CSIRO and the Greenhouse Game:
Player Yes, Umpire No

Bob Foster

November 2002

1. A reputation worth protecting

A review by Paul Adam in The ANZAAS Mercury (September 2002, p 5) of Fields of Discovery: Australia's CSIRO by Brad Collis begins:

The CSIRO is one of the jewels in Australia's crown. It is an extraordinarily diverse and productive research organization, and the national public face of science. In many countries public statements from government scientists tend automatically to be regarded with suspicion and scepticism. In Australia CSIRO is a trusted umpire, and endorsement by the organization is a high accolade.

It must take decades to earn a reputation like this.

2. CSIRO's temperature projections for Australia

The CSIRO has told us (Herald Sun, 27 March 2000) that: 'By 2070, annual average temperatures are increased by 1.0 to 6.0 ºC over most of Australia ... ' because of human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For the "inland", the new (8 May 2001) projection is an even more remarkable 1.0-6.8 ºC---compared to 'only' 0.7-3.8 ºC in CSIRO's 1996 report.

I promise I am not making this up: CSIRO now has Darwin rising from the present one December-February day per year over 35 ºC on average, to a whopping 5-79 days by 2070. CSIRO could be right, of course, but no-one today has any way of knowing. If it is right---at the high end---Territorians might become the next environmental refugees.

Unthinkable, I know; but we must ask: has CSIRO snowed us on Australian warming?

3. Did the 'Greenhouse Effect' cause 20th-Century warming?

In the 20th Century, 0.6 ºC of global-average surface warming from all causes occurred in two episodes: two-thirds was from the 1920s to the 1940s, and the balance from the 1970s onward---with a return to slightly cooler conditions in the interim. The Great Pacific Climate Shift of 1976--77 marked the start of renewed warming. This Shift was the most prominent climatic event of the century and, although directly related to an abrupt reduction in the upwelling of cold water in the eastern Pacific, its impact extended far beyond the Pacific Basin.

Clearly, the warming from the 1920s largely predates the build up of human-caused GHGs in the atmosphere. But is the renewed warming from the 1970s a case of greenhouse effect warming? The human-caused 'greenhouse effect' is a phenomenon of the atmosphere. GHG emissions, of which carbon dioxide (CO2)---from fossil fuels, particularly coal---is by far the most influential constituent, are supposed to trap extra heat in the lower troposphere.

Instead of escaping to Space as before, some of this trapped heat would return to the earth's surface---causing 'greenhouse effect' warming. Concurrently, less heat than before should escape to space.

We now have 23 years of satellite-derived observations, and there are two surprising findings. The lower troposphere is only warming a quarter as fast as is the surface, and (in the tropics, at least) more---not less---heat is leaving the top of the atmosphere for Space. The simplest explanation for these findings is that most of the measured surface temperature increase over the past 23 years is something other than 'greenhouse effect' warming.

Over this period, in fact, most warming in the lower troposphere is north of 30 ºN; and indeed, south of 45 ºS it is cooling. Therefore, whatever anthropogenic greenhouse warming there may be, appears largely confined to the extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere. And yet, CSIRO is claiming that Australia could warm ten times as much by 2070, from the greenhouse effect alone, as the global average warming from all causes over the last 100 years!

To me, at least, this sounds more like advocacy than umpiring.

4. Palaeoclimatology and the cause of contemporary climate change

Let's look at the distant past for guidance. Global climate is cyclic (that is, warmer/cooler) at many time-scales---although CSIRO's modellers admit only to further warming. Since the final cold snap of the Little Ice Age from 1800 (the last of the Great Frost Fairs on the Thames was in 1813--14), we had rebound in the 1820s and further peaks in the 1870s, 1930s and 1990s.

These periods of extra warming, at 50/60-year intervals, are overprinted on a longer warming trend which goes back to the nadir of the Little Ice Age at about 1650-1700. During the Great Winter of 1683/4, when 11 inches of ice formed on the river Thames, diarist John Evelyn (here copied from a wall-panel at Museum of London) wrote:

Streetes of Boothes were set up upon the Thames, which were like a Citty or Continental faire, all sorts of Trades and shops furnished, and full of Commodities, even to a Printing presse ...

The long-running 1500-year cold/warm cycle, of which the Roman Empire Warm Period, Dark Ages, Mediaeval Warm Period and Little Ice Age are the latest manifestations, is closely linked to solar influences. The overprinted 50/60-year cycle of global temperatures is related in the first instance to inertial factors, as evidenced by cyclic changes in length-of-day which display a strikingly similar period; and the same period applies to the cycle of change in the movement of atmospheric and oceanic mass---and hence in heat transportation. Again, the Sun could be involved, although we don't yet know how---but there is no 'greenhouse effect' signature in evidence.

5. All the way with IPCC

Why, then, did CSIRO raise its high-end projection of human-caused Australian warming in 2070? The reason is that it adopted, as starting point for its regional modeling, the global averages projected by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Between its Second (1996) and Third (2001) Assessment Reports, IPCC increased the high-end of its warming range for 2100 from 3.5 to 5.8 ºC. Therefore, and apparently without conducting any corroborating analysis, CSIRO increased its high-end (global) rise for 2070 from 2.1 to 4.0 ºC.

Misleadingly, CSIRO tells us that:

This faster rate of warming was mainly due to changes in the emissions of sulphate aerosols between the two sets of scenarios. Emissions of sulphate aerosols, which have a cooling effect on climate, were projected to increase strongly in the (IPCC 1996) scenarios, but these increases were much reduced in the (IPCC 2001) scenarios.

This explanation is highly implausible. The first draft of IPCC's new Report (Climate Change 2001: the scientific basis) released in 1999, already included the changed assumptions for cooling aerosols, and the high-end projection for 2100 rose then only from 3.5 to 4.0 ºC. In any case, the aerosol explanation is rendered moot by the observed pattern of warming. Roughly 90% of these short-lived 'cooling' aerosols are emitted in the Northern Hemisphere---where most of the fossil fuels are burned. But the warming is in the same hemisphere.

The 5.8 ºC number did not surface until the final draft of October 2000---subsequent to government review. The key post-science changes [1] appear to be:

First, the inclusion of an additional scenario (A1F1, see below) which has an extremely high use of fossil fuels;

Second, the addition of 30% (ie about 300 ppm) to the high-end projection of atmospheric CO2 concentration to cover "uncertainties"; and

Third, the substitution of the single climate model (incorporating IPCC's 'best-estimate' sensitivity to increasing CO2 concentration) by a suite of models having various sensitivities---including one with a particularly high sensitivity.

The assertion that the jump from 3.5 to 5.8 ºC is mainly due to an assumption of lower sulphur dioxide emissions in the future is a red herring of the first water.

6. Reliance on IPCC's economics

IPCC's climatic outcomes are based on six 'storylines' containing demographic and economic projections, leading on to 35 "equally sound" 'scenarios' for human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, and thence to 245 temperature 'projections' from runs in seven numerical models.

One "marker" storyline (A1) assumes rapid growth in economic activity, coupled with a fast rate of convergence in per-capita wealth between the world's regions. One scenario (A1F1) has this growth powered to an extreme extent by energy derived from coal. This scenario, applied to the most sensitive climate model, yields the projection of 5.8 ºC global-average temperature rise between 1990 and 2100. Hence, the plausibility of CSIRO's projected warming for Australia in 2070 is crucially dependent on the plausibility of the underpinning assumptions for IPCC's economic models. This is social, rather than natural, science.

Naively, as it turns out, CSIRO appears to have taken IPCC's economic modelling entirely on trust---although not one of the 53 authors and 75 reviewers of its family of economic projections is based in Australia.

7. Economic analysis by Ian Castles

Ian Castles (Visiting Fellow at the ANU National Centre for Development Studies, and former Australian Statistician) has dissected IPCC's "equally sound" storylines. He finds them all unsound, including the low-end projection, but not equally so.

The most optimistic (A1) storyline implies (when correctly calculated) an unimaginable 35-times growth in whole-world per-capita wealth between 1990 and 2100. But this growth in wealth is not evenly distributed; and A1 has an incredible 140-times growth for developing Asia (excluding Japan, Iran, and the former Soviet Union). Even for the rest of the developing world (Latin America, Africa and Middle East) it is nearly 30 times. Whole-world per-capita growth was only 5 times in the past century; and the Land of the Rising Economy, Japan, failed to reach 20 times. Albeit in a warmer world, there are very good days ahead.

Global CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel use (plus industrial processes) were about 6.1 billion tonnes in 1990, on a contained-carbon basis. The coal-intensive A1F1 has them rising steeply to 24 BT in 2050, and 30 BT in 2100. On a per-capita basis, historical carbon emissions peaked at 1.23 tonnes in 1979, and were down to 1.11 tonnes by 1999. A1F1 has them at 4 tonnes by 2100; and this scenario assumes cumulative coal use by 2100 far beyond the exhaustion of currently-known reserves. The writing is already on the wall for A1F1. It had coal consumption growing 31% between 1990 and 2000; and in reality, it grew only 1%.

At the lower end of IPCC's range, a higher-efficiency and hence lower-emissions "marker" storyline (B1), while predicting slower economic growth in the currently-wealthy nations (5 times), still has per-capita wealth in developing Asia growing by an implausible 70 times between 1990 and 2100. IPCC does not provide balance in its suite by allowing at least one realistic-looking---even pedestrian---storyline. All those presented are unsound.

The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has been growing at 1.5 ppm per year for the past two decades and more. It is now 370 ppm (compared to a pre-industrial 280 ppm), and there is no sign of acceleration. A1F1 has it at 960 ppm by 2100, plus 300 ppm for uncertainties, to yield the extremely implausible 1260 ppm on which the high-end number relies.

Concentration of methane, the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas, has grown at a decreasing rate for more than a decade; and in 2000, the concentration fell. It is now about 1750 ppb; but A1F1 envisages 3400 ppb by 2100.

8. CSIRO was itself an innocent victim

No, CSIRO has not deliberately snowed us; instead, it has itself been snowed by IPCC.

The problem goes far beyond IPCC's deeply flawed economic modelling, and the implausible projections for CO2 emission growth which stem from it. Equally implausible is IPCC's fixation with human-caused greenhouse gas emissions as the main driver of climate change. This leads on to IPCC's narrowly-focussed, and perversely unidirectional, climate modelling---which CSIRO adopts uncritically to designate its 2070 global-average warming, and which it then elaborates in order to achieve its spurious regional projections.

9. Policy-making in the West

There is a good chance that CSIRO's dodgy projections are being used right now as guidance by unsuspecting policy-makers. For instance, in a report by Peter Trott, The West Australian (8 October 2002) said:

Clamps on greenhouse gas emissions proposed in the Kyoto Protocol would not prevent a grim scenario of lower rainfall and higher temperatures across southern Australia, a leading CSIRO scientist told the State Water Symposium yesterday.

CSIRO atmospheric science division head Graeme Pearman said Kyoto emission limits would be insignificant in averting global warming.

A 50 per cent cut in greenhouse gas would be needed to reverse the trend which had seen a one-degree rise in the past century.

This represented 10 per cent of the total temperature change since the last ice age. The significance of greenhouse gases, which were expected to drive up temperatures 1.4 ºC to 5.8 ºC by 2100, meant the energy used to supply water would in future have to come from reusable sources.

10. Should CSIRO come clean?

In fairness to IPCC, it warns explicitly against the misuse of its projections for the purpose of policy-making. Sagely, it cautions:

No judgment is offered ... as to the preference for any of the scenarios and they are not assigned probabilities of occurrence, neither must they be interpreted as policy recommendations.

In view of both this pre-existing stricture, and of Ian Castles' recent exposé of the flawed social-science underpinnings to IPCC's scientific projections, now is the time for CSIRO to warn both policymakers and public that its widely-disseminated 2070 regional temperature projections for Australia should be permitted no role whatever in policy-making.

This is a big ask, I concede. But retreating into denial will not cut the mustard in this case, because preparing and publicizing CSIRO's fatally-flawed projections involved expenditure of taxpayers' money. Besides, CSIRO has a reputation to protect.

11. Hands-on control of global climate

Renouncing the search for "Policy Options for Stabilizing Global Climate" (the title of the 1989 Report to Congress by the United States Environmental Protection Agency) might be an even-bigger ask. As you will recall, CSIRO (see Section 9, above) is reported as saying:

A 50 per cent cut in greenhouse gas would be needed to reverse the trend which had seen a one-degree rise in the past century.

By implication, there has to be another side to this coin. What would it say? It might go something like this:

If it were not for human-caused greenhouse gases emitted since the Industrial Revolution, the warming trend seen in the 20th Century could never have happened---and Londoners would still be enjoying Frost Fairs on the Thames in winter.

But there is a vast array of earth-science-based observational/deductive evidence contradicting any such concept---whose only substantial support derives from IPCC and the atmospheric-science-based numerical models it invokes. Admittedly, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said in Mozambique (1 September 2002): 'We can defeat climate change if we want to.' But that comforting belief is implausible now, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

CSIRO has scientific carriage of this fundamental issue on behalf of Australians; and it needs to rethink its position in the light of the accumulating physical (not just modelling) evidence. CSIRO would do us all a service if it could now admit to all Australians that no amount of 'doing the right thing' about GHG emissions will stabilize global climate.

Whether held by the US EPA, Australia's CSIRO, or the British PM, sincere belief in the feasibility of hands-on control of climate---no matter how vehemently held---is not enough. We humans can't control climate---and mitigating the impact of both climate change and extreme weather events is the only practical course currently open to us. I look forward to CSIRO taking the intellectual lead in Australia on this issue---by saying just that.

12. Conclusion: Australia needs an umpire---but it isn't CSIRO

Contrarians might arouse scepticism among the convinced by saying that:

Atmospheric CO2 is a not a pollutant, but a vital plant food (hence the addition of CO2 to commercial greenhouses). Furthermore, as an important extra benefit, increasing concentration enables plants to use available water more efficiently.


A thousand years ago, Norse colonies thrived in Greenland---only to be extinguished by the onset of the Little Ice Age from about 1300AD. Human-caused emissions can explain neither the Mediaeval Warm Period, nor the warming-trend since the depths of the LIA at 1650-1700AD. Similarly, the 20th-Century warming from the 1920s to the 1940s, and the abrupt renewal of warming from 1976--77, are largely not human-caused. In fact, from 1979 onward, the satellite record provides strong support for this conclusion.

Are Australians just as alert when hearing from those on the side of the Angels? Consider the following example of hyperbole writ large. Can it be a rational and disinterested statement?

Global warming is the greatest crisis ever faced collectively by humankind. Climate changes of geological proportions are occurring over timespans as short as a single lifetime, and this may threaten the very survival of civilization.

This quote is the first paragraph of the Summary Statement from the International Conference on "Global warming and climate change: perspectives from developing countries", held in New Delhi on 21-23 February, 1989. The Conference was the first one of its kind to be held in a developing country, and it was organized by the Tata Energy Research Institute. At that time, the Director of the Institute was Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri---who has recently succeeded Dr Robert Watson as Chairman of the United Nations IPCC.

There is no escaping the conclusion that CSIRO is a fervent and uncritical advocate of the UN's line. From statements over a decade and more, I choose just one (ABC Sci-Tech-31/05/02):

The CSIRO says the evidence is overwhelming that global warming is the result of human activity, and will continue to accelerate if nothing is done.

Climatologist John Church has told a conference on renewable energy at Coffs Harbour, that the 1990s was the hottest decade of the warmest century in 1,000 years.

However, he says the increases are small compared to what could happen in the next 100 years.


He says there is little evidence to justify the view that the jury is still out on global warming.

"There are very few credible sceptics out there," Dr Church said.

Is this our "trusted umpire" speaking? If not, who will prioritize for Australians the dubious threat of future human-caused warming against (for instance) the real-life, here-and-now, threat to biodiversity posed by continued clearing on a vast scale in our region: Sumatra, Kalimantan, New Guinea and the lesser Melanesian islands---and Queensland?


1. See pp 79-81 in Gray, Vincent 2002, "The Greenhouse Delusion: A Critique of Climate Change 2001", Multi-Science Publishing Co Ltd, 95p.

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