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Duffy on global warming

April 11th, 2005

Via Immanuel Rant, I found this piece by Michael Duffy in Saturday’s SMH, pushing global warming denialism. Immanuel points out that Duffy has been more than a little economical with the truth, saying

Duffy is correct to warn us not to overlook agendas and political interests and how they affect science. The trouble is that Duffy’s “cold, hard look� forgets the mote in his own eye. Kellow and William Kininmonth (also mentioned) are members of The Lavoisier Group. The group was created by Ray Evans of Western Mining and is an astroturf operation.

The article is full of similar examples. Sceptic Bob Carter is described as “an environmental scientist at James Cook University”. At least when I knew him there, he was a geologist working (not surprisingly) with the mining industry, and his current affilation is still with the School of Earth Sciences Nothing wrong with that, as Duffy himself says, but, why the misrepresentation.?

Then there’s the reference to a conference held by

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a liberal think-tank,

which

held a climate seminar in Germany in February and conducted a poll of the 500 climate researchers who attended. A quarter doubted that the modest warming of the past 150 years is due to human activity.

For most Australian readers, the term “liberal’ without capitalisation might imply a moderate progressive, perhaps an Australian Democrat. Duffy doesn’t bother to inform us that the Foundation is liberal in the classical sense. It stands for

he reduction of state interventionism, the advocacy of decentralization and  privatization, the cutting of existing state regulations and of bureaucratic red tape in our daily lives.

In other words, it’s an ideological clone of the CIS, IPA or Cato. It appears to have close ties with the last of these, a well-known promoter of junk science on this and other topics. Duffy could have been honest with his readers and called it a “free-market thinktank”, but that would have alerted them to possible bias. I managed to find a report on the meeting here, but it’s in German and I can’t really follow it. It doesn’t appear to me that those in attendance were climate scientists, though some of the speakers were.

It seems to be just about impossible to attack the consensus view on global warming without resorting to dishonest misrepresentation. Duffy is no exception to this pattern.

Update Tim Lambert has more.

And, given his past form, I’m not surprised to learn that Duffy is an exponent of rightwing postmodernism.

As you’d expect from someone hired as the “right-wing Philip Adams’, Duffy poses as a critic of postmodernism, as in this Counterpoint episode where he links it to Leninism, eugenics and contempt for ordinary people, and defends science as a source of truth.

But, when science says something Duffy doesn’t like, for example on global warming, he’s happy to embrace the “social construction of reality” thesis, as propounded by political scientist and Lavoisier Institute member Aynsley Kellow.

Further update It turns out (see the comments thread) that the respondents to the survey described by Duffy were not, as he says, climate scientists attending a conference in 2005, but members of meteorological societies who responded to a survey sent out in 1996! It’s scarcely surprising that a lot of respondents took the view, at that time, that anthropogenic climate change was not proven. IIRC, the IPCC took the same view. I’ll put this one down to sloppiness rather than deliberate deception, but it’s illustrative of the point that Duffy is not engaged in a serious search for truth here.

Yet further update 20/4 A lengthy search suggests that the claimed result does not refer to the 1996 survey, but to another survey undertaken by the same researcher in 2003. The results are apparently here but I can’t get them to work on any of my browsers.

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  1. April 14th, 2005 at 23:30 | #1

    “It really comes down to assessment of risk.”

    Very true. Well argued people.

    I think the burden of proof lies with the proponents of significant government programs, and I haven’t seen a benefit-cost analysis with sufficient confidence of a net benefit to justify the program. Remember, if Kyoto is “just the start” of the benefit, then it is also just the start of the cost. And if Kyoto is useless without the next steps, then the assessment of the following steps needs to be done before Kyoto is implemented.

    Oh, and “yay technology”.

    Serious question – what would be the impact on global warming if we switched all coal power to nuclear power?

  2. April 15th, 2005 at 00:11 | #2

    JH, a lot of these things vary hugely with transition costs and the resources embedded in the new facilities, which interacts with the time scales because depreciation means that old plant has to be replaced anyway over some time scale (meaning, no additional cost/resource use). That all makes it a piece of string question, meaning “requires more study”.

    Would you believe me if I told you it is already technologically possible to provide effectively unlimited “free” energy as a byproduct of certain kinds of “free” desalination providing effectively unlimited fresh water? Here, free ignores the cost of capital and the location requirements (no, I’m not cheating by talking hydro-electric power from rainfall).

  3. Ian Gould
    April 15th, 2005 at 10:51 | #3

    JH,

    We’d acheive a very significant reduction in total CO2 emissions. From memory, the electricity sector produces something like 40-50% of total emissions.

    But

    1. A disproportionate part of that is produced by small inefficient deisel generators in areas where it isn’t feasible to use grid-based power. So you might reduce emissions by 35-45%.

    2. The nuclear power-generation process is emission-free but the mining of uranium and the construction of power-plants isn’t. You’d probably achieve some reductions in this area though since you’d be moving tons of uranium and plutonium rather than than megatons of coal.

    3. The cost would be astronomical. Current costs for a nuclear power plant are around US$8-10 billion. Assume you could halve that and you’re still looking at $4-5 billion. Assume you need to build 100 reactors a year for 10 years. That’s
    $4-500 billion a year. The world economy (again from memory) is around $20 trillion. so you’re talking about spending 2% or more of global GDP for a decade. In practice, although I’d need to check this, I think you’d need to build mroe reactors than that.

    4. The maisntream view from the scientific community is that we eventually need to reduce GHG emissions by around 70% – so all this expenditure would leave us well short of our goal .

    5. Security. If the world makes a massive shift to nuclear power what happens in countries like somalia (or for that matter Iran?). How do we justify telling countries like syria or North Korea that they can’t have nukes. Additionally, who’s going to pay for the reactors in those countries?

    This soudns like a non-answer, but from an economic perspective I’ve always argued that governments need to ensure that all the different power sources pay their full economic cost – including environmental damage – and that once this is done the market will work out the ptimal power mix.

    In the short to medium term I think such a mix would probably be dominated by natural gas and integrated gasification combined cycle coal-fired plants (these are far more efficient than previous generations of coal-fired plants and produce about 1/4th as much CO2 pwer unti of power) with wind power and nuclear power playing a larger role than at present. In the longer term, recent work with polymer-based solar cells and solid-state thermoelectrics could lead to economically viable solar energy (as could the Enviromission soalr tower).

  4. April 17th, 2005 at 10:56 | #4

    People like duffy and devine who seek to defend the indefensible by using spurious argument and supporting scientific whores who take money from the energy lobby are beneath comtempt.
    Our children and their children who will inherit our vandalism will see these people as criminals worse than hitler or stalin or pol pot.

  5. Brian Bahnisch
    April 17th, 2005 at 23:27 | #5

    John, the first problem with your post is that the February conference was not organised by the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation (FNF) alone, but in conjunction with the Bund Freiheit der Wissenschaft (BFW). It is roughly translated as ‘Alliance [for] Freedom [or liberty] of Science. You can get some idea of their orientation from this stilted google translation.

    It was set up in 1970 to counter threats from leftist radical student groups. They focus on teaching and research in the higher education sector, but also have concern for schools. Why they are needed now I’m not too sure.

    The FNF was established in the 1950s by Theodor Heuss, the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany to promote liberal political ideas in German democracy. It has a strong focus on development issues with branches in 60 countries (includes Indonesia and Thailand) and international themes. They don’t appear to have any special interest in climate science as such.

    I have no idea who attended the February conference. The conference report was written by Dr. Brigitte Pötter of BFW and Wolfgang Müller presumably of FNF.

    The aim of the conference was to use scientific experts to lay out the facts and the research of climate change in an objective ideology free manner so that lay people could understand. Given this and the orientation of the organisations I think it likely the audience was mixed. Btw the confernce report heading translates as “Climate Change – no reason for Panic�.

    Of the six lectures summarised, one from a publicist, there is a clear concern that the media beat up individual extreme events with scenarios of dire consequences. They seem to take the view that science and public policy are separate spheres, but science should have an input to public policy and should not itself be influenced by the climate of fear.

    Of particular interest is the report of Prof Dr Dennis Bray’s presentaion, which I’ve translated as follows:

    A survey of climate researchers, conducted in 1996 and repeated in 2003, revealed that the reliability of the various climate models are the subject of criticism,* although there are differences between ocean and atmospheric models. “The confidence in climate models is especially pronounced with regard to the hydrodynamics of ocean and atmospheric models and relatively slight with regard to the detailed processes of precipitation or ocean convection and sea-ice. The shorter the time-scale involved the more the models are trusted.”

    The conviction that climate change is caused by anthropogenic influence seems to have grown in the intervening years, also the belief that mankind can prevent a further escalation through the implementation of climate protection measures decided in Tokyo. Nevertheless 25% of those questioned still have doubt about the human influence on climate change. The factual evidence seems not to have changed, yet the majority of scientists accept the theory of the anthropogenic greenhouse** effect which, despite present doubts, demands a defence. Professor Bray indicated in his talk that the panic-mongering spread by the media is emotional and not suggested by the majority of climate researchers.

    *Literally ‘being critically judged’ but the inference, in context, is that judgement is negative.

    ** Literally ‘hothouse’.

    (I have to acknowledge the assistance of some-one who was a student of German with me in the early 60s. She was a slightly better student and has used her German a wee bit more since. I’m confident the Prof would have been reasonably pleased with our effort!)

    The 1996 survey was of 450 members of the German Meteorological society, 50 from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology and 500 from the USA and Canada (no indication of who). The report gives the results of 14 questions, but not the one we are interested in.

    This Wikipedia entry has a fuller summary. It seems there were 74 questions in all and that the full results were published in an article by Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society Vol. 80, No. 3, March 1999 439-455

    This entry states that Bray and von Storch asked scientists in this field whether it is “certain that, without change in human behavior, global warming will definitely occur sometime in the future”. Scientists polled gave this statement an average score of 2.6 on a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 indicated complete agreement and 7 indicated complete disagreement.

    A somewhat strange question as it implies that it hasn’t happened so far.

    I still can’t find a report of the 2003 survey, but I have no reason to doubt the Prof Dr Bray.

    I get the impression that the people giving papers at the conference, apart from the publicist, were serious scientists. One guy spends all his time in caves analysing stalagmites, and another, Professor Dr. Gerhard Gerlich, of the Institute for Mathematical Physics at Braunschweig, gave a paper “Towards the Physics and Mathematics of Climate Models�. At least three of the six reported on came out firmly on the side of adverse human interference and favouring concerted action towards mitigation. The three that didn’t were the publicist, Dr Bray and the stalagmite man, none of whom expressed an opinion.

    Bray is certainly of the opinion that, in Germany at least, “policy makers rely on a number of sources other than the direct results of science, and have assigned a greater sense of urgency to the issue of climate change than have scientists; therefore it might be that some aspects of climate science are being driven by the normative judgements of a political perspective.�

  6. Brian Bahnisch
    April 17th, 2005 at 23:36 | #6

    Darn, Bombed out on the first and last links. The Bund Freiheit der Wissenschaft is here.

    It’s all in German. Enjoy!

    The Dennis Bray reference is here.

  7. Andrew Reynolds
    April 18th, 2005 at 00:30 | #7

    MarkLatham,
    The whole point of this site is to discuss and debate. PrQ spends alot of time and effort to allow for an open, honest debate. Please do not put those who disagree with your point of view (whatever it is – you do not indicate) into the same category as mass murderers.

  8. David Arthur
    July 17th, 2005 at 19:08 | #8

    As Ian Lowe has noted, for the last half million years, that is in the period within which H. Sapiens has spread around the world, atmospheric levels of CO2 have ranged between 180 ppm and 280 ppm … until the last couple of hundred years, within which period, human activity has resulted in CO2 levels rising to ~380 ppm … so far.

    The science is dead simple. Arrhenius, working in the 1890′s (I think) alluded to the greenhouse effect when he considered the relationship between the heat capacity of gases and ambient temperature. The fact that evidence of warming to date has not been incontrovertible is due to several factors.
    1. Fluctuations in temperature anywhere, say at Oodnatta, make it more difficult to discern an unequivocal rise in temperature. Perhaps a general trend can be noted from the observation that in the early ’80s, when the Bill was first shown on the ABC, members of the London Constabulary always wore coats out of doors; now, they go coatless at least some of the time.
    2. Accompanying emissions of SO2 have countered the warming of CO2. Now that, due to concerns with acid rain, SO2 emissions are controlled and largley restricted, warming effects of (longer-lived) rising atmospheric CO2 levels are becoming obvious.
    3. Greenhouse deniers, who may well have pecuniary interests in the purchase of ever-increasing amounts of fossil fuels, have been effective in furthering their own short-term interests against the long-term interests of all humanity (including themselves).
    The tobacco lobby, which has succeeded in not having tobacco banned as the major health hazard of the 20th century (which it is) is an example of how obfuscators can, with sufficient clout behind them, avoid legallly binding acknowledgements of fact.

    It’s game over. The science is incontrovertible: greenhouse sceptics are better described as ‘those who are scientifically illiterate, OR who have a pecuniary interest in the economic status quo’.

    … and the upshot of all this? Will we engineer a soft landing for our civilisation? I don’t know; after all, death is simply Mother Nature’s way of telling you to slow down.

    Cheers
    David Arthur

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