Features Australia

It just ain’t so

10 June 2017

9:00 AM

10 June 2017

9:00 AM

Writing at Climate Etc., esteemed climate scientist Dr Judith Curry has urged greater attention to the uncertainties of scientific research into global warming (aka climate change). ‘The current focus on CO2 emissions reductions risks having a massively expensive global solution that is more damaging to societies than the problem of climate change,’ she says.

Dr Curry’s remarks came the day after the Berlin Film Festival’s Best Documentary award winner, The Uncertainty Has Settled, was screened in London (May 18, 2017). It was promoted thus:

‘After eight years of travelling through conflict and poverty zones, Marijn Poels – a left wing filmmaker/journalist – decides to take some time off. In the Austrian mountains no less. It confronts him unexpectedly with the roots of agriculture and its modern day perspective. Globalisation and climate politics are causing radical changes such as farmers becoming energy suppliers. But the green ideology raises questions. The scientific topic of climate change has now become incontrovertibly a matter of world politics. Poels faces a personal conflict. Are we doing the right thing?’

Jan Jacobs, a Belgian politics and science journalist, urges policy makers, activists and journalists to see the film. ‘Marijn describes himself as left and progressive. What is so beautiful and compelling in this documentary is the ignorance of the maker. Marijn stumbles from one surprise to another. You can see his disbelief and amazement and sometimes even read the despair in his face. For Marijn, this deadly earnest search proves to be a revelation. All certainties concerning climate doom and gloom and the CO2 risk vanish one by one.’

‘There are also the conversations with ordinary people, who are victims of the remote and detached politics in Brussels or Berlin, which add so much more to this documentary than just a collection of facts to show that you are in the right. The human factor is ever present; the painful exposure of failed politics aimed at reducing human CO2, the devastating consequences for the landscape and nature, the income of entire populations that disappears and farmers who are busy producing energy instead of food. It eats away at the sense of justice of a man such as Marijn Poels.’

‘This documentary has all the ingredients to become a milestone in the debate on climate change and the… destructive politics surrounding that.’

Judging by policies such as the catastrophic renewable energy obsession, the uncertainty of many scientists has not alerted politicians. ‘Understanding uncertainty associated with the complex, nonlinear and chaotic climate system, let alone managing it, is a very challenging endeavour. Hence it is tempting for scientists and policy makers to simplify uncertainty to make it appear that the appropriate considerations have been undertaken,’ says Dr Curry, putting it kindly.

She argues that the IPCC ‘oversimplifies the characterisation of uncertainty by substituting “expert judgment” for a thorough understanding of uncertainty. They look at “evidence for” and “evidence against” (but somehow neglect a lot of the “evidence against”), and completely neglect to acknowledge ignorance. The bottom line is that the climate system is too complex with myriad uncertainties for simple reductionist approaches to understanding and managing uncertainty to be useful.’

The challenge, she says with unflinching optimism, is ‘to open the scientific debate to a broader range of issues and a plurality of viewpoints and for politicians to justify policy choices in a context of an inherently uncertain knowledge base.’

But Dr Curry’s expertise doesn’t directly embrace the equally complex psycho-political aspects of climate change within scientific circles, politics, the media and general public.

Why have some scientists manipulated data (in other words lied about their research) to present an alarmist warming scenario? (eg Michael Mann’s discredited hockey stick graph, the attempts by Phil Jones’ team at East Anglia University to distort data to suit their agenda and Australia’s John Cook at University of Queensland effectively cooking the books to publish a misleading scientific consensus). Why has global warming become a movement, a Leftist fetish resisted by the Right, instead of the subject of neutral scientific search?

The answer to the latter may lie in my own archives. It’s May 2006 and on the rooftop terrace of the Cannes Hilton, squinting against the Mediterranean sun, Al Gore is doing the media rounds, promoting his 100 minute movie, An Inconvenient Truth, which is basking in the cinematic sunshine of a Cannes film festival debut. I sit opposite him, unaware that with my interview (published in the Bulletin that year) I play an unwitting role in the launch of a global crusade – complete with its moral certainty. Famously, it was Gore who first pronounced that global warming is ‘not a political issue, but a moral issue’. That explains it, though: with 95 per cent of greenhouse gases being water vapour, and only 3.6 per cent or so CO2, of which a miniscule 3.4 per cent is man-made, it had to be a moral crusade. No, he was wrong: it should not be a moral issue, nor a political issue, but a scientific issue – and not focused on our CO2 emissions, as Dr Curry asserts.

The film is a record of his famous slide show, interspersed with private footage; he boasts that he has presented this ‘show’ more than a thousand times (that was then). That kind of passion is infectious. It did indeed help infect the world. And he’s infectious again – see below.

It is now 2017, and the warming models, so insistently included in his 2006 film, have all failed to predict actual experience or have been proven fraudulent. As Dr Curry points out, there is a profound lack of certainty about global warming science. It is somewhat ironic, then, that An Inconvenient Truth includes Mark Twain’s quip: ‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.’

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