Climate change

January 5, 2009

Spot the recycled denial VI – Chris Kenny

Filed under: Climate Change, Climate Change Denial — Barry Brook @ 1:24 pm

In this series, I aim to teach you to recognise the recycled denialism that is rife in the public arena these days.

I don’t refute this nonsense by constructing a new argument each time which, point-by-point, shows why their claims are not supported by the evidence. This is pointless, since the majority of non-greenhouse theorists (’pseudo-sceptics’) blithely ignore any such counterpoints and simply repeat the same arguments elsewhere. Instead I rebut by hyperlinking to some of the wealth of explanatory material out there on the world wide web. For reasons of general accessibility, the articles l link to are predominantly pitched for a lay audience – but they are consistent in linking to the peer-reviewed primary scientific literature (sometimes I’ll link straight to the journal papers). I focus primarily on the science content of the piece, except where non-science arguments are clearly false and demand correction.


Chris Kenny is a former journalist and senior adviser to state and federal Liberal governments who writes a regular Opinion column for my local News Corp. paper, the Adelaide Advertiser. He also often guest hosts a radio talkback show on FIVEaa and is now a senior reporter on Channel 9’s A Current Affair. Over the past 3 months alone he’s written 3 articles attacking the science behind global warming (sea levels are not rising, CO2 is good, it hasn’t warmed since 1998, etc.). A man on a mission.

In the past, blogger Ian Musgrave has done a good job of debunking Chris’ nonsense in his ‘The Advertiser’s War on Science‘ series. But now it’s time for me to once again take up the ‘Spot the Recycled Denial‘ cudgels to tackle Chris’ New Years Eve 2008 rant, entitled ‘As the planet cools, check the science ‘.

First, here’s a snippet of this Op Ed:

APART from the global financial crisis, the main issue this year has been global warming. Or, rather, the fear of global warming.

Inconveniently for global-warming alarmists, global average temperatures have, for 10 years running, fallen short of those recorded in 1998.

Still, there has been plenty of action. The Federal Government has outlined its planned carbon tax scheme, the U.S. has elected a President promising to tackle carbon emissions and diplomats have agonised unsuccessfully over a truly international scheme.

All this action suggests the remedy is running ahead of the detailed diagnosis. The raw temperature figures allow room for significant scientific interpretation.

The consensus view is that the past decade has still been historically warm and the trend is up, so it’s just a matter of time before the 1998 records are topped. Dissenters say we are seeing the end of a warming phase and we may be entering a cooler period.

We all know the climate changes constantly. The critical question is whether carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are significantly affecting climate patterns.

The full article can be read here

As per the revised format of this series, rather than reproducing the article in full and hyperlinking the refuted claims, I’ll simply list them below with two or three random relevant links (of the huge number now available to the serious internet investigator!) to the scientific information or direct debunking. It will be up to you to look at the original article and pinpoint these recycled arguments:

1. Global warming stopped in 1998.

[Short response: A recycled argument based on cherry picking a strong El Nino year. Not based on any statistical analysis of the temperature time series, which shows ongoing warming, especially when the ENSO signal is removed. Ignores ocean heat content accumulation, which is the key measure of global warming.]

More information:

2. We may be entering a cooling period.

[Short response: Presumably he means if the sun gets stuck in its current sunspot low. Yet a simple calculation will show that less than 10 years of greenhouse gas forcing offset the difference between the peak and trough of the solar cycle, so this is not possible without widespread and sustained vulcanism – is he predicting this? A bold prognosticator indeed.]

More information:

3. Climate is always changing.

[Short response: Climate changes because it is forced to — it doesn’t change because it suddenly ‘decides to’, and it doesn’t just flip-flop randomly. It has to be pushed in one direction (warming) or another (cooling) by positive forcing or feedbacks (e.g. brighter sun, addition of greenhouse gases, lower albedo) or negative forcing/feedbacks (e.g. dimmer sun, drawdown of greenhouse gases, increased atmospheric dust, greater ice cover, increased volcanic activity).]

More information:

4. Australia’s emissions are minuscule compared to other polluting nations, so we shouldn’t take action until they do.

[Short response: Australia’s emissions are about 1.5% of the global total, but we ship about about another 2-3% worth of coal. Our per capita emissions are amoung the highest of any country, so our individual responsibility is far greater than the world average — the average Australian would have to reduce their emission by half just to be equivalent to the average European — and much further again to get down to an average Chinese or Indian.]

More information:

5. We ain’t deniers!

[Short response: Yes, you are.]

6. David Bellamy and Phil Chapman are credible.

[Short response: No, they’re not.]

7. There’s no proof! Prove it! (from retired CSIRO scientist [a coal geologist] Dr Guy LeBlanc Smith)

[Short response: If you want proof, do pure mathematics. Otherwise, seek hypotheses that are repeatedly consistent with evidence. As cce succinctly says:

Eventually, after listening to all of this evidence and reasoning, a skeptic will demand that you prove it to them. In order to “prove” that humanity is heating up the atmosphere, we’d have to create an experiment with two or more models. This would involve constructing a new planet, identical in every way to the Earth except with no human influence. Then we’d speed up time so we can observe any differences between the two planets. Obviously, we can’t do that. We are instead running the experiment on our only working model: our home, the earth.

So when skeptics demand proof, first of all they don’t understand the scientific definition of the word, and secondly, they are asking the impossible. No amount of evidence will change their opinion if they require an experiment that is impossible to construct.”]

More information:

8. Uncertainties mean we should wait before taking action.

[Short response: Climate scientists are as sure as it is scientifically possible to be [see point 7 above] that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change, and that this will result in damaging impacts which will increase in magnitude as emissions continue and temperatures continue to rise. Detailed economic modelling has clearly shown that the cost of inaction greatly outweighs the cost of action, even when impact-related uncertainties are incorporated into these analyses.]

More information:

9. Sceptics and ’sceptical research’ are suppressed.

[Short response: All scientists, in every field, play by a common set of’ ‘rules’. This involves having their work (scientific papers) scrutinised for quality, reliability and repeatability by a set of independent (usually confidential) experts — this is known as blind peer review. Nothing is or can be ‘suppressed’ by some conspiratorial coterie; but only work of reasonable quality and veracity tends to get through the peer review filter and be published in reputable journals. Indeed, as any practicing (actively publishing) scientist will tell you, science does not and cannot work by collusion. The IPCC is a UN review body with scientists nominated by each participating country; it conducts no primary research because its job is to summarise the already peer-reviewed scientific literature.]

More information:

10. The supposed consensus among scientists is a sham, 650 scientists have disputed anthropogenic global warming.

[Short response: Climate warming due to human activity is mainstream science involving a huge number of research disciplines; consensus does not mean that every single scientist agrees with man-made climate change, but that the vast majority does agree; this is reflected in the peer-reviewed literature, for which surveys have found >99% of the primary scientific literature explicitly or implicitly endorse this view; former Science editor Donald Kennedy said: “Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic is rare in science“]

More information:


To his credit, Chris does say “Finally, we do need to give the planet the benefit of the doubt, so improved energy efficiency and some other measures are indisputably sensible. But at the same time, we must continue the serious research and debate.”

No arguments there about energy efficiency or ongoing serious research, but I wonder what ‘debate’ he is referring to? If it is the multitude of scientific debates about climate feedbacks, sensitivity, tipping elements, relative impacts of climate change on natural systems, etc. then I do agree. But if recycled points such as ‘Is the Earth cooling’ is what he means, then he’s asking to shadowbox with strawmen.

Strangely, Chis also recommends the Gristmill Skeptics website in the links at the end of his article. I wonder if he read it?


1 Comment »

  1. Assuming the planet is warming (this is being disputed), it’s caused either by man or by Mother Nature. Assuming the assumed warming is or will be harmful (this also is being disputed), how should we address the problem? We could (worst case) bankrupt the people of the planet trying to control the weather by (best case) eliminating burning of all fossil fuels.

    Let’s say we do just that…eliminate burning of fossil fuels, no matter the cost. Then, suppose 20-30 years down the road, the warming continues in the absence of man made CO2 emissions, and it’s finally decided that Mother Nature is the culprit after all. At that point, we’re broke and we’re toast. At that point, some genius will say we should have spent our money by adapting to the warming…not trying to prevent it.

    It’s a hell of a concept. I suppose we build levees along the Mississippi River to contain the inevitable annual floods, rather than try to eliminate the cause of the floods. Experience with levees shows that adaptation isn’t perfect, but it generally works, it’s better than nothing, and it’s a whole lot cheaper.

    Comment by Jeff — January 6, 2009 @ 9:04 am

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