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Apr 27, 2012

'I'd rather slam my cock in a door than debate climate change'

The sum total of useful commentary on ABC’s stultifying I Can Change Your Mind About Climate was five minutes of British scientist and author Ben Goldacre saying he'd rather slam his c-ck in the door then debate climate change, writes climate researcher Ian McHugh.

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The sum total of useful commentary on ABC’s stultifying I Can Change Your Mind About Climate, (herein ICCYMAC) was five minutes of British scientist and author Ben Goldacre. That the most edifying moments in the program included his admission that he’d rather slam his cock in a door than “debate” climate change probably tells those of you who missed it most of what you need to know. While apparently managing to restrain himself from threatened acts of penile self-mutilation, he made an obvious point.

Which was that climate change is not scientifically controversial.

John Tyndall first measured the radiative properties of CO2 in the 1860s (using this cool thing, the modern equivalent of which fits in a shoe box), and 150 science-filled years later, here’s that cauldron of leftist ferment, the US National Academy of Sciences:

“Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

Almost every national science academy and professional scientific association on the planet support similar conclusions. Surveys of either the scientific literature or professional opinion lead to the same conclusion: there is near-unanimity on the broad nature and causes of climate change in the scientific community.

So by any fair measure, there is a scientific consensus on climate change. And consensus matters. The views of the self-styled climate “sceptics” lie nowhere within the window of plausible scientific contestability, and nowhere near it. This presents a credibility problem for contrarians, because when we’re not equipped to critically scrutinise complex issues ourselves, we take consensus among experts as a useful guide. This is not just eminently reasonable — it is indispensable. It underpins the basic division of labour by which society operates.

The payoff is that society as a whole carries far more knowledge than any one person could ever hope to, but the price of entry is a basic level of trust, not in individuals so much as in the institutions that keep them honest. The point is almost so obvious that attempting to articulate it unnecessarily complicates it — we almost all implicitly understand this. And in other disciplines — medicine, say — we apply it without controversy (as Paul Nurse memorably put to the UK Telegraph’s James Delingpole).

The response of those who deny the reality of climate change is the strawman rejoinder (exemplified by Delingpole), “Science doesn’t operate by consensus”. This little piece of misdirection is true, but irrelevant. It is precisely because science doesn’t “operate by consensus” — because it is undemocratic, regularly acrimonious and pitilessly Darwinian — that consensus, once gained, is so powerful.

So what was the point of ICCYMAC? To get to the bottom of why climate change is publicly controversial? In that case the documentary filmmakers ought to have taken their turn in front of the cameras, because the media has been central — sometimes as vehicle, sometimes as driver — to the spectacular distortion of public perception on this issue in the past two decades.

Daringly, the program’s voice-over commentary invites the audience to wonder: “Are programs such as this part of the problem?” Yes. Yes, you bunch of freaking NINNIES, freaking OMG YES! Yes, your program is assuredly part of the problem. A bit of non-committal introspection doesn’t get you off the hook, by the way. It just confirms that you half-assed knew what you were doing, but did it anyway.

The media can and should take a position on climate change — it should be a “truth vigilante”, because we are dealing with a question of fact, with the ultimate impartial arbiter: nature. That the topic is publicly controversial is no escape clause for the media, because as the intermediary between science and the public, it is one of the primary bearers of responsibility for that controversy. Of course a great deal of pressure has been brought to bear on the media by those with an interest in fostering public confusion, and to say, “Yes we bend like saplings in the wind, but there is enormous pressure,” may be an important reason. But it’s barely an excuse.

And ICCYMAC bent sideways, actually reading its format directly from the denialist strategic playbook. As Frank Luntz in the infamous Republican memo of 2003: “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”

Of course there is a lack of scientific certainty — this is science. The denialist strategy has been to utterly misrepresent that window of scientific contestability, to yank it across the spectrum from, “It’s happening, it’s us, it’s a problem,” to “Who really knows?” They don’t need to win. They just need to wrestle the issue to a standstill by promoting the illusion of controversy.

Regardless, this discussion is probably pointless. You knew what you thought before you began reading. I can’t change your mind about climate change. That’s OK, I don’t want to. I’m past that. I’d rather slam my cock in a door.

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160 thoughts on “‘I’d rather slam my cock in a door than debate climate change’

  1. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Both programs last night fell into the trap of calling one side the “skeptics” and the other “believers”.

    I call most who post against climate change “deniers” because it is clear that no amount of evidence will convince them to change their minds. They are not skeptical about climate change, they are grasping every straw that they can to support their denial.

    Another reason it is wrong to call them “skeptics” is that the deniers are never skeptical about the information they hear than then pass on. A classic example last night was Michen’s talk of the warming figures being wrong because they were measured in cities and at airports. If Minchen had been open minded or skeptical, it would have taken him only a few minutes on the internet to find that this had been full looked into and taken into account.

    It science that is always skeptical – each bit of new evidence is scrutinised, not only on its own, but in how it fits into the bigger picture. Science has a proven track record of discovering new evidence and making major advances.

    You don’t “believe” in climate change, you ACCEPT the evidence.

    But, as Ian says, as most of us are not experts, our accepting the evidence is based on having FAITH in the overall scientific process and its institutions.

    This is not mindless faith because when we want to ask why the scientists think something we are able to check things out for ourselves – firstly with good overview information aimed at the general public, going all the way down to the the key published papers.

    Perhaps the key lesson from last night’s programs is that we can no longer assume that people are rational. While the dominance of spin and irrationality will have long term consequences to our climate, I’m sure that we will get many more situations where major public policy decisions will be made based on spin and lies.

  2. Frank Campbell

    MWHam: “If a scientist discovers something brand new to science which shows that climate change is wrong they will probably get the cover of Nature followed by the Nobel prize a year or two later.”

    Again the familiar naivete about the history and sociology of science- not to mention climate science itself: overturning such a ferociously defended hypothesis will not be easy. Scientists and many others have been cowed into submission, first by the messianic zeal of the proponents- and then by the power of the counter-cult. Denialism (not scepticism or doubt) has evolved into a cult exactly where you’d expect: the USA. Denialism has sucked nutrition from the partisan divide everywhere, but in the US it’s truly pernicious. Try being a modestly Warmist Republican…The US is an exceptionally brutal, essentially insane society. The feral Creationist, gun-stuffed, racist, war-mongering, segregated, class-ridden, god-soaked 18th century primitives who make up a large minority of the population have seized on global warming belief as a Sign of the Devil, a cloak for commos etc etc. Corporate America is well pleased, as they can sit back and ker-ching their members…

    The local variants of the anti-cult are also where you’d expect them. Rejoyce! You’ve nothing to lose but your Labour Member…

    Expect many more Labour members to be slammed in the door…

    But the real obtuseness of MWH et al is that they don’t realise that the complexity of climate and the long lead times mean that either confirming or rejecting AGW is bound to be incremental. Observational science will decide the issue, not computer models or Savonarola Hamiltons. Two recent studies for example: one showing the resilience of corals to warmer water, the other to the lowering of cloud levels (and hence temps). This will go on for decades. Nobels will go to both sides, and the “answer” will probably be “none of the above”.

    But the cult will not survive. It is already in its death throes. It’s own extremism cost it scientific credibility- and “climate” policy fiascos have killed it politically.

    The next step is to detach AGW from Left / Right partisanship. No easy task, given that for several years the climate cult intimidated all progressive opinion, casting the Right as anti-Christ. Now Bob Brown is in the wilderness, while naked, grinning Satan approaches…

  3. DMX PRIME

    Here here!

    When one looks at the various PR organizations who started this whole “controversy” and the tactics used, we see the same familiar faces and tactics behind the whole “Teach the controversy” thing with creationism and anti-tobacco-legislation people.

    The idea is simple, if people think theres a controversy they’ll tend to side with whatever side is most comfortable to them. So if you say “Hey this isn’t happening, heres a public-relati….errrr…scientist who says so!” people will side with that because it seems less worrying than “We have to change some of the way we live or we’re in trouble”.

    The reality is the debate was over 130+ years ago when Fourier demonstrated the greenhouse effect in the laboratory. He pumped CO2 into a room and shone light in, and the place heated up, proving the contention that CO2 traps heat from the infra-red spectrum. At the time scientists started worrying that CO2 from the coal powered industrial revolution would cause climate changes, although their modelling capacity pre-computer was obviously much more limited. As time went on we where able to add a bunch of new pieces to the puzzle from satelite data collection, new science on how CO2 interacts with oceans, and so on, to the point we are now where we can fairly accurately predict broad trends. There are *tens of thousands* of separate studies that all agree on the same point;- We’re in trouble.

    We need thus to take a cue from the biologists in the US who concluded that arguing with creationists simply promotes the idea that theres something to debate about climate changes reality. Its not. We know its not.

    The thing is , there IS stuff we need to debate. Like how do we go about fixing it. How much discomfort , both from climate change and from measures to try and stop it, are we comfortable with? If things go too far, can we cope with macro-engineering projects to try and reverse it? And so on……

    But whilst we sit around arguing with public relations hacks and clueless conservatives who have been led by the nose to the stupid-stall of the farm , the more the clock ticks past 11 and on to midnight.

    We need to stop debating fools and start mocking them. Seriously. This nonsense has gone on far too long.

  4. DMX PRIME

    Ok, apologies for my multiple replies!

    What I hate though is the use of the word “denier”. “There is no reason ever to force people to agree with anything, they have to learn from experience.

    No I think its appropriate. Skeptics are people that apply the scientific method to guard against humbug and pseudoscience. This is not what the denialists are doing! As a Skeptic and science dude, it offends me to be lumped in with this.

    Heres what a skeptic does when confronted with some science he thinks might be wrong. He designs an experiment, or an investigation of data that can in a *falsifiable* manner show than an earlier assumption was premature , mistaken or unwarranted. He then publishes them in the mainstream scientific literature where it will be reviewed by experts in the field, and if his research is any good, its published and all the boffins then read it and either go “Woooo!” or they try and refute it by the same process. Thats skeptical science in action.

    A scientific “skeptic” does not buddy up to an oil funded public relations firm for money to fly around the world doing talks aimed to cast fear, doubt and uncertainty against hard working scientists whilst promoting a belief system that requires *fundamental laws of physics* to be wrong for the belief system to be right.

    So I *refuse* to call these people skeptics. They are pseudoscientific charlatains and snake oil sales men, and they are wasting precious time where we could be spending trying to fix this damned problem.

  5. Steve777

    Frank Campbell and others – the uncertainty of the science is part of the problem. The earth is about 30-33 deg warmer than it otherwise would be because of the natural concentration of greenhouse gases. Humanity has increased the concentration of a major greenhouse gas, CO2, by about 28% since the Industrial Revolution, and this increase continues. By measuring the distribution of isotopes we know that is extra CO2 came from fossil fuels rather than volcanoes or the oceans. There is strong evidence (in retreating glaciers and polar ice for example) that warming has occurred and is occurring.

    Science is not able to determine in detail what effect this will have, but there is certainly enough evidence to be strongly concerned that humanity will be seriously impacted. The climate system is extremely complex, with positive and negative feedback loops, vicious and virtuous circles. It is possible that it may all work out OK but this seems to be a heroic assumption upon which to base our response. On the other hand the effects could turn out to be a lot worse than anyone is expecting. We don’t know. As to alternatives explanations of climate change over the centuries, e.g. solar activity cycles, the effect on the Earth’s climate is far from understood and those pushing these explanations seem to be assuming that additional CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere has no effect.

    Much of the debate has been clouded by people on both sides of the issue claiming dramatic weather events – floods, droughts, heatwaves, a cool wet summer – as support for their side. Of course you can never prove this, any more than you can prove that a particular case of lung cancer was caused by smoking. But I believe that science has given us their best assessment of the big picture, and it doesn’t look good.

  6. James Hastings

    @Steve777

    A common argument used by AGW proponents is that we must take action to avert AGW because the risk of doing nothing is too great. I find this argument weak on many fronts. Here’s why.

    1. Its seems weird to trumpet the overwhelming evidence in support of AGW and then fall back to saying that its “too dangerous not to act”. Either the evidence for catastrophic AGW is overwhelming or it isn’t. Saying that its too dangerous not to act is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a reasonable probability that the predictions of catastrophic AGW are wrong.

    2. Whatever the probabilities of various AGW predictions coming right are, there is a guaranteed outcome if we undergo the drastic action necessary to stop all fossil fuel production in the world. That is economic destruction.
    Think about it like this… if the worst AGW predictions come true then it will be like the worst bits of the bible. To stop that from happening we must stop using all fossil fuels right now. Not everyone installs solar panels and drives hybrids, but we stop using electricity pretty much at all. That sounds just as bad if not worse than rising sea levels and melting polar icecaps. I’d rather be in a world that’s too hot with aircon, refrigeration, functioning hospitals, internet, cheap clothes and food, and cars, than a world without all those things.

    So you’d have us swap a small probability of world destruction for a guaranteed one? Doesn’t seem sensible to me.

  7. Steve777

    @James Hastings – you put a good summary of a position opposing action on climate change – basically that the cure is worse than the disease. Fair enough, this is what we should be debating, not whether or not there is a disease.

    Still, you are mis-stating the position of those who argue for action. No one except fringe elements of the environmental movement are saying that we should stop using electricity, but rather that we should be moving to reduce our dependence on fuels that emit greenhouse gases. Personally, I believe that nuclear energy, for all of its risks, needs to be part of the mix, at least for the next half century or so.

    And we rarely have full information, let alone certainty, when we have to make a crucial decision, whether as individuals or as a community. I always thought smoking was a good analogy. For an individual, smoking does not guarantee lung cancer and early death, but it greatly increases their probability. Giving up smoking guarantees the loss of the pleasures of smoking but makes it much more likely that the individual will enjoy better health and longer life.

    Is the cure worse than the disease? If it just means we need more air conditioning, maybe not. But the effects are far more subtle. Likely effects include widespread changes to the distribution of rainfall, both geographically and seasonally. That would severely disrupt the economy of a wealthy country like Australia and bring famine to many less fortunate countries. And the downside of taking action? We end up switching to renewable sources of energy a few decades (oil) or centuries (coal) earlier than we had to, with what turned out to be some unnecessary taxes and bureaucracy. On the balance of risks, I support action.

  8. kd

    Oh look, a detailed rebuttal to Tamas claim: http:// http://www.skepticalscience.com/ global-warming-stopped-in-1998.htm (remove spaces) again. Broken record. Yawn. Not that evidence means anything at all to Tamas.

  9. David Hand

    Hey MWH,
    Rather than quote from an extensive article, let me publish in full the words of a prophet, who shifted public policy to the real pain of a lot of Brisbane residents, for your reading pleasure.

    It’s amazing how this piece, so thoroughly debunked in less than 5 years, hasn’t stopped Flannery remaining the darling of his acolytes who regale us ad nauseum, every time they do a post, about their scientific authodoxy and commitment to observable facts.

    Read it and weep.

    Editorial: Australia – not such a lucky country
    16 June 2007
    From New Scientist Print Edition.
    Tim Flannery

    Over the past 50 years southern Australia has lost about 20 per cent of its rainfall, and one cause is almost certainly global warming. Similar losses have been experienced in eastern Australia, and although the science is less certain it is probable that global warming is behind these losses too. But by far the most dangerous trend is the decline in the flow of Australian rivers: it has fallen by around 70 per cent in recent decades, so dams no longer fill even when it does rain. Growing evidence suggests that hotter soils, caused directly by global warming, have increased evaporation and transpiration and that the change is permanent. I believe the first thing Australians need to do is to stop worrying about “the drought” – which is transient – and start talking about the new climate.

    While the populated east and south of Australia have parched, rainfall has increased in the north-west. This has prompted some politicians to call for development of the north, including massive schemes for dams and pipelines. Some have even called for a large-scale shift of population to follow the rain. Yet computer models indicate that the increased rainfall is most likely caused by the Asian haze, which has pushed the monsoon south. This means that as Asia cleans up its air, Australia is likely to lose its northern rainfall. Australians need to leave behind their dreams of opening a new frontier and focus on making the best of the water remaining to them where they live today.

    To achieve this, much has to be done. Industry, power plants, farmers and households pay too little for their water, so they waste it. Water thrift is an absolute prerequisite for life in the new climate. The country also needs to shift to a new energy economy. Australia’s coal-fired power plants consume around 2 tonnes of water – for cooling and steam generation – for every megawatt-hour they produce. They also emit much of the CO2 that is the ultimate cause of the drying. Dwindling water supplies are raising the price of electricity, and to avoid an economic and environmental disaster the old coal clunkers need to be closed as quickly as possible and replaced with cleaner, less thirsty means of power generation. These could include geothermal, solar thermal, solar, wind or wave energy, and possibly clean coal.

    Australia needs to design and build an irrigation system fit for the 21st century. It is tempting is to try to fix the existing system, but that is hopeless. The country needs to move to highly efficient irrigation and to think laterally about water use. As the climate becomes more variable it may make sense, for example, to plant rice and cotton during the odd wet year, rather than persist with permanent plantings of grape, citrus and so on, which need water year-round.

    The cities need drought-proofing by, for example, installing water tanks in all dwellings that can accept them. Because in affected areas the decline in river flow is three times that in rainfall, water tanks that use roofs as catchments are now far more effective than dams for supplying drinking water in cities such as Sydney and Brisbane. Recycling can help too. This needs new investment and in some instances will require state government water monopolies to be broken up. It will cost more, but the benefits in terms of water security and recapture of nutrients in solid wastes are immense.

    Desalination plants can provide insurance against drought. In Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, water supplies are so low they need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months. Of course, these plants should be supplied by zero-carbon power sources.

    Last, but by no means least, Australia must ratify the Kyoto protocol and agitate globally for a swift and decisive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Our best theories show that Australia is suffering early and disproportionately from climate change. As one of the two renegade developed nations not to have ratified the treaty (the other is the US), and as the world’s worst per capita emitter of CO2, some may say that Australia deserves its fate. If it is to save itself from even more severe climate impacts the country needs to change its ways, and fast.

    Tim Flannery is professor of earth and life sciences at Macquarie University, chair of the Copenhagen Climate Council, and the 2007 Australian of the Year

  10. David Hand

    Hey MWH,
    I tried to publish Flannery’s article but have run foul of the moderator so I will try the link.

    http://www.science.org.au/nova/newscientist/105ns_001.htm

    It contains the words of a prophet, who shifted public policy to the real pain of a lot of Brisbane residents, for your reading pleasure.

    It’s amazing how this piece, so thoroughly debunked in less than 5 years, hasn’t stopped Flannery remaining the darling of his acolytes who regale us ad nauseum, every time they do a post, about their scientific authodoxy and commitment to observable facts.

    Read it and weep.

  11. drsmithy

    Its seems weird to trumpet the overwhelming evidence in support of AGW and then fall back to saying that its “too dangerous not to act”. Either the evidence for catastrophic AGW is overwhelming or it isn’t. Saying that its too dangerous not to act is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a reasonable probability that the predictions of catastrophic AGW are wrong.

    I’ve read this four or five times now and I can’t follow your logic. Exactly how is being convinced there’s a major problem and, therefore, that we must do something “a tacit acknowledgement that there is a reasonable probability that the predictions of catastrophic AGW are wrong” ?

    Whatever the probabilities of various AGW predictions coming right are, there is a guaranteed outcome if we undergo the drastic action necessary to stop all fossil fuel production in the world.

    Stop lying. No-one is suggesting this (at least, not in the timeframe you are implying).

    Give me a sober, science based risk assessment any day.

    The sober, science-based risk assessement says we should dramatically reduce CO2 output as quickly as possible, primarily from improvements in the areas of power generation and personal transport.

    Let there be plenty of debate about the correct policy response to climate change and if a few fools mutilate their penises along the way, that’s their choice in a free country.

    The problem is that there isn’t a public debate about policy response, there’s a public debate about *whether or not there’s even something that needs responding to*.

    So we’re going increase global temperatures by 3c? Big deal. Mankind has dealt with Ice ages and global warming before and yet still survived and prospered.

    Some of us have set our goals a little higher than bare survival. I don’t know about you, but I like the lifestyle I live today and I’d prefer my children and grandchildren have the opportunity to enjoy something similar.

    We’ve only got one chance at this industrialised society thing. If we screw it up, and lose our industrial base and technological knowledge, we (as a species) can’t go back around and have another go. If some natural disaster knocks society back to pre-industrial times, that’s where we’re going to stay.

  12. Blaggers

    I loved the quote from the doco “I rather slam my c… In a door than debate climate change” for it’s plain truth. Reminded me of another quote “its likemasturbating with a cheese grater, slightly amusing but mostly painful”
    The doco showed convincingly where the debate truly lies. If This was the best of the best that Minchin could come up with, if it is extremists like this that he, the IPA and media are listening to, espousing and convincing others of their warped beliefs, instead of listening to the science and scientists, then we are in dire straits indeed.
    The de.nier camp keep splitting hairs or focus on one aspect of a rather to divert the argument and support their own claim. As shown with Tamas whose bone is 0.7 of a degree. For others it’s all about global warming, when in fact we are really talking about climate change and increased and increasing extremes of weather and weather patterns. Some think they gain a few IQ points when calling it a Carbon Dioxide Tax – a colourless, odour less plant food. God is colourless, odourless soul food but we believe in its effects and notice its contributions. inane arguments, that try to create the sense that there is in fact something to debate.
    The one positive was that at the end both agreed on the need to focus on energy production rather than this idiotic to-ing and fro-ing. Real debate should be about what our future energy production should look like. For me it should not only be CO2 free but pollution free.

    Why was this moderated??

  13. Ken Lambert

    Hello KD and Tamas
    MWH – you too.

    The ‘stasis’ in surface warming over the last 14 years or so is causing major problems for the AGW hypothesis. Hansen and Trenberth – two of the leading scientists in this debate disagree on the extent of the warming imbalance at top of atmosphere – Hansen says it has shrunk in the last 5-6 years and Trenberth is still looking for the missing heat in the deep oceans. Clouds and aerosols are major unknowns in the vital areas of cooling forcings and feed backs and there is still no accurate direct measurement of the imbalance – nor any way of accurately measuring the separate components of forcing due to CO2 GHG, solar, aerosol cooling and feedbacks.

    I have been banned from John Cook’s Skeptical Science because I ask too hard questions and actually know something about the numbers. Others who calmly point out flaws in the accepted AGW science are similarly banned.

    For example Hansen last year came out with a negative forcing which he claimed accounted for the reduction in warming imbalance and the ‘stasis’ in temperatures. He called it the ‘delayed Pinitubo rebound effect’. Every attempt by me to engage AGW proponents in a discussion of this preposterous new forcing has met with stony silence.

    Trenberth does not believe Hansen’s ‘stasis’ theory for a minute, but still clings to the story that the warming imbalance has not reduced – its just that we can’t find the missing heat in the oceans – yet. Ocean heat measurement has only been worth looking at since deployment of Argo in 2003 and even then is incomplete and still short term. But the mechanisms for getting heat fast into the deep oceans is still unknown and likely to be slow – not fast.

    This alone presents major questions as to how a 30 year wonder (it started in 1975) – official AGW can be reconciled with very slow processes of heat sequestration into the deep oceans. A likely answer is – it just ain’t there.

  14. icer

    MWH,
    The European Geoscience Union had a session about just this thing in Vienna last week:

    http://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EGU2012/special_interests/CL2/9041

    Abstracts from both Hansen and Allan suggest that Ken Lambert is telling a few porkies.
    Surprising that Ken didn’t present anything, perhaps he got banned from this forum as well.

  15. David Hand

    David Allen,
    Why pick on Tim?
    Your question touches on an unfortunate aspect of the whole drama of action on climate change. Though I have never met Flannery, I have enormous respect for him and his commitment to making life better for everyone in Australia.

    I brought him into this discussion because he is a great example of the uncertainty of extrapolating observed climate measurements into the future. The 2007 piece I referred to was, in my view a reasonable way of looking at the climate at the time. Flannery was Australian of the year in 2007 and a person of great influence. I will also concede that had I been running the Queensland government at the time, changing the Wivenhoe dam operating procedures was eminently sensible.

    But the real point I am making that is relevant to this discussion thread is that the vast panoply of scientists wheeled out by the climate change devotees don’t actually know what the climate is going to do in the next 5 or 50 years: they are only guessing. Educated guesses maybe but they are still guesses. There is a great deal of consensus about what has happened to the Earth’s climate in the past 200 years but extrapolating it into the future lacks the same absolutism and certainty. Flannery’s dry climate paper is a classic example.

    So when Anna Rose goes on TV with a prediction of apocalypse, or some scientist predicts a human population if 1 billion in 2050, or some german scientist gets a run in Crikey saying that the USA must hit zero emissions by 2020 or we’re all doomed, those of us who say “Hang on a minute, what is the basis for your dire prediction and call for drastic action?” deserve better than to be abused by the global warming cult as deniers of indisputable scientific truth.

    The scariest experience for me last week was Anna Rose’s wide eyed certainty that she knows the truth. She reminded me of that Moonie who stopped me on the street in 1973 telling me that Comet Kohoutek was a sign that I had 40 days to repent.

  16. David Hand

    MWH,
    I’m sure Flannery was talking about climate, not weather.
    Parsing his commentary around the language “might” and “will” seems logical after the event but guidance and opinion by Flannery et al shifted policy making to a dry climate mindset. Desalinisation plants were built and the operating procedures of the Wivenhoe dam were changed from flood protection to drinking water security. That change in policy is why the dam was 100% full when the flood event inundated thousands of homes last year.

    So whatever uncertainty you might read into it now, that uncertainty was not there in the debate in 2007. Instead we had the “science is settled, Australia is drying out” rhetoric and anyone who questioned it was labelled a denier. A bit like today, really.

    Your statement “Climate change predicts that Australia is likely to have more extremes of weather.” is simply the given truth of the climate cult circa 2012. Read Flannery’s piece and you will find no reference to “extreme weather events”. This only came into the climate cult’s language when, much to their surprise, it started raining. The other notable language in the piece is the climate cult still called it “global warming” in 2007 not the more recent safer language “climate change”.

    And I just want to make one thing crystal clear. I am persuaded by the science that AGW has been contributed to by human activity and we should take action to reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. I am in favour of a price on carbon.

  17. David Hand

    David Allen,
    From Crikey’s editorial, 15 October 2009.

    “…….a brief account of the recent work of German physicist and climate scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. According to Schellnhuber, the United States must cut emissions by 100% by 2020. Germany, Italy and other industrial nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035. The world as a whole must be carbon-free by 2050. Otherwise … a spiral of chaotic change.”

    From Crikey’s editorial 15 July 2011.

    “…….In opening the conference, keynote speaker Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute, and former climate adviser to the German Chancellor and the EU, asked rhetorically: “What is the difference between two degrees (of temperature increase) and four degrees ?” His answer was concise. “The difference,” he said, “is human civilisation”.

    and from the same editorial.

    So how hot will hot be? One answer comes from Andreas Sterl and 10 colleagues from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and the Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at Utrecht University. In “When can we expect extremely high surface temperatures?”, they ask how extreme would temperatures be at end of this century if the global average temperature were to increase by 3.5 degrees by 2100 compared to 2000.

    And 3.5 degrees warmer than 2000 is where we are presently heading. If all the commitments made by governments around the world to reduce greenhouse gas were honoured, and that is all, then temperatures by 2100 would likely be about four degrees warmer than 1900, or about 3.4 degrees warmer than at the start of the 21st century.

    That’s right Dave, according to emminent climate scientists in Germany and the Netherlands, we are headed for 4deg hotter than 1900, a temperature that will destroy human civilisation and to avoid it, the USA must hit zero emissions within 8 years or we are all doomed.

  18. Frank Campbell

    David Allen: “I think including ‘Bumcrack University Climategate’ doesn’t do your credibility much good.”

    Unlike you and everyone else on Crikey, I read all the Climategate emails when they first appeared. I then edited them down to 100,000 words (much of the vast tranche was repetition). This was before any inquiries, reports etc.

    My conclusion was that the claims of fraud and faking results were false, apart from a couple of probable instances. What was abundantly clear (as I wrote often on Crikey at the time) was that the core group of computer modellers operated in a hothouse atmosphere, self-justifying and militantly defended against the slightest deviation. Just like any bunch of academics occupying a paradigm…They were ruthless and downright sleazy in wresting control of journals, conferences etc from their many perceived scientific enemies. Again, all perfectly normal academic behaviour. That’s why there’s an entire literature genre on academe: the campus novel.

    Also par for the course was their single-minded struggle to build a network of academic patronage. In the 90s remember, these people were nobodies. In a few short years (thanks to Gore and climate hysteria generally), they became (academically) awash with cash- i.e. grants. This enabled the rapid expansion of the patronage network. New career paths emerged for the many neophytes.

    This is why I always refer to the University of East Anglia as the University of East Bumcrack: the phrase is Annabel Crabb’s. Crabb is typical of current commentators in that she has virtually no knowledge of…anything really. And she’s too lazy to find out (no excuse these internet days. Shorten, Abbott and Gillard are likewise the new ignoramii: generalists with zero grounding/interest in the empirical world)

    Crabb is an uncritical ABC progressive, just as the Murdoch propagandariat express the half-baked ideology of their criminal master. Crabb “knows” what is right and what is beyond the pale. She knew in 2009 that no decent scientist would support climate scepticism. So it was natural for her to attack the status of dissenting scientists (she knows nothing about the science, the sociology, or the economics of climate policy). She used the “University of East Bumcrack” insult to denigrate scientists- unconsciously using the University of East Anglia (HQ of climate extremism) format. The intention was to ridicule dissenting scientists as provincial and thus inferior.

    Crabb ironically and inadvertently revealed what was quite obvious to any reader of the Climategate emails: that virtually all the inner circle (including Americans like Mann) were low-status, neglected, sometimes marginal academics- almost all affiliated with provincial universities.

    It just shows how the killing of sociology by corporate capitalism from the 1980s, not to mention the suffocation of history, philosophy, the history of science and pure science, has intellectually castrated the commentariat and made it vulnerable to manias such as climate extremism. Intellectual castration leads to gullibility.

    Reading the emails, increasing desperation is evident over time. Imagine it- on the basis of computer models you’ve called the end of the world- and you’re all too aware that you have the status of an East Bumcrack. You’re awash with grants, media and fawning dependents. But you’re also being heavily criticised. Panic sets in and some distasteful things are done by the beleagured group. But the real crisis is evidential. Trenberth expressed it perfectly in his lament- why isn’t it warming as it should? He referred of course to the post-1999 plateauing of global temps.

    No one has the faintest idea whether global temps will rise, fall or stay the same. Not a fracking clue. That’s why the Bumcracks are frantically chasing new, defensive hypotheses (such as areosols etc etc) to explain the absence of new warming.
    Let’s assume just for fun that AGW crumbles in the next five years, and the Bumcracks are in therapy, Paraguay or selling Turkish carpets in Hobart with Wilkie under assumed names…what will Crabb opine?

    Let’s hear it, Annabel. And same goes for Margaret Simons, Rundle and the rest of the vacuous commentariat which has delivered us unto Abbott…

  19. Frank Campbell

    Blaggers: of course you’re right- “all this pointless to-ing and fro-ing”.

    But you’re only right about the “science” headbanging. The other components of the climate fiasco are (i) technology (ii) policy (iii) politics.

    The incompetence, hubris and latent fascism of the climate extremists is much clearer when it comes to their remedies for climate catastrophe.

    (i) Technology: the intellectual dishonesty of climate extremism is summed up neatly by the bogus verb “transitioning”. Whenever you hear that, beware.

    The assumption is a suite of technologies exist which can replace fossil fuels right now, at a reasonable price. As they now exist, this is false. Many billions have been wasted on wind and solar. Worldwide they produce minimal power at great cost, a cost which is shoved onto the working class while some of the urban middle-class become electric parasites (solar). Hundreds of billions have been squandered- while basic renewables research langushed. The rest of the contenders are either unproven, uneconomic or non-existent. A billion dollars of public and private capital has been wasted on geothermal in Australia- one of Flannery’s silliest fantasies (the desert city Geothermia). Wave and tidal remain comic asides, like the “Anaconda” (look it up).

    (ii) Policy: Yet massive spending on current renewables is the main thrust of policy, guaranteeing not only waste but rapid obsolescence: why throw money at wind turbines and solar panels when (alleged) rapid devt. of these technologies will quickly render them redundant? Or made redundant by a new killer app just around the corner.

    (iii) Politics: Far from killing off fossil fuels, the govt is sponsoring a fossil fuel bonanza. Gillard said while campaigning in Qld coal seats in 2010 “coal has a fantastic future”. She meant it. The gas boom, tar sands etc worldwide have boosted fossil fuels further. The rest of the world is doing little other than window-dressing- apart from Europe which in its present miserable state deeply regrets the waste on renewables…

    What does the “carbon tax” do? It adds to the cost of living, modestly perhaps, but requiring “compensation”. The rest of the money goes to “polluters” and to the aforementioned failed renewables. And the carbon tax will not inhibit the fossil fuel boom, not least because the tax is unilateral- surely the most idiotic aspect.

    Meanwhile, the climate mania has been fading since 2006. In 2009, 11% of Green voters thought it was “exaggerated”. Higher now for sure. Most people are not deniers, they are simply sceptical about imminent Armageddon. The aggression and absolutism of climate cult propagandists, along with govt incompetence, has crippled progressive politics in this country.

  20. Blaggers

    Frank,

    All this head-banging on the science is what is stagnating (dare I say it, keeping us from moving forward) on technology, policy and politics. The problem is that the head-banging on the science means we get stuck in the status quo which is exactly where the energy companies and various interests want to keep it for as long as possible.

    (i) Technology: Yes, I would love, and I’m sure many others would too, that we could flip the switch and move directly to renewable energy. But reality is that this cannot happen, and there has to be a “transition”. You are correct in that some would prefer this transition to happen way quicker than others.
    I need to ask how so many people are able to “go off the grid” if solar is as useless as you make out. As with everything, it is about moderation in the amount you consume. At the moment we are energy gluttons, and yes I include myself in this.

    You throw in the cost fear. I for one am happy to pay extra, as i currently do, for green, renewable technology and as i do for organic food.

    “Hundreds of billions have been squandered- while basic renewables research languished.” This is a bug bear for me which I lay blame squarely on the shoulders of the previous Liberal government led by Howard. So many years of R&D wasted. Instead of being a leader in the field, we yet again become a follower. Of course the succeeding government have done none better.

    (ii) Policy: what you are talking about is exactly what should happen with proper research and development. As new technologies and new ways of approaching problems become apparent, through research and development, the old technology and thinking becomes redundant. Rapid development is a good thing. The money “thrown” at this is hardly a waste. Again the head banging on the science is what renders this research and development to the doldrums, waiting for others to do what we should be doing, and perhaps focusing efforts in the wrong direction, and to the benefit of the energy companies and vested interests.

    (iii) Politics: Both Labour and Liberals currently as useless as T’s on a bull in this (and most) regard. Here is where the drive should be coming from, but both major parties are bought by mining and energy interests and the public can go F itself. Profit, profit, profit.

    “What does the “carbon tax” do? It adds to the cost of living” This is exactly what happened when the GST came in. Everybody added an extra 10% regardless. Same thing here. Everyone is adding extra cost with the “we need to pass this cost onto the consumers” BS line. These companies who are charged the carbon tax could quite easily bear the cost of the polluting without “passing on the costs”. But that’s just my view.

    I appreciate your response, but still leaves me questioning “Can someone please answer what is so bad in transitioning over to renewables or non polluting energy sources?” regardless of climate change.

  21. drsmithy

    the intellectual dishonesty of climate extremism is summed up neatly by the bogus verb “transitioning”.

    Right. Because it’s not like the world transitioned from one energy source to another before in the past. Nope, it was all “we’re burning sticks for warmth” one day and “megawatt scale coal power stations” the next.

    The assumption is a suite of technologies exist which can replace fossil fuels right now, at a reasonable price. As they now exist, this is false.

    Not true at all. Individual solar can provide nearly sufficient generation capacity for the average home at a cost of a few thousand dollars. Electric or hybrid cars are a drop-in substitute for the majority of people and do not command a huge premium over traditional vehicles.

    Remembering, of course, that many of the current “institutions” like coal power and petrol-driven vehicles are disproportionately cheap because their true costs are not captured.

    Many billions have been wasted on wind and solar. Worldwide they produce minimal power at great cost, a cost which is shoved onto the working class while some of the urban middle-class become electric parasites (solar).

    No wasted, invested. Making the technology cheaper and more accessible. Better to do this now, while we are a relatively rich society, rather than in a century when we would be relatively poor.

    Hundreds of billions have been squandered- while basic renewables research langushed.

    What is this “basic renewables research” you’re talking about ? It’s hard to get a much more basic renewable energy source than solar power.

    Yet massive spending on current renewables is the main thrust of policy, guaranteeing not only waste but rapid obsolescence: why throw money at wind turbines and solar panels when (alleged) rapid devt. of these technologies will quickly render them redundant?

    Because, Frank, the only reason they are being “rapidly obseleted” (in itself a highly questionable assertion) is *because* of the money being spent on them.

    Or made redundant by a new killer app just around the corner.

    What “killer app” ? What energy revolution are Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny going to team up and deliver to us on the back of a unicorn ?

  22. Frank Campbell

    Blaggers et al:

    The “uselessness” of solar refers to scale. Solar is too intermittent and expensive to challenge conventional powergen. That’s all. Subsidising domestic solar is a waste- and a transfer of wealth from the poor to a section of the middle class.

    Solar thermal for domestic hot water has been economic for years- and there are other small-scale and remote applications for PV panels etc. This doesn’t affect the big picture. Germany squandered scores of billions on solar panels. Miniscule production, and emissions keep rising. Hence the fraught struggle between nuclear and FF in Germany, still unresolved…

    “What energy companies want”, i.e. blocking renewables…this is an argument about vested interests and occurs in most threads on this topic. Of course FF interests will fulminate and plot to preserve their trapped capital (brown coal in Vic for eg- should be converted to gas before they destroy the best agricultural land in the state by strip-mining). But most energy companies will exploit any source of profit. That’s why many of them are into everything- wind, solar, coal etc. The MRET enables them to profit from “renewables” by forcing retailers to buy the power whether they want it or not (they don’t- it’s not only very expensive, but a damned nuisance to manage the surges, intermittency etc).

    Capitalism is organised, legally protected greed. So they’ll grab any forced sale, subsidyor grant that’s going, while expanding FF at the same time. Morality or “the planet” are irrelevant.

    The bottom line of this argument is that “transitioning” to renewables is a cruel deception, given the state of that technology. Nothing is gained. Emissions keep rising. Political capital is lost.

    Consider these assertions from Smithy, which are still widely believed:

    “Individual solar can provide nearly sufficient generation capacity for the average home at a cost of a few thousand dollars. Electric or hybrid cars are a drop-in substitute for the majority of people and do not command a huge premium over traditional vehicles.”

    Who wouldn’t prefer an electric car? True, they have to be charged from a power point (FF power), but there are many advantages. Fact is they are still far too expensive. There IS still a “huge premium”. They’re a middle-class consumerist indulgence- at the moment. Read the reviews- range anxiety alone kills the current models. The promised range is usually far less in practice.

    As for domestic solar, sure it can reduce private grid consumption- but at what cost and to whom? And does it make a dent in emissions? I’ve been tempted to exploit the subsidies, but I’d be a right hypocrite if I did.

    “Not wasted, invested” (i.e. money spent on existing renewables)- it will get cheaper…

    This is without doubt the most insidious argument of all- but it’s false. Economic nonsense: installing uneconomic technology is bad enough, but if it becomes obsolete through rapid tech. devt., you’re stuck with it.

    The intellectual sleight of mind here is to represent more panels/turbines as creating the economies of scale. Lots more means production costs fall. Problem here is that the proportion of total cost (inc. long-term subsidies) represented by panels etc is small. Worse, by installing more turbines/panels the total cost escalates- and that cost is far more than FF.
    Ironically, the cheaper the hardware, the less economic the whole enterprise is over say 25 years.

    This is why research is the only answer. Without economic storage, none of the intermittent renewables have a future- and power storage is still primitive.

  23. kd

    [ The “uselessness” of solar refers to scale. Solar is too intermittent and expensive to challenge conventional powergen. That’s all. Subsidising domestic solar is a waste- and a transfer of wealth from the poor to a section of the middle class. ]

    Nice bit of empty rhetoric frank. Doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny though. Domestic PV (which is what you’re referring to, handily ignoring the ulra-efficient solar hot water to fit your alarmist ideological posturing) is good at matching peak daytime load. Increase in peak daytime load caused by excessive use of air con is what’s caused a lot of current infrastructure problems. In fact I’ve seen it argued that I as a non-AC owner am subsidising AC owners substantially due to their infrastructure costs being passed on to me.

    And the next (related) bit you’re ignoring is the enormous scope for efficiency gains. But it’s OK, everyone is ignoring that. My understainding with the problem with efficiency gains are 1. payback is typically in a 7 year period (would seem that government intervention to make payback sooner would be an ideal policy), and 2. Jevons’ paradox (which can be routed around with creative policy as well).

    But all this sensible policy discussion requires an alert not alarmed attitude, and the painting of the whole debate as a bunch of “environmental catastrophe alarmists” versus a bunch of “economic catastrophe alarmists” is incredibly stupid. And you Frank are part of that stupidity, although honestly speaking it is a bit of a unique brand of stupidity.

  24. drsmithy

    Who wouldn’t prefer an electric car? True, they have to be charged from a power point (FF power), but there are many advantages. Fact is they are still far too expensive. There IS still a “huge premium”. They’re a middle-class consumerist indulgence- at the moment. Read the reviews- range anxiety alone kills the current models. The promised range is usually far less in practice.

    The real-life ranges of electric cars are more than adequate to service the vast majority of people’s *actual* usage (as opposed to their imagined usage). Hybrids, of course, don’t have a range problem at all.

    This is without doubt the most insidious argument of all- but it’s false. Economic nonsense: installing uneconomic technology is bad enough, but if it becomes obsolete through rapid tech. devt., you’re stuck with it.

    By your rationale no-one – past, present, or future – should ever buy (or have bought) a computer, since they have been in a state of “obselence through rapid tech. devt.” pretty much since day 1. Fortunately, people with more vision and sense have been involved in business and society, which is why we no longer sit around doing calculations with slide rules and correspond through written letters.

    This is why research is the only answer. Without economic storage, none of the intermittent renewables have a future- and power storage is still primitive.

    The need for better energy storage is well know and understood and massive amounts of research are being conducted into it (thermal solar . Don’t insult us by implying you’re voicing some sort of forbidden epiphany in mentioning it.

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