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Unjoining CO2, climate and ecocide

By Tim Florin - posted Friday, 29 January 2016


This Christmas, friends gave me a subscription to The Monthly. I was told that its articles were good, in-depth and varied.

The first essay that I came across was "Diabolical"by Professor Robert Manne. This essay is about the man-made climate change due to burning of fossil fuels and how to stop it, a gigantic (t)ask. Manne proposed in his essay a global solution in order to combat human "destruction of our planet". He advocated a sort of "communism in theory" where humans live in harmony with the Earth. The comments in the discussion that followed the article universally praised Manne's "great article" and its "sound assessment". It was a "tour de force".

I then noticed that the Morry Schwartz Press donates 5% to the Climate Council for every subscription. Experience tells me that often the leftwing press fails to air alternative viewpoints. Nonetheless I appealed to The Monthly's sense of intellectual and journalistic fair-play, and submitted a riposte - a version of this article. The Monthly describes itself as "an independent voice in Australian media, (being) essential reading for anyone who is seeking deep engagement with national politics, society and culture" and elsewhere as "providing enlightening commentary and vigorous, at times controversial, debate on the issues that affect the nation". The appeal to publish my article was in vain.

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Not wishing to sound nitpicking about a problem as large as the "destruction of a planet friendly to humans and other species", it is nonetheless important for me to state that asking the right questions, and answering accordingly, is fundamental to prosecuting actions that can stall the degradation of our planet by humans.

In the article which now follows, I argue that climate change should not be the centrepiece of our efforts to right the environment. The conscious and unconscious degradation inflicted by humans on the Earth, while overlapping with, should be disentangled from, climate and CO2, because there are massive opportunity costs and negative impacts arising from an excessive focus on CO2.

The article contains sections that summarise the science which is far from settled, the dangerous politicization of climate science, the sheer volume of corrupting money, and lists some down to earth solutions.

It is frustrating that The Monthly will not want to share with its readers just one alternative viewpoint. Manne's essay commences with the assumption - "Unless by some miracle almost every climate scientist is wrong, future generations will look …" but the social science research underpinning statements such as 97% of all climate scientists believe in anthropogenic climate warming, has been thoroughly discredited. Manne as a political scientist, should be well enough equipped to critique this literature, which is lousy with misleading research. That this meme is repeated over and over by influential opinion leaders, film stars, politicians and other caring people, is disconcerting but should not be surprising. There are many historical examples of well-meaning advocates in science or in philosophy or politics or the arts, who end up being affiliated with the destruction of scientific reputations, or worse.

The following paragraphs outline the many reasons why the science is far from settled.

CO2 is increasing and human activity is contributing to this, but there is genuine scientific debate about how much this affects temperature. More than three-quarters of all anthropogenic CO2 release has occurred since 1945, but there is a pattern of overall warming since 1850, and there have been shorter periods of overall cooling (e.g. 1940-1975). Thus, the pattern is not well explained by man-made CO2.

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Contrary to the impression given by Manne that global warming is unprecedented, there have been periods of global warming in the historic past, all of which predate the large-scale burning of fossil fuels. There were warm periods like the present occurring e.g., 7000-8000 BP, in Roman times 2000 years BP (50 AD) and around 800 BP (1250 AD).

Mean sea level has been rising very slowly for the last 1000 years but it rose much faster between 20,000 BP to 7000 BP, again predating the large-scale burning of fossil fuels. During the last ice age, 20,000 BP, the sea level was 120m lower than that of today. There is no basis in measurement to assert that the recent rate of rise in sea level has accelerated.

CO2 is associated with some global warming but the statement that man-made CO2 is causing most global warming can be refuted easily. This is because while ambient CO2 has been rising inexorably since measurements started around 1958, mean global surface and lower atmospheric temperatures (as best as they can be defined and measured) have not appreciably changed over the last 18 years, as based on the global temperature records. The IPCC modeling sort of explained the mean global temperatures from 1979 to 1998 but has failed miserably to predict the future since 1998, and fails to explain the past before 1979. Statements that uptake of heat by the sea can explain the recent 18-year pause in the IPCC-prediction of rising mean global temperatures, require qualification. The sea has always been a sink for heat.

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About the Author

Tim Florin is a medical doctor, physician, and Professor of Medicine at the University of Queensland. He has a training in physical and biological sciences and is an NHMRC-funded fellow, who heads a laboratory team in medical research.

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