I subscribe to The Australian – I like its business sections and detest the low journalistic standards at Melbourne’s Pravda, its main Melbourne-based competitor. But I feel more than irritation at The Australian’s ongoing war against climate science. This is an organised campaign that I have remarked on before. The mix of scientific claims, philosophical arguments for scepticism in science and the outright stupidity of certain columnists mean that the casual reader might believe that there is serious scientific doubt about the case for controlling GGEs. If there are such doubts this is not established by the types of arguments put forward in The Australian.On the front page today there is a statement rejecting the view that the sea ice around East Antarctica is diminishing in response to warming. Then there is a buttressing article by the same journalist that suggests there need be no concern about melting of the Antarctic ice cap and then an accompanying editorial pointing out that the science of climate change is not 100% settled. The last statement is, of course, true irrespective of what happens to sea ice.
And it is important to understand what scientists are, in fact, saying here. The main authority cited here – Ian Allison – agrees that climate change is occurring and that it is anthropogenic. He emphasises that the Arctic ice sheet is certainly diminishing as is that of Greenland and Western Antarctica. His only claim is that Eastern Antarctica is cooling with anecdotal evidence confirming a ‘slight increase’ in sea ice. Moreover, this could be explained by the fact that the Antarctic is a continent surrounded by the Southern Ocean, which may be absorbing global heat. The Antarctic also has an ozone hole above it which could be acting as a pressure valve, allowing heat to escape the icecap. Allison says “It could be that when the ozone hole is fixed, there will be more warming” Allison. Moreover the organisation SCAR, which The Australian cites to confirm a net gain in sea ice in the Antarctic, is also recorded as using ‘modeling to predict a warming over Antarctica of up to 3oC during the next century’. Indeed ‘SCAR warns that melting on the Antarctic Peninsula may be of sufficient magnitude to make a substantial contribution to global sea levels. The committee says it cannot predict how the continent’s ice sheets will respond to warming but says observed recent rapid changes give cause for concern’.
On the specific sea ice issue I searched in vain for the claimed report at the SCAR site. I did find a single additional news reference to the main author cited in The Australian’s report Ian Allison. The message he provided there again differed from the emphasis in The Australian story. Quote:
“I think it is now unequivocal that warming of the world is occurring and I think the last IPCC conclusively showed that a major cause of warming is greenhouse gas emissions from mankind.
We now know that the ice sheets are contributing to sea level rise and for the Arctic, at least, this is because the warming of this region is much greater than in other places on Earth.
We also know that glaciers in mountain areas are undergoing a very rapid retreat and they’re a major contributor of sea level rise, too.
Greenland is of more concern because of the warming of the Arctic. Greenland is at lower latitude than much of Antarctica and we’ve seen the direct effect of the melting.
We still don’t understand many things about the dynamic response of the ice sheets but we do see direct melt exceeding snowfall in Greenland.
This might not mean a runaway effect but it does mean Greenland is contributing to sea level rise and will continue to add to sea levels at the present temperatures for many hundreds of years”.
In The Australian too, the book by denialist Ian Plimer is spruiked. The book apparently argues the usual irrelevances – climate change science is a religion, CO2 is a food for plants, the IPPC is a hotbed of environmental activism lacking science, AGW is a conspiracy by self-interested scientists, climate is always changing with etc. etc. The denialists do like to recycle half-truths. The Plimer book is promoted and a defence of climate change scepticism advanced in an editorial along with a truly monstrous piece of distortion by Christopher Pearson. Pearson does not only endorse scepticism – he dismisses claims of standard science as simple nonsense, as a ‘mass delusion’. ‘How could such a solid-seeming expert consensus so quickly develop on such an absurd hypothesis?’ An ‘absurd hypothesis’? Pearson’s claim itself is absurd.
I do not reject the need for scepticism in scientific matters but I have problems with The Australian’s approach. Why Ian Plimer’s skeptical views were so strongly promoted when the views of the United States’ EPA (announced last night) went unreported? The Herald-Sun picked up the EPA report and featured it prominently. So too did the Wall Street Journal. The EPA took a markedly different approach to Plimer. I quote from the EPA’s press release:
“ ….In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.
…. The science clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate.
The scientific analysis also confirms that climate change impacts human health in several ways….. for example, suggest that climate change may lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant. Additional impacts of climate change include, but are not limited to:
- increased drought;
- more heavy downpours and flooding;
- more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires;
- greater sea level rise;
- more intense storms; and
- harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.
….In addition to threatening human health, the analysis finds that climate change also has serious national security implications. …. climate change presents significant national security challenges for the United States. Escalating violence in destabilized regions can be incited and fomented by an increasing scarcity of resources – including water. This lack of resources, driven by climate change patterns, then drives massive migration to more stabilized regions of the world”.
A more complete account is here. It is an excellent read and much more interesting that the numerous press articles referred to here which propagandise rather than throw doubt on the case for taking climate change issues seriously. Further comments on the Plimer book are given by Paul Sheehan here and by John Humphries over at the ALS blog.