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On 3 January I suggested that, with The Age’s publication of an article by sceptic (but IPCC reviewer) John McLean,  we had experienced a “breakthrough” in the debate on the IPCC’s dangerous warming thesis. It certainly produced an anxious reaction from The Age’s Fairfax partner, the SMH –which it appears has a policy of not publishing letters which reject the idea that humans have contributed to the increase in temperatures over the past 150 years.

But things have moved on since that heresy by The Age.

Yesterday the (joint) winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Professor Brian Schmidt offered a $10,000 wager with sceptic Maurice Newman (Chair of the Business Council established by Abbott) that it would be warmer in 2033. In his article (below) Schmidt  declared that he is “99 percent sure that the Earth is warming due to anthropegenic causes”.

Today The Australian has published several letters (see below) which are mostly critical of Schmidt’s article, including by climate experts Bill Kininmonth and Bob Carter.

The Australian has also published an article by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb (see immediately below). Although not a climate scientist, he poses the important question of what is the effect  of the CO2 emissions humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the past 150 years or so. While not as confident as Schmidt, Chubb is clearly on the human influence bandwagon. However, neither Schmidt nor Chubb say that any resultant warming will be dangerous.

Importantly also, Chubb rightly notes that climate is “the result of complex interactions of multiple variables” and suggests there should be “a healthy and constructive discussion based on all the empirical evidence” of the implications. That is exactly what many sceptical scientists, climatologists, and other professionals believe has not happened. One might hope that he would support the proposal by sceptics for an independent inquiry into the dangerous warming thesis which currently forms the basis for government policies designed to reduce usage of fossil fuels but which has not been subject to any cost/benefit analysis.

These developments suggest that there has been a breakthrough. The believers in the dangerous warming thesis have emerged into the open and our Chief Scientist has acknowledged the need for debate. Although an Inquiry would not produce definitive answers, properly staffed it would expose the considerable uncertainties surrounding the DWT.


Surely CO2 is a climate culprit

Article by Ian Chubb published in The Australian, January 17, 2014

AFTER his three recent articles on climate change, most recently on Wednesday, in The Australian, it is clear that Maurice Newman and I can agree on a number of things.

We can now agree, for example, that climate change is real, not a myth or a delusion. We can agree that he is not a climate scientist; and we would agree that I am not one either. We would, I think, agree that a "climate" is the result of complex interactions of multiple variables, many of them natural, but I would say not all.

We diverge when it comes to the impact of greenhouse gases. While we agree that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, Newman wrote of "the myth of anthropological climate change" (The Australian Financial Review, September 13, 2013) and suggested that it is one in a list of popular delusions.

Others will doubtless address some of the details he has raised. I start in a different place and ask a simple question. We have so far pumped two trillion tonnes of a greenhouse gas, CO2, into our atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, at a rate faster than ever before. Why would we presume that it would have no effect?

If the answer were simple, we would know it. So we have to use the evidence we have to assess the impact now; and we have to use the data to build models to estimate what the impact might be in the future.

Right now we know that as CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, so too does the amount of CO2 absorbed by the ocean, with the effect of making the water less alkaline (or more acid). Why would we presume that would have no effect on marine life? We also know that the heat content of the oceans has increased consistently although the rise in atmospheric temperature recently is flatter. Why would we presume no effect on the currents, winds and evaporation, and a subsequent impact on climate? We know the planet is warmer than pre-industrial times. While some might dismiss this as just a few tenths (0.9C) of a degree, I wonder if they'd be as sanguine if their core body temperature increased by the same few tenths of a degree.

There will be regional variations. There are differences even within Australia: temperatures in some regions have increased by 2C over 50 years while others have experienced little or no change. Our average change is 0.7C.

We know that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are important. If there were none, it has been estimated that the global temperature would be around -18C rather than the average near 15C we currently enjoy.

We also know that the relationship between CO2 and temperature is not linear. Uncertainty about the sensitivity of the climate to changing CO2 means models yield different projections. As an editorial in this week's Nature says: "Some have argued, in part on the basis of current temperature trends, that climate models tend to overestimate warming ... (but) the evidence cuts both ways." Some seem always to presume the errors only occur in the direction favourable to their argument. Notwithstanding the range, current models point out a direction, and the direction is up.

So we know that climate is a complex, complicated matter and that there are multiple variables. Does that mean we don't use all the information that we have to estimate what might be ahead? Does it mean that we do nothing about one variable over which we have some control - the emission of greenhouse gases? Does it mean that because there are uncertainties, we do nothing?

I am sure Maurice Newman and I would agree that much of what should be a debate has turned into "low-grade" and often personalised argument. What it should be is a healthy and constructive discussion based on all the empirical evidence, not bits of it, and with an eye to the implications for our health, wellbeing and prosperity in the longer term.

Professor Ian Chubb is Australia's Chief Scientist.

Betting on science is a disservice to community

Letters published in Talking Point in The Australian, January 17, 2014

BY big-noting himself with a lazy 10 grand, Brian Schmidt is bringing science into disrepute ("I'm ready to bet it'll be warmer in 2033", 16/1).

Betting on the continuation of a 300-year warming trend since the Little Ice Age is akin to betting on a favourite in the Melbourne Cup. Just as favourites do not win every race, so too all past warming trends have come to an end. Will the current trend cease before 2033 or after, or has it already ceased?

In stating that science is "about probabilities, not certainty" Schmidt casually disregards the fundamental building blocks of science. It is only when one does not understand the interaction between fundamental processes that one resorts to probabilities, or rudimentary computer models.

Scientists do a disservice to the community when they enter the realm of betting rather than admitting the required prediction is beyond current knowledge.

William Kininmonth, Kew, Vic

WHAT a joy it is to at last see, in a major newspaper, the beginnings of a scientific debate on climate change. Brian Schmidt may well be right and Maurice Newman ("Mother nature suggests the party's over for IPCC", 15/1) wrong in 2033, but the central issue is whether the alarmist and grossly exaggerated computer projections of IPCC and socialist government-funded scientists can be corroborated by scientific observations, which since 1998 has shown them to be wildly inaccurate.

Recent scientific papers and recorded data call into question alarmism over sensitivity to a doubling of CO2, the influence of water vapour, of ocean warming, sea level rises, polar ice loss, extreme weather claims, the natural effects of the Pacific and Atlantic oscillation systems, solar effects and so on; all of which are excluded under the IPCC charter.

Kevin Begaud, Dee Why, NSW

BRIAN Schmidt alleges that the so-called extra heat that he believes is generated by human carbon dioxide emissions is present in the oceans. Perhaps he would like to explain why the first globally accurate network of measurement buoys (Argo) records no significant increase in ocean heat since its deployment in 2003.

Bob Carter, Townsville, Qld

IT is most encouraging that you keep the balanced debate on climate change alive with articles such as the most recent by Maurice Newman.

How many times have we been told the science is settled when it is clearly not so. We need more people such as Mr Newman to expose the fact that the IPCC is captive to the well-meaning but misguided green movement and hostage to the UN.

Peter Tulloch, Potts Point, NSW

GIVEN that the Earth has continued to warm since the end of the Maunder Minimum in the late 17th century and the Little Ice Age in the mid-19th century, that is not much of a bet, Brian Schmidt.

I too will happily take a bet that the Earth will continue its slight warming trend for the next 20 years. A more interesting bet is how much of that increase will be due to human factors and how much to natural warming.

Ian Mackay, Canberra, ACT

BRAVO Brian Schmidt. It's high time someone with your scientific credibility has had the chance to counter the partisan, ideologically driven nonsense spouted by the likes of Maurice Newman. He certainly led with his chin in throwing out the betting challenge and Schmidt has obliged. The timeline of the exercise reinforces a basic sombre truth of the situation.

It's our children and their children who will have to pay the price if we have got AGW wrong.

Clive Huxtable, Beaconsfield, WA

BRIAN Schmidt would be aware that the real debate is not about whether it will warm, but the amount of warming, and its effect. Based on the IPCC's current report, the range for future warming based on estimates of the climate's sensitivity to CO2 is quite broad and implies anything from inconvenience to catastrophe.

Marc Hendrickx, Berowra Heights, NSW

HOW ironic. In the same edition of The Australian in which Maurice Newman defends his assessment that global temperatures are flatlining, there is a news item ("US navigates Arctic security as ice cap melts", 15/1) saying climatologists in the US Navy believe the melting of the polar ice cap is accelerating and that within 12 years it will be possible to sail through the Arctic for about six weeks of the year. I'll put my money on the US Navy.

Allan Thomas, Lochinvar, NSW

I'm ready to bet it'll be warmer in 2033

Article by Brian Schmidt published in The Australian, January 16, 2014

IN his article "Mother nature suggests the party's over for IPCC" (The Australian, yesterday), Maurice Newman outlines his reasons for doubting that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are contributing to an overall warming of the Earth.

He also challenges readers with a quote from eminent climate scientist Richard Lindzen about him being "willing to take bets that the global average temperatures in 20 years will in fact be lower than they are now", and then asks: "Any takers?"

I fully respect Newman's right to express an opinion on any topic he chooses, but despite myself also not being a climate scientist - I do have considerable knowledge of the science at hand - I would be delighted to take him up on his implicit wager that, in fact, in 20 years the Earth will be warmer than it is today.

I do feel like I am taking advantage of the situation, though.

You see, in addition to the hundreds of studies that Newman doesn't quote in his piece, I know that Roy Spencer's satellite data of tropospheric temperatures is consistent with anthropogenic warming, albeit indicating a lower rate of warming than surface temperature measurements.

And I know that Lindzen's models, which are at the low end of the prediction of future temperatures, still indicate sufficient warming that I have a high probability of winning this bet, even if he is right and everyone else is wrong.

Science is about probabilities, not certainty - and there are still a number of ways that I could lose this bet.

First of all, Newman implicitly equates global warming to surface air temperature. Since more than 90 per cent of the excess heat is being stored in the world's oceans, it would be scientifically sounder to compare the mean ocean temperature.

The air temperature shows far more fluctuations and it is not beyond possibility (although unlikely) that natural fluctuations could cause the temperature for a few years to be cooler than currently.

A huge volcanic eruption, comet impact or similar event could cool the Earth - unlikely, but not without precedent.

Or it could be that despite the intense efforts, the broad scientific evidence is flawed.

These are all small risks I am prepared to take.

So, Mr Newman, I am prepared to put $10,000 on the line that the Earth's average surface air temperature in a three-year average (2013-15 compared with 2033-35) will be warmer 20 years from now.

Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money to me, but since I am about 99 per cent sure that the Earth is warming due to anthropogenic causes, it seems a deal too good to pass up.

And also, as Newman correctly points out, science is not about neutrality, it is about calling the science as you see it. Which is exactly what I am doing here today.

One final request. Mr Newman, I also know that you are an expert in investment. As part of the bet, it only makes sense to put our money into an account where you can use your skills to maximise the return to the victor, decided on the basis of the data supplied by the Bureau of Meteorology in 2036.

I am equally confident about the science and the likelihood that you will achieve a far greater return on our investment than I ever could.

Brian Schmidt is a distinguished professor, Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and astrophysicist at the Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics (Mount Stromlo Observatory). He is a joint winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.

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