Scary Passion

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 best.

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 icecap melts..

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.

Lavoisier the Man
Bio and Image
Click above for latest SOHO sunspot images.
Click here for David Archibald on solar cycles.
Where is that pesky greenhouse signature?
Click here for David Evans's article.

Website designed and powered by Fergco Pty Ltd.
Copyright in the materials on this site resides with The Lavoisier Group Inc.