and the Deadly Disease of Hansenism
(Melbourne Rotary Club, June 15, 2005)
morning, Ladies and Gentleman. Thank you for that kind introduction, and for the
invitation to speak to you.
Let me come straight to the point. I will wager that most of you sitting in this room today believe that one or more of the following three propositions are true:
FIRST, that late 20th century human-caused global warming is an established fact which demands an urgent political solution.
SECOND, that carbon dioxide is a harmful pollutant of the atmosphere, and the primary cause of the claimed warming.
THIRD, that a strong consensus of qualified scientists supports the view that dangerous contemporary climate change is occurring.
After all, how could you believe otherwise when the last few months has seen at least three high profile climate propaganda campaigns in Australia. First, saturation television advertising by an organisation named Greenpeace, which has tried to gull us all into believing that only by giving Greenpeace money and following its advice can we save the world from climate change. (Going to hell, as it were, not in a hand-basket but in a Greenpeace-owned piggy bank). Second, regular alarmist news coverage continues to appear on SBS and the ABC that (to pick but one recent example) the Greenland ice cap and Antarctic Peninsula glaciers are melting and global warming is the cause. And third, a joint announcement1 just last week by 11 of the world's distinguished scientific academies, including the historic Royal Society of London, that "the scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify prompt action .....to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse emissions".
Now, I do not doubt the sincerity of any beliefs that you may hold about the correctness of these various ideas, but my main aim today is nonetheless to shock you out of a complacent acceptance of current global warming propaganda. For most of these six statements are not just misleading or untrue, but, worse, are the exact converse of the truth. Their assertion is a symptom of a disease called Hansenism which has gripped western media sources and political, business and public opinion in a deadly grasp. Hansenist climate hysteria is driven by relentless, ideological, pseudo-scientific drivel, most of which issues from green political activists and their supporters, and is then promulgated by compliant media commentators who are innocent of knowledge of true scientific method. Opportunistically, and sadly, some scientists, too, contribute to the Hansenist alarmism. Sir Roderick Carnegie was quite correct when he formerly identified such environmental lobbying and emotional propaganda as a greater threat to our society and way of life than, in its heyday, was communism.
Why Hansenism? Because James Hansen was the NASA-employed scientist who started the climate alarmism hare running on June 23, 1988, when he appeared before a United States Congressional hearing on climate change. On that occasion, Dr Hansen used a misleading graph to convince his listeners that warming was taking place at an accelerated rate (which, it being a scorching summer's day in Washington, a glance out of the window appeared to confirm). He wrote, in justification, in the Washington Post (February 11, 1989) that "the evidence for an increasing greenhouse effect is now sufficiently strong that it would have been irresponsible if I had not attempted to alert political leaders". Hansen's testimony was taken up as a lead news story, and within days the great majority of the American public believed that a climate apocalypse was at hand.
Much later (20032), Hansen came to write "Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue. Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate .... scenarios consistent with what is realistic". But this astonishing conversion to honesty came too late, for in the intervening years thousands of other climate scientists had meanwhile climbed onto the Hansenist funding gravy-train. Currently, global warming alarmism is fuelled by an estimated worldwide expenditure on related research and greenhouse bureaucracy of US$3-4 billion annually. Scientists and bureaucrats being only too human, the power of such sums of money to corrupt not only the politics of greenhouse, but even the scientific process itself, must not be underestimated.
Against this Hansenist background, then, let us return to our first proposition - which was that human-caused global warming is an established fact which demands an urgent political solution.
To establish that there is such a thing as human-caused global warming requires first that we understand the nature of natural climate change, and particularly the periodicities and magnitudes of natural climate cycles. It is simplistic, but useful, to do this by examining estimated records of temperature through time, mostly those derived from an analysis of deep-seabed mud cores or polar ice cores, both of which are layered and get older downwards.
A glance at Fig. 13, which portrays a sub-seabed temperature record back to 6 million years ago, reveals that 4 million years ago temperature was about 3 degrees warmer than today. Since that time, a steady long-term decline in temperature of about 9 degrees has occurred, superimposed on which, after 3 million years ago, are dramatic glacial/interglacial (cold/warm) oscillations of increasing magnitude. Over the last half-million years, these oscillations attained 4-6 degrees in magnitude, and occurred at roughly 100,000 year intervals. To understand this history is the first prerequisite for any analysis of modern climate change.
Moving to Fig. 24, this portrays, in expanded detail from a Greenland ice core, the temperature record of the last end-glacial to interglacial transition. It is apparent that after irregular warming, climate change levelled off about 10,000 years ago, and that since then ice-cap surface temperature in Greenland has fallen slightly while continually fluctuating up and down by about a degree or so.
Fig. 35 shows an expanded version of the most recent 5,000 years only of this Greenland ice core record (the heavy black line is a superimposed moving average). Again, we see irregular cycles of warmer (grey shading bars) and colder temperature, which alternate with a periodicity of 500 to 1000 years. We also see that the much vaunted late 20th century warming attained roughly the same warmth as the Mediaeval Warm Period but was probably not as warm as either of the preceding Roman or Minoan Warm Periods.
Finally here, Fig. 46 shows the instrumental record of estimated atmospheric surface temperature since 1970, the time of inception of the second phase of 20th century warming. The 25-month moving average (thick line) warms by about 0.5 degrees between 1970 and 1998, and has since declined slightly.
Three inescapable conclusions follow from these data. First, that late 20th century warming lies within the bounds of temperature magnitude and rate of change which occur in the geological climate record. Second, global temperature has been COOLING for the last six years, since the peak El Nino warmth of 1998. And third, no human-caused global warming can be recognized within these records; therefore, any such warming must lie within the natural variation and noise of the data.
Returning to our first proposition, we can only conclude that human-caused global warming is NOT occurring at a measurable rate. Such a non-event, of course, does not require any political action, urgent or otherwise.
(Though proposition 1, as stated, is simply untrue, it should be noted that because human-caused global warming cannot yet be measured does not mean that it is not a real effect. Rather, it indicates that human influence is not an identifiable danger factor in global climate change. Though we can't measure a global effect, no one doubts that human activity does influence the climate in particular localities, most notably by the Urban Heat Island effect associated with major conurbations. This effect is well seen in Melbourne, which John McLean has shown to possess a recent temperature record that is about 1 degree warmer than that of surrounding areas7).
Turning now to the second proposition, it was that carbon dioxide - as a harmful pollutant of the atmosphere - is the primary cause of late 20th century warming.
Well, let's get one thing out of the way straight away. Despite the strident assertions of many, carbon dioxide is NOT a pollutant. Rather, it is one of a number of naturally occurring trace gases which was present in Earth's atmosphere in amounts of about 280 ppm in pre-industrial times, rising to about 360 ppm now.
Carbon dioxide is referred to as a "greenhouse" gas because, together with water vapour, methane, nitrous oxides and ozone, it has the effect of absorbing, and then re-emitting, Earth's spacebound infra-red radiation, thereby producing atmospheric warming. The combined effect of these greenhouse gases is to warm Earth's atmosphere by about 33 degrees, from a chilly -18 degrees in their absence to a pleasant +15 degrees in their presence. 95% (31.35 degrees) of this warming is produced by water vapour, which is far and away the most important greenhouse gas. The other trace gases contribute 5% (1.65 degrees) of the greenhouse warming, amongst which carbon dioxide corresponds to 3.65% (1.19 degrees). The human-caused contribution corresponds to about 3% of the total carbon dioxide in the present atmosphere, the great majority of which is derived from natural sources. Therefore, the probable effect of human-injected carbon dioxide is a miniscule 0.12% of the greenhouse warming, that is a temperature rise of 0.036 degrees. Put another way, 99.88% of the greenhouse effect has nothing to do with carbon dioxide emissions from human activity8.
(The widely cited predictions of 1.6-5.8 degrees warming for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide are not real-world measurements, but estimates from computer models9. These models, first, assign an unreasonably high value to carbon dioxide forcing and, second, invoke a speculative feedback loop caused by increased evaporation which then gives rise to higher atmospheric water vapour content.)
An even more embarrassing fact confronts those who wish to argue that increasing carbon dioxide is a potential cause of dangerous climate change. It is that careful empirical studies have shown that measured changes in temperature PRECEDE the parallel changes in carbon dioxide10. In the modern atmosphere, annual temperature cycling leads carbon dioxide change by 5 months, and in the ice cores the lead has been estimated at between 1,300 and 4,000 years.
Carbon dioxide is, then, a mild greenhouse gas, but the warming that it produces is largely lost in the noise of the climate system. At the same time, even in trace amounts carbon dioxide is an essential ingredient for organic evolution as we know it, because it is both a requirement for plant growth and, at the same time, a powerful aerial fertilizer.The "green revolution" of the late 20th century - during which food crop yield increased 2.7 times at the same time that the population increased 2.2 times - was to a significant degree fuelled by the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Three conclusions follow from these data also. First, that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a natural constituent of the atmosphere that is essential for the sustenance of life. Second, that carbon dioxide is not a primary forcing agent for temperature change at either short (annual) or long (glacial/interglacial) time scales. Third, and remembering that Earth is due to enter another glaciation in the near future (Fig. 1), any slight warming which may accompany carbon dioxide enhancement is more likely to be beneficial to Earth's interglacial ecosystems than harmful. Overall, therefore, increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is a benefice for humankind.
Our third starting proposition was that a strong consensus of qualified scientists supports the view that dangerous climate change is occurring.
I shall spend little time on this assertion, because the claim, though oft-repeated, is absurd. First, because scientific matters are not decided by consensus, but by observation, experiment and objective testing. Strong consensuses existed that the sun rotated around the earth and that species of animals and plants were the result of special creation before the arrival of Copernicus and Darwin respectively.
Second, it is an easily confirmed fact that thousands of qualified scientists, worldwide, have signed public statements to the effect that human-caused global warming cannot yet be detected. Details of these statements can be found in the references listed on Sheet 111.
Finally under this heading, it needs to be remembered that it is the job of all scientists, all the time, to be sceptical of accepted wisdom and especially of socially-constructed consensuses. Scientists are nothing if not trained sceptics.
The propaganda arguments
So much then for our three starting propositions, but what of the three global warming propaganda arguments that I also mentioned at the start?
Well, little more needs to be said than to note that they are indeed propaganda, as expanded somewhat on Sheet 212 and in the references cited thereon. In the first instance, we have already shown to be untrue the claims of Greenpeace, assorted distinguished science academies and the IPCC that dangerous human-caused global warming has been measured, or is likely.
And on the second matter of the melting of glaciers at some places in the world, yes it is occurring, as it always has somewhere. At other places, glaciers or ice are growing, for instance on the top of the Greenland ice cap and around and on all of Antarctica other than the West Antarctic peninsula. Ice grows or melts in response to factors other than temperature, especially precipitation, and our current knowledge of glaciers worldwide is simply inadequate to make any sweeping generalisations on the matter with respect to climate change13.
Has the time has come for the auditing of scientific advice in Australia14?
At the start of this talk, I mentioned that the current climate change debate was bedevilled by propaganda, and even dishonesty. How then do we fix this, and restore a measure of disinterest to advice on climate policy and other fiercely debated environmental issues?
At the outset, we need to acknowledge that expert agencies such as CSIRO, BOM, and scientists leading major climate research centres or groups, have a strong monetary conflict of interest when they are asked to give advice on climate change to expert committees or government. Acknowledging this conflict of interest requires, in turn, the establishment of a mechanism to deal with it.
A first step would be to follow the example of the new Danish government which in November, 2001, abolished more than 100 special-interest government-supported advisory boards and councils in Denmark, including about a dozen in the environmental field; in Australia, such special interest groups would include state and federal greenhouse offices.
Having thus cleared the decks, an independent agency should be established to advise government on matters of contentious science which relate to public policy, a role which ASTEC15 discharged with distinction in former times.
One option would be to follow the 2001 Danish government in creating an Institute of Environmental Assessment16, especially if Bjorn Lomborg could be attracted as its founding Director! A second option would be the creation of a scientific audit group as a specialist section of either the Productivity Commission or the Australian National Audit Office. Such a move would be administratively simple, could carry the same independence as the ANAO which reports to Parliament direct rather than the Government, and could probably be accomplished by the amendment of existing legislation. Finally, a third alternative, which has been seriously considered in the USA, would be to establish a Science Court17, within which disputed science policy issues would be argued by advocates on all sides of an issue before a panel of distinguished adjudicating scientists.
(The federal government may have decided to deal with the issue of conflict of interest amongst its own advisors by adopting instead the advice of a United Nations body. Environment Minister Campbell has stated that "the Australian Government, together with about 100 other nations, has accepted the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report. This report was prepared by several hundred scientists from all over the world, from various scientific disciplines and with differing opinions on global warming. The material that went into the report was from scientific research papers that go through a rigorous process of peer review in order to be published. The report itself also goes through a rigorous process of preparation, review, and debate". Many Australians might view such a statement as an abnegation of responsibility by the government, especially given the widespread criticism which has been levelled at both IPCC's flawed review processes and some of the key findings of its Third Assessment Report9.)
Hansenism is more dangerous than Lysenkoism
Histories of science contain an account of the ideological control of Soviet biology during the mid-20th century by one Trofim Lysenko18, who by 1940 had risen to be Director of the influential Institute of Genetics of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Lysenko and his supporters rejected the "dangerous Western concepts" of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution. They preferred the Lamarckian view of the inheritance of acquired characteristics; for instance, that cows could be trained to give more milk and their offspring would then inherit this trait.
Lysenkoism grew from four main roots :
A necessity to demonstrate the practical relevance of
science to the needs of society;
The amassing of evidence to show the "correctness" of the
concept as a substitute for causal proof;
Noble cause corruption, whereby data are manipulated to
support a cause which is seen as a higher truth; and
Ideological zeal, such that dissidents are silenced as
"enemies of the truth".
Future histories of science will judge the late 20th century frenzy of climate change alarmism to be closely similar to Lysenkoism. Similar; but even more dangerous. For whereas Lysenkoism damaged mainly Soviet science, the pernicious influence of Hansenism is worldwide and has already undermined the precious public trust from which the science draws its influence and sustenance. It has also badly damaged the standing of several leading science journals, which have replaced a former careful editorial balance with environmental alarmism and naked global warming advocacy.
Many western societies, including Australia, will come to rue the day that they required their scientists to compete for funds on the basis of the deemed public importance or relevance of their research proposals. Disinterested scientific advice will only again become available to governments and the public when research is once more funded primarily on the excellence of its practitioners and their proposals, irrespective of whether a particular scientist's interests coincide with one of a set of ephemeral "national priorities" or "big, hairy flagship projects".
The one real national priority, which has now been long-neglected, is to provide the jobs, infrastructure and research support which will retain world class scientists in Australia and attract others from overseas.
At the present time of great national wealth, and large budget surpluses, it is an indictment on both of our major political parties that neither has cogent plans for the resurrection and revitalisation of Australian science. For in that task lies not only the resolution of the climate change controversy, but, even more important, the knowledge and innovation future of the nation.
ASTEC Australian Science and Technology Council
BOM (Australian) Bureau of Meteorology
CSIRO (Australian) Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization
IPCC (United Nations) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
2. Hansen, J.E. 2003 Can we defuse the global warming time bomb? Natural Science,
3. Tiedemann, R., Sanrthein, M. & Shackleton, N.J. 1994 Astronomic timescale for the
Pliocene Atlantic d18O and dust flux records of Ocean Drilling Program site 659.
Paleoceanography 9, 619-638.
4. Davis, J.C. & Bohling, G.C. 2001 The search for patterns in ice-core temperature
curves. In: Gerhard, L.C. et al. (eds.), Geological Perspectives of Global Climate
Change, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Studies in Geology 47,
5. Grootes, P.M., Stuiver, M., White, J.W.C., Johnsen, S.J. & Jouzel J. 2003
Comparison of oxygen isotope records from the GISP and GRIP Greenland ice cores.
Nature 366, 552-554.
8. For example: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,123013,00.html.
9. Houghton, J.T. et al. 2001 Climate Change 2001: the Scientific Basis.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change, Working Group 3, Third Assessment
Report, Cambridge University Press, 881 pp.
10. Kuo, C., Lindberg, C.& Thomson, D.J. 1990 Coherence established between
atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperature. Nature 343, 709-713.
Mudelsee, M. 2001 The phase relations among atmospheric CO2 content, temperature
and global ice volume over the past 420 ka. Quaternary Science Reviews 20, 583-589.
13. For example: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/02/24/ice_shelf_collapse.
15. For example: http://www.dest.gov.au/archive/Science/astec/future/keyissue/contents.html.
17. For example: http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/articles/pdf/v09/09HarvJLTech589.pdf.
18. For example: http://www.comms.dcu.ie/sheehanh/lysenko.htm.