Letter to the editor, August 2016

[Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the considered views of the Society.]

Can we be optimistic about the future?’ (VH, June). Clive Hamilton’s Requiem for a Species may be depressing, but within the doomsayer’s gloom one can sometimes find rays of sunshine. But first let’s extract the climate from the other problems mentioned – population, land use, etc. They have little to do with the climate debate, but are constantly conflated with it to emphasise man’s villainy.

400 parts per million of carbon dioxide is small beer to the horticulturist, who prefers around 1000 ppm in her greenhouse to make her plants grow. Plants die when CO2 falls much below 200 ppm, so the earth has been in short supply of the stuff for some time. While climate alarmists call CO2 a pollutant to be destroyed at all costs, horticul­turists prize it as the life-blood of plants. And as NASA announced last April, their research found that CO2 has been wondrously greening the planet through fertilization during the last 35 years.

It is ironic that, while the catastrophists assure us we are doomed from global warming, pioneers of greenhouse gas theory – Svante Arrhenius, Nils Gustaf Ekholm, Guy Stewart Callendar – looked forward to it to feed the world population and keep the next glacial period, now long overdue, at bay.

Whether the mild warming we’ve had, 0.6°C last century and barely any since then, is caused by human-induced CO2 is less convincing as time goes on. There is no close correlation between the two trends, as theory demands. The fall in temperature from 1940–1970s inspired talk at the time of a looming ice age, but the warmists were emboldened by the warming uptrend in the ’80s and ’90s, which then ceased. The continuing upward CO2 trend and the desultory warming, as measured by satellite and radiosonde, stopped associating 18 years ago. In short, the CO2 shows no sign of doing what it’s supposed to do.

Some scientists see the warming more logically as the follow-up to the Little Ice Age, which ended in the mid-1800s. History is replete with rises and falls in temperature and the cyclical events of natural variability, unrelated to CO2, long before humans could be blamed. When Dorothea McKellar wrote of Australia’s ‘droughts and flooding rains’ no one knew about El Niños, which brought our drought and heat, and La Niñas, which brought our rain and cool, and the other oceanic regulators that control the world’s weather. Nothing’s changed since Dorothea’s day, except our knowledge of natural variability.

As the Great Barrier Reef has survived for 8,000 years in its present incarnation, one El Niño is unlikely to kill it. Now that we’re hoping for a La Niña, we may soon start hearing that the Reef is losing its bleaching, though good news is hard to sell: the Arctic ice melts in summer and freezes in winter; we don’t hear about Antarctic ice thickening year after year. Greenland glaciers may be showing a summer melt, but they’ve survived hotter times in the Mediaeval, Roman and Minoan Warm Periods. The polar bears have doubled in numbers in recent decades since restrictions on shooting them took effect. They’ve survived variations in sea ice extent for hundreds of millennia, as befits one of the most illustrious of evolutionary successes.

Finally, while you fear our politicians are indifferent to imagined climate terrors, be assured that the government hears your voice. Not only has it Tangoed in Paris and genuflected to its global masters, it has issued roughly $13 billion worth of Renewable Energy Certificates to encourage the paving of our continent with wind generators. South Australia has led the transition to renewable energy, and begun to drive base-load providers out of the market. As a result it now finds what we all know, that wind/sun generation is incapable of electrifying modern society, so it is appealing for coal or gas-fired power from interstate, and their failure threatens the national grid. We may one day learn from the foremost renewable users of Europe, like Germany and Denmark, who are reining in their expectations because of costs and sky-rocketing electricity prices and the loss of much heavy industry. No wonder the Brits voted to leave the EU, and a first act of the new government was to abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It considered a department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy a more suitable centre for cost-effective policy-making.

Perhaps the irony of destroying developed economies to fix a climate problem that doesn’t exist is beginning to dawn on some responsible people. And by depriving the Third World of coal and gas, as the Greens would have us do, we threaten the lives of millions. But let me finish on a bright note. A long-term solution to the desire for ‘clean energy’ is what our Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, has recommended for years – nuclear – fusion for preference – but new forms of safer, cheaper fission are developing.

Tim Saclier, Leopold

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