The Australian Academy of Science thinks again about ‘climate change’

At least, I hope it is thinking again about this subject: it is apparently planning to issue a new version of its ‘Science of Climate Change’ statement in the middle of the year. When I noticed that the American Physical Society was planning a rewrite of its own statement I wondered what the AAS was doing and set off to find out. The APS set up an advisory group to help it, and that group included three distinguished sceptics, including Professors Lindzen and Curry.

To the best of my knowledge, the Australian Academy has not done that, and my telephone has received no inviting calls from the AAS. Well, I thought, I could still prepare something, and the Academy might even welcome some advice from the side. Surely it will be preparing an even-handed dispassionate review of the science behind ‘climate change’, so I looked at the 2010 Statement that is to be replaced, and at what might be improved there.

It was not exactly a reassuring beginning to discover at once that the Academy had thanked ‘the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency for providing financial support to prepare this document’. That was when Mr Rudd was in charge of things, and Mr Rudd, as we all know, thought that ‘climate change’ was ‘the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time’. Am I being too suspicious in wondering whether a completely even-handed account of global warming and its possible consequences would have secured the Departments’s financial support in 2010?

The 2010 Statement is built around seven questions: what is climate change?, how do we expect climate to evolve in the future?, how has Earth’s climate changed in the distant past?, how has climate changed in the recent past?, are human activities causing climate change?, what are the consequences of climate change?, and how do we deal with the uncertainty in the science?

After reading the Statement a couple of times I came away with the hope that the Academy gets a good writer to draft the next version. This one is hard going. The main reason is that each section says plainly enough that there is a lot of uncertainty in all this climate science. Consider this summary:

There are uncertainties in climate science. For example, a precise value cannot be
given for the likely range of warming because of uncertainties in climate sensitivity to small disturbances, although climate models and evidence from past climate change provide a plausible range of values. Climate changes over small regions and changes in rainfall patterns are very hard to estimate. Tipping points or rapid climate transitions associated with overall global warming are possible but cannot yet be predicted with confidence. These uncertainties work in both directions: there is a chance that climate change will be less severe than the current estimates of climate science, but there is also a chance that it will be more severe. 

There is a lot of this ‘on the one hand, but on the other hand’ throughout the statement. Yet the take-home message in every other paragraph is remorseless: climate change is really serious and we have to do something about it quickly.  Where is the evidence? Well, it’s hard to find. Again and again what we come across is what ‘the models’ say, as here:

Climate models estimate that, by 2100, the average global temperature will be between 2°C and 7°C higher than pre-industrial temperatures, depending on future greenhouse gas emissions and on the ways that models represent the sensitivity of climate to small disturbances. Models also estimate that this climate change will continue well after 2100. 

It’s been a long while since I saw that 7°C figure put forward seriously by anyone. I assume that it will disappear in the next version. And even the models come with their own uncertainties:

Models simulate reasonably well the broad features of the present climate and the 20th century warming. This, however, does not guarantee accurate predictions into the future; changes could be more rapid or more gradual than projected. Overall, there is good agreement between models and observations at global and continental scales, but simulations are less reliable at the local scale. Some properties of climate are better captured by models than others; for example, temperature is generally more accurately simulated than rainfall. 

Your ordinary reader, having read that disclaimer, will then be puzzled about the high confidence with which the writers then picture a future hotter, drier, more extreme Australia prone to droughts and floods. All in all, the whole Statement is a conflict between scientific caution and a global warming agenda. 

The new version needs to recognise that despite these grim warnings, there has been no significant warming in the 21st century so far, that all the evidence points to warming having been good for the eco-system, plants, animals and humanity, that the models have been just woeful in accounting for temperature changes, and that sea-levels don’t seem to be rising in any untoward way. It would be really nice to read an account from the Academy which sets out the sheer unsettled state of the science.

But I don’t expect it. The Academy has been issuing dire warnings about climate for several years now, and will keep on doing so, avoiding answering the important questions. I do not imagine that the present Government will be a source of funding, however. 

Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • DaveW says:

    No, I don’t expect much change either. Maybe they will double down on the doom in response to the change in government. Large scientific societies tend to be more politics than science and politics is usually about the money. The current government doesn’t seem to be as interested in shovelling heaps of money at CAGW and so must be resisted.

  • John Morland says:

    The doom and gloom scenario pushed by the climate Cassandras is an extraordinary claim.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    So far all there seems is extraordinary uncertainty.

  • Lysander says:

    Ok so who is going to do a study on historical climate mitigation strategies? Tell us the tales of how the Gauls moved from France to England in search of better weather and pastures? Or how we created eaved rooves to stop flooding indoors?
    Climate has always changed and someone needs to show that we have always done direct action and that this has always worked.

    • Gus says:

      Moved from France to England in search of better weather? Please!
      Some Belgae, did run away from Caesar’s conquest of Gaul, but weather was not a consideration.

  • Gus says:

    Sayeth Don Aitkin: “I do not imagine that the present Government will be a source of funding, however.”
    As the government funds this illustrious institution, clearly, they can negotiate the statement, and, for example, demand that the new one should restrict itself to pure science and science alone–its every statement to be supported by observational data and references to peer reviewed professional literature–in return for continuation of funding.
    But the government can do even better. It can, for example, commission an independent study by, say, a private consultancy firm. And this goes beyond climate: always ensure you have a second opinion on every issue. Also, the government can release the Academy’s statement and… invite public, professional criticism of it!

    • David says:


      I don’t think commissioning a private consultancy firm is a very good idea. Firms like PCW, Deloitte Australia and the Institute of Public Affairs are full of accountants, economists and lawyers. They are very unlikely to have any climate scientists of any note on their books. They don’t as a rule analyse any data of their own. Basically their reports are just glorified literature reviews, with some nicely formatted descriptive statistics and a pithy executive summary.

      And I am not sure if you could ever describe a commercially contracted report as “independent.” Basically these firms will fashion an opinion on anything you want, for fee. As a rule the depth of their analysis is usually puddle deep.

      • Gus says:

        You can hire consultants from overseas. Furthermore, a company bidding for the consultancy may hire required scientists to do the consulting. They don’t have to be “climate” scientists. This is where much of the problem comes from, because there is no such thing really as “climate science.” There is atmospheric physics, atmospheric chemistry (highly non-trivial), geophysics, ocean physics, geology, planetary science, astronomy and astrophysics, computational fluid dynamics, and so on… What is commonly referred to as “climate science,” merely scavenges scientists from these and other disciplines to work on matters pertaining to climate, this in itself being a somewhat ill-defined concept. If you don’t believe me, talk to people working on climate and ask them about the difference between Koeppen Dwa and Cwa and how this difference is arrived at and whether there’s been any movement between the Dwa and Cwa boundary observed. I bet few will give you a correct answer without having to consult Wikipedia…
        Observe that IPCC reports in themselves are nothing other than “glorified literature reviews,” since IPCC on its own does not do any research and only about 60 or so “climate scientists” are involved (against thousands working on climate related topics around the world), these being not necessarily the best or the most representative of the field.

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