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Thank heavens for Bob Carter

The Australian professor deserves thanks and praise for repudiating the heretic-hunting climate orthodoxy

22 October 2010

12:00 AM

22 October 2010

12:00 AM

Let me declare from the outset that I consider global warming dogma (and its widespread acceptance) to be one of the most costly and undemocratic mistakes in generations, and try, therefore, to contribute to its demolition.

As someone who spent most of his life under a repressive and highly inefficient regime, I can hopefully afford to say that the previous most costly and undemocratic ‘experiment’ was Communism. That too started quite innocently, and its supporters — probably — also believed that they fought for a noble cause. When I listen to the views and arguments of the global warming alarmists, and there are many of them in Australia (I guess your country scores very highly on the worldwide ‘warmists per capita’ scale), they sound very similar to the arguments of the former politicians, journalists and public intellectuals in Communist Czechoslovakia.

Of course, the polemic about global warming has a very respectable scientific dimension. But in its substance and consequences, the debate is not part of the scientific discourse about factors influencing swings in global temperature. It is part of the public policy debate about man and society, about our political, economic and social systems, about our freedom or its possible loss. This difference should be made explicit.

In his book Climate: The Counter Consensus, Bob Carter, the well-known Australian paleoclimatologist and professor at the James Cook University, clarifies this point when he says: ‘The global warming issue long ago ceased being a scientific problem.’ It is evident that science plays no part in the current public policy debate, neither in Kyoto, nor in Copenhagen, nor at the United Nations General Assembly or the EU summits. There is just the pretence of science and the wishful thinking that there exists an undeniable scientific consensus.

Recent developments — the Royal Society’s highly sceptical report and the resignation of a prominent climate scientist from the American Physical Society (the top body of US physicists) — further demonstrate there is no such consensus, if ‘scientific consensus’ has any meaning at all. We are maybe closer to Bob Carter’s ‘counter consensus’. There are respectable, if highly controversial, scientific hypotheses on this topic. As I have already said, there are many global warming alarmists in Australia (and your former prime minister is one of them), but there are also many serious scientists who do not live in ivory towers and are ready to speak up. I have to mention especially Professor Ian Plimer and his book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming — the Missing Science (for which it was my pleasure to write a cover note). The names Archibald, Kininmonth, Evans and Sternhell also come to mind. But above all others stands Bob Carter.

I like Carter’s emphasis on the crucial difference between global warming (which is part of normal scientific discourse) and ‘dangerous anthropogenic global warming’ (which is ideological propaganda). He is also right when talking about the difficulty in defining who is and who is not a climatologist, and turning our attention to the fact that there is no ‘climate science’, because ‘scientists who study climate change come from a wide range of disciplines’. His decision to group them into three main categories — meteorologists, geologists and the computer modelling group — is also revealing. Importantly, he notes that the group with the fewest warmists is the geological scientists, because they are able to compare ‘modern climate change with climate history’, which is something the meteorologists and the computer modelling experts — quite intentionally — do not do.

Carter is a respected climatologist. At the same time he is able to write about science in a way that is easily understandable to most of us. He is at his best in Chapter 1, ‘The geological context of natural climate change’, in which he discusses ‘the geological record of climate change’. This is the topic of his greatest comparative expertise, and he is able to successfully challenge both the meteorological group and especially the computer modelling group of the climate change ‘experts’. His main (elementary, non-trivial and crucial) message is that climate was variable as far back as before the Industrial Revolution, and that climate was not made unstable by human CO2 emissions.

He sees a problem with the standard interpretation of 20th-century warming (Chapter 2) because of the limited meteorological record, and cannot see why ‘the short period of mild warming that started around 1979 and terminated in 1998 so excites the IPCC and other climate alarmists’. He is convinced (as am I) that the current warming will be ‘like the Medieval Warm Period followed by cooling which may indeed have already started’. I also agree with him that ‘endlessly analysing short trend lines … has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics’.

Chapter 3 discusses the climate sensitivity of CO2, highlighting two key points: that man’s carbon dioxide contribution is small in the context of the planetary carbon system, and that the relationship between adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and temperature is not linear. Each incremental amount of extra carbon dioxide exerts a lesser heating effect. As a result, any additional possible warming in the future will be very slight.

As someone who devoted a decade of his life to econometric computer modelling, I appreciate the chapter dedicated to climatologists’ computer models. Carter is right that the outcomes of these models are not predictions but projections, because they are based on the aprioristic assumptions of the builders who attend to the so-called ‘calibration’ of these models. That is their only way to ‘show’, for example, that ‘although human emissions weren’t large before 1940, the models assume that the temperature rise since 1850 is due to human carbon dioxide’.

My country, the Czech Republic, is situated in the heart of Europe, without any coastline. Unlike Australians, we are no experts on the oceans. That’s another reason for our very careful reading of Chapter 4, ‘Ocean Matters’, and for considering the argument that ‘the ocean has a much greater heat capacity than the atmosphere’. However, the whole debate has concentrated on the relationship between CO2 emissions and the atmosphere.

I could continue with interesting quotations for a long time. Climate: The Counter Consensus is an important book which convincingly refutes Al Gore’s declaration that ‘the time for debate is over’. It is not, thanks to people like Bob Carter.

Václav Klaus is President of the Czech Republic.

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