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article published in Quadrant Magazine May 31 2011

Scare or science?

by Des Moore

May 31 2011

Climate Change View of a non-scientist

Climate Commissioner Steffen’s report to the Gillard Government on the science of climate change has the same basis as the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. As indicated by its title –The Critical Decade, it supports the need for urgent action by governments to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. It claims that, unless stopped, such human-induced emissions will result in ever-increasing temperatures endangering human existence.

The report does acknowledge “the” science has become “more widely contested”, that several important components of the climate system remain “the subject of intense debate”, and that “considerable uncertainty” remains. But the science outlined supposedly reflects that of “the climate research community” whose knowledge and understanding are claimed to have increased in recent years. Attacks in the media by sceptics are dismissed as being “by many with no credentials in the field” and no references to assessments by science sceptics are included.

How can a non-scientist assess all this?

For 27 years I worked as an economist in a Federal Treasury not infrequently faced with experts calling for government (taxpayer) funding to prevent adverse developments or improve living standards. Careful examination often raised questions as to the validity of data and of possible inaction consequences. For example, my extensive research dismissed calls by many scientists in the early 1970s for action to reduce population and economic growth because the earth’s resources could not sustain existing rates. Such scientists had failed to take account of, inter alia, the development of substitutes or modifications of existing technology and resources, as has actually occurred.

Many other examples of faulty analyses by scientists in recent years are outlined in Scared to Death (2007) by columnist Christopher Booker. He lists many that resulted in considerable economic and health costs (including deaths) before they were proved wrong.

Analysis of the dangerous warming thesis as espoused in Steffen’s report suggests his “considerable uncertainty” should mean rejection of any emissions reduction policy at present. The following seem legitimate questions not resolved by Steffen.

First, given that “the” science is based on the theory that emissions result in increased temperatures, why is there no explanation of the absence of an increase in temperatures in about half of the last 60 years when emissions increased (some refer to aerosols but even the IPCC acknowledges their influence as highly uncertain)? And don’t expert analyses of derived measurements of past temperatures reveal they were almost certainly slightly higher than they are now in some past periods when fossil fuel use was low?

Second, is it not generally agreed by scientists that the increase in greenhouse gases results in diminishing increases in temperature? And isn’t this diminishing effect on temperatures increased by other cooling actions in the atmosphere, particularly from water vapour? But don’t believers in “the” science produce modelling of future temperatures that are much higher than if a realistic allowance is made for such cooling water vapour effects?

Third, is it not very likely that before 2100 technological developments will produce economically efficient sources of energy that do not produce greenhouse gases? Indeed isn’t nuclear power already an almost economically efficient alternative source? Why, then, do governments need to start now forcing a reduction in fossil fuel use?

Fourth, aren’t many thousands of scientists now either rejecting or questioning “the” science and don’t these include many peer-reviewed articles?

Fifth, aren’t the claims of a 90% certainty in “the” science (increased to 95% by Steffen) simply derived from only one groups’ expert opinion?

Fifth, while it is difficult to make meaningful assessments of already existing policies designed to reduce emissions in other countries (the Productivity Commission is soon to report), is it not the case that available analyses show Australia as performing well? Given that, why is there is any need for additional action now by Australia on its own?

The foregoing questions (there are many others) suggest the Steffen report provides no sound basis for Australia to adopt a carbon tax or any other measures to reduce emissions.

Des Moore is Director, Institute for Private Enterprise

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