Our guardian of things climatic, the Climate Commission, has just released a new report (its 24th) about Extreme Weather, and the Future Awaiting Us. The release of the report was reported faithfully on the ABC, and the Minister responsible, Mr Combet, told us dolefully that it was a wake-up call for those who deny something, but his voice was so mournful that I couldn’t imagine anyone much actually waking up.
It’s a longish report — 62 pages, the last six being references, most of which don’t have any clear reference in the text. The next few days will see the sceptics in the country get into it. A quick inspection on my part could find no sceptical references that were familiar to me in the six pages, but maybe there are some. My problem was that I couldn’t get past the ‘Key Facts’ at the beginning. I’m sure there are key facts about climate change and extreme weather, but I like them to be facts. Alas, those in the Commission’s report are not.
Key Fact number 1 starts like this: ‘Climate change is already increasing the intensity and frequency of many extreme weather events, adversely affecting Australians.’ It’s hard to know quite what to make of this. It’s not a fact, but an assertion, and what it means depends on what the writer means by ‘climate change’. I assume that he/she/they mean ‘human-induced climate change’, because that phrase is used elsewhere in the report. Now the IPCC itself has said that there is no evidence that extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has caused extreme weather. Where does this supposed fact come from? I think it is a belief, masquerading as a fact. I can’t find any evidence in the text that might help convert the belief into a fact.
Key Fact no. 2: ‘Climate change is making many extreme events worse in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment.’ This is another assertion. There is good evidence that climate extremes around the world are not increasing in their frequency, and that they’re not even costing more if you normalise the cost to allow for inflation and increasing population. There are more people at risk to extreme weather, but that is because (a) Australia’s population keeps increasing, and (b) too many of them live in areas prone to flooding and fire. Since Key Fact #1 is dodgy, Key Fact #2 can’t be any better.
Key Fact no. 3: ‘The climate system has shifted, and is continuing to shift, changing the conditions for all weather, including extreme weather events.’ It is hard to know what this means. Climates change over time, and no one I know disputes this. As a supplementary note, the authors say that ‘Levels of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels have increased by around 40% since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, causing the Earth’s surface to warm significantly.’ The first part of this statement is probably right. The second is an assertion. We don’t know the real contribution of greenhouse gas emissions to global warming. There are many conjectures, and many ingenious arguments. But there is no fact. In any case, the rise in global temperatures over the last 200 years can only be estimated, and in the 20th century, where the instrumental record is much better, there have been two periods of rise, one period of fall, and the most recent period, 17 years, of stasis. Carbon dioxide kept rising in its steady way, but not obviously as the cause, let alone the prime cause, of the apparent increase in global temperature.
Key Fact no. 4: ‘There is a high risk that extreme weather events like heatwaves, heavy rainfall, bushfires and cyclones will become even more intense in Australia over the coming decades. The risk comes from computer models, not from observations. Floods, fires and droughts have been part of recorded history in Australia since 1788. We have had them before, and we will have them again, no doubt. To repeat, serious statistical examination of ‘extreme weather’ has not found that its incidence is increasing.
Key Fact no. 5: ‘Only strong preventive action now and in the coming years can stabilise the climate and halt the trend of increasing extreme weather for our children and grandchildren.’ This is not a fact either, but an assertion masquerading as a pious hope. There is very little evidence that would support the claim that humanity has the knowledge, let alone the money or the will, to ‘stabilise’ the planet’s climate. And stabilise it where, at what level? This is fantasy stuff.
I do understand why governments feel that they have to do things, or not do them, and I usually sigh. But it is hard for me to read this stuff and not become truly vexed. This is not science, but politics. The authors have no respect for the English language, and no respect for precision and accuracy — not only in what they write, but in what they write about. I wrote critically on an earlier ACC report a little while ago. This one is worse, if that is possible. As an example of mis-spent public money the Australian Climate Commission is outstanding. It is akin to Ministry of Propaganda, and I would get rid of it tomorrow.