Do we need any more reports from the Climate Council?

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.]




Join the discussion 27 Comments

  • peter bridgewater says:

    As Meatloaf once sang, “you took the words right outta my mouth”
    Whatever view one holds on this, we dont need more reports based on material which has already been available in the public domain….

  • Dasher says:

    Don, sadly the ABC and the Fairfax press run this stuff uncritically which is a poor reflection on journalism in this country. Mind you there plenty of otherwise highly intelligent people who would normally approach contestable issues with a degree of caution but disengage their brains on climate change. For example I have one friend who thinks any talk of a pause is shock jock rubbish and worse he will not even accept my invitation to look at some of the work by reputable people on the subject. There is a touch of medieval zealotry in all this. Oh, and what do I know? Not much but at least I have not closed my mind.

    • David says:


      “… ABC and the Fairfax press run this stuff uncritically which is a poor…”

      You can do better. A few months ago ABC’s Quantum looked at climate change. They discussed the pause at length. They included Judith Curry on the program.

      Compare that the the treatment some one like Allan Jones gives the AGW debate.

      • Peter Kemmis says:

        Hi David
        Thanks for that info – I didn’t know the ABC had run that program, and included Judith. As for demagogues, sometimes they might say things I agree with, but they’ll not be in my lifeboat either!

      • Dasher says:

        David, One swallow does not make a summer. However, I am indebted to you for that information and I shall watch this program. Alan Jones is not funded by the tax payer and is certainly on the more extreme side of scepticism. I would never quote him as he is a master of cherry picking to make his case. That does not excuse the publicly funded ABC which most certainly has a position that favours the “warmest” position and it should not be taking sides.

    • dlb says:

      So true Dasher, I think that few journalists would want to be tarred as a right wing apologists, even though they may have doubts about AGW. The politicisation of the climate change is complete, thanks to ideologues, useful idiots, and those who would rather not rock the boat.

  • David says:

    “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.”

    Don there is no shades of grey with you, is there? Just blast away.

    If the source of “natural variability” was measurable in an accurate and measurable way (as you put it) the causal process would no longer be termed “natural variability”,would it? By definition “natural variability” refers to the net effect of the unknown unknowns.

    But we still need to make decisions under uncertainty. That’s what grown-ups do, Don.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      David, It is not clear whether or not you have read the Steffens report. If you haven’t, perhaps you might do so and then comment, not on me, but on what you thought about the report.

      • Peter Kemmis says:

        Yes, David, it’s time to hear an objective analysis from that perfectly good brain that you have. The impression I have gained over some time from reading your many challenging and often thought-provoking comments, is that you are so convinced of the AGW position, that you have great difficulty in applying your training to the issues we discuss on these pages.

        I’ve been thinking about the recent challenges to the homogenisation of South American and Arctic temperatures, and asking the question, “how has this happened”, that the raw temperatures on the whole have been adjusted downwards to an extent that is so obvious on the charts showing the comparisons. Now don’t come back with the mantra “a world-wide peer-reviewed process has been followed”, because that is not good enough. That’s just an excuse for not providing honest answers. Why are those temperature charts so out of kilter? We have the same questions about our Australian measurements.

        So tell me, why are those temperatures so consistently reduced, with the result that the rise to the end of the 20th century is so pronounced? And don’t come at me again about cherry-picking dates, please.

        I’m still waiting on your answers to my earlier questions, also.

        Now I have some possible answers on “how has this happened?”. Please show me that you at least will not let conviction triumph over objective analysis.

        • David says:

          “that the raw temperatures on the whole have been adjusted downwards to an extent that is so obvious on the charts showing the comparisons.” ???

          I have not seen any evidence that so called “homogenisation” changed the overall trend. People like Jennifer Morassy and yourself point to a few examples that have increased the trends and others who argue
          that homogenisation has not reduced the trend.

          The motivation for Professor Muller study was to use data that had not been homogenised. A warts and all approach.
          To compensated for the larger measurement error he needed to increase the sample size. That’s why he used 14 million observations. And he still reported a positive relationship between CO2 and temperature.

          “The” Judith Curry [most sceptics genuflect when they hear her name] has also looked at these types of data quality issues in the past. Read what she has reported.

          So “[w]hy are those temperature charts so out of kilter?” AGW. 🙂

          • David says:

            As an aside. I was looking at data from the BOM for another reason. I had downloaded monthly data for temperature rainfall UV light for the 8 capital cities from 1991. I dutifully ensured that every weather station I used had a complete set of recordings. (i.e. no homogenization)

            I am not a climate scientist but I do have a bit of a weakness for this topic. So I started playing with the data. What I thought was interesting was there was a statistically significant relationship between temperature and time but not UV light and time.

            To me that says Australia is getting warmer but not because of more UV light. So that result is consistent with AGW and works against sun spot theories. [Sorry Gus]

          • dlb says:

            David, I would be wary of looking at temperature data from the capital cities due to contamination from the UHI. I would be more interested in how the temperature varies with time in inland centres e.g. Broken Hill, Alice Springs etc. compared with the coastal towns. I would guess the ocean is the controlling influence on any temperature trends.

          • David says:

            Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect. OK I will look for Broken Hill and Alice Springs

          • David says:

            dlb, you might find this post interesting also

            “But at least we know that biases in the raw data, such as the warming caused by increased urbanisation, have not “caused” global warming. Nor have the adjustments that have been applied to correct for biases caused by changes in instrumentation, exposure, and location.”


          • dlb says:

            Hi David,

            About temperature trends in large cities, I would treat the
            raw data with caution as it will be influenced by the urban heat island effect. The adjusted data if provided for cities would be an attempt to correct for this, and would be a better indication of regional temperature changes.

            I generally agree with the article you link to at The Conversation. I think sceptics are backing the wrong horse if they think global warming is due to temperature djustments. The sceptics are going to be rather embarrassed if they think the proposed inquiry into the BoM is going to turn up systemic faults with their methods.

            What I do consider an issue is the BoM ignoring temperatures pre 1910. Just looking at places like
            Broken Hill and Alice Springs there is a distinct cooling from the late 1880s into the early 20th century, often as much as the recent warming.

          • David says:

            Yes you are right. It seems that UHI does have some additional effect on the temperature in the cities. When I was playing with the BOM data, the temperature increases in the cities were stronger than the the country areas as you suggested. I only looked at Alice Springs and Broken Hill.

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Sorry for the delay in replying, David

            I read the abstract of the Mosher, Curry et al paper. I need to read the full paper to understand exactly what they’re getting at. For the moment, I accept your point, and I’l lelave the jury being still out on that question.

            Let me quote a few paras from the Guardian reference you kindly provided:

            “In the response the bureau explained why three specific site records it was asked about had been homogenised.

            AtBourke, for example, the station had been moved three times in its history. Detective work had found that a noticeable shift in the readings in the 1950s had likely been due to changes in vegetation around the instrument.

            At Amberley, the bureau noticed a marked shift in the minimum temperatures it had been recording, which was also likely due to the station being moved.

            Another site at Rutherglen had data adjusted to account for two intervals – 1966 and 1974 – when its thought the sitem was moved from close to buildings to low-flat ground.”

            Bourke – “likely been due” – so they don’t actually know.
            Amberley “likely to . . being moved”.
            Rutherglen – “likely due to the station being moved”.

            Ah, that lovely word, “likely”.

            it’s time for you to do some wide reading, David.

          • David says:

            For your own interest go and have a look at the BOM site


            Its quite interesting. You can see data for all the different weather stations. Many are no longer used. Others start and stop. Some have long continual records. Yes the data will have some imperfections. But so what! Simply pointing to a few random anomalies is unconvincing.

            The notion that there is some worldwide conspiracy of meteorologists who decided at some point in time to edit the historical data to prove AGW is fanciful.

          • David says:

            what should I read 🙂

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Serious question? Some of the articles and critiques on WUWT are pretty good. But that’s just one of many, as you know. I’d read both sides of the argument, and analyses of the observations presented by both sides. You’re smart enough and educated enough to sort the wheat from the chaff.

            One of the best recent books is Bob Carter’s “Taxing Air”, and another is “Climate change – the facts 2014” – a collection of essays, published by the Institute of Public Affairs. Another excellent one, this time on energy and by someone who supports the AGW thesis, Prof David JC MacKay, is “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air” – he’s a Cambridge physicist, discussing UK energy consumption and the options for renewables in the UK. (He concludes that renewables only will be in practical terms far from sufficient for the UK’s energy needs.)

          • Peter Kemmis says:

            Hi David
            Sorry again for my delay in responding – have been busy. Yes, I read that Conversation article (another friend had drawn my attention to it also). I’ll wait for more informed comment than I can bring to bear, but there are certainly examples in Australia of adjustments that really make me wonder about the application of the rationale behind homogenisation, not the rationale itself.

            Now I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories about AGW, although in some cases one does have to wonder. For example, this reference hit my screen this morning:


            I think that there have been many cases of inadequate analysis or reporting, of wild predictions, and poorly substantiated argument. In many of these cases, I think it is conviction triumphing over objectivity. Let me be kind about Trenberth’s “it’s a travesty . . ” (you’ll remember the Climategate emails); perhaps if he believed at the time that the Earth was doomed and we just had to get people to understand that we must do something urgently, then yes, it was a travesty that the world wasn’t getting hotter.

            I put this same conviction as driving eminent scientists and associated bodies to jump up and down, crying “2014 was the hottest year in recorded history!” – by a fraction of a degree, for crying out loud, and then only by GISS records, not the RSS. As if it matters anyway – but by a fraction of a degree! This sort of selective reporting always makes me wonder whether those are rats I can smell behind the arras.

            Consider that Conversation article you asked me to read. Look at the comments – and look at how many were moderated out!! I don’t know what they said, but the ones remaining were all supporting of the article – none against. No wonder I don’t bother much with the Conversation, unless I’m asked to read it, or because I want to see what some warmist argument says.

            Meanwhile, I’ll wait on the whole homogenisation issue. I expect the current Ministerial inquiry will produce the result “everything’s fine” – because, by golly, if it weren’t, and if became obvious that we’d been sold a pup about global temperature rises during last century, where would the probity of the AGW case stand then?

      • Don Aitkin says:

        Further, I neglected to provide the link to the report in my essay, but I’ll do that in a second. As to natural variability, there are many hypothesised factors that could contribute — sun spots, TSI, clouds, water vapour generally, and so on — about some of which the IPCC itself recognises that its level of understanding is low. There may be others about which we have no information at all.

        If you don’t know (i) how many other variables there are, and (ii) the influence of those variables that you do know, it is passing strange that you could nonetheless be highly confident that your own hypothesis must be correct. People have pointed this out many times about the IPCC reports themselves. Steffen is simply doing the same thing.

        • David says:


          It is not passing strange at all. The way you analyse data is called curve fitting. You see, what you think is a meaningful decline in the trend and you attribute it to something vague and non-specific called natural variability.

          What a scientist should do it test each assertion. So if they see what they think is a decline in the data, they may hypothesize that it is due to sun spot activity TSI, clouds, water vapour etc. They will then go and collect data on these potential explanatory variables and test their capacity explain temperature trends.

          Until new and better climate models are developed,
          we use what is currently available.

          As an aside you do bandy around accusations that warmists are quasi-religious. But I think people who assume that “natural variability” will kick in to reduce global warming are in fact mounting a faith based argument.

          • Don Aitkin says:


            To go back to an earlier post, the data are the data. I’m not a curve-fitter, and data points are there for us all to see, even when they’ve been homogenised. I don’t have to have a theory or even a hypothesis. I’m simply testing the hypothesis that CO2 causes temperature to rise. The two go together sometimes, and at other times they don’t, like now, or over the past couple of decades. So while it is true that in theory increases in CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere should lead to an increase in temperature, that isn’t happening now.

            Maybe temperature will rise again soon. Maybe it won’t. But if CO2 is the true driver there must be something else that, as it were, gets in the way of the driver. The IPCC, and now the Australian Academy of Science, call this vague entity ‘natural variability’. It’s a black box title for what is unexplained. I agree with you that no one has been able to explain it yet, and that each candidate, like sun spots, seems to have problems. It is possible that there are other candidates that we simply aren’t aware of at the moment.

            That tells me that there is a lot we don’t know, and that this relationship, which is at the core of the issue, is by no means settled. And to go on and on about it, as the orthodox do, when the IPCC itself admits that there is a lot it doesn’t know, does strike one as a bit on the obsessive side, as though those of that persuasion are committed to their view, whatever the evidence. Because we are told again and again that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even though to do so cannot reduce temperature appreciably, that does seem, perhaps just a little, to have a touch of religion in it. We have been bad, and we must be good, and this is how to do it…

    • Boambee John says:


      You have missed the point.

      “Natural variability” is independent of human activity. “Anthropogenic variability” results from human activity.

      Neither needs to be “measurable in an accurate and measurable way”, it is the cause that is different.

      • David says:

        John you need to re-read the thread.

        It is Don who is arguing that some phenomena called “natural variability” needs to be measured in an accurate and measurable way, not me

        “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.” [Paragraph 9]

        So I agree with you on this point.

        I am not saying there is no such thing as a climatic cycle. But it will be caused by a particular physical process eg. sun spots. This process will me measurable and scientifically testable.

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