Update: Prof Ian Enting from University of Melbourne has provided a detailed, point-by-point critique of Heaven and Earth. You can download the 46-page PDF here (version 2.0).
Edit: The Australian newspaper has published an article on Brook vs Plimer (see here).
Today I attended the formal launch of Professor Ian Plimer’s new book “Heaven and Earth” (held in the historic balcony room of South Australia’s Parliament House). Ian had kindly sent me an invitation and I thought it a good opportunity to get a summary of his recent opinion, straight from the horse’s mouth. The book went on sale a few days before, and having been lent a copy, I’d read through it on-and-off over the last few days. Here is what the blurb suggests the book achieves:
The Earth is an evolving dynamic system. Current changes in climate, sea level and ice are within variability. Atmospheric CO2 is the lowest for 500 million years. Climate has always been driven by the Sun, the Earth’s orbit and plate tectonics and the oceans, atmosphere and life respond. Humans have made their mark on the planet, thrived in warm times and struggled in cool times. The hypothesis tha humans can actually change climate is unsupported by evidence from geology, archaeology, history and astronomy. The hypothesis is rejected. A new ignorance fills the yawning spiritual gap in Western society. Climate change politics is religious fundamentalism masquerading as science. Its triumph is computer models unrelated to observations in nature. There has been no critical due diligence of the science of climate change, dogma dominates, sceptics are pilloried and 17th Century thinking promotes prophets of doom, guilt and penance. When plate tectonics ceases and the world runs out of new rocks, there will be a tipping point and irreversible climate change. Don’t wait up.
I’ve been critical of Ian’s views before (see here and here). In short, my view was that Ian’s assertions about man’s role in climate change were naive, reflected a poor understanding of climate science, and relied on recycled and distorted arguments that had been repeatedly refuted. Ian and I have regularly ‘debated‘ on this issue, so I’m probably more familiar than most with his lines of argument. (I actually think it’s rather silly to debate the science, because this the role of the scientific community as a whole, and in doing so they’ve reached a view that this is a serious problem — but one-on-one debate is what the media demands.) Anyway, after reading the 500+ page tome that is H+E, I find that nothing has fundamentally changed.
Plimer tackles literally hundreds of lines of argument in his book. He claims that mainstream science – including the ‘experts’ in each area (those that focus on particular focused questions within narrow discipline areas) are ALL wrong – every argument, every one of those scientists. I quote (from a recent Adelaide Advertiser article on the book): Professor Plimer said his book would “knock out every single argument we hear about climate change”, to prove that global warming is a cycle of the Earth. “It’s got nothing to do with the atmosphere, it’s about what happens in the galaxy. You’ve got to look at the whole solar system and, most importantly, we look back in time.”
There are a lot of uncertainties in science, and it is indeed likely that the current consensus on some points of climate science is wrong, or at least sufficiently uncertain that we don’t know anything much useful about processes or drivers. But EVERYTHING? Or even most things? Take 100 lines of evidence, discard 5 of them, and you’re still left with 95 and large risk management problem. It’s an unscientific and disingenuous claim. As is his oft repeated assertion that a single apparently contradictory piece of information axiomatically overturns all other lines of evidence. Plimer apparently thinks Popperian falsification is the dominant deductive modus operandi in the natural sciences. I’ve got other news for him (I’m happy to email people my full article from BioScience if they email me a request).
Ian Plimer’s book is a case study in how not to be objective. Decide on your position from the outset, and then seek out all the facts that apparently support your case, and discard or ignore all of those that contravene it. He quotes a couple of thousand peer-reviewed scientific papers when mounting specific arguments. What Ian doesn’t say is that the vast majority of these authors have considered the totality of evidence on the topic of human-induced global warming and conclude that it is real and a problem. Some researchers have show that the Earth has been hotter before, and that more CO2 has been present in the atmosphere in past ages. Yes, quite — this is an entirely uncontroversial viewpoint. What is relevant now is the rate of climate change, the specific causes, and its impact on modern civilisation that is dependent, for agricultural and societal security, on a relatively stable climate. Ian pushes mainstream science far out of context, again and again.
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