REVIEWS

A selection of the best from recent issues of the Philosopher

 


Heavenly spheres A cool look at Climate Science


The Philosopher's verdict: gigatonnes of climate statistics
Taxing Air: facts and fallacies about Climate Change
By Bob Carter and John Spooner, et al
Kelpie Press 2013, pp 260 ISBN: 0646902180
 


'I could not put this book down. . . the authors have highlighted every facet of the worldwide scam that is Man-Made Warming', says Professor David Bellamy on the back cover, and that, indeed, is this book in a nutshell.

Precisely because of his opinion on 'Man-Made Warming', Dr Bellamy is rather out of fashion amongst Greens these days, who swap mutterings about his state of mind y'know. . .  and indeed the books lead author, so to speak, Bob Carter, is similarly persona non grata in many academic circles. His own university, James Cook in Townsville, Australia has excommunicated him, withdrawing his rights to such things as email addresses and library books. Such is the reality of scientific debate, as Thomas Kuhn rightly noted in his book that compared mainstream science to a rather nasty political campaign, characterised by distortion of evidence and smear tactics.

But we all know that, by now, don't we? Of course not, and so Taxing Air seems sometimes a rather forlorn effort to introduce a bit of factual content into what has never been a debate about facts. John Spooner's fine cartoons are more to the point - mocking the pretensions and stock phrases of the advocates of 'action against Climate Change'.

Carter et al are indefatigable in addressing politically inspired claims with facts. The oceans cannot be significantly impacted by even the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, as they contain already some thirty-eight thousand gigatonnes of dissolved carbon dioxide and are additionally 'strongly buffered by clay minerals and ocean floor rocks' - wait! - and 'the presence of calcium ions also has the ability to sequester carbon dioxide into seafloor sediments by either chemical or biochemical precipitation of calcium carbonate, as aragonite or calcite'.

It's all good stuff if the intention was to write an academic treatise, or even to preach to a church full of fellow Climate Sceptics - but Taxing Air seems to be intended rather as an effort to influence  public debate over energy policy in Australia. . . and if so, I don't think after a while there is much point to this. Indeed, I regret that this book, which repeats, or shall we more generously say, gathers together, much of what has already been said and published elsewhere (notably Carter's earlier Climate: the counter-consensus), will fall on stony ground. Just as we have recently seen in the nuclear debate, where cutting carbon dioxide has been used to justify restarting the long dormant nuclear programs in both the United States and the UK, even as Fukushima continues to smoulder, and of course, even as global policies to limit carbon dioxide emissions are in tatters, the political (or to be precise the economic) forces driving the Climate Change bandwagon have become unstoppable. Sooner or later Australia will get its carbon taxes, and public money will flow into high-tech solutions to a non-crisis.

At which point it should be said that nuclear energy even gets a sort of nod here - with an odd statement made as part of a critical examination of alternative energies, that it has no environmental downsides 'beyond that of the manufacture, construction and decommissioning' of the power plant. The environmental issues of uranium mining, which this Aussie-centred account might have been expected to remember, are thus briskly passed by without mention, let alone the very real debate about the wisdom of nuclear's radioactive discharges. 'Fracking' too, gets the nod, seen as a welcome new source of hydrocarbons!

Looking to the long-term future, little doubt exists that nuclear will play an increasing pat in energy production worldwide, because it is by a large margin the most environmentally friendly and safest of all forms of power generation.

This, as Carter and the other sceptics like to say, is not science. It is mere hyperbole. I find it particularly annoying as the claim is preceded by the statistics that coal meets 80% of Australia's energy needs, and hydropower provides nearly three quarters of New Zealand's. Why should nuclear, which is exponentially more expensive, leaving aside its record now of three 'just one minute away from' global disasters, and meets a mere 2.5% of world energy needs, be pushed forward in this cursory manner? It rather seems to undermine the credibility of the rest of the much more careful claims made, which is a shame.

Taxing Air, nonetheless, foregrounds the science. It explains that atmospheric scientists, in which group,  it counts meteorologists, physicists chemists, accompanied by computer modellers (into whose hands politicians 'have been delivered'), are behind 'much of the scientific alarm about dangerous global warming' (emphasis added). Geologists and historians, by comparison, take a longer and more sanguine view.

And indeed this geological perspective, which is Carter's particular interest, is very telling. But even relatively recent history is forgotten in today's climate  science, as the book reminds us. Quoting the Adelaide Advertiser, from 1923, we find worrying reports from fishermen and seal hunters of:

. . . a radical change in climate conditions, with hitherto unheard of high temperatures.... Where formerly there were great masses of ice, these have melted away... At many points where glaciers extended far in to the sea half a dozen years ago they have now entirely disappeared.

Yet most of the 20th century was spent worrying about too much cold, not about warming. Thus the famous Newsweek exclusive, of April 28 1975, spelt out some of the evidence that diminishing amounts of sunshine 'reaching the ground' spelt disaster.

There are ominous signs that the Earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production - with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth.

Indeed, the warnings have come true - but only because of the politically mandated use of biofuels in place of petrol, which has resulted in a massive worldwide switch of agricultural production for food to production for supposedly low-carbon energy for cars.

Politicians don't need Climate Science to want to find reasons to subsidise farmers, and Taxing Air does a useful job in tackling some of the nonsense in the arguments made for it. Fossil fuels are not running out, as in the oft-repeated mantra that 'we need new sources of oil', and it is a matte of plain fact that the policy will not 'lower carbon emissions'. Those emissions continue merrily to rise, even as global temperature measurements head downwards, defying the models.

Not for the first time, Bob Carter (and colleagues) highlights the very real cost of Climate Change policy in terms of increasing world food prices and hence nudging the world's poorest people into starvation. Is that science - or politics? The reality is, the two are inseparable.

 


Never mind what The Philosopher says -
Take me to the bookshop!
Reviewed by Martin Cohen