May 5, 2009

Plimer wants to talk science? OK, here goes…

Given that Ian Plimer has written today in The Australian that no "critic has argued the science" with him, I thought I'd have a go.

"Critics, who have everything to gain by frightening us witless with politicised science, have now shown their true colours. No critic has argued science with me. I have just enjoyed a fortnight of being thrashed with a feather." -- Ian Plimer, today’s Australian Bold claims that the science is “missing” from the extensive research conducted by the world’s premier research bodies (Hadley-Met, NASA, Potsdam-Oceanographic, CSIRO, Tindall, National academies of science) need to be backed by evidence. The argument that figures reported in thousands of peer-reviewed science journal papers and complied by International and government panels (IPCC, Stern, Garnaut) are wrong and amount to attempts at reinvention of the basic tenents of physics and chemistry of climate science needs to have solid science behind it. These are the kinds of arguments in Plimer’s book “Heaven and Earth: Global Warming – The Missing Science”.[1] But he doesn't back them up. And given that he's written today in The Australian that no "critic has argued the science" with him, I thought I'd have a go. The book overlooks the effects of more than 305 billion ton of carbon (GtC) emitted since the 18th century, nearly 42% of the total atmospheric inventory of 750 GtC, which pushed CO2 levels to 387 ppm, 38% higher than the maximum of 280 ppm of the last 2.8 million years of glacial-interglacial Earth history. [3] The consequent increase in the energy level of the atmosphere (1.6 Watt/m2 ~1.2 degrees C) (IPCC-2007), once the masking effects of emitted sulphur aerosols are taken into account, are manifest around the globe [2]. Further to numerous errors indicated earlier, Plimer’s book claims current global warming is a natural event consistent with climate variability through time and attributed primarily to the sun. The book negates the well documented consistent relations between climate and carbon gases, which through the Earth's history resulted in temperature changes in the range of several degrees C [4], including abrupt climate changes and related mass extinction of species [5]. The book exaggerates the effects of the sun. However, since the 18th century the overall rise of solar insolation accounts for no more than 0.12 Watt/m2 (about 0.1 degrees C), an order of magnitude less than the CO2 greenhouse effect [2]. A marked rise in insolation by about 0.3 Watt/m2 during the first half of the 20th century stabilized since the 1970s at +/-0.1 degrees according to the 11 years sunspot cycle, a period during which Earth warmed by about 0.6 degrees C due to the rise in CO2 [6]. Thus, Solanki et al. 2005 state:
“Although the rarity of the current episode of high average sunspot numbers may indicate that the Sun has contributed to the unusual climate change during the twentieth century, we point out that solar variability is unlikely to have been the dominant cause of the strong warming during the past three decades." [6]

The book attempts to discredit national and international climate research reports, primarily the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to which the world’s leading climate scientists have contributed. By contrast, as shown by the tracking of CO2, temperature and sea level rises since 2001 at the top of IPCC projections [7], the IPCC reports appeared to err on the conservative end.

Lost in the current climate wars is an appreciation of the sensitive balance between the physical and chemical state of the atmosphere and the biosphere, which has controlled the emergence, survival and demise of species, including humans, and whose disruption resulted in abrupt climate shifts and mass extinction of species.

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