Posted 26 May 2009

"Even though the temperature threat danger has come to be accepted by all major political parties both here and overseas as requiring urgent action to save the planet, this view has no substantive justification, and certainly none in regard to the alleged need for urgent action......What do these faults in scientific analysis mean? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they mean that the conclusions reached by the IPCC and its supporters have a political rather than scientific motivation."  Former Deputy Secretary of the Australian Treasury, Des Moore, talkng to the Portsea branch of the LIberal Party.




Extract from a talk to Portsea Branch of the Liberal Party by Des Moore 


The [Australian] Liberal Party appears to be reluctant to challenge what is popularly regarded as the current status quo: it is almost as though it does not want to be seen as an advocate of major change. This is particularly true in regard to the environmental movement. Fear of losing votes to the Green movement has been allowed to prevent the advocacy of a major program of building new dams or of much greater clearing and burning off arrangements to reduce the risk of fire damage. It should be possible to identify the disadvantages of the kind of environmental policies advocated by the Greens while still presenting a balanced environmental policy yourself.

Mention of the environmental movement provides the opportunity for moving to discuss the assertion that the most dangerous threat to humans comes from increased temperatures caused by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases. So that you know where I’m coming from I want to give you the essence of my view right at the start.

My position is that, even though the temperature threat danger has come to be accepted by all major political parties both here and overseas as requiring urgent action to save the planet, this view has no substantive justification, and certainly none in regard to the alleged need for urgent action. By contrast, the threat from extremist Islamic terrorism is a very real and increasing danger that could cause enormous damage to lives and property in the near future and governments need to take additional preventative measures.

Let me take first the supposed environmental threat. There is sufficient time to make only some brief responses to the usual claims made by those claiming dangerously rising temperatures.

First, although it is claimed that, as reflected in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is a consensus on the danger amongst expert scientists, there are in fact large numbers of scientists who do not accept those reports’ conclusions. These include highly qualified Australians with expertise in climate analysis and, as our professionally respected Productivity Commission has stated, “uncertainty continues to pervade the science and geopolitics and, notwithstanding the Stern Report, the economics”. In the United States over 31,000 scientists have signed a petition declaring “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate". Recent opinion polls in the US suggest that a majority of the population are now sceptical of the supposed threat.

Second, it is important to recognise that there is a long history of claims by scientists which have been either totally wrong or grossly exaggerated about possible serious threats to continued human activity unless governments take countervailing action. In the 1970s, for example, the world was warned by many supposed scientific experts that, unless governments acted to drastically reduce economic activity and population, a shortage of resources and starvation would quickly develop. A recently published study of similar type scares in the UK reveals many more recent examples of interventions by governments on the basis of supposedly expert views of scientists which have proved mistaken, and where the interventions had serious adverse consequences for those involved. In those examples the views of scientific dissenters were ignored or over-ruled until after much damage was done.

Third, while the global temperature designated as the “official” measurement is about three quarters of a degree higher than it was about a century ago, an examination of temperature changes over the last 128 years shows that those years included three periods, covering 56 years in all, in which temperatures fell or did not increase. How much confidence can one have in a theory that claims that temperatures will increase as CO2 emissions do - but that doesn’t work for almost half the time?.

Fourth, given that the latest period of cooling or no increase covers the years since 1997 and despite to 5% increase in CO2 emissions shows no sign of a resumption of rising temperatures, how much confidence can one have in the claim that urgent action is needed to reduce emissions? Let me take that one step further. Why should we who are alive today accept the need to immediately turn our lives upside down when the research by adviser Garnaut is that, even if no action is taken to reduce emissions, the GDP in 2100 would be only slightly smaller than if we were to make a large cut in emissions in the years ahead? Of course, one should help protect future generations where that can be done for sensible reasons. But as Garnaut also concludes that, even with no emission cuts, those living in 2100 would be very much richer than we are today, why can’t our children’s children children handle the temperature problem, if indeed there is one. In the meantime, remember that humans show a capacity to adapt to widely different temperatures: Singapore has an average temperature of well over 20 degrees while Helsinki’s is less than 10. 

This is highly relevant to Rudd’s continued assertions that, if emission reducing action is not started now, it will cost a lot more when it is needed later on. Should this matter if those living in 70 or 80 years would be very much more able to afford to take such remedial action?

Fifth, one response by consensus scientists to the recent cessation of temperature increases is to claim that, even so, such temperatures remain the hottest since industrialisation started. However, there is ample evidence demonstrating the existence of periods of higher temperatures before industrialisation and in circumstances where no fossil fuels were used. Moreover, an authoritative independent study of the method of calculating global temperatures in recent years indicates that the so-called official figures considerably overstate the levels reached because they fail to take account of the heating effects from urban areas. In other word, it is very likely that temperatures increased by considerably less than three quarters of a degree over the past century.

Sixth, although quite a few danger-believers suggest that even their very own IPCC has underestimated the increase in sea levels and the likely further rise, there is no evidence to support that view - and, incidentally, no reason for local governments in Victoria to restrict building on low lying land near the sea. Satellite measurements of sea levels since 1994 show a rate of increase close to the lower end of the very modest predicted rate of increase by the IPCC and those measurements show no increase at all in the last four years. Similarly, the various scares started by danger-believers about supposed meltings of the Arctic and Antarctic have turned out to be furphies and are clearly an attempt to heighten concerns in the lead-up to the Copenhagen conference in December.

The scare about the Arctic was a monstrous furphy because the ice there is mostly sea ice and any such meltings would not increase sea levels. It is symbolic of the deception by both the danger-believers and sections of the media that there has been minimal reporting of the recent recovery of ice in the Arctic to above average levels. The scare in the Antarctic was based on dicey estimates of temperatures in large areas where there are no weather stations and in circumstances where the total ice area in the Antarctic has actually been increasing and reached record levels in 2008. The Dutch, who have adapted to live above the sea level and are very watchful of changes, stated last year through their Meteorological Institute that sea levels have risen a modest 20 centimetres (about 8 inches) in the past century. They added that “there is no evidence for accelerated sea-level rise”. Perhaps our worried sea-side local authorities should consult the Dutch.

Seventh, the dangerous temperature thesis is based on the fact that, in addition to the direct warming from the sun, further warming occurs because the earth radiates back into the atmosphere and some of that hits the concentrations of greenhouse gases remaining in the atmosphere which, in turn, radiate back to the earth. Hence, it is argued, as the greenhouse gas concentrations are continually increasing due to increased emissions of CO2, so to will the warming effect from the radiation back to earth process. However, the problem with this analysis is that it is an established fact that the warming from increased concentrations of CO2 diminishes progressively as concentration levels grow. Thus, even a doubling of concentrations in the atmosphere would only increase temperatures very slightly. 

Even though this established fact is reported in IPCC reports, it has not been taken into account by the IPCC when framing its conclusion that urgent action is needed to reduce CO2 emissions.  A further major defect in the IPCC analysis derives from the modelling it undertakes to estimate possible temperature increases from the warming. That modelling is based on assumptions that grossly understate the extent to which the warming is cooled by evaporation. This serious deficiency in the models produces much larger increases in surface temperatures than could actually occur.

What do these faults in scientific analysis mean? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they mean that the conclusions reached by the IPCC and its supporters have a political rather than scientific motivation.

My eighth and final comment relates to the point that, while some people accept that the science consensus may be wrong, for various reasons they go along with the idea that precautionary action should be taken to reduce CO2 emissions. In this context, such people refer to Treasury modelling that purports to demonstrate that the cost of implementing an emissions reduction program will be very small or to the argument that there will be no loss of jobs because production of alternative sources of energy and different motor vehicles and the like will require replacement jobs. However, the Treasury modelling is based on the highly unrealistic assumptions that Australia will be operating within an effective global agreement on emission reductions and that coal will remain usable because carbon capture and storage will become “commercial” and be generally deployed by 2020. But the Rudd Government is proposing that Australia start reducing emissions in mid 2011 even if there is no global agreement, which would put Australian companies at a serious competitive disadvantage on world markets. More importantly, a shift to alternative sources of energy and different machinery would be more expensive and would lower living standards.

The eight responses I have made to claims by the danger believers could be increased. My conclusion is that the case is not made for an emission reduction scheme and that, while advanced countries may agree on some kind of scheme in Copenhagen, the Coalition should adopt the position that Australia should undertake further investigations of the dangerous warming thesis. A list of doubts/concerns about that thesis along the lines set out above could readily be listed. However, although it is rumoured that more than half of the Coalition  as well as a proportion of Labor members are sceptics, few are prepared to express their doubts publicly and the Leader of the Coalition seems to have swallowed the danger story hook line and sinker. Unfortunately, it looks as though there will be no proper independent inquiry and that Australian major political parties will allow some kind of emission reduction scheme to be established.


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 May 2009 )
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This website is dedicated to the memory of Professor August H. (Augie) Auer jr, a co-founder of the Coalition.