What I’ve been reading

I finally got around to The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery, which I’ve had on my shelf for ages. I was happy to see I got a brief mention, pointing out the misleading way that model simulation results from MEGABARE on the cost of Kyoto were presented in public debate.

Overall, the book is impressive but depressing. It seems clear that lots of species are doomed to extinction even if we move rapidly to stabilise CO2 concentrations, something which the denialist lobby is doing its best to prevent.

An interesting (and alarming) sidelight was the observation that the destruction of the ozone layer would have gone much faster, potentially leading to catastrophic damage, if we’d used chemicals based on bromine rather than chlorine-based CFCs. It was only a matter of chance that the economics turned out better for chlorine. It’s worth recalling at this point that many of our leading climate change denialists (such as Pat Michaels, Sallie Baliunas, Fred Singer, John Brignell and Steve Milloy) were also ozone hole denialists and some still are.

24 thoughts on “What I’ve been reading

  1. Yes … very depressing, I read it a couple of months back. Its only until the last chapter that Flannery offers any solutions or hope for the future. From memory he exposes the ‘hydrogen economy’ and geosequestration as nonsense and growing crops for biofuels as impractical (if we want to grow food as well) but I’m afraid Tim got it horribly wrong with the compressed air car.

  2. If the consequences of global warming are as dire as some, such as James Lovelock are predicting then perhaps its time for some more drastic solutions.

    Normally the warm parts of the ocean are pretty devoid of life due to warm water being unable to mix with the nutrients from below. Massively seeding the warm areas of the oceans with artificial fertiliser could change this. It would produce an algal bloom of epic proportion. It would no doubt be an ecological disaster, but would also suck enormous amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere and might be worth a try.

    Covering a considerable fraction of the sections of the world surface with white paint? I suspect this could be done at a pretty reasonable economic cost. Again another ecological disaster, but perhaps a desperate measure that would work.

    Neither measure would use much energy so they would not add to the problem.

  3. thank christ Thatcher was trained in chemistry, otherwise the ozone hole may not have been tackled at all

    we must get rid of all the lawyers from politics, its is they who seek to turn all arguments into story telling jousts regardless of the facts, and the journalists follow them like dung beetles

  4. JQ;

    to cheer you up you might like to read this article in the New Scientist

    Just as a sweetener the sub-editor has headlined it “A realty check for Conservationists” and the lead-in includes the words —-do not rely on articles in conservation journals—”
    I take no responsibility for the scientific press. I am not a denier nor anti-sustaniability.

  5. John, I haven’t read “The Weather Makers” and doubt whether I’ll feel qualified to reach an informed judgment about it when I do.

    But as you’ve accused me of mounting “a general attack on the IPCC and all its works”, I think it’s fair that I point out that Dr. John Zillman, who was Australia’s Chief Delegate to the IPCC for more than a decade and one of the most influential contributors to its successive Assessment Reports, has said that this book, “while widely acclaimed as scientific and authoritative, considerably overstates the science and misrepresents the IPCC in order to promote a view of climate catastrophe far worse than anything envisioned in the IPCC assessments” (“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”, ATSE “Focus” no. 140, March 2006).

  6. Taust, you appear to be an umitigated smart arse. The link you provide tells us nothing as you need to be a subscriber to get the full article. It also has nothing to do with AGW.

    Grow-up or get back in your sand-pit.

  7. Ian, I agree that Flannery is overly pessimistic. But I think he’s right on the points I’ve cited, which is quite depressing enough. If you take the trouble to look seriously at the implications, even modest global warming looks awful.

  8. “An interesting (and alarming) sidelight was the observation that the destruction of the ozone layer would have gone much faster, potentially leading to catastrophic damage, if we’d used chemicals based on bromine rather than fluorine-based CFCs. It was only a matter of chance that the economics turned out better for fluorine.”

    JQ, don’t you mean chlorine-based CFCs? I know they contain both chlorine and fluorine but it’s the chlorine that does nearly all the damage. It’s a good point that it was only a matter of chance that economics favoured chlorine-containing molecules rather than bromine-containing ones. BFCs would have been far worse.

  9. Steve Munn;

    thank you for the compliment I think other parts of me are more attractive, but everyone to their own taste.

    I never claimed that the article was about climate change but that it woud cheer JQ up after a dose of doom and gloom.

    The link gives a flavour of the article. I assume everyone with an interest in science would have relatively easy access to New scientist, but obviously I was wrong in that assumption.

    An instance of a market failure in that the market has difficulty in being well informed.

    The Government has already addressed this market failure by providing libraries.

  10. … he [Flannery] exposes the ‘hydrogen economy’ and geosequestration as nonsense and growing crops for biofuels as impractical – carbonsink

    If so, it makes nuclear power look very attractive.

  11. I have just read the article that Taust has referred to. The full title is

    “Are review articles a reliable source of evidence to support conservation and environmental management? A comparison with medicine”
    Biological Conservation Volume 132, Issue 4 , October 2006, Pages 409-423.

    First point that needs to be made is that the paper is only looking at review articles not all journal articles on conservation, ecology and environmental management .

    The paper recommends that review articles on these topics use systematic selection processes like those used in Medical Journals to ensure that selection bias in minimised. The article then provides some suggestions as to the process for doing this.

    Taust’s inference in his message above appears to me as that all articles on these topics are suspect. This is not subtantiated by the scope of the article he refers to.

    regards Doug Clover

  12. Tim’s book is depressing? Perhaps, but only JQ alludes to “upsetting”, as in “Jeeez we are in big trouble!!” Get upset about our outlook first, then get depressed if you have to. Perhaps Flannery is wrong in some part, say in his timetable, or maybe the quantum of observable changes one can attribute to climate change. But I think the core of his work is looking pretty strong, and to use something paraphrased from Flannery (correct me if I’m wrong): the cost of doing nothing (about global warming) is far higher than attempting to fix it when it was not in fact necessary.

    Meika (see earlier post) suggests that government is too heavily salted with lawyers that turn “..all arguments into story telling jousts….” If you follow the verbage about the Murray River then you have to agree with Meika, years of talk, but no fresh water in the river. Meika could have added that even some of the comment in this forum is jousting, rather than an ernest exchange of viewpoints. I’ll add the effect of accountants too, who seem to be limited to counting the money rather than considering the (social) costs of their antics.

  13. Concerning global warming and whether we can make it through, I have attempted to address this question – for global warming and other global risks – in my recent paper in Futures:


    I can also provide the pdf by email (m.leggett@griffith.edu.au)

    In the paper, I drew on existing published research to derive answers to these questions: what target do we need to meet; are there actions we can take that would enable us to meet the target; and if so what is the cost and can we afford it.

    For global warming mitigation, I was led to and pleased to find a very surprising conclusion within the mainstream World Energy Assessment: Energy and the Challenge of Sustainability, United Nations, New York, 2000.

    P.356 of the report states: “Note that capital requirements are lowest for the case C scenarios that describe sustainable development paths (That is, lower than business as usual – ML). These scenarios’ relative advantage of substantially lower energy financing requirements is an important indicator of the high economic value of energy efficiency and conservation… As a share of GDP, global energy investments range from 1.5 to 1.9 percent across the scenarios. This is in line with historical norms: During the early 1990s investment averaged just over 1 percent of global GDP (ranging from $240–280 billion a year).�

    In other words, from this the cost of the required scale of transition to non-emitting energy sources is actually cheaper than what we would spend on new or replaced conventional plant over the period of the next few decades.

    If this background is accepted, it seems the challenge is not that there is nothing we can do, but is in fact to make up our minds on the mix of actions, then to organise the transition at the scale required and speedily enough.

    Still a challenge!

  14. derrida derider wrote:

    If so, it makes nuclear power look very attractive

    Perhaps … but IMO developing a distributed or ‘smart’ grid powered by renewables should be our course of action. If that doesn’t cut it, then we should use nukes as a last resort.

  15. Doug;
    whilst not disagreeing with your final paragraph as regards the paper. I think that one is entitled to infer that the scientific basis of some action plans in the area studied could do with a more evidence based approach.

    Although for professionals in the field it may be óld hat’ I thought the compaison with medicine was a useful comparison to draw.

  16. Wilful
    1. show me where I said or implied the article had anything to do with climate change?

    2.I to a minor extent distanced myself from the extracts I made by saying I was not responsible for the scientific press. I do accept responsibility for posting them.

    3 In my opinion another characteristic the mitigators share with the centrally planned economy believers is a on overactive ability to see non-believers everywhere. When the mitigators control the world I fear I will have a bunk in their ‘re-education centre’.

  17. Taust, the thread topic is climate change. Your obtuseness doesn’t help your case. Also, you can’t post a link to something and say “oh but I don’t really think that”. I don’t think that’s the first time you’ve tried that. It doesn’t wash.

  18. OT
    Wiful, steve munn

    first Taust likes to cheery pick, great if something in science journalism supports his case deathly silence or triple back flips with 2 full twists if it doesn’t.

    I think if he was at all genuine that the article has merit being raised but Taust wants the full spin benefit.

    The article has a point in that in a similar way I tend to ignore environmental/conservation groups for info and go straight to reputable science journalism or the studies themselves by the scientists to avoid any taint of bias. Too bad taust won’t do the same.

    Minor points:

    In all the years I’ve read New Scientist I can only remember two or three that the went against the usual environmental grain.

    Instead of ignoring them I had to accept the truth of what they said; unlike taust who has a even bigger job of overcoming the absolute majority of the articles that go against his ideology.

    But it seems his cognitive dissonance is up to the job.

    Interesting that medicine is used as an example to aspire to given the commercialization of certain diseases-there’s another term for it but it evades me- by drug companies and instances of conflict of interest in regard to ties between doctors and drug companies.

  19. Simonjm;

    Have a search through my posts and come up with more than one example of where I have not accepted the received view of science in respect of anthropogenic climate change.

    Have a search through my posts and find more than one example where I have selectively quoted scientific results that only support my views.

    In my opinion you are at grave danger of not getting a full 360 degree view of an issue if you do not keep abreast of the Public Interest Group material or for that matter any special interest group material. All wisdom is not revealed in scientific journals particularly wisdom on political decisions.


    I do not see how I was obtuse. I clearly stated what the article was about.

    Flannery’s book has some of the nature of a review of the subject and I note from Ian Castles posting that at least one authorative scientist is of the opinion that Flannery’s book has some of the faults the paper addresses. JQ even by implication thought so too. So perhaps the post was not too off topic.

    It appears one has to be a true believer of the mitigations creed without any deviations allowed. Another mark of a centrally controlled economy background to the mitigation ethos.

    My stance is that we are going to have to adapt as well as mitigate and that precious little wok is being done to allow us to adapt in a rational way. Tell me what is irrational about my opinion?

  20. Taust big picture what you haven’t said can be as revealing as what you say.

    You want open rational debate but were silent when I raised the censorship of scientists by Bush; use an article from a science journalism magazine to have a go at the eco side but also come out with statements like ‘the environment is just changing’ ignoring the overwhelming number of articles that selfsame publication has made concerning environmental degradation to the global environment.

    You frame the RS as stifling dissent but ignore the conflict of interest, & the misrepresentation of the scientific facts of climate change by the groups funded by Exxon.

    ‘Open’ debates aren’t the exclusive domain of scientists but when it involves science it entails those parts of the debate that involve the science adhere to the high standards required by scientific knowledge.

    It also beholdens to all, high standards of honest ethical behaviour and the acceptance of what the evidence tells you, which by its actions Exxon does not meet.

    The difference between a passive aggressive troll and a reasonable and objective rational individual can seem one of viewpoint, which forum and a very fine line.

    But I do know what mainstream science and the best scientific institutes are saying let alone what the environment is telling us, I also see who this is opposed to, their track record and where they get their information.

    Be that as it may you sir don’t even adhere to the principles that you preach and I don’t have time for passive aggressive libertarians in denial.

  21. Hurricanes and global warming: everybody’s wrong

    Now Taust there is nothing wrong with your adaption approach as this balanced piece points out.

    What you need to do is see that while it is sensible to have adaption policies defending the indefensible -Exxon-and making ill-informed comments like ‘the environment is just changing’ add nothing to the debate.

  22. Simonjm

    I regard people acting in their own self interest as being the, to be expected human behaviour”, hence I do not get upset with ExxonMobil. When the occasion requires it I would argue with them. Plenty of people were arguing with them I would just be adding to the noise.

    In the context where I said the environment was just changing I was advancing the value loaded view that to add degradation to a change was to put a human value to the change. Nature itself has no such ability to be cognisant and just gets on evolving in the changed set of circumstances.
    I stand by that view of nature as not being in the class of defending the indefensible.

    From that point of view I then extend my argument to say that in my opinion protecting human life is the overriding priority of human beings. A value judgement you may adopt different values and get to a different point of view. We can then debate the differing value systems as distinct from a “false” debate about the science.

    I explained in one post (advancing the explanation of USA behaviour as based on a (not the only) rational analysis of the USA position) this did not need to include Bush censoring scientists. If I was going to get upset about the USA treatment of scientists it would be over the biological scientist who reported missing biological material and was taken to the cleaners over the incident.

    Any client has the ability to manage material put out under the client’s brand. You work for the Government sooner or later that reality will kick you.

    I am an ancient middling sort of fellow. (The middling may also be muddling). View my posts from that framing and I think you will understand them better.

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