Features Australia

Unsettled science

Far from being settled, the science of Climate Change is mired in miscalculations, misinformation and uncertainty.

20 June 2015

9:00 AM

20 June 2015

9:00 AM

After comparing the IPCC to FIFA in the Australian recently I half expected to see a letter in the next day’s paper from Sepp Blatter protesting at the outrageous slur.

Instead the criticism came from Matthew England at UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre who claims to have fallen victim to ‘yet another unwarranted attack.’

If his words betray a certain irritability among workers in the Armageddon industry, it is entirely understandable. There can be little satisfaction in explaining away apparent anomalies in what they once called ‘settled science’ while staving off nagging doubts that the coming cataclysm may be not quite so calamitous after all. Climate scientists are not in the mood for jokes.

‘It’s scandalous,’ wrote England, ‘that Cater’s article alludes to corruption within the IPCC while full of inaccuracies like this.’

Before leaping on other people’s supposed inaccuracies, England might care to address some contentious claims of his own. In the opinion of many he still owes an apology to Nick Minchin after this exchange on Q&A in April 2012:

Minchin: There is a major problem with the warmist argument because we have had rising CO2 but we haven’t had the commensurate rise in temperature that the IPCC predicted…

England: What Nick just said is actually not true. The IPCC projections of 1990 have borne out very accurately the projections now 22 years old and the temperature record that we have does bounce around from year to year but that decade by decade progression of warming that Megan just mentioned has occurred.

Minchin was right; the climate models are failing on global decadal scales. Not only that, but as Jo Nova points out, the models also fail on regional, local, short term, polar, and upper tropospheric scales. They fail on humidity, rainfall, drought, they fail on clouds and fail to take account of the hot spot. The so-called feedback loops are not intensifying the effects of CO2 as the computer models forecast.

The catastrophic collapse of the ecosystem foretold in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was science fiction, not fact. The only catastrophic failure is the failure of computer models.

The IPCC is a serial embellisher. It never passes by a chance to inflate, embroider or lay it on thick. As former IPCC chairman Robert Watson acknowledged after that failure of the Copenhagen summit, ‘the mistakes all appear to have gone in the direction of making it seem like climate change is more serious by overstating the impact.’

The good news for climate scientists is that no matter how hard to swallow, their claims will always find a home on ABC’s Lateline. That was where England told us in November 2009 that ‘the Arctic may be ice-free… in the next few decades,’ that by 2100 ‘virtually three quarters of the mass of mountain glaciers could be gone’ and that ‘the West Antarctic ice sheet is likely gone.’

‘That’s tens of metres of sea level rise, or about 10 metres of sea level rise,’ he told a credulous Margo O’Neill.

Sadly the great Antarctic thaw is not going according to plan. The sea ice record has been broken for the third year running and fuel is being flown to Mawson base by helicopter because the icebreakers can’t get through.

England accuses his critics of muddling ‘land ice — which is melting alarmingly rapidly and contributing to global sea level rise — with the floating sea-ice which makes no contribution to sea-level rise at all.’

Despite his confidence, however, the science is far from ‘settled’ on the complex matter of ice mass. Some studies say it is increasing and others that it is decreasing. The confusion is understandable; common sense tells us it must be damn near impossible to measure the volume of ice across an entire continent, especially when the ice is 3km thick.

To all intents and purposes, however, the frozen continent remains stubbornly frozen and the expansion of sea ice, like the 15-year pause in global temperatures, confounds the IPCC’s expectations.

‘If the Antarctic region is going through dangerous warming as England suggested, it’s odd that the continent is not warming, that the sea ice is not melting, and global sea-levels are not accelerating,’ Jo Nova told me. ‘The main part that is losing mass is the Western Antarctic which lies over the Pacific Rim fault-line, and is where they are still finding active volcanoes. Why do long proxy studies in Antarctica show that the current era is not unusual to the last 800 years, and ice sheet gains exceed the losses?’

Yet, claims England, the ice is not just melting, it is melting ‘alarmingly rapidly’, contributing to global sea level rise. Even though sea levels have apparently decelerated since 2004. ‘If Antarctica is melting so fast,’ says Nova, ‘it’s not showing up as any global threat.’

In such a climate of uncertainty, scepticism is the only rational response. Doubts are further encouraged by the behaviour of climate scientists themselves. They seldom appear to be acting in the way we expect, by constructing a hypothesis and then attempting to demolish it. The hypothesis is well known; that rising atmospheric levels of greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide in particular, will cause global temperatures to rise sharply. That working hypothesis is now 30 or more years old, yet the predicted rise in temperatures has not been matched by observations. The match is not even close.

The IPCC’s failure in particular to explain the 15-year plateau in global temperatures and tell us when and how it will end has damaged the institution’s credibility beyond repair.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Nick Cater is head of the Menzies Research Centre.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments