Garnaut’s Second Update: Sceptics are the White Swans

Written by Anthony Cox and David Stockwell
Professor Ross Garnaut’s first update to his 2008 review on anthropogenic global warming [AGW] is critiqued here.

Garnaut’s second update looks at the science supporting AGW, with which there is much to agree. There is also much to disagree with, as is usual in this debate, particularly with his gloating press commentary “I was right about climate change”.
Garnaut acknowledges that “a small number of qualified scientists who publish in credible outlets maintain the view that human activity is small among the factors driving global warming.” This number must include the group of 35 genuine climate scientists and 36 additional researchers who recently sent an Open Letter to the United States Congress expressing their view that climate change is “not the horrendous environmental threat they and others have made it out to be”.
These sceptics would agree with Garnaut when he observes that “uncertainty in the science is generally associated with the rate and magnitude rather than the direction of its conclusions.”
But like the first review where he attempted to use theological arguments of Pascal’s wager to justify policy prescription, Garnaut shows he is not a scientist by attempting to apply a legalistic criteria “beyond reasonable doubt” to scientific uncertainty.
The burden of proof in AGW is not only to show an effect of human CO2 emissions on climate, but to show that effect may cause serious harm.
Most limits on environmental pollutants are set 
(1) above detection levels, at levels that are
(2) practically achievable, and 
(3) where harm is likely. Concern over barely detectable levels incapable of being measured is for unrealistic perfectionists.
Thus while many sceptics would agree with the central proposition that the Earth has been warming, it is the level of potential harm, and the existence of practically achievable solutions that determines if any action should be taken.
Even the central proposition of the mainstream science – that most of the global warming since the mid 20th century is very likely due to anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gas concentrations – does not necessarily entail harm, or actions of any kind.
Garnaut also mentions “weaknesses in the execution of the scientific mandate”, as were pointed out in the review of the International Panel for Climate Change [IPCC] by the InterAcademy Council [IAC] which found the standards of certainty used by the IPCC to be inappropriate.
But he says nothing of leading studies by Professor McKitrick’s team and Professor Koutsoyiannis’s group which found gross deficiencies in the capacity of the climate models. He just kicks the can down the road stating that “bigger and better climate models are being developed in the joint project between the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO”. In fact the best Garnaut can say about the models he relies on is that they do not make forecasts or projections but instead create “scenarios” which “are developed on the basis of expert judgements to provide plausible descriptions of how the future might unfold”. How is that not a prediction?
Garnaut argues like a lawyer arguing a case for a client on the dock, not like a scientist as imagined by Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman who says in his famous speech ‘Cargo Cult Science’.
“The idea is to try to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.”

“It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty – a kind of leaning over backwards.”

“You should report everything that you think might make it invalid not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results.”

All great scientists understand they must argue both sides of the case, as they know it takes only one contradictory bit of observed evidence, a white swan, to disprove a hypothesis. The point is illustrated by the example used by Karl Popper. If your hypothesis is that all swans are black and you send out 100 assistants who return with 99 black and 1 white swan it does not mean your hypothesis has a 99% certainty of being proved. In fact it has been disproved to a certainty of 100%.
An example of Garnaut’s one-sided lawyering is seen in Box 5, reporting that Breusch and Vahid’s [B&V] update of their 2008 paper confirm a statistical warming trend. (Garnaut claims in a footnote the update is available at a website, but as of writing this website did not exist.)
B&V’s findings are cautious and lead to weaker conclusions: 
(1) the level of significance is 95%, which is generally considered the bare minimum level of confidence in hard sciences;
(2) there are many mechanisms that could have generated the trend including increasing solar intensity, decreasing gamma-ray flux, urban heat influence, aerosols, and internal climate cycles; and 
(3) the temperature trend had a break or sudden increase in 1976, noted by many other researchers, that argues against a harmful long-term trend in temperature for reasons offered in a paper by Stockwell.
B&V fall over backwards to invalidate, but Garnaut’s one-sided perspective omits relevant information.
Further, Garnaut does not mention that the Australian surface temperature record is currently subject to an application for review, and Garnaut’s preferred global temperature, GISS is subject to an FOIA claim as requested information has not been forthcoming.
Garnaut also does not mention that GISS is an outlier among the temperature records and that the trend in the more reliable satellite measurements is lower, as John Christy’s team show in 2 papers. Garnaut ignores the work of McShane and Wyner which shows that modern temperatures are not exceptional.
Garnaut’s Figure 3 purports to show changes in observed global temperature since 1970 are consistent with the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios [SRES] from the IPCC [which in turn contradicts Garnaut’s claims such changes have been underestimated!]. Figure 3 is attributed to a publication (Rahmstorf 2011) which, again, cannot be checked as it is not listed in Garnaut’s references. It actually descends from a modified but incorrectly described Figure 3 in the Copenhagen Synthesis Report, originally published in Science by Rahmstorf (2007). If Rahmstorf (2007) had not been criticised for its incorrect statistical analysis by Stockwell and McIntyre, Garnaut may still be using Rahmstorf’s figure to argue that changes have been underestimated, as he did prominently in his first interim report.
Contrast this comedy of errors with the figure Dr John Christy uses to show that current temperatures are far below the “scenarios” or predictions made by models.
Other indicators such as ocean warming also confound Garnaut’s increased concern about the increased effects from AGW. Most of the Earth’s climate-relevant heat resides in the upper ocean. This heat has only been accurately measured since 2003 with the employment of the Argo flotation devices, and ocean heat has fallen since accurate measurements began. That is a big white swan.
In fact all of Garnaut’s areas of concern which he alleges show a worsening AGW effect have either been declining or increasing at a decreasing rate since either 1998 or 2003 as can be seen in a recent joint MET and NOAA The State of the Climate report. More white swans.
Garnaut’s other concerns are also shedding their black plumage as these scientists ignored by Garnaut show:
1. The super greenhouse gas, methane, has its rate of increase declining as leading expert Dr Dlugokencky shows despite an increase in 2007 probably due to natural factors
2. Nature is not losing the battle against human CO2 [section 2.3.2]. Dr Knorr’s seminal paper shows the percentage of human CO2 in the atmosphere has not changed over the last 150 years.
3. Dr Essenhigh’s paper shows that CO2 hangs around for much less time than the IPCC claims reducing its long-term warming effect.
4. Cyclones and hurricanes and extreme weather is not increasing as Dr Ryan Maue’s site shows.
5. Garnaut ignores these scientific insurance papers which contradict his claim that insurance statistics support AGW.
6. Garnaut then pokes around the Great Barrier Reef [GBR], an AGW icon if ever there was one and therefore a suitable topic for raising alarm. Garnaut relies on the work of professor Hoegh-Gulberg who has a prediction record comparable to Professor Flannery’s. Garnaut should have spoken to Professor Peter Ridd who is more sanguine about the robustness of the GBR, checked with the CSIRO which looks at genuine human effects on the GBR and what is an alternative explanation for reef bleaching.
7. Garnaut says the Black Sunday bushfires were consistent with a warming world [Box 8]. Unfortunately they were also consistent with a deplorable lack of bushfire prevention and mitigation and, in respect of urban temperatures, the Urban Heat Island effect.
8. Incredibly Garnaut refers to the Amazon as evidence of AGW. Amazongate confirmed IAC’s findings that nearly 50% of the IPCC sources were not scientific.
Garnaut concludes his science with a definition of “Dangerous Climate Change” and the possibility of tipping points. There is no doubt climate history has evidence of sudden climate changes. But the connection of these changes with CO2 is unsupported. Perhaps that is why in Garnaut’s Figure 9 Professor Will Steffen left out the CO2 history that follows temperature.
Garnaut is an economist in favour of market-based mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions. It’s ironic that the only market proven alternative to hydrocarbons for providing base-load electricity – nuclear – is completely insensitive to carbon price, because nuclear power generation is effectively illegal in Australia!
The recent tragic events in Japan have already provided ammunition for AGW supporters to oppose nuclear power and promote AGW. Like Garnaut they ignore the facts: the damaged reactor was the 40-year-old Fukushima plant, which had superseded technology, was badly sited and was due to be decommissioned; the modern reactors survived the biggest Earthquake Japan has had and new generation nuclear and thorium reactors will be even more resistant to nature.
Earthquakes are certain but the science and consequences of AGW problematic. Garnaut worries about the lack of public acceptance for his scientific evidence. Who can blame them; they have real things to worry about.


  1. So do you two unknowns know more than the government's official climate change scientist - Mr Ross Garnault. I mean, Garnault is a scientist. Who are you?

  2. Well done, Anonymous! Ross Garnault is NOT a scientist. He is an economist.

  3. Alternating posts between,

    Possible ice age coming, (ice breakers}

    and then

    Thus while many sceptics would agree with the central proposition that the Earth has been warming,

    does little for the credibility of this blog

    john byatt

  4. Why don't you just keep making your stupid comments at WTF Deniers and don't come over here and show off your lack of analytical ability. There is no discrepancy between "Possible Ice age Coming" and the fact that is HAS BEEN WARMING.

    Also, if you want to take it further, two different authors can have two different opinions. We do NOT, unlike you, Mr Byatt, have closed minds. We are sceptics not deniers like you lot over at WTF deniers.


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