The heady mix of science and politics.

There is nothing like a leadership challenge/change in a major Australian political party to get the journalists in Canberra really excited.

I can understand that in that sedate place anything like that gets the pulse running.  Somehow I don’t think the excitement is shared by the majority of the population.

However there is a difference in this leadership change.  Unlike many before where the leader was ditched primarily because the party thought that they were going anywhere this one had a substantial ideological component, which was climate change.

Now it seems that the Liberal Party has those who believe in Climate Change and believe that the current legislation is not the right approach (which is interesting, considering that it was very similar to what they proposed at the last election).

But the combination of some who were skeptics to start with, Turnbull arrogance and the fact that some felt they had to oppose anything the Labor Government no matter what has created this situation.

Climate change debate now a ‘left – right’ debate.

The most unfortunate thing is that the debate has been now aligned itself on a ‘right – left’ dimension, where the many on the right oppose the idea of climate change because it is primarily it is perceived to be something that comes out of a left perspective, so if you agree with the idea that human activity is warming the global climate, and you are a conservative/right person, you are seen somewhat as a ‘traitor’.

There is science and there is science.

It is interesting that the place where I work (Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, where I am a librarian) has been the place of work of one of the main skeptics, Ian Plimer (who has now moved to Adelaide), and is currently where David Karoly (was heavily involved in the preparation of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report “Climate Change 2007) works.

The argument for and against climate change revolves around ‘the science’.  But this underlies a belief that science is a homogeneous united force, while it is nothing of the sort.  Science by its very nature is debate and exchange of opinions and unfortunately, in the case of climate change these differences have been caught up in the political dimension.

Plimer has written a fabulous book called ‘A short history of planet earth‘ which is not only a very readable account of how the earth was formed and evolved, but also proved as a manifesto against creationism.  Plimer got involved in the creationist debate and even got involved in a court case about it.  I think he sees the climate change proponents similarly as creationists and decided to take them on.  The difference here is that he is not arguing against some religious zealot with an argument that can be taken down in three seconds, but with other scientists that are reputable.

As a geologist he can claim that he is a scientist, which he is.  But this fact is taken with enthusiasm by climate deniers as a way to say that even science can disprove the anthropogenic global warming argument.

Climate has changed on the earth lots of times.  But other scientists have disputed his arguments.  One example is that volcanoes produce more CO2 than the world’s cars and industries combined’.  But burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide enriched with carbon isotope C12and reduced C13 and essentially no C14, and it decreases atmospheric oxygen.   Scientists have estimated emissions from volcanoes on land for the last 50 years and they are small compared with total global emissions from human sources.

Climate deniers (and I think that this is a point raised by Andrew Bolt) is that global warming ended in 1998,  and that the warmth of the last few decades is not unusual, and that satellite measurements show there has been no global warming since 1979.   This is right on time scales of the last 100 million years, the recent global-scale warmth is not unusual.   However, it is unusual over at least the last 1,000 years, including the Medieval warming.

The mistake seems to arise from using local temperatures from proxy evidence (Data obtained through historical records, such as coral samples, tree rings, etc.) rather than considering data from the whole globe at the same time.   The report of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2006, cited by Plimer, states ‘Presently available proxy evidence indicates that temperatures at many, but not all individual locations, were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since AD 900.’
It is normal to have fluctuations.  El Nino causing hotter global-average temperatures in 1998 and La Nina cooler global temperatures in 2007 and 2008.  Global-average temperature for the current decade from surface observations and from satellite data is warmer than any other decade with reasonable data coverage.

The other argument, so much loved by Senator Fielding is that climate is affected by solar activity.   This doesn’t fit the observational evidence. Increases in solar irradiance would cause more warming in the daytime, in the tropics and in summer, as well as warming in the upper atmosphere, and these are not observed. Changes in solar irradiance and cosmic rays show a large 11-year sunspot cycle and negligible trend, but observed global temperatures show a large warming trend and small 11-year cycle.

The fact is that the average punter, may not be fussed or that interested in differences between C12 or C14, or the Palaeocene-Eocene thermal maximum.  And the dark forces of climate denial will rely on this.


Filed under Politics and Current Affairs

3 responses to “The heady mix of science and politics.

  1. Alex

    Hi Guido,

    On the politics, while I haven’t paid to much attention to the ETS stuff, I do wonder why Australia is going through Climate Change legislation now, in advance of Copenhagen.

    On the science, you make some good points. One thing that disturbs me is that several Climate scientists seem to make a transition from science to activism. East Anglia notwithstanding, I do know of some very senior, very well respected scientists who have essentially admitted to fabricating data. And, of course, because the funding generally follows those who follow the line of the scientific orthodoxy, “dissent” will have to come from outside the Climate science community.

    By the way, have you had any luck tracking down a paper that has an a-priori falsifiable prediction that has subsequently been shown to be true?

  2. Savvas Tzionis


    You have dressed up your pig of a post with lipstick.

  3. Alex


    Tell me which bits you disagree with and why…

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