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Al Goreís movie meets its match in Stockholm

By Bob Carter - posted Friday, 13 October 2006


Al Gore’s recent visits to Australia and Scandinavia to publicise the launch of his movie, An Uncertain Truth, jollied up - but regrettably did not materially illuminate - public discussion of the global warming issue.

Mr Gore arrived in Scandinavia, by chance, at the same time that a technical meeting on climate change was in progress in Sweden. The science discussed at the meeting did nothing to reinforce the apocalyptic climate message contained in Mr Gore’s film, but rather mostly directly contradicted it.

Given that fact, and given that the timing was just a few days before a general election, the lack of coverage of the climate meeting in the Swedish media - which virtually ignored it - was astounding. And especially so because public statements at the time by the president of the European Union Council, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, stressed that preventing global warming remained of the highest priority for the member states of the union.

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Mr Vanhanen and his advisors, not to mention Swedish politicians of all stripes, obviously remain innocent of knowledge of the real facts regarding human-caused climate change, such as were presented to the Stockholm conference.

Held at KTH, Sweden’s leading science and technology university, and hosted by its president, physicist Professor Anders Flodström, the September 11-12 meeting was entitled “Climate Change - Scientific Controversies in Climate Variability”.

An audience of about 120 persons from 14 countries heard a much more balanced account of climate change science than is presented to viewers of Mr Gore’s film.

For conference organiser, Professor Peter Stilbs, had taken care to invite speakers with a diverse range of views, including people who argue that adaptation to the dangers of natural climate change (which include especially the threat of cooling) is the key issue, as well as supporters of the view that dangerous human warming is already upon us and that no expense should be spared in its mitigation.

Those on the “global warming is dangerous” side of the argument included Professor Bert Bolin, first chairman of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In an extraordinary outburst against a speaker discussing the carbon cycle, Professor Bolin suggested that the speaker might improve his knowledge if he consulted a textbook, and threatened to withdraw from the meeting if critical discussion continued. Happily, the other participants were undeterred by this intolerant disruption, and, after listening to some further comments by Professor Bolin, the meeting continued in constructive vein.

Leading climate modellers Professors Hans von Storch and Lennart Bengtsson described the attribution studies that the IPCC uses to recognise the “fingerprint” of human-caused warming.

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That such models can mimic the elapsed temperature curve over the past 100 years does not constitute “evidence” for human-caused global warming, but rather indicates only that - given enough degrees of freedom - even the most complex natural time series can be model-matched. Also, many of the models omit such well-known climate forcings as solar change. At any rate, few at the meeting seemed convinced that even the latest and best climate models possessed significant predictive or unique attribution skill.

Former research director of the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, Professor Sten Bergstrom, described the many vicissitudes of recent natural climate change in Sweden, which have included the presence of a covering of ice more than one kilometre thick over much of the country as little as 20,000 years ago. Commenting about the difficulty of distinguishing possible human-caused changes from natural variability, his conclusion that “the main problem is adaptation to today’s climate” resonated strongly with many in the audience.

Many other feet-on-the-ground science results were discussed at the meeting. For instance, the remarkable fact that global average temperature has been static since 1998 despite increasing carbon dioxide emissions. And that the short period of late 20th century warming of about 0.4 deg C that preceded this stasis took place at a rate, and to a magnitude, that lies within natural climate variability. Previous claims to the contrary, including those of the IPCC, were based largely on “hockey stick” or “spaghetti diagram” statistical depictions of climate history that are now scientifically discredited, as explained to the meeting with elan by Canadian mathematician Steve McIntyre.

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About the Author

Professor Bob Carter is a researcher at the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University. Copies of scientific papers and other media articles by Bob Carter can be accessed through his website.

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