Plimer’s Climatolgy 105
Lord Franklin’s Dream turned nightmare
Continents may rise and fall separately, but the oceans do not, because they are all one. Global warming and potential sea level rises eventually up to 70 metres promise simultaneous creeping disaster on the coastal lowlands everywhere on Earth.
To sum up: the planet’s presently rising sea levels can only be due to two possible causes. Either the Earth is capturing and retaining an increased amount of solar heat, or more heat is coming up from the Earth’s interior. In the latter case, one would reasonably expect the released heat to be associated with increased volcanism and earthquakes. But we have been in a quiet phase for those for about the last 20 years. Increased capture and retention of solar radiation would be due possibly to the Sun becoming more radiant, or to the Earth becoming more radiation absorbent. It would appear that the periodicity of the glacial advances and retreats, commonly known as ‘ice ages’ can be linked in part to variations in solar intensity, otherwise known as solar flux, brought about by internal cyles within the sun itself and variations in the Earth’s orbit. (See in this connection Heaven+Earth p 234 and slide 2 at  . We are in the middle of a warm phase of the glacial cycle. The cycling became established at the start of the Pleistocene, about 2.8 m years ago. Right now the Earth should be more likely cooling, not warming.
Apart from the known cycles we have more chaotic processes on Earth such as volcanism, sea floor separation and continental drift. In the last 3 million years the latter has resulted in the steady closure of the Isthmus of Panama, completed about 1 million years ago.  This has resulted resulting in the near-complete walling off of the Atlantic from the Pacific by the joined American continents, with Antarctica now thermally isolated by the Circumpolar Current in the Southern Ocean and the Roaring Forties, the Furious Fifties and the Screaming Sixties, in the atmosphere.  Though the geological record indicates that the South Geographic Pole has always lain under a continental mass and the North Pole never so, the continental arrangements that have arisen in the recent past have resulted in the near-complete enclosure of the Arctic Ocean by land, making the retention of Arctic sea ice and thus the bulk of the northern icecap possible. This two-icecap situation is unique in Earth’s history. In the others, such as the Late Carboniferous glaciation, there was only one icecap.  The Earth has had an ‘ice-house’ climate for the last 30 million years  and for the last 2.58 million years has been locked into a cycle of glacial advance and retreat,  and will be so for millions of years into the future as far as anyone can tell. 
Prediction is a risky business in relation to complex systems like the atmosphere, biosphere and human economies, but what goes up is none the less likely to come down. The Earth’s overall heat content can only keep rising until the changes responsible go into reverse. If rising CO2 concentration is responsible, as seems most likely the case, then regardless of human policy CO2 production is set to decline rapidly in about 250 years time or less, because by then the fossil fuel deposits will be exhausted. We as a species will then be relying on renewables and nuclear energy. The fuel of fusion reactors, if they ever come out of the equations of theory and into nuts and bolts of reality, will be deuterium from sea water; very much in long-term supply. But in the mean time, fission-based nuclear energy will peter out in a few hundred or perhaps at most a few thousand years, as the deposits of uranium, thorium and other nuclear fuels run out. Then, failing controlled fusion, it will be renewables or nothing.
Possibly, the increased carbon content of the atmosphere will result in a burgeoning of plant life, leading as CO2 emissions from fossil fuels taper off to a massive drawdown of atmospheric CO2. This may drop the atmospheric concentration down to a level sufficient to begin a new round of glaciation; in other words, a new ‘ice age’, at a time in the future perhaps only as far away as the life of William Shakespeare is in the past.
As a contribution to the science literature, Heaven+ Earth concludes in extraordinary fashion. Under the heading “What if I am wrong?” Plimer provides four pages of reasons why it will not make any difference at all. Plimer being wrong does not mean that his opponents are right, by logic, definition or any other way, or so the argument goes. So the worst from his point of view is not even that we will all be wrong together. His claim is to still be right, even if he turns out to be wrong. In short, whatever happens it will (a) all be OK and (b) outside our control or even influence anyway.
In those last four pages, he reiterates the main points made in a denialist speech by Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who was an economic adviser to Margaret Thatcher earlier in his career. After repeating Monckton’s litany, which I will discuss in the last unit of this series, Plimer says:
The influence of human activity on planet Earth needs some perspective. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances.
At which point Plimer adds:
Human stupidity is only exceeded by God’s mercy, which is infinite.
Ideological pressure… hasty conclusions… Only the naïve would wonder who and what the Pope might have had in mind. As for Plimer’s added remark on the infinity of God’s mercy, I have never visited Auschwitz, or anything like it. But I have thought a bit about the theological implications of that and a host of other examples of divine indifference to human agony. So I found myself writing ‘ITS?’ in the margin beside it.
Pope aside, there’s no need to ask which embodiments of human stupidity Plimer might have had in mind. He has spent the preceding 483 pages denouncing them: ‘activists’, ‘environmentalists’, Greenpeace… but above all, Sir Nicholas Stern, Michael Mann, James Hansen, Al Gore, Ross Garnaut; other practitioners of the alleged quackery and pseudoscience of climatology, the IPCC, the Royal Society, the signers of the Kyoto Accord… If the book’s index was any good I could look them all up.
But that is only half of the last sentence. I have an uneasy feeling that behind the rest of it lies the profound theological thought that there will be no runaway greenhouse or climate catastrophe, because God will not allow it. About a third of the way into the book, Plimer says:
I argue that the odds for multicellular life elsewhere in the Universe are very low and that planet Earth is a very rare environment. If indeed multicellular life is unique, then this opens up profound theological questions.
It is impossible to prove a negative, so continual failure to find life elsewhere will prove nothing. But even more profound questions are opened up if Earth-bound life is not unique. This will be particularly so if complex multicellular organisms are found that are capable of sending messages across interstellar space, say by using some form of electromagnetic radiation: as we Earthlings have been doing since the beginning of the first radio broadcasts.
There is but a short interval of time left after that theological profundity before the choirmaster strikes up ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’. The implication is that God won’t drop planet Earth, no matter what blunders we might make. To paraphrase (and slightly depart from) the old hymn:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
While we do as we please down here below.
For Plimer is emphatic on the point that nothing we humans do can have the slightest effect on the climate, which also leads him to dismiss concerns about the effects of anthropogenic CFCs on the ozone layer. (There is, incidentally, no other kind of CFC.) But as the Chinese proverb has it, ‘a single spark can set a prairie on fire’ : in other words a change can be out of all proportion to the scale of the act that began it. It does not require much effort on the human firebug’s part at all. Witness the recent bushfires in Victoria which were deliberately lit.
Beginning long ago, but accelerating notably after about 1750, we have been mining and burning coal and other fossil-carbon fuels, and releasing the exhaust gas to the atmosphere, which is a very thin cover over the planet. If chilled down far enough, it would condense to a liquid layer only about 12 metres deep. The acceleration has taken place because increasing numbers of people have become involved, but more importantly because the energy and chemical reduction power of the carbon has been used to make and power tools to extract and process the coal all the way from the ground through the industrial plants and up the chimneys to the atmosphere. The real power has come from the fossil carbon turned back upon its own kind, like a brumby stallion captured, tamed and used to round up the rest of a wild mob of horses. We puny humans have been increasingly just riding the carbon stallion and operating the machines. Those machines have been immediately powered by the fossil fuels they extract, and ultimately by the Sun, whose influence on the climate incidentally, Plimer cannot overemphasise. The Sun did it by providing all the radiant energy for all that photosynthesis from the Paleozoic Era on, the (remaining) products of which lie buried today in all the coal, oil, tar sand, kerosene shale gas deposits and other fossil fuels of the world, and the anaerobically generated methane and hydrogen sulfide in the sea floors that could once again produce Gotterdammerung.
So Plimer twice and consciously introduces religious notes into his book, once concerning the theological implications of extraterrestrial life, and once as the ultimate final ‘she’ll be right’ reassuring statement. If all else fails, God provides the ultimate fallback position; the keep within the castle to be taken to as the outer defences collapse.
Take it or leave it.
Ian Plimer has clearly put a lot of effort into the writing of Heaven+Earth. He has collected every denialist argument ever advanced, no matter how presently discredited, and put them all together into one volume for handy reference. It is not just the book of The Great Global Warming Swindle. Heaven+Earth is the book of the IMAX version of that very same swindle, with full Dolby® surround sound and ComBustorama® . No matter what others might say, I will treasure my now heavily annotated copy for the rest of my life, and will pass it to my heirs. It is truly a classic in its own very small carbonise-on-regardless class.
Moreover, I confidently predict that its author’s reputation as an ore-body geologist will survive the publication of it.
TO Plimer’s Climatology 106: His Lordship’s List >>>
BACK TO Plimer’s Climatology 101: >>>
BACK TO Plimer’s Climatology 102: Chucking rocks at the catastrophists >>>
BACK TO Plimer’s Climatology 103: Plimer’s Heaven, our Earth, and the Precautionary Principle >>>
BACK TO Plimer’s Climatology 104: Climatology vs Plimertology >>>
NOTES AND LINKS:
 Plimer, Heaven+Earth, p 493.
 Plimer, Heaven+Earth, p160