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The over-blown science of global warming

By Garth Paltridge - posted Monday, 17 August 2009

In one limited sense the members of the “do something about global warming” lobby are correct. If humans insist on giving the atmosphere an extra dose of carbon dioxide, then indeed one can expect Earth’s surface temperature to rise. To be strictly accurate, we should say that its temperature will be higher than it would have been otherwise. Either way, it doesn’t take a lot of physical knowledge and insight to accept the statement. It is rather the equivalent of saying that if one hits something with a bat then that something will respond. So it is true, as the lobby delights in telling us at every opportunity, that there is no longer much argument among scientists about the existence of the greenhouse global warming phenomenon. There never was.

The consensus goes no further down the chain of political correctness than this. It is rather naughty of the greenhouse lobby either to say outright, or to imply by judicious omission, that it does.

It has not been solidly established, and it is certainly not accepted by the majority of scientists as proven fact, that global warming from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide will be large enough to be seriously noticeable - let alone large enough to be disastrous. Imagine the response of a well-bedded concrete post when belted by a relatively small bat. In a situation where the post has been around a long time and has in the past survived the beatings of lots of much bigger bats, the chances are that it won’t move much.


More than 30 years of well-funded international research directed specifically at the climate-change problem have brought us no nearer to an estimate of future temperature rise than to say, rather feebly when one thinks about it, that the global-average increase over the next century may be somewhere between one and several degrees Celsius. Thus say the various computer models, whose simulations even of present climate fall into the “reasonable” range only by dint of forced tuning of many of the pieces of input information.

There are no means of experimentally checking the overall predictions of future climate change - basically because our knowledge of past climate is not precise enough. Furthermore, it should be remembered that the “one to several degrees” range covers only a limited set of the results obtained from all possible variants of climate model. The choice of that particular set derives from what might be called seat-of-the-pants statistics - the sort of statistics practiced by members of a committee dedicated to producing figures which on the one hand are interesting and on the other are not so over-the-top as to be rejected by their peers.

Suffice it to say that there are more than enough pitfalls associated with the application of statistics to actual measurement. The pitfalls are multiplied enormously when applied to various manifestations of pure theory.

Even accepting for the sake of argument that some significant degree of global warming may be observed in the future, it is certainly not the consensus of the majority of scientists that the actual impact on humans will be significant - or indeed that it will be detrimental. The bottom line here is that computer models have no provable skill at forecasting the change of regional and local climate even if we accept that they may say something sensible about global averages. In particular it may be that things like the continental, regional and local averages of rainfall are inherently unpredictable. Therefore the models are in no position to tell us anything of the impact of climate change on any particular aspect of human endeavour.

Instead one must resort to all sorts of “what if” scenarios, virtually all of which have no justification other than that they are easy enough to sell as doomsday forecasts to politicians and to the public. “Where it is dry we will get more droughts.” “Where it is wet we will get more floods.” “Where there is disease, it will spread.” “Where there are people the sky will fall in.” Such predictions are tailor-made for the mournful tones of the politically correct reformers of mankind. They are now accepted without a murmur of dissent by a large fraction of western society.

The trouble is that the uncertainty inevitably associated with the chaotic behaviour of climate works both ways. It may be impossible even in principle to substantiate a doomsday forecast, but it is also impossible to prove anything to the contrary. So the winning side of any argument about the matter will inevitably be the side with the loudest collective voice. In any event, should the doomsday scenario indeed fail to inspire fear and trepidation because it cannot be substantiated, one can always fall back on its unspoken basis - namely that “all change is bad”.


Why is it that the scientific community has become so one-eyed in its public support for the disaster theory of climate change? Why is that community taking such an enormous risk with its reputation?

In fact, the short-term risk to the profession is probably not all that great. In view of all the uncertainty inevitably associated with argument on either side of the fence, it is not likely that anyone will be able in the near future to prove absolutely that any particular forecast of climate change is nonsense. It has taken the apparatchiks of global warming more than 20 years to develop a story which, though replete with uncertainty at just about every level, is coherent enough to be sold to the public at large.

Perhaps more to the point, the story is complex enough to be virtually unarguable by anyone or anything other than a fully-fledged research institution specifically assigned to make that argument. Thus it is unlikely - not impossible, but unlikely - that an individual somewhere will produce a single scientific result powerful enough to blow the idea of disastrous global warming out of the water.

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This is an edited extract of the author's recently released book, The Climate Caper, published by Connorcourt in July 2009.

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About the Author

Emeritus Professor Garth Paltridge is an atmospheric physicist and was a Chief Research Scientist with the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research before taking up positions in Tasmania as Director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies and CEO of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre. He retired in 2002 and continues to live in Hobart. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Tasmania and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University. He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

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