Comments at the launch of
HEAVEN + EARTH, Global Warming: the Missing Science
Sir Arvi Parbo
Melbourne, 6 May 2009
There can be very few books that need launching less than Professor Ian Plimer's Heaven + Earth, Global Warming: The Missing Science. It has received extensive publicity since it was released less than a month ago and is already in its second reprint.
There is a story about a new aide in the White House in Washington being coached on how to introduce people at functions. He was told that the more important the person the better they would be already known and therefore the less needed to be said. His first official duty was to introduce the First Lady and he did this by announcing: "Ladies and gentlemen, the First Lady---and the less said about her, the better".
Let me say just a little more.
It is not possible to adequately describe in a few minutes the contents of a book of 503 pages dealing with the very complex issue of climate change over some 4,500 million years. The only way to fully understand the message is to read the book, but let me try to summarise its essence.
In his introduction the author says, and I quote: "An integrated scientific view involves a holistic view of the Earth and considers life, ice sheets, oceans, atmosphere, rocks and extraterrestrial phenomena which influence our planet.... In this book I look at what history tells us about past climate and how the Sun, the Earth, ice, water, and air affect climate. In the last chapter, I give some personal views."
The conclusion reached is that the Earth's climate has always been changing and always will. The primary driving force of Earth's climate is energy from the Sun, but the climate is also influenced by many other forces, including some that are very poorly understood and probably some that have not yet been discovered. There is no persuasive evidence that carbon dioxide emissions, human-caused or otherwise, are the main agent causing global warming. In the geological past the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere has been much higher for long intervals, including at least four glacial periods. If there is human influence on climate, we are unable to separate it from natural variability. The hypothesis of the dominance of human-caused global warming is based on projections by computer models which cannot and do not accurately represent the enormously complex climate system and cannot and do not include some important inputs.
These points have been made before by numerous scientists on many occasions, including Ian Plimer. The unique achievement of this book is to present all this information and reasoning in one volume in a comprehensive and easily readable manner.
Professor Plimer is an eminent and greatly respected scientist. What he says must be listened to very carefully. But, as a true scientist, I am sure he does not expect anybody to accept his conclusions because of his eminence. Opinions and views, as he points out, are not science. The only authority that matters in science is evidence.
The extraordinary feature of the so-called debate on global warming so far has been that there has been no debate; the proponents have virtually ignored the arguments of the critics. It has been described as a dialogue of the deaf. Instead of debating the issues there have been open attempts including, unbelievably, by some otherwise respected scientific institutions, to intimidate the sceptics into silence, accompanied by the extraordinary claim that 'the science is settled'. The whole climate change issue has become heavily politicised.
One would think that if there is evidence that the critics are wrong, the proponents of human-caused global warming would be only too keen to present it. If they do not do so but instead try to silence and sometimes vilify the critics, does this not suggest that there is no such evidence?
I understand that it is not uncommon in politics to respond to a question one cannot or does not want to answer by making a speech on another subject. Surely this is not acceptable in science? Surely the issues in dispute must be considered point by point on the basis of evidence on either side? If there is no convincing evidence one way or another, surely the matter remains undecided until such evidence is found?
Scientists are human and have opinions, beliefs, ideologies, attitudes and ambitions just like everybody else. They are perfectly entitled to express and pursue all these, as long as they acknowledge that these are personal views and do not dress them up as scientific conclusions. I like to think that this would apply to all true scientists on all sides of any scientific argument.
Professor Plimer challenges just about every presently politically correct perception of climate change. Let us hope that, if any of his conclusions are not valid, it will be shown where and why by real evidence, and not by opinion polls or Hollywood films or slogans or rock concerts. We, the public, simply cannot afford to have any of the relevant science missing. The policy decisions now contemplated under the label of 'fighting climate change' will have a profound effect on every one of us. We are surely entitled to know that all the evidence there is has been thoroughly and impartially assessed and considered before any decisions are made.
In any case, using IPCC terminology, it is very likely that, in the absence of a major conversion to nuclear electricity generation, the worldwide human-caused carbon dioxide emissions cannot be reduced at all, let alone by the very large percentages said to be necessary. Developing countries will not stop improving the living standards of their people and, in addition, the world population is expected to increase by about one third over the next 50 years. If this is so, the enormous human effort and resources now spent on devising ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions needs to be redirected.
The climate will certainly continue to change, if only due to natural causes. We will need to adapt to and find ways of alleviating the effects of the changes, either warming or cooling, which may occur in the future. Very little has been done in this area so far; there is a major field of endeavour here for all the scientific and technological resources that can be mustered.
I believe Professor Plimer has done us all a great service by tabling his analysis and conclusions in such a forthright and absolutely clear manner. May the book receive the attention it deserves and may its conclusions be weighed honestly on the scales of impartial science.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a privilege for me to launch Heaven + Earth, Global Warming: The Missing Science here in Melbourne, and to invite Professor Plimer to address us.