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Ross
05-06-2009, 06:33 AM
Global warming: the missing science

Ian Plimer discusses his new book in which he challenges the accepted wisdom on global warming.


Michael Duffy: If you needed any evidence that the Australian publishing industry is either incredibly wise or resolutely left-wing consider this; as far as we've been able to establish, until now there has not been one Australian book to question the orthodoxy on climate change. Well, such a book has now appeared, it's called Heaven and Earth and we're joined by its author.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: Ian Plimer is a geologist and a professor at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide. Ian, welcome back to the program.

Ian Plimer: Thank you very much, Paul.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: Let's start with the basic one, with temperature. Do you accept that the world on average is warming?

Ian Plimer: Yes and no, it depends upon when you ask the question. Sometimes it warms, sometimes it cools. If you'd asked me that question in the '70s I would have said it's cooling. If you'd asked me that in the '80s I would have said it's warming. If you'd ask me that now, I'd say it's cooling.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: The key word here, it's a word that appears a lot in your book, is 'dynamic'.

Ian Plimer: 'Dynamic'. And the other word is that absolutely glorious four-letter word 'time', and if you ignore history and if you ignore time you come up with the hysteria that we're currently facing.

Michael Duffy: Ian, there has been some warming, hasn't there...until about ten years ago there was warming for, say, 20 years or so. But anyway, tell us about what it is that does affect climate, whether it's going up or down. What's the main thing that determines what happens?

Ian Plimer: Ever since that Thursday 4,567 million years ago when the Earth formed, climates have been changing. Sea levels have been going up and down. And those climates changed due to where we are in the galaxy, and there's a galactic cycle, there are solar cycles every 1,500 years, 210 years, 87 years, 22 years and 11 years. There are tidal cycles every 18.5 years, and there are extraordinary events like El Ninos, volcanic eruptions, earthquake swarms, impacts, all of those change climate.

Michael Duffy: Tell us about the role of the Sun.

Ian Plimer: The Sun is this marvellous body of heat somewhere up there in the sky, and for some odd reason we have ignored the role of the Sun pumps out...it's the Sun that does it, and the Sun pumps out huge amounts of heat. It varies, and it varies very slightly. Those slight variations can give us great variations in temperature on the Earth, and we've only got to have a change of about 1.5 watts of energy coming out of the Sun, and that's not very much, and we can see climates change. What helps that are coincidences of events.

So sometimes we're a bit further away from the Sun. That we get from the Earth's orbit, and these are on 100,000-year, 42,000-year and 21,000-year cycles. The Sun also varies in the amount of energy it pumps out, and the Sun's energy also blasts away cosmic radiation. Put all those cycles together and you get two or three coincidental events and suddenly you get a climate change. It's very rapid and very great and far greater than anything else we've been able to measure in modern times.

Michael Duffy: So is there a correlation between some sort of solar activity and the Earth's climate?

Ian Plimer: There's a very tight correlation between solar activity and climate. That correlation is in cycle. The main cycles which we correlated are 22-year cycles and we've got a measuring station in the Nile River that gives us the correlation of cycles over the last 1,500 years. We see in ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica there are cycles, and mainly the 210-year cycle and the 1,500-year cycle we see in the ice caps. So we see these massive changes in ice caps, in sea floor sediment, in river flow, and they fit in with the solar cycles. That's a correlation. Correlations don't mean very much.

What we need is a causation, and the causation has recently been found, and we've really known about this for a long time because there are cloud chambers where radioactive particles or cosmic rays go through and you create clouds. We've done that experimentally, we've observed it, we've measured it, and when cosmic radiation hits the atmosphere we form clouds. Low level clouds form by many methods but this is one of them and it bounces light and heat back into space. We've only got to change the cloudiness by about 1% and you can account for all of the measured climate change over the last 100 years.

Michael Duffy: I don't think there's any doubt that humans are putting more carbon dioxide into the air. Do you think that's had any influence at all on climate?

Ian Plimer: The role of carbon dioxide is not well promoted. It's extremely well known, and that is that the first 50 parts per million of carbon dioxide has a profound effect, and that absorbs a lot of the infrared radiation. Once we're above 50 parts per million, in effect carbon dioxide has done its job, and you can keep increasing carbon dioxide and that has very little change on temperature. We have very good evidence from the past on that because we've had periods of time when the carbon dioxide has been 30%, 10%, 5% compared with now 0.0385%, and we haven't had a runaway greenhouse, we haven't had acid oceans. Yes, it's been slightly warmer but for 80% of the time the planet's been much warmer than now and much wetter then now and has had no ice. So carbon dioxide is a very small player, only for the first amount in the atmosphere. After that the main greenhouse gas is water vapour.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: Let's talk a bit more about ice. What does the geological data tell you about the advance and retreat of ice?

Ian Plimer: Ice advances and retreats, it's doing it all the time. That's part of the planet being dynamic. The ice advance is not due to very simple phenomena like temperature, it's due to a combination of phenomena, and one of the main ones is that ice recrystallises, and as it moves down slow it's actually forming bigger and bigger crystals. As it retreats it melts, and melt waters start at the top and the edge of a glacier, and ice is very dynamic, so ice gives us a very good window, in a broad-brush approach, to the past.

The great ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica actually sit in basins, and for the ice to come out of that basin it actually has to flow uphill. Temperature doesn't do that, it's pressure. So when we load up the ice sheets with more and more snow, it's a bit like putting our fist into a Christmas pudding, it flows out the side of the bowl and then drops off as glaciers into the oceans. So ice is a very plastic substance, it flows due to its plasticity, and in those ice sheets we're constantly recrystallising them and losing materials, but the ice sheets on a very broad scale tell us when we've had cosmic events, when we've had volcanic events and when we've had changes in temperature.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: In the popular press we've read recently the Antarctic ice cover is increasing but this is due to the hole in the ozone layer, the ozone levels will recover within 100 years and the result will be less Antarctic sea ice. Your comments on that?

Ian Plimer: We have a very complex sequence of events occurring in both the Arctic and the Antarctic. In the Arctic we've had a decrease in sea ice, mainly due to that 18.5-year cycle, the tidal cycle blowing and pushing warm water into the Arctic. Now that has stopped and we're increasing Arctic ice, that's happened in 2008 and 2009. In Antarctica it's isolated. There's a current that goes around Antarctica and basically isolates it from everything else. In Antarctica we've had an increase in sea ice, this has been measured many, many times by many groups. We've got an increase in snow...certainly in the west Antarctic ice sheet we've got a little increase, but the east Antarctic it's a huge increase. What it's telling us is Antarctica is dynamic.

We have a volcano in Antarctica, Mt Erebus, that's pumping out huge amounts of chlorofluorocarbons. These actually can break down ozone. There have been some measurements of the chlorofluorocarbons coming out but it's not constantly monitored. So there are many other possibilities as to why we might be changing ozone in Antarctica. We could be doing it from sea ice, having sea spray on it, that sea spray breaks down and puts chlorine gases into the atmosphere. So there are many possible reasons, it's not just one reason. And that's the nature of science, we argue about evidence and we argue about how we interpret it.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: Al Gore has claimed that warming in the Antarctic could lead to a sea level rise of six metres. This figure has been discussed on ABC television recently, and Al Gore says something new is happening, so does Peter Garrett. But how would you describe the behaviour of sea levels over the last 6,000 years?

Ian Plimer: Al Gore has made a wonderful Hollywood film. Hollywood films are based on fantasy, they're hyped right up, people spend money and go to them, and people make a lot of money from making Hollywood films, and Al Gore has fulfilled all those criteria. As for comments on science by Al Gore I'd have to raise a couple of eyebrows really, to have Mr Gore talk about science. Sea levels are up and down all the time. At the same time land levels are going up and down.

It is an incredibly difficult thing to measure, and the normal way we can understand sea level changes is to look back in time, and that's why that glorious four-letter word is so important in understanding the planet. For example, the poor folk on Tuvalu have settled on a coral atoll where the floor of the Pacific Ocean is sinking. Unfortunately Tuvalu is sinking, it's not a global sea level rise. But we know from Charles Darwin's time that as atolls start to sink the corals starts to grow and grow, and we see that in many parts of the world.

We see over the last 6,000 years that we've had a significant change in sea level. 6,000 years ago sea level was about two metres higher than now, it was considerably warmer than now, we were at the peak of the interglacial. Sea level goes up and down, the ocean floor goes up and down, we change the shape of the ocean floor. If we have a massive volcanic eruption on the sea floor we displace water, sea level goes up. So to blandly state that the melting of ice increases sea level is ignoring all of the other factors on a dynamic planet.

Michael Duffy: Ian, what about hurricanes? We often hear that global warming will lead to increased hurricane activity, and some people even say that's already happened. What's the situation there?

Ian Plimer: There is a lot of damage if you live in hurricane alley, in the Gulf of Texas, it is well known. What has happened over the last 50 years is Americans have got wealthier, they have wanted to live next to the coast, and they have built bigger and bigger structures in the path of hurricanes, so hurricane damage has certainly increased. However, the incidence of hurricanes has gone down, and to make matters even worse in the Texas gulf there is a lot of petroleum extracted from the sediments, there's also water extracted, there's also traffic in cities like New Orleans, and in the couple of years before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, New Orleans actually sank a metre, and that's due to vibration, that's due to pulling that petroleum and water. So there are many other factors. But when we listen to some of the North American hurricane specialists, hurricanes come and go. There are cycles of hurricanes, and we are currently in a period where there are not that many hurricanes compared with the past.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: The climate debate, as you have known for some time, is the most politicised scientific debate in living memory, and you state in your book, 'In 2008 Penny Wong published a green paper which contained a short opening sentence with seven scientific errors. That sentence states Carbon pollution is causing climate change resulting in higher temperatures, more droughts, rising sea levels and more extreme weather.' Can you take us through the minister's scientific errors as you see them?

Ian Plimer: Carbon pollution; carbon is element number six on the periodic table, carbon is black. So if we had carbon pollution in the atmosphere, you couldn't see. The skies would be black. And carbon particles in the atmosphere would be so dense you'd die of coughing, you'd be choking. That is not carbon pollution at all. So we have no such thing as carbon pollution. She is arguing that we have carbon in the atmosphere. Her level of science is such that she is unable to distinguish between the element carbon and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a wonderful stuff, it makes the grass grow so we can grow meat, it makes wheat grow so we can eat bread, it even makes lentils grow, so carbon dioxide is plant food. So that's two of her scientific errors.

Pollution; none of us are supporting putting substances into the atmosphere or the waterways that might be pollutants, but carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. If Senator Wong was really serious about her science she would stop breathing because you inhale air that's got 385 parts per million carbon dioxide in it and you exhale air with about ten times as much, and that extra carbon comes from what you eat. So that is absolute nonsense.

In terms of 'climate change', another two words in her sentence, climates always change, and when we look back in the geological past, we have never seen a climate change due to carbon dioxide, we have seen carbon dioxide following any climate change. So, again, she scientifically incorrect.

High temperatures; we get high temperatures for many, many reasons. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been a player in increasing atmospheric temperatures but it's not the only player. Again, scientific errors.

More droughts; droughts, when we look back in the history of time, are really in periods of cold. The really great droughts, the really great deposition of sand dunes and salt has occurred when it's been very, very cold and windy. I think she deserves some sort of medal for getting seven scientific errors in 21 words, and later we can check the Guinness Book of Records, but she really should be there.

Michael Duffy: Ian, there's a fascinating picture in your book here, it's in fact called Figure 1, and it shows five computer predictions of climate made in 2000, and they all show the temperature shooting up. That's quite fascinating. These predictions presumably were made with computers. Is that part of the problem here in the way we see reality? Are we depending too much on computer models?

Ian Plimer: I think there's a couple of factors there. Firstly, a computer model is an attempt to understand reality, but if you don't have all the factors to put into a computer model then what comes out is garbage, and that's what we see. In this book I have in the last chapter predictions about the end of the world, and I've got about four pages, over the last 2,000 years, of folk predicting the end of the world. I can be quite happy when my wife tells me I'm 99% wrong, but to be 100% wrong is just not possible except for people that have predicted the end of the world, they have managed to do it, and I think that's fabulous.

So we don't know much about the way this planet operates, and if we don't know much and try to put in that limited information, then we'll get garbage coming out of the computer. The problem is that the information that goes into the computer models is very, very selective, and in this book I've tried to look at the missing science. A lot of areas of the earth sciences, which are not even considered in computer models, but we scientists know very well. So I don't think computer models tell us anything at all.

Computer modellers in the insurance business certainly didn't predict that a couple of jets were going to go into the World Trade Centre, the government computer modellers did not tell us that we were going to go into an economic crisis, and the same sort of models are used to predict the future. I think if you think you can predict the future you should be adding ice blocks to your drinks.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: Still on computer models, you state in your book that 'the IPCC models just don't do clouds'. Does that imply then that the models aren't doing the job? Why are clouds so important?

Ian Plimer: We only have to change cloudiness by about 1% and we've changed climate significantly, and we really don't understand very much about clouds and it's only recently we've learned that cosmic radiation can form low-level clouds, that's one of the mechanisms of getting low-level clouds. And so if we don't put those factors into the IPCC models then we cannot understand how climate works. The IPCC models of 1990 did not predict the El Nino of 1998, they did not predict the cooling that's happened this century. So it's blatantly obvious that these models are an attempt to try to understand reality but they're not anywhere near understanding it.

I would argue that there are two sorts of sciences being practiced here. One is a group of scientists sitting with a massive computer, massaging someone else's data and creating a model from that. There are another group of scientists (and I'm one of those, a natural scientist) that actually goes outdoors, despite the weather, collecting new data. We collect data in an empirical fashion and analysing that data, incorporating that wonderful word 'time'. So in many ways the climate battles are between modellers, who are mathematicians locked in a white walled room playing with a computer, and people who get outdoors.

Paul Comrie-Thomson: I've had the comment made to Michael and me about models of the financial crisis...do models give us predictions or just projections?

Ian Plimer: I don't think they give us either. I think they're potential scenarios and I think politicians and the media have been very guilty of latching onto these and thinking they were predictions, because the IPCC reports are two-fold; there's one report which is a summary for policy makers and that has to get the tick of approval from governments, and scientists actually don't write that, and the other is a scientific report which no-one reads.

Michael Duffy: I think we'd better leave it there, but thank you very much Ian Plimer for joining us today.

Ian Plimer: Thank you Michael and Paul.

Michael Duffy: Ian Plimer is a geologist and a professor at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Adelaide. His book is called Heaven and Earth, it's published by Connor Court, and it's selling very well.

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2009/2550682.htm

dyrt
05-06-2009, 07:39 AM
Why in the world are there still people arguing over climate science. Global warming is not about science. It is a political movement. It is a tool to finally create a global utopia of equals.