Miranda asks a question or two on climate change

27 May


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Why shouldn’t we be told humans produce a small fraction of the CO2 that goes into the atmosphere each year, compared with volcanoes, bacteria, animals, rotting vegetation and the oceans?

That is in Miranda’s damp squib defence of “The Great Global Warming Swindle, a science-backed [sic] rebuttal of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.” I’ll let notoriously non-Marxist Christian Sir John Houghton, a top meteorologist and former Professor of Atmospheric Physics at Oxford University, reply. You can download his PDF Global Warming, Climate Change and Sustainability: Challenge to Scientists, Policy-makers and Christians (3.9 mb).

5. Volcanic eruptions emit more carbon dioxide than fossil fuel burning – NOT TRUE. In fact, none of the large volcanic eruptions over the last 50 years feature in the detailed record of increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Next question. Miranda?

Why shouldn’t we hear about the 2005 House of Lords inquiry, which first examined the economics of climate change, expressing concern about the objectivity of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Sir John?

8. The IPCC process stifles debate and is used by scientists to further their own self interest – NOT TRUE.

I chaired the main meetings of Working Group I during the production of the first three IPCC scientific assessments. I can say categorically that the process was very open and honest. The aim was to distinguish between what was reasonably well known and the areas where there is large uncertainty. The chapter groups had complete freedom to investigate and assess the scientific literature and draw their conclusions.

Contrary to the impression given in the programme, no one ever resigned from being a lead author in Working Group I because of their disagreement with the process or the final content of their chapter. In fact, no one ever communicated to me a complaint about the integrity of the process.

I should mention, however, a case of disagreement that occurred in Working Group 2 of the IPCC that dealt with the impacts of climate change – a more complex area to address that the basic science of Working Group I. Professor Reiter who appeared in the programme described how, unfortunately, his expert work on malaria failed to get recognition in the relevant IPCC chapter.

Even Professor Lindzen, who appeared at length on the programme, stayed the course as lead author within Working Group I, expressing his satisfaction with the report’s chapters as good scientific documents. He has often, however, gone on to express his view that the conclusions of the Policymakers Summary did not faithfully represent the chapters. But he has never provided any supporting evidence for that statement – nor, to my knowledge, has anyone else who has quoted that statement originating from Lindzen.

It is important to note that IPCC Policymakers’ Summaries are agreed unanimously at intergovernmental meetings involving over 200 government delegates from around 100 countries. This agreement is only achieved after several days of scientific debate (only scientific arguments not political ones are allowed) the main purpose of which is to challenge the scientific chapter authors regarding the accuracy, clarity and relevance of the summary and most especially its consistency with the underlying chapters. Agreement at such a meeting has ensured that the resulting document, so far as is possible, is scientifically accurate, balanced and free from personal or political bias.

Reference was made in the programme to an article in the Wall Street Journal in 1995 about the 1995 IPCC report accusing the IPCC of improperly altering one of the agreed chapters before publication. This was a completely false accusation as was pointed out in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 1996, 77, pp1961-1966.

OK Miranda?

Director Martin Durkin’s premise is that climate change has always occurred, and is a result of the sun, not man-made carbon dioxide.

Interviewing reputable scientists, he rebuts the assertions of An Inconvenient Truth, including the all-important ice-core data on which Gore’s argument rests. Gore claimed ice cores taken from the Antarctic showed earth’s temperature rising as CO2 in the atmosphere increased. But Dunkin’s film asserts that it’s not increased CO2 that causes warming but vice versa; as the atmosphere warms, due to increased solar activity, more CO2 is produced by the oceans.

Admittedly, one of the main scientists for this argument, Carl Wunsch, MIT professor of oceanography, claimed later to have been misrepresented by Durkin and branded the program “propaganda”.

Really? That’s interesting. Sir John?

6. Changes in the sun influence climate – TRUE. They cited the Maunder Minimum in the 17th century when no sunspots were observed, as a probable example. Solar influences are the main driver of global average temperature in the 20th century – NOT TRUE.

Changes in solar output together with the absence of large volcanoes (that tend to cool the climate) are likely to have been causes for the rise in temperature between 1900 and 1940. However, the much more complete observations of the sun from space instruments over the past 40 years demonstrate that such influences cannot have contributed significantly to the temperature increase over this period. Other possibilities such as cosmic rays affecting cloud formation have been very carefully considered by the IPCC (see the 3rd Assessment Report on and there is no evidence that they are significant compared with the much larger and well understood effects of increased greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

Well of course we should be allowed to see the program, Miranda, perhaps with a suitable rating, and followed by a panel discussion. But then perhaps I should stop using Akismet to ban all those blandishments that get sent here in favour of male organ enhancement or cheap herbal remedies. Is that not stifling free speech and interfering in market freedom? But I won’t.

Miranda then turns again to her friend’s assessment of The History Boys.

31 May

Marcel takes that last one up again today, because, as he says:

…it is still maddening to her repeated statements which gain nothing in accuracy or truthfulness by their repetition but do nevertheless gain currency and publicity…

As do her assertions on climate change, a subject on which she is certainly no authority. The comments below provide further illustration.

16 July

Re-opening comment for a short period.

Also see How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic from 3 Quarks Daily.

For those who regard the whole thing as a left-wing anti-capitalist plot:

…the threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.

Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. No-one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order…

In recent years, we have been playing with the conditions of the life we know on the surface of our planet. We have cared too little for our seas, our forests and our land. We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin. We have come to realise that man’s activities and numbers threaten to upset the biological balance which we have taken for granted and on which human life depends.

We must remember our duty to Nature before it is too late. That duty is constant. It is never completed. It lives on as we breathe. It endures as we eat and sleep, work and rest, as we are born and as we pass away. The duty to Nature will remain long after our own endeavours have brought peace to the Middle East. It will weigh on our shoulders for as long as we wish to dwell on a living and thriving planet, and hand it on to our children and theirs.

I want to pay tribute to the important work which the United Nations has done to advance our understanding of climate change, and in particular the risks of global warming. Dr. Tolba and Professor Obasi deserve our particular thanks for their far-sighted initiative in establishing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC report is a remarkable achievement. It is almost as difficult to get a large number of distinguished scientists to agree, as it is to get agreement from a group of politicians. As a scientist who became a politician, I am perhaps particularly qualified to make that observation! I know both worlds.

Of course, much more research is needed. We don’t yet know all the answers…

But the need for more research should not be an excuse for delaying much needed action now. There is already a clear case for precautionary action at an international level. The IPCC tells us that we can’t repair the effects of past behaviour on our atmosphere as quickly and as easily as we might cleanse a stream or river. It will take, for example, until the second half of the next century, until the old age of my grandson, to repair the damage to the ozone layer above the Antarctic. And some of the gases we are adding to the global heat trap will endure in the Earth’s atmosphere for just as long.

The IPCC tells us that, on present trends, the earth will warm up faster than at any time since the last ice age. Weather patterns could change so that what is now wet would become dry, and what is now dry would become wet. Rising seas could threaten the livelihood of that substantial part of the world’s population which lives on or near coasts. The character and behaviour of plants would change, some for the better, some for worse. Some species of animals and plants would migrate to different zones or disappear for ever. Forests would die or move. And deserts would advance as green fields retreated.

Many of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event…

Now who was that? Al Gore? It was in 1990; it is a politician…

Answer: Margaret Thatcher Speech at 2nd World Climate Conference November 1990. Now of course she does also say No-one can yet say with certainty that it is human activities which have caused the apparent increase in global average temperatures. But that was seventeen years ago, and today we have much more consensus among scientists, as the latest IPCC reports demonstrate.

Sceptics too, it should be noted, may be found on the “left”. Here in NSW our State Treasurer Michael Costa (Labor) is a noted sceptic; even today he has been reported as advocating MORE coal-fired power stations… See State binge puts doubt on ALP climate policies.

The truth is of course that the environment doesn’t care about our politics or our economic arrangements. It is an objective system and it does what it will, regardless of our ideological preoccupations. We, on the other hand, have the responsibility to understand its workings given the best scientific research available, and to act when that research so comprehensively points one way — Global Warming Swindle and a minority of scientists aside, not many of them actually in the relevant fields of research.

Does that seem radical?

See Miranda on the subject in 2006: A debate begging for more light – Miranda Devine – Opinion –, where I also go more into the Lavoisier Group and its background and purpose.

RELATED (29 August 2007)

Visit High & Dry by Guy Pearse for the relevant Australian politics on this and connected matters. Coming from a dissenting voice within John Howard’s party’s own ranks it is all the more interesting.

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3 responses to “Miranda asks a question or two on climate change

  1. Bruce

    May 29, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    Well of course we should be allowed to see the program, Miranda, perhaps with a suitable rating, and followed by a panel discussion.

    Absolutely. I so agree.

  2. ninglun

    May 29, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    I found an oldie but a goodie showing Miranda on the same track two years ago: Miranda Devine vs The Hockey Stick:

    According to this profile, Miranda Devine (last seen making stuff up in an attempt to debunk the Lancet study), once worked for the textile physics division of CSIRO. So she should know that one purpose of peer review is to weed out scientific papers that are inaccurate or where the conclusions are not properly supported by the evidence offered. She went on to write an opinion column where accuracy and supporting your claims are not important, so perhaps that explains why in her latest screed she seems to believe that peer review is a tool to silence dissent…

    With 67 comments after. The blogger there is Deltoid — that’s the new site — by Tim Lambert, a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales.

    I’m a computer scientist in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. I don’t blog about computer science very much but rather about areas of science with political implications such as global warming, the relationship between guns and crime and the use of DDT against malaria. Usually I’m inspired by reading an article and noticing something that doesn’t seem to be correct. I then do a little bit of research and before you know it I have a blog post explaining what is wrong and why it is wrong.

    Highly recommended.

    On the current matter, see Your postmodern ABC.

  3. ninglun

    July 16, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    I had an email today from Creative Spark, after I left a comment on his Climate Crisis – Swindle, Truth or Irrelevant?.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such intelligent comments (and an excellent link) on my post. I’ve really got a lot to learn here, so I’m looking forward to trying to understand Sir John Houghton’s reasoning and also to reading more of your thoughts on your blog (in a friendly way, I promise) .

    I’ll try to respond more directly in the blog but I just wanted to thank you… I feel like you gave me a head start to a better understanding!

    I appreciate that, Marc.


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