Plimer’s Heaven + Earth

He argues, cor­rect­ly I think, that gov­ern­ments have failed to do their due-dili­gence on cli­mate change, as they should for any large com­mit­ment of pub­lic resources and still more for an open-end­ed com­mit­ment such as the ETS. He con­demns, right­ly in my view, reports suchas those by Sir Nico­las Stern and Pro­fes­sor Ross Gar­naut that refuse to look at the evi­dence for them­selves and have instead relied—against the tenets of respon­si­ble pol­i­cy let alone intel­lec­tu­al rigor—on an ‘argu­ment from author­i­ty’ (what Ross Gar­naut called the ‘bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties’ that the assur­ance of offi­cial sci­ence bod­ies was right). His book pro­vides the foun­da­tions for this due dili­gence and a demon­stra­tion that it takes an open mind and an empir­i­cal approach—rather than some sci­en­tif­ic authority—critically to eval­u­ate the evi­dence, at least for the pur­pos­es of good pub­lic policy.

He col­lects a mass of appar­ent sup­port­ing argu­ment for his con­tentions. By cre­at­ing a con­tin­u­ous series of foot­notes (2311 of them) he seems to empha­size a point about the vari­ety of cli­mate sci­ence and the weight of evi­dence against to the ortho­dox insis­tence on ‘con­sen­sus’ for cli­mate-alarm. The ref­er­ences are a nice com­pendi­um of rel­e­vant research. But they also pique a lit­tle skep­ti­cism on my part: I find it dif­fi­cult to believe that he’s read more than the abstract in many cas­es. But he deserves the ben­e­fit of a doubt.

Updat­ed: I found his research even on famil­iar top­ics such as the his­to­ry of the ‘hock­ey stick’ fraud (what else to call it?) offered new insight. I did not know about the Weg­man com­mit­tee’s sta­tis­ti­cal inves­ti­ga­tion of Man­n’s arti­cles: the ‘clus­ter analy­sis’ of Man­n’s peer-review net­work by Weg­man was pret­ty inter­est­ing, and plau­si­ble. I did not know the the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences had even­tu­al­ly endorsed the McIntyre/Wegman crit­i­cisms of the Mann arti­cles. Nor did I know that the NASA/GISS claim that “nine of the warmest years in his­to­ry have occurred since 1995”—a claim that Kevin Rudd has enlarged to to “twelve of the hottest years in human history”—was with­drawn by NASA when McIn­tyre demon­strat­ed that 1934 was the hottest year in the past cen­tu­ry (using NASA’s own GISS records). But Plimer’s report that NASA had to with­draw it’s claim that “nine of the warmest years in his­to­ry have occurred since 1995” after Steve McIn­tyre crit­i­cized their data is mis­lead­ing to the extent that it does not make clear that the adjust­ment show­ing 1934 to have been the hottest year was made to the the NASA GISS record for the Unit­ed States, not to the glob­al record.

Still more valu­able to me, how­ev­er, than his crit­i­cal analy­sis of slop­py or dis­hon­est ortho­doxy, is Plimer’s demon­stra­tion that on the con­trary that there are much more inter­est­ing ideas about the earth­’s cli­mate that have emerged from empir­i­cal enquiry (not from mod­els) over the last cou­ple of decades. These prompt won­der rather than alarm at the rich­ness and com­plex­i­ty of cli­mate sys­tems. Final­ly, he col­lects con­vinc­ing evi­dence of suc­cess­ful, pre-tech­no­log­i­cal, human adap­ta­tion to cli­mate changes much more dra­mat­ic than any­thing we face in what has been a hap­py and pros­per­ous inter­val of the earth­’s climate.

I found sev­er­al areas of research that were new to me in his book. I was not aware, for exam­ple, of the­o­ry of the galac­tic origns of the extra­or­di­nary glacia­tions of the ‘neo­pro­tero­zoic’ era (p 105). Although I had read Sha­viv’s account of his own work on galac­tic-ori­gin cos­mic rays, I was sur­prised to learn of the inde­pen­dent ‘sup­port­ing’ (at least con­sis­tent) evi­dence avail­able in the record of the changes in the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of seawater.

I con­fess I skimmed a lot of the book because the accu­mu­la­tion of evi­dence was a lit­tle tedious. There were also sev­er­al things I found he explained obscure­ly. For exam­ple, the dis­cus­sion of green­house the­o­ry, opti­cal depth, and the infa­mous tro­pos­pher­ic ‘hotspot’ (p. 365ff) wan­dered around the point and did not clear­ly match the illus­tra­tions as far as I could see. It’s an impor­tant mat­ter because it is a deter­mi­na­tive fault in the IPCC case for a cli­mate high­ly sen­si­tive to GHG-caused warm­ing. But I found IP’s account hard­er to fol­low, for exam­ple, than Richard Lindzen’s longer but clear­er and more pre­cise treat­ment. I also found Plimer’s ten­den­cy to jump back and for­wards across eras in the His­to­ry chap­ter was con­fus­ing in some places.

But, on the whole, I con­sid­er Ian Plimer should be con­grat­u­lat­ed for this book and I’m delight­ed to see that he has been reward­ed for his effort with four reprint­ings (my book­seller told me that the next reprint would see a $10 price rise, too).

1 Comment

  1. I read Plimers book & am now re-read­ing it. I know a fair bit about sci­ence & I can­not find any­thing sig­nif­i­cant to crit­i­cise in it. Just from con­sid­er­a­tions of the rel­a­tive sizes of the earth & sun & the fact that the sun warms the earth bysome­thing like 250 deg. from what it would be if float­ing remote­ly in space. I have long decid­ed that it is sil­ly to assume that a chang­ing sun won’t affect the earth. And the sun does change. We all know about the 11 year sunspot cycle. A change of 1 deg. is 0.4% of what the sun does for us. That is hard­ly rock­et sci­ence & crit­ics of plimer seem not to see the obvious.

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