Subject: Christopher Pearson
Accomplice: Phil Chapman
Habitat: Opinion section of The Australian
We start by observing the tepid headline.
Nice puns, but they leave you totally unprepared for the sub-headline.
ABOUT the beginning of 2007, maintaining a sceptical stance on human-induced global warming became a lonely, uphill battle in Australia.
Steel yourself for a gut-wrencher. I'll spare the reader the sloppy set-up and fast forward to the medical bits. The patient has an acute case of, If suddenly there was no more global warming, caught from a carrier, Phill Champan. Symptoms include:
Scalpel. First incision to reveal Imprudent Overreaching ...
But Chapman's argument about last year's 0.7C fall being "the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record" ups the stakes considerably.
It replaces an irrational panic in the public imagination with a countervailing and more plausible cause for concern. It also raises, more pointedly than before, a fascinating question: since there are painful truths with profound implications for public policy to be confronted, how will the political class manage the necessary climb-down?
Compulsive need to offer consultancy services to authority, free...
In Australia, Rudd Labor's political legitimacy is inextricably linked to its stance on climate change. If the Prime Minister wants a second term, he'll probably have to start "nuancing his position", as the spin doctors say, and soon.
A variation on J.M. Keynes's line - "when the facts change, I change my mind" - admitting that the science is far from settled and awaiting further advice, would buy him time without necessarily damaging his credibility.
Lavish offer to bestow (dubious) magnificence upon his adopters. Studied indifference to downside.
Taking an early stand in enlightening public opinion would be a more impressive act of leadership. While obviously not without risk and downside, it would make a virtue out of impending necessity and establish him, in Charles de Gaulle's phrase, as a serious man.
Threat to withdraw acknowledgement. Known in the sales game as The Take-Away Close.
I don't think he's got it in him. But we can at least expect that some of the more ruinously expensive policies related to global warming will be notionally deferred and quietly shelved. Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister Kim Carr will be allowed to invest in high-profile nonsense such as funding "the green car".
And, now, a word from his Sponsors. Don't go away, y'hear!
But the coal industry is unlikely to be closed down or put into a holding pattern. Nor are new local coal-fired power stations going to be prohibited until the technology is developed to capture and sequester carbon.
Since the greater part of the funds for the research underpinning that technology is expected to come from the private sector - and there's a limit to what government can exact by administrative fiat - as the debate becomes calmer and more evidence-based, business will be increasingly reluctant to outlay money on a phantom problem.
More of that free consulting advice. Chuck a go-slow, and lie to the voters. Nice. Prepares us for the request for the government to knock off his Sponsors' enemy.
Budgetary constraints and rampant inflation provide governments with plenty of excuses for doing as little as possible until a new and better informed consensus emerges on climate.
Ross Garnaut could doubtless be asked to extend his carbon trading inquiry for the life of the parliament and to make an interim report in 12 months on the state the science. In doing so, he could fulfil the educative functions of a royal commission and at the same time give himself and the Government a dignified way out of an impasse.
Patient's self-belief in predictive powers, and ability to predict scenarios that correspond to patients ideology, unerringly.
A likelier scenario would be full-page ads in our broadsheets and catchy local television campaigns paid for by the Indian and Chinese coal, steel and energy industries that buy our raw materials. Their theme would surely be that if many of the West's leading scientific authorities no longer subscribed to catastrophic global warming, why on earth should anyone else.
So those are the symptoms. What is the cause of this delirium? It was a denialist meme introduced into the head of the host (patient) by the carrier, Phill Champan.
Now Phill is not to be taken lightly. He's the first Aussie astronaut, so that clearly gives him the authority to talk fluently in climate science.
He makes the standard argument that the average temperature on earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, with a new twist.
As of last year, the global temperature is falling precipitously. All four of the agencies that track global temperatures (Hadley, NASA Goddard, the Christy group and Remote Sensing Systems) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007.
Chapman comments: "This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930. If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over. It is time to put aside the global warming dogma, at least to begin contingency planning about what to do if we are moving into another little ice age, similar to the one that lasted from 1100 to 1850."
And has no need to observe the fact that global warming is measured as a trend and an outlier year is meaningless, as explained by a sweet concern troll, who took the wrong moment to interrupt a high-spirited game of Moron Poker over at Rabett Run, and got nipped.
Perhaps something like: "averages matter, and the longer term the average, the more it matters. Temperatures vary from month to month and from year to year, just due to variance in weather over such short periods. Over longer periods, ten years and longer, averages matter more, because the short term variability is less noisy. When we look at those averages, we see a clear trend since 1980, that temperature is rising. It isn't much yet, but due to the persistence of CO2 and of the human activity which leads to warming, we expect this average to keep increasing for at least the rest of this century. That accumulated warming is a threat to sea levels and to precipitation patterns, among other things. That's what AGW is all about."
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