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Greenhouse sceptics and the assault on science: in order to challenge the evidence for the Greenhouse effect, sceptics have been forced to take on the nature of modern scientific thought itself. (against the current).

In 1870, Alfred Wallace, co-discoverer of Evolution, accepted a challenge to prove the roundness of the Earth to John Hampden, a committed Flat Earther. The question of the shape of the Earth had been settled for some educated people almost 2000 years before, and Wallace's contemporaries felt no need to prove the point in a new way to an obvious crank. Wallace proved the roundness of the Earth to an unbiased witness, but Hampden was not convinced, and for fifteen years afterwards set about defaming and harassing Wallace.

The Greenhouse issue is remarkably similar to the debates about the shape of the Earth. Just as the Earth looks flat to the casual observer, so the Greenhouse effect seems unlikely whenever the weather is cooler than usual. To a Brisbanite this summer global warming seems all too real, but to a Melburnian it appears laughable. Also, the evidence for global warming has been researched thoroughly -- more so than the spherical nature of the Earth in Wallace's time. The evidence for global warming is overwhelming, but not universally accepted. Most simply it is based on the data collected from thousands of temperature observing stations around the world, coupled with measurements of water temperature taken by ships. Collating these shows a dramatic warming over the last thirty years, perhaps the fastest in human history. Temperature measurements are backed up by evidence of melting glaciers, ecosystems migrating to higher ground, changes in rainfall distribution, vanishing permafrost, isotopic analysis and measurements of ocean temperatures at great depth. Most of the evidence gained from these sources provides no numerical answers on how fast the warming is occurring. However, when over 90 per cent of the Arctic and high altitude glaciers on Earth are shrinking it is not hard to conclude that the warming must be rapid. The overall evidence for global warming is clear enough for the satisfaction of such bodies as the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Many scientists are understandably reluctant to enter the debate in the popular media, just as few scientists can be bothered debating Flat-Earthers or Creationists.

The difference, though, is that global warming is much more complex and the stakes far higher. In Wallace's day, nothing other than the peace of mind of a few individuals and Wallace's reputation as a scientist was at stake. The British government, for example, was not considering changing its shipping policies according to what Hampden said. Today, on the other hand, global warming, after nuclear weapons, poses one of the greatest threats to humanity's survival.

Governments are reluctant to take action because the costs of doing anything will be borne in the next few years, but the benefits will be reaped decades after the next election. Persuading any government to act in the long-term interest of humanity is hard enough when there are short-term costs. The presence of modern day Hampdens makes action even less likely.

In order to challenge Greenhouse science, the sceptics do not need to persuade scientists. That battle is effectively lost. Nor do they even need to convince the public that the scientists are wrong. All they need to do is throw enough doubt in the electorate's mind to weaken demands for action. Without a galvanised public, only the most visionary government will act to combat a threat more than two election terms away.

However, in order to challenge the evidence for the Greenhouse effect, the sceptics have been forced to take on not just a large body of scientific evidence, but the very nature of modern scientific thought itself. A good illustration of this is the efforts of the Lavoisier Society, whose members include former ALP national secretary Gary Gray and Liberal Federal President Tony Staley. The society pads out its ranks of high-profile figures with Western Mining CEO Hugh Morgan and its president, ex-Labor minister Peter Walsh.

The Society differs from most critics of scientific orthodoxy not simply in its interpretation of scientific evidence; it also provides links (apparently approvingly) on its website to falsified data and alleges major conspiracy theories. John Daly, quoted as a leading authority on the Society's website, uses, a graph of US temperature data as one of his key pieces of evidence against global warming on his website ( Daly's graph shows the 1930s as the hottest decade in the United States since measurements began, and no warming trend is evident. Daly emphasises the importance of the American data, saying: Urbanisation has been more successfully corrected for in the US than in the rest of the world where there is a lack of rural baseline data from which to make urban adjustments to city records. The US has the best maintained network of weather stations in the world, and this must surely be a better representation of the global picture too.

Surprisingly, however, no source is given for the graph or data, unlike almost everything else on Daly's enormous page.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) however, America's equivalent of the Bureau of Meteorology, the 1930s were indeed warm, but the 1990s were warmer still. The warmest year ever was 1998, and 1999 was third. The NOAA states: US temperatures have risen at a rate of 0.9 F/Century (0.5 C) over the past 100 years. Within the past 25 years, US temperatures increased at a rate of 1.6 F/25 years (0.9 C/25 years).

It would appear that either the world's largest meteorological organisation has, without warning the public, placed some peculiar interpretations upon the results of thousands of recording stations, or whoever provided the data to Daly has. If either side has altered the results to remove some skewing they would have a duty to explain what has been done. One side or other has something to explain, and it seems unlikely to be the NOAA.

The Lavoisier Society uses such `evidence' to claim that scientists support the global warming hypothesis because it guarantees increased research funds. In its submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) inquiry into the Kyoto protocol, the Society claimed that: The scientific establishment which grew prosperous and powerful on global warming, has fought back in an attempt to maintain its hegemonial position.

Scientists have been known to hide unwanted data as a result of pressure from employers, most noticeably in the tobacco industry. However, this is very different from what is being alleged here. According to the sceptics, meteorologists world-wide are presenting millions of readings (mostly computerised) from climate stations and ships in a way which produces data demonstrating a rising trend. The benefits would not flow to them directly, but benefit the profession as a whole (in the unlikely event, that is, that governments such as Australia's, which would prefer the Greenhouse issue to go away, would increase funding on the basis of evidence for warming).

Allegations such as these go beyond merely an improbable interpretation of evidence. They are an attack on virtually every professional meteorologist worldwide, and therefore an attack on meteorology itself.

When this is combined with the dismissal of supporting evidence from ecologists, geologists, astronomers and archaeologists it becomes an attack on the very notion of enlightenment science. We expect this from the edges of the far Right, believers in spoon bending and assorted conspiracy theorists. As such, the Greenhouse sceptics may want to reassess their position.
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Author:Luntz, Stephen
Publication:Arena Magazine
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Feb 1, 2002
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