Twisted – the distorted mathematics of greenhouse denial

Time for a book recommendation.

To little fanfare, an important and highly revealing book was published in mid-2007 by an Australian climate scientist, Professor Ian Enting. Ian now works for the University of Melbourne, but for many years he was with CSIRO Atmospheric Research, where he worked primarily on modelling the global carbon cycle. He has also made contributions to the IPCC, including being a lead author on the report Radiative Forcing of Climate Change.

Anyway, Ian got fed up with trying to decode, for lay people and policy makers, the illogic behind the “alternative universe” style mathematics of the denial industry. And so, he decided to write a book exposing their many bizzare flaws and contradictions of the denialist claims. Twisted is the result of his efforts (see image). I strongly recommend you get yourself a copy and read it. It was published by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, which perhaps explains why it is not as well known as other books on the topic (it’s not in Amazon, for instance – more is the shame).

The book contains some real eye-openers. Those readers of the blog who are familar with the standard re-cycled guff produced by the denialosphere will know the story behind a few of them – the 1934 was the hottest year on record claim, for instance. Others are a little more technical, such as his comprehensive dismantling of the Klyashtorin and Lyubushin ‘analysis’, for instance.

Ian also uses some nice turns of phrase that I’ve adopted myself. One of the best, which nicely encapsulates the underlying theme of his book, is to call the non-greenhouse theorist’s arguments against a human contribution to global warming as ‘the pretend debate’. Much like the creationist’s developing the spin known as ‘intelligent design’ – in order to establish it as a science and thus have it taught in schools – the greenhouse denial industry manufactuture a ‘climate change debate’ and then misrepresent it to the media and general pubic as if it is a scientific discourse. If fact, the real scientific debate is about uncertainties in relative forcings and feedbacks (e.g. climate sensitivity).

Of course there really is a public debate on climate change. But a popular debate is not the same thing as a peer-reviewed disagreement within the scientific community, and lay people naturally enough treat evidence, models and attribution quite differently to scientists. That is one reason why the alternative reality of the web-based and think tank supported denialosphere can continue to flourish and entrap the unwary within a self-reinforcing clique of weird unsupported theories and straight-out misinformation.

Ian summarises his book as follows:

This book has focused on three important aspects of the sceptic’s arguments that preclude them from being taken as an alternative view of climate science:

  • the distortions of the data that lie behind many of their claims;
  • the inconsistencies between arguments [this is a key point he reinforces many times];
  • the discrepancies between what individuals tell the media and what the same individuals say when subject to greater scrutiny.

…The success of the local disinformation campaign means that Australia is at serious risk of being left behind in the transition to a low-carbon world. The delay in action on climate mitigation has made the mitigation task harder than it need have been. Since the increases in greenhouse gas concentrations are taking us ever closer to poorly understood thresholds and tipping points, planning will need to be in terms of risk management, uncertainties and probabilities.


As I left the CSIRO, in the midst of the so-called ‘culture of fear’, almost the final words of my farewell speech came from Richard Feynman. Although famous among physicists for his Nobel Prize work and his textbooks, Feynman is perhaps more widely known for his role in the inquiry into the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster where he demonstrated that the O-ring material shattered after cooling in ice water. His words, from his minority appendix to the Challenger report, I commend to you now:

“…reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled”

Enjoy the book and feel free to post or questions feedback here – I will alert Ian to my post.


  1. Spangled Drongo.

    Do something sensible for once in your life and read the book. The fact that you asked this question no doubt reflects the manners in which you gather your evidence and by which you justify your denialism – by relying on what others tell you…

    Ian is an eminent scientist, and believe me he would tie you, Curtin, Mott, Hissink, Bird, Marohasy and all your other denialist friends into little pretzel knots of refuted clap-trap. Read his book, and make sure that your cronies read it, and then come here asking silly questions. Certainly none of us would expect a sensible one from you.

    Until you get off your indolent, third-hand rubbish-assimilating behind you’re unable to challenge anything Ian might or might not have said.


  2. “The Brazilian Proposal Solution”

    Sounds like a recipe for war.

    “Ian got fed up with trying to decode, for lay people and policy makers…”

    It’s a pity, for his papers and slides are just gobbledygook to the majority of Australians.

    But then again why should such a well credentialed member of ‘the club’ be expected to explain his (tax payer funded) work to proles like us – we are but born to follow, to work, consume and die. Condemned to oldthink and expected to bellyfeel, to blackwhite.


  3. Errr, have you actually read the book, PeterW?

    It’s written for a general audience and contains very few formulae, and the graphs are rather simple and easy to read. Of course his technical papers are not written for such an audience – they are written for physicists and carbon chemists. Which is why he wrote Twisted – to get an accurate yet straightforward representation of the science across to the tax paying proles, rather than a filtered and “twisted” message that non-greenhouse theorist spin doctors like the Lavoisier Group push.


  4. “Errr, have you actually read the book, PeterW?”

    No actually Barry it’s past midnight and I live in the bush far from any book shops that might stock such a tome.

    My comment was directed at this phrase: “Ian got fed up with trying to decode, for lay people and policy makers…”

    It smacks of elitism.

    However I followed your ever generous links to his home page and thence onto the oddball ‘Brazilian Proposal’ web pages where I noticed this insanity:

    “Proposes that emission reduction targets should be proportional to nation’s relative responsibility for the greenhouse effect.”

    Of course Ian explains how to proportion such blame with ease using some equations and notations; it’s going to be so easy working out which nation is the guiltiest.

    But when the sums are done and the fingers pointed, which will be the guiltiest country, which will be number one on the hit list – which nation will be required to install a Miniplenty first? Saudi Arabia?

    Saudi would have to have carbon on its hands, after all look at all the oil it’s pumped and sold to be burned.

    Perhaps it’s those nations which prospered during the industrial revolution and burnt the oil.

    Or is the left’s favourite whipping boy – the USA, or a resurgent and martial Russia?

    The guilty nations are sure to take heed and meekly accept their punishment. They’ll close down their industries, put their people out of work and slide back into subsistence whilst the less guilty, according to the sums, carry on merrily.

    It’s just so silly, yet Ian and others seem (according to the web pages he linked) to be seriously considering such a regime.

    However, I’ll take on board your warning about the Lavoisier Group, I’d hate to be caught reading ‘Goldstein’s Book’ and be accused of crimethink.

    I’d never be able travel to the golden country.


  5. Peter, sorry if I misinterpreted your meaning. I don’t say I agree with everything Ian has written re: solutions. Indeed, I agree with you that the Brazilian solution is utterly unworkable – so why bother? We need carrot & stick approaches to tackle this issue (where the carrot is really large and juicy), not stick + stick approaches.


  6. Carrots are good…

    I believe that rapid development of third world nations is the best strategy to solve a number of world problems – population growth, unrestrained disease, internecine war, industrial and urban pollution etc.

    Last evening I watched a bit of a program on ABC 1 which chronicled an Australian of Ugandan extraction’s journey to the country his parents fled before he was born (I think).

    One comment the traveller made which stuck in my mind was that he “couldn’t believe” the smog and filth that curses Kampala.

    It’s the same pollution which I remember poisoning cities like London and Liverpool, cities that today have clean skies and rivers, efficient waste removal and processing, cities which are relatively safe and clean and which provide quality health care, education and comparative wealth for their residents.

    Western Europe, the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have stable or shrinking populations (apart from immigration) and strict environmental laws which are generally enforced.

    Africa, India and China as well as parts of the Middle East and South America do not.

    They cannot and will not develop more advanced societies whilst they are busting their arses trying to subsist.

    Penalising them for daring to use fossil fuels won’t help, investing in their infrastructure and governance will – more carrots please.


  7. I quite like Twisted and it is nice to see this belated review of it but my favourite book as a non-climate scientist trying to understand the science of climate change is David Archer’s “Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast” (Blackwell Publishing, 2007). Archer is an ocean chemist at the University of Chicago and his research focuses on the carbon cycle and its interaction with global climate.

    I continue to be amazed by the point Archer makes on page 123 of this book that “about 15-30% of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuel will still be in the atmosphere in 1000 years, and 7% will remain after 100,000 years.”

    See also on this point: Archer D, “Fate of Fossil Fuel in Geologic Time” (2005) 110 Journal of Geophysical Research C09S05, doi: 10.1029/2004/2004JC002625; and IPCC, Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p 514.


  8. It’s hard to consider a contemporary book which is not even visible to Amazon as “published”. It is a shame, as this sounds like an important and useful effort. Is there any hope that the publisher will learn the ropes anytime soon?

    Failing that, any advice as to how to obtain this book in North America would be appreciated, and I imagine similar advice for elsewhere would be too.


  9. “Until you get off your indolent, third-hand rubbish-assimilating behind you’re unable to challenge anything Ian might or might not have said.”

    Speaking in my best Humphrey Appleby voice, “Bernard, I am now standing up and I wish to comment once more on Ian Enting’s book.”

    Considering all the ad hom toing and froing that has been going on over the years WRT AGW, do you think that “Twisted” is really a subject worth writing about?

    Shows a petty, pathetic, mind?


  10. Michael, if you go to the website I’ve linked to you can order it from there. It will require international postage, but otherwise there is no impediment to purchasing that way. It will make you feel like an Aussie, in fact, since whenever we buy books from Amazon we have to do the reverse (order from the good ol’ US).


  11. So you’ve read the book then, Spangled Drongo?

    Ian must be quaking in his boots in anticipation of your rebuttal. When can we expect it here?

    Your task is simple. Prove the science wrong.

    Your time starts… now.


  12. spangled drongo Says:
    4 September 2008 at 20.53

    While on the subject of distortions does he get to mention the Hockey Stick, AIT Al or the CSIRO GCM?

    and was told to

    [d]o something sensible for once in your life and read the book.

    Apparently unable to do so, at least without using his pointer finger and a ruler, and moving his lips, spangled drongo shifts the responsibility for his own education with:

    if you can give me an explanation as to how those three items are not twisted distortions then I’ll read the book.

    So, in (1) moving the goalposts, (2) avoiding his own responsibilities, (3) prejudging the content of a book he has not read, (4) relying on heresay rather than assessing expert opinion…

    …spangled drongo shows that he at least has a grasp of irony (whether intentional or unintentional) with his “[s]hows a petty, pathetic, mind?” comment.

    He certainly confirms it with “Bernard, I am now standing up and I wish to comment once more on Ian Enting’s book.”

    A clever drongo indeed, to be able to do so without reading it….


  13. Barry,
    Do you believe that Ian Enting is advancing the AGW cause scientifically by claiming that twisted and distorted statements are only the province of sceptics?

    Bearing in mind Mann’s fresh attempts to justify the Hockey Stick and all the other AGW alarmism?


  14. SD, the hockey stick is only distorted in the minds of contrarians. To mainstream scientists, it is simply a way (in fact, multiple ways) of approximating past temperatures on the basis of multiple proxies, with uncertainties acknowledged.

    But I doubt you’ve even tried to understand the latest version published in PNAS.

    Your continued use of the word “alarmism” indicates to me that you are not interested in a rational consideration of these issues, and so I’ll spend my time on other people. If others wish to respond to your comments, so be it, but if they continue to add absolutely nothing of value to this forum, I’ll happily moderate them away. i.e. try to be constructive not sniping, otherwise you quickly head down the path of Graeme Bird, JC, Tim Curtain etc. who have already been banned from posting here for these or other reasons (e.g. abuse).


  15. pangled drongo Says:
    8 September 2008 at 15.36

    Do you believe that Ian Enting is advancing the AGW cause scientifically by claiming that twisted and distorted statements are only the province of sceptics?

    Drongo, by your own words you have not read the book. You cannot say at all if Ian has twisted anything, and your question is irrelevant if you can’t point to an specific example of AGW proponent ‘twisting’.

    You are obviously reduced to trolling at the strawman level, as your capacity for addressing the science is showing itself to be woefully absent.

    Read the book, and come back with properly informed and structured arguements.

    Or just crawl back under the bridge and keep yourself to terrorising the goats.


  16. Barry,
    You should accept the fact that you may be wrong about AGW or at least about the degree of climate sensitivity to ACO2.

    I am sure you will be more effective with solutions if you do. [And I assume that is the real purpose of this blog]


  17. Questions from SD

    SD kicked off with 3 questions. No one who has read the book has answered, so here goes:

    The CSIRO GCM The book has a section on how GCMs have evolved and what you can expect from them and how well old predictions have held up. No specific mention of CSIRO GCM, indeed CSIRO currently run at least 3 main GCMs, some with several variants. If SD can identify which GCM and the specific distortion, i can pass the comment on the the relevant people at CSIRO.

    A1T, A1 (scenarios). I don’t discuss these SRES scenarios. What I do discuss is the so-called ‘pentagon scenarios” (Randall and Scwartz). This is in the section on “what is alarmist”, so in answer to later question for SD: am I “claiming that twisted and distorted statements are only the province of sceptics?” — No way.

    Hockey stick. My book does discuss the “Hockey stick” debate, mainly as an example of a politicisation of an esoteric technical issue. The “debate” and disparate conclusions of two expert review panels turn on details of how principle components are treated. One panel was OK with what Mann et al did, while the other felt that they really should have done it differently.
    Explaining principle components is way beyond the scope of a book for the general reader. Stephen Jay Gould had a try (talking about ranking of intelligence) and I figure that if the best scientist/writer of the 20th century couldn’t succeed, then I would be silly to try. (anyway, Gould was motivated by the importance; since I live in the southern hemisphere, I am not that excited about the details of a reconstruction that only covers the northern hemisphere).


  18. Brazilian Proposal

    PeterW, (and Barry after him) seems to be confusing 3 different things: i working on the Brazilian proposal, ii believing the some of the concepts will make it into any agreement that actually addresses climate change iii advocating the adoption of the proposal.

    In spite of Peter’s surprise, there is a really good reason why I took the Brazilian proposal seriously. I was asked to, by the Australian Greenhouse Office and the Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Since CSIRO gets 70% funding direct from the government, and atmospheric research got a lot of its extra from AGO, this wasn’t an offer that I could reject.

    Why did AGO and DFAT take it seriously? One reason is that it was part of the international climate negotiations and so it is reasonable to expect that negotiators can be kept on top of the relevant science. (this sort of capability is one reason for having national research organisation). Less explicitly, some people picked up on what has been missed in this blog: Australia’s development has been rapid compared to most other developed countries, so if you take a backward look over responsibility (as in the Brazilian proposal) Australia is going to come out looking better compared to other developed nations.

    I think the most important legacy from this work is the experience of going through the options and uncertainties and coping up with a clear view on which things the science could answer and which things were “arbitrary” choices to be made by policy makers, for which there
    would never be an objective scientific basis for decision.


  19. CO2 in the atmosphere

    I continue to be amazed by the point Archer makes on page 123 of this book that “about 15-30% of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuel will still be in the atmosphere in 1000 years, and 7% will remain after 100,000 years.” (from Chris).

    I think the 15% is for small concentrations while the fraction goes up as the concentration
    increase (non-linearities in the carbonate chemistry). I believe the 15% number (or something close) appeared in Arrhenius’ textbook just over 100 years ago (according to Heimann? article in Arrhenius centenary volume).

    This is why I strongly disagree with the proposal, from Barry Brook and his co-authors from animal liberation, that methane reductions should be encouraged (more than proposed by Garnaut)
    by allowing each kg of methane reduction to offset 56 kg of CO2 emissions (using the 20-year GWP) rather than having each kg of methane reductions allowed to offset only 21kg CO2 (using the 100-year GWP (from TAR WG1, p121)). Satisfying the animal-lib agenda gives a short term climate benefit at the expense of increasing the amount of CO2 that doesn’t go away.


  20. You are welcome to disagree with me on the point re: methane Ian, but you are quite wrong in equating our call for more immediate attention to methane cuts with a desire to see an increased market for methane offsets at some new value. We are simply making the point that swift reductions in methane in Australia will go a long way to reducing our per capita short-term radiative forcing – a point similarly made more generally by Jim Hansen among others.

    By the way, I should make it crystal clear to you, as I have done many times in the past, that it is irrelevant as to whether my co-authors were from animal liberation or not (they freely admit that they are – so what? – why the need to try and second guess their supposed agenda when it was the science under discussion here?). And I AM NOT – indeed I eat meat regularly (mostly chicken, pig meat, kangaroo – red meat only very occasionally).

    So the animal lib agenda is quite besides the point – it doesn’t make methane’s relative role in short term radiative forcing go away either, or nullify the fact that after about 30-50 years, methane is hardly a forcing agent at all. And our point is very much the short term – given that the need to avoid crossing tipping points is the most immediately pressing issue – in combination with short- through long-term reductions in CO2. You can’t have one without the other and we never said you could. In our submission to the Garnaut review we make this point very clearly.


  21. Communicating to the general public

    Anyway, Ian got fed up with trying to decode, for lay people and policy makers, the illogic behind the “alternative universe” style mathematics of the denial industry. And so, he decided to write a book.

    PeterW doesn’t seem to like this sentiment. I don’t like it either – I don’t know where Barry got it from. It isn’t even consistent: I got fed up with doing something so I decide to do more of it?

    Most public research organisations take their responsibility to communicate with the public very seriously. For a university a lot of this will be through teaching, but the University of Melbourne has adopted “knowledge transfer” (in addition to teaching and research) as the third
    strand of its “triple helix”. Time will tell whether this turns out to be substance or spin.

    CSIRO was far more serious about its communications. One important thing is that there are specialist communication skills involved, and often scientists work with science communicators (Melbourne Uni also employ specialist communications people, but they are spread more thinly than CSIRO). This often means an article with the communicator’s name in the byline and the scientist mentioned in the text (and often only one scientist named when a team is involved). So Peter, there will be lots of my work out there accessible to the public, but not necessarily with my name on it.

    Where my book is different is that it was a bigger chunk and so specialist assistance was confined to a final “copy edit”.


  22. Methane

    you are quite wrong in equating our call for more immediate attention to methane cuts with a desire to see an increased market for methane offsets at some new value (from Barry).

    I can’t speak for what you might “desire”, but “increased market for methane offsets at some new value” is the explicit consequence of using a larger (i.e. shorter time horizon) GWP for methane, and that is what your article advocated — in language that I found defamatory (since I headed the team that did the report on stabilisation profiles for Garnaut).


  23. Many a book review attempts to interpret the author’s motivation. Whether the reviewer is correct or not, only an author can truly say (unless the review is posthumous!).

    In this case I had actually meant that the author had got fed up with piecemeal individual critiques and so decided to do it comprehensively in a book where the whole schema could be laid out systematically — but it obviously didn’t come across that way.

    Anyway, in this case happily the author did say (see comment #26), so I’ve edited the above quoted passage to represent his aim is a more straightforward way.


    By the way, it was The Age editors, not us, who added the byline:
    “The real climate change culprit is methane gas from cows and sheep.”

    Clearly we would have preferred to say “an equally important culprit [with coal]…”


  24. #24 The submission that Barry, Peter Singer and I made to Garnaut recommended that the 20yr GWP of methane be used in any ETS. The 20yr GWP is 72 not 56 (p.202 AR4, Chapter 2) as you say in your post Ian. I haven’t seen the text of his speech yet, but I believe Rajendra Pachauri will have made a similar point in a talk in London a day or so ago.

    Kirk Smith of Berkeley has made the same point at a talk at the ANU in July. Smith’s agenda is global health and methane is implicated in many ways apart from its GWP. Climate scientists, like Hansen don’t use GWPs at all, but use raw forcing. Page 206 AR4, Chapter 2 shows where the forcing from current activities is coming from. Check the bottom figure and methane and CO2 are neck and neck. Smith, Hansen, and Pachauri understand this. Hansen has changed his diet as a result.

    Peter Singer and I do indeed have an agenda, a wide ranging concern with pain and suffering. The only difference between Singer and I and many others in this debate is that we don’t care much which species it is which is suffering. Similarly vegans like Phil Wollen (a Victorian benefactor and the Victorian Australian of the Year in 2007), runs charity projects for people and animals in 34 countries. Suffering is suffering.

    If the monsoons stop or become unreliable in Asia, people and animals alike will suffer to a degree that is mind numbing.

    If you stopped to think about what an “animal libber” is Ian, you might be curious about why I would spend so much time lobbying against red meat when the cruelty issues of chicken and pigs are far greater. But once you understand that the principle driver isn’t animals but suffering, then the motivation is clear. Climate change will bring all manner of suffering. My estimate is that the reduction in total suffering that might be achieved by avoiding the worst of climate change more than offsets the increased suffering due to some people switching to chicken. For me, putting an argument that might cause some people to switch to chicken or kangaroo is a serious moral problem, but I see no alternative.


  25. I’d guess that part of the focus on CO2 is because coal plants represent a commitment to burn coal for the lifetime of the plant, which is often extended.

    It’s easier to change out of a cattle farming business than out of a coal burning business.

    Anecdotally, the coal industry is very well organized, one coal burning power plant at a time, and has all the renewals on a calendar to send teams to town meetings.

    I heard from the little town where I went to college — when they came to consider the need to replace their antiquated coal power plant, their meeting was attended by a team of coal industry lobbyists and lawyers, with a presentation very focused on urging the town to stay with the old coal technology and make the commitment to it by building a new coal plant.

    (The Ecology and Physics department went to the same town meeting to argue for a serious effort to instead invest in less fossil fuel use by building alternative sources; the result isn’t decided yet, I’m awaiting another alumni newsletter.)


  26. I have read Twisted, almost a year ago, and it was okay but the arguments were too undeveloped and esoteric. I also don’t know why the subtitle had mathematics in it since it was about data and stats, not about the underlying math or physics of climate science.

    It did seem kinda strange to me that Barry Brook wrote a supportive review of a book and then the author returned fire with snark. But there you have it, perhaps he was miffed that Brooks ‘dared’ attack his interpretation of methane or radiative forcing. Weird mindset.

    Anyway, I thought I’d correct an error myself. Ian Enting @23 writes: PeterW, (and Barry after him) seems to be confusing 3 different things: i) working on the Brazilian proposal, ii) believing the some of the concepts will make it into any agreement that actually addresses climate change iii) advocating the adoption of the proposal.

    I don’t see what Barry is confusing. I pulled out my copy of Twisted and found this on page 100:
    The Brazilian Proposal was seen, IN MY VIEW CORRECTLY, as a mechanism that could engage developing countries in emissions targets

    Seems like Enting did prefer this proposal cause the above underline is clearly an advocacy for it.

    Overall then I thought the book was pretty good, especially chapter 6 on evaluating evidence. Enting just has to be wary he doesn’t fall into the same trap he warns other of, such as guilt-by-association (I’m thinking the animal lib stuff above).


  27. So let me get this right.

    CSIRO climate models have a zero percent accurate prediction rate and a scientist who was a prominent contributor to this amazing achievement thinks that it’s the so called deniers that are twisting the maths.


  28. Peter W says:

    It’s the same pollution which I remember poisoning cities like London and Liverpool, cities that today have clean skies and rivers, efficient waste removal and processing, cities which are relatively safe and clean and which provide quality health care, education and comparative wealth for their residents.

    I agree, Pete. And let’s not forget that slavery helped build up antiquity and the antebellum south, and that serfdom built up the economy of the middle ages, which in turn led to mercantilism, and finally capitalism.

    Forgive the sarcasm. My point is that the Third World need not follow the same horrifying sequence in order to get to a good standard of living. Renewable energy can hand them a better standard of living and lack of pollution at the same time.


  29. Mitigation

    Where I am coming from is making a distinction between public and personal
    mitigation choices.

    What I was trying to say in my book is that I see only three types of justifiable for public action (i.e. imposing compulsory costs on Australian society). 1 actions that facilitate early implementation of an effective international mitigation regime; 2 actions that need to be undertaken to comply with such a regime 3 actions that help Australian society prepare in advance for such a regime.

    Personal actions can be based on all sorts of other criteria: * an ethical choice to do something regardless of whether anything globally-effective occurs; * positioning yourself so that you can tell your grandchildren you tried to do something; * actions that give a financial payback; * actions that coincide with other personal values and benefits.

    There are lots of fine reasons in this second group, but I think that public/community expenditure should be focused on things that satisfy one or more of 1 to 3.

    Issues of eating less meat, no meat, less/no red meat etc. are things that I would place in the `personal’ group. There are a whole bunch of ethical arguments in favour of such positions, and also environmental arguments that have little to do with greenhouse.


  30. GWP

    Climate scientists, like Hansen don’t use GWPs at all, but use raw forcing (from Geoff Russell)
    Spot on. For analysing climate, GWPs can only be used as a `summary statistic’ at the end. This was emphasised strongly in a couple of papers in Climatic Change by Smith and Wigley in the early 1990s. A large part of my summer seemed to involve trying to get this concept across to the Garnaut review (all muddied by the fact that the IPCC defined two distinct forms of CO2-equivalence — check the AR4 glossary).

    Where GWPs play an additional role is that the provide the formal definition of “CO2-equivalant emissions” under the Kyoto Protocol (and thus give the definitions that apply for Australia’s commitments over 2008–2012). In particular the Protocol takes GWPs from the Third Assessment Report (TAR) which is why I used TAR numbers in my earlier post.
    Since I place over-riding importance on international action (with Australia part of it), I strongly favour using the same GWPs as the rest of the world (even in cases where Australia isn’t specifically committed to do so). Assuming that Barry lets the methane debate continue, I will try to explain later why future targets should move towards something like 500-year GWPs.


  31. #38 Ian, if you look at the first page of the submission which Barry, me and Peter Singer did for Garnaut, we paint a plausible scenario in which swapping coal for cattle could result in a substantial forcing increase given the usual GWP factor for methane.

    Would the forcing increase persist for 100 years? Yes. Eventually, the forcing from continuous CO2 emissions of x Mt per year will swamp continuous CH4 emissions of y Mt per year for y < ~21x. But we can’t wait for “eventually” to occur. I’d say our best bet is to reduce forcing immediately while also hoping that the young smart solar energy physicists get us “free” energy quickly. It can’t be that far away, can it? how hard can it be :)


  32. (Enting#38) Our Governments regulate all manner of things by taking away individual liberty for the good of all. Speed limits, seat belts, bicycle helmets, anti-smoking regs, anti-spam regs, no spitting laws, etc etc, and the theraputic drug legislation is huge.

    Will we ever legislate to make it mandatory that cars achieve so many kms per litre? Absolutely, if we haven’t already. We also happily legislate what foods people are allowed to sell (unpasturised milk really is dangerous). If food X happens to contribute disproportionatly to global warming (X might be palm oil as well as red meat), then I think it is both reasonable and likely that governments will eventually legislate in ways to discourage its production/consumption.


  33. Pingback: Nitrogen, climate change and diet «

  34. I have been eager to buy Twisted: the Distorted Mathematics of Greenhouse Denial not only for myself but for friends and even for public libraries, but I have never been able to find the book in even the best Australian bookstores.

    Why is it so hard to find Twisted and was it never intended to be available in ordinary bookstore chains? If it was not, why not?

    I am frighteningly fearful that at the very time Australia’s climate changes more and more rapidly – at present rates of changes, Melbourne will have an annual rainfall of below 100 millimetres by 2020 and the huge trees will be dead and gone for good – its population becomes less and less willing to demand action, as religious greenhouse sceptics make up an ever-increasing proprotion of the younger generation.

    If responsibility for climate change was the criterion for action, Australia would have been obliged in 1997 to cut its emission to absolute zero by now without any reductions in any other country. This would be done by complete seizure of the profits of car and coal companies to fund emisisons-free transit and energy along with a revegetation of ancient soils on which extreme efficiency masks their long-term unsuitability for farming. Although people think Australia’s tax rates are not extraordinary (and on paper they aren’t, they give polluters a level of leeway that would be impossible in metal ore-impoverished European and Asian countries without any taxes.


  35. I recommend this strongly as well, and indeed, it’s too bad it’s not more easily available. [I wasa little worrited about “delivery within Australia”, given that California isn’t. :-)

    IIt’s a good presentation, and for those of us not in Australia, it’s very useful for comparison purposes.


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