Blue moon at the Australian

Wednesday was an unusual day at the Australian, with two pro-science pieces published. First, Leigh Dayton, their science writer, raises some scientific objections to Ian Plimer's book. Plimer will, no doubt, continued to deny the existence of these problems:

Plimer also repeats the inaccurate "fact" that the global warming peaked in 1998. Yes, it was a global scorcher, thanks to a heat-inducing El Nino. But after a dip in 1999, data collected by US and British climate centres shows an upward trend, despite year-to-year variations.

She also corrects Greg Roberts' misleading stories:

Unfortunately, such misinformation bolsters the erroneous belief that because ice sheets are growing in eastern Antarctica - which is colder than western Antarctica for a suite of regional factors - global warming is a fizzer. Wrong. As the globe warms, so do very cold places such as east Antarctica. The warming ice releases moisture into the atmosphere, which falls back to earth as rain or snow. The result: growing ice sheets.

Second, Mike Sandiford writes about the same geological record that Plimer argues proves that there is nothing to worry about.

Geology tells us clearly that not for several hundred million years have we had so much CO2 in the atmosphere with so much ice on the land. Independently of any model predictions of the climate scientists, the geological record serves a warning. In raising CO2 levels we are committing to a world different from that on which civilisation has developed, to a world where the rules of our present ice-age epoch will no longer apply, a world of higher seas.

Unlike Plimer, my reading of the geological record tells me we should be cautious how we modify our atmosphere lest we condemn many future peoples to the fate of the lastVicmanians.

Of course, the Australian has to balance this sense with some nonsense from "climate data analyst" John McLean. McLean argues that climate science is a massive fraud, with scientists complicit so they can collect research funding. But he also sees that it is not conspiracy. It is unclear to me how McLean thinks that climate scientists co-ordinate their money-grubbing schemes if they don't conspire together.

More like this

I imagine quite a lot of the "sceptic" community are starting to see the OZ and its "climate change extremism" as a liability. I expect a few are already quietly yanking the chain. Watch for a renewed effort on "balance" and a slow down in the "war on science series".

Who don't hold your breath.

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Hypothesis: Wednesday is the day the Higher Education Supplement is published in the Australian - their academic readership goes up. If they ran the same nonsense on Wednesday that they do on other days, they run an increased risk of public criticism by actual scientists.
Having posed this, I'm now curious to know if the distribution of War On Science articles across the week backs it up.

By Jammes Haughton (not verified) on 07 May 2009 #permalink

Kinda proves something, doesnât it?

Yeah. You forgot to say "Tim Lambert is fat therefore climate science is wrong".

Your stupid point is ? BPT. You ought to look at the correspondence between Blair and Lambert to look at who has been beaten senseless (Blair really didn't have much sense to start with) with the clue stick. As for the Australian no doubt Dayton will be warned off the other chimps patch.

By Bill O'Slatter (not verified) on 07 May 2009 #permalink

"Geology tells us clearly that not for several hundred million years have we had so much CO2 in the atmosphere with so much ice on the land."

Not quite true, and contradicted by a later statement that there was more CO2 in the air during the Pliocene (3 mya) than today. I think what Sandiford meant was that we are heading towards a state by 2050 to 2100, in terms of atmospheric CO2, that the Earth has not seen in 200 million years. Around 500 to 750 ppm would do it, but at 385 ppm now, we're not there yet.

There was also obviously more ice on the land 18,000 years ago compared to today, but perhaps here he is talking generally about the Quaternary compared to other geological periods. What's a few thousand years to a geologist :)

Nice to see some sensible stuff coming out of the Australian. Congratulations to Dayton and Sandiford for flying the flag for rational thought.

re: #8

Yes, and it is *really* important for Oz residents, not just to comment on blogs, but to let them and their editor(s) know, as per A2 and A5 in reporting.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 07 May 2009 #permalink

If there was less ice on the land during the Pliocene than there is today, which I think may be the case, then the Pliocene is no counterexample to Sandiford's evocative claim. Could a geologist comment please? Sandiford isn't claiming causation, btw, but it's a striking correlation isn't it! If true I think it counters in just one potent idea all of the nonsense of Plimer's sad book.

Yes there was a lot less ice during the Pliocene - or rather than was when the ice started to build up to present day levels (probably triggered by the closing of the Panama Isthmus?).
I think the combination of CO2 levels of 380+ ppm and the present ice extent is rare in the geologic past. It may have happened during the Permian and the Neoproterozoic, but during these periods the Sun's output was significantly lower than now.

Strange to think that now - one of the cooler times in the Earth's history - also coincides with a much higher output from the Sun than during any other geologic time period.

Don't worry, their "balance" involves giving undue weight to a very minority scientific opinion (albeit one with powerful political and economic backers. It's nothing to do with accurately representing the world.

By George Darroch (not verified) on 07 May 2009 #permalink

@10: Less ice in Pliocene, yes, with sea levels 25 or so metres above current levels. My point was that CO2 levels were also higher then (around 425 ppm), so Sandiford's statement that it is the highest in 200 my is not right.

@11: "Strange to think that now - one of the cooler times in the Earth's history - also coincides with a much higher output from the Sun than during any other geologic time period."

Well, this is well known as the 'faint young sun' paradox. The sun has increased in output over its stellar evolution, and the relatively constant surface temperature over that time is only explicable if CO2 levels were concomitantly higher in the past compared to today.

Ian Plimer conveniently neglects to mention this, of course.

Chris Mitchell on the 20-years of Media Watch show last night was still of the view that busting Janet Albrechtsen for both plagiarism and twisting her sources to mean the opposite of what they said as the basis for a feature article was, quote, "nitpicking". So lying, obfuscation etc etc is perfectly ok if it's in the service of an approved ideological objective. Expect nothing sensible out of the Oz while the present editorial team remains.

Hi Barry, I think one of us may be not reading Mike Sandiford's comment the way he wrote it! If there was less ice in the Pliocene than there is today then it is not a geological period "with so much ice on the land" as today, so its CO2 levels are not relevant to his assertion "... not for several hundred million years have we had so much CO2 in the atmosphere with so much ice on the land".

Sorry, perhaps I'm missing something.

I for one welcome our irrelevant Arabic 3D animation overlords.

By Ezzthetic (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

frankis, you caused me to re-read what he said and like one of those shadow pictures, I now see it in a different perspective! He said it poorly I reckon. What he must mean, as you twigged, is that:

1. There have been periods with as much or more CO2 than now in the past 200 my.


2. In none of those other high CO2 periods was there so much ice on the planet as there was today.

Is that how you read it?

In other words, we're all set up for some hefty melt and SLR. Still, the Pliocene gives a useful guidance on this point: 425 ppm CO2 = 2-3C temp and 25m SLR.

I've always thought the East Antarctic thickening ice sheet was due to warming sourthern oceans giving off more humidity that falls as snow, not the warming ice sheet spreading out in some fashion. Other than that nitpick, Dayton has it right.

In other words, we're all set up for some hefty melt and SLR.

I *think* that's the point trying to be made, but as you say, it's poorly worded.

Yes that's the way I read it Barry and dhogaza. Taking it that way and with thanks to Nathan, I think that simple image of Sandiford's singlehandedly trumps the book full of gibberish from Plimer. Plimer's just-so stories amount (I assume from excerpts and commentary on them as of course I won't be paying the fool for a copy to call my own) to no more than handwaving, deceit and homilies: insights like the astonishing "geological time is deeper than you might think, grasshopper" and "there's nothing new under the sun". Nota bene that when speaking under pressure from a good interviewer Plimer can't help himself from falling back to the denialist position that because (he thinks) the sky is falling on his economy, presumably the science just must be wrong. Scientist? - it's a freak show not fit for children's eyes.

Behind the curtain Chris Mitchell is getting eyes on his paper with his 95% nonsense content pitched to delusionals, "balanced" he'd say by the occasional Leigh Dayton or guest piece as sop to the better educated. That will be making Mitchell happy but what a tragedy that a full professor of geology is filling the role of Rupert Murdoch's page 3 t*ts at attracting the mad, bad, ill- and un-educated to the spectacle that is The Oz.

Back on the science, I think that suggestion from Sandiford that modern times already stand out in the geologic record for having so much ice on Earth despite the high and rising amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, ie that on the strength of just the deep geological record alone we should expect dramatic change in the amount of ice (and consequently sea level) if CO2 levels stay this high or higher for much longer, is simply evocative.

That (#21) is one impressively scathing book review!

I just read that review in The Australian.

I think it should go down in history as one of the all time best demolitions of a pseudoscientific book. I like it almost as much as Sir Peter Medawar's masterful review of The Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard Chardin. Medawar was one great writer.

By Chris Johnson (not verified) on 08 May 2009 #permalink

I agree with regard to Michael Ashley's review of Plimer's book (see Dirk's #21). A wonderful job. We need more of this kind of writing that is easily accessible by the lay public.