[reprinted from June 2009]

So, to start off things, I would like to take on climate change denial, and those who participate in it. Here in Australia, it all started with Senator Fielding’s trip last winter to the USA to attend a climate change sceptics conference, and his return to Australian senate with the arguments he is putting forward, including the “10-year cooling period”. NOw that we approach the approval of a CPRS in summer, others have picked up the banner of denying the basic science, like Nick Minchin, but lets give Senator Fielding his due, as the provenance of his opinion is useful the examination of the argument.

I encourage everyone to check into the background of the folks who hosted the conference that so decided the worldview of Senator Fielding on climate change, the Heartlands Institute. This a conservative/libertarian foundation that attempts to influence public policy in the USA, and is funded by politically conservative foundations such as the Castle Rock Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. They also received a total of $560,000 from ExxonMobil Corporation between 1998 and 2005, until ExxonMobil was exposed and has since backed away on its position as a climate change denier. Now I don’t think I am going out on a limb here to say that the folks identified above have a pretty large interest in maintaining the status quo on energy policy and emissions that could be affected by taking any significant action to reduce anthropogenic emissions that are linked to climate change. So, I am just saying, consider the source. Senator Fielding came home repeating the talking points of the group so well that I think it also might be good to take a good look at his finance disclosure report to the senate this year to see if he brought home something more valuable from the USA than just his new arguments to delay action on the CPRS.

But for the sake of argument, let’s just take the arguments on their face value. The two that I want to focus on are the link of atmospheric temperature rise to anthropogenic activities, and the rise (or lack thereof) of temperatures globally in the last 10 years. Senator Fielding claimed that the question of the connection between climate change and human activities is not established, and he further claims that there have been no significant rises in temperatures in the last 10 years.

First, with respect to the link between the heating of the atmosphere (note I don’t say temperature rise) and anthropogenic (or man-made) activities, the argument is that there has been no scientific link established between human activities and atmospheric temperature rise. Resolving this question is a complicated one, since it both involves a lot of science, and it is also susceptible to fraud more easily. For instance, if one side of the argument tends to use science in a deceptive way, such as through overuse of short term data, or presenting one piece of information as if it has more weight than the preponderance of other scientific evidence. This type of “science” could easily sway an unsuspecting or uninformed reader, and unfortunately that is exactly what the climate change sceptic crowd resorts to. And keep in mind, we are talking about a few hundred sceptics at most. Senator Fielding (and now Senator Minchin and others) repeat the Heartlands Institute’s claim that there are hundreds of scientists that disagree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the facts of climate change. Despite the fact that about 10% of the scientists identified by Heartlands Institute as supporting their cause in fact deny the claim and disassociate themselves from the organisation, the number claimed is only 500, or something like 450 once you throw out the actual fraud.

Let’s contrast that with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is made up of hundreds of scientist that represent thousands of scientists, selected from their peak bodies in their respective countries and representing either the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) or the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The IPCC bases its assessments on peer reviewed and published scientific literature. They have been in operation for just over 20 years, and let me tell you as a follower for a long time that they argue over scientific points comprehensively and that if you can get this group to agree on anything, I would call it a pretty dead set certainty. The IPCC finally established after arguing about if for ten years, that there has been a statistically significant increase in atmospheric the major greenhouse gas [carbon dioxide (CO2)] over the last 10,000 years, with the vast majority of that increase (>90%) occurring since 1900, coinciding with the start of the worldwide industrial revolution. They have further established a statistically significant correlation between the emissions of CO2 and anthropogenic activities, predominantly agriculture and fossil fuel use. They have established with near certainty that global temperatures are rising on average, the atmosphere is holding and releasing rapidly more water, that ice sheets in Greenland and the North Pole are shrinking, and that more intense and longer droughts are being experienced. The latter finding, while disturbing, is also reassuring to me personally as I also predicted they would come to this conclusion in January 2000, based on the evidence available to that time in my article in the journal The Environmental Engineer. So this peer-reviewed group of really smart guys argued for 10 more years after I had made up my mind on the subject, being only a guy who knows a few things. That’s how much scientific due diligence the IPCC represents!

Now, while I generally embrace my own inner anarchist, and fear the tyranny of the masses politically, on this issue I am afraid I do not believe in giving equal airtime to listening to the point of view of idiots like Senator Fielding, as opposed to the preponderance of actual scientific evidence to the contrary. My only sincere wish is that if he is proved wrong, that we could sacrifice the habitat owned by him or a member of his genetic pool for every polar bear that goes extinct and doesn’t get a say in the matter. And in fairness, if I am wrong, he may choose the punishment for me.

For the second argument about the last 10 years of average temperatures, Senator Fielding advertised his engineering qualification and how he is open to reasonable arguments based on science. Apparently Senator Minchin and several other rubes bought into Steve’s apparent reasonableness. Now, I cannot verify the type of degree he got from RMIT back in ‘83, but as his experience working as an engineer was with Hewlett Packard, NEC and Siemens, I can only assume that he got an electrical engineering degree. If this is the case, perhaps he skipped the thermodynamics electives that would serve him well at this point. Whether he skipped it, or slept through it, let’s take Senator Fielding (and anyone else currently holding a climate change is a hoax type opinion) back to school on a couple of items from heat transfer, enthalpy and entropy. Hold on, now I can tell I am losing you. See, this is where it gets a bit complicated for those that don’t want to get degrees in science, and people can get bored and switch off, but stay with me a minute and I can simplify the science a lot for those wanting to stay somewhat blissfully uninformed. There are a number of places energy can go when it is absorbed and held by a body such as the earth as that body is going out of balance and releasing less heat back into the galaxy as opposed to what it is taking in. One place is sensible temperature rises in the atmosphere, oceans and land, the evidence that the deniers point to. Another is into the internal enthalpy of the molecules that make up all the various substances of the atmosphere, oceans and land. The third (and my personal favourite) is entropy, or the state of disorder of the body. Entropy is the weird cousin of the other two ways energy can be stored in a body, and it expresses itself as chaos. So, despite the fact that I don’t agree with Senator Fielding’s examination* of the last 10 years of temperature data (since he conveniently ignores the Antarctic land surface temperature findings of the IPCC), of equal importance is that his argument also ignores the solid evidence of both increases in both enthalpy and entropy. I will continue.

When you add heat to substance, you raise its enthalpy and see sensible temperature rises, but not necessarily immediately. Because, sometimes, things soak up a lot of heat before their temperature starts to rise measurably. Take water for instance, if you add heat to water and get it to 100°C, you then have to add a whole lot of heat to it to get it to 101°C, because it has to change in to water vapour, a gas. A similar thing happens if you want to get ice from 0°C to 1°C, where it exists as water. Since the IPCC has undeniably established both a larger quantity of water vapour in the atmosphere now as opposed to the past, and that ice sheets are becoming smaller at the poles, clearly heat is being built up to cause these effects, and neither the atmosphere or the ice sheets need show a rise in temperature to prove the point. Even mainstream media now finds the break up of previously “permanent” ice at both poles to be so obvious that it can be reported, along with the drowning of polar bears that live on the ice.

Seeing that increases of entropy have occurred is trickier, since there is no such thing as an entropy meter, but increases in entropy are nonetheless evident. When energy gets added to a system and it increases entropy, you expect things to become more chaotic. There are a number of examples I could point to, but the chaos evident in rolling and more intense droughts isn’t that exciting and easy to see, so let’s look at hurricanes, as they are one of the most interesting forms of climate chaos to your average punter. For this, I am going to go with data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who keeps a comprehensive and independently verifiable list of all hurricanes in the Atlantic and Pacific (called cyclones) since 1872. These are rated in their records as Category 1 to Category 5 types, with Category 5 being the most severe. In this set of records, there are no Category 5 hurricanes reported before the 1920s, and there is evidence of these storms becoming both more fierce and more frequent. For example, if you examine the 30 year period in the 50s through the 70s (Period 1) in comparison with the period of the 80’s through 2010 (Period 2, even given that we still have one year to go) you can see that the total number of hurricanes in the Pacific and Atlantic in Period 1 was 16 and the total in Period 2 was 24 (50% more) with 15 of these occurring in the last 10 years. Furthermore, the number of these storms with sustained winds greater than 280 km/hr in period 1 was 5, and 11 are present in Period 2 (220% more), with 5 of them occurring in the last 10 years. In fact, there are so many Category 5 hurricanes in the recent past, that a Category 6 has now been proposed for use, and Category 1 hurricanes will in the future just be referred to as “a bit of a blow”.

Right, so anyone who has made it to this point should be well aware of a couple of things:

1. The IPCC is a reputable body that has, beyond a reasonable doubt, established that greenhouse gas emissions as a result of human activity are resulting in a change to the climate of the earth, which they suspect will be a bad thing.

2. Senator Steve Fielding is an idiot that should not be given any further attention on the subject of climate change, and possibly be required to hand back his engineering degree, or at least never be allowed to speak of it again without the risk of being sued for defamation by the RMIT.

3. All others that have bought into the arguments of Senator Steve Fielding on the issue of climate change are either rubes, or possibly shills for those that will lose in the short term as we work toward making some necessary changes to address climate change.

3. I can beat an issue to death if required.

* – I attribute the examination to Senator Fielding, although his examination of the issue was apparently as thorough as his viewing of one presentation at this conference, a good chat with a couple of the delegates, and collection of their talking points. He was moste forceful in presenting these talking points back here in Australia and was miffed at being given very little attention by the Obama administration to his point of view when he tried to meet with them in Washington. Perhaps they did their research and gave proportionate importance to a person who was elected on 2% primary vote.