Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mike Butler: Reheating climate debate

Glad to read that the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition has lodged papers with the High Court asking it to invalidate NIWA's official temperature records. Coalition spokesman Bryan Leyland said the New Zealand Meteorological Service had shown no warming during the past century but NIWA had adjusted its records to show a warming trend of 1degC. (1)

Court action may be the only way to require government climate scientists to carry out their tasks according to professional standards. In 2007, a British court identified 11 inaccuracies in Al Gore’s shockumentary An Inconvenient Truth, after a British truck driver, Stewart Dimmock, filed a lawsuit to prevent the airing of Gore's alarmist detritus in England's public schools. The court ruled that schools must warn of bias before showing Gore’s DVD. (2)

New Zealanders are highly sceptical about climate change, a YahooXtra internet poll found this week. The poll, on August 18, 2010, asked: “Are you sceptical about climate change?” Of 15,601 votes in two days, 68 percent, or 10,532 votes, said “Yes - there are not enough facts”, 28 percent, or 4351 votes, said “No - there is plenty of proof”, and 5 percent were unsure.

Climate Change Minister Nick Smith does reply to letters criticising the emissions trading scheme. I wrote to all Ministers on June 16 asking them to have a free and frank discussion in Cabinet with a view to delaying or dumping the amended Emissions Trading Scheme, which took effect from July 1.

While there is no evidence that any discussion took place, the letters were referred to Smith who, on behalf of all of them, outlined a defence of the National government’s emissions trading scheme. In a letter dated July 31, 2010, he argued that:
1. The scheme was in line with 2008 election policy.
2. The Nat scheme was to soften implementation of the much more rigorous Labour scheme.
3. That there is sufficient evidence to cause concern, based on the opinion of “an overwhelming majority of climate science experts”.
4. He takes exception to the evidence that temperatures have decreased since 1998, arguing the need to look at the longer view.
5. He concedes that NZ’s ETS will in fact have little impact, but argues that since it is a global issue, the NZ govt must be seen to be doing something.
6. He doesn’t want the ETS to incur disproportionate costs
7. He reminded me that the scheme would be reviewed next year, and noted that the Goverment would “not proceed with additional sectors or removal of the half obligation and fixed-price options unless other countries – especially our trading partners – make progress”.

In other words, he is saying don’t blame us, we’re only doing what we said we would do, and since our scheme is not as harsh as Labour’s, it must be OK.

His reference to the opinion of “an overwhelming majority of climate science experts” is really in the category of "if you repeat a myth often enough it eventually is taken as reality". I guess he was referring to consensus claimed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And exactly how many climate scientists make up this “overwhelming majority”? Mike Hulme, a prominent climate scientist and IPCC insider, said that the actual number of scientists who backed manmade global warming was only a few dozen experts, and not the 2500 of the world’s leading scientists as claimed. (3)

By contrast, 31,000 American scientists signed a petition saying that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate”. (4) Consensus is a political process and the only consensus regarding the science of global warming is among ascientific environmental activists. (5)

Yes, I’m all for looking at the longer view of climate. In fact, in my letter to Prime Minister John Key on October 27, 2009, which presumably was passed through Smith’s office, I respectfully pointed out that the geological record shows that planet Earth has warmed and cooled in cycles over millions of years.

Successive periods of warming and cooling included: the Modern Warming, 1850-1998; Little Ice Age, 1300-1850; Medieval Warming, 900-1300; Dark Ages, 535-900; Roman Warming, 500 b.c.e.-535 c.e.; Bronze Age Cooling, going back 3200-2500 years ago; Minoan Warming, 3500-3200 years ago; Akkadian Cooling, 5600-3500 years ago; Holocene Warming B, 8000-5600 years ago; Egyptian Cooling, 8500-8000 years ago; and the Holocene Warming A - 11,600-8500 years ago. Yes, it has been warmer and cooler before nasty industrial emissions came along after the mid-19th century. (6)

The “showing the world that New Zealand is doing something” routine is gesture politics, which is when a politician does something for publicity or to influence public opinion. Since the ETS adds 5 cents a litre to petrol, Mum and Dad shoppers can now take their supermarket 5-cents-a-litre petrol discount voucher, look at it, and reflect on their contribution to Nick Smith’s empty gestures.

The National-led government has backed a loser with its ETS, the YahooXtra poll shows that opinion has turned harshly against climate doomsayers, and the court challenge on NIWA data may be successful. One thing for certain is that Nick Smith will use the wriggle room allowed by the 2011 review to avert or minimise the voter backlash that will come in election year.

1. Niwa court action reheats climate change debate,
2. Schools must warn of Gore climate film bias,
3. Climate Change: what do we know about the IPCC? April 2010,
4. Petition Project,
5. Heaven and Earth – Global Warming: The Missing Science, Ian Plimer, Howling at the Moon Publishing, p449
6. Ibid, p24

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