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Sceptics will have their day

By Mark S. Lawson - posted Thursday, 17 April 2008

One very clear result from last year’s Federal election is that the greenhouse activists have won the political battle. Now the government is set on several years of bad policy decisions based on terrible science, with the majority support of a public which may have largely misunderstood what the debate is about, and there is nothing much sceptics can do but retire to a corner and mutter.

Although I admire the On Line Opinion site very much, I doubt whether articles by myself and others or articles in, say, the Australian Skeptic, will make the slightest difference, for the moment. We can point to long lists of scientists, as Bob Carter recently did, including climatologists and meteorologists, who declare that the case that humans have caused some part of the current warming is based on little more than hot air, and still read in the newspaper the next day a dozen articles quoting activists as saying that there is a “concensus” that industrial gases are driving the change.

What sceptics need is irrefutable proof that temperatures are ignoring the greenhouse theory and I would recommend laying low until that proof comes along. No one is listening in any case.


We may not have to lay low very long. For, as the attached graphic shows, the Earth’s climate is ignoring greenhouse theories. Temperature records kept by the Hadley Centre in England (one of the main centres for climate studies) show that global mean annual temperatures actually fell slightly last year, and the year before that, and to judge from the early results are set for a major fall this year (see note 1 at the end of the article).

Global Average Temeratures
Source: Hadley Centre (see note 1)

Although residents of Adelaide, and perhaps Melbourne, may trouble believing it, January proved a much cooler month in global terms than in previous years, as did February. This year’s monster low is, in part, due to the La Niña climate cycle - the opposite of the warm El Niño cycle - which is cooling temperatures in the Pacific.

Three years worth of results means little in climate terms, of course - although, as has been repeatedly noted, not much has happened since the monster high of 1998. Greenhouse proponents do not want to hear about subdued warming, of course, and they particularly do not want to hear about temperatures going down rather than up. Hence there have been various efforts to show that long term warming has been masked by short term climate cycles, of which there are many, some acting over decades.

One group at the UK Meteorological office declared in August last year that an improved model, taking into account short term effects, showed that temperatures would remain subdued this year, and then start increasing at about 0.3C a decade (see note 2).

Another group, headed by Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of Potsdam University in Germany claimed that the warming is actually at the top end of the range predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2001. In effect, the group is saying the earth is really warming at a rate of 0.6C per decade, once these short term effects are taken into account (see note 3) - not the 0.1C or so that had been measured at the time of the paper and less now.


It says a lot about the state of debate in this country, that the last claim was picked up and repeated by government policy advisor Professor Ross Garnaut in recent public comments on his efforts to hammer out policy approaches to climate change, and went virtually unquestioned. I later queried Professor Rahmstorf by email: he referred me to material on climate cycles and his paper, which I found to be puzzling. The figures must have been adjusted by a substantial amount for the conclusions to make any sense but the paper barely bothers to mention this. There is a laconic note deep in the paper, which is not otherwise explained or footnoted, that all trend lines are “computed with an embedding period of 11 years”. Given the still patchy knowledge of climate cycles, and that the paper’s conclusions are vastly different from observations, this point should have been discussed in far greater detail.

For the record I have also asked several Australian scientists if they can be specific about which climate cycles are apparently masking the warming over more than a decade and, apart from the aforementioned La Niña causing the current monster low, have received only vague replies about natural variability.

For the moment all this is to just shout into a hurricane. Colleagues occasionally express amazement that I am denying climate change, and point triumphantly to stories about the Arctic melting or whatever. I point out that the argument is actually whether human activity has added to the current, natural warming cycle and, most contentious of all, whether serious projections are possible from what we know.

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About the Author

Mark Lawson is a senior journalist at the Australian Financial Review. He has written The Zen of Being Grumpy (Connor Court).

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