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Climate Science for Dummies

Malcolm and others have a refrain of "show me the evidence", so I thought it was worth setting this out as clearly as possible. If you want more detail, the Garnaut Report chapters 3-5 are a good summary.

What is undisputed

1. The so-called greenhouse gases (GHGs)* do what they say on the tin. Specifically, they absorb certain wavelengths of infrared radiation. The sun pours in 342 watts per square metre of energy into the planet every day, and some of it is not reradiated back into space because of greenhouse gases. If they didn't do that at all, it would be too cold for human or much other life. There is no qualified scientist on the planet that disputes this basic science.

  • * for ease of reference, added from a later comment: the GHGs specified in Kyoto , and thus the ones controlled by the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, are: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons. There is an argument in Garnaut (p59) about also including chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons, but these are covered by the Montreal Protocol, and therefore should be phased out by 2030 anyway. Water vapour and ozone also have greenhouse effects, but aren't primarily human in origin, and water vapour at least is complicated, since much of it forms clouds, which reflect energy from the sun as well as retain heat below them.

2. There is more greenhouse gas in the atmosphere than at any time over the last at least tens of thousands of years, and the amount has been climbing steadily year on year at an accelerating rate for at least the last fifty years. These are direct observations, for recent years by direct measurement, and for the history from concentrations of CO2 in deep ice cores.

3. The great majority of the growth in atmospheric CO2 is anthropogenic – ie we did it, by burning fossil fuels and clearing land and spreading fertiliser and raising cows (cow and sheep farts contribute 11% of all Australia's GHG emissions, and there wouldn't be any of them here at all if humans weren't raising them). The more powerful greenhouse gases don't appear in nature at all, so we can't blame anyone or anything else for them (unless you have evidence that aliens have been secretly importing them from off-planet).

What is only disputed by the willfully blind or deranged

1. The planet has been getting hotter in the last 50 years, and for the last 30 years has been hotter than ever recorded. There are no remaining unexplained anomalies in the observational series whatsoever: regional and other differences eg in the high atmosphere are all accounted for. I have heard people claim that the world has cooled / stopped warming since 1990: since 12 of the last 13 years are the highest on record, they have to resort to three-card tricks or falsified data to attempt to justify this ludicrous claim. It is true that some regions around the north Atlantic were as warm in 1250 as they were in 1975, but a) the sort of fluctuations in the Gulf Stream that caused that are included in the mainstream models, b) this wasn't true of most of the rest of the world, and c) anyway, all but four of the years since 1980 have been warmer than that. There is, of course, no direct observational record of either the medieval anomalies or the regionality. Both the claims and the refutation rely on anecdotal and other contemporary observations without instruments, and on indirect observations such as tree-rings. Insofar as anecdotes and tree rings count for anything, they support the submission that the world wasn't generally warmer / colder at those times as much as or more than they support the claim that it was. We can't claim that European monk's accounts are more reliable than Indian or Chinese ones, only note that they record different trends. NB: if you were relying on The Great Global Warming Swindle for a different view on how warm it was in 1250, note that the UK broadcasting regulator has castigated the program's makers for altering their graphs to mislead viewers (eg, on that one, by re-labelling 1975 as "Now").

2. Getting hotter will be a Bad Thing. Thousands upon thousands of detailed studies have been done over the last twenty years on the impacts of warming. They have indeed identified a few impacts that are positive, but these are enormously outweighed by the negative impacts on everything from crop yields to disease ranges. Even the crop yield gains from CO2 fertilisation in some crops disappear at warming of more than two degrees, and are overwhelmed by the rainfall changes above that.

What can be debated

1. How much warming is due to GHGs? The mainstream science says that doubling GHG concentrations raises the temperature by 2 to 6°C. The sceptics say 1) something else is causing the warming, eg solar cycles, volcanism, or whatever, and therefore 2) since the GHGs definitely do cause warming, they're contributing less than the mainstream models show, and so we don't have to worry yet about further increases in GHGs, because they won't warm us as much as is feared.

2. er – that's it. Since GHGs do cause warming (basic physics) and are increasing (undisputed observations), any other touted cause boils down to that argument.

Note also that alongside the sceptics there are at least as many scientists (eg James Hansen) who think that the models underestimate the GHG effects, and therefore we need more drastic action than the mainstream models suggest.

The problem with all the other alternative explanations for warming is that they either don't change at the right times in the right direction to explain the temperature record, or that there is no observable mechanism for them to put enough energy in. For example, the total energy expended/burnt by all human activities to date is simply insufficient to have had any direct impact on warming: we may be able to keep our cities a degree or so warmer at ground level on a cold day, but in the great energy budget scheme of things it just doesn’t count.

Solar variations obviously do have impact –all of this energy came from the sun originally – but they vary at different times and different directions than the temperature record does. Huge amounts of effort have been put into understanding this, and the chances that there is some missing high-energy source we don't know about and can't detect are very small indeed. Finding one that stands up to scrutiny would be worth huge amounts in support from people like Exxon, so there is plenty of incentive for scientists to publish if they found one. And equal bunce for peer reviewers who got that paper through to publication. And the count of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals supporting the sceptics' position: none, nada, zero.

What if it's a conspiracy?

What if all these thousands of scientists working in all the countries of the world have a secret conspiracy to defraud us all? Well, if just one of them decamped from the conspiracy with evidence of it, they'd be living in luxury on the rewards from those interested in keeping the gases flowing. What are the chances that a) it exists, and b) none of them have gone public? I leave that exercise to the reader.

What if warming is mostly caused by arbitrarily advanced alien space bats?

If there is some real as-yet-unidentified cause of warming that we don't recognise, or if thousands of scientists have uniformly and systematically got their model coefficients wrong, and some combination of other factors is causing warming, then what should we do that's different to what is currently planned?

Well, this runs into the undisputed territory again. GHGs do cause additional warming, and warming is a Bad Thing. So, if the warming to date is caused by something else, and that is going to carry on having this effect (if we don't know what it is, it would be imprudent to assume anything else), then we should take action to reduce as far as possible our efforts to add to that warming. So, if the mainstream science is wrong, we need to reduce GHG emissions even more than is currently planned. Simple really. Now let's get on with it.


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Worldwide emissions growth "kind of scary"

Nature can't keep up with the carbon dioxide from man, Le Quere said. She said from 1955 to 2000, the forests and oceans absorbed about 57 percent of the excess carbon dioxide, but now it's 54 percent.

What is "kind of scary" is that the worldwide emissions growth is beyond the highest growth in fossil fuel predicted just two years ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

Under the panel's scenario then, temperatures would increase by somewhere between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit (2.4 to 6.3 degrees Celsius) by the year 2100.

If this trend continues for the century, "you'd have to be luckier than hell for it just to be bad, as opposed to catastrophic," said Stanford University climate scientist Stephen Schneider.

The world continues to pump C02 into the atmosphere faster than the forests and oceans can absorb it. It seems we are heading into catastrophic climate change faster than predicted. It will make the financial catastrophe we are currently witnessing seem insignificant. We continue to let greed control our lives so now we will have to pay the price. Or at least our children will have to pay the price. Global capitalism is immoral and will eventually destroy us all.

A hard rain's gonna fall

I agree with John Pratt's analysis.  It is abundantly clear that a serious crisis will not be averted.  My own despair is that I cannot locate a single government department or agency that has given any consideration to contingency planning.  Maybe the spooks in the Armed Services have but they are not telling anyone.

Dear oh dear.

Wave snake harness ocean's power

Greenpeace UK's chief scientist, Doug Parr, said the UK government's energy secretary, John Hutton, should take urgent note of the developments in Portugal. "Wave technology invented in Scotland is powering Portuguese homes and making money for Portuguese suppliers, because our government has consistently neglected the renewables industry here in the UK."

The €9m (£7.14m) first phase of the Aguçadoura project, which involves the energy firms Enersis and Energias de Portrugal, has been helped partly by the Portuguese government agreeing to guarantee a premium for the electricity the station will generate via a feed-in tariff of 25c per KWh. The project has also been given a €1.25m grant from the Portuguese Agência de Inovação.

"The Portuguese government has moved forward on wave energy more quickly than has happened in the UK," said Sharp.

"[In Portugal] we have a feed-in tariff arrangement so we had a guaranteed price for the power that was produced and you don't have that in the UK. The environment here was better to stimulate development."

Parr said there could be dire consequences for the UK unless the government got its act together in developing renewable industries: "There is a danger that jobs, investment and clean energy will go overseas because of Hutton's obsession with old technologies like coal and nuclear power.

"It's time we stopped the rot before our performance on renewables becomes a national disgrace."

The world's first commercial wave-power farm goes live off Portugal.

Australia too is at risk of losing opportunities that abound around the globe if we continue to be obsessed with old technologies like coal and nuclear power.

Massive deposits of methane are bubbling to the surface

The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.

The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats.

Underground stores of methane are important because scientists believe their sudden release has in the past been responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species. Scientists aboard a research ship that has sailed the entire length of Russia's northern coast have discovered intense concentrations of methane – sometimes at up to 100 times background levels – over several areas covering thousands of square miles of the Siberian continental shelf.

It looks like we have reached one of the tipping points which will cause rapid global warming. While we are witnessing the collapse of the economy we must not forget the impact we are about to feel as catastrophic climate change begins to take effect. A weak economy will be less able to afford the necessary infrastructure to phase out fossil fuels and build the necessary sea walls to save our coastal cities. I think we have left it all too late.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

“There are lots of names for abrupt climate change: nasty surprises, the jokers in the deck, the tipping point,” Collins says. “When the national lab participants first met to decide on the most significant potential sources of abrupt climate change in future, the first thing we had to do was define what we meant: a large-scale change that happens more quickly than that brought on by forcing mechanisms – on a scale of years to decades, not centuries – and that persists for a very long time.”

The IMPACTS team will initially focus on four types of ACC:

  1. instability among marine ice sheets, particularly the West Antarctic ice sheet;
  2. positive feedback mechanisms in subarctic forests and arctic ecosystems, leading to rapid methane release or large-scale changes in the surface energy balance;
  3. destabilization of methane hydrates (vast deposits of methane gas caged in water ice), particularly in the Arctic Ocean; and
  4. feedback between biosphere and atmosphere that could lead to megadroughts in North America.

Only half joking, Collins refers to these as “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”

With the threat to the global financial system we are currently witnessing we should not take our eyes of the real threats to our existence. Climate change has not gone away and now we will be in a financially weaker position to tackle the threats. We are not talking about something that may happen next century - we are talking about changes that will happen in most of our lifetimes.

We need to focus on sustainability before we find it is beyond our reach.

The singing climatologist

The singing climatologist on YouTube.

When will we ever learn?

Arctic Ice colossal loss; climate could warm at a faster rate

The ice shelves in Canada's High Arctic have lost a colossal area this year, scientists report.

The floating tongues of ice attached to Ellesmere Island, which have lasted for thousands of years, have seen almost a quarter of their cover break away....

Loss of ice in the Arctic, and in particular the extensive sea-ice, has global implications. The "white parasol" at the top of the planet reflects energy from the Sun straight back out into space, helping to cool the Earth.

Further loss of Arctic ice will see radiation absorbed by darker seawater and snow-free land, potentially warming the Earth's climate at an even faster rate than current observational data indicates.

Surely now even the flat earthers will admit the planet is warming and we need to act now to slow that warming.

Arctic ice

John Pratt, it is my understanding that Arctic ice has been melting and then freezing over for millions of years, it is the nature of things. Now before you label me a flat earther, I believe that we must do something to cut down on our emissions. However, unless we can convince China and India to do the same we are wasting our time. If in Australia we cut our emisions by 100% there is a chance that we will still lose the Great Barrier Reef, because China and India will pump the emissions back into the atmosphere in no time flat. I am going to China next month and I fully expect that the pollution will be back to pre-Olympic levels.

I know it makes Rudd and Bob Brown feel good when they talk about emissions and other catchy phrases, but it is time they got out into the real world and face reality.

Who are the flat-earthers?

John, foremost among the flat-earthers is the Rudd government, which is doing worse than nothing to slow global warming. If you believe that arctic ice-melt represents a climate change tipping point I can't understand how you can give any credibility to the Rudd/Garnaut plan.

The Arctic ice-melt tipping point that you have highlighted is happening with atmospheric CO2e concentrations at 380ppm. In response to this, Garnaut's "ambitious mitigation scenario" involves stabilisation at 450ppm after a temporary overshoot to 500ppm (I won't bother discussing the "non-ambitious" mitigation scenarios).

According to Bernard Keane at Crikey.com the carbon reduction trajectory to be proposed in Garnaut's Supplementary Draft Report tomorrow is based on a 0-15% reduction in 2000 emission levels by 2020, aimed to achieve stabilisation of atmospheric CO2e concentrations at 450ppm, involving a temperature increase of 2-2.4 degrees C. If you argue that the climate is reaching a tipping point (which you seem to be based on your post) then temeratures will continue to increase indefinitely beyond 2 degrees and the consequences will be catastrophic. If you believe that temperatures can be stabilised at that point, you are still accepting significant species extinction and the loss of Australia’s Wet Tropics, even before considering the international implications.

And to reach this purportedly "ambitious" scenario Rudd/Garnaut propose to tinker at the edges with a few market signals and leave the "invisible hand" to solve the problem, while ignoring the fact that fundamental constraints on the production of the fuels needed to build the infrastructure to make the transition will likely render those fuels prohibitively expensive even before the irrelevant regulatory reforms of the ETS have been bedded down.

About the only way that CO2 emissions will be reduced under this scheme is if economic collapse triggers a serious, long-term decline in demand for fossil fuels. A cynic might think that this has been the plan all along.

Meanwhile, the Federal government is party to coal export expansions which will deliver an additional 270 million tonnes of coal per annum, or approximately 720 million additional tonnes of CO2 emissions per annum.

You're right that we need to act now, but the government is refusing to act. The Rudd/Garnaut so-called carbon pollution 'reduction' scheme is a bad joke played on the gullible. You should give it a rest for a while.

A labour ETS is a compromise - just political reality

Stuart, I agree will all that you have written. I have written on other threads that I vote Green; unfortunately there was no chance of the Greens winning the last election. We had a choice between Howard and Rudd. Of the two I think Rudd was the best bet. At least we have now signed Kyoto and are working on an ETS. I know this is a compromise and I wish we were doing more, but we have to face the political reality.

I still believe we are not doing enough to find solutions to the problems or Peak Oil or climate change. I have written on both and urged immediate action.

I do not understand why the government is not legislating more efficiency into our building and transport codes. It would be good for the economy and the environment.

Moral cowardice

John, you might call it a "political compromise". I call it moral cowardice.

Kharecha and Hansen on Peak Oil and Climate Change

This has just been published in the scientific literature by two of the foremost climate science heavyweights: Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen, Implications of Peak Oil for Atmospheric CO2 and Climate, 2008.

Compare this with the Garnaut Draft Report:

... mineral and fossil-fuel shortages will not be a constraint on growth in the first half of this century.

Unless the Garnaut Report is radically re-written before final publication in a fortnight it will experience the ignominy of having been discredited even before it goes to print.

Kharecha and Hansen agree with Garnaut

Kharecha and Hansen's paper says throughout that the supply of fossil fuels would have to be artificially restricted in order to achieve an acceptable atmospheric CO2 level.

Stuart - this is identical to what your quote from Garnaut says. So why would he need to rewrite it? 

Kharecha and Hansen fundamentally disagree with Garnaut

David, Kharecha and Hansen fundamentally disagree with Garnaut.

The no-mitigation reference case in Garnaut assumes that there are no limits to the growth in production and burning of fossil fuels, with the rate of emissions continuing to climb for the duration of this century (44 Gt per annum by 2100) and beyond. The Kharecha and Hansen no-mitigation BAU scenario (which accommodates realistic peak oil & gas data but not yet realistic peak coal data, as per Aleklett et al) sees emissions climbing until circa 2077 (at 41 Gt per annum) then declining. Their other scenarios are based on the premise of constraining coal emissions either by phasing out or sequestration, in order to "investigate whether atmospheric CO2 can be kept to 450 ppm or less via constraints on the use of coal and unconventional fossil fuel resources." The Kharecha and Hansen BAU scenario sees CO2 levels peak at 563 ppm, while Garnaut calls the effort to constrain fossil fuel burning in order to reach a 550 ppm target "diabolical".

Garnaut's no-mitigation scenarios exclude the economic costs of peak oil on the economy. The result is that the mitigation scenarios grossly overestimate the cost of mitigation and omit the severe opportunity costs of delaying mitigation until the onset of peak oil. Numerous flawed and/or unsubstantiated assumptions are made regarding energy resource substitution. Constraints imposed by the laws of thermodynamics, time and scale (see for example the Hirsch Report) have been ignored. The magnitude and urgency of the "energy transformation" in Chapter 20 is grossly underestimated. The list goes on ...

Another worry for Garnaut is that he based his scenarios on data from the IEA's World Energy Outlook 2007, but WEO 2008 will reflect a major review of the IEA's oil & gas forecasting data and methodologies, most likely resulting in a significant downwards revision in oil & gas production and emissions projections. This will probably discredit Garnaut less than six weeks after publication.

... then the scientific papers on peak coal will start mounting up ...

... then it will be back to the drawing board to design a carbon trading scheme with real targets ...

... by then there will be another election ...

... then we will begin to accept the evidence that we have reached climate change tipping points at around 450ppm ...

... by then we will have realised that one of the main reasons the economy is tanking is declining world oil production ...

... then we will realise that we needed to act urgently to meet a 450ppm target while we still had the oil to transport and build the stuff that we need to do so ...

... then we will figure out that the real problem is how to feed 7 billion hungry people, not build utopian ecocities to accommodate them ...

... eventually we will realise how stupid it was to ask a champion of the economic-growth-is-the-solution-to-all-problems school to solve a problem that is caused by perpetual economic growth.

Fossil fuel reserves for dummies

One of the elephants in the room in the scientific debate about climate change is constraints on the production of fossil fuels.

I posted a link to this paper in a different thread today and thought it should have a place here: Kjell Aleklett, Reserve Driven Forecasts for Oil, Gas and Coal and Limits in Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 2007.

From the abstract:

This paper is based on realistic reserve assessments, and CO2 emissions from resources that cannot be turned into reserves are not allowed. First we can conclude that CO2 emissions from burning oil and gas are lower than what all the IPCC scenarios predict, and emissions from coal are much lower than the majority of the scenarios.

IPCC emission scenarios for the time period 2020 to 2100 should in the future not be used for climate change predictions. its time to use realistic scenarios. 

Unfortunately the Garnaut report uncritically repeats the IPCC scenarios and explicitly rejects any constraints on the growth of fossil fuel production in the first half of this century.

Coldest August since 1944 is more evidence of global warming

John Pratt: "There are plenty of alternative energies that we have discussed them endlessly on Webdiary."

Oh, yes. They're endlessly discussed. Never realised, but endlessly discussed.

Meanwhile, Sydney has shivered through its coldest August in 64 years.

Brisbane has been hit by its coldest August in at least eight years.


In March 2008, Adelaide smashed the Australian capital city heat wave record,

Last Christmas, Perth suffered its hottest December temperature ever recorded. Missed out on being in 2008 by just a week.

Here in New South Wales, June was the warmest since 1991. August was only the coldest since 1989. (Note that this is state-wide, so doesn't contradict the claim for Sydney.)

None of which proves that global warming is (or is not) occurring. It's just cherry-picking local weather records.

We can get a better idea by going global, and we find that, globally, March 2008 had the warmest land temperature on record (NOAA figures), and July was the third hottest since 1880 according to NASA's data (TXT file, and August data not in yet). That is still cherry-picking, but at least we have the scope right.

We should be looking at the long term trends on a global scale, like NASA. There you can see the trends, and if you dig into the data a little you will find that 2008 will probably turn out one of the cooler years of the last decade, but still well above the long term average.

A mighty wind is blowing...

John Pratt: "Most Australians are prepared to pay to fix climate change."

Another thought about this: I suspect a lot of people answering these sorts of surveys genuinely believe that simple, alternative technologies are available which will meet their day-to-day energy needs, and those of industry; or that painless sacrifices can be made in the name of climate change.

That it's about spending a few minutes less in the shower, or using Hebel blocks when building a house instead of regular bricks, or whatever.

They genuinely believe that an "solar powered car" is feasible or that you can run an aluminium smelter or a national railway grid using "wind power", or the geo-thermal energy is a tradeable export commodity just waiting to be tapped.

That's because the myriad eco-impersonators and enviro-educators that fill our airwaves and newspapers, alternately with doom-laden forecasts of imminent destruction and naively optimistic accounts of the feasibility of 'alternative' technologies, themselves don't have to make the hard choices and are free to peddle such fantasies at will.

But when it comes to the crunch....

Just a choice, really

Eliot, travelling faster than a horse, or flying were once thought of as fantasies.

There are plenty of alternative energies that we have discussed them endlessly on Webdiary. It's just a matter of reducing the subsidies on fossil fuels and switching to the alternatives. The sooner we move the cheaper it will be. It would also help if we became more efficient in the use of energy. Not hard really; just a choice really. The more we drag the chain the more expensive it will be.

As long as someone else feels the pain...

John Pratt: "Most Australians are prepared to pay to fix climate change."

Most Australians are prepared for someone else to pay to fix climate change, more likely. Wait till the jobs all start going to India and China and still the carbon emissions get worse.

Anyone can rig a survey with fuzzy, feel-good, 'what if' questions. But when it's your job or mortgage payments, that's a different matter - as the pulp mill workers in Tasmania would doubtless testify.

My bet? If its a choice between "fixing climate change" and that holiday in France, the jumbo jets will win out every time.

Anyone can be 'for' carbon trading - until they find out what it is.

Most Australians are prepared to pay to fix climate change

A major survey of Australians' views on climate change has found an overwhelming majority think it is happening and they're prepared to pay to address it.

The study by University of Technology Sydney found Australians wanted to see cuts in the nation's greenhouse gas emissions irrespective of the actions of other countries.

This survey shows Australians know that climate change is a real threat and are willing to pay to fix the problem. Our political leaders should take courage from this and make the necessary decisions to implement policies as soon as possible. It also shows how out of touch the Liberal party is on this issue.

Who thinks the planet's cooling while the ice keeps melting?

Arctic Ocean sea ice has melted to the second lowest minimum since satellite observations began, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Sea ice melt recorded on Monday exceeded the low recorded in 2005, which had held second place.

With several weeks left in the melt season, ice in summer 2008 has a chance to diminish below the record low set last year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Environmental groups said the ice melt was another alarm bell warning of global warming.

"It's an unfortunate sign that climate change is coming rapidly to the Arctic and that we really need to address the issue of global warming on a national level," said Christopher Krenz, Arctic project manager for Oceana.

The idea that globe is cooling rather than warming seems absurd when you watch the ice melting. As long as the ice continues to melt I think we have global warming. Observable science, no computer modeling here.

Global warming the least of our worries...

It is merely the latest manifestation of ecological disequilibrium.  I invite you to take a look at this abstract from Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin's (1995) The Sixth Extinction at http://www.well.com/user/davidu/sixthextinction.html.

A viable and habitable planet depends on species multidiversity.  Both plant and animal.  Without that biodiversity our species survival is at risk.  What a shame.

Global warming will hasten species loss, of course, and that is the real worry.  And it is not a matter of losing the cute and the cuddly.  It is an issue because of the complex web of interdependence between humans and other species of animals and plants.  Species interdependence is too little understood. 

Doing anything at all to slow down ecological change is the key to our survival and if that includes making major changes to rein in human contributions to global warming then that is what we must do. 

Otherwise we will have not so much an uninhabitable world as a world not worth living in.

Fiona: While I am indulging in a fit of pedantry, would all Webdiarists note that if you are trying to stop something by, for example, reining it in, you are pulling on the animal's reins. A reign (generally of a monarch) may well be something that needs to be reined in, but "reigning" and "reining", while homophones, are not synonyms.

I guess there is a fifty year Euro Bond

Mark Sergeant: "Not in general, but it's approaching certainty that the current global warming is down to us."

Well, I'd say this is the most disputed proposition.

But on re-reading your question I see you think you have already demonstrated it, since the record of 1998 has not been beaten, and the models predict (do you claim it?) that each year should be hotter than the last. It was really cold last week, too. I only have access to the reporting of the models, but my understanding is that they are saying that global temperature is increasing "on average".

Averages are fine if one is aware of what date the average commences. Would you like to supply a date? I mean, ten years of cooling is a fair size chunk of time. All the while emissions haven't just been stable, they've been rising. Would the commencement date mean that it will take twenty, thirty, perhaps fifty years, say, before we have a definite answer about the "trend" on average?

Analysing the trends

Most of the sources I've found start with 1975, Paul Morrella, though Skeptical Science has one starting in 1850, and links to the data if you want to play with it in your favorite spreadsheet.

I used the NASA data, which starts in 1880. When I calculated the average for each year from 1880 to that year, the last time it fell was in 1976. It has been rising almost continously since the 1920s. Using that would be unfair, because each year contributes a progressively smaller part of the average as the years roll on. I am glad I used the scare quotes for "on average", as the average isn't a very good way of analysing trend data. Slightly better is a moving average, and on this measure there has been a fall since 1998 if you shrink the range to only three years. As soon as 1998 falls out, there is a dip in the moving average. But we already knew that 1998 was extreme, and the moving average is up again the next year. There's a problem with the moving average, in that we are only ten years on, so we can't yet see any trend using a decent range.

For properly analysing the trends, you need to go to statistics which are beyond my competence. Try Wiggles, or Has Global Warming Stopped?, as well as the Skeptical Science link above. My favorite is Wiggles. The explanations are clear and mostly not too technical. Mostly he is discussing from 1975 to the present, but he has an update going back to 1850. Some have noticed that 1976 was particularly cold, and have accused him of cherry-picking. See the comments for his defence.

In the Wiggles comments is an answer to your question:

Ignoring polar areas (yes I know it’s an ignorant thing to do) we could use the HadCRU figures which, I think, give 1998 as being about 0.25 deg C higher than the trend level for that year. The warming rate is under 0.2 deg C/decade (lower if you leave out the polar areas) so we should expect it to take something more than 12.5 years after 1998 for the HadCRU trend to reach the temperature of 1998. i.e. it’s probably unlikely for HadCRU to be cooler than 1998 in 2011 and beyond.

It seems reasonable to me, with two qualifications: you would need an extra few years to be "definite", depending on the degree of definiteness; and you would also need to account for the complications that they have left out, such as the El Niño cycle, the 11 year solar cycle, and any major volcanic eruptions that come along. For "probably", I'll say 2012. For "definite", we need at least an extra five years - say 2017. That is on the basis that, by those years, annual temperatures will be consistently above the 1998 level.

Define your terms!

Perhaps I should define "annual temperatures will be consistently above the 1998 level", so that we can come back in five and ten years, and see how it's going.

If either the average or a majority (3/5) of the last five years is above the 1998 level, then that is "consistently". That is after the year's data is in, so for 2012 (probable) it is the years 2008-2012, and for 2017 (definite), the years 2013-2017. Since the El Niño effect that boosted 1998 can be accounted for, we use the figures after El Niño is removed. Note that I'm ruling out 2007, which was pretty hot (above 1998 on the NASA figures), and including 2008, which has been pretty cold in Sydney at least.

Skeptical Science uses three data sets: The Hadley Centre; NASA and NCDC. The criterion has to be met in at least two out of three data sets.

Even before removing El Niño, NASA has two years above 1998 and NCDC one. After removing El Niño, it looks like my criterion has already been met. Check out the third graph on the Skeptical Science page.

If the criterion is not met by 2012 (and we don't have a major volcanic eruption or other confounding factor) it is probable that the Earth has stopped warming. 2017 and it's definite. We can argue the reasons then.

A few answers

Ian MacDougall: "(1) 'Radical' is a term with a fairly elastic range of meaning, but "dangerous"? Please explain?"

Causing complete upheaval of people's lives is dangerous at the best of times. For something that may not even exist, it's completely irresponsible. Economically that's exactly what this proposition will do - and there are more than a few people in the know warning of such upheaval. Employment and future prosperity is a large part of people's daily lives, and the wilful destruction of this will have ramifications.

(2) What would constitute "a lot more proof" in your view? What would be the bare minimum development of the present situation that would switch you from opposing to supporting measures to combat (alleged) climate change?

I would like definite explainations about such things as the last ten years of cooling, as carbon has been rising. I'd like to know what part volcanic activity plays in arctic ice melting etc. I need more than a person pointing and saying look over here.

I've given a number of measures that would be positive in combating "pollution". An example would be tax incentives for green energy (say solar power panels) for individuals and businesses. I can't see why the government shouldn't bear the cost of such things - it is for the "greater good after all". And the Australian Government has enjoyed massive surpluses riding off the back of business and individuals. Perhaps the time has come to give back?

I would also advocate a tax on end user consumption - across the board. Why is it eco friendly or even economically responsible for some to pay more for the same amount of pollution? The answer is that it isn't. Hence, therein lies the makings of a hotch potch system.

Have we the time?

Paul: "I would like definite explanations about such things as the last ten years of cooling, as carbon has been rising. I'd like to know what part volcanic activity plays in arctic ice melting etc. I need more than a person pointing and saying look over here."

It doesn’t look much, but that’s a pretty hard list to fill. Moreover, it gives no idea of what would be adequate in your view. For example, if whatever vulcanism is found on the sea floor is not found to be adequate to explain the effects causing concern to the IPCC and so many scientists, would you change sides in the climate debate or would you simply call for no action until further research is done? Please bear in mind that certainty is a rare commodity in the study of complex systems like the atmosphere and the human economy, and there is a lot of informed opinion that we don't have much time to get it right, CO2-wise.

There is a very good website called Climate Debate Daily, which you may be familiar with. There one can read numerous arguments both for and against the twin propositions that the Earth is warming and that CO2 is responsible. In my view the climate change skeptics produce by far the weaker arguments overall.

There are also two other good websites, both run by people who appear to have legitimate scientific credentials. The first is World Climate Report, which is a ‘skeptical’ site in the usual climate change debate sense of the word. The second is Skeptical Science, which runs a nice line of skepticism on the aforementioned skeptics, and to my view is the better site; mainly because it is more balanced and less prone to undergraduate-style cockiness.

From it we learn:

Skeptical Science was created by John Cook, an ex-physicist (majoring in solar physics at the University of Queensland).

My interest in global warming began when I got into some discussions with a skeptical family member who handed me a speech by Senator Inhofe. It took little research to show his arguments were misleading and lacking in science.

Since then, I've scoured peer reviewed scientific literature in an attempt to penetrate the political agendas and cherry picking. I've noticed two patterns in global warming skepticism. Firstly, many reasons for disbelieving in anthropogenic global warming (AGW) seem to be political rather than scientific. Eg - it's all a liberal plot to spread socialism and destroy capitalism (or sometimes just plain dislike for Al Gore). As one person put it, "the cheerleaders for doing something about global warming seem to be largely the cheerleaders for many causes of which I disapprove".

Beneath the politics is a more elemental instinct - an aversion to alarmism. We've been burnt before. The media predicted an ice age in the 70's which never eventuated. Y2K was going to destroy society - it was barely a hiccup. And I won't deny there are alarmists in the global warming camp. Urgent cries that the ice sheets are on the verge of sliding into the sea. Or emotional pleas to save those cute little polar bears.

Sadly, alarmists seem to be the loudest voices in the global warming debate. But that doesn't change the science underneath.

So I ignore the distracting politics and ad hominem arguments. Instead, I concentrate on the science. And I noticed when the discussion did get to science, the same flawed skeptic arguments continue to propagate through the blogosphere, Chinese whispers style. This website is an attempt to examine all the scientific arguments that reject AGW.

Godel, Heisenberg, Kuhn ...

Nothing in any sufficiently complex system is fully predictable or explainable by any model or facsimile of less complexity than itself. The territory sometimes is the only fully usable map. So, in another part of the forest, debate about whether human decisions are determined by the sum of all experiences to date run into both Heisenberg and Godel telling them that that can never be (but generally philosophers and economists don't like any science after about 1920, because it doesn't support their simplistic dialectic).

OTOH you can get a good enough fix for broader brush, longer timescale predictions. It's much easier to give a good estimate for the world average temperatures in the next decade than it is to predict next week's weather. As I heard one presenter say back at Greenhouse 2005: "Sometime in the next century, a storm surge will take out the waterfront property in Surfers: I can't tell you when, but there is a 99% chance it will happen at some point ...". Paul et al would have us keep buying that property until the storms get so predictable that we can't sell it to anyone. I prefer to make decisions a bit before I don't have any choices.

Science and paradigm shift

David Roffey: "There's thousands upon thousands of pieces of evidence on one side, and a few as yet unexplained tweaks to the models to be done on the other."

Read much Thomas Kuhn?

Of particular interest in his field, of course, are theories that explain all the phenomena, no matter what outcomes are shown. They're nearly always wrong.

A bit post-modern

It's a long time since I read Kuhn, Eliot Ramsey, but there is a lasting image.

It is of a dwindling bunch of doddering old men, raging, as time passes them by.

My recollection is that his prime example was the Church v Galileo.

Or if you can't explain, stop repeating yourself

Sure, the increased precipitation that comes from warming means that the tops of some glaciers are getting thicker. It's all in the models, it doesn't "need more evidence". There's thousands upon thousands of pieces of evidence on one side, and a few as yet unexplained tweaks to the models to be done on the other.

Neither Paul nor the others on his side can actually be bothered to read all those pages themselves. They say "show me the evidence", then don't read what you show them, or only read a journalist's inaccurate preçis of the executive summary, and nitpick about any infelicitous wording (but again can't be arsed to check what the detail of the real report actually says).

Tactic two (step up Mr Lomborg) is to put it as a false dichotomy: "if we have $50 billion to spend, what would we get the best improvement for humanity from". But we have way more than $50 billion to spend. The cost of the new refineries and infrastructure we'd need if we wanted to keep using fossil fuels at the same through to 2050 would be around $1.2 trillion: so that's what we have available to spend on sourcing energy, because if we don't spend it then "radical" things will happen to the world economy will-ye-nil-ye. if we spend it on non-fossil-fuel sources and efficiency improvements we potentially get to 205 with hope: if we spend it all on oil and coal, we shaft ourselves. Paul thinks the latter choice is less frightening. No point in engaging with such irrationality.

Tactic three (Eliot's speciality) is to find some daft pronouncement by a doomsayer and say "that's what the left / the greens / the atheists / the ... are saying, so we can't trust them to know their arses from their elbows." Equally, some of the stupidities the deniers have come up with will be (briefly) amusing to play back to them later. Like "mark my words, petrol will be back under $1 by Christmas (2005)" - Jay White.

Enjoy it while it lasts

Mark Sergeant: "Mass hysteria is a nice theory, Paul. There's probably some of it about on the fringes."

This might include the bicycle tour guide who told me, and a tour party of about twenty others, that the Sydney Opera House would "soon be underwater due to rising sea levels".

Fear mongering at its very best

Mark Sergeant: "'Hysteria' would apply equally well to some of the deniers of climate change, where it gets mixed in with the agendas of some very big businesses - and with their money."

Only a fool would deny "climate change". Climate has changed over millions of years, and will continue to do so. What people "deny" is that it is man made. Big business? Well, owning a number of say wind-farms would be "big business" - and something that say an Exxon could easily afford. IBM didn't go out of business at the end of the typewriter age, and Exxon say, won't go out of business if oil is taxed at higher rates. Others, however, might.

The questions are:

1. Is climate change man made?

2. Can man stop climate change?

3. Will Australia make any difference attempting to do so?

4. Why trust computer models that have obviously been shown to be false? I mean the world has cooled over the last ten years. This in itself deserves to cause a level of scepticism.

As for arctic ice, we are only hearing one side of the story. Whilst parts may well be melting, it's obvious other parts are growing. it's also obvious that climate was vastly different in some of these areas long before carbon emissions. So why all of a sudden is this a man made problem?

Maybe it is apocalyptic, but it don't mean it ain't gunna happen.

Well, I'd need a lot more proof before I went around making radical and very dangerous economic changes. Changes that could well do much more damage than climate change ever could.

I will say it again: If people have included false or misleading scientific evidence they should (and could well) face academic sanction along with possible legal action. Good intentions are not an excuse for misleading behaviour. The next few years should give us all a clearer picture.

Fiona: For the second time today, Paul, please (a) read the email that I sent you, (b) look at how I have reformatted this comment, and (c) start adhering to Webdiary style regarding direct quotations from other Webdiarists.

In denial

Here are my answers to your four numbered questions, Paul Morrella:

1. Is climate change man made?

Not in general, but it's approaching certainty that the current global warming is down to us. Over long time scales there are variations in the earth's orbit and axial tilt, continental drift changes ocean circulation patterns and creates mountain ranges - all causing climate changes. Volcanic events like Krakatau & Pinatubo have transitory effects.

Variations in solar radiation occur, but "are unlikely to have played a major part in global warming".

There are natural variations, such as El Niño also affecting climate.

Then there's the greenhouse effect, which has been around since there's been an atmosphere, and we wouldn't be here without it. The principal greenhouse gases are CO2 and water vapour.

Water vapour cycles through the atmosphere in a matter of days, so is pretty much in equilibrium, with the amount in the atmosphere depending on the temperature. Since it returns to earth pretty quickly, there would have to be a major long-term flow of water vapour into the atmosphere for it to be driving increased global temperature, and we don't have any evidence for that. Water vapour is more likely to provide a positive feedback on temperature change from other causes.

CO2, on the other hand, hangs around for ages. The IPCC gives a range of 5 to 200 years (and explains the wide range). We also know that we have been pumping CO2 into the atmosphere over the last hundred-something years. Enough to be measurable, and enough to account for the observed current warming.

The warming has been on a scale, both in speed and magnitude, that is unprecedented. None of the other factors that we know can effect the climate are showing the sort of change required. Atmospheric CO2 is. Occam's razor or Sherlock Holmes, take your pick.

So, yes, climate change is man made.

2. Can man stop climate change?

No. But we can reduce our contribution to it. If we cut our GHG emissions enough we could end any significant contribution, but I'm not very optimistic.

3. Will Australia make any difference attempting to do so?

Not much. The USA, China, India etc will be much more significant, and have a much harder prospect. But if we take action now it reduces the excuses of the Big'n'Dirty, reduces the costs for us, and opens up economic opportunities. Being a good global citizen wouldn't hurt, either.

4. Why trust computer models that have obviously been shown to be false? I mean the world has cooled over the last ten years. This in itself deserves to cause a level of scepticism.

Can you point us to the models that "have obviously been shown to be false"? Not just the ones with known inadequacies, that are undergoing continual improvement. As David Roffey points out, a model is pretty much by definition false.

But on re-reading your question I see you think you have already demonstrated it, since the record of 1998 has not been beaten, and the models predict (do you claim it?) that each year should be hotter than the last. It was really cold last week, too. I only have access to the reporting of the models, but my understanding is that they are saying that global temperature is increasing "on average". If they include El Niño, then they probably include a bit of a down-turn after its last peak around 1998. What has been happening, though, is that as the models progressively include more of the known variables (such as El Niño), they are more accurately reflecting known climate variations, and still predicting warming due to CO2 and other GHGs.

Please explain?

Paul Morrella: "As for arctic ice, we are only hearing one side of the story. Whilst parts may well be melting, it's obvious other parts are growing. it's also obvious that climate was vastly different in some of these areas long before carbon emissions. So why all of a sudden is this a man made problem?... Well, I'd need a lot more proof before I went around making radical and very dangerous economic changes. Changes that could well do much more damage than climate change ever could."

I take it that the "radical and very dangerous economic changes" that you speak of involve the shift away from fossil carbon to renewable carbon, and to other renewable energy sources.

So two questions:

(1) 'Radical' is a term with a fairly elastic range of meaning, but "dangerous"?

Please explain?

(2) What would constitute "a lot more proof" in your view? What would be the bare minimum development of the present situation that would switch you from opposing to supporting measures to combat (alleged) climate change?

Please be specific rather than general.

"Time to stop backing fossils"

From this a.m.'s Business Spectator:

"A report from the Business Council of Australia has convinced the media to see carbon reduction as a dangerous and damaging cost.  Strange, then, that so many businesses are already treating it as a huge opportunity.


"I'd be shocked if the BCA had ever produced a report as short-sighted, misleading and profoundly disappointing as this....

When ...two such as BCA and the Australian Industry Group start branding money spent on energy infrastructure by coal industry as an investmant that has to be protected, and the money spent on renewable resources as an economic cost to the nation, I can't help but see some very large people with F for Fossil stamped on their foreheads standing behind the authors.

"...this has become a debate about corporate ideology and rent-seeking, rather than the enormous business opportunity that is being freely discussed in every accounting, legal and banking firm across the country."

Not a conspiracy, just forlorn hope

Mark Sergeant: "Can you explain the scam to us, Paul? Who is doing it, and why, and how?"

I don't think it's a world-wide conspiracy or anything like that. I think what we are witnessing is a form of hysteria. Something that has grown from legitimate concerns into the absurd.

Who are these people? Well, there really isn't any group in particular. In cases of all hysterical outbreaks there is a number of groups with a number of agendas - ranging from the honestly concerned all the way to the profit making "scammer". As with all hysterical outbreaks eventually we will enter the ass saving phase.

Personally a few years ago I was a believer (or at least very willing to listen with presumption toward the belief), believe it or not.

Similar to a crooked game there comes a point when one just knows something's not right. I can't say exactly what that point was for me; however, I've never had any reason to go back to my original feelings - far from it in fact, my scepticism only gets stronger with each seemingly more desperate apocalyptic prophecy. One sided presentation of the argument, desperation to dismiss reasonable alternative theories etc.

Let's be honest here, I can't be the only one that feels that way?

Wanting to change something, even if one believes it's for a good cause, isn't a reason to mislead.

Apocalypse Soon!

Mass hysteria is a nice theory, Paul. There's probably some of it about on the fringes. It's mixed in with the political agendas that Lomborg sees. "Hysteria" would apply equally well to some of the deniers of climate change, where it gets mixed in with the agendas of some very big businesses - and with their money.

It's a stretch to call respectable scientists hysterical, though, when all they are doing is reporting their best scientific understanding. It would be better to call it a variety of crowd psychology or herd behavior. No doubt there's a bit of that going on, but it still has to be established that we are getting bad science out of it.

Paul, you seem to be calling Steffen either hysterical or a con artist, on the basis of a single report of a speech he gave. According to the Courier Mail, what he actually said was:

In the 21st century a sea level rise of at least 0.5 metres is a certainty, a rise of 1 to 1.5 metres is more likely while a rise of up to four metres this century is possible.

Naturally enough, the media leaps on "four metres", which he only claims "possible". That's media hysteria for you. It's only newsworthy, by the way, because of who said it and when he said it. Otherwise, it's not very controversial. The IPCC figures (18-59 cms) were conservative to begin with (lowest common denominator science), and, in particular, in their assumptions on the stability of the great ice sheets. According to this article, the IPCC models didn't take account of longer term feedbacks. So half a metre is a reasonable lower bound, 1-1.5 metres is probably about right, and it could be four metres - we don't know, except that more than IPCC is pretty well guaranteed, and it could be a few metres.

There is a small chance of a four metre rise by 2100, but if it occurs the impacts will be very severe for places like Bangladesh and Bondi, with knock-on effects for the rest of us, and they will be felt long before 2100. Conventional cost-benefit analysis can't cope (Harvard economist disses most climate cost-benefit analyses, with another reason to doubt Lomborg).

Maybe it is apocalyptic, but it don't mean it ain't gunna happen.

PS: If the New Scientist doesn't work, try googling "sea level rise hansen new scientist".

Australia's disregard for its abundant sunlight

But saddest of all is Australia's disregard for its abundant sunlight. Australian solar scientists, snubbed at home by governments that spoke oxymoronically of "clean coal", went overseas to find someone who cares. Spain talks promisingly of powering entire cities with solar energy. Austria and Germany, cloudy countries both, are leaving Australia in the dust.

The name Alan Gray nags my mind. He's the editor of Earth Garden magazine, and not long ago he surfaced to give a brief picture of how he uses the sun to provide the electricity for his home and to run his car. So if you were a member of a state or national government and you cared about the environment, wouldn't you want to phone him and ask him how it's going and how he did it and if he has some ideas for doing something similar on a broader scale? So far, we haven't heard that that's happened or that any similar possibilities are being explored. Is that because governments prefer to talk to economists and to those who won't upset the apple cart because they sell the apples? Will Australia end up paying more enlightened countries for alternative technology and power? And once those sources are established, who will buy Australia's coal?

I keep hoping that the Garrett in my shed will prove to be the tool that converts inertia into productive energy and devotion to fossil fuels into alternative means that make sense for a liveable future. I don't know what the odds are, but, as I say, I keep hoping.

John Cameron is a freelance writer.

I think we are all still hoping Garrett, Rudd, Wong, or Swan - or anyone in the labor party - will use their time in power to move us from dirty black coal into the brilliance of sunshine.  We have an abundance of sunlight it; is criminal that we do not make full use of our best resource. Time to forget vested interests and put the people of Australia first.

Sell your coastal property while you can

Scientists at this week's Coast to Coast Collaboration Conference in Darwin have painted a dark future for the vast majority of Australians living along the coastline.

Barbara Norman from RMIT University's Global Cities Research Institute told delegates there is a drastic need for an inter-government approach to the management of coastal development.

She says local planning is based on funding opportunities rather than strategic direction.

Ms Norman says it is not logical for local governments across the country to develop their own coastal planning policies and a national approach is needed.

Scientists are predicting more that half-a-million residences could be washed away as sea levels may rise by up to four metres by the end of the century.

Ms Norman is calling on the Federal Government to implement a buffer zone along the Australian coastline.

"In future, priorities should be given to uses, what we call coastal dependent uses," she said.

"Uses that need to be by the sea and those uses that don't need to be by the sea should seriously be thinking about having them set back."

The cost of adapting to climate change will be enormous. Moving half a million houses away from the coast will coast a fortune. Never mind the cost of infrastructure to protect others from flooding. Town planners need to rethink tidal surge areas. Insurance companies must be thinking twice about insuring coastal properties. My advice: sell your coastal propert while you can.

Hot rocks could produce 26,000 times our energy use

The Federal Government will provide $50 million to the geothermal industry to help it begin making the technology viable for baseload energy production.

Speaking to Alexandra Kirk on ABC Radio's AM program, the Minister for Resources and Energy said there was huge potential for geothermal energy in Australia.

New figures from Geoscience Australia show just 1 per cent of Australia's hot rocks supply could produce 26,000 times the country's current annual energy use.

Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson says encouraging the development of geothermal energy is important in tackling climate change and ensuring national energy security.

Hot rocks will pay an important part in our energy solution. The Rudd government should be congratulated for this initiative. We have an abundance of renewable energy; it just takes the political will to bring it on-line.

Don't worry, say Eliot and Paul. Just ignore the science.

Eliot and Paul, I know you think I should listen to you and ignore the science. You probably are more qualified than the head of the climate change unit at the Australian National University and science adviser to the Federal Government, Professor Will Steffen. And all the other scientists around the world that are predicting sea level rises.

You probably know better the James Hansen. Who says it has happened before and likely to happen again.

Indeed, the palaeoclimate record contains numerous examples of ice sheets yielding sea level rises of several metres per century when forcings were smaller than that of the business-as-usual scenario. For example, about 14,000 years ago, sea level rose approximately 20 metres in 400 years, or about 1 metre every 20 years.

You're right, I should ignore the science, do nothing and hope all will be fine.

I'm sure my grand-kids will understand that I ignored the warnings because Paul and Eliot told me everything is OK.

I just wish I had your confidence.

The only tide moving is sentiment

John Pratt: "Kathy, with sea levels rising faster than predicted, what would you call a sensible approach to climate change?

The world this guy used was "could". You've attempted to make that "could" a definite - which of course it's not. Any person using the term "climate change expert" raises my suspicions. Is this guy an expert in sea levels by any chance?

"When are we going to start to move our cities away from the sea? Surely sooner rather than later would be the best approach." 

Well, obviously that'll never be happening. Most of the next decade will be taken up by investigating how this world wide scam managed to wastefully burn through 30 plus billion precious dollars. There will be loss of careers and some may even find themselves behind bars. The positive is that a light will at last be shone on the "scientific research community" - and, when one considers how important medical science is to all of us, I say, such a light is beyond overdue.

Implications for the Coastal Zone

Professor Will Steffen appears to be a professional climate change scientist of considerable eminence, Paul Morrella. It is reasonable for the ABC report to describe him as an "expert in climate change", and there is no indication that he was big-noting by using the words himself.

He does not appear to be an expert on sea levels specifically, but on climate change generally - meaning he would be pretty well up to date on the sea level side of things, while not engaged in the detailed research. As the opening speaker at a conference on coastal and marine issues, his job was to summarise the current issues (The Science of Climate Change: Implications for the Coastal Zone).

The possibility of four metre sea level rise is one of those issues. The abstract only says "an increase of 1 metre or even more cannot be ruled out", but four is widely discussed at the upper end of the range. He is saying that "[r]ecent observations suggest that the large polar ice sheets, especially the Greenland ice sheet, are less stable than we believed just a year or two ago". He doesn't mention, but it is the case, that theoretical understanding of ice sheet melting is pointing the same way. Together, it means that the IPCC underestimates sea level rise, with a significant probability that it is underestimating by a lot.

One of the problems I had with the Bjørn Lomborg article that Kathy Farrelly found "calm, sensible and practical" was that he would probably count Steffen as one of his "frantic campaigners, producing a barrage of ever-more scary scenarios", but he ignores the conspiracy theorists who think that climate change is a "world wide scam".

Can you explain the scam to us, Paul? Who is doing it, and why, and how?

We see things happening much faster than we thought

John Pratt: "Kathy, with sea levels rising faster than predicted , what would you call a sensible approach to climate change?"

How much have sea levels increased in the last ten years, John?

Problems with water and energy

One thing I don’t understand is the logic of desalination plants, powered by coal fired power to provide at huge financial and energy cost water that is not really needed if proper conservation measures were put into place.

But heck it makes good business when you have taxpayers to pay the $100 million plus initial outlay and can improve relations with Israel at the same time by helping their floundering economy by using their companies:

"It will produce 140,000 cubic meters of high quality desalinated process water and drinking water per day (50 million cubic meters per year), according to IDE, most of which will be used by the firm's industrial client for its manufacturing processes.

The contract, worth more than 100 million euros ($149 million) puts IDE in "a key position for competing in similar projects in the future," said Felder.

It also establishes for the company, owned jointly by the Israel Corporation Group subsidiary Israel Chemicals and the Delek Group, a beachhead in Australia where few water technology firms have gone before.

The project is slated for completion sometime in 2010."

So which industrial client here in Aus is going to use all that power to "make water" for industry, sweet water? (company actually announced the contract in Dec 2007 just before a possible float but didn’t read much about it here). In fact the client appears not to be named anywhere, and is kept confidential for some reason, which is curious – anyone know where this plant is being built and the company?

It is surprising that the bigger GE company didn’t get the contract.

Has anyone read about the proposal and the community response to it and the source of the power and funds?

Of course, such proposals have a poor record as far as blowouts are concerned:

"Australian desalination plant to cost $1.1 billion

The cost of the Tugun desalination plant has blown out to $1.1 billion - and ratepayers will pay more for water as a result. Just how much more is not yet known. However, Gold Coast City Council water committee chairwoman Daphne McDonald admitted water prices would be increased to help cover the spike in the cost of the project. Initial plans were for a $260 million desalination plant producing 55 megalitres a day. Cr McDonald said officers were still studying costings provided by the alliance consisting of Veolia Water, John Holland Group and Gold Coast Water and assessing how they would affect the city's water rates. There were concerns the price of water could double, even with an agreement to spread the cost throughout the southeast."

Veolia water has been in partnership with many Delek programs including Ashkelon in Israel.

One point one BILLION? Surely a typo from an initial $100 million cost...

Maybe they were screwed because of the time line pressure:

"Australia faces tight desalination deadline

More than half of the water projects needed to keep southeast Queensland from running dry in December 2008 are due to be completed within weeks of the critical month. Five major projects, included a Gold Coast desalination plant and the final phase of a recycled water pipeline, have deadlines in November or December 2008."


"Queensland, Australia to go ahead with first desalination plant

The plant, which separates salts and impurities from sea water for drinking, is expected to be completed by the end of November 2008 and provide 125 megalitres a day. Premier Peter Beattie and Gold Coast Mayor Ron Clarke today signed an agreement to start work on the Tugun-based project with initial investigation and design to cost $100 million. Mr Beattie yesterday used emergency powers in state water laws to set the Gold Coast and 17 other councils in the south-east deadlines for completing major projects, or face fines of up to $125,000. The projects, including new dams, weirs, pipelines and recycling, would form a water grid to drought-proof the region."

Wonder if the carbon credits are counted in for the power loads here. Note the interesting discrepancy in cost.

And for climate and energy concerns who can go past wave energy for desalination power:

Wave energy raises hopes in Australia for desalinated water without environmental damage

A $40 million commercial wave power plant at Portland would generate enough electricity annually for up to 30,000 houses or desalinate enough water for more than 50,000 houses. In a world first, Energetech is investigating using technology to desalinate water from some of the proposed 10 to 15 wave energy units to be installed in waters off Portland. Energetech chief financial officer John Bell said the plant would be based on a prototype built in Port Kembla. The wave energy units would be using standard reverse osmosis desalination technology and had the potential to produce three million litres of drinking water each day. Conventional desalination plants require huge amounts of energy and produce considerable greenhouse emissions, making the cost of producing drinking water higher than tap water."

Water sourcing is like that black gold, it seems:

"Indeed, analysts estimate that water-related equipment and services make up a $400 billion global market. In the United States alone, most analysts expect the water market to be worth at least $150 billion by 2010. ... The cost of reverse osmosis membranes, which lie at the heart of most desalination projects, has plummeted, but desalination still remains capital and energy intensive, and creates its own troublesome sludge. For now the water industry remains fragmented, with no company commanding more than 5 percent of sales. But it is consolidating rapidly, as big companies like Siemens, General Electric, Deneher and ITT continue their buying sprees.”

And here is the rubbish about buying offset renewable credits for the enormous energy expenditure the Victorian government water projects will cost.

And the French feel confident about bidding for this 2-3 billion buck desal, but why not local technology? In this dry country of ours while the rest of the industry is busy consolidating it time for a bit of government push and support methinks for a hugely growing industry worldwide – and perhaps as an add-on to our power plants – or even do the best option nocarb diet:

So what happened to the wind / tidal / wave / hot rocks options? Why this sudden rush for desal when we don’t even have domestic water tank programs properly running when that itself with almost no carbon expense would solve the "crisis". But that would mean less big business power plants and desal plants eh? Mates are mates


And you call me a dummy?

Hang on to your hats kiddies, here we go.

Committee approves plan to bury CO2 emissions:

A federal parliamentary committee has approved a plan for carbon dioxide to be buried in the sea bed to cut greenhouse gas emissions...the committee recommended the Federal Government bear long-term responsibility if anything goes wrong.

Now that would be a change, the Federal Government bearing the responsibility rather than the taxpayer.  Anyone want to help the campaign to enshrine that in legislation as is?  Maybe we could buy them all a piggy bank to start saving now or just legislate to take it out of their indexed super.

Let's not be silly - let's choose the best solution

Though there are some who are critical of Bjorn Lomborg, I do think he takes a calm, sensible and practical approach to climate change.

Much of the global warming debate is perhaps best described as a constant outbidding by frantic campaigners, producing a barrage of ever-more scary scenarios in an attempt to get the public to accept their civilisation-changing proposals. Unfortunately, the general public – while concerned about the environment – is distinctly unwilling to support questionable solutions with costs running into tens of trillions of pounds. Predictably, this makes the campaigners reach for even more outlandish scares."

And this:

If we are to find a workable and economically smart solution, we would do well to look at the best climate solution from the top economists from the Copenhagen Consensus. They found that, unlike even moderate CO2 cuts, which cost more than they do good, we should focus on investing in finding cheaper low-carbon energy. This requires us to invest massively in energy research and development (R&D). Right now, we don't – because the climate panic makes us focus exclusively on cutting CO2.

R&D has been dropping worldwide since the early 1980s. If we increased this investment ten-fold, it would still be ten times cheaper than Kyoto, and probably hundreds to thousands of times cheaper than Tickell's proposal. The literature indicates that for every pound invested, we would do £11-worth of good. The reason: because when we all talk about cutting CO2, we might get some well-meaning westerners to put up a few inefficient solar panels on their roof-tops. While it costs a lot, it will do little and have no impact on Chinese and Indian emissions. But if we focus on investing in making cheaper solar panels, they will become competitive sooner, making everyone, including the Chinese and Indians, switch.

Such a proposal is efficient, politically feasible and will actually fix climate change in the medium term. Being panicked by incorrect data and suggesting outlandish policies might create a splash, but it will stall our prospects of achieving real change.

Let's not be silly – let's choose the best solution.

Just out of interest, this from The Rocky Mountain News August 15th:

Today's high of 59 in Denver at 12:48 a.m. was 28 degrees below the normal high of 87 degrees for mid-August.

It shattered the previous record minimum high temperature for Aug. 15 — 69 degrees in 1933.

Calm sensible and practical

I was browsing Climate Debate Daily (thanks, Ian), and came across an article that has prompted me to revisit a post I started drafting a while ago, but never finished when the moment seemed past. But Bjørn Lomborg keeps popping up!

The article is Climate change is real, compelling and urgent, and it is a direct response to the Lomborg article that Kathy Farrelly cited (at Let's not be silly - let's choose the best solution) as an example of his "calm, sensible and practical approach to climate change". The author is Gary Yohe, one of the authors of the Copenhagen Consensus climate paper. He says that Lomborg misrepresents his findings.

Since Kathy's post, I've made two criticisms of Lomborg: the fact that he attacks the "frantic" campaigners, but ignores the equally hysterical and agenda driven deniers, and the inadequacy of his cost-benefit approach in dealing with "fat tails". David Roffey pointed out the false dichotomy he sets up (at Or if you can't explain, stop repeating yourself). Yohe says that Lomborg misrepresents him, and provides the details - 2oC becomes "approximately 4oC", for example.

Then there is a problem of disclosure. I didn't know, until I read the Wikipedia entry on the Copenhagen Consensus, that it was "conceived and organized by Bjørn Lomborg". I hadn't noticed, when I went to the Copenhagen Consensus website, "headed by Bjørn Lomborg" at the bottom. The only source Lomborg cites in support of his arguments is his own creature, and he cites it as if it were an authoritative independent source. That sort of behaviour is dishonest. Particularly so when he misrepresents them when they depart from his ideological position.

I have a problem with his claim that "all peer-reviewed, published economic models demonstrate that such an effort is a colossal waste of money". It is unclear what he means by "such an effort", so you can't establish if it is true or not, even if you could get at the journals. It may well be true, because conventional cost-benefit analysis breaks down with extreme events of low but unknown probability. It also rules out Stern and Garnaut, who aren't peer-reviewed. And he is misrepresenting the Copenhagen Consensus again (A guide to facts and fictions about climate change (131MB PDF) at page 17):

In a paper commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus, William Cline used an analysis of the DICE99 economic model to show that the overall benefits of the Kyoto Protocol would be higher than the costs, with the advantage accruing to developing countries rather than the industrialised countries that agreed to targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Lomborg and colleagues controversially reinterpreted the detailed analysis by Cline to reach the conclusion that costs were likely to exceed benefits for the Kyoto Protocol.

My last point is one that Yohe makes, and related to David Roffey's. Lomborg is stuck in either/or. Not only is he limited to the $50B, but you can't say we'll split it, so much this way, so much that. He's got a limited analysis from his Copenhagen Consensus, and even misrepresents that.

Lomborg seems calm sensible and practical, and his professed concern for the disadvantaged may be genuine (though he seems to discount the benefits for developing countries against the costs to the developed). He is as much an ideologue as any of the "frantic campaigners" he disparages, but he presents well.

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