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A Short Introduction to Climate Change Bryan Walker Sep 30

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Tony Eggleton’s A Short Introduction to Climate Change is an excellent account of climate science for the general reader. The author is a retired geology professor from the Australian National University. Two widely read climate change deniers, Ian Plimer and Bob Carter, are also retired Australian geology professors, but Eggleton is not of their ilk. He comes at the subject from a concern about climate change and a wish to explain to readers who are uncertain about the topic why there is reason for concern.

The book is grounded in the careful science which has contributed to our understanding of the danger in which we now stand. Eggleton has not worked in the field of climate, but recognises the authenticity of the findings of climatologists. His opening chapter, The Spirit of Enquiry, offers a clear account of the process by which science across all its fields advances. He highlights the fact that most climate science is done by groups, all of whom need to be confident of the reliability of their colleagues. He explains the rigorous process of peer reviewed papers and the comprehensive scrutiny from fellow scientists which follows their publication. He ponders the fact that some hypotheses are of the type that involves a choice between only two possibilities. If one is not true the other must be so. How will the theory of climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels be viewed in 100 years from now? “Interpretations evolve, change and sometimes settle into accepted fact: the Sun is at the centre of the solar system, the continents have drifted and smoking does damage the lungs.”

The course the book follows is logically developed and well marked by summaries and frequent recapitulations. The evidence of warming is comprehensive: spring timing is earlier; winters are milder; land and sea surface and atmospheric temperatures are rising; extreme temperature events are more frequent. This warming is driving the fundamental climate change which underlies changes in weather, and it is caused by the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1750. Not that the author rushes to this conclusion. He leads the reader through all the thinking and observation which builds towards it, introducing a host of considerations such as the Milankovich cycles, the Keeling curve, water vapour, clouds, feedbacks and much else, all carefully explained.

The theme of climate change is pursued into all its manifestations in droughts and changed rainfall patterns, the loss of ice cover, the changes to the acidity of the world’s oceans and sea level rise. Again these are all patiently explored with frequent sourcing of the scientific findings to the work of particular scientists and their colleagues.

At this point Eggleton looks back in time, on geological time scales, detailing the lines of evidence from which the changes in temperature and CO2 and the eras of glaciation can be mapped out over the past 400 million-year period. “The connection between climate and CO2 is quite evident in the geological record, and that evidence – the coal, glacial drop-stones, types of shellfish fossils – tells us that when atmospheric CO2 falls, so does the temperature; when CO2 rises, so does the temperature.” More recently, over the past 2000 years, he notes the various studies which confirm Mann’s ‘hockey stick’, the rapid and now steepening rise in global temperature since 1800. He comments that what is special is not the temperature, nor even that it is changing, but rather the speed of the change.  At its very fastest, at the end of the last ice age the world warmed at a rate of 1°C every 1000 years. “As far as palaeontology and geology can discover, temperature change as fast as 1.5°C a century has not happened in at least the past 2 million years; it has not happened over the time of Homo sapiens.” The ominous rapidity of the changes we are seeing is a recurring theme in the book.

Lest there be any uncertainty as to where the increased CO2 is coming from, the book traverses the evidence that it comes from the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities such as cement manufacturing and deforestation. The global carbon cycle receives attention here.

Before moving on to discuss what we can do to remedy the threatening imbalance we have caused Eggleton devotes a chapter to what he calls the road block – influential and vociferous people who deny that climate change is happening or is of any consequence. He imagines a reader asking why the body of science that surely underpins contrarian views has not been represented in this book. “The answer is because there is no such body of knowledge. I looked. I searched extensively.” He turns his attention to the two prominent retired Australian geologists, Plimer and Carter, who deny that warming is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, maintaining that if there is any current change in climate we must look to natural causes. Eggleton points out that climate scientist always include the natural causes of climate change in their research and that the burning of fossil fuels has augmented a process of natural climate variation. Plimer is wrong to deny that we can change the normal planetary processes. Eggleton is patient and exhaustive in his treatment of the views of the two geologists, not dismissive but thoroughly rebutting their claims.

What lies ahead? Eggleton’s tone in talking about the predictions is cautious and he certainly can’t be accused of overstatement. But as he explains the implications, and includes mention of the fears of scientists such as Hansen who are very aware of the possibility of runaway climate change, it is very clear that the risks for our grandchildren are very substantial indeed. His focus on what change is likely to mean for Australia is a valuable one for readers in this part of the world.

Finally he reaches the question of what we can do about it and begins by saying that whereas in the rest of the book he has been careful to report quality scientific results, he now moves beyond his scientific comfort zone. I found this short closing section less positive than much I have read on the ways in which we can switch to renewable energy if we have the mind to, but if that’s a flaw it’s a minor one in the context of the book as a whole.

The book takes an impressive body of science seriously and explains it thoroughly for the non-scientist reader. Although many commentators say inaction on climate change is not due to lack of understanding I continue to think that a grasp of the scientific reality by a wide sector of society is an essential element in our preparedness to recognise that there is a crisis and to address it.

The voice of reason may not always be listened to, but I don’t know where else hope lies. Eggleton’s presentation is marked by its reasonableness and one hopes many readers will be appreciative of that.

[Support Hot Topic by purchasing this book through our affiliates: The Book Depository (UK, free shipping worldwide), Amazon.com or Fishpond (NZ).]

The catechism of climate crank cliché Gareth Renowden Jan 29

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“A cliché,” according to the late Brian O’Nolan, “is a phrase that has become fossilised, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage. Thus it appears that clichés reflect somewhat the frequency of the same situations in life. If this be so, a sociological commentary could be compiled from these items of mortified language.”

O’Nolan is perhaps better known as Flann O’Brien, the author of such staggering works of comic genius as The Third Policeman and At Swim-Two-Birds, but for many years he contributed a column to the Irish Times under the pen name Myles na Gopaleen. One of the highlights of that column was the occasional appearance of extracts from Myles na Gopaleen’s Catechism of Cliché.

I was reminded of that catechism when I stumbled upon the “core principles” of the International Climate Science Coalition, a list of the doctrines the ICSC expects its members and supporters to believe and promote. Like Myles’ least favourite constructions, they are certainly fossilised and deprived of any intrinsic meaning but have the added attraction of being for the most part untrue.

A catechism, as the more literate (or Catholic) reader will know, is:

…a summary or exposition of doctrine, traditionally used in Christian religious teaching from New Testament times to the present. Catechisms are doctrinal manuals often in the form of questions followed by answers to be memorized, a format that has been used in non-religious or secular contexts as well. [Wikipedia]

Amongst the doctrinal manuals available for today’s climate sceptic there are the popular scriptures by Plimer and Wishart, the undergraduate philippics of Carter and Allegro, and the industrial grade biblical length blockbuster produced by Fred Singer and his Not the IPCC project. So much to choose from, such a lot to read. How is the would-be denier to thread their way through such a maze of doctrinal complexity, uncertainty and contradiction? Let us help them by preparing a climate crank catechism in the style of Myles…

What is it that global climate is always doing?

Changing.

In what ways are current changes like a Tom Jones song?

They are not unusual.

What is the current warming (if any) of the planetary climate?

Modest.

What is it that climate science is doing?

Rapidly evolving.

And in what direction is that evolution proceeding?

Away from CO2 as a cause of climate change.

With what word shall we always prefix our mentions of climate change?

Dangerous.

Or?

Catastrophic.

Climate models are always?

Unreliable.

Climate models are in want of what?

Scientific integrity.

What future condition is climate modelling the only evidence for?

Catastrophic climate change.

[Narrator] Excellent! You are learning fast…

What are scientists who agree with us?

Independent.

And how many of them are there?

Thousands.

What collectively do they prove the absence of?

Consensus.

What is it that carbon dioxide is essential for?

Life on earth.

Action to reduce carbon emissions is what?

Premature.

What are all forms of renewable energy?

Heavily subsidised.

Yes. And?

Very expensive.

Yes. And?

Lead to increased CO2 emissions.

And finally: whodunnit?

It’s the sun what done it!

All comments to this post should take the form of an entry to the catechism.

Michael Cox talks complete rubbish Gareth Renowden Oct 17

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a retired conservative politician with a penchant for writing opinion pieces and a limited understanding of certain issues will one day start talking bollocks — and that day has arrived with a vengeance for Michael Cox. The former National MP and Waipa district councillor let rip in the Waikato Times this morning:

Those who witter on (to chatter or babble on pointlessly or at unnecessary length) about emissions of green-house gasses, usually come from the left side of the political spectrum. They make me mad.

Mad? Yes, but perhaps not in the sense he intended. His political rage has led him rather a long way off the path of reason into the dark woods where lurk misdirection — and climate cranks.

Cox has been convinced that global warming is complete rubbish. To prove his point he pontificates on the evils of the IPCC:

To cut a long story short it was found that the main editor of these IPCC Summaries introduced many of his own extremely biased views into the texts. Eventually it became clear that the IPCC, which so many governments relied upon, was clearly underpinned by fraud and an unscientific political organisation in which environmental activists like Al Gore were setting the agenda.

That doesn’t sound like any history of the IPCC that I’ve read — but it does sound a lot like the conspiracy theories that circulate in crank circles. Cox then moves on to consider the sun and carbon dioxide:

Today’s rational authors make it absolutely clear that the Sun, Earth, ice and air are the main contributors to changes in our climate. The earth is dynamic and is always evolving; climate has always changed. In fact, the biggest driver on our climate is the receipt of and redistribution of solar energy, without which there would be no life on Earth. [typo corrected]

Hang on a minute. “Rational authors?” A heavy hint there, methinks…

This glaringly obvious fact has been brushed aside and the argument somehow replaced the power of the Sun with the trace gas CO2. The gas is in the atmosphere and exists in tiny amounts [0.001%], with the remainder of it embedded in the oceans, rocks, soil and living beings.

A bit of a “research” failure there, Michael. CO2 is currently at 389 ppm — parts per million of the atmosphere by volume, equivalent to 0.0389% of the atmosphere. But you are good enough to reveal your source for this egregious error:

Professor Ian Plimer is a well-known Australian geologist and is also Emeritus Professor of Earth Science at the University of Melbourne. I have referenced his book entitled Heaven and Earth for some of my research for this article. I recommend it to you.

Ah Plimer, you’ve done it again. Mislead a poor politician. Heaven and Earth is a work of imagination, not science. Here’s what one reviewer (Professor Kurt Lambeck, president of the Australian Academy of Science) had to say shortly after the book was published back in 2009):

If this had been written by an honours student, I would have failed it with the comment: You have obviously trawled through a lot of material but the critical analysis is missing. Supporting arguments and unsupported arguments in the literature are not distinguished or properly referenced, and you have left the impression that you have not developed an understanding of the processes involved. Rewrite!

Cox wraps up by quoting Plimer:

I will let him have the final word:

“If we humans, in a fit of ego, think we can change normal planetary processes that control our climate, then we need stronger medication.”

Cox’s intemperate and ill-informed piece is published as “opinion” by the Waikato Times. I keenly await the newspaper giving equal prominence to someone who believes that the world is flat and the the British Royal Family are alien lizards in disguise. Meanwhile, perhaps we should club together to buy some suitable medication for Mr Cox. During the forthcoming election campaign he may need to calm down a bit…

Crime of the century Gareth Renowden Nov 02

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Dealing with global warming is difficult, but it shouldn’t be impossible. What we need to do is well understood. Yet a campaign to prevent and delay emissions reductions, which began in the 1980s almost as soon as science began warning there might be a problem, has been so successful that two decades later it seems that substantive action, the sorts of cuts required to leave us with a planet we can recognise, are impossible to put in place.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the people who coordinate and run that campaign are morally and ethically bankrupt (I’m being polite), but are they also criminally liable for the damage their actions will undoubtedly cause? Donald Brown, Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science, and Law at Penn State University, discusses the issue in a recent article: A New Kind of Crime Against Humanity?: The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Disinformation Campaign On Climate Change. Brown points out that the issue is much more than just a matter of science, it has moral and ethical dimensions:

As long as there is any chance that climate change could create this type of destruction, even assuming, for the sake of argument, that these harms are not yet fully proven, disinformation about the state of climate change science is extraordinarily morally reprehensible if it leads to non-action in reducing climate change’s threat when action is indispensable to preventing harm. In fact how to deal with uncertainty in climate change science is an ethical issue, not only a scientific matter, because in the case of climate change:

  • If you wait until all the uncertainties are resolved it is likely to be too late to prevent catastrophic climate change.
  • The longer one waits to take action, the more difficult it is to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of climate change at safe levels.
  • Those most vulnerable to climate change include some of the poorest people in the world and they have not consented to be put at risk in the face of uncertainty.

Brown cites a New York Times article which concludes that:

…the oil, coal and utility industries have collectively spent $500 million just since the beginning of 2009 to lobby against legislation to address climate change and to defeat candidates who support actions to reduce the threat of climate change.

The extent to which this is a carefully coordinated campaign was underlined by a recent Think Progress report on a meeting of “titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives” held in Aspen last June, organised by the Koch brothers. Climate denial and its relevance to the US elections (underway as I write) was on the agenda (pdf):

Energy and Climate: What drives the regulatory assault on energy? What are the economic and political consequences of this? How discredited is the climate change argument? What effect does this have on the electorate, especially in key states. [my emphasis]

From the outside looking in, could I be forgiven for thinking that the Koch brothers and their friends have remade US conservatism in their own image, and made it serve their interests above all others? The self-interest of billionaires has shaped the catechism of the new right, put the tea in the parties, and it’s hard to see how any Republican leader can now advocate strong action on emissions — for purely domestic political reasons.

But this is not just a US domestic issue, as Brown explains.

It would be one thing for an American corporation to act irresponsibly in a way that leads to harm to Americans, but because of climate change’s global scope, American corporations have been involved in behaviour that likely will harm tens of millions of people around the world. Clearly this is a new type of crime against humanity.

I find it hard to disagree. At some point, when the damages from climate change are severe and undeniable, there will be a backlash against those who deliberately made matters worse. It might be purely a legal affair, with lawyers fattening themselves on cases seeking billions of dollars of damages, but it might equally be a more visceral matter, with US standing in the world suffering as countries bearing the brunt of climate change react against the people, companies and political system that sealed their fate. Global change has global repercussions, and the US will not be insulated from that.

Brown goes on to consider the role of skeptics:

Skepticism in science is not bad, but skeptics must play by the rules of science including publishing their conclusions in peer-reviewed scientific journals and not make claims that are not substantiated by the peer-reviewed literature. The need for responsible skepticism is particularly urgent if misinformation from skeptics could lead to great harm.

The idea of “responsible scepticism” is something I’ve considered before but have never attempted to define, but it’s clear from Brown’s view on how it should be conducted that it would be greatly different to the approach adopted by the Moncktons Plimers, Wisharts, Carters and Easterbrooks of this world.

Brown’s conclusion is straightforward enough:

…this disinformation campaign being funded by some American corporations is arguably some kind of new crime against humanity.

No doubt some will argue the billionaire’s corner, but it’s clear that the Koch and Scaife-funded attack on the science of climate is not “responsible scepticism”, it’s naked self-interest masquerading as policy. I have little doubt that the world will one day curse their names.

Note: Brown cites Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt as one source for his piece. Oreskes is giving lectures in Australia later this month. Details at Deltoid.

[Supertramp]

An open letter to climate sceptics Gareth Renowden May 09

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Alert readers may have noted my absence over the last few days: Bryan’s been doing all the hard work while I swanned off to Sydney (wedding anniversary, 25th, for the celebration of). And so I’ve been reading the Sydney Morning Herald. Saturday’s edition featured this “interesting” take on the state of denial in Australia, in which a key player — John Roskam, executive director of right wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs — chortles about the success of his denial campaign. It’s a long article, but the thing that really caught my eye was this succinct poem by John Bryant on page 37 of the Spectrum section:

An Open Letter to Climate Sceptics

Among your loved ones choose
– when the sweet airs fail,
when the rivers run dry –
the hand of whom to hold
until the last breath,
until the last cry.

Sometimes balance is not measured by the number of words.

Monckton in Australia: Picnic at Hanging Sock Gareth Renowden Feb 04

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Plimer’s bronzed body arced through the brutal Brisbane air and knifed into the pool with a barely perceptible splash — no belly flops for the silver-haired Adonis of climate scepticism. Monckton, in solar topee and camouflage Army & Navy shorts, clutched his glass of gin & tonic and tried to repress boarding school thoughts. He glanced over at Lady Monckton, deep in her Jilly Cooper and even deeper into a bottle of Queensland chardonnay, oblivious. It was a Hockney scene, the Laird thought, bar the gaudy birds screeching loudly in the trees. Or was that the other guests? He shuddered. Australia really was a fatal shore.

Old Scrotum, Monckton’s wrinkled retainer, sat under an umbrella with a drinks trolley at his side, ready to deliver refills and ice as required. After the first hectic days of the Laird’s great Australian adventure a little peace and quiet was welcome. Plimer was cavorting in the sun, demonstrating that Australian knack for healthy activity that had bred a nation of Shane Warnes. As his august head popped out of the water, Plimer shook his lengthy silver locks, scattering water like a labrador in a paddling pool, his large brown eyes focussed firmly on the Laird. Scrotum was watching the dynamic developing between the two new stars of the denialist southern cross. On stage they were undeniably effective, Plimer galloping Gish-like through a hundred objections to climate science, while Monckton invented polar bear statistics, miscalculated climate sensitivity, and preened in the adoring attention of the elderly audiences. Was there something emerging from the laird’s past, something Scrotum had never seen? He scratched his ear, sipped at his water, and furrowed his brow.

’G’day, you bastards!’ Peace fled up towards the cockatoos in the trees, who objected loudly as Carter strode across the hot tiles, a six pack of XXXX clutched under one arm, the other waving a cork-fringed hat. On stage and in public Carter was a mild-mannered, well spoken man, but in private and when he let his hair down (which he did with great vigour and frequency), he adopted a demeanour reminiscent of Crocodile Dundee.

’Chris, this hat’s for you. I know how much you like a hat. This’ll keep the flies at bay,’ Carter boomed. The cockatoos hushed respectfully, but a fruit bat lolloped away in disgust. Lady Monckton pulled her hat down over her eyes.

The Laird lifted his aviator sunglasses (with leather blinkers), and smiled faintly. ’Bob, good to see you. How was the drilling?’

’Great. Got a bloody long core — world record, somebody said. Should allow us to track sea level changes off New Zealand for the last 35 million years. That’ll show them there’s nothing to worry about this century — it’s all happened before, so it can’t be our fault.’ Scrotum noted the glint in Carter’s eyes, a fanatical flash of pinhole pupil that would have worried anyone not familiar with the inner circles of climate inactivism.

Carter stretched out on the lounger next to the Laird, and Plimer pranced over to join them. The gentle susurration of tinnies being cracked filled the air. Scrotum went over to the barbie and lit the gas. It would soon be time for jumbo prawns.

****

The flight to Adelaide was a nightmare. The Laird’s insistence on carrying his childhood talisman in hand luggage — a stuffed champion racing guinea pig left him by his father — had caused more than raised eyebrows at airport security. They’d had to x-ray it twice, and remove its underpants before it was allowed on board. Then the Aussie academic they’d debated in Brisbane, the one with the shiny pate and fixation on nuclear power had been seated right behind the Laird. As soon as the plane was in the air, he’d started picking away at Monckton, questioning his calculations on climate. He even had the bad taste to mention Curry and Clow. Plimer — a colleague at the University of Woolloomooloo — had to intervene to prevent fisticuffs. For the remainder of the flight, the Moncktons had to dodge peanuts the Aussie was flicking over the seat backs. Scrotum, deep in a tape of Michael Mann’s greatest hits on his ancient Sony Walkman, could only smile.

****

Plimer insisted they stay at his country estate, only an hour or two from Adelaide by light aircraft. The Laird had not been keen, but Plimer had been insistent, and the good Lady M didn’t object, so they went. Scrotum wasn’t pleased. There was no room for the Laird’s eleven battered suitcases in the Cessna, so he had been instructed to ensure their safe arrival. Ten hours overland in an ancient Landrover without air conditioning was not Scrotum’s idea of an Australian holiday, still less when the driver looked like Dame Edna’s effeminate brother but lacked the great woman’s charm.

Scrotum seldom swore, but as the short wheelbase Defender bounced over yet another fallen gum branch, the wrinkled retainer’s equilibrium was finally disturbed. ’Stop this bloody thing, will you!’

The driver spat out of the window and did as he was told. Scrotum opened the door, jumped out onto the dusty track and started stretching. After a moment of stationary bliss, he lowered his eyes from the great blue sky overhead and noticed he was being watched. Several large kangaroos were approaching the Landrover. One was licking its lips, and its long tail was beating the ground with obvious intent. On the other side of the track, a group of koalas were clambering slowly down out of the eucalypts. He looked down at his feet, and jumped backwards. A very large lizard was flicking its tongue at his shoes. A kookaburra laughed to see such fun, but Scrotum was back in the car before Matilda could have taken a single waltz step.

****

Dundiggin’ lacked the crenellations of Tannochbrae Manor, but was undeniably well-situated. A small hobby mine in the back garden produced gems of sufficient quality to keep Plimer in tailored shirts and shiraz. The view of the dusty hills towards the interior of the great dry continent was stunning, but the swimming pool was empty and the air-conditioning restricted to large fans that creaked alarmingly over the beds. Monckton had nearly fainted when, during a break in the long and drunken welcome barbie, he’d relieved in himself in the dunnie and found he was being watched from the bowl by a little green frog. He insisted that Scrotum take the sheets off his bed to ensure there were no nasty surprises for his good Lady. There was a rather long centipede, but nothing poisonous.

In the small tin shed under the water tank at the side of the main house, Scrotum stared at the ceiling and gave the geckos names. Mycroft had warned him it would be warm, but this was ridiculous. It was going to be a long night.

****

The early morning heat was breathtaking. Plimer insisted this was normal for summer, but the radio was warning of extreme heatwave conditions and catastrophic fire danger for most of South Australia. Monckton thanked the lord (the other one, obviously) for his solar topee and tucked into his breakfast with vigour. Lady M misted herself with lavender water and stayed in the shade. They had a day to kill before getting the show back on the road in Adelaide with three Probus Club sessions and an evening debate at the Retired Cricketer’s Association club rooms in McLaren Vale. Plimer wanted to take the Laird out into the bush ’to get a feel for the place’.

’Do we have to, Ian? It’s bloody hot, y’know. Not at all the sort of thing I’m used to. Scotch mist, yes. Occasional snow, of course, but this is a different planet.’ Monckton didn’t sound keen.

’Don’t be a wowser, Chris. You can bring old Scrote along to carry the water, make lunch and frighten the flies.’ Scrotum shuddered.

****

Plimer drove a slightly newer Landrover than Scrotum had ridden in the day before, but it was just as crusted in dust and scarred by hard use on rough roads. The back was full of the tools of a geologist: hammers of all sizes, two shovels, and an esky full of beer. Plimer swung himself up into the driver’s seat, but Monckton was nowhere to be seen. ’Chris!’ he yelled. ’Get your arse in gear.’

’Won’t be long.’ Monckton’s muffled voice was coming from the house. In the guest bedroom he was struggling with his new body armour. He’d tested it with the razor-sharp koala claws he kept in the library at Tannochbrae for defacing Nature, and it was definitely better than the stuff he’d had in Copenhagen. He had no intention of ending up naked wrapped around a statue of a mermaid again.

In the tin shed, Scrotum stuffed the satellite phone back into his rucksack, strapped Mycroft’s GPS watch to his wrist, and headed for the kitchen to pick up the Laird’s picnic lunch — cucumber and potted shrimp sandwiches. Plimer was planning to barbecue sausages on the bonnet of the Landrover, but Scrotum doubted that Monckton would go for that.

****

Plimer drove like a man possessed, but it wasn’t entirely clear what was possessing him. Monckton feared it was some terrible antipodean madness, a consequence of too much sun, breathing dust from birth, and compulsory leg spin lessons at kindergarten, but Scrotum suspected something rather more schoolboy — a desperate desire to convince his new best friend that he was really a man’s man. As that man’s man’s friend’s man, Scrotum feared he’d seen something like it before, when the Laird had tried a similar tactic with Dennis Thatcher. Quite why he had thought he could drink Margaret’s consort under the Number Ten table, and why he had thought it might be a good idea in the first place remained a mystery, but the redoubtable liver of Mr Thatcher had been more than a match for the young Laird. It had taken Scrotum the best part of a day to get the diced carrots out of the deep blue shagpile.

****

They took lunch in the dappled shade provided by a grove of coolibah trees. The only birdlife they’d seen for miles had been an occasional cockatoo. Monckton asked rather nervously about birds of prey, but Plimer laughed. ’Still worried about eagles, eh Chris? We’ve got a few hawks, but nothing that would dent your hat. Relax, out here nothing can go wrong.’

The two gentlemen scientists reclined on the picnic rug sharing a bottle of chilled Adelaide Entre Deux Legs and fell to discussing the weighty matter of climate sensitivity. Monckton, moved by the heat and the intensely alcoholic golden brew, began a lengthy peroration. Scrotum excused himself, and went for a walk. Once on the far side of the trees, he tapped a button on his watch and switched on the satellite phone.

’Scrotum to Wollumboola Base. Come in Wollumboola Base.’ Flannery was obviously sleeping off a long lunch, because it took him a minute or two to answer. Once awake, though, the great Australian was brisk and business-like. ’You’ll need to keep the bastards there for 15 minutes, Scrotum, can you manage that?’

’I believe I can, sir, I believe I can.’ He trotted back to the car and unloaded another bottle of wine and a box of chocolate-dipped yabbies. The Laird had become deeply enamoured of the strange confection. ’As great a contribution to the world as Clarrie Grimmett’s flipper’ he told Plimer as he chomped.

****

’What’s this place called, Ian?’

’The local people call it Hanging Sock. No idea why. Some kind of Christmas cargo cult perhaps?’

The air was still, the heat oppressive, the silence absolute until an unearthly throbbing ululation began in the trees. Monckton sat bolt upright, a yabbie clinging tenaciously to his lip. Plimer’s sang froid seemed to desert him. Scrotum retreated to the Landrover and watched as a small band of the local people emerged from the scrub, their faces painted in strange pointilliste patterns, spears pointing at the two men on the rug. They halted and stood motionless as the didgeridoo chorus grew louder. A cloud of dust appeared on the low ridge in front of the car, and it seemed to be approaching at great pace.

Monckton was shivering. Plimer tried to assert himself. ’Look mate, it’s just the local people giving us a cultural welcome. Strange lot, but there’s not a bad bone in their bodies. Just don’t flinch. That’s an insult.’

By now, it was obvious that the dust was being raised by a mob of large grey kangaroos. Scrotum thought the one in front looked familiar, only this time it was wearing boxing gloves. Several large lizards scampered along in the marsupial vanguard, and out of the coolibah trees a crack squad of hit and run koalas were making a flanking movement. Scrotum locked the car doors and pretended to be deep in a book.

Plimer stood up and walked towards the tribesmen. They stared impassively at him, showing no sign of listening to his cheery greetings and offers of beer. Monckton tried to stay close, but the lead kangaroo got in the way and biffed him on the head.

’You rotter! You scoundrel! You cad!’ Monckton was incandescent with rage, and there being no eagles in sight, he tried a secret move his father had shown him during the hamster hunts of his childhood. If he could only clap both hands over the kangaroos ears at the same instant, the bugger’s eardrums would explode and that would be that. He missed. The kangaroo didn’t. Monckton went down in a flail of leathery tails and flying fists. The last thing Scrotum saw was a bunch of evil-looking koalas trussing both men.

The didgeridoos fell silent, and the dust began to settle. All signs of activity disappeared along with the men. Hanging Sock was deserted, Scrotum alone in the car with his thoughts. What would would Lady M say when he returned alone? Would she even notice? Would the Laird make his first Probus gig in the morning?

Perhaps not.

[Some translation may be necessary for those not familiar with the cultural and linguistic histories of Australia and its former colonial masters, hints available here. No marsupials were harmed in the telling of this story. Clarrie Grimmett is just one more in a long line of New Zealanders who were adopted as Australian because they were good at something. For connoisseurs of spin bowling, I recommend following the link under Shane Warne.]

This is the fourth Monckton tale.

Previous episodes:

  1. Monckton & The Case Of The Missing Curry,
  2. Mycroft Monckton Makes Mischief,
  3. Something Potty In The State Of Denmark.

Popgun for hire: A$20,000 Gareth Renowden Jan 04

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Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, the man who put the pier in peer review, is on his way to Australia at the end of January to make “a barnstorming three-week lecture-tour” designed to reassure audiences in major cities that “‘Global Warming’ is Not a Global Crisis“. His fee? A$20,000 (£11,000), plus all flights and hotel accommodation for himself and his wife. The speaking tour, organised with the assistance of Australia’s Climate Sceptics Party, is expected to cost around A$100,000. Announcing the tour in a forum post in mid-December, the treasurer of the CSP was looking for money:

As you can understand, the cost of this exercise will be very substantial as we have to (and from) fly Lord Monkton (sic) to Australia, all his domestic travel and accommodation plus a ’stipend’ of $20,000.

Our aim is to cover these costs from donations from individuals, appropriate associations and corporations; we expect the required total to be of the order of $100,000. We would like to keep the cost of admission to Monckton’s lectures at around $20 so as to maximise the number of people that will come to hear him.
We have had a number of offers of the order of $1,000 and would prefer donations to be of that order, but of course any amount is very welcome. Should there be a surplus, this, depending on the amount, will be given to Lord Monckton and/or the Climate Sceptics Party which is assisting with this project.

Sufficient funds were obviously forthcoming, because the tour was confirmed today at the Science and Public Policy Institute blog, Monckton’s personal digital fiefdom. Aussie sceptic Ian Plimer will accompany Monckton on his walkabout, which begins in Sydney on Jan 26th. Monckton also released the text of a letter to Aussie PM Kevin Rudd in which he offers “personal briefings on why ’global warming’ is a non-problem to you and other party leaders” during his trip. He explains in detail, and at enormous length, what he plans to do:

Nor is the IPCC’s great lie the only lie. If you will allow me to brief you and your advisers, I will show you lie after lie after lie after lie in the official documents of the IPCC and in the speeches of its current chairman, who has made himself a multi-millionaire as a ’global warming’ profiteer.

Monckton, of course, will only receive A$20,000 for his Aussie excursion — a mere pittance when a cursory check suggests that he usually charges at least £8,000 (A$14,400) for a single speaking engagement. Clearly Aussie sceptics drive a hard bargain. Two mysteries remain. Given the relatively recent plea for funds, who stepped up to the plate to support the tour? And why have New Zealand’s cranks not jumped at the chance of bringing the potty peer over here? I also find it rather suspicious that no mention is made of funding for Monckton’s manservant… I may have to dig a little deeper into the background of the tour. ;-)

[For really deep background refer to: Monckton & The Case Of The Missing Curry, Mycroft Mockton Makes Mischief, and Something Potty In The State Of Denmark]

Stairway from Heaven Gareth Renowden Oct 26

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Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing ScienceI popped into my local Paper Plus at the end of last week, and noted that were a few copies of Ian Plimer’s Heaven + Earth stacked up in the pre-Christmas display. Described by the NZ publisher (Ian Wishart’s Howling At The Moon imprint) as “the world’s #1 climate change book”, it makes a good companion for Air Con on any crank’s Christmas wish list. Unlike Air Con, however, Plimer’s book has been extensively reviewed in Australia and elsewhere, and so — as a public service — here are a few extracts that may help members of the reality-based community to decide whether to buy a copy…

Professor Michael Ashley, in The Australian:

It is not ’merely’ atmospheric scientists that would have to be wrong for Plimer to be right. It would require a rewriting of biology, geology, physics, oceanography, astronomy and statistics. Plimer’s book deserves to languish on the shelves along with similar pseudo-science such as the writings of Immanuel Velikovsky and Erich von Daniken.

Professor Barry Brooke, at Brave New Climate:

Ian’s stated view of climate science is that a vast number of extremely well respected scientists and a whole range of specialist disciplines have fallen prey to delusional self interest and become nothing more than unthinking ideologues. Plausible to conspiracy theorists, perhaps, but hardly a sane world view – and insulting to all those genuinely committed to real science.

Professor Kurt Lambeck, president of the Australian Academy of Science, on ABC’s Ockham’s Razor:

If this had been written by an honours student, I would have failed it with the comment: You have obviously trawled through a lot of material but the critical analysis is missing. Supporting arguments and unsupported arguments in the literature are not distinguished or properly referenced, and you have left the impression that you have not developed an understanding of the processes involved. Rewrite!

Professor David Karoly, on ABC’s Science Show:

Given the errors, the non-science, and the nonsense in this book, it should be classified as science fiction in any library that wastes its funds buying it. The book can then be placed on the shelves alongside Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, another science fiction book about climate change with many footnotes. The only difference is that there are fewer scientific errors in State of Fear.

Bob Ward in the Times (London):

It is easy to see why this book has attracted attention, particularly from right-wing commentators who have long believed that man-made climate change is a conspiracy theory. But this book is so full of errors that readers who believe its content could be seriously misled about the causes and consequences of climate change.

Tim Lambert at Deltoid has much, much more. Plus: you can download a 46 page document prepared by Professor Ian Enting detailing all of Plimer’s errors and misrepresentations.

No surprises, then, if I reveal that it won’t be on my Christmas list…

[The 2:40 version]

A solemn warning on coral reefs Bryan Walker Aug 29

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Australian scientist and coral reef expert John Veron reckons there’s a ’great big gorilla in the cupboard’ — advancing ocean acidification. It cleans out reefs, leaving them ’horrible places — dead, empty, slime-covered.’ He paints this grim picture in a lecture given to the Royal Society in London last month. It’s available on line and I have just watched it - twice. His seriousness and the weight of his concern are deeply impressive.  Veron warned that his talk would not be a happy one. Usually his talks on coral are fun. This one wouldn’t be, but ’I’ve never given a more important talk in my life.’ It was highly focused and informative, accompanied throughout by a range of illuminating pictures and graphs. I watched it carefully, anxious to fully understand its import, and have pulled out a rough summary of some of his major points.   

But first a little background to the occasion. The Royal Society is concerned that the  coral reef crisis doesn’t receive the attention it warrants as one of the major indications of threatening climate change disaster.  It has been attempting to remedy that. In July, in combination with the Zoological Society of London and the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, it facilitated a Coral Reef Crisis meeting to identify key thresholds of atmospheric carbon dioxide needed for coral reefs to remain viable.  I’ll reproduce the summary of its findings at the end of this post.  Veron’s lecture was hosted as part of the event.

David Attenborough introduced Veron with some general remarks on the key role of coral reefs in ocean ecosystems, their complexity but also their fragility and the ease with which they can be damaged. He observed that deterioration is under way and continuing. The question is whether we can prevent it getting even worse. Veron he described as one of the great authorities of the world on coral and stressed that his knowledge was first-hand and authoritative.

Veron began with some general background on coral reefs. Their uniqueness is defined by several factors: they live at the interface of atmosphere and ocean, which is physically and chemically stressful; they are geological structures yet they are alive; they are closely attuned to the hostile environment in which they exist, dependent on light as trees are, sensitive to optimum temperature (31 degrees in Great Barrier), and dependent on the carbonate chemistry of the oceans.

Coral reefs are nature’s historians. Whether in fossil form or living their growth layers not only indicate rate of growth but also contain information about the environment in which they grew. Ancient reefs uplifted in land, of which he had some great pictures, preserve this information for us to read.

 He went on to talk about the great mass extinction events, in which corals were always deeply affected, in the Permian to the point of total extinction and in others to near extinction. 

The precariousness of their habitat makes them extremely sensitive to climate change. The mass extinctions are closely related to the carbon cycle, particularly to carbon dioxide and ocean acidification, with methane sometimes playing a part. In the present he pointed to current levels of carbon dioxide as indicating that we have broken out of the ice age fluctuation patterns in a big way.

He explained the mass bleaching phenomenon. Coral is dependent on the algae which live in its tissues. Overheating — just a little — causes the algae to produce too much oxygen which kills corals. This is something which hasn’t happened for millions of years. It started only in the 1980s.  Mass bleaching events can turn coral to rubble, though if the ocean conditions are right it will start to grow again.  He looks at carbon dioxide concentrations and what they have meant for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) as representative of all reefs. At 320 parts per million there was some mass bleaching, but only in patches.  At 350 ppm there was a lot of mass bleaching all over the GBR and many other reefs as well. Today at 387 ppm there is compounding long-term degradation on the GBR.  Held at this level indefinitely the GBR would slowly decline.  The upper 20 or 30 metres would gradually become more or less rubble. At 400 ppm there will be more severe weather events affecting the reef and severe bleaching will occur, mainly during El Nino cycles. 450 ppm will cause severe bleaching most years, irrespective of the natural cycles. At 500 ppm there won’t be anything left to bleach.  

Ocean acidification, is a ’very, very serious thing indeed’ not only for corals but for anything that forms a carbonate skeleton. We have every reason to worry about it. He showed a picture of what a reef looks like when acidification takes hold. Horrible is certainly the word.

 ’I hate doing this job,’ he inserted here. 

The future is all about synergies, the way various factors combine to produce the effect on coral reefs. In 25 years at 450 ppm, plus acidification, plus warmer temperature, there will be mass bleaching most years, which will mean very extensive habitat destruction which in turn will mean extinctions start.

In 50 years time at 600 ppm, plus further acidification, plus even warmer temperatures, plus sea level rise of 400 mms, we get the following:  no coral will occur shallower than 10 metres, calcification of anything will be marginal, extinctions will be extensive, reefs will be highly erosional, there will be no shallow water habitats, coralline algae which hold the reefs together won’t exist, there will be major impacts from sea-level rise and super-cyclones.  At that point we are heading for a mid-Eocene climate and accompanying extinctions. Certainly our carbon dioxide levels will not be as high as then, but we are increasing them so fast that the carbon dioxide is remaining in the surface skin of the oceans; it is not getting injected down into deep water where it can be buffered by the carbonates which will de-acidify water. 

In 75 years from now at 800 ppm, plus further acidification effects, plus 5 degrees warming: some corals may survive in askeletal form, but there will be no reefs, molluscs will be in sharp decline and there will be huge biodiversity loss.

100 years ahead it will be runaway climate change which is producing the carbon dioxide. Corals will be extinct or askeletal, all other taxa will be going extinct, reefs will be wave-washed geological structures.  The sixth mass extinction, such as we had in KT will be under way. “How can it not be?”  One ecosystem after another will tumble, an extinction not just of corals but led by corals.

’However much we want to talk about the economic problems associated with climate change they pale, they’re trivial compared to the problems created if we start up a runaway carbon dioxide climate change explosion.’ (Take note John Key and Nick Smith and all the others who cheer them on.)

A reminder towards the end: 450 ppm will bring on the demise of the GBR.  ’Not a skerrick of doubt about it.’

It’s a solemn warning from a scientist who clearly wishes he didn’t have to deliver it but can do no other.  It’s not surprising that the document produced by a working group in association with the occasion should be plain spoken in its conclusion:  

Coral reefs speak unambiguously about climate change. Abrupt carbonising of the environment will destroy carbonate-based ecosystems. Changes to water chemistry will flow on to all marine ecosystems as the oceans turn hostile to a high proportion of marine life. This is the path of mass extinctions, the most destructive events in all Earth history.

 The Earth’s atmospheric CO2 level must be returned to <350ppm to reverse this escalating ecological crisis and to 320ppm to ensure permanent planetary health. Actions to achieve this must be taken urgently. The commonly mooted best case target of 450ppm and a time frame reaching to 2050 will plunge the Earth into an environmental state that has not occurred in millions of years and from which there will be no recovery for coral reefs and for many other natural systems on which humanity depends.

  

PS  I might be able to save our denialist commenters a bit of time if I report here Veron’s comments on Ian Plimer’s book: “Every original statement Plimer makes in the book on coral and coral reefs is incorrect…[he] serve[s] up diagrams from no acknowledged source, diagrams known to be obsolete and diagrams that combine bits of science with bits of fiction.”