Volume LII Number 451
Robert M. Carter
The idea that human beings have changed and are changing the basic climate system of the Earth through their industrial activities and burning of fossil fuels—the essence of the Greens’ theory of global warming—has about as much basis in science as Marxism and Freudianism. Global warming, like Marxism, is a political theory of actions, demanding compliance with its rules.
Marxism, Freudianism, global warming. These are proof—of which history offers so many examples—that people can be suckers on a grand scale. To their fanatical followers they are a substitute for religion. Global warming, in particular, is a creed, a faith, a dogma that has little to do with science. If people are in need of religion, why don’t they just turn to the genuine article?
Climate change knows three realities: science reality, which is what working scientists deal with every day; virtual reality, which is the wholly imaginary world inside computer climate models; and public reality, which is the socio-political system within which politicians, business people and the general citizenry work.
The science reality is that climate is a complex, dynamic, natural system that no one wholly comprehends, though many scientists understand different small parts. So far, science provides no unambiguous evidence that dangerous or even measurable human-caused global warming is occurring.
The virtual reality is that computer models predict future climate according to the assumptions that are programmed into them. There is no established Theory of Climate, and therefore the potential output of all realistic computer general circulation models (GCMs) encompasses a range of both future warmings and coolings, the outcome depending upon the way in which they are constructed. Different results can be produced at will simply by adjusting such poorly known parameters as the effects of cloud cover.
The public reality in 2008 is that, driven by strong environmental lobby groups and evangelistic scientists and journalists, there is a widespread but erroneous belief in our society that dangerous global warming is occurring and that it has human causation.
William Kininmonth (“Illusions of Climate Science”, Quadrant, October) has summarised well the nature of the main scientific arguments that relate to human-caused climate change. Therefore, I shall concentrate here a little less on the science, except as background information that relates to how we got to where we are today. My main aim is to explain the need for a proper national climate change policy that relates to real rather than imaginary risk, a policy position that neither the previous nor the present Australian government has achieved. Instead—in response to strong pressure from lobby groups whose main commonality is financial or other self-interest, and a baying media—our present national climate policy is to try to prevent human-caused global warming. This will be a costly, ineffectual and hence futile exercise.
The Realities of Climate Change
Science reality. My reference files categorise climate change into more than 100 sub-discipline areas of relevant knowledge. Like most other climate scientists, I possess deep expertise in at most two or three of these sub-disciplines. As Christopher Essex and Ross McKitrick (in Taken by Storm) have observed:
“Global warming is a topic that sprawls in a thousand directions. There is no such thing as an ‘expert’ on global warming, because no one can master all the relevant subjects. On the subject of climate change everyone is an amateur on many if not most of the relevant topics.”
It is therefore a brave scientist who essays an expert public opinion on the global warming issue, that bravery being always but one step from foolhardiness. As for the many public dignitaries and celebrities whose global warming preachings fill our daily news bulletins, their enthusiasm for a perceived worthy cause greatly exceeds their clarity of thought about climate change science, regarding which they are palpably innocent of knowledge.
In these difficult circumstances of complex science and public
ignorance, how is science reality to be judged? This question was first
carefully thought through in the late 1980s by the senior bureaucrats and
scientists who were involved in the creation of the United Nations
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (
As Essex and McKitrick have accurately written:
“We do not need to guess what is the world view
“There would be nothing wrong with this
if it were only one half of a larger exercise in adjudication. But governments
around the world have made the staggering error of treating the
The basic flaw that was incorporated into
The hypothesis of the
Therefore, science reality in 2008 is that the
Virtual reality. The general
circulation computer climate models (GCMs) used by
Not surprisingly, therefore, the GCMs
used by the
The modellers themselves acknowledge that they are unable to
predict future climate, preferring the term “projection” (which the
The confidence that can be placed on GCM climate projections is indicated by the disclaimers that the CSIRO always includes in its climate consultancy reports. For example:
“This report relates to climate change scenarios based on computer modelling. Models involve simplifications of the real processes that are not fully understood. Accordingly, no responsibility will be accepted by CSIRO ... for the accuracy of forecasts or predictions inferred from this report or for any person’s interpretations, deductions,
conclusions or actions in reliance on this report.”
It is clear from all of this that climate GCMs
do not produce predictive outputs that are suitable for direct application in
policy making; it is therefore inappropriate to use
Public reality. The answer to that question is that opinion polls show that most of the rest of us have become severely alarmed about the threat of human-caused climate change. Therefore, public reality, as perceived by the Rudd government at least, is that the Australian electorate now expects the government to “do something” about global warming—that is, to introduce a carbon dioxide taxation system. This means that there exists a strong disjunction between climate alarm as perceived by the public and the science justification for that alarm. How come?
The means by which the public has been convinced that dangerous
global warming is occurring are not subtle. The three main agents are: the
reports from the
Noble Cause Corruption
It is part of the traffic of discussion about global warming that some of the participants are corrupt. Routinely, climate scientists employed at even the most prestigious institutions are accused of having their alarmist views bought by a need to maintain research funding. Equally, self-righteous critics make desperate attempts to link climate skeptics with what are claimed to be the vested interests of the coal and oil and gas industries. It is also obvious that commercial interests—including alternative energy providers such as wind turbine manufacturers, big utility companies such as Enron, big financiers, and emerging emissions and carbon indulgences traders—have strong potential to become involved in corrupt dealings in the traditional meaning of the term. To varying degrees all of these accusations are true, but probably the strongest alarmist influence of all on the climate policy debate is the rather more subtle phenomenon of noble cause corruption.
In his book Science and Public Policy, Professor Aynsley Kellow explores the
problem of noble cause corruption in public life in some depth. Such corruption
arises from the belief of a vested interest, or powerful person or group, in
the moral righteousness of their cause. For example, a police officer may
apprehend a person committing a crime and, stuck with a lack of incriminating
evidence, proceed to manufacture it. For many social mores, of which “stopping
global warming” and “saving the Great Barrier Reef” are two iconic Australian
examples, it has become a common practice for evidence to be manipulated in
dishonest ways, under the justification of helping to achieve a worthy end.
After all, who wouldn’t want to help to “save the
Improper scientific practice. Not all scientists in
the climate community have maintained the dispassionate, disinterested approach
that is necessary for scientific research. The most widely known piece of
defective climate science is the famous 1998 hockey-stick paper in Nature
by Mann, Bradley and Hughes, which was used extensively in the
“First, it is entirely unnecessary to have original ‘raw’ data in
order to review a scientific document. I know of no case at all in which such
data were required by or provided to a referee … Second, while the data in
question [model output from the Hadley Centre’s climate model] were generated
using taxpayer money, this was UK taxpayer money. US scientists therefore have
no a priori right to such data. Furthermore, these data belong to individual
scientists who produced them, not to the
This reply denies the supply of data to another scientist who wishes to check that the work can be replicated; denies data to a scientist on the grounds that he is from another country; and arrogates to the author the right to decide who, if anyone, would be supplied with data which was collected with public funds and which underpins an important international publication. Each one of these actions constitutes a fundamental breach of science etiquette, and were such attitudes to be promulgated widely, science as a value-free, objective, internationally agreed enterprise would collapse. Yet such attitudes are widespread within the alarmist climate science community.
Government agencies and reports. Equally regrettably, it is not just individual scientists who are involved in trying to control the climate change debate by the use of selective science. Scientists who work for major governmental science agencies in Western countries are almost all under strict employer instruction as to public comments that they may make about climate change, always remembering that a substantial slice of their budget is provided for global warming research. For example, Australian science journalist Peter Pockley reported in 2004:
“the CSIRO’s marine scientists have been ‘constrained’ on the scientific advice and
interoperation they can provide to
the government’s conservation plans for
In this way, science policy advice is routinely corrupted by being tailored to suit the views of the government of the day. In turn, the government’s views are often strongly influenced by noble cause corruption, whereby “saving the planet” is seen cynically as an effective way in which to garner votes quite irrespective of the lack of demonstrated, as opposed to advertised, risk. The inaccurate and alarmist advertisements that the federal government is currently running about climate change are a case in point.
Most recently, public discussion on climate change in Australia has centred on the release on September 30 of Professor Ross Garnaut’s government-sponsored report on carbon dioxide taxation (emissions trading). Garnaut’s task, as formulated in his terms of reference, was to advise the Australian public on the issue of human-caused global climate change. Obviously, a judgment was then required as to whether significant human warming is occurring at all, or likely to occur soon. This being a scientific question, to appoint an economist to adjudicate upon it puts that person in the invidious position of having to base their substantive review upon science authority provided by others.
The convenient authority at hand was, of course, the
Because Garnaut’s economic analysis is
erected upon a faulty science edifice, his recommendations—like those of Professor
Stern before him in the
Science academies and learned societies. Traditionally, governments wishing for dispassionate advice on a science issue have turned to their nation’s science academy. Disturbingly, against this historic context, Nature reported that in appointing one of its former presidents,
“a high-profile former government adviser [Lord Robert May], the Royal Society is intensifying its moves into the public and political arena—and is taking a calculated risk. ‘If you want to be more effective in engaging issues of public concern,
then you really need to understand the rules of engagement’, says May.”
The path being followed duly became evident when in 2001 Lord May
helped organise a statement published in Science that there was a
scientific consensus on the danger of human-caused global warming. The
statement was headed “17 National Academies Endorse
Against this unhappy background, it shouldn’t be surprising, but is, to discover that in 2006 the Royal Society’s Policy Communication Officer, Bob Ward, wrote an intimidatory letter to oil company Esso UK in an effort to suppress Esso’s funding for organisations that, in the Royal Society’s view,
“misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence … or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge, or by conveying a misleading impression of the potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change.”
Ward’s attempt to prevent free public discussion of global warming
resulted in rapid condemnation, including a comment from the Marshall Institute
“It is … unfortunate that the Royal Society is advocating censorship on a subject that calls for debate. The censorship of voices that challenge and provoke is antithetical to liberty and contrary to the traditions and values of free societies. That such a call comes from such a venerable scientific society is disturbing and should raise concerns worldwide about the intentions of those seeking to silence honest debate and discussion of our most challenging environmental issue—climate change.”
Notwithstanding widespread condemnation of the Royal Society
action, copycat attempts to intimidate other businesses soon followed. In the
The Royal Society example of the corruption of scientific advice by politics is not an isolated one. Across the Western world many other national science academies and major scientific societies have become similarly politicised over global warming and other contentious environmental issues. Thus governments and citizens have now lost what used to be an important conduit of impartial and independent advice on technical matters of the day.
The influence of environmental organizations. Most readers will be aware of the activities of high-profile environmental NGOs such as Greenpeace, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Australian Conservation Foundation. However, relatively few persons appreciate the size, scope, co-ordination and colossal financial resources that are now involved in environmental lobbying around the world. For example, at the centre of many climate policy debates is to be found the Climate Action Network—a twenty-year-old umbrella organisation with seven regional nodes which co-ordinates the advocacy of more than 280 separate environmental NGOs.
Driven by their addiction to alarmism, and a false belief that the causes of climate change are understood, environmentalists worldwide urge the adoption of the precautionary principle to solve the “global warming problem”. The reality that you can’t take precautions against a future that is unknown (and may encompass either warming or cooling, or both) is ignored in favour of irrational feel-goodery, the aim being to move the world to a “post-carbon” economy by drastic curtailment of the carbon dioxide emissions that are alleged to be causing warming.
Environmental campaigners for the reduction of human greenhouse emissions remain blind to inconvenient facts such as: that no amount of precaution is going stop natural climate change; that there is a 100 per cent risk of damage from natural climate events, which happen every day; that we cannot measure, much less isolate, any presumed human climate signal globally; that extra atmospheric carbon dioxide causes mild warming at best, and overall is at least as likely to be beneficial as harmful; and that the causes of climate change are many, various and very incompletely understood.
Confusing the debate with
rhetoric. When public doubts are raised about the legitimacy of a particular
piece of climate alarmism—say that
“The science is settled”, or, there is a “consensus” on the issue.” In reality, science is about facts, experiments and testing hypotheses, not consensus; and science is never “settled”.
“He is paid by the fossil fuel industry, and is merely repeating their desired story.” An idea is not responsible for those who believe in it, and neither is the validity of a scientific hypothesis determined by the character or beliefs of the person who funded the research. Science discussions are determined on their merits, by using tests against empirical or experimental data. It may be hard to believe, in a postmodern world, but who paid for the data to be gathered and assessed is simply irrelevant.
“She works for a left-wing/right-wing think-tank, so her work is tainted.” Think-tanks serve an invaluable function in our society. On all sides of politics they are the source of much excellent policy analysis. They provide extended discussion and commentary on matters of public interest, and have made many fine contributions towards balancing the public debate on climate change. That all think-tanks receive funding from industry sources is an indication that those that survive are delivering value for money, and does not impugn their integrity.
“He is just a climate sceptic, a contrarian, a denialist.” These terms are used routinely as denigratory badges. The first two are amusingly silly: first, because most people termed climate “sceptics” are in fact climate “agnostics”, and have no particular axe to grind regarding human influence on climate; second, because all good scientists are sceptics: that is their professional job. Not to be a sceptic of the hypothesis that you are testing is the rudest of scientific errors, for it means that you are committed to a particular outcome: that’s faith, not science. Introduction of the term “denialist” into the public climate debate, with its deliberate connotations with Holocaust denial, serves only to cheapen those who use the term.
“Six Nobel Prize winners, and seven
members of the
“The ‘precautionary principle’ says that we should limit human carbon dioxide emissions because of the risk that the emissions will cause dangerous warming.” The precautionary principle is oftentimes a moral precept masquerading under a scientific cloak. Adhering to moral principle through thick and thin is certainly a part of the precautionary principle as practised by many environmentalists; it is a principle of the wrong type to be used for the formulation of effective public environmental policy, which needs rather to be rooted in evidence-based science. Scientific principles acknowledge the supremacy of experiment and observation, and do not bow to untestable moral propositions.
The Role of the Media in Fostering Climate Alarmism
The media serve to convey to the public the facts and hypotheses of climate change as provided by individual scientists, government and international research agencies and NGO lobby groups. With very few exceptions, press reporters commenting on global warming are either ignorant of the science matters involved, or wilfully determined to propagate warming hysteria because that fits their personal worldview, or are under editorial direction to focus the story around the alarmist headline grab; and often all three.
In general, therefore, the media propagate the alarmist cause for global warming, and they have certainly failed to convey to the public both the degree of uncertainty that characterises climate science and many of the essential facts that are relevant to human causation of climate change.
It is a rare day now that any metropolitan newspaper fails to
carry one or more alarmist stories on climate change, not least because media
proprietors learned long ago that sensational or alarmist news sells best. As
“The publication of ‘bad news’ is not a journalistic vice. It’s a clear instruction from the market. It’s what consumers, on average, demand … As a newspaper editor I knew, as most editors know, that if you print a lot of good news, people stop buying your paper. Conversely, if you publish the correct mix of doom, gloom and disaster, your circulation swells. I have done the experiment.”
Thus climate change hysteria in the media has a life of its own. Ask a web search engine to supply you with references to “global warming” and it will provide a daily haul of ten to twenty alarmist newspaper articles from throughout the world. Many of these stories have as their basis real scientific results from real scientists, but by the time the results been processed through public relations staff and compliant media commentators, the result is group-think, political correctness and frisbee-science of a high order. A scan through headlines alone, which range from the silly to the ridiculous, will remove any doubt that media treatment of climate change is unbalanced. Reading the articles themselves simply serves to confirm intentional scaremongering and breathtaking scientific ingenuousness.
Alarmist climate writing invariably displays one or more of three characteristics. First, it may be concerned with the minutiae of meteorological measurements and trends over the last 150 years in the absence of a proper geological context. Second, it may raise alarm about things that are known to change naturally irrespective of human causation, such as ice melting, sea-level change and changes in species’ ranges. Third, there is an almost ubiquitous over-reliance on the outputs of unvalidated computer model projections—that is, untestable virtual reality is favoured over actual, real-world data.
On top of such slanted reporting, and in service of the third example just given, weasel words have become an invaluable aid for engendering public alarm about global warming. If, could, may, might, probably, possibly, perhaps, likely, expected, projected, modelled ... Wonderful words, so wonderful that journalists and other writers scatter them through their articles on climate change like confetti. The reason is that—in the absence of hard evidence for damaging human-caused change—public attention is best captured by making assertions about “possible” change. Using computer models in support, virtually any type of climatic hazard can be asserted as a possible future change.
As one example, a 2005
The British commentator Melanie Phillips summarised it well:
“The way global warming is being reported by the science press is a scandal. In selecting only those claims that support a prejudice and disregarding evidence that these claims are false, it is betraying the basic principles of scientific inquiry and has become instead an arm of ideological propaganda.”
Finally, for all the problems listed above, and much to the outrage of warming alarmists, it should be acknowledged that a handful of quality newspapers do provide a more balanced public discussion of global warming issues. Such papers include the Wall Street Journal, the London Telegraph stable, the Canadian National Post, the Melbourne Business Age and the Australian. These publications, and a few others, are playing a vital role in keeping the public informed of both sides of the climate change issue. Tellingly, however, no Australian television station comes even close to providing equivalently balanced commentary; and neither does that paragon of broadcasting virtue, the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Prudent Risk Assessment: Achieving a National Policy on Climate Change
Despite the failure of the hypothesis of dangerous human-caused global warming from carbon dioxide emissions, everything that we know from the study of ancient climate indicates that a genuine climate problem does nonetheless exist. It is the risk of natural climate change, both warmings and the much more dangerous coolings.
Study of the geological record reveals many instances of natural climate change of a speed and magnitude that would be hazardous to human life and economic wellbeing were they to be revisited upon today’s planet. For example, rapid temperature switches of several degrees within a few years to a decade have long been identified in ice core and other records, and similarly rapid changes are recorded in the modern instrumental data record. At the same time, human history records many examples of damaging short-term climatic hazards such as storms, floods and droughts. Many of these varied climatic events, whether they are abrupt or manifest themselves as longer-term trends, remain unpredictable—even when viewed with hindsight. Human influence aside, therefore, it is certain that natural climate change will continue in the future, sometimes driven by unforced internal variations in the climate system and at other times forced by factors that we do not yet understand.
Climate change as a natural hazard is therefore as much a geological as it is a meteorological issue. Geological hazards are mostly dealt with by providing civil defence authorities and the public with accurate, evidence-based information regarding events such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, storms and floods (which are climatic events), and by adaptation to the effects when an event occurs. The additional risk of longer-term climate change differs from other geological hazards only because it occurs over an extended decadal time-scale. This difference is not one of kind, and neither should be our response plans.
Authorities planning national climate policy need to abandon the
In dealing with the certainties and uncertainties of climate change, then, the key issue is prudent risk assessment. The main certainty is that natural climate change and variation are going to continue, and that some manifestations—droughts, storms and sea-level change, for example—will be expensive to adapt to. The real danger posed by current global warming hysteria is that it is distracting attention and resources away from the need to develop a sound policy of adaptation to those natural climate vicissitudes that are certain to occur in the future.
In 1990 the
Two years ago, I wrote:
“It remains a matter of faith whether reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, should they occur, will have any measurable influence on climate. My conclusion is that—irrespective of McCarthyist bludgeoning, press bias, policy-advice corruption
or propaganda frenzy—it is highly unlikely that the public is going to agree to a costly restructuring of the world economy simply on the basis of speculative computer models of climate in 100 years time. Attempting to ‘stop climate change’ is an extravagant and costly exercise of utter futility. Rational climate policies must be based on adaptation to climate change as it occurs, irrespective of its causation.”
Despite the present Australian government’s manifest determination to introduce a penal carbon dioxide tax, I see little reason to change this view.
Natural climate change being an important human hazard, research funding for climate change issues should be maintained at a healthy level. But the focus of the spending needs to be shifted from its present overemphasis on “greenhouse” alarmism and computer modelling research to a balance of: (i) documentation and analysis of modern weather patterns (earth observing systems), and patterns of past climate change (stratigraphic study); and (ii) deepening our understanding of all mechanisms of climate change, not just radiation theory.
The question invariably asked by those who learn of the unlikelihood of dangerous human-caused global warming is: “How is it possible that our government is moving so rapidly towards the introduction of a costly emissions trading scheme?” I have only been able to touch on the answer to this complex social and political question in this essay. It is explored more thoroughly in the following sources.
Christopher Booker and Richard North, Scared to Death, 2008.
Robert M. Carter, Public Misperceptions of Human-Caused Climate
Change: The Role of the Media; Witness Evidence, US Senate Committee on
Public Works & Environment,
Robert M. Carter, Human-Caused Global Warming: McCarthyism,
Intimidation, Press Bias, Censorship, Policy-Advice Corruption and Propaganda;
tabled paper, US Senate Committee on Public Works & Environment,
Aynsley Kellow, Science and Public Policy, 2007.
Richard S. Lindzen, Climate Science: Is It Currently Designed to Answer Questions? arXiv:0809.3762v2 (Physics and Society), http://arxiv.org/abs/0809.3762, 2008.
Dick Taverne, The March of Unreason, 2005.
Professor Bob Carter is a former Chair of the Australian Research Council’s Panel on Engineering, Applied and Earth Sciences, and a former Director of the Australian Secretariat of the international Ocean Drilling Program. He has a website at http://members.iinet.net.au/~glrmc.