferocity of the passions from within what you rightly call a ‘congregation’. It is that pathos that exercises me.
    I see it as a social pathos recurrent in human history; something similar was abroad during 17th century witch-hunt frenzies, perhaps also in the ‘reds-uder-beds’ of McArthyism, and a choreographed version of it in the dancing manaias of the Middle Ages.
    Its common feature is alarm at a danger that cannot be quite quantified but subverts the security of living at a very basic level. if babies in a village die of influenza and a particular woman with a tic cannot satisfactorily account for her whereabouts on certain nights, then the idea she might have incalculable powers of mischief will immediately (gravitationally, I’m tempted to say) attract confirmatory signs. We are a species who are adept with sign-making because we assume anything that can be identified as a configuration must have meaning.
    AGW proposes the subversion of home as a result of our own unworthiness. Dread and guilt combine, a powerful cocktail. It is made all the more powerful because it is located at a register of mind that is sub-liminal, and so can transfer itself without the transferences being watchable as a rational, open-air process.
    Interestingly, the ferocity is infectious, and I note it both in my own Sceptic reactions, and in other sceptics. Here, I think, the common element is insecurity, except the thing that sceptics see as becoming insecure is not so much the planet, as the discipline of Science itself, in which we invest hope that a body of erudite people will exercise dispassion in describing the world and the likelihoods of its unfolding.
    I don’t think this quite covers all I sense behind this social pathos. It is a strange one in its anger and its infectiousness, and will have its necessity.

  • dasher says:

    As one who has no difficulty saying that I have doubts about the orthodox approach to climate change, how dangerous it is and whether or not we are spending our effort and treasure to good effect I can empathise with Don’s reception by the german ambassador. Hard to believe that normally very sensible measured people cane be so captured by the “approved version” They appear to have no curiosity to hear alternate views. The extension of this zealotry into silencing so called deniers by legal action is a logical extension of the syndrome, very dangerous.

  • […] Don Aitkin on ten years of commentary on the global warming caper. Don Aitkin on what do about the United […]

  • JMO says:

    Yes, Don you said the magic words “”ït just didn’t add up”‘.

    It was that fact, climategate, further reading and alarmists behaviour which sent me from climate alarmism to the sceptical side.

    Later, the inaccurate and just plain wrong catastrophic predictions and the charlatan opportunistic buying of coastal real estate by those who advocated dangerous sea level rise confirmed it all.

    I agree with PeterE’s comment above.

  • David says:

    Where was I grossly wrong? OK since you asked. So you write,

    “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.”

    My personal sense of it is that the current acceptance of AGW is just a tad stronger than “a few climate scientists.”

    • dasher says:

      David I suspect that on this occasion you are right, but have you read the examination of the 97% consensus by “the friends of science” on Judith Curry’s blog. I hold no candle for the “friends of science” but until someone can say they are wrong I will accept that the so called rigorous surveys of opinion by climate scientists was a load of baloney…not fit to quoted by US President and countless other leaders.

    • donaitkin says:

      The crucial phrase above is ‘keep going with the scare’. Few scientists are involved in putting out papers that are deliberately scary. Most just go with the flow, and have a sentence at the beginning or end to make the paper relevant to the flow.. See below.

  • donaitkin says:

    Searching Google Scholar won’t do the trick. You need to read the papers, and I’ve read a lot. What is more accurate, with respect, is that the great majority of people who write about ‘climate change’ are not ‘pro-AGW’in any clear way, but they do take the official position for granted. They start with it, and go on from there (eg. ‘what will happen to the bearded chuck if temperature rises as set out in the AR5?’). There are very few papers that actually question the official position (it is hard to get such papers published, but that is not the strong reason), and rather more which set out to support it with new evidence or new argument.

    • David says:

      Don

      “There are very few papers that actually question the official position.” Yes about 3%.

      • donaitkin says:

        No. There ought to be something called the Cook/Lewandoswky Law that states that people who talk about the 97 per cent consensus have never read the paper, let alone the critiques of it.

        I have read the paper, and wrote my own critiques of it. Richard Tol’s is more thorough:

        http://richardtol.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/now-almost-two-years-old-john-cooks-97.html

        • David says:

          Don,

          Thanks Don I will check it out. And you are right just because 97% of people think something does not mean they are correct. I am just saying to Dasher and others who are interested they can use Google Scholar to do their own searches. As a general statement of fact they will find many published papers that support the idea of AGW. These papers may either present direct evidence for AGW (for or against), or as you point out begin with an assumption of AGW and discuss some consequence.

          They don’t have to take yours, mine or Richard Toll’s word for it, they can check it out for themselves. The abstracts are readily available.

          • donaitkin says:

            David,

            Like many others you jump from 97% of papers to 97% of scientists. They are not the same thing, of course. As it happens, Cook and Lewandowsky and their assessors didn’t read the papers either. They looked only at the abstracts. That’s not the same thing either.

            Altogether, it was a dreadful piece of work, certainly that worst paper, both in its argument and its methodology, that I have ever read. Yet it is among the most cited, and has been downloaded 300,000 times, apparently. I cannot think of any other field of science or social science where such shoddy stuff could ever be published.

        • David says:

          “Like many others you jump from 97% of papers to 97% of scientists. They are not the same thing, of course.”

          Don, you seem to have this real aversion to people doing their own literature search. I am simply saying Google Scholar is a readily accessible search engine that anyone can use to get a sense of the published literature on AGW.

          Number of papers versus number scientists is a red herring anyway. Science is measured by quality of ideas not number of scientists. Each publication is an idea. If Issac Newton publish three papers, “The First Law of Motion”, “The Second Law of Motion” and “The Third law of Motion” , would your literature search exclude Newton’s second and third publications on the basis that Newton is “just” one scientist?

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    Don, the most embarrassing aspect is that Cook has bamboozled the University of Queensland into making him a Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute. He has even established a ‘course’ designed to inform people on the psychology of ‘climate denial’. His most recent paper, ‘Misinformation and its correction: continued influence and successful debiasing’ (doi:10.1177/1529100612451018) is good for a chuckle.

  • […] The second is from political scientist, writer and administrator, Don Aitkin, which appeared as a comment on meteorologist Anthony Watt’s tribute as well as on his own website. […]

  • John Hunter says:

    “In the ten years have passed nothing scary has happened to climate.”

    – a pretty outrageous and uninformed statement to make a almost to the day when the global temperature figures were released by four major organisations – all showing 2015 as the hottest year since records began, a 0.2 deg C rise since 1998, and more than 1 deg C rise since preindustrial.

    And PLEASE, Don, don’t spout the contrarian mantra that “the records have been adjusted” – (a) you should know better than that and (b) the contrarians had their day when they bet on the analysis at Berkeley University which eventually showed (and still shows) – guess what – just the same thing as NASA, NOAA, the Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia.

  • donaitkin says:

    John,

    Welcome to the site. I’m one who takes rather more notice of satellite data than the land + SST data. If you go to ‘The First for 2016’ you’ll see a lot of that argued out. In other essays (use the search bar) you’ll see that I think warming is generally good for the planet, as is more carbon dioxide, and that there is no evidence whatever that the models are right in predicting catastrophe.

    • JimboR says:

      Don, you’ve said previously that you think it likely that the continued warming will result in temperature records to continue to be broken. Do you think it will also result in more frequent high or extreme fire risk days?

  • donaitkin says:

    Good question. Fire risk? We are getting more and more alert to ‘fire risk’ and there is more television and other coverage of it. Actual fires? There are measurement problems with measuring fires and their consequences, but yes, I would guess so. Some fires are caused by arson. How many? We don’t know. Fires have of course been part of Aboriginal land management for a very long time indeed. Do hotter days lead to more fires? Not by themselves, as far as I can see. In summer, many fires are caused by lightning strikes, and the it is the prevalence of and direction of wind that are then the important variables. The great fire of 2003 in Canberra was caused by lightning strikes in NSW in an inaccessible part of the mountain ranges to the west of the city. It was wind that caused the destruction.

  • JimboR says:

    Yes, there are lots of ingredients required to get a big bushfire going. The question is not does global warming cause them, it’s does global warming make them more likely. That’s why I asked about the risks.

    “Fires have of course been part of Aboriginal land management for a very long time indeed”

    That’s Abbott’s fallacy as to why climate change can’t be _causing_ them (there’s that word again!). Complexities like this are full of probability distribution functions that all need to be multiplied out. You can’t replace that with at simple cause-and-effect relationship. Imagine I approached a roulette wheel with a device in my pocket that somehow made Red slightly more likely than Black. When I eventually get caught out, my defense is: but Red was coming up on roulette wheels long before I approached the table… indeed it’s been coming on roulette wheels long before I was born, so I couldn’t possibly have caused it to come up.

  • donaitkin says:

    There’s no need to slide me into the former PM’s view of things. The answer to your question is, ‘I don’t know’. Nor do you, I expect. But I’m happy to give you space to set out your own view.

  • JimboR says:

    Well, I think the “link” that Christiana Figueres made between global warming and bushfires was purely a statistical one along the lines of the hotter it gets, the higher the probability. As far as I know she never claimed global warming ignited any particular bushfire. Her claim was ridiculed as hogwash by yourself and Abbott. Abbott’s flawed reasoning was “we’ve always had bushfires”. Why do you consider her claim to be hogwash?

  • Don Aitkin says:

    Well, you may think that, but she didn’t say so. What she said contradicts the IPCC’s statement a few years ago that there is no established link between global warming and extreme weather, and it’s similar to others’ saying (only the other day) that the blizzards in the USA were connected to global warming or ‘climate change’. Once a variable can explain everything, it really explains nothing.

    • David says:

      Don,

      You are a proponent of “adaption” to climate change rather than try and reduce CO2. If it were up to you would you set aside more resources to fight bush fires or not?

      • Don Aitkin says:

        I’m actually a proponent of ‘adaptation’.

        Yes, and we are doing it. Funds going to Emergency Services increase every year. But the funds should be allied to land-use regulation that makes it more expensive to build within forests, or at the edge. That is much harder, and on the whole governments have no stomach for it.

        In the USA insurance companies won’t insure against flood if you are building on a flood plain. I’m not sure what the situation here is. It’s much more than just funding.

    • JimboR says:

      “Well, you may think that, but she didn’t say so. What she said contradicts the IPCC’s statement…”

      Here’s what she said: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCDjo2SIRtc

      and here’s what the IPCC said just prior to her saying it: https://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/ar5/press_release_ar5_wgi_en.pdf

      “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer.”

      I think her position is consistent with theirs.

      • Don Aitkin says:

        That doesn’t support what she said, and the IPCC’s SREX said that links between ‘climate change ‘ and extreme weather events were not at all easy to establish:

        “There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change”
        “The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados”
        “The absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses”

        • JimboR says:

          I thought we were talking about heat waves?

          • Don Aitkin says:

            Thanks for link to Figueres. She slid into what ‘the science is telling us’. Yes, the modellers, not ‘the science’, have been predicting increasing heat because of more CO2 for the past two decades and more. None of that is new. Whether or not the heat will continue is being debated, as you know. The planet may well have been warming for the past 150 years, and that cannot all have been due to human activity. I am not persuaded that the IPCC’s 5th report’s use of ‘likely’ and ‘confident’ and their modifiers has any value.

            If there is continued warming then, given average winds, average numbers of arsonists and average numbers of lightning strikes, there would probably be more fires. There could even be more fires if warming subsided, as it has done, relative to the 1977-1998 period, for the past twenty years. As I said, what causes fires and their intensity is most complex. Measuring fires other than their ind-cidence (and even that can be problematic) is not easy.

            And the SREX report, to repeat, said it has [d low confidence about links between ‘climate change’ and extreme weather.

          • JimboR says:

            “then, given average winds, average numbers of arsonists and average numbers of lightning strikes, there would probably be more fires.”

            All those other vital ingredients you list have their own probability distribution functions (even if they’re unknown). In order to test the hypothesis that global warming makes bushfires more probable, you don’t need to assume an “average number of arsonists”, you merely have to assume that the probability of arsonists is unaffected by global warming.

  • JimboR says:

    These guys think global warming makes extreme El Niño events more likely:

    http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n2/full/nclimate2100.html

    What’s your take on their paper?

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Plainly they do, The paper is behind a paywall, so I can’t read it without forking out USD 199. But I’m not sure my money would be at all well spent:

      ‘ we present climate modelling evidence for a doubling in the occurrences in the future in response to greenhouse warming. We estimate the change by aggregating results from climate models in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phases 3 (CMIP3; ref. 10) and 5 (CMIP5; ref. 11) multi-model databases, and a perturbed physics ensemble12. The increased frequency arises from a projected surface warming over the eastern equatorial Pacific that occurs faster than in the surrounding ocean waters’

      Oh dear. We have some observational evidence of the SOI for half a century and more. That’s all. These guys are modelling the future, using models that cannot get temperature right. I am not persuaded.

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  • Russ Swan says:

    Hi Don,
    Enjoyed reading your material. Thank you.
    For myself I am trying to find where the truth is. It lies buried in the babble somewhere between the extremes of the debate. I’ve started my own blog in an attempt to try and get closer to it. I would appreciate it if I could link my blog to your site and perhaps you might be good enough to reciprocate?
    Look forward to your reply
    Russ Swan
    Issues on Climate Change

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