BOOK REVIEW: News Weekly
CLIMATE: The Counter-Consensus, by Robert M. Carter
, October 16, 2010
Separating facts from hypeCLIMATE:
The Counter-Consensusby Robert M. Carter
(London: Stacey International)
Paperback: 307 pages
Rec. price: AUD$29.95After the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, did a back-flip on her pre-election promise not to introduce a carbon tax and thereupon established a parliamentary climate change committee to push legislation to transform Australia to a "low carbon" economy, Professor Bob Carter's new book examining the science behind global warming is both timely and welcome.
If, as Professor Carter holds, the earth is not warming significantly as a result of human activity, then the Commonwealth Government's proposals to tax Australia into a "low carbon" economy is dangerously misconceived.
However, this book is not primarily concerned with Australia. Rather, it is a detailed examination of what the many scientific disciplines which study the earth's climate can tell us about recent climate change.
In this respect, the author makes clear that the complexity of the earth's climate is such that explanations of cause and effect must be tentative rather than dogmatic, and both scientists and the general community need to understand that knowledge from many scientific disciplines is required to improve our understanding of the dynamics of the earth's climate.
As a palaeoclimatologist, Bob Carter has special expertise in the historical climate record, as discovered from sources as diverse as fossilised rocks, seabed cores and ice cores from the Antarctic and Greenland.
He emphasises that many others have a great deal to contribute: ocean scientists, solar physicists, atmospheric physicists, biologists and biochemists, meteorologists and metrologists, to name a few. No one can be an expert in all the relevant fields, but there is now a large body of good scientific evidence which can be applied to the study of the earth's atmosphere.
Carter dismisses the idea that there is a "scientific consensus" on climate change, by pointing out that there are many differences within individual fields of study on the impact of particular factors on the earth's climate.
He examines the climate record, as discovered from the chemical and biochemical record of the past, retrieved from seabed cores, and shows that over the earth's recent geological history, from the middle of the period known as the Pliocene, about 3.5 million years ago, the earth's average temperature declined gradually from mean temperatures which were 2-3°C higher than today's.
Over the past 600,000 years, the reconstructed temperature records show long glacial periods when ice covered most of the continents, separated by short warm interglacial periods, such as that which exists today on earth, which last on average 10,000 years.
Civilisation has emerged only in the period of the current interglacial, which has already lasted for about 10,000 years.
Professor Carter shows that attempts to correlate rising atmospheric CO2 levels, much of which is due to burning fossil fuels, with rising atmospheric temperatures, have failed. Over the past 200 years, average temperatures on earth have risen and fallen. Overall, there has been a slight rise in temperatures, but nothing outside what has occurred frequently throughout history.
Claims by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the world has entered a period of unprecedented global warming (based on rapidly rising temperatures between 1970 and 2000, as industrialisation spread throughout the world), are contradicted by the fact that since 1998, there has been no increase in global temperatures, and perhaps a slight fall.
Professor Carter is particularly critical of the role of climate models in fanning the hysteria of global warming. As a scientist himself, with a background in geology, he understands the strengths and weaknesses of computer modelling.
He points out that the models are projections rather than predictions. What is the difference? A prediction is based on extrapolating the past into the future. A projection is based on making many assumptions about what influences the climate, e.g., solar radiation, water-land heat transfer, impact of ocean currents, impact of clouds, and the impact of different gases in the environment (of which nitrogen and oxygen are the most important, with water vapour being the main greenhouse gas, and CO2 being behind that).
The computer models consist of a series of mathematical equations to describe how these vary with time. Then initial conditions are fed into the computer, and the equations will project outcomes depending upon the assumptions being made.
In general, the models are not in the public domain, and their assumptions are not publicly discussed. To the extent that their content is known, the assumptions which underpin the models have been criticised by scientists with expertise in the relevant fields.
The IPCC computer models are largely controlled by climate scientists from places such as the Hadley Centre in the UK and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in the United States, who have a powerful interest in alarmist outcomes which will generate publicity and enhance the scientists' professional careers.
There is much more to this book. Professor Carter describes how the science has been distorted by the IPCC and the European Union, for their own purposes. He shows how politicians have enlisted people with no expertise in the area, such as the British economist Lord Stern, and Australia's Ross Garnaut, to advise their respective governments and public opinion on how to meet the challenge of climate change.
And finally, he brings the issue up to date with a discussion of where the climate debate stands after the failure of the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen in November 2009.
Professor Carter is not a climate-change denier. He argues that the earth's climate is constantly changing, and that it is prudent to manage those changes. The real issue, he sees, is to manage natural climate change, with all the challenges that entails.
He proposes an adaptive policy to cope with extreme weather events and with climate change. However, the policies with regard to climate change should be based on appropriate responses to each of the 28 major climate zones on earth, many of which in the polar and temperate regions would benefit from atmospheric warming.
This is an important book, written by a highly qualified climate scientist for a general audience. It should be read by everyone with an interest in the climate change issue.