Science of hot air Alan Wood
The Australian
01jun04

THE consequences of global warming portrayed in The Day After Tomorrow are so absurd that even the hysterics in the US green movement reportedly feared audiences would laugh it out of the cinema. However, the scientific proponents (and massive financial beneficiaries) of the greenhouse effect are more hopeful.

The general line from climate scientists in the US, the UK and Australia has been that while the science is bad, the film could be helpful in raising awareness of the consequences of climate change. It is revealing that they apparently don't see anything wrong with using bad science to push their case.

It will certainly frighten university students and schoolchildren. After all, they have been assiduously prepared to be frightened. According to Mark Latham last week, one of the three issues always raised with him in high schools and universities is the Kyoto protocol.

As Latham said, they have grown up with the issue. It would be more accurate to say they have grown up with teachers pumping ever-so-politically-correct propaganda on Kyoto and climate change down their throats.

Significantly, the only time John Howard connected with the electorate after Latham became Labor leader was when he spoke about values in schools. The response from concerned parents across Australia showed Howard had touched a political live wire. Typically, he let it drop.

At least he has stuck to his refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol, as he should. What teachers don't pass on to their pupils is that ratifying Kyoto will have virtually no effect on global warming. Even the scientific proponents of Kyoto acknowledge this. Latham's promise to ratify Kyoto if he wins is a triumph of form over substance.

Latham will presumably find The Day After Tomorrow a powerful call to action, since he doesn't mind a bit of climate scaremongering himself. He warns that rising global temperatures would have a profound effect on Australia - drying out our dams and rivers, making our bushfire season a nightmare every year, threatening our beaches, destroying the Great Barrier Reef and flooding Kakadu with salt water.

These claims are presumably based on work by the CSIRO, which in turn depends on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's projections on climate change. This is a shaky foundation, as former Australian statistician Ian Castles, who enjoys a high international reputation, points out in a comment on a recent Senate report on ratifying Kyoto.

"The general impression conveyed by the report is that it has been established that human-induced climate change poses an extremely serious problem which demands urgent countervailing action in the form of negotiated emissions reductions, either under the Kyoto protocol or some successor instrument," he says.

"But this is far from being the case. To begin with, the IPCC's third assessment report, which the Senate committee report describes as 'the most recent generally accepted authoritative statement on climate change', produced 'projections' - not 'predictions' - of future greenhouse gas concentrations and global temperatures.

"The distinction is crucial. John Zillman, Australia's principle delegate to the panel since 1993, made clear in an address in March 2003 that the projections in the IPCC's report are 'nothing more than what if? assessments', and are 'not, in any sense, to be regarded as predictions of actual future climate'. In the same address, Zillman said the question of how global greenhouse warming will manifest itself at the national, regional and local level 'is, at present, completely unanswerable'."

Yet the CSIRO is happily using the IPCC's projections to give such answers for Australia. Latham would be better to worry about the greens and their significant contribution to wildfires in Australia through their successful opposition to sensible forest management policies, for example, not Kyoto phantoms. Castles and colleague David Henderson, former head of the OECD's economics division, have shown that the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios that underpins the IPCC projection is seriously flawed.

The IPCC has attempted to sweep these criticisms under the carpet and vilify Castles and Henderson, but they are being supported by a leading international expert on the statistical issues involved, Jacob Ryten, who accuses their critics of manifest ignorance.

There is more. Latham, who asserts our greatest struggle is against global warming, cites "a leading NASA scientist, James Hansen, to support his stance on Kyoto".

Hansen is no climate sceptic and his views on climate change helped lead to the setting up of the IPCC.

But he and 27 other scientists from across the world have produced an alternative scenario to the IPCC's that projects a future rise in global temperatures far below any of the IPCC scenarios. So far the IPCC has largely ignored this, the only "review" being by IPCC leaders who, Hansen says, saw his paper as harmful to their pro-Kyoto arguments.

Hansen sees a real problem in the close binding between the IPCC and the Kyoto protocol discussions. Another way of putting that, as Castles does, is that the IPCC's role in the assessment of the science of climate change has become subservient to its political role in supporting a pro-Kyoto policy agenda.

If Latham cares about Australian jobs, he should reconsider his simple-minded support of ratification of Kyoto, and the CSIRO should stop its peddling of dubious projections of the local effects of climate change.

The Australian