“You ain’t seen nothing yet”
Contributed by David Stockwell and Anthony Cox
So says Professor Ross Garnaut, one of many in a conga line of doom and gloom opinions offered about the recent floods and cyclones and indeed anything weather-wise which deviates from a Camelot range of optimum conditions.
Of course anthropogenic global warming [AGW] is to blame and Garnaut’s opinion has hardened since his 2008 report, The Garnaut Climate Change Review. “Extreme climate events have become immediately more intense” he says in the opening paragraph of the recently released update to the report.
The current exceptional climate events are not exceptional; not one. So indeed Professor Garnaut is right: we have seen “nothing yet”, only natural variation and some heroism and good old fashioned Aussie community spirit and good old fashioned Aussie political opportunism.
In his first report Garnaut was quite up front about the lack of scientific evidence for AGW. He had previously stated this concern when he gave the 2008 6th H. W. Ardnt Memorial Lecture, which was a prelude to his first report.
In his lecture Garnaut readily admits the “great uncertainty” surrounding the science and the costs of implementing AGW preventative measures, and even the futility of doing so, when globally, the main players are not doing the same.
Where Garnaut falls in a stupefying heap is on page 7 of his lecture where he invokes Pascal’s wager. Blaise Pascal was a 17th century mathematician and philosopher who was sceptical about the existence of God, but said it was still better to believe in God because the deceit of believing cost you little, and, if God existed, the reward was great. Pascal’s wager was an indictment of the sincerity, or lack thereof, of faith, which could be shown to be reducible to an economic process whereby minimal investment (ie hypocrisy) would guarantee against catastrophe.
On page 17 of this speech Garnaut looks at the ideal insurance approach to AGW, which really is a restatement of Pascal. Garnaut says the remote chance of catastrophe, if AGW is left unchecked, can be prevented for, by comparison, minimal investment.
There are several layers of hypocrisy operating here. The first is that it has been the threat of catastrophe which has been selling AGW since day one; always expressed in dire and apocalyptic imagery. In response to Garnaut’s 2008 report David Stockwell examined two of Garnaut's threats and reported the results in a peer-reviewed journal. The first showed that CSIRO modelling which predicted more and worse droughts was incorrect when compared with actual Bureau of Meteorology data. The second showed the claim that temperature increases were supposedly ahead of IPCC projections was based on incomplete data. This claim was based on a paper by AGW scientist Stephan Rahmstorf. Stockwell showed that when Rahmstorf’s data was brought up to date the temperature trend had not increased. Rahmstorf had used data which had been influenced by the 1998 super El Nino.
In effect Rahmstorf used a natural event to try to prove exceptional threat. Rahmstorf’s erroneous report was referenced 5 times in Garnaut’s 2008 interim report. Garnaut has obviously 'moved on' but still mistakes natural for exceptional, indicating that the upcoming Chapter 6 of the Review will look at the latest threat du jour – the effects of climate change on water resources and sea level rise.
The second level of hypocrisy is the notion of minimal cost. In a 2008 report The International Energy Agency estimated that to prevent CO2 emissions from more than doubling by 2050 will require $47000 Billion, which is 47 times the entire Australian economy’s annual worth; that is today; if the current government brings in its various programs such as the wired NBN and the carbon tax measures the Australian economy won’t be worth a pinch of guano; and don’t forget that $47000 Billion is to stop CO2 from more than doubling; to reduce it to just a doubling will be much more.
In fact Professor Lomborg has costed the Pascal’s Wager approach to AGW. In his book “Cool It” on page 41 Lomborg measures the cost and benefit of doing nothing about AGW compared with various levels of expenditure on AGW. Lomborg’s do nothing option about AGW is a twist on Pascal’s wager. It accepts that AGW is real but not catastrophic. In effect God is real but New Testament. In this scenario God pats you on the back for recognising the evidence for his and AGW’s existence is scant. In AGW terms this means that there are benefits to a warming world which offset the costs. Those benefits exceed the costs by $1 trillion.
The other options in Lomborg’s 'AGW is real' scenario are in expenditure terms the equivalent of Dante’s circles of Hell; with the most extreme option being to keep temperature increases to 1.5C above current levels. That would cost $84 trillion and have AGW mitigation benefits worth $11 trillion.
And these alternatives are based on AGW being real; that the science is settled.
Thirdly, and most profoundly, the science is NOT settled; and it is the continuum of the scientific scenarios which defines the risk and ultimately the worth of Pascal’s wager. Many scientists, such as Lomborg, have shown that there is no worst-case scenario. But it is the doomsday science which prevails, and the question must be asked, does this cease to be science and become a sort of paranoia, a ‘what-if’ psychology which has as much relevance to reality as little green men, or the ‘sky-is-falling’.
Professor Garnaut has just released the first of a flurry of 8 updates to his 2008 report. In the text he acknowledges that “The majority position remains contested by a small number of dissenters with relevant scientific credentials.” But he states in public “There was no area where sceptical views of the science could draw strength from peer-reviewed research released in the past five years.”
This is a bold statement and either the professor is not up to date with his reading or is getting bad advice. Richard Feynman said that when it comes to science, “The exception proves that the rule is wrong. That is the principle of science. If there is an exception to any rule, and it can be proved by observation, that rule is wrong”.
In fact, during 2010 alone there were at least 7 new peer-reviewed papers which were based on observation and which fundamentally contradicted catastrophic AGW. These papers include Lindzen and Choi’s follow-up paper on outgoing long-wave radiation, Spencer and Braswell’s new paper on negative feedback from clouds, Knox and Douglass’s paper on ocean heat content increase [there ain’t any], Miskolczi’s revised paper on the optical depth of the atmosphere, McShane and Wyner’s paper demolishing the centrepiece of AGW science, the Hockey-stick, McKitrick’s paper demolishing another centre-piece of AGW, the Tropical Hot Spot and Koutsoyiannis’s follow-up paper showing the AGW computer models have no predictive skill.
Demolishing sacred cows is science at its best, and these are some of the best in the field. But Garnaut has apparently dismissed them as he goes on his merry way advocating disastrous economic policies for Australia based on no more than Pascal’s thimble and pea trick. People are over this; they have seen what real nature can do and they don’t need experts brow-beating them on a “trust me” basis. When Garnaut says “you ain’t seen nothing yet” he is obviously talking to himself.