Professor Flannery seems to have been discombobulated by the Government’s abolition of the Climate Commission, of which he was the Commissioner in Chief and so, borrowing from President Obama’s ‘crowd-sourcing’ initiative, he seems to have formed a ‘Climate Council’ on the basis of $1 million raised from donations. He and his fellow former Commissioners are apparently going to act as voluntary somethings for the new council, whose status is as yet unclear.
To do what the Climate Commission used to do the new body will need about $1.6 million a year, and untroubled access to the Bureau of Meteorology, on the work of which it seemed to me largely to rely. To have the same political effect it would also need the support of the Coalition Government, which plainly it is most unlikely to get.
A million dollars might generate $50,000 a year in interest — I take it that the sum raised would be invested — but that won’t pay for a lot of work or people. My guess is that the enthusiasm for the new body will decline quickly, so that it will need to rely on voluntary research as well. There are plenty of the orthodox out there who will supply the council with their opinions and arguments.
But what exactly will the ‘Climate Council’ do? Will it seek to be a charity? How do people get to be on it? I’m sure that the movers and shakers have sorted this all out, but if they have, the results haven’t yet been made public.
I thought I would concentrate on what advice the council will be offering us. One of its first tasks, apparently, is to tell us what the new IPCC Report really means. Professor Flannery says that the ‘business as usual’ approach fills him with horror. ‘Make no mistake,’ he said, ‘we’re in the middle of a titanic struggle’. He didn’t say what exactly the titanic struggle was about, or who it was between, but the language isn’t encouraging.
At the same time, he says that the council’s purpose is ‘to provide independent information on the science of climate change’. He went on, ‘We have simply one goal and one objective and we always have, which is to take the science, the economics of climate change and what’s happening internationally in terms of action, and present it in a clear and understandable and authoritative way to the Australian public.’
With all due respect, that doesn’t sound very ‘independent’ to me. Independent of whom? My writings, and those of many others who have become absorbed in this issue, are independent of government, of corporations and of academia. I take an agnostic approach to everything in this domain, including those sceptics who think there is some kind of giant conspiracy out there. Show me the data; show me that the models have been validated and verified; show me how you can be sure, about anything. Show me, don’t just tell me.
An ‘independent’ approach to the IPCC report would surely start by looking at what had been predicted in the 2007 Report, and examine why the predictions had not been followed by Nature. It would look at the multitude of papers that have been published about sea-level rises. It would not, surely, start with the assumption that carbon dioxide is some kind of control knob for the world’s climate systems. It would look hard at solar influences, not dismiss them out of hand. It would look seriously at both natural variability and at that vexed entity called ‘climate sensitivity’.
Somehow, I doubt that any of this is what either former Commissioner Steffen or former Commissioner Flannery has in mind. What I think we will get, is more of the scare story. Professor Steffen gave an indication of that in an announcement the other day that purported to come from the new council: we have apparently lived through the warmest September since records began, according to him.
That may or may not be so. It doesn’t tell us anything about climate — for what happened in September in Australia was weather. We did have a September that seemed rather warmer than usual, according to the satellite readings published by the University of Alabama at Huntsville. The outcome for the world, in September, was nothing of any consequence, as you can see for yourself by going to that site.
And warming, whether pronounced or subdued, tells us nothing by itself about attribution. On the evidence we have, which is spotty and comes with errors of all kinds, the planet has been warming in fits and starts for the part 150 years. Not by much, and there does seem to be a cyclical effect in there. No one knows why the little ice age began to go, and no one knows when another cooling of a pronounced kind will return.
My own guess is that the new climate council (I’m not giving it capitals because I still can’t find anything about it other than news releases from the former climate commissioners) will morph into some kind of Climate Church. But that will no doubt make the parishioners happy, even if they learn nothing that is truly independent.