April 21st 2018

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COVER STORY The deeper causes of Australia's social malaise

GENDER POLITICS Queensland proposes transgender birth certificates

CANBERRA OBSERVED Malcolm at 30 (polls): the cloud on Turnbull's horizon

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell firmly denies sex abuse allegations

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Sydney Archdiocese aims to eliminate slavery in supply chain

RURAL DEVELOPMENT Irrigation along Fitzroy River proposed and opposed

LIFE ISSUES Abortion Rethink Summit: the case for care

VERBATIM WA food, drink producers face shortage of carbon dioxide

HOUSING AFFORDABILITY Land costs: economist Henry George's solution

ELECTRICITY Will Turnbull lose three out of three?

ECONOMICS Trade wars: tariffs unlikely to be fired in anger

SEX AND TEENS How about support for the abstaining majority?

VISUAL ARTS Layers of meaning in Botticelli's La Primavera and The Birth of Venus

MUSIC Is it good?: Or, do we just like the sound it makes?

CINEMA The Death of Stalin: Black comedy of a dark time

BOOK REVIEW Cool head on topic that generates heat

BOOK REVIEW Life's not so bad: from the outside



OPINION What a republic would really mean for Australia

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Cool head on topic that generates heat

News Weekly, April 21, 2018


MIRRORS AND MAZES: A Guide through the Climate Change Debate

by Howard Thomas Brady

Paperback: 176 pages
Price: AUD$38.99

Reviewed by William Kininmonth

It would be easy to dismiss this book from its title as just another of the many discourses on climate change. Is there anything new to be discovered in what has become a polarised and highly politically charged topic? Well, yes there is.

Howard Brady, a qualified and experienced geophysicist, has laid out the complexities of science relevant to climate change in a logical structure that highlights where our knowledge is deficient, and where there are inconsistencies between the dangerous anthropogenic global warming construct espoused by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and real-world observations.

In the opening chapter, Brady identifies contradictions between climate model projections of future ever-increasing warming and the geological record of warming and cooling cycles. Scientists have no objective explanation for the past cycles, yet the IPCC consensus has an obsession with warming! Brady sets out to explore the science in all its intricacies.

The second and third chapters establish the crux of Brady’s discourse. Anthropogenic global warming is a cause and effect relationship: popular science says add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and Earth heats up. Yet weather and climate are chaotic. There are similarities from year to year, but over longer time periods cycles are discerned. Over the last million years there have been recurring extremes of glacial conditions and intervening warming about every 100,000 years. We are fortunate to be living in a warmer interglacial interval when continental ice sheets have retreated, and wetter conditions are more favourable to agriculture.

 Although explanations for some of these cycles have been advanced, they are incomplete. Changing solar radiation and its regional surface distribution that are linked to Earth’s changing orbital characteristics is one potential factor; varying intergalactic cosmic radiation that influences cloudiness and the reflection of solar radiation is another.

Chapters four and five assess recent climate and the claims that observed warming is a direct outcome of increasing anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Few doubt that warming has taken place; there is evidence that Earth has been warming for more than 300 years – well before anthropogenic carbon dioxide began to increase.

However, the instrumental record covers only the last 150 years and, even over the recent century of steadily increasing carbon dioxide, the temperature rise has not been consistent. Periods covering several decades have not experienced temperature rises. Brady shows the links between the alleged anthropogenic temperature rise and extremes of weather to be even more tenuous.

Sea level rise and coastal inundation are portrayed in the media as major issues resulting from anthropogenic global warming. Coastal inundation is a threat because many millions of coastal and island dwellers live less than a few metres elevation above sea level and rising seas are a threat to them.

These issues are discussed in chapters seven and eight, where it is noted that the evidence for dangerous sea-level rise is conflicted. Satellite assessments suggest that the sea level is rising at a rate of about 32 centimetres a century, and possibly accelerating. This rate, however, is twice that determined from long-term tidal-gauge records. Much of the past rise and future projected rise are attributed to melting ice over polar land regions.

Brady discusses why there are limitations to melting of polar land ice. Antarctic warming, especially, is constrained because of geography; the continent is effectively protected from warmer subtropical waters by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Although Arctic temperatures have risen over recent decades, the reasons are poorly understood.

Temperature records and documented accounts indicate that parts of Greenland were warmer than now through the 1920s and 1930s. About 110,000 years ago, during the previous warm interglacial, there was less ice on Greenland and the sea level was about two metres higher than now, even though carbon dioxide concentrations were similar to pre-industrial levels. There are factors other than carbon dioxide operating to cause climate variation and change.

The essence of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis – the science of the greenhouse effect and the models that project future climate states – is discussed in chapters nine and 10. Importantly, the point is made that carbon dioxide is neither the only greenhouse gas in the atmosphere nor is it the dominant one. Moreover, the various feedback processes within the climate system suggest a degree of heroism in expecting a linear response of the climate system to changing carbon-dioxide concentration.

Where climate models have consistently pointed to an equilibrium global surface-temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius for a doubling of atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration, independent methods point to values that are much less.

The potential direct and indirect influences of the Sun on Earth’s climate are explored more fully in chapters 10 and 11. These influences are portrayed in IPCC models as being minimal, an assumption that is convenient for emphasising the importance of anthropogenic carbon dioxide but not necessarily true.

The reality is that measurements of the most basic climate driver, the intensity of solar radiation, are fraught and span only a few decades. Yet observed sun-spot numbers spanning more than three centuries, together with concentrations of isotopes linked to cosmic-ray activity, seem to be well correlated to changing global temperatures over the last millennium.

Climate shocks from left-field factors, such as meteor or comet strikes, gigantic solar flares, volcanic eruptions, or catastrophic melting of large frozen methane deposits are dealt with in chapter 12. Each of these has the potential to disrupt climate to the extent that the recent global temperature rise of about 0.8 degrees Celsius over the last century seems trifling. As Brady notes, it is time for realism, not alarmism.

Chapter 13 is a subjective scorecard on IPCC reflections on recent climate and projections for the future. There are areas of agreement, such as that Earth warmed over the 20th century and that carbon-dioxide concentrations rose. Also, continental ice of the northern hemisphere has retreated, and the sea level has risen.

But many IPCC statements are argued as being false, or at best based on speculation. The doubtful nature of such statements is compounded when levels of confidence that the criteria do not objectively justify are attributed to them. After all, expert judgement is only as good as the knowledge of the experts and the data available.

The final chapter (14) is entitled “Leaving the maze”. Brady agrees that the warming of the Earth over recent centuries is real but probably no different from previous periods of warming. The difference now is that atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, most likely due to human activities. However, there is no evidence for a recent acceleration of climate change.

The issue, according to Brady, is that climate scientists have caught the “accelerator bug” (change will occur at an ever-increasing rate) and have become subject to “catastrophic fever” (“this is the critical decade … we are on the edge of extinction”). This has come about because science has been reduced to simplistic arguments that have led to false conclusions.

Brady opines that rational discussion on climate change and its impacts has been impeded by a cacophony of vested interests. Inextricable links have been forged between many disparate groups such that rational discussion is impeded, if not actively curtailed (for example, the so-called “climategate” emails that revealed a coterie of scientists literally demanding allegiance to their view).

What is needed, Brady claims, is a thorough shake-up of the science community, including to its organisation and funding. We are currently in the worst of positions: governments, in the guise of a moral cause, being at the beck and call of vested interests and lavishing funds on research that is directed to supporting their policies.

Mirrors and Mazes covers a broad spectrum of issues in its 166 pages. Of necessity, some issues are dealt with quickly, which may lead to the author being open to the charge of a simplistic discussion of complex science. However, it is not the detail of the science that is as important because Brady’s emphasis is on the uncertainty underpinning climate science.

Brady’s contribution is through his identification of many topics that remain open to legitimate discussion and unbiased scientific examination. The science definitely is not settled.

The book is about the science that underpins the climate change debate. Mirrors and Mazes is for those who are not themselves expert in climate science but who wish to be exposed to a selection of the scientific issues and uncertainties of the debate.

The style and depth of discussion are generally such that readers will readily follow the discourse and not be confused by obscure terminology. Even those who think they are climate scientists will benefit from reading this book.

William Kininmonth is author of Climate Change: A Natural Hazard (Multi-Science, 2004). He has represented Australia at international and intergovernmental meetings and carried out training programs for the World Meteorological Organisation.

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