Vincent Gray reviews
The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery
Tim Flannery is a fair dinkum Aussie bloke, a best-selling
writer, Humanist of the Year, Director of the South Australia
Museum, and discoverer of 29 new species of kangaroo. He is also
an enthusiastic environmental activist, and, egged on by the
likes of Jared Diamond and Bill Bryson, he has now published
The Weather Makers a propaganda tract in support of the
widely accepted belief that human greenhouse gas emissions are
responsible for "climate change". It can be seen as
a counterweight to the recent best-selling sceptical novel by
Michael Crichton, State of Fear.
The Weather Makers starts off swimmingly with the foreword
by Robert Purvis, who claims that "Quite simply, climate
change is a threat to civilisation as we know it". Tim Flannery
has rather a hard job living up to this claim, but he does his
As one who has tried it (on the sceptical side) it is not
easy to master all the scientific and economic disciplines required
for this book. Flannery falls down rather badly in his Physics
when on page 23 he claims that the greenhouse effect is due to
the heating of the trace gases in the lower atmosphere by the
sun, rather than the more orthodox, and widely publicised explanation,
that they are heated by radiation from the earth. This correct
view does admittedly appear later on. He also considers carbon
dioxide to be the chief greenhouse gas when it is water vapour,
but many others seem to be afflicted with this blunder. I am
glad, however, to find that he understands the Principle of Archimedes
which implies that the ocean level will not rise when the Arctic
His view of science is also rather unorthodox "a theory
is only valid for as long as it has not been disproved "
(page 2). So it is a scientifically valid theory if I state that
Flannery will go to a special monkey heaven when he dies. Who
could ever disprove that? No wonder he has trouble assessing
the reliability of the theories he discusses.
He also has trouble with predictions. On page 114 we read
"not a single species is definitely known to have become
extinct because of climate change" Surely by "Occam's
Razor" we should, from this, deduce that future climate
change is unlikely to cause extinction. Yet he tries to persuade
us, at great length, that the situation has suddenly changed,
and future climate change will cause massive extinctions, including
those of several beautifully illustrated creatures.
He joins many climate scientists in believing that computer
models can be reliably used to predict future climate, and he
proves it by showing us (page 157) a successful simulation of
the weather for 1 July 1998, obtained by tweaking the many poorly-
known parameters in one of the many models to get it to fit.
Yet there has never been a successful prediction of any future
climate from a model, and until there is, there is no reason
to think that any of them could do so..
As one who has recently spent many weary hours, and fifty
pages, commenting on the First Draft of the Fourth Scientific
Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
I was shocked to be told by Mr Flannery that the IPCC is in the
pocket of the large oil producers. He is, admittedly, one of
the few I have met who realises that the "consensus"
statements of the IPCC have never actually agreed that there
was a proven relationship between greenhouse gases and "climate
change", but I had always assumed that this was because
the scientists themselves could not agree. However, I do support
Mr Flannery's view that the IPCC Reports are "dull as dishwater".
Mr Flannery has refrained from confronting the views of Michael
Crichton and the scientists who support him, and has chosen to
try and persuade us that the chief sceptic is Fredrick Palmer,
a US Coal executive. He does, however, mention the doyen of Email
sceptics, Fred Singer, whom he falsely accuses of being a member
of the Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon!
The last chapters are almost acceptable. He thoroughly debunks
the "hydrogen economy", supports nuclear energy, and
ends by recommending a series of unexpectedly easy ways of evading
the coming disasters, involving walking or biking to work and
buying solar panels. But he does not yet advocate buying a horse!
Mr Flannery's book will reinforce the faith
of the converted, but it might send many others to read Mr Crichton,
if only for the exciting thriller plot.
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