That old-time religion: Secretary of State Kerry and the Climate Council

In the film Inherit the Wind (1960) there is a scene that sticks in my mind: a phalanx of the Godly marches through the streets of the town singing, singing ‘I love that old-time religion … it is good enough for me!’ The camera sweeps in on one woman singing her heart out as she marches. Her eyes are wide, her voice is strong — she is a true believer, off to denounce those who believe in evolution. If you have never seen the film, it is one well worth finding, an adaptation of the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial, whose subtext is an attack on McCarthyism: a defence of ‘freedom to think’.

That image came back to me this week as I read both the speech on climate change by Secretary of State John Kerry and then the new report from the Climate Council, whose mission is to provide authoritative, expert advice to the Australian public on climate change. It has produced a new report written by Professors Steffen and Hughes and a post-doc, Dr Sarah Perkins. More of that in a moment.

Secretary of State John Kerry hasn’t been much in our news, but his speech in Jakarta certainly made it here. I can’t find the whole text anywhere*, but Judith Curry has made long excerpts on her website, I guess the striking remarks for me are these:

The science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand. We don’t have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society.  And in a sense, climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction… The science of climate change is leaping out at us like a scene from a 3D movie. It’s warning us; it’s compelling us to act. And let there be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the science is absolutely certain.

For whom did Secretary Kerry intend this message? It is as though he hasn’t read or heard anything for ten years. Even the IPCC is clear that the science isn’t nearly as ‘certain’ as it looked to be a decade ago. ‘Climate change’ has become the cause of everything — drought, floods, ice-storms, fire, wind and anything you don’t like about the weather. I could go on for some time, but here is more of the Secretary of State:

So when thousands of the world’s leading scientists and five reports over a long period of time with thousands of scientists contributing to those reports – when they tell us over and over again that our climate is changing, that it is happening faster than they ever predicted, ever in recorded history, and when they tell us that we humans are the significant cause, let me tell you something: We need to listen.

This is hyperbole, exaggeration, and largely false. Those who preach AGW doom are not in any sense  thousands of the world’s leading scientists, and there is growing doubt that the models on which the doomsayers rely have any skill at all in projecting climate ten years ahead, let alone half a century. Again, I wonder, for whom was this speech intended? (At one point he said ‘Obama and I’, and I asked myself whether or not that was just a slip of the tongue…) I can’t see speeches like this having any effect now; they are hangovers form the period before the Copenhagen Conference of 2009.

The Climate Council has issued a report on heatwaves that arrived on my desk much as Kerry’s speech did, and it has the same old-time religious flavour to it. It didn’t seem at all ‘authoritative’ to me. Yes, Australia has had a hot summer. We can disregard the rehash of the ‘Angry Summer’ tone of a year ago, because it now seems that that summer and our present one are just the most recent hot ones. I certainly felt the force of the current heat: the air-conditioner was on over fourteen or so days over summer, whereas last year we didn’t turn it on at all. I’m aware that this is anecdotal stuff, but since the CC report is based almost entirely on models, a bit of real experience doesn’t hurt!

Incidentally, a recent high-level UK/US seminar on the use of global models for regional adaptation (and bear in mind that adaptation has to take place locally) came out with the following: With regards to using global climate models for regional climate variability: “In the long range, simulations which require significant statistical adjustment (or variance inflation) at global scales are NOT rational candidates for local use (e.g. dynamical downscaling.) You can find out more about that on another Judith Curry post, and I suggest that the Climate Council takes note.

There is a great deal in the report to irritate anyone other than a believer. We learn of ‘excess heat-related deaths’, a statistic which deserves much more treatment than it gets (it is a given, without any methodological underpinning). There is no mention of deaths related to cold, no mention of cold or winter extremes elsewhere at all, no mention of how more heat can make a high-pressure cell stationary, no mention of the ‘pause’, far too much about the Great Barrier Reef, introduced, I think, to make some familiar scary points, including the extraordinary assertion the reef has lost 50 per cent of its coral cover in the last 30 years. For a counter view dissecting this claim and showing that the statistic is the result of poor methodology, read on here.

And then, at the end, comes the familiar prayer, that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions NOW! No mention of the arithmetic that shows that nothing Australia did in curbing greenhouse gas emissions would have any discernible effect at all on global temperatures or anything else. Truly, this is a shoddy piece of work intellectually, right up to the standard set by the late and unlamented Climate Commission . But then, it’s for the religious, and that must excuse its dreadful weaknesses as a piece of authoritative, expert advice.

[update: you can read it here: <>]

Join the discussion 17 Comments

  • David says:

    “…and there is growing doubt that the models on which the doomsayers rely have ANY SKILL AT ALL in projecting climate ten years ahead, let alone half a century.”

    Really? Not any, at all?

    You have obviously “over egged it” But what I am curious to know Don, is what motivates you to let it rip like that? I sort of imagine that after a career in academia,
    where what you could write was constrained by facts etc, that you must find it
    very liberating write on your blog whatever you like, without any real restrictions.

    All in all a relatively harmless pursuit and better than kicking the cat. 🙂

    • dlb says:

      Well the academics pushing this climate caper don’t seem to be constrained by facts. Unless you call the output of computer models or dodgy surveys, facts.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      David, go back once again to the diagram I mentioned last time. What skill do you see there? These are the models that underpin AR5.

      • David says:

        Is this what you are referring to?

        Accepting the data and argument as presented are correct. The predicted temperature rise over a 30 year period was only out by 0.3 degree. And from 1983 to 1988 they were spot on.

        Don I’m not sure that you can really conclude that these climate modelers do not have “any skill at all”. Its not a very kind thing to say.

        • Don Aitkin says:

          Hindcasting (backwards) is altogether different to forecasting. I’ll put it another way: the skill indicated in that diagram is woefully inadequate as a platform on which to base serious economic and social policy.

  • Walter Starck says:

    Simple ignorance is not knowing and knowing one doesn’t know. Compound ignorance is knowing so little one cannot even recognise one’s own ignorance. The ill-informed, exaggerated and provably false statements made by Secretary Kerry with such certainty and righteousness in regard to climate change are characteristic of the latter. Worse yet they raise a serious doubt about his judgement on other issues where he has important responsibility.

    As for the Climate Council’s hyping of recent hot weather in Australia as unprecedented, it must then follow that with no statistically significant increase in global temperature for the past 17 years the average outside Australia must actually be cooling. It would be helpful to their credibility if they could explain why for over a decade the GH effect only seems to apply in Australia.

  • DaveW says:

    I’m old enough to remember when Doonesbury used to spoof Kerry as an egotistical and pompous git (no offence meant to the blog of the same name). I think it safe to assume that Kerry doesn’t write his own speeches and that he is being used as a megaphone by the alarmists. I suppose they know that he can’t be made to seem any more vacuous than he is already known to be and that he will regurgitate whatever they ask him to. Why he has been spewing in Indonesia is less certain, but I assume it is more US attempted meddling in Australian affairs.

    As to why Obama turns to the likes of Kerry, Joe Biden, etc., well unfortunately the Democratic Party doesn’t have much to offer on the intellectual side. They are the party of the establishment and have been for decades and establishment orthodoxy pretty much excludes those who are not willing to toe the party line. Not that the Republicans would be any better if they had managed to stay in power, but since the DP edged them out of the primary power bases, their hold on free-thinking has been weakened. Still, the Republican Party is known as the “Stupid Party’ for good reason.

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    I’ve been reading a number of your posts on this site for some time; it is obvious that you do not rely simply upon the authority of others, such as the arguments and data presented in IPCC reports and the like. So I’d like to ask you some simple questions.

    What observations of climate do you think are significant, and upon which your opinion relies? (For my own part, I look particularly at those more recent observations over whose accuracy there is generally little controversy.) These include land and sea surface temperatures, tropospheric temperatures, sea level changes, and sea ice changes. I also consider what I read about climate proxies of our past history. In addition, I consider our historical written accounts.

    Which IPCC-referenced climate models do you believe have most successfully predicted climate behaviour over the last fifteen years? It appears to me that most have thoroughly over-estimated the global temperature observations, and as far as I’m concerned, observations trump models every time. I don’t care whether it’s climate, finance, Olympic medals, or voting results. Observations always win. However, perhaps you consider some models have been much better in their prediction. Which are these?

    Further to my first question, what particular other observations should I be examining, in order to gather a more complete understanding about the ways and extent through which our climate is changing, and the reasons for that change? I have no difficulty in accepting that change occurs, and that it has occurred in my own lifetime. But I am very well aware that in Australia since the 1850s we have experienced very long droughts, extra-ordinarily long periods of very hot weather, absolutely flooding rains, cyclones, and bitter chills. Many of these I have lived through, as I suspect have you. From the observations I have noted, in Sydney Harbour the ocean level appears to be rising at approximately 2 mm per annum (8 inches per 100 years on the imperial scale), the global temperature at around 1.5 degrees centigrade per 100 years, sea ice being lost in he Arctic (again) and building up in the Antarctic (again), so actually, I find it hard to pinpoint just how this climate is changing very much. But I probably need to live for one or two thousand years, and I don’t think our Medicare system is prepared to put up with the cost of sustaining me for that long, nor are my friends and family.

    • David says:

      Peter you ask some really interesting questions. My thoughts are as follows.

      I agree with your first paragraph. Recent observations are the most accurate. But since we are trying to define a trend we have to use various proxies for temperature from the past. In general I have confidence in temperature data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and NASA.

      In your second paragraph you say “Observations always win” Yes, but the question becomes what are we observing? Are we observing artifact or do these recent temperatures reflect a trend down in temperature? Perhaps in the next 15 years global temperature will fall even further in that case modelers will continue to re adjust further; or perhaps not.

      These observations give some perspective to that “pause” skeptics love to point to.

      Look, and you will see an even longer pause from 1940 to 1980, where temperature fell before continuing to increase. So for me, although the most recent 15-year “pause” is interesting and should be investigated, it is hardly the “smoking gun” that skeptics make it out to be.

      Reminds me of a story (which may or may not be true) apparently that when Zhou Enlai was asked by Richard Nixon “What did he think of the French Revolution?” he said “It was too early to tell. So we shall see. J

      In your third paragraph, you use the word “I” eight times, but it is not all about you. Given our age, I agree that climate change probably won’t affect you and me that much. But I am not sure how much of a problem it might become for others. The way I see it Australia is the wealthiest civilization to have ever existed and we release more CO2 per person than just about any other society in the world. We can afford to make some changes.
      Currently we are a $1.2 Trillion dollar economy and the government raises about $380 billion dollars annually in taxation. The carbon tax currently would re-allocate about $10 billion annually, which is about 2.6% of tax receipts and 0.8% of our total GDP. You say you have always lived with droughts etc, which is true, and we have also always lived with some taxation. There are some doomsayers on both sides of this debate.

      • Peter Kemmis says:

        Indeed, I am schooled. So in penance, the personal pronoun has been removed in the offending third paragraph, to ensure it is not “all about me”, although where personal experience is recounted, perhaps it is not surprising to find the first person pronoun popping up a few times. Here is the re-written paragraph, and while it is now more inclusive (ahh, such a politically correct achievement) you may wish to let me know whether its substance has changed.

        “Further to my first question, what particular other observations should be examined, in order to gather a more complete understanding about the ways and extent through which our climate is changing, and the reasons for that change? Change does occur, and has occurred in my own lifetime. In Australia since the 1850s we have experienced very long droughts, extra-ordinarily long periods of very hot weather, absolutely flooding rains, cyclones, and bitter chills. Most of us have lived through these changes. In Sydney Harbour the ocean level appears to be rising at approximately 2 mm per annum (8 inches per 100 years on the imperial scale), the global temperature at around 1.5 degrees centigrade per 100 years, sea ice being lost in the Arctic (again) and building up in the Antarctic (again), so from personal experience it is difficult to pinpoint just how this climate is changing very much. But one probably needs to live for one or two thousand years, and most probably our Medicare system is not prepared to put up with the cost of sustaining us for that long, nor are our friends and family.”

        Thank you for the site reference you provided. I have seen many of these charts and images before. When a few years ago I started examining the data and arguments for and against CAGW, I was at first persuaded to accept the weight of opinion from the IPCC, NASA and our own BOM. On further examination of contrary argument, I no longer accept these sources as authoritative. There’s no point my attempting to reiterate what is now a very substantial range of analysis and argument that disputes the orthodox side of the argument. But as you say, you accept such orthodox sources, and so we must agree to disagree. What I do appreciate, is the courtesy with which you do so. Thank you.

        Finally, the “smoking gun”; I agree that the current stability in global temperature change is not the “be all and end all” of the argument. However, when we’ve been told authoritatively for many years that our increasing carbon dioxide emissions will inevitably produce temperature rise, which we now find has not been occurring for some 17 years, there’s good reason to challenge that claimed link. That’s not the only smoking gun I see, which include:

        ** unsubstantiated downwards “adjustments” to past land temperature records;
        ** persistent appeals to authority (e.g. “the science is settled”);
        ** as each explanation of where the “missing heat” has gone is refuted quite thoroughly, another theory pops up;
        **the innate characteristic of humans to assume collective guilt: where once we would blame ourselves for a disastrous flood here or an earthquake there, and seek to propitiate the gods, we now seek to propitiate Gaia and call with great emotion on our fellowman and woman also to prostrate themselves, and condemn those who will not as foolish deniers;
        ** thriving on government funding, an academic industry continually in search of more “proof” of CAGW and its presumed effects;
        ** the “precautionary principle” claim that we should reduce our carbon dioxide emissions just in case the dire predictions are right, when the argument for doing so is anything but settled, and the implications for world poverty and disease are cheerfully ignored by so many in our well-fed western world.

        Others would add many more such “smoking guns”. Allied to the quality CAGW refutations I have examined, there is more than enough to have changed my views.

      • Mike O'Ceirin says:

        You present nothing but evasion of the questions, unless you answer you are not credible. The observed pause does not show an end to global warming or for that matter that it will continue. It does falsify all predictions to date and that the billions spent on this using climate models has been a waste of time and money.

  • DaveW says:

    Peter didn’t ask me his questions, but being another of those Davids who like to comment and having a different perspective, I’ll toss in my two cents worth.

    CAGW seems to have two essential assumptions. The first is that carbon dioxide drives climate (and the corollary is that current models are able to project the effect into the future).

    If CO2 is a primary driver of temperature, then why does the historical record show estimates of atmospheric CO2 lagging temperature by 800-1000 years in the long haul (and peaking long after temperature reconstructions have started dropping)? Also why is there such a poor correlation between CO2 concentration and historical temperature records? The current plateau in temperatures isn’t the only one, as David notes, and the Little Ice Age ended well before CO2 began its rise (the pattern one would expect from what is know of long term fluctuations in temperature and CO2).

    My conclusion is that, at a minimum, it is unproved that CO2 is a primary driver of temperature change and the evidence seems to argue against it.

    It seems pretty clear to me that current climate models are not of much use for projecting into the future and only capture some of the historical record because they have been calibrated with that data. The fact that even seasonal forecasts of temperature and rainfall are typically useless simply emphasizes the fact that no model seems capable of capturing the dynamics of climate, even in the short term.

    My conclusion is that we really don’t know what is happening with the climate and have no idea what it will be like in a hundred years. This doesn’t surprise me – I’ve worked with modellers and even simpler, less chaotic systems are difficult to model.

    The second essential assumption of CAGW is that climate should be stable, that any warming or other change to the climate is bad, bad, bad and we have to do something before it is too late.

    I don’t see how anyone can consider this a scientific hypothesis. Perhaps there were long periods of climate stability in the Cretaceous or during the depths of a glacial period, but interglacial climates are inherently unstable. Ours certainly has been.

    I see this as a political position bordering on a religion and forcing models and studies to fit the meme corrupts the scientists and results in (often laughably) bad advice to government. The government then funds more studies to prove how bad it will be and covers the landscape with wind farms, desalination plants, subsidized solar panels, pink bats and so on. This is a real positive feedback loop – much more impressive than the shonky CO2-water vapour parameters in the climate models.

    • David says:


      I am going preface these comments by saying I have no expertise in climate science, Geography at high school and that it.

      Comment 1: I agree with you that if you look at historical temperature trends there have been regular temperature fluctuations. Over a period of 10,000’s of years CO2 may have played a role in increasing temperature and then reducing it, or vice versa, as you say. In a world without human intervention it would be a classic chicken and egg issue.

      But, in 1750 with the advent of the industrial revolution, CO2 was released into atmosphere in historically high proportions. So in this instance the rise in CO2 came first. I am sure over a period of 10,000s of years the planet’s temperature will equilibrate, as it has always done. But our focus is over the next 20 to 200 years.

      Comment 2: You write
      “The fact that even seasonal forecasts of temperature and rainfall are typically useless simply emphasizes the fact that no model seems capable of capturing the dynamics of climate”

      I have posted about this in the past. A statistical model can serve two inter-related purposes. One is to predict and the other is to explain. It is not all about prediction as both aspects are important.

      For example, actuarial models that car insurers use for comprehensive insurance policies only have an R-squared of about 10 to 15%. That would be considered by many to be very “low”. But that does not make the models “useless”. Because insurers are also interested to understand what effect driver characteristics like “age” “gender” or “past crash history” have on the likelihood that Driver X will make a claim.

      Similarly, as much as we want our climate models to predict temperature in 2060 etc we also want them to explain or quantify the relationship between CO2 and temperature.

      Comment 3:
      I agree with your comments about
      “the second essential assumption of CAGW is that climate should be stable, that any warming or other change to the climate is bad, bad, bad and we have to do something before it is too late. I don’t see how anyone can consider this a scientific hypothesis”

      Statements about what we “should” do are normative and therefore not scientifically testable. But that cuts both ways. Similarly statements that we “should not” do something are also normative and not scientifically testable. These are all issues which must be settled in the political sphere not the scientific one.

      • DaveW says:

        Hi David,

        I have one published paper in climate science, but I was one of a dozen authors and not one of the modellers (my job was validating some of the parameters). However, I have known about CAGW theory almost from its inception (late 1980’s) and have moderate familiarity with the palaeoclimate literature. I am a scientist, but not a climate scientist.

        I’m surprised that so little of the variance is explained by actuarial models, but that does support my contention that even modelling simpler systems that we know much about is difficult. Also, I would disagree – climate models do not seem to explain anything yet. I thought it was well accepted that things like cloud cover and water vapour dynamics were not yet tractable. The positive feedback used to make CO2 drive the models is an untested hypothesis and seems unlikely to be true. However, I suppose you are right in one sense – these models do seem to be proving that CO2 is not acting as expected.

        As I recall, the data do not support your contention that anthropogenic CO2 levels started rising dramatically with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. You have to remember that even now, although it seems like human input is massive, it is dwarfed by non-anthropogenic sources of CO2. Before the 20th Century, there is no good evidence that I know of that human emissions had a detectable signal, although I’m sure you could find someone who has made such a claim. I seem to remember someone trying to blame the Roman Warm Period on the Roman Empire.

      • GenghisCunn says:

        David, I was briefed by the IPCC’s Chief Scientist in 1990, I’ve been following alleged CAGW, and occasionally advising on it, since the late ’80s.

        The rapid increase in GHGs followed World War II. The recent warming followed two similar episodes which could not possibly be attributed to man-made emissions. Most of the recent warming occurred in 1998, related to the massive El Nino that year.

  • […] so. She lists Secretary of State John Kerry as a Cassandra example, pointing to the same speech that I wrote about three weeks […]

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