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Watts it like at a climate skeptic speakers event?

Posted on 20 June 2010 by Megan Evans

Guest post by Megan Evans

When faced with the prospect of attending a climate skeptic speakers event such as the current Watts Up with the Climate? tour of Australia, anyone who understands climate change science could easily think of a plethora of reasons not to go: I don’t want to provide any further opportunity for the skeptics to propagate their disinformation, I can’t bear to hand over my hard earned money to fund their campaign, I fear I may gnaw my own arm off in frustration whilst listening to the talks, and so on. I considered all of these before attending last week’s event in Brisbane, where Anthony Watts, David Archibald and Bob Carter spoke about why we shouldn’t be concerned about climate change. Although I certainly listened to the talks, was more broke after I left than when I arrived, and found the whole occasion undeniably frustrating, it turns out that the event wasn’t really what I expected – in fact, I almost enjoyed myself.

The attendance was certainly less than Watts would have hoped for – it seems that the awareness through word of mouth wasn’t enough to pull a sizeable crowd (Noosa’s event on Friday evening was attended by just 36 people). Watts’ presentation focussed on his view that the temperature record is unreliable, suggesting that factors such as the positioning and the type of paint used on weather stations seriously undermine the accuracy of surface temperature measurements. So focussed in fact, that his 45 minute presentation consisted almost entirely on photograph after photograph of temperature stations in apparently compromising positions, with no data analysis in sight (note to Anthony: occasionally plotting the data doesn’t cut it).

 

Watts made a point of saying “this is how we measure climate” after every second or third photograph of a temperature station, as if as if repeating it over and over would compel people to believe it. Of course, Watts carefully ignores the fact that we also use satellites to measure temperatures all over the world. During questions I put this to him, and asked to explain why satellite and surface station measurements of temperature agree – if according to him temperatures measured on ground are all wrong. His response, that the measurements “agree somewhat”, ignores the science which confirms the accuracy of the temperature record regardless of how close to an air conditioner or hot bitumen road a weather station may be. Watts also found time to go into how the hockey stick was broken, and that the CO2 effect is saturated, and finished with a bizarre analogy with “if you put too much salt in your soup, you reach a threshold where you don’t notice any more salty taste”. That might be the case, but you’d probably end with high blood pressure pretty quickly!

David Archibald’s overdramatic and jargon-filled presentation included a stunning array of skeptic arguments, where most of the top ten got a mention. He flicked through endless graphics about solar flares and sunspots at such a pace that I could barely keep up with what they were meant to show, leaving me utterly confused about what on earth he was talking about. It seemed that Watts felt the same way, as he spent the majority of Archibald’s presentation reading over the Skeptical Science leaflet, Climate change: the full picture. Apart from explaining the importance of considering all of the available evidence before coming to a conclusion, the leaflet also discussed the minimal influence of the urban heat island effect on warming trends, so perhaps it will help Anthony with his research.

Archibald also made a point of mentioning throughout his talk that whatever he was talking about was really simple or “basic science”, before hurtling into the next argument. I was reminded of sitting through my undergraduate linear algebra classes where if the lecturer suggested that something should be easy to understand, and you didn’t understand, you felt really stupid for asking them to clarify. The pace and confusing content of his presentation effectively meant that the audience had to rely on trusting that whatever he was saying was correct. This seems unfair - someone who is unsure of how or where to find reputable information could easily be forgiven for taking whatever Archibald or the others were saying as fact.

After all, these self-proclaimed “independent scientists” are apparently free from the “corruption” that is supposedly rife throughout all of the universities, research institutions and governments throughout the world, so are effectively claiming to be the only remaining source of information about climate change that people should trust. Ridiculous as this is, the no consensus argument was a major theme that was emphasised throughout the night.

In his concluding address, Bob Carter reemphasised the take home messages of the night: 1) Temp record is unreliable, 2) CO2 effect is saturated, 3) CO2 is plant food, and 4) It’s the sun. He argued that we spend in the order of $60 billion per year on climate science, yet we are none the wiser about the state of the climate – and suggested that we could instead cure poverty with that amount of money. I was glad that Bob was concerned about the plight of people living in extreme poverty, but confused that he did not consider the impacts that climate change is already having on people all around the world.

Archibald went further to say that the best that could be done for poverty is to in fact pump more CO2 into the atmosphere, as this would provide “more food to feed the third world”. The truth is unfortunately not that simple – plants don’t just need food, they need water too – something that will be in much shorter supply with the increased frequencies and lengths of drought that climate change will bring. Carter may like to think of himself and the other speakers as “rationalists”, but the tactics that climate skeptics routinely employ to discredit science goes against the very definition of rationality.

Despite all of the misinformation, obfuscation, and frustration from hearing the same tired arguments churned out and chopped and changed throughout the night, I’m glad that I went. I’m grateful that I was given the chance to ask questions of the speakers and raise my concerns, and I was glad to be able to meet with other attendees and discuss points of disagreement in a low-key, friendly environment. One man told me that it was good just to be able to talk things through, while another thanked me for my questions. The experience made me reconsider initial resistance to go anywhere near a climate skeptics event, as it seems that although the Watts visit to Australia has yet to draw much attention from the general public at all, he and his fellow skeptics are not likely to fade away if simply we pretend they’re not there. Seeing and hearing firsthand how Watts, Carter and Archibald shamelessly mislead people made me realise how important it to try to engage in a dialogue with climate skeptics – and not just over blogs, but in person (and preferably over a drink). If that means politely sitting through a seemingly endless collection travel photos on the off chance that you could make your voice heard, then I think I can live with that. The alternative is sit back and allow the circus to roll on by.

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 109:

  1. It's quite true that population growth tends to fall naturally but not directly for the reasons you give since you miss out the most important factor - prosperity. Unfortunately in the developing world poverty means that birthrates remain high. I personally find the equating of human lives and carbon a thoroughly abhorrent idea - see in my original post regarding the Malthusian conclusions drawn from the science. However, if you were to make such comparisons, and if you were to seek to reduce population growth in order to reduce carbon emissions then it might be argued that we need a massive industrialisation and development in the developing world as the solution to global warming.
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  2. Ian Forrester at 00:47 AM and Jim Eager at 04:31 AM. That same response to heat stress has always been the case as long as wheat has been grown. Unless you see the annual cycle of the seasons disappearing completely, the answer to avoiding heat stress would simply mean sowing earlier, rather than later as they did in the trials. Ongoing research into developing improved cultivars that perform better in cooler and wetter conditions, the winter wheats, has been progressing for several decades.
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  3. Marty, would it be safe to say you don't have a problem with the science per se but rather the indications and clues it offers as regards the future direction of the human experience?
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  4. Marty, I'm not sure that access to sufficient food to eat, reliable shelter, education and health care automatically entails "massive industrialization." These things are found together, true, but in fact ample access to ever larger and more numerous televisions, an automobile for every 2 persons, hundreds of square feet of largely unoccupied domestic living space etc. per capita etc. are not really prerequisites for a happy and health life. In fact, such irrational choices could be said to retard improvement of the fundamental human condition.
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  5. I don't really know what I think about the science, since as I said in my original post I've not had the benefit of a full public debate. I read the stuff from this site and I read the stuff from the sceptic side and I am simply not qualified to be able to decide. What would have been of help here is a debate among the experts from both sides where I can see who seems to make the most sense. But you are right in that even were I to become convinced of the case for AGW I don't think that the science translates straight into public policy. For one there is a great deal more potential impact on peoples lives being touted here than a vaccination program requires. Also it seems that there is an automatic assumption that the science translates straight into a green agenda, rather than say a develop our way out of it agenda that might include nuclear power for example, or hydro-electric dams and so forth. I think the idea of solar, wind, wave power etc is great but it seems to me that we need to provide for increased energy demands come what may to allow for economic expansion and social progress. I think that we have to look at all the alternatives here and not be too blinkered. That's basically the point that I'm making. If those convinced of AGW want to have a progressive rather than conservative impact on the world then I think that the debate needs opening up and not closing down with glib putdowns like Mythago's 'go and eat banknotes', response to my concerns about how the science meshes in with the economic realities.
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  6. Marty, as others have said the science portion of this issue is not going to be settled in pubic debate. If you want to assess the "state of the science" and you're leery of the IPCC, see the recent National Academy report Advancing the Science of Climate Change, commissioned by Pres. Bush. You can read the NAS report here, online. (Just scroll down to see the freely readable version) As to your distaste for "green" solutions, don't overgeneralize. I for one would prefer using the ample fusion power sleeting down on us but short of a miracle of concerted effort I don't see us making that choice fast enough to swerve our depletion of fossil fuels away from the double disaster of resource exhaustion and serious lingering damage to our little skin of atmosphere. We'll end up with a messy and substantially inadequate combination of technologies, some archaic and anachronistic, some better, not enough to produce an optimum outcome.
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  7. Sorry you beat me to it with comment 56. In response to which I would say that I agree that consumer society is an alienated affair of massaged desires offered as substitutes to real freedom. However we cannot reject the whole thing because we have seen massive technological development. And besides that's the nature of the society we live in. People enjoy their mobility and I like living in a global age. Obviously wastefulness is inefficient and anything that can increase efficiency seems like it's probably a good thing, but that doesn't mean that people can't have a new T.V. set. The way that things are going they will be virtually dematerialised in a few years anyway. Trying to keep this to the general topic of opening up the debate however I would say that low-carbon can be high-tech. There are also interesting low-tech options that needn't be seen as conservative or new-age or anti-progress. I'm quite excited by the idea of rammed -earth building for example, not because I'm particularly convinced by the AGW argument but just because it's an interesting idea. If the AGW hypothesis is indeed correct then we need to have a much more open approach to what we are going to do about it.
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  8. Reply to tobyjoyce #24: What? "politicians have little choice but to follow the scientific consensus?" But this claim is itself unscientific, and very much so. Politicians VERY rarely even pay attention to the consensus. Especially today's politicians, who have one ear tuned to the lobbyists, and the deafer ear turned to the polls. Have you really forgotten already how under Bush, the EPA turned a blind eye to all the scientific evidence, not only for AGW, but for the need for lower emission limits for a great many other pollutants as well? People were even fired for pointing out the need based on peer-reviewed scientific results. This trend was particularly bad under Bush, but it was not unique to his mis-reign. On the contrary: ignoring the real science is situation normal for politicians. It takes a concerted effort to get them to pay attention to it, an effort that is only occasionally successful.
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  9. Well when you read the FACE study properly, we find the outcomes of the study are not as bright as John D would have us believe. Basically my reading of the study suggests that a near doubling of CO2 concentrations-under *ideal* conditions-will generate a SHORT TERM increase in biomass of around 20%-30% in *WHEAT*. The study points out, however, that photosynthetic rates decrease over the long-term due to acclimation, which suggests that these increases in biomass cannot be sustained-especially in the face of shortages in water & increased temperatures (conditions which are already an increasing reality for farmers in Southern Australia). Of course, one of the key problems of a warming climate is increased senescence-not heat stress. Increased senescence means that plants will ripen *before* they reach full growth. This will lead to a reduction of biomass-most especially *seed* biomass, with potentially devastating consequences (especially when one considers the reduced uptake of nitrogen-& therefore reduced protein yields-under high CO2 conditions). Unfortunately, John D's claim that we can simply "change the planting times" reveals an astounding ignorance of how modern agriculture works. For starters, most agriculture is a year-long affair, with both winter & summer crops. Secondly, farmers don't just plant arbitrarily-they usually wait for the first good rains of the season before planting (usually around late Summer to mid Autumn for Winter crops, & late Winter to Mid-Spring for Summer Crops). Of course, with rainfalls declining & usually getting later in the year (South Australia has seen an average 1%/year decline in Autumn rainfall since the 1970's), the ability to plant crops during ideal growing times becomes ever more restricted. Of course, what I love is this general theme, from the likes of John D, that the whole of society must simply *adapt* its entire way of life to rising CO2 emissions *rather* than the fossil fuel industry should lose even a single dollar of their mega-profits. What industry in history has enjoyed so much demand for its ongoing protection-nay coddling-than oil & coal?
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  10. Marty promulgates another myth of the fossil fuel industry, which is that greater energy use=greater prosperity. If you were to plot per capita energy use (in Megawatts/Capita) vs per Capita GDP, you'd see that there isn't a strong correlation between the two. In the majority of Western nations, the average household uses about 30%-50% more electricity than it needs, mostly due to inefficient appliances & poor house design/poor insulation. There is much the same situation going on in many commercial properties. Most commuters use 20% more fuel than they need to get to their destinations due to idling in peak hour traffic jams-largely down to a lack of adequate public transport, inadequate car-pooling & very poor peak-hour traffic planning. What this tells me is that, far from increasing prosperity, inefficient use of electricity & fuel is actually *decreasing* prosperity, as high energy & fuel bills leaves most families with less cash in their pockets for other necessities. So, in truth, improving efficiency of energy use will not only significantly reduce CO2 emissions, it will also leave people with more money in their pockets. Oh &, btw Marty-as far as I'm concerned anyone who tries to win the "skeptic" argument by claiming the other side is pushing for "dictatorships", "scientocracy", "eugenics" etc etc, has lost the argument already. If you can't rely on the *facts*, but have to resort to blatant scaremongering, then you're really wasting your time at a site like this!
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  11. JohnD do you understand what photosynthesis is? Energy from sunlight is captured by the plant and converted into chemical energy (mostly carbohydrates in cereals). If you try and grow your plants earlier in the year you have far less sunlight, both duration and intensity, so that would reduce, not increase, energy capture. Also, winter wheat does not grow in the winter, it is planted in early fall, germinates and then goes dormant until the warmth of spring. Your arguments are as baseless as those put forward by other deniers that agriculture will simple move north (poleward) due to higher temperatures, ignoring of course that it is not temperature which limits agriculture but the availability of adequate soils.
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  12. Marcus at 10:16 AM, Marcus, read the study again, carefully. The part you cherrypicked was from another study referenced by the FACE article, "Seneweera et al2005 Journal of Crop Improvement 13-31-52" and arrived at by modelling. Any evidence of acclimation in the Horsham trials was due more to differences in varieties of cultivars as noted in the summary. If you examine the overall results over the 3 years FACE trials, such responses were limited to certain varieties, and these results, as indicated, will provide data to allow realistic modelling to occur. In any event, the response as depicted from the referenced study to elevated CO2 levelled off at the higher levels and did not return to lower levels as exhibited at ambient CO2 levels. This is nothing new, trials both under laboratory and real world conditions has found that optimum growth for many plants is achieved at levels of about 1200ppm CO2 and such levels have been used for many years already to produce some of the food that you may find in your local supermarkets and on your own table. Fortunately the scientists involved in the trials and with the Victorian DPI are more optimistic than yourself about the findings of the trials, and no doubt, will continue their work on improving production as they have done virtually since cropping has been part of the landscape in Victoria.
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  13. Ian Forrester at 10:53 AM, read the study carefully. On page 1 you'll find information about planting and harvesting times relevant to the site of the trial. I guess you are thinking of regions where bitterly cold winters are the norm. Cropping in Australia is done in more temperate zones, as was the trial, so that should be taken into account.
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  14. LOL, you're accusing *me* of Cherry-picking, John D? That's rich, given that virtually every post you make here is filled with cherry picked data to "prove" your point. I've read the summary of that report, & I don't see them making the "positive comments" you're making. Please do enlighten us as to which parts of the following comment paint a rosy picture of a high CO2 world? •Increase in biomass and grain yield ~ 25% with CO2@ 550 ppm. •Less response with hotter conditions (later sowing). •No particular yield component stands out –they are indicators of the path not the destination. •Grain protein contents were lower under eCO2. •Little evidence of differences between Janzand Yitpi–these types are still sink –not source –limited. •Some evidence of differential response among cultivars –maybe high growth rates, low determinacy, (high NUE?). •Seek future types that are less sink limited and with lower acclimation response. It sounds very circumspect to me (& I should know, given that I'm a scientist myself, working in a field related to agriculture). Also, if you look at slide # 17, you'll see *why* they're very circumspect-grain yields for all varieties looked at is between 400g/square meter to roughly 700g/square meter, depending on variety. The point though is that you get a greater difference in yields based on *variety* alone than what you do as a result of increasing CO2 concentrations. Indeed, in almost all the cultivars they studied, the difference in seed yield in aC02 vs eCO2 conditions was almost non-existent *after* you account for standard deviation. When you factor in the decreased protein yield in the grain, & the reduced yields in warmer, water-constrained conditions, you see that there is little room for optimism-no matter how propagandists like yourself try to paint the picture. As I said, if you want to see the *reality*, here & now, might I suggest you come & visit the agricultural lands of WA, SA & Victoria-as I have-where many farmers are already facing ECONOMIC RUIN due to the long-term drought caused by the relatively modest warming of the last 40 years-& then you will see the difference between the fantasy propagated by the Denialosphere & the reality on the ground!
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  15. John D, the more of your posts that I read, the more convinced I become that it is YOU who needs to read this study more carefully. When you actually look *carefully* at the raw numbers, & graphs, you see the story is not as rosy as the one you want to paint. As I said before, when you account for standard deviation, the grain yield per meter squared is *not* that great when comparing 380ppm with 550ppm. Also, the study specifically claims that they saw evidence of acclimation before the end of the 3-year trial. One wonders what the impact of acclimation will be over 6-10 years at similar levels of CO2. Another point is your claim regarding growing plants in CO2 concentrations of 1200ppm. Can you provide *proof* of this extra-ordinary statement? Are you sure we're not talking about C4 plants, which make up an incredibly small part of our agriculture (most agricultural crops are made up of C3 plants, which evolved in a low-CO2 environment, so its highly doubtful that they would respond well to high CO2 over the long-term). Also, Ian is right, most of Southern Australia has winters with very short days, so shifting the growing season for Summer crops back into early to mid Winter would not help increase crop yields. Indeed, it would probably make matters *worse* (as anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of agriculture would understand). What Southern Australia also suffers from is aridity. Even without global warming, most of WA, SA, Victoria & NSW have to endure low rainfall. The warming of the last 40 years has seen rainfalls drop EVEN FURTHER, placing the long-term viability of agriculture in this region in great jeopardy. I'll reiterate, though, that what I find so HILARIOUS in your argument-John D-is that you'd rather that the rest of the world *adapt* to a high CO2 world, rather than suggest that the fossil fuel industry should have their profits cut by so much as a single dollar!
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  16. Argus @ #45: I'm not aware of any recent studies of flooding the Qattara Depression, but here's one (Hope et al 2004) about doing the same thing in Australia with the Lake Eyre basin. It wasn't very promising...
    Away from the imposed water expanse there is no consistent or significant response in rainfall anywhere in Australia. We conclude, as did Warren (1945) that there is no evidence that large-scale permanent water surfaces in inland Australia would result in widespread climate amelioration.
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  17. Oh, & am I the only person who needs to point out that a single 3-year trial, in a single location, with a single crop variety (wheat)-all under carefully controlled conditions-does not *prove* Carter's assertion that increased CO2 concentrations will be good for crop health over the long-term (especially when the overall results are far from spectacular). Carter's assertion is what we would refer to as PROPAGANDA-something certain people are more likely to believe than others.
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  18. Marcus at 12:12 PM, the Horsham trial is only one of about 30 experiments and FACE trials that have gone on around the globe over the past 20 years.
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  19. Oh John D, please do enlighten this poor "ignorant" soul (who actually works closely with farmers from across the whole of Southern Australia-& has a DECADE of experience working in the field of the Agricultural Sciences) about where I've actually "cherry-picked" the data. All I've done is to highlight the relevant data-namely the grain yield per meter squared. An overall increase in biomass is *useless* to us if its primarily restricted to vegetative biomass-given that its the seeds we primarily want. The other relevant piece of data is the protein yield, which is also not positive. Decrease the protein yield per gram of seed, & you'll need to increase your intake to get the same amount of protein. Yet we're supposed to believe this is GOOD NEWS? Only to those who're trying to push fossil fuel industry propaganda down our throats. BTW, buddy, I live in South Australia-the driest State on the driest continent on Earth-so please don't lecture me on aridity! I also note that you've got nothing to say about the acclimation they noted in the trial, or my point about the negative impacts of increased senescence as climates warm. Nor have you dealt with the problems of increasing water scarcity (which is a *major* issue here in Southern Australia) All of which suggests to me that you *know* that this is an increasing problem, but you're avoiding any mention of it so you can stay "on message"-the message being how good the fossil fuel industry is being to us by producing all this extra CO2. Guess what, its a broken record & some of us are getting sick of hearing it after its been so totally debunked!
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  20. Sorry, but I really feel that other people need to see why the result of the FACE study is not as great as John D wants us to believe. Here are the grain yield results (in grams/meter squared) Drysdale: ambient 475 +/- 25/elevated 525 +/- 25 Gladius: ambient 450 +/- 25/elevated 550 +/- 25 H45: ambient 425 +/- 25/elevated 450 +/- 25 Hartog: Ambient 625 +/- 25/elevated 625 +/- 25 Janz: ambient 400 +/- 25/elevated 550 +/- 25 Silverstar: ambient 475 +/- 25/elevated 500 +/- 25 Yitpi: ambient 550 +/- 25/elevated 650 +/- 25 Zebu: ambient 400 +/- 25/elevated 500 +/- 25. So really, with the exception of Gladius & Janz, none of the varieties are showing a huge increase in grain yield in elevated CO2 conditions-once you've accounted for variability-even before we account for the deleterious effects of reduced water availability & increased senescence/heat stress due to warming. This is why I believe their overall summary (which I posted above IN FULL) is so circumspect-yet still John D wants to report these results as entirely positive. If I tried to pull that kind of spin off in my job, I'd be lucky to keep it!
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  21. Since you guys did the reading, can you clarify whether these results were obtained at 550ppm but with current ambient temps or at temps that would be consistent with 550ppm? Btw, let's drop the plant food theme. CO2 is no more plant food than you can serve up oxygen on a plate to people. Plant food is made of nutrients, mostly nitrates and phosphates, is it not?
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  22. BTW, what was the cost of having Watts in to speak? I'm thinking of Christopher Monckton, who cost the "Climate Sceptics Party" something like $100k AUD for his roadshow. Only $20k or about $2500/performance directly to Monckton, mind, the balance being spent on travel and accommodation expense. Does Watts command a similar fee? If I were a show promoter looking at the empty room pictured above I'd be squirming.
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  23. doug_bostrom - Not sure what the total cost will be for the CS Party to bring Watts out here, but the ticket itself was $20. Looks likely they will make a hefty loss.
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  24. For comparison - Monckton tickets were $150 a head
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    Response: Lord, how that Monckton put bums on seats! :-)
  25. marty @59, Given that a "balanced" public debate is no longer possible, there is also the "prudence principle" to be taken into account. The prudence principle says that you should take steps to mitigate or prevent calamitous outcomes, even if they are unlikely. That is the principle behind taking out any sort of insurance, like against a road accident, housefire or serious illness. The probability of each of these events is very low, but the outcome is so bad that insurance is advisable. Now there is a reasonable methodology to working out how much of your income you should devote to insurance, that is what actuaries do. Some insurance policies are also a means of saving money. That is a good analogy for taking action on global warming. While we have the time, we can start investing in an insurance policy (alternative energy) that will pay off in the long run. Should the adverse circumstances not pan out, we still have the savings. My fear, which is turning into a conviction, is that global action will not happen until they evidence is overwhelming. At that point, some of the most adverse effects may be irrversible.
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  26. MattJ @60 I must concede on that one (sigh!):( My point was intended for an ideal world, where politicians determine policy based on scientific input, not on what plays in the media or with rich backers.
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  27. marty, the debate about the science is taking place within the scientific community and can be seen by looking at the papers published on the subject of Climate Change. There, you will see where the evidence lies. I have never understood how anyone can claim that they aren't able to work out what the science says unless there is a public debate or some sort of legal case, etc. Perhaps we should also debate as to whether we accept Evolution or the origins of the Universe ? As for your views about the world ending up in a 'Green dictatorship, backed by an evil scientocracy' (I paraphrase), I just wonder how you even think that such a thing is possible ? It sounds as if you have read (and believed) some so-called skeptical expert (perhaps Monckton ?) pontificating on the affects of limiting the output of CO2, claiming that it will lead to a Marxist/Leftist New World Order taking us back to the Stone Age ! Otherwise, where do you get your ideas on that from ?
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  28. "Marcus" seems very focussed around the fossil fuel industry, as if the industry itself, and its hunger for profits, is the sole reason why the countries of the world are using so much coal and oil (and not their need for energy). Some Marcus quotes from this post: "...*rather* than the fossil fuel industry should lose even a single dollar of their mega-profits..." "...promulgates another myth of the fossil fuel industry..." "...rather than suggest that the fossil fuel industry should have their profits cut by so much as a single dollar!" "...those who're trying to push fossil fuel industry propaganda down our throats..." "...the message being how good the fossil fuel industry is being to us..." I would think the problem with CO2 emissions from fossil fuels lies deeper than with the needs for industry profit. In China they open up a new coal-fired plant roughly every week, and burn two billion tons of coal a year. USA is in the same league as China (with about one billion tons). In addition they use 3 million cubic metres of petroleum per day. German energy supply is largely based on burning brown coal from local strip mines. How can we replace this growing need for energy in the world with other sources? Denmark is one of the world leaders in wind power, but they still only get 20% of their energy from the wind. How do we convince American drivers that they should drive their cars less? USA has more than 250 million passenger cars (with their use even encouraged by low taxes on gasoline). They already think their gas is too expensive. How many in this forum drive a car, and travel regularly by air? Should you continue doing so? Have you considered basing your own life on energy only from the sun - including wind and water - (or from radioactive fuel, if you like that stuff)? If you already have, how are you planning to convince all the millions of others in your country to do the same?
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  29. 71 Marcus "the negative impacts of increased senescence as climates warm. Nor have you dealt with the problems of increasing water scarcity (which is a *major* issue here in Southern Australia)" I'll give it a go at calming your alarm. Here's wheat yields in SA over the past 150 years. A steady increase punctuated by major losses due to drought. The worst being 1915. Even in the worst of times in the late 20th century we're still more efficient than the best of years in the first half. This is because the improvements in farming (and plant breeding) has meant that to some extent we can mitigate the worst that nature can throw at us. I remember reading a paper on wheat strains (I know, exciting stuff) which lists the most used strain in each decade. Every decade the strains changed as better strains became available. I remember the paper because I was surprised by the amazing rapid pace of change. This process won't stop under the worst scenario of AGW. This is often forgotten. Just back to SA. I think some of the poor interstate politics surrounding the Murray-Darling basin have contributed to SA farmers not getting their fair share of water. In fact a general argument could be made that Australian politician have been complacent about managing water for their growing population for many decades, regardless of what extra strain AGW might have placed on it. This isn't a climate problem, it's one based on poor human decisions. You let the politicians off the hook by blaming it all on AGW.
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  30. @JMurphy, Bringing scientific questions into public fora or courts of law is a strategy of denialism, pioneered by tobacco deniers and creationists. These arenas are not suited to the settling of scientific questions, as fiascos like the OJ trial have shown. Appeals to emotions, ad-hominem attacks, twisting evidence, "spinning" events, pleading victimization, scapegoating and smearing are all legitimate debating and rhetorical tactics. And of course, they have been used by scientists, and do influence them, who are only human. In general these strategies are ruled out by science in preference to consideration of the evidence alone. Also, referring to marty's earlier comment, science is not a democracy. It is a complete meritocracy where the "victory" goes to the theory (idea, research program, or hypotheses) that fits the known facts. You can think of it as a fierce Darwinian struggle of ideas, where the winner is the one best adapted to the evidence. It is not in the least high-handed or arrogant to make you aware of that. Public debate has to be about public response to the scientific consensus, as it usually is in the case of the risk of a new flu epidemic, or the construction of a new nuclear power station, or a star wars defense system etc.
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  31. "The truth is unfortunately not that simple ..." I only very briefly supplements Argus: The papers: A recent greening of the Sahel—trends, patterns and potential causes, Olsson et al., 2005: "Speculation [...] about the climatology of these droughts is unresolved, as is speculation about the effects of land clearance on rainfall and about land degradation in this zone. However, recent findings suggest a consistent trend of increasing vegetation greenness in much of the region. Increasing rainfall over the last few years is certainly one reason, but does not fully explain the change. Other factors, such as land use change and migration, may also contribute. [?!]" Even some of the IPCC scenarios IV assume increased precipitation in many deserts, arid zone (including the Sahel zone). Recently it was found that the Atacama desert was inhabited by people - 11-9. thousands BP ... For me, so skeptics (such as described here - "brilliant": and the fact that - ruthless ...) are needed, if only to refute the MYTHS (e.g. - Sahel - here probably AMO phase decides) - associated with AGW ...
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  32. @Arkadiusz Semczyszak Please explain, if "Even some of the IPCC scenarios IV assume increased precipitation in many deserts, arid zone (including the Sahel zone)", as you say, how can a paper finding that outcome be a refutation of AGW? Global extrapolation from a local study is risky. Better to see it as another piece of a very large and complex jigsaw. Does this particular piece not fit with the rest of the jigsaw? I think it fits, or at least does not contradict our growing understanding of the picture. Do you disagree?
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  33. 73 Philippe Chantreau "CO2 is no more plant food than you can serve up oxygen on a plate to people" In the process of photosynthesis the energy from sunlight is used to convert CO2 into sugars. The carbon in plant proteins, lipids and carbohydrates is solely derived from CO2. This is the starting point of all of the organic carbon in living beings. CO2 is the building block of plant food and everything else. In colloquial terms you could call it plant food without that being misleading.
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  34. I'm not sure I agree with that. What matters most is proteins, and for that the key ingredient is nitrogen. In any case, closer examination of the "plant food" claims do not warrant the exuberant optimism shown by some. Considering that yield increases widely cited by skeptics happen between 550 and 1200 ppm and we have no idea what would happen globally with such levels, I will remain skeptical on this. If I recall, there was was no time in the Holocene with anything even remotely comparable to such CO2 levels, yet forests covered the Earth in all places where the rainfall permitted so. That does not point to CO2 as much of a limiting factor for plant growth.
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  35. Some food for thought and actual dollar numbers concerning public policy response, fears about the costs of mitigation may be found here: The Price to You for Modest Climate Action The article briefly describes the results of EPA's best effort to put a price on mitigation efforts resulting in significant changes to risk probabilities arising from increased C02 in the atmosphere. The nut of the article: In the absence of new policies, the EPA estimates that we have a 1 percent chance of keeping global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius goal set by the international community, by the year 2100. The probability that temperatures would rise by then above pre-industrial levels by as much as 4 degrees Celsius is 32 percent. With the passage of the American Power Act — in conjunction with assumed policies adopted by other G8 countries — the probability of staying below the 2-degree threshold increases to 75 percent. In exchange for this, the EPA predicts a “relatively modest impact on U.S. consumers.” The $79 to $146 figure, the annual average across the lifetime of a phased-in energy program through 2050, is modeled on a number of factors: the increased cost of energy with a price on carbon; the increased efficiency of items that consume energy; the behavioral decisions people will make as a result of both of these factors; as well as the impacts on wages and the revenue from emissions allowances that will be returned to households. For purposes of comparison, for privately purchased insurance of various forms we currently spend a little over $550 USD annually for every person on the planet. The EPA report may be viewed here: EPA Analysis of the American Power Act in the 111th Congress (pdf)
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  36. Marcus at 13:38 PM , a decade may be a lifetime of experience to some, but especially in the agricultural sector, a lifetime of experience, plus that of their parents, plus that of their grandparents, merely gives a glimpse of the cycles and changes that drives the the whole industry. Despite the gloom and doom preached by those for whom the last drought is always the worst on record, for the current generation, they see that perhaps things may have been worse for their grandparents. Those having generations of experience to draw upon also recall some of the bad advice offered up by "scientists" at various times, especially with respect to chemical use, where what was portrayed as the latest breakthrough became the worst nightmare. Nowadays the average participant in the sector is better educated and better informed and better able to spot carpetbaggers. With regards to your concerns over the varying responses of different varieties, what did you expect? The scientists, as well as most well informed interested observers know that the various varieties all have different responses to different conditions, hence the range of varieties trialled. This knowledge is not only what drives the continual development of new varieties, but the usage of them. Perhaps this link from the Victorian Department of Primary Industry (DPI) sums up the official view of the trials. They see a 20% increase in yields, but most interesting is their view of CO2 being a fertiliser for plants. Obviously some will cherry-pick the negative aspects, but there doesn't appear to be any problems that are substantially different to those that have been overcome in the past as the science, and techniques developed have allowed productivity to continually increase. National wheat Free Air Carbon dioxide Enrichment (FACE) array
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  37. Philippe Chantreau at 02:26 AM, the yield increases don't just happen at the levels you indicated, but are happening all the time. Whilst most interest is in trials at higher levels of CO2, trials have also been done with lower levels of CO2 which indicate that growth at about 280ppm would have been about half of present day growth levels.
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  38. JohnD, just to get calibrated here, are you in favor of a global, unplanned, decentralized and happenstance experiment w/the global atmosphere to see what happens to our food supply? Is this a thought experiment for you, or is it something you're anticipating as imminent? Regardless of your personal inclinations for or against hubristic accidents, for those who don't choose to participate in such an experiment, what words of wisdom do you offer? For instance, should crops found to have an adverse response to some combination of increased temperature, more or less moisture and more C02 be moved under domes, put in climate-controlled conditions? How will we pay for such adjustments? If a farmer now successfully growing a suite of crops of his choice and in the location of his choosing finds his choices constrained or removed, is forced to undergo costs to adjust to the new reality we're creating, how do you see the finances of such a situation being handled? Presumably you're ok with seeing your taxes increased to help with adjustments? Alternatively, you'd be ok with being impoverished? What's your personal preference?
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  39. Argus. Who is it that you think is funding all of these so-called "skeptic groups"? Who do you think spends all that money on lobbyists to ensure most governments do as little as possible to encourage such things as energy efficiency, fuel efficiency & renewable energy technology? How else do you think the fossil fuel industry continues to enjoy massive tax-payer subsidies-whilst they scream Blue Murder at even the slightest mention of subsidies for the renewable energy sector? Some countries have bucked the trend though. In spite of your attacks on Denmark & Germany, they have substantially reduced their total & per-capita CO2 emissions via a combination of increased renewable energy use & better energy efficiency (Germany has one of the lowest per-capita levels of energy use in the Western World, but enjoys a per-capita GDP on par with most other Western nations. For the record, Argus, I use public transport to get everywhere, am very energy efficient & source the bulk of my electricity from renewable sources-as do many of my friends. However, in spite of all of my efforts, I feel that I'm making little to no progress in the face of such a well organized & well-funded anti-mitigation campaign!
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  40. John D, this comes from the DPI Website you linked to (did you even READ it?!?!): "Now, the caveat there is that you can see increases in yield, but you also have to have sufficient water and nitrogen still to grow the crop and considering changes in climate, if this area of Australia, for example, has decreases in rainfall then we may not see the responses to be quite that dramatic in the future." Also this: "Now, other results that are important to the agricultural industry is that we see a decrease in the plant nitrogen content. Now, nitrogen is a fertiliser, it’s what causes the green part of the plants to be green and that’s important…what happens is that translates into less nitrogen in the grain, which is less protein. So that interacts directly with quality issues and the wheat industry would be quite interested in understanding that. So, the nitrogen content, the protein content goes down and we’re seeing that very consistently. However, what’s interesting is that the total nitrogen extracted from the soil increases and that’s because there’s more biomass. So it’s just pulling a lot more nitrogen and that has potential impacts to future farming in terms of fertiliser requirements." It certainly doesn't sound as positive as you're trying to make it-even with the guy putting a more positive spin on it than the researchers who did the trial. *Yes* their was a 20% increase in *total* biomass, but there was no statistical difference in grain yields for most varieties-suggesting the bulk of the biomass is going into stems, roots & leaves, not seeds. Also, he tells us how protein levels in the plant are decreasing, but nitrogen use has *increased*, which means that farmers will need *more* fertilizer just to retain existing protein levels. So, again, how is that a benefit to the farmers. Still, once again I've strayed back into the area of plant food, & it's clear that you're determined to spin these results as positive, in *spite* of the more cautionary language of the people running the trial-so for the sake of my sanity, I think I'll just ignore any further comments from you, & leave it to others to try & set you straight.
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  41. 86 Philippe Chantreau Proteins are made of carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen. Life on earth is often described as "carbon-based". I agree with you that nitrogen is important and often limited, that is why farmers use nitrate fertilizers. I'm not sure anybody is suggesting trees won't grow if the CO2 level is less than 400ppm. Trees in the pre-industrial Holocene is not incompatible with the idea that post-industrial CO2 levels may change the rate of growth of plants. CO2 was relatively stable and homogonous. With a relatively stable resourse like this it makes no real sense to talk about it being limiting. It is what it is, it never really changes. A plant cannot adapt or respond to a resourse that is constant, temporally or spatially. It cannot move into or be excluded from ecological niches because of it's response to CO2. Yet in present times this particular plant resourse has changed. It's interesting to consider how plants will respond to this change. This isn't skeptical science, the implication of it might temper the worst disaster scenarios, but thats not a reason to dismiss it.
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  42. #81 humanity rules - no doubt at all that improved varieties, improved soil cultivation, access to massive fertiliser inputs, weed control methods, and so on have increased yields in SA and no doubt elsewhere in Australia. But hey, you don't think something might be happening on the far right of your graph, do you?
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  43. A few points Humanity Rules. First you show the tonnes per hectare that SA crops are yielding, but my experience is that this is as much the result of increasingly intensive farming as it is better yields from individual plants. I'd be interested to see what the cost/hectare of the crops are over this same time period. Second, yes nitrogen-& water-are the limiting factors in plant growth, & guess what the biggest cost to farmers is? Nitrate fertilizers &-increasingly-water. Yet we have the Victorian DPI telling us that crops grown in high-CO2 conditions not only have a lower protein content, but are also more nitrogen hungry. So this means increased costs to farmers. Then, of course, there's weed control-because crop plants aren't going to be the only plants enjoying an increased biomass under high CO2 conditions. Lastly, its interesting to note that the grasses (upon which the bulk of our agriculture depends) evolved in the "carbon constrained" Quaternary period-before which ferns dominated. This suggests that grasses are ideally suited to a low-CO2 regime (which makes sense given their use of the C3 pathway).
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  44. I'm not dismissing it, I think it is minor. As you said yourself, if the additional carbon is to become additional biomass, it will need additional nitrates, phosphates and, most important of all, water. There is no miracle soution for these. And as Marcus pointed, crop plants will experience competition from weeds equally boosted by the extra CO2. Weeds are hardy, they endure tough conditions, they can make due with little water and do not need fertilizer. The warmth is also likely to benefit all sorts of insects and fungi, some of which are already difficult to control.I said that the exuberant optimism shown by some concerning the CO2 "fertilizing" effect is not warranted at present, I stand by that statement.
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  45. johnd wrote : "Despite the gloom and doom preached by those for whom the last drought is always the worst on record, for the current generation, they see that perhaps things may have been worse for their grandparents." I'd love to see some examples (and I'm sure you must have some, having stated that) of people baselessly claiming 'the worst drought on record'.
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  46. Marcus at 11:51 AM, this transcript of a "Landline" program may interest you, the proof you were asking for. I'm surprised you were not aware of it, being involved in agriculture and all that. "Landline" is a weekly ABC produced program devoted to agriculture related stories. Most likely the tomatoes you eat come from this 8 hectare glasshouse near Adelaide, where the tomatoes feast on CO2 levels four times ambient levels. What must be puzzling for you, given your comments about C3 and C4 plants is that tomatoes, like wheat are C3. An Australian grower has been at the forefront of glasshouse CO2 enrichment from quite early on, so perhaps more of the food you've been consuming over the years than what you realise, has been produced under these conditions. It is more common than what you obviously realise. Feasting on four times more CO2
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  47. JohnD, at a cost of about $4,000,000 per hectare, how many farmers do you think will be able to convert their fields in such an optimum manner? Any news of any hydroponically grown wheat? Any data on how the price of tomatoes has probably sky rocketed since this technology was started (or how much government subsidy went into it)? A similar piece of nonsense was built in Canada a number of years ago and was a financial disaster once all the government subsidies were removed. You are dreaming in technicolour matey. Time to come down to reality.
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  48. Ian Forrester at 01:15 AM, reality is represented by what has been proved in recent years in glasshouse production of various plants using CO2 enrichment. There is a big market for CO2 generators for such use. Reality is also represented by the FACE trials over the last couple of decades. The fact is that CO2 enrichment works, so there is no point trying to maintain a position of denial. The point that you are missing is that given the technique of CO2 fertilisation is continually proven to work, and if the climate changes as many alarmists are predicting, then these expensive structures and equipment to provide CO2 enrichment won't be needed will they? ROFL Presently they are like monuments being built defying much of what many believers hold dear, no wonder you consider them nonsense. Perhaps you are not so confident about AGW after all if you think everyone has to convert their fields. I would have thought that would be the argument of someone who believed global cooling was coming. Of course if it doesn't change as quickly as being predicted then this type of private investment will still be needed, and perhaps the investors should then consider dipping into the public purse. That currently provides funding for all sorts of AGW related projects, all of which are not feasible without huge subsidies, not so amazing, some now being exposed as little more than scams, more intent on ripping off the taxpayers.
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  49. JohnD, you have not answered my questions. Please reread my post and answer the questions. Large greenhouses are used in one of two situations. Firstly they are used for very high value products or produce. They are also used when some sucker governments get confused by pseudo-science and finance them even though more experienced people tell them that they are nonsense (see the Canadian example; google "Sprung Greenhouse"). If you did a proper review of the scientific literature you would see that increased CO2 accompanied by increased temperature will be a detriment to agricultural production, not a benefit as you suggest.
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  50. Ian Forrester at 02:50 AM, you have tried to divert from the issue under discussion, namely whether or not CO2 has a fertilisation effect, is a plant food.
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    Moderator Response: We can take a hint! Please discuss this further on a more appropriate thread. Thanks!

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