Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Monty Python Climate Change Phrasebook?

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has set up a blog, with the first topic for discussion climate change. One Malcolm has taken up the opportunity to post copious volumes of alleged “facts” that purport to show that the PM has failed to exercise “due diligence”. The blog bizarrely prevents posting of internet links of any sort making it hard to point directly at factual content to debunk this stuff.

I am guessing here at the specific book “Malcolm” has used as source material but I won't name it since he doesn't (he mentions the author's name, Plimer, but I don't have the book I’m thinking of in front of me so I will take it as Malcolm’s contribution; if anyone has the Plimer book, feel free to comment on the “Malcolm” interpretation).

This whole thing reminds me of the Monty Python Hungarian Phrasebook sketch, in which pranksters have published a phrasebook rendering commonly-used tourist questions from the original Hungarian into inappropriate English (e.g., “Can you direct me to the railway station?” in Hungarian is translated to “Please fondle my buttocks.”).

Let’s look at some of “Malcolm’s” quotes from his phrasebook (approximate page numbers from the PM’s blog; they shift around as responses go up):

  • [p 85] The warmest year in modern times was 1934. The next three warmest were 1931, 1938 and 1939. All before humanity’s latest industrialisation with higher CO2 production. Other warm years: 1998, 1921, 2006, 1999 and 1953. Uh, no. The Hadley data set HadCRUT3 shows that 1998 was 0.7° warmer than 1934. The source of “Malcolm’s” error is NASA’s correction of their US data set, that has been misrepresented around the blogosphere as a significant change in worldwide trends. No data set that anyone takes seriously does not show significant warming over the twentieth century.
  • [p 81] Other likely climate drivers in the solar system include variations in: solar system centre-of-gravity; sun’s centre of gravity; Earth's orbit and distance from sun; Earth’s axis tilt and precession; moon’s orbit; sun spot cycles and solar irradiance or energy output; ...........
    The IPCC’s mandate prevents considering these and other natural climate drivers. Why? The IPCC is not a scientific organisation, it’s political.
    Rubbish. Read the IPCC's report Understanding and Attributing Climate Change, easily found by searching for attribution of climate change, and you will find this claim is completely false.
  • [p 89] Krakatoa’s 1883 volcanic explosion dwarfs humanity’s CO2. Nature rapidly absorbed Krakatoa’s sudden, huge CO2 into oceans and biomass, quickly rebalancing Earth’s atmosphere. False. Krakatau in 1883 is estimated to have produced 9.1x1011 moles of CO2. One mole of CO2 is 44g so this amount of CO2 is about 40-million tonnes. The latest figure I can find for total human carbon emissions is 8,230-million tonnes of carbon in 2006, or about 29-billion tonnes of CO2. So in one year, total anthropogenic CO2 emissions are more than 700 times the amount Krakatau vented in 1883.

That’s all I have time for. Be assured, there is a lot more where these came from.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Free eTax Software

After years of complaining, I’ve decided to take on the Australian Tax Office’s inability to create an eTax system that is platform-independent. While a minority of computer users use computing platforms other than Microsoft Windows, they have a right to access government services. It is also wrong that a government agency is favouring one company over other alternatives. It’s as if you were only allowed a tax break for business use of a car if it was a specific brand.

Let us be clear about this: some have said, what’s the big deal? Mac or Linux users are no worse off than people without computers who also lose out on the benefits of eTax. That’s not the point. Someone buying a popular (if not the most popular) computer platform may have their choice swayed if a major, mainstream application is not available. If you want to use a Windows machine, a Mac or a Linux system, you have good options for spreadsheets, word processing, email, web surfing, personal accounts etc. on all of them. A government agency such as the Tax Office ought not to be swinging competitiveness of rival computing platforms towards creating a monopoly.

If you want to make your voice heard, here are two things you can do:

What will I do with the petition? Once it’s reached 1,000 signatures I will alert the ATO, Wayne Swan, Joe Hockey and Bob Brown as to its existence. I will challenge each of them to take action.

The results count below includes a few bogus signatures that I’ve trimmed:

To illustrate the standards of other countries, here are some that support at least 2 platforms:

  • South Africa: Mac plus Windows
  • USA: Mac plus Windows – as far as I can tell the IRS also publishes the spec so anyone can develop software for electronic filing
  • UK – online filing, with options to submit information in more complex cases from other software (available from private sources, so a good guess is that the spec is available).

In summary, we are not talking about an insoluble problem. Even a developing country does better, and it’s not because Macs are much more popular in South Africa than in Australia. They represent an even smaller niche there than here.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Cat. Pigeons. Climate Change

Finally, I managed to get a letter into The Australian after many tries at arguing reasonably about the drivel that passes for debate about climate change that they publish on a regular basis.

It seems that polite doesn’t pay: strong words are what they are after. Could it be that the tactic many on the science side of the debate have been using of politely refuting the scientific inaccuracy of the other side is not the way to get editorial attention?

Here’s the letter and some responses to comments (since they don’t keep updating comments at the site).

DOUG Hurst (Letters, 26/6) tells us climate change isn’t always matched by changes in CO2. So what? No one claims that has to be the case except climate change deniers.

Every serious scientist working on climate science has absolutely no problem with acknowledging and taking into account a wide range of influences on climate. If Hurst wants anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions to have been an influence on climate in the 14th century, good luck to him in finding an industrial society with the capacity to pollute on the scale that is happening today.

The argument that mainstream climate science is somehow invalidated because there is more than one driver of climate is completely bogus, and it’s time you stopped wasting space reprinting the same drivel. Repeated stating of obviously stupid arguments does not increase their plausibility.

Now my responses to comments (you’ll have to go to the Letters site to see the names):

  • Perhaps rather than having written a romantic novel involving climate change, you could have written something factual – At least I know when I’m writing fiction (see sidebar, top right, for how to buy – thanks for the plug).
  • The colourful climate change theories promoted by Al Gore, Tim Flannery et al are at the heart of the dire “carbon pollution” predictions that drive and apparently sustain bogus academic careers and the political positions of many ... A good number of us simply don’t enjoy being lied to and manipulated, and especially not by politicians. – What’s your evidence? I’ve put a lot of time and effort into studying the case that the science is bogus, and all of the lies and trickery are on the other side.
  • Well surely then we are wasting a lot of effort on harnessing CO2 if it is not necessarily the cause? – It was not the cause of most climate variation in the past. That doesn’t mean it can’t be the cause today.
  • Which is why we need more broadcasting of the deep flaws in the agw hypothesis. – Let’s hear them then. All I hear is talking points that are stupefyingly easy to shoot down.
  • Thats just a bizarre statement! If there’s no link to CO2 and global warming then what the hell is the global warming industry on about with promoting a ETS? – I did not say that. I said that warming in the past was not caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions. I did not say anthropogenic CO2 emissions are not causing warming now.
  • Last time I checked the latest IPCC report these factors such as cloud albedo affect, and affect of aerosols were listed as having a low level of scientific understanding. Given this represents a high degree of uncertainty in our knowledge of the affect of these other forcing agents (of about 1.8Wm-2 or 113% of the calculation net Anthropogenic forcing)) and the low levels of warming expected from increases in CO2, arguably the precautionary principal supports a do nothing, or do very little response, until these factors are better understood – the warming since pre-industrial times is sufficient to be sure that these effects are well enough understood to have confidence in modelled predictions.
  • The original theory is that emissions of man-made CO2 will cause global warming. That has not been proven. What evidence can you offer that the theory is correct? – A lot of scientific papers. But here’s one thing you can check yourself. If the sun is the sole driver of the climate then the temperature trend should closely track variations in solar output. That was true until the twentieth century when that relationship slowly changed. If you look at the last solar cycle, while it has been on a strong downward trend, temperatures have still been slowly increasing. The “paper” you point to at the Letters site claims: “If the climate feedbacks are as strongly positive as the ones programmed into the IPCC climate models...”. First, the IPCC does not do climate models; they report the work of others. Second, feedbacks are not built into these models. The feedbacks arise out of application of laws of physics and observational data. Calling people “warmists” assumes there is some sort of religion or political movement out there. There is not. There is the scientific mainstream, and there is a small group of dissenters, as in any mainstream field of science.
  • Are you seriously defending Lovelock’s Revenge of Gaia’s dire predictions or saying they’re within an acceptable range of accuracy – his claims are at the outer end of probability but not impossible, especially if we do not slow down on CO2 emissions. I do not agree with him that it’s too late to stop.
  • Science says that nothing happens by chance – try studying quantum physics.
  • That includes the theory that greenhouse gas is the prime cause – GHG is the prime human-controlled cause. No one says the solar cycle stopped when we started burning coal. It is this kind of argument that I claim is idiotic. Go and read the scientific literature, even IPCC reports (e.g. their report on attributing climate change) if you don’t have an academic library. Over the last 10 years, the solar cycle has turned to a strong cooling trend and that has not been reflected in the temperature trend. Tell me what else could have caused that.
  • Perhaps then you’d like to explain how your hypothesis fits the fact that the Late Ordovician Period was also an ice age, while at the same time CO2 concentrations at about 4400 ppm were nearly 12 times higher than they are today – No problem. First, the continental configuration was so different to today’s that you have to be careful to make comparisons (this was over 400-million years ago). Bearing that in mind, an increase of 15 times in CO2 levels is a bit less that 4 doublings, call that a 12°C increase. That increase is over whatever temperature you started with. With a large land mass over the south pole in this era, the conditions existed for a very big temperature drop as compared with today. The high CO2 level reduced that temperature drop. The sun was also weaker then. For an even more extreme case, look up literature on snowball earth. For anything vaguely comparable to what is happening today, you need to look for an era with a rapid increase in GHG levels on top of a moderate climate. Look at what happened in the boundary between the Permian and Triassic for example (251 million years ago, so we still have to be careful to extrapolate to today’s conditions).
  • The ‘debate’ on AGW will continue for as long as the believers ignore the sociological and quasi-theological underpinnings of their faith – in science, we argue on verifiable facts and testable theories. If you want to call this a religion etc. you’re confused. What’s you mode of argument? Easily debunked talking points? What do you call that?
  • I repeat as previous - if C02 is not the total, primary what ever cause of climate change, why are we not addressing the lot, if there is any need to do anything other trhan find alternative cleaner sources of energy – CO2 is the major human-caused effect on the climate. There is no evidence that anything else is varying the climate on a time scale that matters to human civilzation. The solar cycle is a cycle: it goes up and down. El Niña and La Niña are short-term effects.
  • Does temperature control CO2 or vice versa? The Vostok ice core data shows rhythmic glacial - interglacial cycles of around 100,000 years duration over almost a million years back from the present interglacial. The IPCC proposes that the primary cyclical influence is orbital variability, which provokes temperature increase followed centuries later by CO2 increase (2007 Report, Chapter 6 page 444). The difference between the rationalists and IPCC alarmists is that IPCC concludes that CO2 then takes over as the primary forcing agent. – Drivel. The IPCC (or actually, the scientists they quote) never assume that in this scenario CO2 is the primary forcing agent. In this scenario, CO2 is a feedback. It is only a forcing if it is the initiator of the change, not a subsidiary effect. Anthropogenic CO2 is a forcing because it adds to temperature change without being caused by some other temperature change. Over geological time, there have been periods when CO2 was a forcing (e.g., when emitted as a result of plate tectonics or massive volcanoes, far bigger than any in human history).
  • Peer-reviewed geological literature shows the peak of the current interglacial was around 6000 years ago with temperature around two degrees higher and sea level almost two metres higher than present. So in fact over the past 6000 years we have seen a cooling trend - But you wont read that in the IPCC reports. So much for drivel – The IPCC’s report on palaeoclimate says we are currently in period of low variability in orbital parameters, putting the onset of the next glacial at about 30,000 years. It’s not relevant whether we were or not on a cooling trend in the past. What’s your evidence that this trend is continuing?
  • you basically defeat your own arguement. You argue that there are a number of other factors at play as well as CO2. This is exactly what the climate change realists have been saying for yonks – No they haven’t. The denial crew have been saying that CO2 either has no effect, or is relatively insignificant. Mainstream scientists have never said that CO2 is the only influence on the climate, only that it is the major one that humans can influence. And that there is very little chance that anything else of significance is happening on a time scale of significance to humanity.

In summary: this whole exercise illustrates what it’s all about. The denial (or inactivist) position tries to summarise climate science as alleging that CO2 is the only influence on climate, then attacks this straw target vigorously, with ever-bigger bails of straw. The fact that CO2 is not the only influence on climate is well known and well understood buy anyone who works with the science or follows it in scientific publications.