The awful news about Australia’s climate

I have written some critical pieces about both the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, in connection with what they state about climate (see here, for example), and the latest State of the Climate 2014 (there have been two earlier ones, in 2010 and 2012) is no improvement, at least in my judgment. It is highly focussed on warming and future warming, confident where it ought to be cautious, and apparently ignorant, not even dismissive, of other data, other evidence and other argument.

‘The Report at a Glance’ says further warming is occurring in Australia, as is happening globally. This change is occurring against the background of high climate variability, but the signal is clear. What signal are we talking about? There is no signal of ‘further warming’ globally, other than in terms of minuscule variations. There has been no significant warming in 18 years. How can they distinguish the signal in the midst of the high climate variability? No one else can, to the best of my knowledge, and the authors give no indication of the skill they have.. This is not a persuasive beginning to what ought to be a dispassionate and careful account of the data

We go on: Air and ocean temperatures across Australia are now, on average, almost a degree Celsius warmer than they were in 1910, with most of the warming occurring since 1950. Yes, but it might be more helpful to say that the increase was not linear, that much of the warming occurred in the last quarter of the 20th century, and that it has not continued appreciably in the new century.

The same section offers ten dot-points, each of them hammering away (at least in my judgment, again) at the notion that all this is bad — different rainfall, more warming, more CO2 (the highest levels for at least 800,000 years), higher sea levels, more and less rainfall, more bush fires. A reader who is not aware of the problems with these data, and the lack of verification and validation of the models on which so much of this is based, would begin to worry. What is going to happen to us all? How can we stop it?

Ah, here we go: Multiple lines of evidence indicate that it is extremely likely that the dominant cause of recent warming is human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and not natural climate variability. Now, what recent warming are we talking about? There hasn’t been any since 2002. We must be talking about the warming from about 1975 to 1998. But if human-induced greenhouse gas emissions were responsible for that warming, why haven’t they been equally as powerful in the new century? There is no discussion of such an obvious rejoinder. Oh, and no one has yet been able to show that the hypothesised link between greenhouse gas emissions and increased temperature is certain, or that it is the dominant cause.

All of the warmest 20 years on record have occurred since 1990. Really? What about the hot years of the 1930s? Where do these data come from? How confident can we be about their accuracy? In any case, as I pointed out in a recent essay, no one doubts that the last twenty years have been warmer than those in the 1950s; the point at issue is that there has been no continuing increase of any significance, despite the continuing increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration. The Report comes with an Appendix about references, but there is no link between the text and the references.

Now comes the really worrying bit: ‘Future climate scenarios for Australia’. There is no discussion of what a scenario is, or how these ones have been generated, or the problems with them. We pass quickly from ‘projections’ to ‘reality’: These projected changes in temperature will be felt through an increase in the number of hot days and warm nights and a decline in cool days and cold nights [emphasis added].

What’s going to happen? It’s all bad. Southern Australia will have less rain, but there’ll be more in the north. More heavy rain in most parts of the country. But more fires, just the same. Sea levels will rise, perhaps to nearly a metre higher, despite the fact that Sydney Harbour’s Fort Denison tide gauge show a rise of less than 1 mm a year over the last 130 years.

The take-home message: Reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions would increase the chance of constraining future global warming. 

How do the wise people at the Bureau and CSIRO know all this? Projections are based on our assessment of changes simulated by many climate models from around the world, including Australia. 

I have to restrain myself, so what follows is my attempt to be measured and cool. When government agencies provide reports on the state of affairs, I expect them to be dispassionate, based on publicly available data, and to at least indicate where there might be reasonable differences of opinion.

There is not a single reference in the Report to any difference of opinion, or to any data that would be at odds with the message — that warming is bad, and we have to curb it. There is not the slightest suggestion that more CO2 is good for plant life, and therefore for animal life, including our own. There is not the slightest suggestion either, that a warmer climate is, for virtually all living things, a better one, or that the the increase in CO2 has led to a measurable greening of the planet. There is not the slightest suggestion that simulation from models is not  an accurate guide to anything in the future.

In short, this is not a rational or soundly based scientific report, but a quasi-religious one, pounding the lectern to warn us that we must change our ways. It is intellectually bankrupt, and a disgrace to both the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO. That the mainstream media faithfully reported it, without a single question about all the obvious flaws in it, is yet another sign of the lack of professionalism in today’s media.

And how on earth did the Coalition Government allow it to be published in this form? Did no one ask to see it before it was published?



Join the discussion 28 Comments

  • Delightfully written and reads like silk. The style avoids rancour but still hammers the point home—exquisite. Thank you, Don.

  • Brad W says:

    Yes, well written as usual. I can feel your frustration. However the Report that you describe is not really quasi-religious but certainly is propaganda (busily still manufacturing consent).

  • David says:

    Don I agree! IYou do write very nicely! And if style was all that was required to win a debate, you would have won this one, years ago. But unfortunately, for you, some consistency is also required.

    For example,

    In a response to Sam Harris two months I ago I question your requirement that the correlation between CO2 and temperature should be “an unequivocal relationship”. I pointed out that no one had promised you an unequivocal relationship to which you conceded “fair enough”.

    And here you are 2 months later back-sliding and again trying to establish that “certainty” is the benchmark for AGW.

    “Oh, and no one has yet been able to show that the hypothesised link between greenhouse gas emissions and increased temperature is CERTAIN, or that it is the dominant cause.”

    Are you being forgetful, or manipulative?

    • Peter Kemmis says:


      For at least two decades we had been told that rising carbon dioxide levels would inevitably result in strongly rising temperatures, and inexorably rising sea levels. You can go and look up all the predictions that have clearly not eventuated.

      And what are the excuses – sorry, explanations? Oh, that’s right, natural
      variability (sounds better than saying “we don’t know”). Natural variability was clearly taking off a rostered decade or three from 1970-2000.

      And then we have the old chestnut “the missing heat is going into the deep oceans”. Not according to the ARGO floats it ain’t. 3000 of them, dipping down to 2 kms. Do you think for a minute that if they provided any evidence about such a transfer of heat, the AGW warmists wouldn’t be out there trumpeting with glee this reassurance of impending doom and gloom? The abstract of this paper shows what appears to me to be a decline in the rate of warming – i.e. a deceleration:

      And now we have the claim “oh, we never said that carbon dioxide and temperatures would rise in lock step”. Oh, really?

      I’ve concluded that many humans are wired to look for the worst in life –
      perhaps that’s an acquired protective mechanism, a cautionary approach so necessary to survival in earlier times, but now in today’s physically safer Western world, it has been displaced to fretting about other and less tangible threats.

      It’s the most rational explanation for this irrationality of warmist denialism.

      • David says:

        Thanks for your comment Peter. It is pretty broad ranging and re-vists the whole AGW debate. It probably won’t surprise you to know that I disagree with much of what you have written. 🙂

        However, the point I make above still stands. Neither side of the AGW divide can claim to be arguing from a position of “certainty”. Both sides use the same uncertain facts and uncertain theories, to come to their conclusions. Proponents of AGW argue for some intervention and opponents propose a wait and see stance. As new information comes to light people have an opportunity to change their mind.

        Its intellectual arrogance to demand certainty.

        • Peter Kemmis says:

          Hi David

          To your prior reply, I see that Greg Jericho in that Drum article you cite above, is presenting only the GISS chart. But for me to quibble about differences with the RSS dataset, or that 2014 showed an increase of 0.04 degrees C above others in the last decade, and that the margin of error is 0.05 degrees, is a bit like arguing whether 299 angels or 300 can sit on the end of a pin. Of course it’s been getting warmer since the 1970s to 1998, when some scientists were predicting an oncoming Ice Age. It’s just that it hasn’t been waming statistically significantly for the last 17 years.

          Opinion has flipped from predicting a few times great heat to great cold and to great heat again, since about 1880. (There are some great newspaper cuttings to demonstrate this.)

          Jericho also falls into the trap at the end of his article, of using some analogy of cricket performance as if to prove some point about statistics. Lordluvaduck, David!

          Meanwhile, I look forward to your addressing my criticisms of the three “reasons” given for the last 18 year-old ‘hiatus’. Don’t avoid the issues by saying they’re being revisited. They are part of the crux of the argument.

          I don’t know of any sceptics who are demanding certainty. They are asking “where is the evidence”, and they are being given models. Models offered with conviction – “95% certain”, is the dominant phrase associated with the last IPCC pronouncements from on high.

          Your last sentence sounds a bit like the old precautionary
          principle. “Let’s take action, just in case.” Sure, but at what cost, and with what real certainty about the outcome? There’s been quite some challenge to the claims about the effects on temperatures from proposed strong mitigation measures.

          So David, what new information would you need, for you to change your mind? Now come on, at least answer this one for me!

          And it’s good to know you’re still alive and well up there in sunny Brisbane, and have survived the rigours of the recent State election. Just stay out of all that rain!

          • David says:

            ” I don’t know of any skeptics who are demanding certainty.”

            Well Don for example.

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            I don’t think he is demanding certainty. He is asking for reasonable grounds, and he has not been convinced at all of the AGW case.

          • David says:

            Really, 🙂

            Don wrote this

            “Oh, and no one has yet been able to show that the hypothesised link between greenhouse gas emissions and increased temperature is certain, or that it is the dominant cause.”

            and this

            “If you are arguing that CO2 drives temperature then you need to show, not the ice ages, but what has happened in the last century or so. There are plenty of graphs to use, but none of them shows an unequivocal relationship.”

            Its pretty clear what Don’s meaning is. If was just asking for “reasonable grounds” , that probably what he should have wrote, don’t you think!

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            OK David, I’ll accept your criticism of his wording, and leave Don to comment should he choose. However, I’ve never gained the impression that he is seeking more than “reasonable grounds”.

            Now, are you going to tackle my other questions?

            Incidentally, I find the interchange between you and dlb on the stats quite interesting. No wonder the saying “there’s lies, damned lies and statistics”! That’s not to criticise either of you; on the contrary, that short and amicable discussion illustrates so much of the confusion and rhetoric of recent AGW disputation.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            I don’t ask for certainty — that’s not on — but when people say there are multiple lines of evidence that a relationship is ‘extremely likely’ and that something is the dominant cause, but can’t show actually that the relationship is so, then one is surely entitled to ask, as I did, how they explain the pause.

            An unequivocal relationship is one with a very high r*2. Given that the 20th century showed two patterns of warming and two patterns of cooling, or at least stasis, the correlation between CO2 and temperature is not a strong one, let alone unequivocal.

            The general point is that the orthodox make bold and very strong assertions about ‘climate change’ on the basis of rubbery data, which I’ve said many times before.

          • David says:

            Ok I will respond

            “Your last sentence sounds a bit like the old precautionary
            principle. “Let’s take action, just in case.” Sure, but at what cost, and with what real certainty about the outcome? There’s been quite some challenge to the claims about the effects on temperatures from proposed strong mitigation measures.”

            There is no opting out Peter, not like cards where you can sit out a hand. We have to live on this planet. And we will all share the consequences of our collective decision. We either chose to collectively do something about AGW or we choose not to. But there is a risk with either decision.

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            There is a risk that one of those blocks of rock circling around inside our solar system, might get off course as happened not so long ago – the one that landed in Russia. The next one might land on me. What are the chances. What is the evidence to be able to assess the risk?

            You don’t embark on a supposedly preventative measure without determining risk and cost. Just because some scientific body has been proclaiming from the rooftops that chaos will be upon us unless we mend our ways, doesn’t wash with me without sufficient evidence. We have no evidence to support the AGW position; we have only models, and lots of protestation. We do have evidence strong evidence that what is currently happening is not unusual, and that the world has been a lot hotter before with much higher carbon dioxide levels.

          • David says:

            And another response

            And what are the excuses – sorry, explanations? Oh, that’s right, natural variability (sounds better than saying “we don’t know”). Natural variability was clearly taking off a rostered decade or three from 1970-2000.

            So firstly I reject outright your method where you pick and choose certain dates. All available data should be included and let the results fall where they may. Selecting 1970 to 2000 or post 1998 is another popular date is BS. 🙂

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            You’re so right. I should be ashamed of myself for selecting 1998. And 1970. So let’s go back to 1880, as does Jericho. And what do we find? The same rate of temperature rise from around 1910 to 1940, as we saw from 1970 to 2000. And a bit of a cooling from around 1940 to 1970 – hence the call that the Ice Age Cometh.

            But let’s go back further, to the Little Ice Age that finishes around 1680-1720. We started to warm up again then, thank goodness. Maybe we’ve warmed up enough, maybe not. All we can say is that we’ve seen another of a number of pauses.

            Let’s go back a bit more, to the Medieval Wam Period. Then to the Roman Warm Period, when temperatures were hotter than now. Or further, to the Minoan Warm period, hotter again. In fact, we can go back 10,000 years and see that in fact, we have a gently cooling trajectory over that time, with lots of ups and downs.

            That’s not BS, David, as you know.

        • dlb says:

          David, that is seriously flawed article by Greg Jericho.

          I am amazed a man with your statistical talent would link to

          If a batsman reaches a plateau of course his average is
          going to increase with time.

          It’s just like my height has remained constant for the last
          38 years but my average height over my lifetime is still increasing every year. According to his logic my height has not “paused” even though it has remained the same for 38 years!

          I tried posting this critique in their comments section but
          it was not published. Just shows that the ABC are denying reality, much like creationists and the fossil record.

          Anyway thanks for bringing it up, I had been waiting to air
          my grievance over this.

          • David says:

            Your argument starts with he assumption that your height has plateaued. But that’s the whole debate isn’t it. 🙂

            You “know” your height has plateaued because you can measure is with great accuracy, +/- a mm. But suppose your ruler had the sort of margin of error that are in those graphs. And I asked you to predict if your height had plateaued or was still increasing. You would be faced with the some uncertainty.

            But I am glad you like the graph. 🙂

          • dlb says:

            Yes, and by the same logic my height may also be decreasing. Am I worried? not in the least, just like the global temperatures.

          • David says:

            Exactly! And statistics was developed to deal with this uncertainty in an objective and transparent manner. That is what the p-value tells you. The probability that the effect that you observe in your sample of height measurements, may in fact represent no change in your true height at all.

          • dlb says:

            Exactly, and therefore no significant change in global temperature for the last 18 years.

  • JMO says:

    Just more grist for the DAGW, CAGW and AAGW mills.

    Nothing here for the climate rationalists or even the luke warmers. They don’t have a story to tell to make CSIRO and the media a buck. Bas news sells. It is sad but true.

    Well written Don, I enjoyed reading your post – as always.

  • Margaret says:

    This is astonishing – I am witnessing not so magnificent obsessions – it’s fascinating and quite disturbing by the fact that nothing can be proved – it’s bigger than all of your brains put together. Man wants to be the boss of Nature.

    • dlb says:

      Yes, even with all our super computers nature seems to have a mind of its own. Check out the predictions by the BoM’s Glorious Climate Models for the last three months and the reality! However they did get Cairns and the Sunshine Coast right 🙂
      I also remember some chap from the BoM telling us on TV last March that the sea temperatures were primed for a super Elnino later in the year. What happened to that?
      Yesterday upon the stair I saw an Elnino that wasn’t there, it wasn’t there again today, I do wish it would go away.

    • margaret says:

      Yes dlb a lot of nonsense pops up and props up weather reporting to the masses and people say silly things about it – when we were at Clovelly in Devon thirty years ago the headlines were saying Boiling Britain because it was an actually hot summer with almost no rain – people were swimming at Clovelly beach, apparently a rare activity for some because we heard the question “first swim of the season?” and the reply, “first swim in seven years here!”.
      But what I meant about astonishing is the level of hubris on both sides of the GW debate. It rivals our PM’s commitment to ideology coupled with his lack of self awareness. Result – hubris.

  • PeterE says:

    Thanks for this and the comments that follow. My vote? Yes, you’ve convinced me that the ‘State of the Climate 2014’ report is a disgrace. I wonder who actually wrote in and who checked it.

  • Dasher says:

    I despair when I read this sort of spin from the science community. We can handle the truth. The science is by no means settled and it confirms my view that direct action is the way to go at has the flexibility to move as required and in the meantime do not harm. (in my 67 years I have seen the results of direct action all around emissions, cleaner industry and cities, cleaning up the environment, more efficient buildings etc etc). I worry that if the zealots get their way we will spend massive amounts of scarce funds to do F@##$ A**** pardon my French!

  • beththeserf says:

    Seems they’re not often right but they’re wrong again! )

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