The Climate Caper
Garth W Paltridge
Published by Connor Court, Australia, 2009
The Climate Caper is a “must read” for the insights it provides into the way the prospect of mild global warming has been beaten up to become “the greatest moral challenge of our times” by a recent Prime Minister of Australia. It provides some extra dots to add to the pattern explained by John Grover’s book The Struggle for Power on the worldwide political campaign against the peaceful use of nuclear power.
Grover’s book could have been called “the anti-nuclear caper”. It describes the worldwide campaign by a network of radical leftwing groups, operating initially under cover of the peace movement and then in the environmental movement. Their greatest institutional achievement came under administration of President Carter when representatives of the movement occupied many senior positions and embarked on the program of massive regulation which now prejudices the economic recovery of the US. In Australia the movement delayed the mining of uranium and prohibits the lucrative industry of storing the nuclear waste of the world and also the prospect of nuclear power.
There is a very major difference between the two campaigns and Paltridge’s book is especially helpful on that topic (though he does not refer to the previous caper at all). The anti-nuclear caper drew no support from reputable scientists, unless you count a handful of outright cranks and some ideologues from non-relevant disciplines. The incredible triumph of that no-growth campaign was to marginalise the entire scientific community. This time around the scientific community is on board and the scientists on the more realistic side of the debate have been marginalised. Paltridge provides a great start on answering the $64K question “how did this happen?”
The book has many striking features, starting with the qualifications of the author.
Emeritus Professor Garth Paltridge is an atmospheric physicist and was a Chief Research Scientist with the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research before taking up positions in Tasmania as Director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies and CEO of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre. He retired in 2002 and remains an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Tasmania, a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
He provides historical perspective because he was involved in climate science from the beginning of interest in warming, up to and beyond the point where it became inflated and politicised.
He was close to the epicentre of the explosion in the IPCC and he explains how the scientific committees of that body became subservient to the political committee.
On the science of warming he provides a luminously clear explanation of the problems with the models that provide the core of the case for drastic action.
In the Australian policy-making process he was very close to the action when the chief advisor to the Government encouraged a committee from the Academy of Science to water down some potentially damning criticisms of the model he was using as the basis of the proposals that have been taken up by the Administration.
He understands enough of the sociology of science to understand the significance of the rise of Big Science, almost entirely government-funded, and the parallel proliferation of Kuhnian “normal scientists”.
In the same way that John Stone can document the decline of professionalism and quality in the Commonwealth public service because he was there as it happened, Paltridge saw the decline of independence and the spirit of criticism in the scientific community during his career (much due to the same influences described by Stone).
All of this adds up to a compelling case to stop the rush to drastic action to address a so-called problem, namely the prospect of a degree or two of warming over the next century, which will have positives as well as negatives (if it makes any noticeable difference at all).
As a bonus the book is short and very clearly written with a light and humorous touch.
The ground plan of the book
Some Random Sociology
A Diversion into the changing character of science,
Why is it so?
Introduction to “the hornet’s nest”
Paltridge started with a story from a decade or so ago when he attended a meeting organized by some “movers and shakers” in Australian science to talk about the most recent IPCC report. The “hockey stick” phenomenon was the centrepiece of the discussion because at the time the IPCC had their hat well and truly hanging on the hockey stick. Paltridge was aware of the many problems with the data and the analysis and he suggested that these called for more considertion than the IPCC had granted.
"It was like stirring a hornet’s nest. One after another the global warming experts rose to condemn me for questioning in public the conclusions of an IPCC report…the verbal spat was quite out of proportion to whatever crime had been committed. Through it all the bemused movers and shakers sat quietly on the sidelines…the condemnation continued for some days afterwards with a rash of fairly rude emails (cc the movers and shakers) demanding that I apologize for bringing disrepute to the IPCC process and to the scientific personnel associated with it. "
Chapter 2 Some Physics
"There is a fair amount of reasonable science behind the global warming debate, but in general, and give or take a religion or two, never has quite so much rubbish been espoused by so many on so little evidence."
This chapter is about the technical problems with the models that are used to predict future patterns of weather, especially temperature and rainfall in specific locations, like various regions of Australia. He starts off with a simple system of a flue or chimney with a stream of cigarette smoke rising within it. The stream is smooth for a start and then suddenly breaks into turbulent eddies which are inherently unpredictable. We can predict that the column will continue to rise but not the rate of rise. Depending on the shape of the flue we may get a half decent estimate with the help of ”tuneable parameters in the forecasting equation (model).
"A tuneable parameter is a piece of input information whose actual value is chosen on no basis other than to ensure that the theoretical simulation matches observation". (p 18)
People with alert and cynical minds will immediately see the potential for bias (I blanch to suggest this!) to enter into the selection of tuneable parameters and their values. He pointed out that the climate system is like the smoke in the flue but many orders of magnitude more complicated, for a start it is an open system not like a single chimney. In a later chapter (p 73, the lack of an index is a problem) he pointed out that if you really want to irritate a person with a climate model, ask how many tuneable parameters they have included in the model. Apparently you will find that there are many reasons why this is a silly quesation, or if not silly then irrelevant, and if not irrelevant then merely unimportant. Etc.
Getting back to page 20, he notes a cultural problem in the climate science community – they are reluctant to give up the hope that detailed forecasts can be achieved, perhaps with more data and the next generation of computers for number crunching. “The prospect of having to put up with only the broadest averages is to difficult to contemplate”.
"The twenty or so models that have some respectability (by virtue of the fact that they figure largely in the IPCC deliberations) calculate global-average temperatures that range several degrees about the observed value of 15 degrees C." (p 21) Several degrees! If that is not bad enough, it gets worse when you try to predict other things like rainfall (a central feature of the Garnaut model). A team at the ANU looked at the predictions for current (measured) rainfall in Australia based on the several IPCC models. The range extended from 200 mm per year less than the actual, to 1000 mm per year more. Looking good?
Moving on to forecasts of Australian rainfall late in this century, about half predicted more rainfall and half predicted less. In case you think that the average means anything (bearing in mind everything depends on which set of the large number of models you use), the average was an increase of about 8 mm per annum.
The outlier in the field (the most extreme, which in a particular model is the data point you throw out if you want your model to look better) is the CSIRO model that predicted 100 mm less rainfall. This is the model that shaped the CSIRO input to the predictions of disaster that motivated the current policy direction..
Paltridge notes that the “retro-diction” of the little ice age in the 17 century and the mediaeval warm period do not emerge from model simulations “at least not without a lot of very suspicious artificial help”. (p 22)
“Gains” and feedback
Negative feedback damps variation in a system and positive feedback aggravates it. In climate science the amount of reduction or amplification caused is a measure of the "gain" of the system, for example the temperature increase caused by a specific increase in CO2 emission. In the Press Club debate Monckton referred to some estimates of the gain that would render the system unstable to the point of blowing up, which he suggested made the estimates impossible on process engineering principles.
Paltridge suggested that the state of knowledge about the physics of world climate permits some confident predictions, like a one degree increase in temperature associated with the likely increase in CO2 over the rest of the century. So the science is settled to that extent!
"What is not acceptable is the corollary rather naughtily implied by those who loudly proclaim the statement about settled science in public – namely that the rise in temperature has proven to be so large as to be disastrous, or even so large as to be noticeable." (p 23)
The last point is interesting. Given the variation in temperature between night and day, and between the seasons, clearly a one or two degree change in average temperature over a long lifetime would not be detectable by ordinary human senses. We need all the political pain, expense and regulations for this?
People who enjoy the scientific details will enjoy a few pages where he talks about some cutting edge work on the interaction of water vapour and CO2 in the upper atmosphere where he was a principal researcher. Here it remains to be worked out whether cloud cover increases or deceases the gain from increased atmospheric CO2. So much for the science being settled.
Given that so-called consensus is the big gun for the alarmists, it is important to note the explanation that Paltridge provides for the convergence of many models towards the same very broad story (if you can ignore the rather serious divergence in the forecasts of some important outcomes noted previously).
In brief, the models are so complex that they use the biggest computers in the world and months or years of computer time may be required to settle down to the point where a trial can start. A particular trial may take years to complete. Under these conditions there is huge pressure not to run sensitivity tests using alternative models with different tuneable parameters.
It is now very rare for a new model to be build from scratch, instead whole blocks of code incorporating “standard sets” of parameters are taken from existing models and modified for the particular purpose in hand.
"The overall process ensures that there is a gradual, and largely unconscious, move towards a situation where all the supposedly independent models have common physics and common values for their tuneable parameters. Quite naturally they begin to tell the same story." (p 33)
But note the later chapter where he descries that the "same story" involves a very satisfying spread of values for warming forecasts!
But here is the rub. That story, or rather the rather different stories (the satisfying spread of stories) are not yet tested against real-world data, not yet, because we have to wait for many years, even decades to pass until we reach the dates where there is a perceptible increase in the global temperataure. We know that the results of calculations to “predict” current temperatures and rainfall are lousy, you would have to be a special kind of optimist to think that that the same models will do better with predictions for decades in the future.
Economics and sociology
Skipping over the economics chapter, apart from “A Couple of Bottom Lines”.
He reports that in the early days of global warming the prevailing attitude was to hold back from any expensive preventive action apart from things that made sense regardless of warming. Like the kind of things that most of us would do to save power, even if the price is not going up. He suggested improved efficiency in transport and thinking about a long-term move from oil and coal towards alternative sources of electric power. Dare we contemplate clean, green nuclear power?
"But for some strange political reason, that attitude has been lost in the modern frenetic rush to do something immediately…Professor Garnaut’s calculations involved running models of Australian climate one hundred years into the future. He used the forecasts so obtained to drive other models of the national economy over the same period. One is irresistibly reminded of the blind leading the blind."
Chapter 4 Some Random Sociology
Anticipating the question that is partially answered in Grover’s book, Paltridge suggests that the most interesting question to emerge (apart from the unsettled scientific questions which only interest to a very small number of people) is “how [or why] has the scientific community become so over-the-top in support of its own propaganda?”
Elsewhere he points out that skepticism, not groupthink, is the lifeblood of science. He writes that
scientists are supposed to be unbiased in their assessment of a problem and are expected to tell it like it is. Over the centuries they have built up the capital of their reputation on just that supposition.
The current generation of climate scientists is rapidly running down that bank of capital. At the very least their leaders and public representatives need to distance themselves from the outright frauds and also from the more egregious alarmists like Al Gore and Tim Flannery. In fact the Government should distance itself from Mr Flannery instead of paying him a generous retainer. (That is my comment, not from the book).
The second thing that the responsible leadership of the scientific community has to do is to defend the right of dissenters, especially the right to have their views presented and tested (without personal abuse) in public arenas and scientific forums so that others, including the interested general public, can decide on their merits.
So how is it that the rest of the scientific community, uncomfortable as it is with both the science of global warming and the way its politics is played, continues to let the reputation of science in general be put at risk by the oveselling of the dangers of climate change?
The logic of the situation
The remainder of the chapter explores the social, financial, institutional and political factors which nudge scientists in directions that some of them might like to resist, while others are happy to ‘surf the waves’ of fads, fashions and funding.
A major research centre of excellence was being established as a joint venture with the CSIRO. A senior research director in the partner organization was interviewed by a newspaper reporter. He mentioned, as an aside, that there is some uncertainty about the disaster potential for global warming. Very soon he was contacted from the highest level of the CSIRO that another public comment on those lines would terminate the prospects of the partnership and hence the establishment of the new Centre. He deemed it prudent to comply with the instruction. It transpired that the CSIRO was in the process of negotiating with the Government for additional climate research funding.
A chief of the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research maintained a low profile until he retired, then for some years became the bane of the global warming establishment by taking a public position to challenge the sacred cows.
Those cases show why it is no accident why so much of the rather little criticism of the climate orthodoxy comes from retired people.
In 2008 the Academy of Science convened a committee to produce a response to Professor Garnaut’s draft report and recommendations. After a day of deliberation the committee came up with some items, including suggestions for research and a very cautious statement about the hazards of using the existing models to predict rainfall 100 years hence. The members realised that this was difficult ground but they decided that if there is a 50/50 chance that the forecasts are nonsense it was only reasonable to indicate this to the political decision-makers and to the community at large. "The officers of the Academy decided that this called for some discussion with Garnaut himself, which some of the committee members thought strange and others recognized as a standard tactic “to ensure that matters of potential controversy are headed off at the pass.” (p 66).
The meeting with Garnaut went ahead with officers of the Academy rather than the review committee.
"Rumour has it that sometime during the meeting Professor Garnaut became very sympathetic to the need for vast new resources to address the need for basic research…From that point the discussion was all sweetness and light…In the end it seems that the idea of a response to the Garnaut report was dropped altogether."
A senior scientist spent the better part of a day at a conference away from the action exchanging emails to finalise a contribution from a climate agency to the Garnaut inquiry. Asked about the problem he explained that the submission had to avoid giving any support to the ‘vast army of skeptics out there’ who did not understand the urgency of the climate change problem.
For Paltridge that episode shows two things, first that the alarmists are aware of the uncertainty of the science (some of the time) so they have to make some allowance for it (especially to push the case for more research money). The second is that they simultaneously want to enjoy the feeling being a stalwart minority, struggling against an army of wicked corporate-funded skeptics, while at the same time they want people to think that the skeptics are the despised minority, at least among people who really know the science.
The Royal Society in Great Britain wrote to Exxon-Mobil requesting that it cease funding organizations that “misrepresent the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”. The question posed by Paltridge is, what is the evidence that was denied outright? The scientists in the Royal Society should have known that the evidence in hand suggests that the warming in the next generation will only be detectable with sophisticated instruments. Hardly something that an oil company would wish to deny.
The Society showed their hand more clearly as the letter went on “To be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give the people the final push they need to take action and we can’t have people trying to undermine it.” [my emphasis]
Those are the words of a rabid partisan, not what you expect from the most prestigious body of scientists in Britain. What evidence did the IPCC or the Royal Society have to push (or bluff) the people to accept the need for drastic political action? Not empirical evidence, just the forecasts from models that yield contradictory results.
A little history
Paltridge recounts that climate research became institutionalised as a formal international program in the 1970s. [Someone has probably done a good study of the downside of institutionalisation and professionalisation in the academic community. It generates a lot of pressures and incentives of a quasi-political nature which are aggravated when funding is at stake]. This network of committees evolved out of the programme of the World Meteorological Organization which had a very specific focus (how far ahead can you forecast details of the weather) and an uncontroversial outcome (about 10 days).
The new program did not have a specific focus (until the political program of the IPCC provided one) and it did not have a hard core, an “experimental centrepiece” where progress could be demonstrated. Some of the scientific fundamentals of global climate were in place a century ago, flagging the possibility of warming as atmospheric CO2 increased. In recent times that became the “public face” of the World Climate Program in the UN.
"The predictions up to this time (this was the early eighties) were of a rise in temperature of a degree or so over the next one or two hundred years. Such numbers didn’t sound too horrific to the man in the street”. (p 73)
Consider the issue of funding (this is my diversion, not taken from the Paltridge text). People and governments can be expected to lavish funds on research that delivers huge human or economic benefits (a cure for cancer, or cheap carbon-free power), or projects that scientists manage to convince them are incredibly sexy in a fundamental scientific sense (hadron colliders). At that stage climate science lacked all the essentials. No human implications, no economic benefits, no exciting and rapidly progressing scientific program.
Getting back to Paltridge.
"So during the eighties and early nineties there began an almost subconscious search for reasons why the rise in global temperature might be much greater than a degree, and why the change might occur over less than 100 years. The search was strongly linked to the rapid development of computers and computer modeling, which in principle provided for the first time the tools to simulate the vast number of complicated processes that determine earth’s climate." (73)
As he explained before, that involves the generous use of tuneable parameters, but he explained here (73-74), don’t expect a satisfying explanation if you press a climate model maker about these parts of the machinery.
"Different modelers developed their own particular ways of simulating the processes determining climate and used as well ther own values of tuneable parameters. Thus emerged a highly satisfying spread of the forecasts of the likely rise in the Earth’s temperature over the next hundred years. Some were as high as six or seven degrees." (my emphasis)
What is highly satisfying about the spread of the forecasts? Some would regard this as a reason to take the whole venture with a very large amount of salt. Especially when you contemplate the spread of estimates for the current, actually measured values for temperature (and rainfall), using these estimates as a check on the reliability of the models. Recall the previous discussion of the differences in the size and direction of forecase changes in rainfall!
Paltridge pointed out that people have intuitive ideas about the value of different models and most know in their bones that some are just over the top, but there is no killer argument against any of them. "And so arose the practice, no doubt subconsciously, of quoting the range of forecasts without discussion of their relative merits". At the same time a parallel program developed of ecological studies of the impact of climate change. Paltridge displays barely concealed horror at the quality of some of this research (by ecological activists?)
"Suffice it to say that there arose enough semi-scientific myth and legend about the possible detrimental effects of small climate changes that it was easy to contemplate doomsday in the face of somebody’s mooted six or seven degree rise in global temperature. The old adage of bad data are worse than no data was largely forgotten."
Enter the IPCC
Concerns about the effects of climate change prompted the establishment of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. This has three separate international working groups (1) on the science behind the predictions (2) on the potential impacts and (3) on the possibilities for political and social responses.
“Right from the outset is was clear that only the third group was really significant…The main reason for the existence of the other two working groups is to lend gravitas and respectability to the essentially political deliberations of the third.”
IPCC scientific reports appear regularly “with much fanfare”, each accompanied by a “Summary for Policy Makers” which Paltridge suggested is the only thing read by 99.9% of interested people. [How interesting is a scientific field of massive complexity that is not making discernible progress?]
"Each of the successive summaries has been phrased in such a way as to appear a little more certain than the last that greenhouse warming is a potential disaster for mankind. The increasing verbal certainty does not derive from any particular advance of the science. Rather, it is a function of how strongly a statement about global warming can be put without inviting a significant backlash from the general scientific community."
"Over the years, the opinion of that community has been manipulated into more-or-less passive support by a deliberate campaign to isolate – and indeed to denigrate – the scientific skeptics outside the central activity of the IPCC." p 76
This looks a bit like the frog in the slowly warming saucepan, if it was thrown into hot water it would jump out. The more drastic position of the IPCC developed by degrees and managed to avoid frightening the larger pond of scientific frogs who had no personal stake in the caper.
International bodies like the UN and the IPCC have more credibility than they deserve most of the time because the belief is widespread that they have good intentions and the best advice from the international community of scientists. There is still a big bank of credibility for science but it is likely to be eroded when the public realise (a) scientists play hard ball, even fraud, to get funding, and (b) most of the developed nations have institutionalized the climate change industry in government agencies with enormous budgets. Think about the combined effect of (a) and (b) for a moment. Add factor (c) the international no-growth movement providing external political pressure and media support (and not just external support when you contemplate the agecies in the United Nations and the regulatory agencies in the US that were captured by the movement).
Some General Worries
Paltridge suggests that the mounting shrillness of climate warming alarmism runs far ahead of the science. Nobody, not even Christopher Monckton denies that there has been some warming and there is likely to be more. "Even ‘back of the envelope’ calculations, which are more believable in some ways than the computer models, predict warming". That prediction goes back 100 years. The problem is that we have hardly progressed in all that time towards well-tested theories of the mechanisms at work and towards forecasts that are better than a lottery.
"On the other hand there is very great scepticism that the amount of the warming will be enough to worry about, or indeed enough to notice, bearing in mind the natural variability of both climate itself and the ecosystems on which it bears."
The experimental support for the theory of global warming is almost entirely based on the rough parallel of warming over the last 100 years and the increase in atmospheric CO2 during that time. Hence the role of the “hockey stick” as a prop (or straw) for the IPCC to grasp on account of the “demonstration” that temperatures had suddenly ticked up after a long period of stability.
Work is still proceeding to assess the reliability of the claim and it is unfortunate that the IPCC made so much out of it, simply because there was nothing else to lift the level of interest/alarm in climate change.
"What worries most scientists who know perhaps rather more than a little about climate change is that, even after at least 30 years of hard work, the numerical models tell a coherent story about the possible change of climate in only one respect – namely that the global average surface temperature is likely to go up. But we knew that more than a hundred years ago."
Beyond that, the models are all over the place. A highly satisfying spread! So you can pick your model and get the result that takes your fancy.
The final message of the chapter is a little unsettling. The profession is so entrenched, and integrated (CSIRO and the Met have a joint climate committee which will ensure that no “independent statements” or contradictory “bloopers” will spoil the unanimity of the message). Massive resources are required to do the modeling, and so outsiders can only dispute the results on “first principles” and the contradictory results. The paradigm is powerful!
A Diversion into the Changing Character of Science
He starts this chapter with a reference to the 1950s “Two Cultures” debate kicked off by C P Snow when he said that the scientists and the literary folk had stopped talking to each other. That was an interesting sideshow and Paltridge’s more important point is that things have changed a great deal since that time. Paltridge suggested that this period was in some ways the high tide of quality science before it became a part of the “military-industrial complex”. President Eisenhower coined the term and warned the scientists against being corrupted by it.
The CSIRO was young and full of enthusiasm. "These were the halcyon days when members of the Executive of CSIRO spent a lot of their time visiting individual scientists in the laboratories, and somehow left the impression that they ‘mere cyphers who came only to serve the requirements of the man-at-the-bench’."
[A small aside on that. Second in charge of the Radiophysics Laboratory was a man called Pawsey. His visits to the laboratories had a small downside because he liked to get "hands on" with the equipment and it is recorded in the history of the CSIRO that some researchers build prominent dummy knobs on the apparatus so it would not have to be re-calibrated in the wake of Pawsey's compulsive knob-twiddling.]
In contrast with those days, when the CSIRO boffins were in full flight between visits by the likes of Pawsey and university professors ruled the roost in their own departments, Paltridge reports that managerialism has infected science to a remarkable degree – that is a combination of over-management, political correctness and paralysis by analysis. He suggests that this has contributed to the rise of the “climate change bandwagon” and the difficulty in gauging the reliability of statements by scientists.
Too many scientists
Partly driven by the Commonwealth payment for a PhD graduate which is twice as much as the payment for training an undergraduate we are producing an excess of people who are competing for places as research scientists. Paltridge used a figure of 4000 for the annual output of PhDs which is five to ten times the number required for vacant positions for independent researchers.
He regards this as a mistake for several reasons. One is a tendency to over-specialization. Another is over-credentialism, so PhD graduates may be employed at the expense of less “qualified” candidates who may be just as good on the job. Alternatively doctoral graduates may be employed in jobs which they regard as incommensurate with their deserts and their aspirations. There is the treadmill of short-term contracts which may abruptly terminate when the researcher is in the early forties. Finally there is the question of quality when so many research students are going though the system with so much incentive to ensure that they emerge fully qualified.
Competition gone over the top
The pressure to publish is intense, resulting in a lot of publications which contribute very little, to the extent that many journal articles may only be read by a single person. The hustle to produce means that there is no scope for serendipity, researching side-alleys and long shots, which is where real progress is quite likely to occur, by thinking outside the square, intruding on “other fields”, “the poachers getting the fattest rabbits”. Supporting this, Paltridge notes that some research found that ten of the very top UK scientists had very few publications in their early careers. They had been able to sit back and work for the length of time required to make a significant contribution. He suggests that scientists and their managers may have to choose between significant research or lots of papers.
The problem of political decision-making
Paltridge suggests that the pressures of modern science, possibly over-resourced with the practitioners over-stressed to produce publications to survive and thrive professionally in a tightly managed environment, have evolved a new performance criterion – political impact.
"And some scientists and their interpreters have taken to the process as ducks take to water. They have become experts for instance at generating doomsday scenarios which capture the public imagination. Their international connections and their access to reputable international organizations give them a political clout which the typical activist in other spheres could only dream about."
Looking at the other side of the fence, the politicians have the problem of making decisions based on scientific input. Since they do not have the capacity to make judgements on technical matters they are forced to accept what looks like the consensus unless they have access to alternative advice of a very high quality. Paltridge notes that some scientists revel in this situation and enjoy the feeling of being players in the big political game but the responsible majority find it very hard to give simple answers to complex questions that do not have a definitive answer.
The politicians for their part feel that they can’t wait for ever to make decisions while the scientists refuse to provide a quick answer “but mumble instead about having to do more research on the matter, and please, can it have more money?’
The bigger question that Paltridge did not address is why do governments think they have to make big decisions quickly – like the decision to take drastic action about a temperature change that will most likely not be perceptible, even if it measurable, in the lifetime of my children. The bigger issue is Big Government and the Obsession with Activism and Intervention.
Chapter 6 – Why is it so?
Paltridge wrote that most of us may abhor political correctness but none can ignore the pressures and most of us trim our sails for convenience, survival or popularity. He referred to some work on political correctness which found that a part of the problem is to think too much in terms of “black and white”, so if you are not on the side of the angels then you are a really bad kind of person. That pretty obviously applies to the devotees of the climate scare when they refer to people who beg to differ. Strong protagonists obtain a sense of virtue and “the bottom line is that the addictive nature of publicly expressed virtue ensures that many people prefer to accept arguments based on political correctness rather than commonsense or on scientific observation.”
He notes several political agendas in play. He lists the concern to preserve resources for future generations; the possibility of world government morphing out of the international carbon control movement (citing President Chirac, you can add Bob Brown); the socialist aim to redistribute wealth; powerbrokers of the EU seeking legitimacy for their central control; bureaucrats who see the scope for personal power and influence; and finally “those driven by a need for public expression of their virtue”. (95)
He points out that the many scientists who predict dire consequences are in a very awkward situation if one of them proves tomorrow that it is all nonsense. Obviously such an act would call for the perpetuator to be cast into the pit with the deniers, at the very least there would be massive pressure to bury the result “for the sake of the overall reputation of science”.
"The ‘reputation stakes’ have become so high that it is absolutely necessary for some form of action (any action at all, whether sensible or not) to be forced upon mankind".
They are lucky to have a government in Australia that is so under the influence of Greens that they may get that result, here if nowhere else in the world (well, maybe Spain and Portugal).
He refers to the standard argument that deniers are stooges of the energy industry, sometimes pointing to funding (as if it is a crime to conduct research for private agencies). He points out that the force of the argument blows back the other way. If your really think that scientists can be bought, then follow the money. No private funding has been located that is more than a tiny fraction of the government funding worldwide.
"Where in Australia for instance can be found the industry equivalent of the ten million dollars made available to the Climate Institute a few years ago specifically for spreading the word about global warming disaster? To say nothing of the nearly 90 million dollars annual cost of running the federal government’s Department of Climate Change."
Chapter 7 - Conclusion
In conclusion, Paltridge observes that the “consensus” amounts to the view that increasing CO2 in the atmosphere will be associated with a higher temperature than otherwise, in the order of a degree or so in the rest the century.
"The consensus goes no further down the chain of political correctness than this. It is rather naughty of the greenhouse lobby either to say outright or to imply by judicious omission, that it does…Even accepting for the sake of argument that some significant degree of warming may be observed in the future, it is certainly not the consensus of the majority of scientists that the actual impact on humans will be significant – or indeed that it will be detrimental." p 105-6
This is due to the defects of models in forecasting, defects that are magnified when you go beyond global temperature to forecast regional effects, on rainfall for example. But still we are subjected to “what if” scenarios that have virtually no scientific justification. They have great propaganda value, as long as the public and the politicians accept them - "Where it is dry we will get more droughts, where it is wet we will get floods – the seas will rise and flood the beachside suburbs". Etc.
He has a special word on the scientific administrators who play a leading role in interpreting the science of climate change to politicians and the public, via largely scientifically illiterate and credulous journalists. People wrongly assume that they know what they are talking about, however in the nature of the case the specialities are so specialised that the administrators are in no position to have independent views across the range of relevant disciplines.
They are not just subject to the political correctness that affects everyone, they thrive on it. “Many of them have been appointed to their position because of their ‘feel’ for the views and needs of the community rather than their ‘feel’ for science."
The ordinary bench researchers also have good reasons not to rock the boat. “Basically they boil down to the need to eat”.
He ends with an extract from a speech by President Eisenhower in 1961.
"Today the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research."
"Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of dominance of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded."
"Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."