NOAH’S RAINBOW SERPENT – observations by Ian MacDougall

Plimer’s Climatology 102

PLIMER’S CLIMATOLOGY 102

Chucking rocks at the catastrophists

Continuing on the subject of Heaven + Earth

By Ian Plimer

ConnorCourt, 503pp, $39.95

Like Aristotelian physics, almost all of our thought inherited from before the time of Galileo (1564-1642) about the fields covered by the natural sciences has had to have a severe makeover, if not to be junked entirely. Where some classical thinkers like Democritus [460-c. 370 BC] and Archimedes [287-212 BC] got their empirical and theoretical physics basically right, the influential metaphysician Aristotle [384-322 BC] got his seriously wrong. It was only when late mediaeval scientists concluded that automatic respect for ancient authority per se was a blind alley that the modern critical-empirical approach outlined in Plimer’s Climatology 1 could begin. However, justification after the fact of customary and inherited practice is still very much with us, and there is no aid to rationalization to match good old-fashioned financial interest.                                               

From the Trinity test at Alamagordo in 1945 to the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, there was justification from sectors of the world scientific community for nuclear tests in the atmosphere, which has become in turn justification for the serpent’s tail: the uranium industry. That one emerged at the same time as the nuclear defence programs of the Great Powers. Until recently, it has looked as if long term nuclear waste storage was going to be a problem bequeathed to all succeeding generations by the one that gave us The Bomb. That is, a radioactive custody issue for 100,000 years and beyond after the uranium supply is finally exhausted. Fortunately, hope of relief for this legacy has appeared over the horizon in the form of the pebble-bed reactor, [1], the even better thorium reactor, [2] and the Integral Fast Reactor [3] the last two at this time still only in the theoretical and planning stages. Those reactors hold out the hope of being able to convert nuclear waste into benign, non-radioactive elements.

Choice of nuclear power to date has been confined to a handful of obnoxious alternatives, with long-lived waste a non-optional extra, and possibilities for weapons proliferation entailed with most. The nuclear option with its intractable waste problem has thus been like a jumbo jet taking off from Sydney fully laden with youthful adventurers, and with the pilot aiming to land on top of Mt Everest. That in itself is a highly worthy objective for many, but not when based just on the hope that by the time the flight arrives someone will have built an airport. The nuclear power and weapons industries have been established for about 65 years now, and still the long-term waste disposal problem remains in their too-hard basket.

At a point in the long distant past someone extracted what was found to be useful fuel from a coal outcrop, and the coal industry was born. Only since the work of Arrhenius in the late 19thC have questions arisen about the basing of the steel, power generation and other industries upon it. Established industry has understandably reacted to the IPCC reports and scientific concern about greenhouse gases with counter-argument and delaying tactics regarding the transition to alternatives. Ian Plimer’s book and his talk to the Sydney Mining Club talk are best seen in this context.  [4]

However, one recent poll reportedly showed a sampled 82% of earth scientists and 97% of responding climatologists as being against the denialist position:

A new poll among 3,146 earth scientists found that 90 percent believe global warming is real, while 82 percent agree that human activity been a significant factor in changing mean global temperatures.

 

The survey, conducted among researchers listed in the American Geological Institute’s Directory of Geoscience Departments*, “found that climatologists who are active in research showed the strongest consensus on the causes of global warming, with 97 percent agreeing humans play a role. The biggest doubters were petroleum geologists (47 percent) and meteorologists (64 percent). [5]

There is nothing wrong with this. The denialists and the alarmists are both hard at it counting the weeds in each others’ gardens. But so far, the denialists have had the harder time of it, and have emerged with the weaker case, team, prospects and political position. This is apparent from a perusal of Climate Debate Daily. [6]  

On June 1 2009 there came in addition a call by the national science academies of 69 countries for action to counter CO2 emissions that are lowering the pH of oceanic water (ie making it less alkaline; carbon dioxide forms carbonic acid when it dissolves in water.)

Rising acidity in oceans is leading to a global catastrophe that would be unparalleled in tens of millions of years, according to the national science academies of 69 countries which want governments to take the issue more seriously in the run-up to the December climate change conference in Copenhagen.

The rate at which the oceans are turning acidic because of rising carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere is faster than at any other time since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, the scientists said in a joint statement issued today in advance of this week’s pre-Copenhagen conference on climate change in Bonn. [7]

However, any scientist can be in a minority of one and still be right, as was shown historically in the cases of the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, (1743-1794), Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Alfred Wegener (1880-1930). There are minor scientific controversies going all the time, but those three stood at major turning points in the history of ideas, because it was they who did much of the turning. Lavoisier emerged amid controversy as the first man to attain a modern understanding of combustion.  The geologist Alfred Wegener ran into a wall of ridicule in 1912 for reintroducing the long-discarded theory of continental drift; now orthodoxy.  Darwin famously stated that publishing his theory of evolution was “like confessing to a murder”, [8] such being the theocratic uproar he was sure would follow.

However, scientists historically are remarkably fast to abandon the old when it is no longer tenable in the face of the new. Those pathfinders did not stay isolated for long. So when much of the established scientific community is prepared to show concern on an issue, it is probably best not just to dismiss it, and while scientific majorities have been known to be wrong, they are actually more often right. If wrong are generally fast in changing position. But Plimer has no great concern on this point. Dismissing climatologists and their science he says:

Climate science lacks scientific discipline. Studies of the Earth’s atmosphere tell us nothing about future climate. An understanding of climate requires an amalgamation of astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, tectonics. palaeontology, paleoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology and history. That is what is attempted in this book.

At times, primary scientific evidence is manipulated and simplified by computer models. The extensive reliance by global warmers on computer models impresses those with little scientific training…

[9]

Critical reception of Heaven+Earth has varied between ringing endorsement and savage ridicule. But perhaps the bells pealing out most favour came from the carillon operated by Plimer himself in early 2009:

At Easter, my book on climate change comes out. I destroy every single argument that has ever been raised about human-induced climate change. I use history, archaeology, geology and our understanding of the sun, oceans, ice and atmosphere to show that climates always change, the past changes have been far greater and quicker than anything measured at present and that the changes that really create havoc with humans are the periods of global cooling. I just give the science (written in layman’s language and supported by references) and I leave the politics of carbon trading, emissions trading etc to others.

[10]

Computer models [11] do not impress him. So why have them at all? This amid the denunciation, he never mentions.

The main reason is simple: the Earth is the only planet we can use in our carbon-burning experiment, and we need a control. We either do completely without or use the next best thing: a computer simulation. These are not arbitrarily cobbled together to yield whatever result is desired by the allegedly undisciplined alarmist subversive climate science coteries who run them, but are based on the known laws responsible for the Earth’s climate, and particularly the scientific bedrock of physics and chemistry. Nobody pretends they are perfect, and if the past is anything to go by, they will improve with time and advances in computing science. But they can not only be used to create modern geologically ‘Recent’ Earths, but also Earths from other periods of geological time.

Plimer continues:

The hypothesis that human emissions of CO2 can create global warming  can be tested by measurement. This is how science works. Temperature measurements using ground-based thermometers, balloon-mounted radiosondes and satellite-mounted microwave sensing units all show that no warming has occurred since 1998…

[12]

I inserted yet another marginal ‘ITS?’ at this point. It was then the fourth such entry, and I was only up to page 16. Take all the atmospheric temperature measurements you like. They are not all-important in a complex like the world’s climate system, which involves radiation coming in from the sun and space interacting with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere, of which latter the human economy is merely a part. Climate also involves the world’s present continental arrangements, mountain ranges, glaciers, icecaps and ice sheets. The reader may have already guessed that Plimer’s assertion contradicts the satellite altimetry data on sea levels cited above from the source at the University of Colorado. [13]

The central theme in Heaven+Earth is uncertainty, and the syllogism that because there is so much uncertainty in the complexes of CO2 and climate, we should therefore not attempt anything, and there is nothing we can do about it anyway. This is also the theme played by Christopher Walter Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley (at Plimer’s Climatology 106).

Plimer writes:

As the oceans contain 22 times more heat than the atmosphere, ocean heat contributes greatly to driving climate and… unseen submarine volcanism can have a profound effect on the surface heat of the Earth. Because of the lack of measurement, there is no average spreading rate of volcanic heat transfer that can be used to predict modern climate… Because we know so little about the oceans, any attempt to calculate the amount of heat added to oceans from submarine hydrothermal activity is speculative. [13.1]

Speculative perhaps, but not unknowable. The ocean and atmosphere are somewhat analogous to the water jacket of a car engine, with the heat coming out of the Earth being something like the heat from the engine. As there is considerable heat exchanged between the upper layer of the ocean and the lower layer of the air, the best single guide to the thermal state of the planet overall is sea-level. That is measureable down to +/- 0.4 mm, andlike the cooling system of a car, it can tell us much.

I entered another ‘ITS?’  in the Plimer margin where he dismisses the IPCC:

The Wall Street Journal had a blistering editorial exposing the IPCC process  (“Cover-up in the Greenhouse”) and a strident article by the former president of the National Academy of Sciences entitled “Major Deception on Global Warming”. (References supplied in original.) [13.2] 

Left unsaid was the fact that the cited former President of the NAS was the late Frederick Seitz, and his ‘strident article’ is at [14]. Seitz himself was no stranger to controversy, reportedly having during his career carried off something of a denialism trifecta:

Shortly before his retirement from Rockefeller University in 1979, Seitz began working as a paid permanent consultant for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, advising their research program. In a discussion of the dangers of secondary inhalation of tobacco smoke, he concluded “there is no good scientific evidence that passive inhalation is truly dangerous under normal circumstances.”

Seitz was a founder of the George C. Marshall Institute and was chairman of its board. In 1994, the Institute published a paper by Seitz titled ‘Global warming and ozone hole controversies: A challenge to scientific judgment’. He questioned the view that CFCs [chlorofluorocarbons – IM] “are the greatest threat to the ozone layer”.

[References in original but omitted here. – IM[15]

For that reason alone, I am inclined to take anything said by Seitz with a large pinch of salt;  After ‘ITS?’ my next question was: who paid him to say that? First tobacco, then ozone, then global warming: an impressive list of runners.

 

TO Plimer’s Climatology 103: Plimer’s Heaven, our Earth, and  the  Precautionary Principle  >>>

SHORT CUTS:

BACK TO Plimer’s Climatology 101: >>>

TO Plimer’s Climatology 104:  Climatology vs Plimertology >>>

TO Plimer’s Climatology 105: Lord Franklin’s Dream turned nightmare  >>>

TO Plimer’s Climatology 106: His Lordship’s List >>>

 

 

NOTES AND LINKS:

 [1] http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.09/china.html

[2] http://www.google.com.au/search?sourceid=navclient&aq=0h&oq=thorium&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4GGLR_enAU279AU280&q=thorium+reactors

[3] http://bravenewclimate.com/integral-fast-reactor-ifr-nuclear-power/

[4] http://www.sydneyminingclub.org/presentations/2008/november/plimer/player.html

[5] http://news.mongabay.com/2009/0122-climate.html

[6] http://climatedebatedaily.com/

[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/cut-emissions-or-acidity-will-kill-coral-reefs-scientists-say-1693840.html   

[8] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=charles-darwin-confessions

[9] Heaven+Earth, p 15

[10] http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2009/04/coming-soon-heaven-and-earth

[11] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mathematical_model 

[12] Heaven+Earth  p.16

[13] http://sealevel.colorado.edu/current/sl_noib_global_sm.jpg

[13.1] Plimer, Heaven+Earth p 209

[13.2]  Plimer Heaven+Earth p 21

[14] http://www.sepp.org/Archive/controv/ipcccont/Item05.htm

[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Seitz

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