Just as we had passed the ‘hottest year ever’ hysteria, during a January and early February that have been only pleasantly warm, around 24 degrees where I live, up comes the Climate Council with a new report, telling us that what we experienced a year earlier is the harbinger of doom unless we do the right thing. Professors Steffen and Flannery appeared on ABC television news looking serious and talking it too.
It seems that a whole lot of research has been done that shows conclusively that ‘climate change’ is bringing more hot weather. For those who don’t know, ‘climate change’, as Professors Steen and Flannery understand it, is caused by human activity. Don’t ask them how they know: that is the actual official definition of ‘climate change’, and that is why I customarily put inverted commas around it. This reprehensible distortion of our language has forced me to a coinage, which will be used without inverted commas — real climate change. It follows a piece I wrote some time ago about ‘really existing research’.
Real climate change is what we see occurring over quite long periods of time. I have mentioned before that North Africa (mainly what we now call Libya) provided about two-thirds of the grain for the bread baked in Ancient Rome. I’ve actually seen in the Libyan desert a beautifully made covered stone reservoir from that period . What has happened in the two millennia since then is real climate change. North Africa grew drier and drier, and eventually sand from the Sahara swept in to cover what had once been highly productive wheat fields.
What humanity has experienced in the last few centuries seems to be best described as occasional significant weather changes, such as very cold periods in Europe, conventionally called ‘the Little Ice Age’, though it was by no means consistently frigid, even if the Thames at London did freeze so solidly that ‘frost fairs’ were held on it in London. Or the long hot and dry spell in the United States in the 1930s, which gave the USA its record high temperatures, and is the basis of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
Every inhabited continent has experienced huge floods, awful wild fires, terrible periods where crops failed and hundreds of thousands died. These events pass in time, and weather returns to what we call ‘normal’, meaning what we’re used to. What we know of long-term temperature changes is that the planet may well have been cooling slowly for the last couple of thousand years. There is uncertainty there because of the measurement problem.
In the last 35 years we have had reasonably accurate measurements of temperature, and they show a big peak in warmth coinciding with a super el Nino in 1998, and then ups and down since, such that there has been no significant increase in temperature for getting on for twenty years.
To focus on minute differences, as Flannery and Steffen do, and warn us of the horrors to come if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is to emasculate our language. What is occurring in terms of temperature is not real climate change. It is just weather, and not even remarkable weather. I object to the way language is used throughout the document. I think it is intellectually vapid, and close to dishonest.
The Report is Professor Steffen’s. It’s first Key Finding is that Climate change is making Australia hotter. Hot days are happening more often while heat waves are becoming hotter longer and more frequent. The second sentence is most likely correct, in that we had some twenty years of warming up to 1998, and while there has been no significant warming since, there has been no cooling of any consequence either. So yes, we are having more hot days than was true in the 1950s (a somewhat cool period anyway).
But the first sentence is simply a wholly unsupported assertion. Professor Steffen goes on in the body of the report to say that he knows this is true because he and others have done lots of model runs, and they can’t explain today’s heat without introducing greenhouse gas emissions into their equations. Really? That kind of argument shouldn’t withstand a decent tutorial. Nobody, and that includes Professor Steffen, knows what constitutes natural variability in any accurate or measurable way, and until they do, the kind of argument he puts forward there is just rubbish.
His argument would be more respectable if he could go on to suggest why greenhouse gas emissions have not been apparently powerful over the new century, given the lack of significant warming. But he doesn’t. In fact, you won’t find in the report any suggestion that there hasn’t been any significant warming in this period anyway.
One more example. Steffen says that More Australians die each year from extreme heat than from any other type of natural disaster. The photograph below the statement shows a firefighter at work, not in a bushfire, but in a controlled burn. The caption says, in part, Hot dry conditions have a major influence on bush fires in Australia. That of course is true. There is no reference to support the assertion that more people die of extreme heat, and conventional wisdom is that more people generally die of cold than from heat. If he means bushfire heat, then that’s something else. This is muddy stuff, but the take-home message is clear: ‘climate change’ kills people in bush fires. I am unaware of any evidence, real evidence, that would support such an assertion. Despite what he says, the case is not ‘overwhelming’. It is paper thin.
I really dislike this kind of ‘report’. It ignores contrary data and evidence, and hammers home its quasi-religious message like this: The case for action is just as overwhelming. Carbon emissions will need to be reduced rapidly and deeply, with most of the world’s economies essentially decarbonised by the middle of the century … He provides no case for such action at all. Do we need more reports like this? No. And we don’t need this one, either.
Over the past few weeks I have been dipping into a book from the other, sceptical perspective: Climate Change. The Facts 2014, edited by Alan Moran and published by the IPA. Its 22 authors include a number of leading sceptical scientists, and there’s a lot of good stuff in it. I’ve read some of it before in different places, so what you get is not a consistent argument, but 22 criticisms from different perspectives. But it does have 50 pages of references. The first section, on the science of ‘climate change’, is especially good, I thought.[Update: I have chanced on a fine set of global maps that nicely illustrate what real climate change is all about. You can see them here in the author’s Drying of the Climate IX essay.]