Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Australian Budget Made Simple(r-ish)

Here's a website that I put together with a couple of brilliant friends (cheers LJ and Keitheous!). The content is mine, so all political complaints and hate can come to me. They helped to design the site (and gave plenty of excellent feedback). Hope it helps some people get their heads around these issues.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Response to Christopher Booker

At its core, this piece (“The real climate change catastrophe”, The Independent, October 2009), and the book that it is based upon ("The Real Global Warming Disaster" by Christopher Booker, Continuum), attempt to discredit the scientists central to the IPCC and the consensus views around anthropogenic global warming by suggesting that they are a cabal of ideological fanatics. Booker claims that the planet is actually now cooling – a revelation that would expose them as frauds and charlatans.

He is willing to ignore the fact that every national science organisation and institution supports the view that the Earth is warming and that we are causing it. This is not a point that is in dispute – there are no large scientific bodies in the world that don’t support the ‘consensus’ view. It also ignores the actual data on the climate. No scientist in the field of climate science supports Booker’s contention that the world is cooling or that we are expecting cooling. Even the climate scientists he quotes as ‘sceptics’ do not support him on this – and in fact contradict him.

The scale of the global conspiracy – somehow only uncovered by right-wing journalists – would be astonishing. But perhaps more to the point, Booker suggests that the entire foundation of climate science (the thousands of papers, hundreds of scientists and dozens of institutions) will be up-turned by his claim that now temperatures are falling. This is the magnitude of his contention.

The data on global temperature is easily accessible, and demonstrates in no uncertain terms he is wrong. This should cast serious doubt on his assertions as to the honesty of scientists in the field of climate science, and conversely, cast considerable doubt as to Booker’s honesty and integrity.

His writing employs consistent pejorative language in describing scientists he dislikes, with glowing praise of those whose views corroborate his. His language is that of the conspiracy-theorist and he tailors his telling of the history of the debate is skewed to guide the reader toward his paranoid view. This is a polemic – it isn’t science, and it isn’t journalism.

Looking at the actual data (provided later), each decade of recent times is warmer than the last, the oceans warming, the ice melting. It couldn’t be much clearer. These are the basic elements. At the more sophisticated end of the debate are questions over climate sensitivity (how much warming will occur as the CO2 increases), what impact feedbacks will have in the future (ice-loss, cloud cover, etc), and the resultant impacts on humans.

It would seem that Booker is also a sceptic about Darwin’s theory of evolution and the consensus on passive smoking and lung cancer.

Neither of these views precludes him from having valid arguments in relation to climate change. However they should, at the very least, cast doubt on his credentials as a reliable source on scientific matters.

There is far more that I could say on the subject – it is vast and complicated. Rebutting the work of these people is a long process and, in the end, often pointless. On this issue many people have a strongly held opinion that is a matter more of faith than of rationality. The issue of anthropogenic climate change has become so intensely politically charged, the dividing line tends to have a political basis rather than an empirical or rational grounding. That’s not to say that everyone who has a strong view against the theory is biased against it politically, but for the most part that is the trend.

Personally, I’d rather that the world weren’t warming and that it wasn’t (largely) our fault currently. And there is no doubt that there have been errors made by climate scientists and those seeking to exploit them, and that not all the worst of the predictions will turn out to be true. This is the nature of predictions in a complicated field. But wishing it wasn’t happening or that humans aren’t involved doesn’t make it so. There are basic elements of climate science left out of this piece by both of us (myself and Booker), but life is too short to be reiterating the views of the consensus each time the issue comes up. As a result, below I critique some of the elements of his arguments made from what I know of his book and follow that with a more specific critique of the newspaper column.

I should note here too that I don’t have his book and so I don’t have his citations. I am taking his arguments as presented and, as often as I can manage, providing evidence to support my case. Please get back to me on any point that you have issue with, or any evidence he provides that would set me straight. I will happily engage with the evidence he or anyone else provides (to a reasonable point) if anyone wishes to enlighten me. However I will remain very reluctant to give this man any of my money through the sale of this book.

One claim made in the book regards the work of Svensmark and Friis-Christiansen, made largely redundant by this quotation from a piece in the Independent: “Friis-Christensen now accepts that any correlation between sunspots and global warming that he may have identified in the 1991 study has since broken down. There is, he said, a clear "divergence" between the sunspots and global temperatures after 1986, which shows that the present warming period cannot be explained by solar activity alone.”

Other rebuttal papers on this point are here:

Another claim refers to the US senator James Inhofe (a man who can genuinely said to be anti-science) presenting a list of 400 “prominent” scientists. A quick check of the actual credentials of people on the list shows that it includes weathermen, economists and lawyers among its assorted scientists. Of those who are scientists, I’m not sure how many could be called prominent (and I would not have thought their “prominence” was a key factor anyhow). It’s this type of dishonesty and lax scholarship that seem to be hallmarks of his work.

The key here is that it doesn’t matter how many lawyers or engineers believe it. It doesn’t matter how many physicists do either – smart as they are, it’s not their field. It doesn’t overly matter how many climate scientists believe it either, as long as their research is being published in peer-reviewed journals and the debate is moving forward scientifically. Despite claims to the contrary, science as understood is achieved by consensus. On the issue of whether the planet is warming and whether humans have some effect, among climate scientists, there is agreement.

On the scientific consensus:

There should be disagreements – and there are. They are not being covered up as some would suggest, although it’s very hard to prove the negative in this case. The overwhelming consensus suggests to those who would disagree that dissent is being stifled, rather than that the science is settled. Given the vast influence and financial power of the fossil fuel industries, it should come as more of a surprise that the science has managed to progress this far. Yet somehow the denier echo-chamber has made widespread the view that scientists only agree with the consensus for financial gain, ignoring the obvious counter-claim that those who fight against it could easily be paid out of the enormous coffers of the fossil fuels industry (and there is evidence that some scientists have received payments of this sort). Other attacks have been more specific, attempting to discredit high-profile climate scientists.,8599,1987697,00.html

Science in any one field isn’t progressed by the spurious assertions of scientists in other fields, or those of journalists. The opinions of physicists or metallurgists have little bearing on the field of climate science unless they publish a paper relevant to that specific area. Not a paper commissioned by a right-wing think-tank, not a newspaper article and not Al Gore’s film. Genuine peer-reviewed science is the only way that the process moves forward. It’s a strange thing that is going on in the world of climate science that any economist or chemist can add their names to a senate petition and then have them call it evidence. If they are so convinced, they are welcome to publish their findings in a scientific journal, and have them scrutinised by other scientists in the field. Could a group of biologists overturn the understood workings of gravity by adding their names to a petition? Clearly not. But because this issue has political outcomes, everyone with an agenda is having making their views heard, however ill-informed.

Booker’s article, as it was printed in the Telegraph, appears unabridged below, in italics and indented. My counter-points are in plain text.

The real climate change catastrophe

In a startling new book, Christopher Booker reveals how a handful of scientists, who have pushed flawed theories on global warming for decades, now threaten to take us back to the Dark Ages

By Christopher Booker 7:00AM GMT 25 Oct 2009


Next Thursday marks the first anniversary of one of the most remarkable events ever to take place in the House of Commons. For six hours MPs debated what was far and away the most expensive piece of legislation ever put before Parliament.

The Climate Change Bill laid down that, by 2050, the British people must cut their emissions of carbon dioxide by well over 80 per cent. Short of some unimaginable technological revolution, such a target could not possibly be achieved without shutting down almost the whole of our industrialised economy, changing our way of life out of recognition

Before engaging with his article, I’d like to start by mentioning that the book upon which this piece is based began by seriously misquoting John Houghton. It was retracted, but I see this as indicative of the scholarship of Christopher Booker. The quote was casually researched and included in an attempt to support the claims that are to follow. (The original misquote has been traced back to our very own Piers Akerman). Instead it serves as a metaphor for the rest of this piece, and likely the book.

Those who would have us believe that there is no problem with the climate are quick to claim ‘alarmism’ on behalf those who do. This can be at times a fair criticism, but it is surely only matched by the economic scaremongering. An example is sentences like the following: “Shutting down almost the whole of our industrialised economy”. I don’t want to be side-tracked into a debate about the costs of change from the status quo – my primary argument is with the dubious science of this piece. It is still worth noting carefully the language he uses in making his case. This introduction is emotive and designed to soften the ground. I’d also contend that it misrepresents the truth about the difficulties for society in changing from fossil fuels, but that is clearly a separate issue from the science.

Even the Government had to concede that the expense of doing this – which it now admits will cost us £18?billion a year for the next 40 years – would be twice the value of its supposed benefits

This is more economic hyperbole. Whether this statement is true or not has no impact on the veracity of the science of climate change. His 18 billion pound figure imagines that the outcomes of climate change debate can be boiled down to a simple cost/benefit analysis. Do people have a clear idea of the costs of doing nothing? No. Clearly the analysis of the possible costs would be vastly complex and involve wide error margins. And as scary as that 18 billion is intended to sound (whatever its source and value – this remains unclear) it is 1.2% of Britain’s GDP. A more serious analysis is presented here:

Yet, astonishingly, although dozens of MPs queued up to speak in favour of the Bill, only two dared to question the need for it. It passed by 463 votes to just three.

One who voted against it was Peter Lilley who, just before the vote was taken, drew the Speaker’s attention to the fact that, outside the Palace of Westminster, snow was falling, the first October snow recorded in London for 74 years. As I observed at the time: “Who says that God hasn’t got a sense of humour?”

If, as Booker contends, so much economic destruction is a certainty if action is taken, then presumably the science – the basis for the action – must be extremely solid. He takes a different and more conspiratorial view. For people that already hold a contrary viewpoint, the fact that all but three of the members of parliament voted for the bill suggest to them not sensible analysis, but rather group-think, brainwashing, corruption, conspiracy, and soft-headedness. In the end it is a matter of your perspective.

I’d also like to be very, very clear that one hot summer or one cold winter does not prove or disprove the theory of anthropogenic global warming. Any serious scientist, in climate studies or elsewhere, particularly those dealing with chaotic systems, would recognise this. Scientists in this field look for trends – they are far less interested in the specifics of individual temperatures, but rather the change in temperature not only over time, but across many locations.

By any measure, the supposed menace of global warming – and the political response to it – has become one of the overwhelmingly urgent issues of our time. If one accepts the thesis that the planet faces a threat unprecedented in history, the implications are mind-boggling. But equally mind-boggling now are the implications of the price we are being asked to pay by our politicians to meet that threat. More than ever, it is a matter of the highest priority that we should know whether or not the assumptions on which the politicians base their proposals are founded on properly sound science.

This is a perfectly balanced paragraph that would have been better positioned at the outset of the piece rather attempting to undermine the opposing arguments with economic disaster predictions.

This is why I have been regularly reporting on the issue in my column in The Sunday Telegraph, and this week I publish a book called The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is the obsession with climate change turning out to be the most costly scientific delusion in history?.

There are already many books on this subject, but mine is rather different from the rest in that, for the first time, it tries to tell the whole tangled story of how the debate over the threat of climate change has evolved over the past 30 years, interweaving the science with the politicians’ response to it.

I am not going to read this book unless I have to. There are many factual inaccuracies, distortions and exaggeration in this summary article alone. I hope to show that clearly here, without the need to delve further into his work. It would appear to be an abridged version of his book and contains several arguments that I consider to be provably false. This paragraph, however, attempts to suggest that his book is one of few that treat the subject fairly – a contention I strongly reject.

It is a story that has unfolded in three stages. The first began back in the Seventies when a number of scientists noticed that the world’s temperatures had been falling for 30 years, leading them to warn that we might be heading for a new ice age. Then, in the mid-Seventies, temperatures started to rise again, and by the mid-Eighties, a still fairly small number of scientists – including some of those who had been predicting a new ice age – began to warn that we were now facing the opposite problem: a world dangerously heating up, thanks to our pumping out CO? and all those greenhouse gases inseparable from modern civilisation.

The story of global warming did not begin in the seventies. Joseph Fourier and Svante Arhennius (among many others) were developing theories and performing experiments showing that carbon dioxide absorbs and emits radiation as early as the 1800s. The physics of their work is not in question. The possible outcomes for the atmosphere have been being worked on since that discovery. The research into whether the climate could be changed by humans started long before the 1970s and was flagged up as early as the 1930s (by G. S. Callendar). That much should be made clear. This provides a good summary of the history: Again, it is an internet source, but it contains references that can be verified, as does Wikipedia.

Booker then states that it began in the 1970s when a number of scientists who promoted the idea that the earth was cooling. How many scientists or published articles he doesn’t say. The truth of the matter is rather different.

The above document is the kind of research that has to be done by scientists to try and counter the constant flow of myths in this debate. A basic summary of that research: in the period from 1965 to 1980 10% of the papers surveyed predicted cooling. 28% had no stance, and 62% predicted warming. At best his claim is erroneous, at worst it’s deception

Several theories were present at that time that accounted for the cooling the preceded that period cooling (aerosols for one). As cooling had been observed it would appear intuitive that many scientists would have predicted further cooling into the future. That they didn’t merely strengthens the case for their understanding of climate science. Booker’s aim here is to suggest that scientists have been changing their minds time and again and that their understanding has only changed recently. The truth is that as the science has progressed, the scientific view that the earth is warming due to increased carbon dioxide emissions has only become more prevalent, and that this view was commonly held even prior to the seventies.

In 1988, a handful of the scientists who passionately believed in this theory won authorisation from the UN to set up the body known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This was the year when the scare over global warming really exploded into the headlines, thanks above all to the carefully staged testimony given to a US Senate Committee by Dr James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), also already an advocate for the theory that CO? was causing potentially catastrophic warming.

This paragraph is carefully designed, with the assistance of those preceding it, to give the impression that it was but a handful of fanatics lead by James Hanson (who was “already an advocate for the theory that CO2 was causing potentially catastrophic warming” – a phrase included to suggest bias rather than scientific principal) who pushed their agenda upon the world. Hansen has been the subject of vitriolic personal attacks from vested interests and right-wing ideologues for many years, as one of the most high-profile climate scientists calling for change. Booker’s use of the words “carefully staged” insinuate that this early testimony was merely a show, a farce.

The disaster-movie scenario that rising levels of CO? could lead to droughts, hurricanes, heatwaves and, above all, that melting of the polar ice caps, which would flood half the world’s major cities, struck a rich chord. The media loved it. The environmentalists loved it. More and more politicians, led by Al Gore in the United States, jumped on the bandwagon. But easily their most influential allies were the scientists running the new IPCC, led by a Swedish meteorologist Bert Bolin and Dr John Houghton, head of the UK Met Office.

The IPCC, through its series of weighty reports, was now to become the central player in the whole story. But rarely has the true nature of any international body been more widely misrepresented. It is commonly believed that the IPCC consists of “1,500 of the world’s top climate scientists”, charged with weighing all the scientific evidence for and against “human-induced climate change” in order to arrive at a “consensus”.

His source as to what is “commonly believed” about the IPCC is not included here. The relevance of public opinion on the IPCC has little utility for the debate over climate change, but his aim here is to give the impression of dishonesty – that the IPCC pretends to be one thing while actually engaging in other activities. This will set the basis for his later assertions about IPCC fraud. How the IPCC perpetrated this deception on the people is never explained. Perhaps the book sheds more light on his contention that the IPCC presents itself as something that it is not.

In fact, the IPCC was never intended to be anything of the kind. The vast majority of its contributors have never been climate scientists. Many are not scientists at all. And from the start, the purpose of the IPCC was not to test the theory, but to provide the most plausible case for promoting it. This was why the computer models it relied on as its chief source of evidence were all programmed to show that, as CO? levels continued to rise, so temperatures must inevitably follow.

Here he provides more insinuation that the IPCC is a conspiracy of some variety, and a front for an agenda. No, not all of the members are climate scientists. Yes, some are engineers and some are not scientists at all. This has all been made clear by the IPCC and to my knowledge it has never been hidden. The climate change science is only one part of the huge job that this organisation does

The last two paragraphs employ a standard rhetorical device: Booker manufactures a false or irrelevant premise based on his assertions on supposed public opinion regarding the IPCC. This he then uses that false basis to contend deception, which he is now revealing to the reader, despite the organisation stating clearly its aims and members on its website. This is followed this up with a (to my knowledge) baseless claim about its true agenda and some unfounded claims about the computer models that the IPCC uses.

As the IPCC says very clearly on its website, it does not do original research. Similarly it also clearly states that it is not wholly made up of climate scientists. Booker is either mistaken on the facts or distorting the image of the IPCC to forward his arguments.

Booker’s assertion about computer models is false. Firstly, the IPCC does not run its own computer models – a fact that has escaped many in the media who make this claim. The IPCC assesses the work of peer-reviewed science and attempts to achieve a scientific view on the current state of the research into Earth’s climate. This inevitably involves reference to some papers that use computer models to make predictions. Secondly, while climate models have the potential to be wrong, they are often run to achieve a range of probabilities for various outcomes and based on various initial conditions and variables. Fundamentally, there are few other ways of attempting to predict the future. I would be interested in any expert testimony that all computer models were designed to reach a predetermined outcome, but again, I have grave doubts as to the veracity of this claim.

Computer models are often enormously complex, particularly in the field of climate science. This is openly acknowledged by the scientists who use them. This also makes them useful targets for simplistic and erroneous claims such as Booker’s. It should also be made very clear that the case human caused global warming is certainly not based on solely climate models – it has many facets that are drawn from to reach a robust conclusion. For the record, chapter eight of the IPCC’s most recent report – dealing only with climate models – runs to more than 70 pages, with 14 pages covering the references.

One of the more startling features of the IPCC is just how few scientists have been centrally involved in guiding its findings. They have mainly been British and American, led for a long time by Dr Houghton (knighted in 1991) as chairman of its scientific working group, who in 1990 founded the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for research into climate change. The centre has continued to play a central role in selecting the IPCC’s contributors to this day, and along with the Climate Research Unit run by Professor Philip Jones at the University of East Anglia, controls HadCrut, one of the four official sources of global temperature data (another of the four, GIStemp, is run by the equally committed Dr Hansen and his British-born right-hand man, Dr Gavin Schmidt).

I would be very interested to see the evidence he could provide as to his insights on the structure of the IPCC. I don’t find it particularly unusual that the people placed in charge of the reports were well known climate scientists. The impression he has been trying to cultivate would make these basic facts appear sinister. I would contend that experienced climate scientists would be the exactly the people who should be in charge of such a massive body designed to look at climate science and the possible outcomes. Again, it appears to be a matter of perspective.

With remarkable speed, from the time of its first report in 1990, the IPCC and its computer models won over many of the world’s politicians, led by those of the European Union. In 1992, the UN staged its extraordinary Earth Summit in Rio, attended by 108 prime ministers and heads of state, which agreed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and this led in 1997 to the famous Kyoto Protocol, committing the world’s governments to specific targets for reducing CO?.

The phrase “remarkable speed” suggests that things were done hastily and perhaps not for the right reasons. There is also a second reference to the computer models, already now perhaps discredited in the reader’s mind, and Booker again gives the impression that they are central to the IPCC’s conclusions.

Up to this point, the now officially accepted global-warming theory seemed only too plausible. Both CO? levels and world temperatures had continued to rise, exactly as the IPCC’s computer models predicted. We thus entered the second stage of the story, lasting from 1998 to 2006, when the theory seemed to be carrying everything before it.

The politicians, most notably in the EU, were now beginning to adopt every kind of measure to combat the supposed global-warming menace, from building tens of thousands of wind turbines to creating elaborate schemes for buying and selling the right to emit CO?, the gas every plant in the world needs for life.

But however persuasive the case seemed to be, there were just beginning to be rather serious doubts about the methods being used to promote it. More and more questions were being asked about the IPCC’s unbalanced approach to evidence – most notably in its promotion of the so-called “hockey stick” graph, produced in time for its 2001 report by a hitherto obscure US scientist Dr Michael Mann, purporting to show how global temperatures had suddenly been shooting up to levels quite unprecedented in history.

One of the hockey stick’s biggest fans was Al Gore, who in 2006 made it the centrepiece of his Oscar-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth. But it then turned out that almost every single scientific claim in Gore’s film was either wildly exaggerated or wrong. The statistical methods used to create the hockey-stick graph were so devastatingly exposed by two Canadian statisticians, Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (as was confirmed in 2006 by two expert panels commissioned by the US Congress) that the graph has become one of the most comprehensively discredited artefacts in the history of science

Booker claims that “almost every single scientific claim in Gore’s film [An Inconvenient Truth] was wildly exaggerated or wrong”. This is false.

That is not to say that the film didn’t have errors or exaggerations. It did. But it didn’t fail on the basic science of global warming. I have to interject my own opinion here and say that I don’t agree with all of the emotive constructs that have been used in this debate, many of which featured in Gore’s film. Are the polar bears dying? I’m not sure. Are the Bangladeshis in danger? Well, possibly (perhaps probably). What do the scientific papers reveal about these issues? You’d have to read them. There are certainly a lot of possible terrible events that could result from climate change.

Whether the constant reference to worst-case scenarios is ethical or even effective is debatable. Gore may have overstated some of the possible outcomes, or simply given the impression they were imminent. This doesn’t change the central science presented in the film, although it does weaken his case in the eyes of the public.

Does the fact that Booker doesn’t believe in evolution make everything else he says invalid? No. The science must be separated from the arguments and even from the people making the arguments – including those made by Booker outlining his views on negative economic effects he perceives will arise from action to curb emissions.

There has been considerable controversy over the “hockey-stick” graph. It is far from the only piece of evidence that the IPCC used. (Booker had previously asserted that the computer models were the foundation.) Part one of their 2007 report alone, dealing with the “physical science basis” is 996 pages. Furthermore, the hockey-stick has not been discredited, as Booker states, and there has been victory claimed by all sides of this debate.

Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick have also had serious criticisms levelled at their work, and each side of the debate reads only the results of investigations that back their preconceptions. The hockey-stick was indeed compelling piece of evidence, one that was shown to have flaws, and has since undergone a considerable transformation.

The debate continues on that issue. It is not central to the thesis behind anthropogenic global warming (although they are those who would make it the central battleground). The debate surrounds the degree and distribution of the warming during the era known as the Medieval Warm Period. Those opposed to the consensus assert that this period was warmer than today, despite no contribution from humans. These claims have not held up under scrutiny, but perhaps more importantly is the acknowledgement that it is not only CO2 that affects climate.

This fact doesn’t undo the current understanding of the causes of recent warming – of the things that are known to cause changes to the Earth’s climate (the Sun, Milankovitch cycles, changes in the configuration of the continents, the constituency of the atmosphere), none, other than CO2, can explain the observed warming over the past half century. It is merely an acknowledgement that we don’t have a complete understanding of the drivers of climate variation throughout all periods of history. In contrast, we have an excellent understanding of the amount of influence these drivers are exerting on the climate currently and it is from this understanding that CO2 emerges as the central force behind the recent warming of the atmosphere and oceans.

The supporters of the hockey stick, highly influential in the IPCC, hit back. Proudly calling themselves “the Hockey Team”, their membership again reflects how small has been the number of closely linked scientists centrally driving the warming scare. They include Philip Jones, in charge of the HadCrut official temperature graph, and Gavin Schmidt, Hansen’s right-hand man at GISS –which itself came under fire for “adjusting” its temperature data to exaggerate the warming trend.

Here is an unbacked statement of scientific malfeasance by HadCrut that I cannot find reported in any mainstream media outlet. Even a Google search on the topic returns nothing of any significance. I hope that the book provides a solid grounding for this claim – it is part of a sustained attack on the credibility of the climate scientists with whom he disagrees, and requires a very solid foundation. Schmidt is here suggested to be tainted through his associations with Hansen.

More recently, a team under the acronym of BEST (Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature), led by some of the most credentialed of the available ‘sceptics’, has begun an independent investigation into the data available. Their preliminary results have been reported to show very close agreement with the data that garnered so much criticism.

Then, in 2007, the story suddenly entered its third stage. In a way that had been wholly unpredicted by those IPCC computer models, global temperatures started to drop. Although CO2 levels continued to rise, after 25 years when temperatures had risen, the world’s climate was visibly starting to cool again.

Before getting into a battle regarding the data, there are some simple matters of the science of climate change to reiterate. No one year of warmer or colder temperatures can prove or disprove the theory of man-made global warming. Various things affect the temperature over short periods. The oceans absorb a lot of the heat and various processes, (for example el nino and la nina) have considerable impacts – it is a chaotic system. There is little that can be gained from a short term appraisal so climate scientists seek long-term trends.

Here are several of the global temperature sources. Any one of these sources should show that his claims of cooling are false. The temperature is not falling, and the long term trend should be is very clear even without statistical analysis.


BOM trendmap:

Roy Spencer (sceptic):


NASA has reported that 2010 was the hottest on record.

Data on sea-ice extent:




Data on glacier extent:



On Greenland’s ice-mass:

On natural processes:

None of the above sets of data supports Booker’s claims. Not one: The world is warming. The ice is melting, evident in both its shrinking area and depleted thickness. Glaciers are diminishing. Greenland is losing mass. The data on biological systems (bird migrations, spawning of fish, the blooming of flowers) suggests that 90% or more observed changes in a direction expected in a response to warming.

More and more eminent scientists have been coming out of the woodwork to suggest that the IPCC, with its computer models, had got it all wrong. It isn’t CO? that has been driving the climate, the changes are natural, driven by the activity of the sun and changes in the currents of the world’s oceans.

Booker suggests here that the current warming can be partially explained by the sun. It can’t.

I can find no reference for the statement that ocean currents explain the current warming, although they may be affected by it, although perhaps there is backing for this assertion provided in his book.

Booker doesn’t mention by name these scientists who have been emerging from the woodwork. However, despite the protestations of some, climate scientists that have been on the sceptical side have been well-known, engaging in open debate both in peer-reviewed journals and in the media. Moreover, the “sceptics” have featured prominently on right-wing media in the US as well as in Australian publications, particularly in ‘The Australian’. They have often been given considerable exposure on the Australian Government owned ABC, despite being heavily in the minority. And this minority view has been promoted endlessly on commercial talk-back radio in this country. In my opinion it has been overrepresented in every form of media available.

This claim of “minority” view I don’t take lightly – it is simply the correct description. The most prominent of the “sceptics” in Australia are Ian Plimer and Bob Carter. These are the most prominent and best-selling of Australia’s climate change sceptics.

Here is a review of Ian Plimer’s book (written in ‘The Australian’ – hardly a left-wing bastion): It is a damning assessment.

Here too is a lengthy critique of a paper by Bob Carter (and his reply).

The rebuttal paper is dense but well worth the read. It covers many aspects of the debate and also addresses many of Booker’s concerns. Carter offers little by way of reply. However I’m sure he is well aware that few of his followers will read either piece.

There are many more that I could add to that and there is much I could say about the arguments of both of these men. There are also many pages written by experts in the field that address the arguments of both men. And I’ve omitted reference to their affiliations of that could further cloud the issue.

Neither of them are climate scientists and neither have published anything in the field of climate science. Does it mean that they are wrong about what they say? No. If that were true then there would be no point in me bothering to write this. Anyone who claims can undo the vast current knowledge of climate science (as both of these men have) would be world famous and in line for mind-blowing riches, along with many other accolades. If they are so convinced they are correct they should publish the findings in a peer reviewed journal. This is what a serious scientist would do.

The ice caps haven’t been melting as the alarmists and the models predicted they should. The Antarctic, containing nearly 90 per cent of all the ice in the world, has actually been cooling over the past 30 years, not warming. The polar bears are not drowning – there are four times more of them now than there were 40 years ago. In recent decades, the number of hurricanes and droughts have gone markedly down, not up.

The correct data regarding the arctic ice appears above. Booker then presents a couple of now standard canards (although based on largely correct data). The cooling over Antarctica is known and understood and does not disprove the theory of anthropogenic climate change. The theory of man-made climate change is complex and doesn’t require that all parts of the earth heat evenly at all times. Similarly, the correct (though vague) data on the number of hurricanes does not undermine the current understanding, which predicts (in some versions) that there will be fewer hurricanes in the future. Ultimately, this is a corollary to the debate – outcomes that might eventuate if global warming continues. They are not central issues regarding the theory of man-made climate change.

As for polar bears, there is little doubt that their populations will be effected:

It’s true that it has become an icon of the climate change debate and that population numbers have been subject to hunting and various other stresses. It’s not an important point for the science of global warming, but rather a likely and unpleasant outcome.

As the world has already been through two of its coldest winters for decades, with all the signs that we may now be entering a third, the scientific case for CO? threatening the world with warming has been crumbling away on an astonishing scale.

Yet it is at just this point that the world’s politicians, led by Britain, the EU and now President Obama, are poised to impose on us far and away the most costly set of measures that any group of politicians has ever proposed in the history of the world – measures so destructive that even if only half of them were implemented, they would take us back to the dark ages.

“Back to the dark ages”. More hyperbole.

We have “less than 50 days” to save the planet, declared Gordon Brown last week, in yet another desperate bid to save the successor to the Kyoto treaty, which is due to be agreed in Copenhagen in six weeks’ time. But no one has put the reality of the situation more succinctly than Prof Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technolgy, one of the most distinguished climatologists in the world, who has done as much as anyone in the past 20 years to expose the emptiness of the IPCC’s claim that its reports represent a “consensus” of the views of “the world’s top climate scientists”.

In words quoted on the cover of my new book, Prof Lindzen wrote: “Future generations will wonder in bemused amazement that the early 21st century’s developed world went into hysterical panic over a globally averaged temperature increase of a few tenths of a degree and, on the basis of gross exaggerations of highly exaggerated computer predictions combined into implausible chains of inference, proceeded to contemplate a rollback of the industrial age.”

Here’s what he doesn’t tell you about Richard Lindzen: Richard Lindzen doesn’t believe that the world is cooling, he believes it to be warming. He believes that the warming is caused by the CO2 and that the CO2 can be largely attributed to man. He believes it will continue to warm in the future. What Richard Lindzen doesn’t agree with are the catastrophic projections. Unlike many of the sceptics however, Lindzen publishes in peer-reviewed journals and has his hand in progressing the science. Many scientists have responded to his claims that the world moves on. His specialty is in climate sensitivity. Here is the Google scholar search for his name, with results only since 2008:

These are highly technical papers, as are the responses (which can be found by topic).

This is not to say that Lindzen is wrong – he could well be right (although the majority of the evidence suggests that he is not, as do several papers). But it should strike anyone as at best strange and at worst dishonest for Booker to claim as a scientific authority a distinguished scientist but then draw conclusions that bear little resemblance those of the authority sought. (Booker is also happy to quietly undermine or ignore the very many serious scientists who disagree with his views). Booker references Lindzen but does not represent Lindzen’s views in his own conclusion.

Such is the truly extraordinary position in which we find ourselves.

Thanks to misreading the significance of a brief period of rising temperatures at the end of the 20th century, the Western world (but not India or China) is now contemplating measures that add up to the most expensive economic suicide note ever written.

How long will it be before sanity and sound science break in on what begins to look like one of the most bizarre collective delusions ever to grip the human race?

'The Real Global Warming Disaster’ by Christopher Booker (Continuum, £16.99) is available from Telegraph Books for £14.99 plus £1.25 postage and packing. To order, call 0844 871 1516 or go to

Admittedly not everything that was written in response to his piece was an argument on the science. I admit to some irritation with his writing style and argumentative techniques. Part of what I aim to show here is that the author is dishonest or at least deceptive, as well as wrong on the facts. I hope that I have achieved that, but if I haven’t I would be keen to hear where the weak links are, or what revolutionary piece of evidence I’m missing. I consider the debate open. After all, this debate is too important to be decided by one book – there is a vast world of science out there that should be considered. I’d suggest that nothing less than the good of our planet, or our wallets and bank balances depends on it, and that regardless, the truth is important and has intrinsic value.

If he is wrong on the facts, then I would suggest at least he should publically acknowledge his mistakes, and it would not be going too far to suggest that he would also owe an apology to the scientists whose work has been denigrated through his columns and books.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

the boats: update and response to the responses

It's been a pretty good few weeks of responses to our project, and a pretty miserable although interesting end to the election - one that seemed somehow fitting. We were very happy with what we produced and the coverage it received and would like to thank all those who helped out in producing and distributing. Not a cent was gained in the process, but hopefully the message reached a few minds. The number of unique visitors has now ticked over 7,000 after almost four weeks, and the map of Australian views is interesting, with, for instance, well over 400 in Brisbane and a similar number in a couple of other capitals – and notably, one in Kalgoorlie. We covered the map. These aren’t record breaking figures, but not bad for a first attempt - and it won’t be the last. I also thought I should take the chance to respond to the comments and criticisms.

The most important thing that I’d be keen to point out is that we aimed to provide information. In a nutshell, that was it. The issue of asylum seekers, refugees and boat arrivals is easily described in terms of numbers. The complexity resides in the politics, and the associated elements – the media, the populism, the dynamics of the changes over time, the global forces, the related economics and financial aspects. We were keen here to concentrate on the things that appeared to not be a part of the public debate often enough but that should be, and present them in a format that might help the ideas to stick in people’s minds, possibly reaching a few extra people who might not read a long article. And while I would happily acknowledge that it wouldn’t be hard for the discerning reader to gauge the political leanings of the makers, we were striving to present the facts that we thought were pertinent without too much by the way of comment – and comment is only as powerful as the person making it. Facts were where we could hit our mark.

But what I have written so far ignores the central impetus of our mission. A major motivational factor had been the startling rhetoric coming out of the political leaders which appeared to be descending into farce. I’ve had many a chat (and argument) with people about the interaction of the public, the media and the politicians. On the topics we tackled there seemed to be the worst confluence of factors drawing the debate towards the darker potential that it has to offer. I don’t expect everyone to be comfortable with people of different appearance and culture arriving on our shores. I don’t expect all those who discuss the issue in the media to agree with my point of view, and as much as I may vent against some of the things I read, I see these differences (well, some of them) as vital to our democracy. Having lived my politically formatives years for many years under a Howard government I also am very familiar with disagreement with those in power. But of the three groups here, I hold the media to a higher standard than those who ring in to talk-back radio, and politicians to a higher standard again.

In this election campaign many in the media were outstanding in presenting the issues – there were dozens of brilliant articles written (and in the years before this) that served to inform and find context for this complex issue. But it’s the strident and often wrong that were listened to by the politicians and that coloured the approach that they took towards the issue in the campaign – and it was this that we were reacting to. While I don’t imagine that Australia can be the saviour of the world’s problems I do think that we are probably a little ahead of what has been on show in recent months, and I’d like to think that we might do a bit better in the future. It seems that there is an unwillingness to engage with complexity and to educate and lead by those in power, rather, they turn to the public to gauge the feeling of the community and react to that in our culture that they presumably feel is better not to change – but to nurture. When this type of politics results in demonising asylum seekers and even seeks to promote fear and concern in the community then we have grave problems with the functioning of our society. You can see the outcomes of this in the cynical and clearly political changes in the changes in the percentage of asylum seekers recognised by the Australian government as refugees as the issue became higher in profile and as the opposition carelessly used these boat arrivals to attempt to gain political capital.

There were, of course, issues that we didn’t cover. Intuitivereason commented that identifying problems is easy, but I disagree. I doubt that a high percentage of people in Australia have a sense of the graph we produced and less would they have more than the vaguest idea of the global situation. What exactly the problem is and the scale of the issue is integral to finding a solution, and especially as this will be undertaken by government and explanation of the issue and the reasons for the chosen solution are vital. Taking David Bradbury, the MP from land locked Lindsay in Western Syndey on a boat into the Timor Sea is not one of them – this is at best a cynical political manoeuver. They also suggested that we follow it up with a workable proposal, which I would be happy to attempt given the time and resources, but, without backing away from the challenge entirely, this was beyond the remit of our project – by educating we hoped to grant more political capital to the elected officials who have the intelligence and the patience to attend to the task and find appropriate solutions. Amy brought up the question of the queue and the current legal situation involved with family reunions as well as the issue of temporary protection visas. In short, TPVs don’t work to stop the boats (see the graph). This would need to be shown to justify their implementation and the reasons for implementing them better explained. By all means sell me a point to put in the ‘for’ column. Regarding the queue, consider that less than 1% of the world’s refugees are resettled in a year. There are people who wait for up to seventeen years in UNHCR run camps. In a sense there must be some queue, but not as people imagine and so if we are going to discuss the queue, then we would be well advised to gain a deeper understanding of the global forces and the international capacity to both stop the situations creating these displaced people, and capacity of third countries accept those displaced. I would suggest that, for example, on many measurements Indonesia bears a much larger burden share than Australia.

And some of the most interesting discussions occurred over the issue of the role of people smugglers. Both AM and JW (with whom I had an excellent discussion) had some concerns about the language I used in this regard. As a recent four corners showed, people smuggling and the corruption that is a corollary to the movement of people out of danger (and out of economic hardship) is a major problem in Indonesia. And the featured people smugglers were also shown to be opportunists and crooks and people who are essentially taking advantage of the misfortune of others. Not all, but many. But to change the debate to be one of putting these people out of business rather than fostering a better understanding of the forces that lead people to require smugglers’ services seems disingenuous to me. And to attempt to demonise them with such colorful language bordered on the ridiculous. Again I return to my original point – a deeper understanding and assessment of the issues will reap far better solutions than the hyperbole and game-playing that the polity engaged in. Having watched neo-liberalism become virtually a religion for both sides of politics over the past 30 odd years it seems almost laughable to deride those in such a poor country for their entrepreneurial spirit in providing this dubious service. It’s not good for Australia, but the fact that the people these smugglers help are unfortunate doesn’t mean that they don’t want their services. This is different from the drug, gun or sex trade. And of course, again, this is not all of the sides. Something that I have read recently talks of 891 people drowning between 1999 and 2001 and a further 150 between January last year (2009) and June this year. What do people know of these figures? How many times have these been seen as relevant to the debate? The general population is not given the respect.

In this they were helped in no small part by some of the worst aspects of the media. I reserve a special mention here for Denham Hitchcock of A Current Affair and Michael Smith of 4BC in Brisbane whose contributions to the level of misinformation were heroic, and who strode forth into the world unburdened by facts or any regard for the harm that they could cause. There is no justifying the content of their reports, so they fall into the category of ignorant and lazy or malicious and mercenary. Neither choice is flattering – but they are the only ones on offer. These two represent simply the nastiest (or most careless) edge of this debate, but by no means the only perpetrators (special mention here must go to Howard Sattler, Andrew Bolt and the evergreen Alan Jones). I’m sure these people represent the sentiment in the community to some degree (and help cement these views as acceptable), but also that they have an influence on it too, where a distorted statistic could change an opinion. I’m not interested in moral relativity over this issue – they are wrong, and demonstrably so. The trouble is that sometimes it can just take a bit longer to explain that. And it’s because of people like this that the politicians end up saying the ridiculous things that they do. If they were stronger leaders it wouldn’t happen. This isn’t a case of just having a different view point or a different set of values. That is fine. These are people who misrepresent the reality to further their agenda, be in social or financial. It shouldn’t be tolerated.

I do want to say a quick word about the possible solutions and I urge our elected officials and their bureaucracy to think long and hard about them themselves. The pacific solution was an Australian disgrace. Even if this solution brought about the changes that were claimed (and my view is that it had a marginal effect) we lost so much more in the process. Clearly these were terribly harsh measures, and to be able to implement them politically, the government reached for the language of polemic and brought to the surface of our societies the worst aspects of our sometimes natural tendency toward xenophobia. It then wasn’t just the harm done to the people who came by boat in a physical and psychological sense, but further insidious effects and the damage done to the wider community, fuelling mistrust and exacerbating social tension. Immigrants of any stripe were made to feel unwelcome, and being largely politically powerless they just had to wear it. The actions of our leaders can shape the social landscape and they have a responsibility to at least attempt to do better. I suggest we don’t return to this 'solution'.

In the end this was our small effort to adjust some of the views by adding to the facts that people had at their disposal. And in the end we got to a few but probably changed few minds. At the very least I hope that it was enjoyable. Below are some of the best articles that we read in putting this together (although far from exhaustive and I will attempt to add to it as I rediscover some that I have left off). We shall be back in the near future with another project, this time on climate change.

Thanks for reading,


(with C4 and No_Fuss)

Peter Mares – The fifth ripple
Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks - Background Note Boat arrivals in Australia since 1976
Bernard Keene - Lies, damned lies and asylum seeker statistics
Julian Burnside – Comfort all who flee fear
M. Cline – The Use of Exclusionary Language to Manipulate Opinion.
Mary Crock and Daniel Ghezelbash – Stop the political point-scoring, people are dying out there.

Friday, August 6, 2010

references for the refugees strips and graph


Here are some references for the details in these strips.

I will be correcting and updating over time.

The first number is the line number and the second the row number.

The Graph

Arrivals by boat (calendar years):

Net migration (calendar years):

Except for:

2009: Australian Bureau of Statistics

2008: Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Refugees (financial year)

Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Introduction (The Election Looms)




Abbott and the Boats


2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3.1

4.2, 5.1, 5.2


6.3, 7.1, 7.2, 7.3

all these books and papers dispute policy's deterrent effect:

this paper has a more favorable view.


"There are two remaining caveats. First, even when the ebb and flow of conflict in source regions is taken into account, there are other forces that determine the trends in asylum

applications that are still not fully understood."

I'm hoping to write up some more on these papers at some stage. To my mind there is enough here to cast doubt on Tony Abbott's claim. The question here is just whether the policy stopped the boats. My research doesn't find that domestic policy has no effect - just that it's not as clear cut as Abbott would have it. Whether a return to those policies is a desirable is another matter.

8.2, 8.3, 9.1


how many documents do you want for this one?

start with these:

I could go on and on. And on.


Refugees Across the Globe

2.2, 2.3, 3.1, 3.2


International Refugees, Australia and the Boats




2.2, 2.3

See notes for “The Graph”.



Calculation based on figures from:



Calculation based on total refugee population and our current intake.





Please watch:


and any number of others.


This is a little complex. The source is:

Which references this:

I have taken the low number. A more complete discussion is here:


"Are boat arrivals ‘genuine refugees’?

Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are subject to the same assessment criteria as all other asylum applicants. Past figures show that between 70 and 97 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat at different times have been found to be refugees and granted protection either in Australia or in another country. For example:

according to the Refugee Council of Australia, in 1998–99, approximately 97 per cent of Iraqi and 92 per cent of Afghan applicants (the majority of whom would have arrived by boat) were granted refugee status and given permanent protection visas[30]

under the ‘Pacific Solution’ a total of 1637 unauthorised arrivals were detained in the Nauru and Manus facilities between September 2001 and February 2008.[31] Of those, 1153 (70 per cent) were found to be refugees and ultimately resettled to Australia or other countries[32]

since the Rudd Government came to power approximately 90–95 per cent of assessments completed on Christmas Island have resulted in protection visas being granted. [33]For example, of the 1254 claims assessed on Christmas Island between 1 July 2009 and 31 January 2010, only 110 people were assessed as not being refugees.[34] These figures suggest that 1144 (approximately 91 per cent) of those claims were successful.

In contrast, asylum claims from people who enter Australia by air on a valid visa and subsequently apply for asylum have not had such high success rates and the majority are not found to be refugees. This is demonstrated by the much lower onshore refugee recognition rates overall (air and boat arrivals combined) of around 20 or 30 per cent annually—the overall onshore refugee recognition rate for 2008 was 21.7 percent[35]

In other words, past figures show that more asylum seekers who arrived by boat have been recognised as refugees than those who entered Australia by air."


Please watch:


The details are in the panel, although I plan to update this part with plenty more to back up this. The research on this issue is not hard to find and is very distressing.



I’m not a fan of people smugglers. I have had suggestions to reword this bit, and will consider this. But the rhetoric being thrown their way is laughable. There are many worse out there than those “smuggling” people: Gun runners, sex traffickers, drug smugglers – need I go on? I’m sure many of them are shonky, but they essentially provide a service to desperate people. More on this in the future.


There’s plenty more that could be said here too. I’ll say this much: Offshore processing is a disgrace. In terms of Nauru it essentially is selling our obligations to another country. Every aspect of processing is more difficult and it cuts down the resources available to refugees. It is hugely costly. Find me an upside.


Again, watch: