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From Climate Scepticism


The other day, I decided to try out the PressReader app, to see what my local library had subscribed to (and that therefore I could read without my own subscription, and stripped of digital ads to boot). Well, scrolling through the front covers of the available magazines, I came across what looked like a bomb going off on the front cover of The Monthly, with below it,

The summer ahead by Joëlle Gergis

The summer ahead Down Under is looking rather apocalyptic. Gergis is of course well known to those sceptics who have read Climate Audit over the years, and I refer readers to articles there for discussion of the detrending “controversy.” Here, for instance is what mild-mannered Stephen McIntyre said about the 2016 reboot of the PAGES2K paleotemperature reconstruction:

In 2012, the then much ballyhoo-ed Australian temperature reconstruction of Gergis et al 2012 mysteriously disappeared from Journal of Climate after being criticized at Climate Audit. Now, more than four years later, a successor article has finally been published. Gergis says that the only problem with the original article was a “typo” in a single word. Rather than “taking the easy way out” and simply correcting the “typo”, Gergis instead embarked on a program that ultimately involved nine rounds of revision, 21 individual reviews, two editors and took longer than the American involvement in World War II.  However, rather than Gergis et al 2016 being an improvement on or confirmation of Gergis et al 2012, it is one of the most extraordinary examples of data torture (Wagenmakers, 2011, 2012) that any of us will ever witness.Climate Audit

So, seven years on, what does the summer ahead have in store? Well, our Australian readers will be lucky if they survive it. The subhead:

The climate disasters unfolding in the northern hemisphere are a sign of what’s in store here, as governments fail to act on the unfolding emergency

But the article doesn’t begin with the disasters of the northern hemisphere. Instead – annoyingly describing something that happened in the past in the present tense – we have a seemingly idyllic scene where Fam. Gergis go camping in the rainforest of New South Wales’s Nightcap National Park. But all is not right in this subtropical paradise. There are blackened trees and a layer of charcoal on the ground – the ghost of the wildfires of the summer of 2019-2020.

In the aftermath of the fires, I visited this very patch of rainforest with a documentary film crew and wept as I tried to explain the significance of what we were witnessing.

It’s a pity the documentary film crew didn’t take an ecologist, who might have said something along the lines of, “fire is rare but not unknown in this habitat. The rainforest is surrounded by more fire-prone plant communities, and survives repeated wildfires in refugia created by local topography. Rainforest species can re-establish into the surrounding areas in the absence of fire, but there are areas they cannot spread into because they are too dry. The result is a dynamic equilibrium where the make up of the plant communities varies on decadal timescales, depending on fire frequency and intensity.” Something like that.

BIG FAT WALLOPING ASTERISK: I know nothing about Nightcap National Park. I do know that the former extent of rainforest in Australia was much larger than it is today, and that natural climate change resulted in only a few relict areas surviving in New South Wales. If I have that wrong, please educate me.

But I must not dwell too much on answering the specific claims made by Gergis in her essay, because if I do, my reply will be longer than her original. Instead, I want to highlight the more hysterical bits of the hyperbole that runs throughout.

After four years spent immersing myself in the minutiae of the global climate emergency [as an author on IPCC’s AR6], it’s painfully clear that the extremes we are witnessing right now are simply a prelude of what’s to come.

There follows a shopping list of disasters and omens, which either presage climate apocalypse or not, depending on whether you are an alarmist or a sceptic. We have the hot temperatures in Sardinia, Sanbao, the Canadian wildfires, floods in Beijing and the hottest ever month on record.

António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, responded by declaring that, “The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.” While cynics might dismiss his comment as hyperbole, the scientific community know he’s not wrong.

Dismissing it as hyperbole was the least it deserved. Plenty other descriptors could have been selected. How about “asinine.” That seems to fit the bill.

Today’s atmosphere has the highest CO2 levels in the past two million years, which was the last time we had an era of “global boiling,” “climate breakdown,” “contagious stupidity,” etc.

The evidence that the increase in temperatures is owing to human emissions of CO2 is unequivocal – something you will not find me arguing with. But I take issue with the conclusion Gergis draws:

Or put another way, scientists can now definitively say that humanity’s use of coal, oil and gas is cooking the planet.

That statement bears no resemblance to something that can be said definitively.

Next on the agenda is a series of paragraphs describing the emotional cost of being a climate scientist. It would be heartless to say exactly what I think about this section, and that ain’t me. All I will say is that it should be obvious that objectivity in science is important. The more important the question at hand, the more important it is to be objective. Objectivity will not guarantee that you get the right answer, any more than subjectivity guarantees that you get the wrong answer. But it helps.

Moving swiftly on to the next block, emotions still run hot. Here, we learn that

…the real stress comes from knowing that all the solutions we need to stabilise the Earth’s climate exist right now.

OK, I’m going to let you stare out of the window for a few moments and predict just what those solutions might be.

If you said “Net Zero,” give yourself a strawberry bonbon and a pat on the back, in that order.

Yet despite the enormous potential of these low-hanging fruit [wind and solar], our leaders are instead choosing to support the expansion of the fossil fuel industry to the bitter end.

I wonder what she would be saying if great lumps of the West were not nominally on a course to Net Zero by 2050? Next Gergis decries Australian subsidies for oil and gas – something I cannot comment on authoritatively, but if it’s anything like most of the “subsidies” that the UK government offers the fossil fuel sector, it will be pure prestidigitation. Apparently the 1.5 degree target aims to avoid “millions of climate refugees,” and to achieve it, most fossil fuels cannot be extracted. Therefore the decision of the UK government to issue new oil and gas licenses is perverse.

COP28 is a floating corpse – look who’s involved, and look what they are interested in. Carbon capture is useless (an opinion I tend to hew to as well).

It is clear that the urgency of the clean energy transition is being downplayed by vested interests with a criminal disregard for science and morality.

I would timorously suggest that those gung-ho for Net Zero based on a “clean energy transition” are also operating without regard for science and morality. They pretend that “renewables” can power our present civilisation, and don’t mention that the less well-off will pay for the displays of virtue of our leaders and opinion formers trying to flog us down this thistly track.

Of course, as things stand, we are not doing enough:

The world’s collective policies represent a catastrophic overshooting of the Paris Agreement targets, which promises to reconfigure life on our planet as we know it.

Quoth Gergis,

…the latest climate models show that under a very high emissions pathway, global average temperatures could warm as much as 3.3 to 5.7°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century…

Except it won’t, will it, because the very high emissions pathway is not credible, and if it was, the models promising 5.7°C aren’t.

Such catastrophic levels of warming will render large parts of our country uninhabitable, profoundly altering life in Australia.

If… could… maybe… will! In any case, most of Australia is already uninhabitable. Everywhere that doesn’t have a supermarket in easy reach. With due apologies to our Australian readers.

We know from the geologic record that 1.5 to 2°C of warming is enough to seriously reconfigure the Earth’s climate. In the past, this level of warming triggered substantial long-term melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, unleashing six to 13 metres of global sea-level rise that lasted thousands of years.

Sounds scary. (#pedantry: you need an ‘al’ there. A historic record is not the same as a historical record, and similar comments apply to geology.) Care to put a timescale on the “unleashing” of the melting? No, thought not. Apparently the current level of ice loss has committed us to – what does she call it? (thumbs through digital magazine…) A “cascade of changes” that are “irreversible” and will “last for centuries” [in which case, it hardly seems worth the sacrifice of Net Zero?].

The IPCC report doesn’t mince its words here, stating that beyond 2°C, adaptation is simply not possible in some low-lying coastal cities, small islands, deserts, mountains and polar regions.

I presume Gergis did not write that phrase as part of her work for the IPCC. But the sentence as quoted is untrue. None of those places face an impossible situation with a further 0.8°C over the 1.2°C that we have already “suffered.”

Coral reef scientists are already panicking, as global reefs are being besieged by record ocean temperatures.

The Florida Keys has bleaching because of high temperatures, and the scientists are “panicking” about it.

As awful as this is, these impacts are entirely consistent with what scientists expect.

So why are they panicking? Oh, I knew you were going to do that. ARRRGGGHHH! This next excerpt can only be described as… well, I’ll leave you to be the judge (multiple choice quiz follows):

The IPCC warns that even with 1.5°C of warming, which we are set to breach in the early 2030s, 70 to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed. That number rises to 99 per cent with 2°C of warming, which could happen as early as the 2040s. An entire component of the Earth’s biosphere – humanity’s planetary life-support system – could be lost in under 20 years. Given that 25 per cent of all marine life depends on these areas, it’s hard to comprehend the domino effect that will be unleashed as these key ecosystems start collapsing globally.


A) The paragraph is an accurate portrayal of the near future;

B) The paragraph uses acceptable rhetoric to enhance its emotional impact but is substantially true;

C) The bull**** was coming thick and fast, and the author hoped we were lapping it up, and the bovine among us probably were;

D) King Charles III.

So, lemme get this straight. Coral reefs which only occur in the hottest parts of the ocean are going to be wiped out in 20 years, because there will be no part of the ocean left that is cool enough for them. After this in my view entirely specious claim (I picked (C)), Gergis goes on and on about the Great Barrier Reef, how it should have been placed on UNESCO’s in danger list, but wasn’t because of politics. Look at the bleaching! Everything is terrible, but the politicians – even the notionally green ones that are now ruling the roost, the ones that all right-thinking peeps voted for – don’t want any bad news to be widely known about the GBR lest it dents the tourist trade. And there were we sceptics thinking that coral was at record levels. How excited would the alarmists get if it was on the decline?

But stop worrying about the coral. There’s something worse lurking behind the arras.

As overwhelming as all of this is to take in, the imminent demise of the world’s coral reefs isn’t the only thing keeping scientists up at night right now. There is something far more sinister plaguing our minds – the possibility that the Earth might have already breached some kind of global “tipping point”.

Well, no it hasn’t. I don’t think Gergis helps her argument here by extensively discussing The Day After Tomorrow. (I preferred the sequel, “A Week Next Tuesday.”) What are these putative tipping points? Low sea ice leading to low albedo leading to more solar energy absorbed leading to A TIPPING POINT! Except that for this sceptic, there is a little issue in the form of the period of total darkness each year. The poles are going to be brass monkeys every winter, sea ice is gonna form, etc, etc.

Are we nearly there yet? Yes! We end where we begin: at the rainforest campfire, whose embers are not glowing, but (speedily thumbs through thesaurus) “radiating.” As the finale, Gergis laments the false dawn of the Australian election:

While I do my best to try and switch off, it isn’t always easy. It is heartbreaking to accept the reality that our planet is warming, faster and more ferociously than we thought – and that our politicians are still not doing enough. In the aftermath of the euphoria of Australia’s “climate election” in 2022, I was filled with hope that our nation had finally come to its senses, and that we now had leaders with the vision to make Australia the renewable energy superpower we know it can be. And yet, over a year into the new government’s term, our leaders continue with business as usual, ignoring the deafening alarm bells. If we remain silent and let things go on the way that they are, our political disengagement will provide the social licence needed for the exploitation of fossil fuel reserves to go on for decades to come.

Wait, I think I’m spotting a logical inconsistency here. If we have reached a TIPPING POINT or something then even the most diehard sceptic is going to drop his trousers, or pull them up, one or the other, run to the station and jump on board the alarm train, and at that point, there will be no slacking at all, no opposition to Net Zero to be found anywhere, and the world will be saved. Hooray. It’s just like that annoying bespectacled accy type in the tweed who, accompanying the credulous into a haunted manse, pooh-poohs the possibility of ghosts until one leaps out at him and bites his nose off.

Unfortunately for the alarmists, so far all they have is clanks and creaks and spooky lighting. Once you shine your torch its way, that ghost behind the arras turns out to be a trick of the light.

And vanishes.

PS. I bet Academy Travel, who are running 16-day trips to Pompeii, Capri and the Bay of Naples from Oz, wish their half-page ad in the print edition was not placed right in the middle of Gergis’s essay, which might have swayed a few fence-sitters against the trip. I think – on the whole – if I were them, I’d be asking for a refund.

PPS. You can read the whole thing online whether or not you are considering a tour of Naples and its environs.