Andrew Bolt: still an alarmist idiot

Just for old time’s sake, I’m going to quickly take apart Herald Sun hack Bolta’s most recent cry for help. It’s a blog entry entitled “Signs that warming scare is all hot air“. Easy shit.

Since most of today’s digitised sputum is typical quote-mining and astonishing inability to differentiate between what’s been peer reviewed and what’s been extemporaneously speculated (typical hack fair, basically), I’m just going to address each of Bolta’s Ten Seals of the Warmist Illuminati Conspiracy.

1st sign: The world isn’t warming

At least he begins by making it clear that his world is not the real one.

Anyway, yes, the world is warming. In science, we tend to use this thing called mathematics. To find trends in data, we use statistics. To find out if an average changes with the addition of new variables, we use a thing called a moving average. It’s a pretty rudimentary stuff, generally just involving a little data collection and arithmetic.

What Bolta is doing is picking a nice, hot year, and drawing a line to the most recent temperature. Apparently, in Bolta’s world, ENSO doesn’t exist and everything is linear. That’s because Bolta’s world doesn’t contain complicated things that you need to break out the calculator for.

Anyway, without boring you with statistics, here’s a lovely graphic that demonstrates beautifully why Bolta’s approach doesn’t work.

The escalator, courtesy of SKS.

The escalator, courtesy of SkS.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with not knowing how to do science; but there’s a lot wrong with pretending you do to push a political agenda.

2nd sign: The warming models are wrong

Seriously? Boring. Let’s unpack.

The weekend papers screamed alarm: “The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in human history.”

But wait. Lots more carbon dioxide, but no more warming? This isn’t what we were told to expect.

My FSM, this is how you know that the Herald Sun is a piece of shit paper. See above.

See, predictions the world is heating dangerously are based on mathematical models of how the climate is meant to work. Add our emissions to the equation, and scientists are meant to figure how much the world should warm.

Bolta doesn’t like maths very much.

But as Professor Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told a US Congressional committee last month, those models guessed too high, and didn’t predict pauses in warming longer than 17 years.

Which models? There’s a lot of them. Let’s test this claim though. It makes sense, then, to check measurements against predictions made by some models, and then see if the predictions of any models match the real-world data we’re accumulating. That gets done all the time. Here’s a quote from one such study, from 2012:

“…the results strongly suggest that the more sensitive models perform better, and indeed the less sensitive models are not adequate in replicating vital aspects of today’s climate.”

Next! Oh shit, another paragraph from Bolt.

Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, found the global temperature since 2005 on the very lowest end of the widest range predicted by influential climate models.

…it was a bit more complicated than that. Nice try, though.

3rd sign: Warming disasters aren’t happening

Wat.

Ignoring the usual Tim Flannery quote-mine (apparently Tim Flannery is Bolta’s favourite climate expert), let’s move on to the specifics.

In 2001, the IPCC predicted “milder winter temperatures will decrease heavy snowstorms”.

Because science in 2001 in a burgeoning, complex field is still relevant today.

But the US National Snow and Ice Data Center this year tried to claim global warming had now increased snowstorms in the US.

The US isn’t the whole world. Warmer regions on the planet will get less, colder reasons will get more.

Same story with so many other scares. Al Gore was wrong – the critical glaciers of the Himalayas are not vanishing…

That’s not true.

Nor are we getting more cyclones, bigger floods, worse diseases or greater famines, as some predicted.

Bigger storms? Check. Bigger floods? Dude, you can’t do maths, let alone address something like this. Worse diseases? Check. Greater famines? Ask Somalia.

4th sign: People are relaxing

And that matters how?

5th sign: The rest of the world is chilling, too

Delusion and apathy are causes for celebration?

6th sign: Even Labor hardly seems to care now

 *facepalm*

7th sign: A bit of warming seems good for us

 Just no. Idiot.

But more warming also means more rain in most places,

And rain totally has nothing to do with flooding, hey.

8th sign: Warming seems worth the price of getting richer

 …yes, this is progress.

9th sign: “Stopping” warming isn’t working

Emissions have dropped.

Australians pay a $9 billion-a-year carbon tax and billions more in subsidies for “green” technology.

We also pay for fossil fuel subsidies. Yes, the plan sucks, but the carbon tax is working.

If we keep paying these billions for the next seven years, what difference will we make to the world’s temperature by the end of the century?

Australia’s Professor Roger Jones, a warmist, says no more than 0.0038 degrees, and that’s even assuming the climate models are right.

Which models? And yeah, the tax needs to be fixed. We also need to tax the living shit out of what we export. But this isn’t the point. The point is one of the most stable economies in the world setting an example for the rest of the world.

10th sign: Sceptical scientists now get a hearing

 Denier scientists always get airtime. Fox News, anyone? The Bolt Report?

In 2007, ABC staff protested when the ABC decided to finally show one documentary questioning the warming scare, The Great Global Warming Swindle.

The ABC compromised. The screening was given a hostile introduction and was followed with an even more hostile panel session.

Umm, well, it was a fine example of bare-faced bullshit artistry.

That’s how hard it was for sceptical scientists to get a hearing.

Boo-hoo. He’s right y’all. We should so listen to creationists and anti-vaxxers too.

That wall is now breaking. Dissent is being heard, with Professor Ian Plimer’s sceptical Heaven and Earth alone selling more than 40,000 copies here.

Anyone who has ever waved one at you might profit from reading this.

But, no, this great scare is unforgivable. It’s robbed us of cash and, worse, our reason.

Andrew, you’re so right. The alarmist campaign you and your friends are running is unforgivable. It has robbed us of our cash, and it actively wages war on our reason.

Go fuck yourself.

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Free market Lysenkoism

Trofim Lysenko (1898 – 1976) worked under Joseph Stalin as the director of Soviet biology. He was a remarkably egregious pseudoscientist whose claim to fame was a technique he termed ‘vernalization’, which promised to quadruple crop yields for the struggling collectivised Soviet agriculture sector.

Lysenko took his cues from the ideas of Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin (1855-1935), an honourable member of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In a characteristically extensive academic propaganda campaign, the Soviet regime sold Michurin as the father of so-called Soviet biology, which was considered superior to the ‘capitalist’ (and accurate) theory of Mendelian genetics.

The Soviets believed that adopting Lysenko’s agricultural practices, they would be able to fight off famine and demonstrate the greatness of the Soviet social model to the world. Questioning Lysenko’s theories was seen as an act of sedition; sceptics were smeared as bourgeois fascists. This is not to say that the people behind the Soviet propaganda machine didn’t believe in Lysenkoism – most of them probably did. Today, most of Lysenko’s research is rightly considered fraudulent; junk science manufactured to support unstable and paranoid politics.

Lysenko and his Soviet comrades frequently publicly decried proponents of evidence-based biology as ‘fly-lovers’, ‘people haters’, and ‘wreckers’. Mendelian genetics was seen as an impediment to communist productivity and national progress; a pitiful manifestation of Malthusian capitalist nay-saying.

Now, the term ‘Lysenkoism‘ is used to refer to the distortion of science to support a particular political ideology.

Yesterday’s leak of thoroughly incriminating internal documents from the Heartland Institute (check out the source) got me thinking – I mean about more than the fact that nine documents contained a hell of a lot to worry about compared to the tepid contents of the thousands of emails and hundreds of documents that made up the entire ‘climategate’ package. (But that is worth pointing out.) We also already knew that climate denialism was little more than a racket.

It actually reminded me of a point that had always seemed so obvious to me, but that I rarely see discussed. It stems from the fact that anthropogenic global warming deniers will often call mainstream climate science ‘Lysenkoism’ in the media. The obvious question to ask is: who are the ones skewing science for politics? Certainly Al Gore is no central-planning socialist.

What do almost all of the AGW deniers and lukewarmists have in common? Let us list some names, and we’ll see if we can isolate a common variable:

Penn Jilette; Matt Stone; Trey Parker; Alex Jones; Alan Jones; Christopher Monckton; Andrew Bolt; S.E. Cupp; Anthony Watts; Glenn Beck; Ron Paul; Matt Ridley; Bjørn Lomborg; the staff of (the unfortunately named) media outlet Reason TV; the signatories of this letter

The answer? An infatuation with the so-called free market. Really, check Google; or better yet, read some of their books.

Even die-hard fans of the free market know that if scientists are right about anthropogenic global warming, effective solutions will necessarily begin with top-down market intervention. Moreover, the fact of global warming also contradicts the ideal that free trade, unfettered by oversights, can only be a good thing for humanity. People who are committed to ideas – especially utopian political ideas – tend to get a bit clingy.

Former doubter Michael Shermer explicated this sentiment when he came out as accepting climate science. To wit:

Nevertheless, data trump politics, and a convergence of evidence from numerous sources has led me to make a cognitive switch on the subject of anthropogenic global warming.

Though, later on he did add some free market caveats.

Let’s watch Chris Monckton push for an Australian Fox News:

His talk of discrediting climate science is firmly within the context of promoting the free market. Interesting, no?

And this can be found on the Heartland Institute’s About page:

Mission: Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.

We can easily note a clear trend of one of humanity’s greatest achievements in science (ie, figuring out what could kill most of us before it happens) being subverted, corrupted and bastardized for political purposes. So, apparently, for many, data does not trump politics. To disseminate global warming denialism, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is the praxis of free market Lysenkoism.

Practically every single prolific climate change sceptic utilizes propaganda originating from someone who has some connection the Heartland Institute. The kind of media manipulation for dissemination of discredited theories, paying off scientists and, the cherry atop this outrageously pernicious pie, promotion of the indoctrination of school children in the discipline of junk science, all expressly advocated in the Heartland Institute’s documents, leave me wondering why anyone in their right mind could continue to take the global warming denial/dilution project seriously.

I do mean to write up my developed take on the free market in the near future, but I’m a little busy for the moment. In the meantime, I’d like to urge the free market cadre who are responsible for most of my hate mail, and the more well-spoken and intelligent free market advocates who have raised the issue of my blog in real life, to do something to quell the disturbing trend of Lysenkoism flourishing among their colleagues. It’s making you all look ridiculous.

You can read more about the Heartland leaks themselves herehere and here (especially for Australians). Nothing on any of the Australian Murdoch newspaper websites, though.

Sixteen scumbags on global warming

Yesterday The Wall Street Journal published a letter, signed by sixteen proper scientists, with real degrees and everything, that declared “There’s no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to ‘decarbonize’ the world’s economy.” Take a look.

Now, I don’t claim to be smarter than Claude Allegre, J. Scott Armstrong, Jan Breslow, Roger Cohen, Edward David, William Happer, Michael Kelly, William Kininmonth, Richard Lindzen, James McGrath, Rodney Nichols, Burt Rutan, Harrison H. Schmitt, Nir Shaviv, Henk Tennekes, or Antonio Zichichi. But it seems like I know more about climate science than they do. Which is sad, because I really don’t know a hell of a lot. I’m more of a neuroscience kind of guy, and I don’t even have an undergraduate degree yet.

I think it’s important that knowledgeable people correct the misinformation on global warming percolates into the wider public consciousness. So I’m now going to wipe the floor with each of the fatuous and demonstrably false points that apparently substantiate this affront to human progress. I’ll try to quote sparingly, so if you’re interested in following along, refer to the link provided above.

This mediocre diatribe begins with an invocation of Nobel laureate Ivar Giaever’s resignation from the American Physical Society because he doesn’t accept the evidence of anthropogenic global warming. This is just an appeal to authority – in this case, a solid-state physicist who won a Nobel Prize in 1973. Beginning a serious contrarian letter on such a dire issue with fallacious reasoning is not a great way to establish credibility.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that there are roughly 50,000 members of the American Physical Society, making it the world’s second largest organization of physicists. Also, I assure you, Ivar Giaever wasn’t the only Nobel laureate in the club. So who cares if he walked out over the word ‘incontrovertible’? And on that note, who cares if the number of so-called ‘heretics’ is growing? The number of scientists who accept global warming is too. Taking sides on a politicized topic like this one is a byproduct of what’s called ‘general awareness’. Not worth a mention, ladies and gentlemen?

The second claim is just embarrassing. Pathetic, even. Here’s a slice:

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 “Climategate” email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact here is that Kevin Trenberth was talking about modelling the climate’s short term energy budget, not a simple ‘lack of warming’, and energy budget modelling is a mite more complicated than Trenberth’s critics were prepared to even consider. The fact is that we did observe a long-term trend in warming and the hottest decade on record. (See also: my own post on the basics of global warming if this is new to you, otherwise read Tamino on the 2011 temperature data and how it fits the AGW signal.)

Next, they take aim at the predictions made by the IPCC over the last 22 years. I don’t know why they’d even bother. This is kind of like trying to construct a smart phone based on patents registered in the ’60s. The 2007 report is much better and it draws on a great deal more research. The predictions made most recently in IPCC reports have – for the most part – held up.

The next claim is that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. In itself, CO2 is not a pollutant. CO2 molecules don’t literally suck up heat (which is energetic molecular motion for those of us who slept through physics, and this is roughly what Trenberth was referring to), but rather they capture and radiate heat. CO2 isn’t a pollutant, but it is a greenhouse gas. That’s the important bit.

The atoms that make up CO2 molecules are readily excited by energy in the form of thermal radiation from the sun. Excited molecules are highly mobile. This sets off a chain reaction; excited molecules excite other excitable molecules by colliding with them. Because energy is conserved, elevated levels of greenhouse gases diffuse more heat through the totality of molecules that make up the atmosphere. Basically: the more greenhouse gas molecules there are in the atmosphere, the more solar energy goes into the planet’s climate energy budget (the aforementioned subject of Trenberth’s study); ergo, high atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will cause the atmosphere to retain more heat than it would otherwise. By far the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution has been human activity.

Any scientist – or any high school student – should know that without the greenhouse effect, the Earth’s effective temperature would be too low to support an ecosystem like our own.

Our special sixteen then raise the point that CO2 is exhaled by humans. Here we have lame spin, the implication being that if those Green socialists are to be believed, breathing is bad for the environment, man! Humans do exhale CO2, but by doing so we do not increase the concentration of CO2 on the planet. The CO2 that humans exhale is converted from the oxygen we inhale. Oxygen is ‘exhaled” by plants, because plants ‘inhale’ carbon dioxide. This is a facet of that all-important planetary carbon cycle. We simply don’t add anything by breathing.

In the same paragraph, we find this:

Plants do so much better with more CO2 that greenhouse operators often increase the CO2 concentrations by factors of three or four to get better growth. This is no surprise since plants and animals evolved when CO2 concentrations were about 10 times larger than they are today.

This is true, but again, misleading. During the late Ordovician period, roughly 450 million years ago, the Earth’s atmospheric CO2 concentration was around 5,600 parts per million (ppm) – but some how, glaciers managed to form during that time. This is probably the most seductive myth spread by the better read deniers, but it illustrates that they really should know better. As the title I’ve given this post might suggest, I think it’s plausible to assume that they do know better and they don’t care.

What isn’t mentioned above, or anywhere in the article, is that the output of the sun also significantly drives the climate. Without the energy from a star, the greenhouse effect cannot heat a planet. During the Ordovician period, the sun put out about 4% less energy than it does now. In order for glaciers to form on the planet during that time, CO2 levels would need to drop below 3,000 ppm.

(For perspective: with the sun’s current energy output, CO2 levels need to stay below 500 ppm in order for our planet to have glaciers.)

The main sources of the ridiculously high levels of CO2 present in the atmosphere during the Ordovician were a lot of very active volcanoes. Major warming produced by volcanoes is mildly self-mitigating, because volcanoes also give off sulfate aerosols which have a mild, transient cooling effect on the climate by scattering incoming solar energy in the upper atmosphere (while wreaking havoc on the ozone layer, but that’s another story). This fact alone is not sufficient to explain how glaciers managed to form during the late Ordovician.

We know that when CO2 reacts with water molecules, it converts them into carbonic acid. This process plays a part in producing deadly acid rain (sulfur dioxide, also spewed out by volcanoes and today, coal plants, makes acid rain much more corrosive than it would be if carbon dioxide were the only gas in the picture – thanks to yikess for pointing this out) and this process is also behind the acidification of the ocean. Calcium carbonate, or limestone, reacts to carbonic acid molecules in rain to produce yet another chemical: calcium bicarbonate, which isn’t a greenhouse gas. This is known as rock weathering – and as any architect can tell you, it can have a pretty dramatic effects even over a few decades without full-blown acid rain. So, over long periods of time, on a planet with a lot of limestone, a steady high level of CO2 in the atmosphere, acid rain will slowly but effectively ‘react’ carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

446 million years ago, volcanic activity went into a lull, but acid rain continued to fall, and the ocean remained acidic, which weathered rocks. This lead to CO2 concentrations dropping below 3,000 ppm long enough for glaciers to form. I know that’s not a very simple or elegant explanation, but this isn’t a simple subject. I think my explanation is well-complemented here. (This entry owes a lot to the good people at Skeptical Science.)

It should go without saying that the plants that evolved from green algae during the Ordovician period were the very different ancestors of today’s plants, and were adapted to the harsher environment of the era. Today’s plants are evolved for the modern ecosystem. And while a comfortable concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide molecules does indeed help plants grow, any more simply destroys their environment through climate destabilization via global warming. This occurs most obviously through drought, and less obviously through stronger storms (fuelled by extra energy retained by greenhouse gases) and other phenomena, like acid rain.

By the very late Ordovician period, greenhouse gas levels had dropped far below the levels necessary for glaciation, and this caused the unstable icy mass-extinction events that ended the era. In the hotter Silurian period that followed the Ordovician with the return of greenhouse gases, flora did diversify – the first vascular plants emerged – but during the Silurian period atmospheric oxygen levels were much lower and the ocean was sporadically anoxic. High levels of oxygen stresses plants. So again, the plants that were adapted to that environment would not thrive today.

The next point I’d like to undermine is this one:

In 2003, Dr. Chris de Freitas, the editor of the journal Climate Research, dared to publish a peer-reviewed article with the politically incorrect (but factually correct) conclusion that the recent warming is not unusual in the context of climate changes over the past thousand years.

In 2003, Chris de Freitas did allow a paper that said as much to be published in Climate Research. A shitstorm did indeed ensue, and half of de Freitas’ colleagues on the editorial team promptly resigned. The paper in question was by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas. Review by the wider scientific community has shown to us civilians that this paper does not qualify as worthy research. And once again, perspective tells us that we’re talking about a diminutive minority. If you’re interested in the supposed case against anthropogenic global warming in the peer-reviewed literature and how it weighs up against the immense bulk of the data, I recommend starting here (then going here, then here).

Then we come to some misdirection framed by the story of an infamous insane Soviet pseudoscientist. I’ll deal with the misdirection, and then like the article, I’ll return to the Lysenko fallacy. Here’s the misdirection:

Why is there so much passion about global warming, and why has the issue become so vexing that the American Physical Society, from which Dr. Giaever resigned a few months ago, refused the seemingly reasonable request by many of its members to remove the word “incontrovertible” from its description of a scientific issue? There are several reasons, but a good place to start is the old question “cui bono?” Or the modern update, “Follow the money.”

Indeed. The trouble is that our sixteen sellouts (either money or politics) have to contend with the fact that tracing a credible conspiracy amongst cadres of ‘sceptics’ to distort the facts for financial gain is trivial compared to trying to implicate almost every climate scientist on the planet in one. I’m enjoying my summer break right now, so I’m on a break from journalism. I’ll leave the job of following these particular cases up to others. Further:

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

Clearly the letter gets a bit vague at this point. Trofim Lysenko is invoked to contribute to the emotional, rather than the logical flow of the argument.

Lysenko was a key figure of the Soviet revolutionary religion, and a symbol of the wish for the strength of the totalitarian ideology of Stalinism alone to rewrite the laws of nature. (Funny, that.) Lysenko rejected Mendel’s gene theory and claimed to have developed agrarian praxes that would quadruple crop yields for good Soviet workers. Lysenkoism was the epitome of junk science, and implying even a spurious or figurative link between modern climate science to Lysenkoism is both cretinous and disingenuous; it’s also a bit like comparing Peter Higgs with Pope John Paul II. I’m guessing that their point here is to conjure up the ghosts of the Red Menace in the minds of the American taxhaters who didn’t mind a bit of Cold War demagogy.

It isn’t surprising that no attempt to elucidate the structure of the ostensible commie conspiracy has been made. We only get the accusation, with its nature surreptitiously alluded to and left to percolate through the grey matter of any old-school Republicans who might actually be reading. Classic propaganda, in other words.

It then goes off on a tangent, which insinuates that those dreaded ‘Keynesian’ top-down efforts to de-carbonize the economy will somehow destroy society; courtesy of the projections of an economist who failed to predict the global financial crisis (unlike, say, Steve Keen). At this point, they have no credibility, so it isn’t surprising I have the distinct feeling of being fed half-truths here too, so I’m a bit reluctant to slam William Nordhaus based on what this article says about him.

It’s such a shame, really. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t wish that the world wasn’t warming. But it is, and that makes examining these bullshit articles that much more depressing.

Good news on global warming (maybe)

‘Good news’ is an odd thing to associate with ‘global warming’; it just sounds wrong. As implied though, my association is strictly tentative. In addition, even if true, it might prove to be a slight exaggeration. Hopefully the strength of my association solidifies with time.

I’m consistently frustrated and perplexed by persistent assertions from the denier camp that those of us who recognize the benefits of science apparently relish the idea of anthropogenic global warming. Not so, and no one should need to spell it out like that.

I’ll grant that the Greenpeace crowd seem to, but they’re an unsophisticated minority and many of us find them tedious. I think the Greenpeace claque are insane. I believe that most of their positions are catastrophically counterproductive, not just politically, but also environmentally.

(Libertarian) writers like Matt Ridley and Michael Shermer have indicated that while they accept the basic science of global warming, they don’t believe it will lead to the nightmare scenario that the – well, let’s just call them ‘leftists’ – have been making noises about. (Call Ridley and ilk ‘lukewarmists’, they hate that.) According to a recent article in New Scientist, some of these more sophisticated ‘sceptic’ cadres may not be totally disappointed. If so, I couldn’t be happier for them.

A study lead by Andreas Schmittner (of Oregon State University) has indicated that the global climate might be slightly less sensitive to atmospheric CO2 concentrations than what previous data bore out. The authors of the actual paper, published in the journal Science, have themselves described many of their study’s limitations. And, for the sake of the more stupid elements in the media, stressed that atmospheric CO2 levels still do contribute significantly to warming.

The paper described efforts to probe climate sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 concentrations using model calculations based on temperature reconstructions of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) ice age, which occurred around 20,000 years ago.

A major pitfall in this study was that it only used one climate model to calculate the data. For these findings to affect consensus, they would need to be replicated in several other models used by climatologists. The model used, UVic (of the Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, or CCCMA) has been criticized before by scientists for being overly simplistic. In 2010, Tamino found that CCCMA models were failing to reproduce 20th century temperatures. I also noted that the paper didn’t cover the more complicated ancillary factors like ocean acidification.

Another shortcoming of the study that struck me (elucidated in Skeptical Science’s very detailed commentary) was that the mean temperatures assigned to the LGM for the purpose of the study was significantly higher than most paleoclimate estimates.

According to the study, the average global temperature during the LGM was only 2.6 Kelvin cooler than the current global temperature. Mainstream estimates of mean LGM temperature, based on temperature reconstruction data indicate that the period was roughly 4-7K cooler than the current global temperature. Notably, climatologist Gavin Schmidt told New Scientist:

A different model would give a cooler Last Glacial Maximum, and thus a larger sensitivity.

According to Skeptical Science: if this study holds up, it not only constrains the more terrifying predictions of other models, it also constrains many of the deniers’ staple hypotheses such as low climate CO2 sensitivity and negligible warming. New Scientist quotes Schmittner:

Very small changes in temperature cause huge changes in certain regions, so even if we get a smaller temperature rise than we expected, the knock-on effects would still be severe.

If you are interested in the finer points of the paper, check out the commentary on Skeptical Science, linked above. Much of what I’m discussing here is covered in much greater detail there.

In the paper, the authors described a number of their own caveats, then added:

Until the above questions are resolved, it’s premature to conclude that we have disproven high climate sensitivities, just because our statistical analysis assigns them low probabilities.

As usual, different news sources have framed the findings in different ways. A Google News search for “Andreas Schmittner” yielded the following:

  • CO2 sensitivity possibly less than most extreme projections (Los Angeles Times)
  • Global warming much less serious than thought – new science (Register – the URL contains the similarly optimistic character string ‘runaway_warming_unlikely’)
  • Carbon dioxide doubling impact has limit (USA Today)
  • New global warming estimate (Sydney Morning Herald)

The last one is my favourite. After yesterday’s sojourn with bullshit, I’ll try to keep the meta-journalism to a minimum.

My least favourite article dealing with these findings was posted on Anthony Watts’ popular internet AGW denier den Watts Up With That? The post is entitled “New study in Science shows climate sensitivity overestimated”. To wit:

Their estimate is 2.4C for a doubling of CO2 (sic), which is still higher than Spencer and others have estimated but significantly lower than IPCC’s projections.

Skeptical Science keep a modest catalogue of rebuttals specific to Watts and a more meaty one for his pal Roy Spencer. It always amuses me to read prolific deniers cherry-picking from a vast and exponentially accruing pile of scientific papers on climate change and justifying their selections with diminutive preambles. Once again, consider the bottom of the barrel clean.

Most scientists believe that a temperature rise of more than 2K is too dangerous to allow, because it risks runaway feedback-activated global warming. This experiment predicts that if carbon-intensive power generation and infrastructure continues to emit unchecked, we can still expect more than 2K warming.

As Schmittner himself told Science Daily:

Hence, drastic changes over land can be expected. However, our study implies that we still have time to prevent that from happening, if we make a concerted effort to change course soon.

So it could fairly be said I exaggerated when I said that this study potentially brings good news. Maybe we’re merely dealing with potentially less-bad news. If  any good news comes out of this, it will be that, if true, we might have more than five years to prevent a global disaster (to put it mildly); but obviously that depends on us.

Who are the real sceptics?

Did you hear about this Climategate 2.0 bullshit? Why are journalists not getting fired for all this ridiculously irresponsible misreporting?

Over the last couple of days, we’ve been graced with the news that 5,000 personal emails exchanged by climate scientists have been leaked to the public. These aren’t recent emails, mind you, these emails cover the same time span as those released in the last ‘shattering’ leak. So hack journalists and parties with vested interests are forcing us to discuss yesterday’s news today.

The mass media is once again doing the public a gross disservice through an unbridled flexing of staggering incompetence. Many reporters are defiantly refusing to even look beyond the now infamous text file (itself consisting almost entirely of shamelessly mined quotes) when writing their stories. What makes this myopia so damning is that in most cases, a fucking glance at the actual email the mined soundbite came from will lay the context bare – effectively refuting the entire article.

There are countless examples of such vacuous hype on Google News. No doubt you’ve already seen some. If you haven’t, you can start with this gem (shared courtesy of none other than Rupert Murdoch’s own glorified histrionic soap box). All we have here are the veritable peacocks of mindless dogmatism splaying dazzling shows of confirmation biases in defence of their stock holdings.

Even the better articles succumb to the deluded trap of giving ‘the opposition’ a voice on matters of science. If high school science was taught the same way, it would sound something like this: “That’s chemistry for today, class; now don’t be late for alchemy after the break!”

You have to stand in awe at the scandalous behaviour of these so-called ‘journalists’. I would love to see a dump of their leaked email exchanges. This is intellectual suicide at its most intrepid.

What can’t be disputed is that the the biggest sceptics of man-made global warming appear to be the scientists themselves, and that’s the way it should be. This is how science is done. We wouldn’t know that the planet is warming if no one tried to disprove it. Thankfully the scientists attack the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis at every angle, and they do so thoroughly; and to our collective despair, AGW has repeatedly proven itself bulletproof.

Frankly, it warms my heart to read about scientists critiquing their colleagues’ work ruthlessly. I like my scientists second-guessing themselves. I also like them doing what they can to stamp out any interference in their research by the militantly ignorant.

Only a public horribly ignorant of the methods of science could possibly be taken in by such a travesty of lazy, biased reporting.

The timing of the leaks is obviously calculated to disrupt the upcoming UN climate change conference in Durban. Representatives of developing countries already affected by global warming are considering ‘occupying’ the talks to try to push for an international action plan. That this isn’t getting more coverage alongside the leaks is another media scandal.

With each new piece of data in the public sphere, I find myself even more dumbstruck by the sheer selfishness of the denier project. Irresponsible reporting makes journalists part of the problem. It’s no wonder that journalists are the least trusted group of professionals in Australia.

That a few people seem to think climate scientist Phil Jones is an incompetent dick is hardly newsworthy, and it says a lot less about the validity of climate science as a whole. Phil Jones has already responded to the latest leaks.

Have the media already forgotten that massive independent study – funded by deniers – that was published last month and showed unequivocally that the planet is inarguably warming? Earlier this month, more data was released indicating that we only have another five years to drastically cut our greenhouse gas emissions if we want to avert catastrophic global warming.

The current fixation on what was happening in the world of climate science last decade is also plainly ridiculous. Science isn’t static. Anyone who thinks it is simply doesn’t know anything about science, and therefore isn’t qualified to make credible comments on the work of scientists.

It’s also interesting to note that the contents of the dump totalled at around 5,000 emails. Perhaps the most brazen demonstration of the stupidity of the leakers isn’t that they intentionally quote-mined emails they released alongside the original emails, but that they added this little nugget to their maliciously deficient little text file:

The rest, some 220.000, are encrypted for various reasons.
We are not planning to publicly release the passphrase.

Why the fuck not? I’m sceptical; I want to know these ‘various reasons’. They saw fit to include emails containing little more than holiday greetings and similar banalities. How do these disingenuous tools decide on which emails to withhold? 220,000 emails is an awful lot to withhold.

Even the worst of the so-called deceptions alleged to have been perpetrated by the scientists at the centre of the current propaganda campaign are nothing on those perpetrated by their denialist detractors. I covered some of these demonstrable crimes in my defence of the science behind anthropogenic global warming, which you can read here.

Urgh.

I invite you to look through the emails themselves here. There is a remarkable preponderance of no absolutely evidence of scientists trying to mislead the public. In fact, they appear to have been making every effort to not mislead the public. I know, right?

You can read some worthy coverage here and here.

Update: Check out the RealClimate team’s responses to this whole drama here. (Link thanks to the amazing Tamino.)

More morons than I thought

After I posted my previous entry, I found myself suckered into discussing global warming with morons. This need to broadcast my freshly demonstrated expertise as widely as possible really ruined my weekend. I had that weekend explicitly marked off for idling, reading and play. I’m very busy during the week, so I like my weekends free.

(Well, I also spent a lot of my allotted computer time – admittedly there was a fair bit of that – treating my previous entry like a personal Wiki entry on global warming. I got a lot of questions, decided to add more information and I’m a consummate editor of my own prose. It’s now twice as long as it was when I first posted it.)

As hinted in the title of this post: I learnt something very important from all these debates; and not just that I was debating with religious people ignorant of their own religiosity. Are you ready for this?

Apparently anthropogenic global warming is not happening because my Facebook display picture looks effeminate.

Obviously this means the deniers are right. Global warming clearly isn’t happening.

I do look ‘kinda girly’, and I like my androgyny. The fact that I have physically feminine features to accentuate – despite my decidedly masculine biology and affect – is exactly why I think I’m an okay looking guy. My wiring dictates that I find men physically repulsive and women beautiful. Who wants to cringe when they see themself in the mirror?

That’s why I wouldn’t make a very good proponent of equal rights between the sexes. While I think it’s palpably obvious that men and women are intellectual equals (though men and women do have differences in body language, regardless of sexuality), I think women are vastly superior in the looks department.

It is enlivening to know that my inescapably subjective aesthetic preferences and the way they dictate my personal grooming could have such a significant effect on Nature. Since my biology is a product of Nature, this does make a little sense. Think about it.

Obviously warming has become more apparent since the year I was born – 1988 – and what with all this sciencey talk of quantum nonlocality and quantum teleportation, who is to say that Nature didn’t link the Earth’s climate to the way my genes respond to my life experiences?

This idiot may have a point. But his point does conflict with my deeply-held conviction that nobody’s aesthetic preferences should have any influence on anything at all, aside from what they buy when they shop for themselves; and that while science can explain a person’s aesthetics, science is not the same thing as aesthetics, ergo scientists have no business dictating aesthetics to anyone. Clearly I should reconsider my wrong-headed beliefs.

But I digress.

I noticed that none of these anthropogenic global warming (AGW) deniers seem to adhere to the basic principles of science.

I suspect that at one point I was engaged in an argument with an apparently real scientist (not a climate scientist) on YouTube, who spoke in a shady right wing anti-carbon tax smear video put out by something called ‘The Galileo Institute’. (To his or her credit and my dismay, this person didn’t bring up my good looks.) I was quick to point out that if this trend continues we’re soon going to see an anti-vaccination brood calling themselves ‘The Socrates Foundation’.

A science-denialist group calling itself ‘The Galileo Institute’ is a veritable onion of irony, but I think the most salient point is that Galileo was, how to put it… oh, you know, actually right. And there was another big problem too.

Look, if you’re going to use a well-spoken scientist as the embodiment of your argument from authority – use a good one. Superficiality, glibness, and eloquence coupled with suspect data doesn’t necessarily mean we’re dealing with someone who has anything useful to say. Just ask a criminal psychologist experienced in diagnosing psychopaths.

Since I’m not Andrew Bolt, I should say that I don’t think I’ve spoken to any psychopaths so far – just people who think the government is out to get them because everyone else in the world is wrong and they’re right. Actually, attributing grandiosity and self-centredness to this particular YouTuber is putting me back in dangerous territory for a jounalist. To clarify: I don’t think the scientist – if that was the scientist from the video – who fought me is a psychopath, merely disingenuous and not very bright.

I’d like to be able to link to the discussion, but after my debating partner called me a prophet of Satan (which made my inner teenager squirm with delight), he or she went cold. I think it’s fair to assume that my favourite species of internet troll got involved in the discussion. I don’t want to endorse illegal behaviour of this sort, but I’m not averse to a hit of schadenfreude from time to time.

To return to my point: good science follows certain rules. None of the deniers seem to understand this.

First: You can’t just poke holes in the prevailing theory, you have to offer a viable and complete alternative. Every theory has holes. It’s up to graduate students to investigate them to see whether or not they need to be consolidated into the most successful theory; if they can’t be, then you might be on to something. But in this day and age, probably not.

Second: if you want to propose an alternative theory for observed phenomena, your brilliant new theory needs to explain all of the same phenomena just as well as the prevailing theory in an equally parsimonious way.

Third: your alternative theory must make testable, falsifiable predictions that the prevailing theory does not. If the tests of these predictions yield positive results, those results must be incompatible with the prevailing theory.

Fourth: your theory cannot depend on untestable assumptions – like, you know, God or spirituality.

Those are just the basics, but if your hypotheses address each of those criteria, then I’ll listen. I’m a sceptic, so these criteria are very important to me, and other sceptics too.

Your brilliant new theory of how the climate works would also need to adequately account for the following: the observed global temperature increase which almost perfectly mirrors the amount of CO2 we can account for adding to the climate; how the Earth stays warm enough for our kind of life to exist if the climate isn’t sensitive greenhouse gases; the high frequency of insane weather events we’re experiencing as predicted by the AGW model; ocean acidification; and all that other stuff I covered in the previous entry. And everything I missed too, and I missed a lot.

These simple rules aren’t difficult to wrap your brain around. Among my VCE philosophy class readings were chapters from Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn. If we high school students could correctly answer questions on those texts, there’s absolutely no justification for any scientist to be ignorant of them. Not incidentally, you’ll find the ideas of Popper and Kuhn guiding the thinking of every competent researcher in every respectable field of scientific inquiry.

It also helps if you don’t staff your non-profit with people known to be on the payroll of companies who stand to profit a great deal from the public swallowing the turd your non-profit is shitting. Maybe that’s just a personal prejudice of mine.

But even good scientists can screw things up without being intentionally unhelpful. Here is a great article from the aptly named Foresight Institute’s website. Their organizational aim is to promote the development of nanotechnology, and the article I’ve linked to reflects that, but exactly the same principles apply in all scientific disciplines. To quote the conclusion of the piece:

Given this kind of swirling interplay of confusion, misinterpretation, emotion and simple ignorance it is remarkable that new ideas are ever accepted — and indeed, we have examples of human civilizations that stagnated for long periods, rejecting new ideas altogether. What is remarkable is not the span of many decades that is required before a new idea can gain acceptance, but that it can gain acceptance at all.

As a society we have much to gain by improving our ability to analyze new ideas, more rapidly adopting those that are correct and more rapidly rejecting those that are wrong. The standard of living we enjoy was built on centuries and millennia of technological advance. Life in the middle ages was short, brutish and nasty and would be our lot today had we as a society followed the advice of those who ridiculed and attacked all that was new and different. If we wish to improve our standard of living and that of future generations, we must learn to accurately evaluate new ideas and new concepts, filtering out the emotional biases and confusion that seem to inevitably surround our perceptions of them.

I hope that clears things up. The science worth listening to says that man-made global warming is real and it is an immediate threat that we should act on five years ago.

It should go without saying that this indictment doesn’t apply to people who are merely ignorant of the evidence. I’m attacking the clowns who are aggressively ignorant of the evidence. That’s right, I called you all clowns. You’re actually much worse than clowns, but you caught me in a good mood and once again, I’m feeling diplomatic.

Now I need to go do some homework, and tomorrow I’m going to reply to the more interesting emails my last entry garnered.

Seriously, global warming is real

Urgh.

Look, man-made global warming is real.

This conversation is starting to bore me. I’ve had it thrice this week, with different people who I know aren’t stupid (I checked). It also really disturbs me. I don’t think deniers are gullible idiots, I just doubt they’ve actually looked at any of the evidence.

What’s more, denialism posing as ‘scepticism’ really does bore and disturb me. It pisses me off too. So I must admit that I’ve been kicking around a draft of this post for a while. It really felt inevitable that I’d have to write something on this topic. I started it a few weeks ago, but after yet another chat today I felt compelled to finish it.

People seem to gravitate towards labels and adopt the narratives associated with them, and they don’t often examine the facts before drawing their own conclusions. You get ‘Greens’, ‘Leftists’, ‘Geelong Supporters’, ‘Liberals’, ‘Tradies’, ‘Students’, ‘Conservatives’, ‘Socialists’, ‘Apatheists’; I’m left wondering where all the ‘Critical Thinkers’ are. People who don’t practice critical thinking will invariably fall victim to someone’s else’s idea of reality – and other people’s ideas about reality are generally pretty unreliable.

I don’t trust most of what I hear and read (thought I listen and read a lot), so I prefer to trust science – not individual scientists, who are fallible people, but science – the idea that we can glean facts about reality from the tests we do of reality. Science makes the effort to be objective in ways that people can’t. Science is critical thinking coupled with rigorous testing, and it’s a damn useful tool to rely on. That’s why I know that man-made global warming is real. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. It definitely is.

The scientific evidence to support the existence of man-made (anthropogenic) global warming is mounting every single day. Now, an actual sceptic (without abusing the term) should know this – given the sheer volume of resources freely available to anyone who cares. To call the current body of evidence overwhelming in magnitude would be something of an understatement. The public is woefully misinformed about the position of the scientific community on the issue, despite repeated attempts by climate scientists to make their voices heard. (Go on, follow that last link.)

The accumulation of evidence and the correlating increase in acceptance among scientists of the reality of man-made global warming has been in full swing since the 1970s. (A lot of right wingnuts like to say that the big scare in the ’70s was ‘global cooling’; well, maybe that was the case in the media, but in scientific journals the worry was global warming.) There is now an almost complete consensus among qualified scientists that the Earth is warming and that this is due to human activity. To quote the Skeptical Science website’s summary of the research on acceptance of man-made global warming among scientists (ibid.):

They find between 97% to 98% of climate experts support the consensus (Anderegg 2010). Moreover, they examine the number of publications by each scientist as a measure of expertise in climate science. They find the average number of publications by unconvinced scientists (eg – skeptics) is around half the number by scientists convinced by the evidence. Not only is there a vast difference in the number of convinced versus unconvinced scientists, there is also a considerable gap in expertise between the two groups.

Telling, right? That really should be enough, but I know that it won’t be. So get comfortable. Maybe go get a cup of coffee and your cat, because this is quite a long entry, clocking in at well over 7,000 words, so I’ve broken it up into easily digestible sections.

All the facts that follow I hope are uncontroversial. You can fact-check everything I’ve written, and in fact I encourage you to. I just don’t want to litter this entry with hyperlinks. If you have anything you want to correct me on, I’d be glad to acquiesce, provided you have actual evidence to back up your claims.

Ready? Good.

Simple science

Climate science is a real science. Real sciences require a balance of data and theory to make them useful. Theory should attempt to accurately explain the data, and it should make predictions that can be tested. Phenomena uncovered scientifically are typically modelled using the ultra-precise language of mathematics. When scientists uncover new data about the current and past climate, they feed it into supercomputers (because there is a lot to calculate) which run algorithms to accurately simulate what’s happening. This method works very well, and it has really shone by accurately predicting and modelling the climates of other planets in our solar system.

But when it comes to modelling the Earth’s apparently more complex climate, current models can only get us so far. The fact is that they are slightly, but notoriously inaccurate: whenever someone measures the actual climate and compares it to what the simulations predicted, the actual measurements indicate that things are heating up faster than predicted.

That’s just a shortcoming of theoretical modelling. Let’s have a look at the hard evidence.

I’m now going to try to give you the most basic and lucid explanation of the science of anthropogenic global warming I possibly can. It has been said (I can’t remember where) that understanding the reality of global warming can be taught to a high school science class. (I’m pretty sure that was said in America; Australia’s school system is, frankly, a lot better.) I’m inclined to agree; at least on global warming, but not on climate science as a whole. I have to take this on myself because almost every denier I’ve ever met simply refuses to watch Al Gore’s film. Fine. I won’t use it as a reference at all. I’m telling you though, it does do a better job at explaining the basics of global warming than I can. I will assume no prior knowledge of the subject on your part.

It is important to distinguish between weather and climate. Weather is defined by events that are localized spatially and temporally, while the climate is the entire system. Global warming is a shift in climate, and that impacts weather patterns – but you can’t equate this evening’s isolated showers and a south-westerly breeze with the entire global climate system. Locally, you can discuss a five year drought in Queensland as a climatic event, but if it snows once during one of those droughts, that individual snowstorm is a weather event. To put it simply, climate deals with long term trends and averages. The weather is what you care about when you’re getting dressed in the morning. Global warming takes a more macroscopic perspective; it describes a shift in the global climate. That’s why so many scientists were reluctant to immediately blame Cyclone Yasi on global warming – they wanted to see if a trend was emerging. Just because there’s a blizzard somewhere on a warming world doesn’t mean the world isn’t warming and a sunny day in July doesn’t mean winter doesn’t exist any more. (And my birthday is in July, so I’m all for a little sun in July.)

To understand global warming, you’ll need a basic understanding of the role of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. Here’s a diagram that sums up the greenhouse effect to help us along the way. If it looks a little intimidating to you, just stick with the white text. Don’t worry too much about the numbers at this stage. You may want to refer back to it as we go through the rest of this section:

The Greenhouse Effect
Pilfered from the Wikimedia Commons, created by ZooFari

You may have noticed that the Earth is constantly bathed in sunlight (solar radiation), and this is especially salient during the day. Half of the solar radiation that hits the Earth is absorbed by the planet’s surface. It converts into heat energy (infrared thermal radiation), and and some of this heat energy is trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the rest of it escapes to space. So the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere dictates how much heat energy won’t be able to radiate back into space.

We know that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere circulate trapped heat energy around the lower atmosphere and surface of the planet – that’s why we can experience hot nights, and hot humid nights (water vapour is also a greenhouse gas). Of course, the weather is constantly in flux in different places all over the world because of shifting high and low air pressure zones and numerous other factors (studying weather patterns is what gave rise to chaos theory), but higher average temperatures due to an enhanced greenhouse effect will make pressure systems fluctuate even more chaotically, thereby making the weather even more capricious. This is fuelled by the extra solar energy retained by the atmosphere due to the greater presence of greenhouse gases. Warm air over the heating ocean will absorb moisture until it shifts into a low pressure system, then all that moisture is released violently.

So this general heating effect is why these gases are called greenhouse gases (this isn’t a strictly accurate name, the greenhouse effect is different to convection occurring in actual greenhouses – but it is good enough). This heating mechanism is what makes life as we know it on Earth possible; under the right conditions, it makes things comfortable and maintains the stability of the climate. The concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere do indeed fluctuate naturally, and some of these fluctuations in the distant past have led to major extinction events. So I’ll state this now: an increased average temperature on the planet is nothing we would want to even try adapting to.

Less than 1% of the composition of the Earth’s entire atmosphere is comprised of greenhouse gases. That should give you an idea of how incredibly sensitive the climate is to their presence. Without greenhouse gases, the effective temperature of the whole planet (because of the amount of sunlight it absorbs) would be about -19° Celsius (or 254 Kelvin). The Earth’s actual average surface temperature is about 14° C (287 K). So that tiny fraction of greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere contributes about 33° C to the global average surface temperature, and that is what makes it possible for our kind of life to exist. The climate’s sensitivity to the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere really cannot be underestimated.

Doing the math

So yes, we want a little warming from greenhouse gases. When you burn fossil fuels and other forms of carbon, you partially convert them into carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, which is a greenhouse gas. It doesn’t disappear when the smoke disperses – it simply dilutes in the air, and becomes a part of the atmosphere. Burning carbon resources for energy gives off CO2 gas as a by-product. So, naturally, burning a lot of fossil fuels, like we have been doing, will alter the atmosphere’s concentration of greenhouse gases. Scientists have calculated that to sustain human life on the planet, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere should be no more than around 350 parts per million (ppm) by volume. A CO2 concentration of 350 ppm traps just enough heat from sunlight to stabilize the weather, prevent major droughts and stop sea levels from rising. It keeps the climate amenable to the biosphere, thus it maintains that all-important ecological equilibrium.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the Earth’s atmospheric concentration of CO2 was at 275 ppm. (More info here.) The Industrial Revolution formally began our 24-hours a day, year-round habit of making unwanted donations to the planet’s carbon cycle – and we enthusiastically became exponentially bigger carbon contributors practically every day for a couple of centuries. With a bit of math, it’s easy to calculate that the rise in the atmospheric CO2 concentration is a fair bit less than what you’d expect, given the amount of CO2 we can account for emitting in the last 200 years. The current atmospheric concentration of CO2 is still highly disconcerting at 392 ppm. Going off these figures (recent as of July 2011), that means that there is now 42% more carbon in the atmosphere, which we put there. Moreover, the concentration of atmospheric COis currently rising by approximately 2 ppm every year because we aren’t yet making the effort to quit carbon.

There are other variables at work which may have some small effects on the climate. Research has shown that today, in 2011, these other factors are a lot less significant than the greenhouse effect. (There is a summary here.)

We know that the average amount of solar heat occupying the Earth’s atmosphere is exactly as predicted by current recorded atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We have satellites orbiting the planet, at the very top of the atmosphere, that detect the intensity of incoming solar radiation, and this is compared to measurements of how much infrared thermal radiation (heat energy) remains trapped in the atmosphere. (See the diagram above.) A furtive glance at the data will reveal that the global average temperature has steadily risen in correlation with growing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases over recent decades. (The actual scientific paper on these satellite measurements is here.) This is no coincidence – it is one of those thoroughly terrifying occasions where experiments and data have shown that correlation can’t mean anything other than causation.

Digging up the past

Scientists who study ancient climate patterns (paleoclimatologists) have discovered ways to measure the temperature record of the distant and recent past, much like homicide detectives and forensic investigators would uncover the circumstances of an unwitnessed murder by examining the evidence left at the scene of the crime. Different intensities of infrared thermal radiation (atmospheric heat) leave discernible signatures in tree rings, boreholes, stalagmites, glaciers, lake sediments, coral, and elsewhere – these simply need to be dated, and scientists can extract an accurate temperature reading for that period by proxy. You can more read about how the ancient climate is studied why it can be done effectively here.

Proxy temperature data is frequently plotted on time line graphs so different methods proxy measurements can be compared to calculate mean temperatures. The time lines that these comprehensive temperature proxy studies have yielded (referred to as ‘hockey stick graphs’ when combined with recent direct measurements because of the steep ascent towards today’s end of the graph) have been the subject of a great deal of unwarranted controversy from denialist circles – probably because they look so scary. But this public drive to scrutiny has proved useful to paleoclimatologists, because it meant the techniques had to be refined. Consequently, they have become more accurate and effective.

Past concentrations of atmospheric CO2 gas can be measured by studying surviving ancient ice cores. More recent atmospheric CO2 concentrations are measured directly at observatories like Mauna Loa in Hawaii. COtime lines produce the same ‘hockey stick’ deviation found on ancient temperature graphs, and the homogeneity between the two is stark. (See below) The measurement process of ancient atmospheric CO levels is also apparently less controversial. So unless the laws of physics have changed just before the last century, we have accurate data from multiple lines of inquiry of past climate and atmospheric COconcentration fluctuations and this leads us to conclude that the global average temperature has always been largely dependent on the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The Climate Nudge

From SkepticalScience.com

(If you’re wondering why the temperature reconstruction data and the carbon forcing reconstruction data don’t add up at around 1000 AD, research the medieval warm period. It was mostly solar flares and decreased volcanic activity that did it; and that’s an exception that doesn’t apply today because those things aren’t happening now – if they were, with the current atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, we’d be screwed.)

So, if you’ve followed me, it should be obvious that the Earth is currently heating up. And it’s all thanks to us.

But wait! There’s more!

Global warming has an evil twin

To quote from this dated National Geographic article (if you don’t look at the date, you can tell by the whiffs of optimism):

By rights [atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations] should be worse. Each year humanity dumps roughly 8.8 billion tons (8 metric tons) of carbon into the atmosphere, 6.5 billion tons (5.9 metric tons) from fossil fuels and 1.5 billion (1.4 metric) from deforestation. But less than half that total, 3.2 billion tons (2.9 metric tons), remains in the atmosphere to warm the planet. Where is the missing carbon? “It’s a really major mystery, if you think about it,” says Wofsy, an atmospheric scientist at Harvard University. His research site in the Harvard Forest is apparently not the only place where nature is breathing deep and helping save us from ourselves. Forests, grasslands, and the waters of the oceans must be acting as carbon sinks. They steal back roughly half of the carbon dioxide we emit, slowing its buildup in the atmosphere and delaying the effects on climate.

Well we now know that most of that missing CO2 went into the ocean. Some of it has been sequestered by trees, which is good, but CO2 in the ocean is not good. Carbon dioxide lowers the pH of ocean water, and this means the ocean is becoming acidic. Scientists call it ‘ocean acidification’ (because obviously ‘global warming’ didn’t sound scary enough). This happens for complicated but well-understood chemical and thermodynamic reasons covered elsewhere. Ocean acidification is our other carbon problem, and it has only been on our radar for the past five or so years.

As I said, this is bad.

Ocean water covers over 71% of the Earth’s surface. More than half of the ocean is over 3,000 metres deep. And it has absorbed over one-quarter of the CO2 humanity has emitted in the last 200 years. The ocean’s acidity has increased by around 30% compared to before the Industrial Revolution. Moreover, the rate of ocean acidification it is projected to double by the end of the century if we continue to emit greenhouse gases. Sea water lapping the coast of northern California is already acidic enough to melt seashells. You can imagine the effect this will have on the ocean’s biosphere, which is home to many of our primary food sources.

Coral reefs – like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – may very well become the first ecosystems that human activity wipes out. Reefs contain roughly a quarter of all marine species and only cover 0.1% of the world’s oceans. The potential loss of innumerable different species is tragic, but the damage to the biosphere will affect all of us. That is, if we allow this to continue.

The ocean helps regulate the climate and provides the planet with most of its atmospheric oxygen; a lot of our food comes from the ocean, and this is all under dire threat from rising acidity in the ocean. Scientists who study the Earth’s carbon cycle have a less copy-friendly name for ocean acidification: ‘global warming’s evil twin‘. If it isn’t already clear to you, I would urge you to follow that link to find out why.

Check your feedback

So we can account for most of the CO2 we humans have put into the ecosystem. What does this mean? Well, you know all that wild weather we’ve all been experiencing? Droughts, flash floods and the like? Global warming will dry out land, but it also causes crazier storms because the ocean heats up as well. It has been suggested that what we call global warming should instead be referred to as ‘climate destabilization’ because it better reflects the type of weather we’ll soon see; while ‘global warming’ simply names the observation that the average temperature will rise a few degrees in the coming decades. I mentioned this earlier: heated ocean water evaporates into water vapour, which absorbs into warm air, which condenses in the atmosphere, creating clouds, and these clouds might get blown inland into a low pressure system; and then they violently precipitate all over the city or town you happen to live in. It’ll be a spectacular global warming-brand snow storm if the cold air it meets over your domicile is below freezing. That’s why you’ll see an intensification in this new trend of alternating droughts and flash-flooding. It means the weather has developed bipolar disorder after years of abuse and it’s getting worse. Crazy weather events from 2010-2011 (up until around July) are documented here.

And that’s just when you account for the greenhouse gases that we’ve emitted purposely (well, not intentionally, but at least we knew where that COcame from). There is a much more potent greenhouse gas, which is also fairly common. You might have heard of it: methane. It traps a lot more heat than carbon dioxide. You smell it when you’re sitting next to someone with no tact on the bus. We don’t emit much of it ourselves. Currently there is about 200 times more CO2 in the atmosphere than there is methane. At this rate, it isn’t much of an immediate concern.

But it is a cause for concern if you think about the future. A lot of the planet’s methane is trapped under the Arctic’s permafrost (so named because permafrost didn’t do a lot of melting before humans started burning fossil fuels). Because the rising average temperature has caused permafrost to start melting, methane gas has been leaking into the atmosphere. We don’t really know what effect this will have, but it’s looking like it will set off a positive feedback mechanism. More greenhouse gases means that more methane will end up in the atmosphere, which will melt more permafrost, which in turn will release more methane, which is a nasty vicious circle to get caught in. This is what scientists are talking about when they mention that we’re at risk of falling victim to a runaway greenhouse effect.

That’s just one of the many positive feedback mechanisms that have the potential exacerbate global warming beyond our control. I mentioned before that water vapour is also a greenhouse gas – as the climate warms, the atmosphere will be able to hold more water vapour, which will allow the climate to trap more heat energy, which will lead to more warming, and so on. Ocean acidification could be another, and there are others – and there might be more that we don’t yet know about. Sure, there are negative feedback mechanisms which would mitigate the warming effects, but there are a lot less of those.

It’s a big deal

So we have a problem. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 is currently rising faster than it did during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) extinction event, and the climate is obviously very sensitive to atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. What does this all mean?

We don’t yet know exactly. All we know is that the negatives vastly outweigh the positives. We do know that the weather will get worse, sea levels will climb, droughts more frequent and conditions in Africa (already the hardest-hit nation) will probably transmogrify into a hot version of Mars. For those of us still living elsewhere on the planet, there is a high chance that dramatic destabilization of the climate could lead to things like global economic collapse; the displacement of hundreds of millions of people; widespread famine; food riots; martial law; etc. The sort of stuff you’d expect to see in a real life adaptation of the cult classic film Soylent Green. I’m finding it very difficult to engage in hyperbole here. We are kidding ourselves if we think we have a chance to adapt to this.

If you want to see what has already happened (in the form of actual television news features – many from Australia), and what will happen if we allow the trend to continue, you should watch the unabashedly titled film The Age of Stupid, directed by Franny Armstrong and available to watch or download here.

After everything I’ve covered, if you’re still not convinced, I’d urge you to visit the Skeptical Science website. Skeptical Science is frequently used as a platform for climatologists and other scientists from all over the world to address and debunk literally every single global warming denialist argument they come across in plain English (and many other languages too).

What they don’t tell you

There is scientific conspiracy afoot, or so we’re told by the deniers.

I will briefly discuss ‘climategate’, then we’ll move on. Any idiot can take stolen messages out of context and make all kinds of unqualified claims. Just look at all the different sects of Christianity out there. Plus, the scientists involved didn’t do anything wrong. But then, the public, being unfamiliar with the literature, could not fairly be expected to know what climate scientist Phil Jones was talking about when he said (emphasis added):

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

I mean, how could the public be expected to know that the phrase ‘Mike’s Nature trick’ in a private email exchange between scientists refers to an innocuous technique described in a paper published in one of the world’s most respected scientific journals, Nature, in 1998, by lead author Michael Mann? The technique combines tree ring-derived reconstructed temperature data of the past with recent directly measured temperature data to produce a temperature time line graph. The mentioned ‘decline’ refers to a curious but well-studied physical effect where temperature data from tree rings after 1960 show a decline in temperature, while direct temperature measurements have not. This is because tree growth has recently been stunted due to numerous global factors relating to, you guessed it, climate change. Up until 1960, tree ring data closely matched instrument measurements and other proxy temperature measurements (such as those discussed above).

The second most famous leaked email was from the leading IPCC researcher Kevin Trenberth, which contains the following quote:

The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.

Wow, incriminating right?

Not so fast. If you look at the study Trenberth was referring to, it discusses that while we know the planet is warming due to an enhanced greenhouse effect, data from short term weather patterns sometimes didn’t appear to reflect this because our observation system wasn’t yet adequate to comprehensively track the planet’s entire energy budget. You can imagine this could lead to a PR nightmare when trying to communicate the risks of climate change to an ignorant public. The northern hemisphere has since seen the hottest year on record – 2010. 2010 was tied with 2005 for the whole planet’s hottest year recorded, and it was marked by some of the craziest weather events seen since we’ve had the resources to keep track. (More info here.)

It is important to remember that climate and weather are not necessarily the same systems. Weather is complicated and can only accurately be predicted weeks in advance (remember the butterfly effect trope, which in the real world deals with weather patterns, not time travel), while climate deals with long term averages – or what weather variables have to work with. So while the previous decade averaged out as the hottest ever directly measured. 2011 is so far ranking as the 17th hottest, and marked by increased in flooding in Australia. This sort of weather variability is totally consistent with a warming planet.

I believe that much of the popular press failed the public by not digging into the context of the leaked emails as soon as the whole incident erupted, and by blowing the whole thing completely out of proportion. You don’t need to be a student of journalism to suggest that fanning the furore is not real reporting. But those are just my opinions. I’m not asserting that the entire scandal was manufactured by the media industry from essentially nothing to sell papers (and reap from increasing advertising revenue), I’m just wondering where the real journalists were.

So forget ‘climategate’.

An industry of doubt

The conspiracy theories I’d like to address here are the ones disseminated by the denialist industry. Denialist speakers tend to claim that the whole discipline of climatology is flawed, and then they intentionally misinterpret certain climatology data to buttress their biases and they skew other data to offer up straw-man arguments to ritualistically slaughter to the delight of their adoring audience. Obviously, the bulk of the data they simply ignore. ‘Lord’ Chris Monckton is the widest known proponent of this theory and practice.

More sophisticated deniers (like Tony “carbon dioxide is weightless” Abbott) have been taken in by Monckton’s ‘lahs’ (seriously, that’s what he calls ‘lies’ in the text of his slideshow…). Happily, Prof. John Abraham at the University of St. Thomas in the USA took the time to extensively and comprehensively debunk Monckton’s attempt to be the AntiGore on his university webpage (and Prof. Abraham is an actual scientist), slide by suspect slide. Monckton’s rebuttal was, well, feeble. (Journalist George Monbiot called it ‘magnificently bonkers‘.) I won’t go into the details, but I’d like to point out that attacking a professor with tenure at a respected university’s academic credentials is plainly a stupid thing to do.

A disturbing percentage of deniers believe that the nasty 97-98% majority of climate scientists are participating in some sort of malicious big government conspiracy. The idea that thousands of scientific researchers are formally conspiring to destroy the global economy and strip everyone of their basic rights is absurd. These sorts of grand sweeping conjectures toe the threshold of clinical paranoia. It actually reminds me of the early 20th century conspiracy theory spread by the publication of a certain fabricated racist scrapbook, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which alleged that a Jewish conspiracy was trying to take over the world via fringe men’s charity groups like the Freemasons. There are still people who believe that, but most of them don’t even realize that they’re spitting the same anti-Semitic bile that inspired Hitler and his Nazi pals. To allege that thousands of professional researchers from all over the world have converged on this ‘Warmist’ conspiracy to forward some communist plot may lack the surreptitious racism, but it certainly smacks of the same grade of ignorance.

Do you want to know what the real global warming swindle is? How incredibly incestuous, virulent, sneaky and well-funded the denialist industry is.

Aside from the crazies and the kooks, only groups with financial interests in big oil and big petrol are sowing doubt on this issue. The Heartland Institute and the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), two free market ‘think-tanks’ (ironically where most bad ideas seem to come from, these days) – the former headed by prolific denialist ‘Lord’ Monckton; the latter listing him as a ‘global warming expert’ (!) – have received millions of dollars in funding from oil giants ExxonMobil and Koch Industries.

It’s probably no coincidence that Dr. Frederick Seitz, former paid consultant to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (who kicked Seitz $45 million in order to, among other things, sow doubt about the health risks of tobacco amongst consumers) is now working for the Science and Environmental Policy Project and the George C. Marshall Institute – both prominent climate change denial organizations heavily financed by the big players in the polluter industry. Seitz has also served on The Advancement of Sound Science Center (TASSC)’s scientific advisory board.

TASSC has arguably lead the most damaging campaigns against government efforts to combat global warming. This might have something to do with the fact that TASSC is chaired by neocon propaganda outlet FoxNews‘ own batshit serial-denialist commentator Steven Milloy. These and other anti-climate ‘think-tanks’ received an awful lot of funding from, well, guess who – to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

It all goes much deeper than I have the time to discuss in much depth here. I did uncover a lot though in the space of a few days’ research. Rather than continue with specific examples, I’d suggest you pick up the book Merchants of Doubt by historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. I haven’t yet read it, but it looks like it covers more than what I could with the help of Google. The website for Merchants of Doubt is here.

Apparently I’m not the only one raising questions about this odd coterie of bullshit spinners. Australian social media initiative OurSay solicited questions from the public on the issues surrounding climate change. The most popular questions were put to journalists at The Age. The fifth most popular question, to quote an article posted on the Sydney Morning Herald website asks:

The Sunday Age‘s reporters to find out who, if anyone, is funding prominent climate change ”sceptics” in the media, including Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt and Sydney radio broadcaster Alan Jones, and whether those people had a vested interest in maintaining ”the industrial status quo”

So what did they turn up? Nothing yet. We’ll have to wait and see.

This isn’t a tinfoil hat-grade formal conspiracy, and there’s nothing secret about anything I’ve covered, but it’s still worth noting.

On sense and scepticism

Conspiracies aside, it doesn’t just doesn’t make sense to refuse to act on climate change in the face of insurmountable evidence. Master polemicist Christopher Hitchens doesn’t understand climate science, but he understands the principles of science well enough. He believes that we should treat global warming as a fact now because we don’t have another planet with which to run an experiment. The only safe, conservative option is to act as if it’s true and take the necessary measures to combat it. Actually, forget Hitch (that’s not something I say readily), watch Greg Craven’s original YouTube video on how to approach global warming conservatively even if you don’t buy the evidence. (Again, I find myself in the debt of one Simon McWaters for linking me.) Speaking of logical consistency, has anyone else ever noticed the irony of self-labelled conservatives denying climate change? You’d think that they’d want to take the conservative road and play it safe. Apparently not. But I digress.

If you want absolute proof that global warming is happening (and if you insist, that it’s man-made) before you’d support acting on it, then I have to ask: why are you holding the science of climate change to a higher standard than you hold Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity?

If you’re reading this, you probably use a global positioning system (GPS) device, in your phone or in your car. Time onboard the satellites that GPS devices require to work ticks at a different rate than it does down here, nearer to the ground, because of the way the Earth’s mass warps spacetime – just as predicted by Einstein. This means that these differences in the flow of time must be taken into account when calibrating GPS satellites and devices in order for the system to work.

Einstein’s theory of general relativity also predicts that nothing can travel faster than light. The fact that neutrinos might have been found to be travelling faster than the speed of light in a recent high-profile CERN experiment doesn’t render Einstein’s entire theory useless – general relativity otherwise describes practically everything in the macroscopic world almost perfectly. Almost perfectly, but not actually perfectly. But if you threw out relativity because it isn’t perfectly established (or, lacking in absolute proof) and because it has some demonstrable inconsistencies (and I’m not just talking about superluminal neutrinos, I’m also referring to its zero-sum incompatibility with quantum theory – which is itself scarily accurate with its predictions but incomplete), the talking GPS toy in your car would be worse than useless and you’d invariably get lost more often and have to resort to that battered old street directory festering under your passenger seat.

Science is the last place you’ll find claims of certainty. You’ll find claims that are well established theoretically and strongly grounded by evidence that effectively excludes any competing hypotheses, but you’ll never hear a scientist in any discipline earnestly tell you they’ve stumbled upon a nugget of Absolute Truth. If you want absolute proof before you’ll accept any scientific theory, you’re not asking for science – you’re asking for religion; and no scientist can give you that. Sorry.

You should always ask for proof when someone says something that doesn’t sound right. You obviously need to be especially sceptical when it comes from suspect groups like transnational corporations or large political parties. But when you get proof, you have to accept it. If you keep asking for proof after you get it, you’re thinking like a fundamentalist. Science is the opposite of fundamentalism. In science, there’s no dogma; science is just a set of tools to investigate reality with. Scientific knowledge is constantly under review, but that doesn’t make it invalid – scientific knowledge corrects itself when better evidence comes along. It’s the closest thing to absolute truth we’ve got, and that’s why it’s so useful.

Shut up and think

What follows might sound politically incorrect, and for that I make no apologies.

The fact is that your opinion as a lay person on the evidence behind global warming is basically meaningless. It is totally irrelevant. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to understand the evidence; but your job as a citizen in this democracy is to pay attention to the facts, think, listen and analyse – not to tell scientists how to interpret their data. Anything you say that doesn’t gel with scientific consensus cannot add anything useful to the discussion. Denialism is just white noise. Science might serve democracy, but it is not itself a democracy – it’s more like a tyranny of data. Science is apolitical; it is a tool for determining facts about reality. You can’t fight evidence with popularity without looking like a clown.

People don’t like that and I understand why. It is hard to trust what feels like the establishment. That your lay person’s opinion is inane to science might sound elitist, and it sort of is; but it isn’t exclusionary. If you wanted to meaningfully say that global warming isn’t a man-made problem, you could get qualified by going to school and you could hypothetically then spot that crucial bit of evidence that would bring the whole edifice down. But that isn’t likely; you’ll probably find that the evidence for anthropogenic global warming is unequivocal, and you’ll probably uncover new evidence to support the theory since your hypothesis was an attempt to refute it (that’s how science works), as almost all the scientists studying the climate have. But since other people are doing the job, doing it very well, and publicising their findings, why bother? Why not just listen?

Think about it another way: would you want someone who isn’t a qualified neurosurgeon to cut out the tumour that might be growing in your prefrontal cortex? Would you feel the need to become a fully qualified neurosurgeon yourself before you go under the knife? The human brain is more complicated than the Earth’s climate, but we still know that tumours aren’t good for brains. Climate scientists aren’t doing actual surgery but they are like doctors, in that they write out prescriptions and referrals that will ultimately save your life. We should be grateful that the carbon tumour was spotted before it became inoperable.

So when I said that opinions that don’t gel with the scientific consensus are useless, I was probably being too diplomatic. They’re worse than useless. Expressing such opinions is the equivalent of advocating homoeopathy as a valid alternative to brain surgery; or denying that brain tumors exist; or saying that they’re not bad things to have. And anyway, how do you know for sure that you caused your brain tumour? You don’t, so why should you do anything about it? You can just try adapt to that growing tumour ravaging your prefrontal cortex and destroying your ability to regulate your behaviour, and that would be better for your neural economy anyway, right? Well, why not? After all, brain tumors are perfectly natural.

Sticking our heads in the sand

The majority of the Australians were worried about global warming right up until Prime Minister Julia Gillard suggested they pay for it. Then practically all of them became ‘sceptics’ overnight. They’re not actually sceptics. Sceptics evaluate evidence. If you’re ignoring evidence, you’re not a sceptic; you’re a denier. You are allowed to express distaste for the government’s carbon tax plan and still acknowledge the existence of global warming. I don’t agree with the proposed carbon tax because I think that in a country with such rich uranium and thorium deposits and so much desert space to fill with solar plants, such a tax should be largely unnecessary. We would simply need to switch from burning carbon to splitting carbon-neutral atoms and we could maintain our standard of living, and even grant it to more people; but I know that’s not the popular position, because apparently even environmentalists can think like fundamentalists. Sadly, that doesn’t surprise me.

Love or loathe the carbon tax, it is designed to goad private industry into innovating to zero-emissions technology. Australia’s emissions profile sucks. We should be ashamed of that. The Gillard Government’s proposed carbon tax has again been given the thumbs-up by economists and even scientists from all over the world. It’d be disingenuous for me to say otherwise, even though I don’t think the carbon tax is the only answer. It’s important for me to be open to all solutions because again, global warming is a fact.

Apparently you can get a lot of people to cast aspersions on something they don’t understand when you make them feel that their wallets are under threat. There’s nothing quite like selfishness and greed to stultify reason. Bertrand Russell purportedly once said: “Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do.” I hate that now the inability of a majority of people to think might actually kill off the rest of us.

If I have to blame someone

I blame Andrew Bolt. Well, him and the rest of his ilk. No, actually, I blame the disingenuous sell-outs who give perfidious pricks like him airtime.

I blame the media for swallowing denialist bullshit by the truckload. That’s not to say that most journalists believe that shit. What I mean is that the media gives these cranks airtime under the delusion that they’re being balanced. Really, they’re just scamming cash from desperate consumers.

Balance in the media isn’t actually balance when it just serves to give the insane fringe a voice. The only reason denialists get a platform is because they’re in vogue, because they say the things that complacently comfortable white people in big environmentally safe cities want to hear. This is pandering to public prejudices, political and economic powers and wishful thinking. Thankfully, Fairfax Media’s reporters have started feeling the same way.

I believe my acquaintances to be (at least) partially victims of this dangerous phenomenon. The only constructive thing I have to say about climate change deniers, and I’ve heard this sentiment expressed elsewhere, is that the rest of us wish they were right – and presumably they do too. But they’re wrong, and wishful thinking is among the worst reasons to believe something.

Some final thoughts

The saddest part about this whole mess is that we’re not yet doomed. We could be doing things to fix the situation, but we’re not. Apparently there’s no money in preventing global warming – only in cleaning it up, which is a pretty brainless perception to possess. With peak oil looming, the rarer oil is, the more it sells for – just as whales near extinction, the more Japanese whalers get for whale carcasses. The economics of fossil fuels is fairly simple to comprehend. So is the driving greed.

As I’ve stressed, you don’t have to be an idiot to be capable of denying climate change. Skeptic Magazine editor Michael Shermer was a denier before he saw Al Gore’s slideshow. Global warming denial was also pushed in my least favourite episode of Penn & Teller’s Bullshit, which just goes to show that even formidable sceptics have been fooled (by a television weatherman, I’m not kidding). According to his new book God, No!, Penn Jillette seems to have switched to a tentative “probably but I don’t know” position. As the late great American songwriter Warren Zevon crooned in his timeless track My Shit’s Fucked Up: “It has to happen to the best of us/The rich folks suffer like the rest of us/It’ll happen to you.” Well, we hope it doesn’t.

What you do have to be to deny climate change – if not an idiot or a polluter lobbyist – is ignorant of the facts. Ignorance is easily remedied with Google and a bit of initiative. But then, denialism seems to appeal to certain ideological biases; Michael Shermer and Penn & Teller are all outspoken economic libertarians.

We really need to stop wasting our time with trying to appease the deniers and the fundamentalists. We need take the necessary steps to mitigate this and reinstate the environmental equilibrium with science, regulation and innovation. We might complain about taxes, but global warming is not what Australia wants. Go read this article over at the Rolling Stone website just to see how obvious the damage Australia’s already suffered thanks to global warming looks to outsiders.

If you’re still confused on the issue, just watch this. That’s also good if you now know where you stand, because it’s both funny and terrifying.

So now that I’m finished with this lengthy footnote of an entry, I’m allowed to go back to assuming that you all accept anthropogenic global warming as a fact. That would be super, because I’m probably going to talk about green technology and the idiots who try to stop it again.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of our progress as a species. We’ve done some great things. But it should go without saying that we have a lot more to do to neutralize the traps we’ve inadvertently set for ourselves.

Shit didn’t just get real, shit’s been real for a long, long time. Trust the science, it’s trying to help you.

I’d like to extend my thanks to Simon McWaters for once again being a vigilant reader and suggesting links. Also thanks to my friends, colleagues and family for their invaluable feedback and encouragement.

If you were a denier and I’ve caused you to capitulate, please share. That’d be awesome.