Nine policies to drag ourselves out of the climate change mire

Below is a statement prepared by Dr Barrie Pittock and Dr Andrew Glikson, which was co-signed by 40 leading environmental scientists. As noted in the media interest that followed this, the statement’s authors sought support primarily from non-climate scientists to refute the misconception that the only researchers concerned about global warming were climate scientists.

I signed the statement, with a few reservations. The two main ones were points 1 and 2 of the 9 “Recommended Policies”. As Brave New Climate readers would know, I do not consider it useful to talk about actions that if implemented fully, will still result in the climate problem being only half-solved and therefore be ultimately useless. So to advocate restricting CO2-e to at least 450 ppm (with the hopes of better outcomes), or reducing emissions by 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, will at best only delay the inevitable crunch. We need CO2-e to be 300-325 ppm, and >100% emissions reductions (with active geo-bio-sequestration) as soon as possible. Nothing less is going to pull out out of the sticky mire into which we are now rapidly sinking.

Anyway, here’s the statement and the signatories.


Climate: Urgent challenge, great opportunity

A statement prepared by Dr Barrie Pittock PSM (former leader, Climate Impact Group, CSIRO, IPCC Lead Author, and author of “Climate Change: Turning Up the Heat”), and Dr Andrew Glikson (Earth and paleoclimate research scientist, former Principal Research Scientist, AGSO; Visiting Fellow, Australian National University).

Endorsed by 40 leading environment scientists (names listed below the statement).
The current global financial crisis must not be allowed to detract Australia’s attention from the serious deterioration of the Earth’s atmosphere with its potential effects on future generations.

The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans are vulnerable to small changes in greenhouse gas levels, aerosols, extent of the ice sheets and vegetation cover. The climate system can change rapidly over short periods of a few decades, crossing thresholds and points of no return. New studies reported by leading climate scientists indicate the Greenland and west Antarctica ice caps would, if atmospheric CO2-equivalent concentrations reached 450 ppm, very likely melt rapidly, raising sea level on the scale of metres per century.

Recent developments in the state of the Earth’s climate include increasing extent of spring melt of Arctic Sea ice, mid-winter breakup of the Wilkins ice shelf in West Antarctica, and large methane leaks offshore of eastern Siberia, compel us to call for urgent measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the demise of Arctic Sea summer ice likely within the next decade, the global climate system is rapidly changing. CO2 emissions, currently rising at more than 2% per year, should be decreasing at a similar rate if further adverse effects are to be avoided.

In a letter of the 27 March 2008, to Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Prime Minister, Professor James Hansen, NASA’s chief climate scientist, states:
Global climate is near critical tipping points that could lead to loss of all summer sea ice in the Arctic with detrimental effects on wildlife, initiation of ice sheet disintegration in West Antarctica and Greenland with progressive, unstoppable global sea level rise, shifting of climatic zones with extermination of many animal and plant species, reduction of freshwater supplies for hundreds of millions of people, and a more intense hydrologic cycle with stronger droughts and forest fires, but also heavier rains and floods, and stronger storms driven by latent heat, including tropical storms, tornados and thunderstorms”.

Australia is one of the countries which stand to suffer most in this regard. Mid-latitude agricultural zones of Australia are vulnerable to climate change in terms of severe droughts, subtropical Australia is susceptible to increasingly frequent El-Niño effects and cyclones, and the concentration of Australia’s population in coastal zones and cities places the nation at risk from sea level rises. Already the pole-ward migration of climate zones is affecting Australia through the southward retreat of the moist westerlies and consequent decreased winter half-year rainfall over southern parts of Australia, including the wheat belts of southwestern Western Australia, Victoria and the southern half of the Murray-Darling Basin. By contrast, precipitation is increasing in northwestern

Observed warming and acidification of the oceans is predicted to increase resulting in severe decline of marine life and food resources, in particular Australian’s national treasure – the Great Barrier Reef. On the other hand, Australia is blessed with plentiful solar, tidal, wind and geothermal energy, which with energy storage and networking can supply base-load power. We should seize the opportunity to grow new sustainable industries and employment. Large-scale investment in these industries would strengthen our economy as world demand for low-carbon emissions energy grows.

A window of opportunity exists to attempt to halt a climate crisis by means of:
(1) Urgently cutting carbon emissions.
(2) Seizing the opportunity to fast-track utilisation of established and new clean energy technologies thus creating new business opportunities;
(3) An urgent tree-planting campaign in Australia and its neighbors.
(4) Attempts at CO2 capture through soil-carbon enrichment and preservation.

Recommended policies include:
1. Australia to make every effort through its own and international actions to prevent CO2 – equivalent levels from rising above 450 ppm and global warming from rising above 2 degrees C relative to pre-industrial temperatures, as is the European target. Further reduction of CO2 levels to 300-350 ppm may be required to have a reasonable probability of restoring a safe climate.

2. Carbon emissions need to be reduced locally and globally by 25-30% by 2020 and 60-80% or more by 2050 in an attempt to stabilise the climate.

3. Major improvements in public transport and rapid development of more energy-efficient private transport.

4. Major efforts at farm-friendly revegetation in Australia and neighboring countries, aimed at carbon capture and erosion control.

5. Development, with suitable incentives, of large-scale clean energy utilities, including solarpowered thermal, geothermal, tidal and solar powered-desalination and wind-water extraction plants in outback regions, using an extended electricity grid (possibly including highly efficient high voltage DC cables) to supply electricity to major consumer markets.

6. Emphasis on development of the above (item 5) for remote and indigenous communities, enhancing new employment opportunities, thus reducing social problems.

7. Development of adaptation and protection strategies to minimise the coastal impacts of sea level rise.

8. Active encouragement of water tank storage associated with residential, business and industrial properties and paved areas. (This avoids increasing evaporative losses from soils and dams.)

9. Active diplomacy, tied to aid, for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, to convince developing countries, as well as the United States, to commit to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, including constraints on emissions from Australian coal exports. We must lead by example – not asking others to do as we say, but to do as we do.

We must face the challenge and seize the opportunities in dealing with climate change. We face a choice between climatic disasters and directing resources to stabilise the Earth’s climate for future generations. We need to invest in low-carbon technology and we need to do it now.

List of leading and senior scientists in the natural sciences (environment, climate, biology, Earth science) who agreed to endorse the Pittock and Glikson climate statement by the 6th of October, 2008 (listed in alphabetical order of surnames):
1. Dr Marco Amati, Lecturer, Program Director, Environmental Planning, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University
2. Professor Gunther Andersson, Senior Lecturer in Physics/Chemical Physics/Nanotechnology
3. Professor Snow Barlow, Horticulture and Viticulture, Associate Dean (Strategic Relationships), Melbourne School ol Land and Environment. University of Melbourne,
4. Professor John Beardall, Head of School of Biological Sciences, Monash University.
5. Professor Barry Brook, chair of climate change, School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Adelaide
6. Professor Stephen Boyden, Emeritus, Fenner School of the Environment and Society, A.N.U.
7. Professor Nick Costa, Head, School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University.
8. Professor Christopher Dickman, School of Biological Science, University of Sydney.
9. Professor Jim Falk, Director, Australian Centre for Science, Innovation and Society (ACSIS), University of Melbourne
10. Professor Peter Cawood, Director, School of Earth and Geographical Science, University of Western Australia.
11. Professor Larry Frakes, Emeritus, Geographical and environmental Studies, University of Adelaide.
12. Dr Paul Fraser, Chief Research Scientist, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research
13. Professor Stephen Garnett, Director, School of Environmental Research, Charles Darwin University.
14. Professor Victor Gostin, Emeritus, School of Earth Science, University of Adelaide
15. Dr Warwick Grace, Consulting Meteorologist, former Head of the Bureau of Meteorology Special Services, Adelaide.
16. Dr Galen Halverson, Geographical and environmental Studies, University of Adelaide.
17. Professor Rob Harcourt, Director of Marine Science, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University.
18. Professor Lesley Head, Head of School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong.
19. Dr Andrew Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Molecular Microbial Ecology, School of Molecular and Microbial Biosciences, The University of Sydney.
20. Dr Michael Lawes, Charles Darwin Univesity, Theme Leader Wildlife and Landscape Sciences.
21. Professor Jonathan Majer, Head of Department of Invertebrate Conservation, Department of Environmental Biology, Curtin University of Technology.
22. Professor Jennifer A. Marshall Graves, Head, Comparative Genomics Research Group, Research School of Biological Sciences Australian National University
23. Professor David McKirdy, Emeritus Professor, visiting research fellow, Geology and Geophysics, University of Adelaide.
24. Professor Paul Memmoth, Director Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, University of Queensland
25. Dr Luciana Moller, Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University.
26. Dr E. Charles Morris, Senior Lecturer and group leader, School of Natural Sciences, Hawkesbury Campus, University of Western Sydney
27. Professor John Morrison, BHP Professor of Environmental Science, School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Wollongong.
28. Professor Colin Murray Wallace, School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Wollongong.
29. Professor Gerald C. Nanson, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong.
30. Dr Bradley Opdyke, lecturer, Quaternary sedimentologist, Research School of Earth Science, Australian National University.
31. Dr Enzo Palombo, Department of chemistry, biochemistry and Biotechnology, Swinburne University.
32. Professor Graeme Robertson, Director Muresk Institute, Curtin University of Technology
33. Professor Patricia Ryan, Emeritus Professor, College of Science and Technology, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University.
34. Professor Tom Rich, curator of vertebrate paleontology, Museum Victoria.
35. Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger, Emeriitus Professor of Meteorology, Flinders University Airborne Research Centre.
36. Dr Vladimir Strezov, Senior Lecturer, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University NSW
37. Professor Ros Taplin, Director, Environmental Management Program, Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University, NSW 2109
38. Dr John Tibby, Senior lecturer, Geographical and environmental Studies, University of Adelaide
39. Professor Patricia Vickers-Rich, Director, Monash Science Centre, Chair of Paleontology, School of Geosciences, Monash University
40. Professor Clive Warren, School of Geography, Planning and Architecture, University of Queensland.


By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

31 replies on “Nine policies to drag ourselves out of the climate change mire”

I really wish someone would

a) define, in terms of capital construction cost dollars, exactly what they mean by “large-scale clean energy utilities”

b) calculate how many nuclear power stations could be built for this amount, in the same length of time

c) use a) and b) to justify assertions that the nuclear route is ‘too little too late’ in the climate change context.


No bail-out from global warming………..

There’s no bailout for the next crisis

Monday, October 20, 2008 The Oregonian

The recent haggling over how to solve the nation’s economic crisis seems to have done little to ease the anxieties of either Wall Street or Main Street. And with good reason: Intuitively, we know we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.

Watching a lifetime of stock options head south? Worried about where you’ll find the money to pay for college or about the spiraling costs of health care? Certainly nothing could hurt worse than a foreclosure, could it? Well, maybe it could. If $700 billion sounds like a lot, try fathoming $9 trillion — roughly 13 times the cost of today’s hotly debated bailout. That’s the projected cost of letting global climate change go unaddressed within this decade.

The thorough shakeup of today’s economic climate foreshadows an even more disastrous global crisis heading our way. The same belief in unlimited, unchecked growth (some would say outright greed) that fattened our economy on a diet of junk bonds and hollow lending is also strip-mining our planet’s environment of the currency that nature safely invested for us over millions of years, and upon which all life — including our own — depends.

The concept of peak oil is not just some naysayers’ delusion. According to the U.S. Energy Department’s own findings, commonly called the Hirsch report and issued in 2005, it’s an unavoidable reality, one that is hurtling toward us faster than we know what to do about.

But like the blind eye that was turned on the proliferation of high-risk, foolhardy mortgages in the midst of a slowing economy, we’ve bolstered our bravado in the face of such warnings while enthusing about drilling offshore and in the arctic.

While we’ve been busy digging our fossil-fuel foundations out from under us with the same kind of naive bluster and faith in infinite growth that gutted the economy, we’ve also been busy ruining things at the top as our upper atmosphere becomes choked with carbon dioxide, leaving us in an environmental demise of our own doing.

When it comes to the economy, a few sleights of hand and a heavy toll on taxpayers, all partisan bickering aside, can be called upon to help us avert disaster and restore faith in the unlimited expansion model. But when it comes to nature’s bank, cashing out is forever. No amount of midnight meetings, government-ordered buyouts or credit freezes can save a habitat laid fallow by years of unregulated dumping of chemical waste, nor can they lower our thermostats to an inhabitable temperature in the face of global warming.

Sound policy and the pursuit of new technologies might ameliorate some of our excesses, helping to slow down the rate of climate change and postponing the date of disaster. But like the banking and credit crisis that arrived to the surprise of so many experts — despite the many warnings sounded years earlier — environmental failure is going to rear its ugly head someday.

And when mother earth forecloses on us, there will be nowhere else to go.

Lisa Weasel is an associate professor of biology at Portland State University and a board member of The Greenhouse Network.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001


Policy 2 is a goal rather than a policy designed to achieve a goal.

The obvious
omission in the list of policies is a food policy. A
paper out today shows just how hard it will be to feed people sustainably. The
much valued “no-till” agriculture will, on some soils, generate more nitrous
oxide forcings than it saves co2 forcings — Ouch. Soil chemistry is really
complex and, as a chemical ignoramus, I can confidently predict more of these
shocks in the future. e.g., grazing in the tropics can turn soils which
are a methane sink into a methane source (this is long but not widely known),
ditto for soils under over-wintering livestock in Europe.


We need to move CO2e to below 300 pmm ASAP.

Mineralize carbon dioxide with olivine for about $(US)38–40 per tonne of CO2.



I agree with your statement that, “We need CO2-e to be 300-325 ppm, and >100% emissions reductions (with active geo-bio-sequestration) as soon as possible.” Can you point me to any of your posts or publications that discuss this target in detail?

James Hansen’s article, “Target CO2 – Where Should Humanity Aim?”, arguing for a target of 350 ppm CO2 or lower has now been accepted by by Open Atmospheric Science Journal and is now in press for publication. The final version following peer review is available at

Kind regards



Mark Duffett touches on the “touchy” subject of nuclear energy…

Back in September Barry Brook linked to James Hansen’s occasional blog in the context of a post titled “What if the sun got stuck ?”

Click to access 20080804_TripReport.pdf

On page 6 of that link, Hansen enthused over a recent book (“Prescription for the Planet”) by author Tom Blees, and recommended everyone should read it:

“It seems that instead of knee-jerk reaction against anything nuclear we need hard-headed evaluation of how to get rid of long-lived nuclear waste and minimise dangers of proliferation and nuclear accidents”.

Blees’ book (I haven’t read it) apparently takes a fresh look at nuclear energy, specifically the fast breeder reactor. Coming from anyone other than James Hansen (a self-declared “agnostic” on nuclear), I would’ve ignored the endorsement of Blees’ book and dismissed it as just more pro-nuke hype. I had, after all, read all the Storm van Leeuwin papers on Peak Uranium and knew that the nuclear road was a dead end. I’m now having second thoughts.

If the technical issues that have dogged the fast breeder can be solved (the Chinese media is already making such claims) then it could be a whole new ball game. Breeders (as the name seems to imply) could extend reserves of fissile material from decades into centuries, and make good use of existing stockpiles of nuclear weapons. I recall that the waste stream may also be much less of a problem.

Mark Lynas, described in the Sunday Times (UK) as a “climate change expert” and author also seems to be having second thoughts:

Whilst I will always believe that sustainables must remain the only viable long term solution to our energy needs, we need all the help we can get right now. I must hope that if the fast breeder strategy gets up, it doesn’t push sustainable solutions to the back of the queue, just as they are starting to get some traction.


#7 John. Yes, I read Hansen’s take on Blees on nuclear and thought, damn, here’s
something I’d better rethink. And if I lived in the US, I would. But Australia
only pays for big ticket technology by generating more emissions through selling
more coal, aluminium and beef. Of course, if someone were offering to
give us the reactors, then I really would need to rethink.


[…] The statement has a list of nine suggested policies, including committing (and urging others to commit to) a peak greenhouse gas level of 450 ppm CO2e. Barry Brook at Brave New Climate, one of the signatories, suggests we may need to go further: […]


The signatories are to be congratulated for their statement, and you, Barry, for your considerable work here. Policies 3,4,5,6,7 & 8 will be ideal in the community re-building years of the coming depression. The financial community in the meantime will be undergoing some extended period of cognitive therapy.


Chris McGrath (6) — In 1850 CE, with CO2 at 288 ppm, the Swiss glaciers stopped growing. By 1958 CE, with CO2 at 315 ppm, the Swiss glaciers were retreating at an average of 4 m/y; already by this data the last mainland remnants of the Laurentide ice sheet had all melted.

All this in the face of declining NH orbital forcing.


Hi there Barry,

Love your work. It’s great that your knowledge is now so accessible.

I thought you might like this… It’s about a viral video that Greenpeace just teamed up with Andrew Hansen from The Chaser to do. It makes fun of the idea that the Australian taxpayer will be handing over $1.2 billion to pay coal fired power generators to keep polluting.

You can check it out at:

It would be great if you wanted to post it.



Please understand that Dr. Lisa Weasel is an honorable scientist. She neither hides, nor hides from, the empirical evidence to which she refers in her letter, “There’s no bailout for the next crisis” (see posting #3 above). At least to me, her behavior is exemplary. We need to see her example displayed in the actions of many other scientists who presently seem to be unwilling to communicate what their science tells them is real and true.

So far as I can tell, Dr. Weasel does not formulate policy or engage in action planning. She does the work scientists are supposed to be doing: helping people see the world we inhabit as it is.

Of course, her reporting is off-putting precisely because the message from science is apparently unforeseen, distinctly discomforting and most unwelcome.

Reports of good science, when that science is new, is routinely difficult to acknowledge, much less address. But that is what we are called upon to do. Grasping good science and adjusting to whatsoever could be real is required of us, I suppose. Nothing else will do as an adequate substitute. It appears that the human community could soon have genuine challenges to overcome.

Despite all the efforts of denialists and naysayers, scientists need to do their duty, as Lisa Weasel is doing, by urging the family of humanity to open our eyes and see what looms ominously before us on the far horizon. By avoiding science, we are losing the exquisite value found in one of God’s gifts to humanity.

Ignoring Dr. Weasel’s science cannot be allowed to prevail, even though her reasonable and sensible evidence comes into conflict with what culture prescribes as real and true. Is it possible that the standard for determining what is real and true in our culture is often this: whatsoever is widely shared, consensually validated and judged to be economically expedient, politically convenient, socially agreeable is true and real? In that case, Dr. Weasel’s science does present our culture with evidence of inconvenient truths.

Each culture presents its membership with much that is real and also much less that is illusory. From the standpoint of a psychologist, because humans are shaped early and pervasively by cultural transmissions in our perception of reality, it looks like an evolutionary challenge for humankind to see the world as it is.

It appears that cultural transmissions or memes generated within a culture may at times mesmerize human beings in that widely shared and closely held memes occasionally “produce” illusions of the world as it is. Dr. Weasel’s research seems to be disturbing in some basic way because her work comes into conflict with certain culturally derived notions held by leaders of our culture about what it means to be human and about the “placement” of humankind within the natural order of living things. Unexpected scientific evidence of this particular kind is uniformly difficult for people to see immediately, I suppose, because such evidence undercuts the ‘pedestal’ from which human beings prefer to arrogantly look upon other creatures and nature. We humans may introject culturally biased and scientifically unsupported transmissions (i.e., memes) that confuse human reasoning and promote a certain cortical conceitedness which is not helpful when trying to see what is real or to recognize certain requirements of practical reality. For a very long time cultural transmissions or memes appear to have been passed from generation to generation, distorting human perceptions and making it difficult for us to see scientific evidence for what is real about it.

When a psychological practitioner like myself thinks a patient is suffering from a mental illness, that determination is a matter of evidence-based clinical judgment. However, general standards of what is normal are not clinical judgments (and sometimes do not objectively correlate with reality), but are often unverified, specious ‘evidence’ of cultural norms and social conventions that contain occasional misperceptions of what is real. Because some misperceptions are valued by those who share them, these memes get passed along as if they represented reality.

In cases of deeply disturbed mental patients, they are inclined to distort reality so drastically that their distortions are not widely shared and closely held by other people. Instead, these mistaken impressions are labeled as examples of craziness and disregarded. By contrast, human aggregations in governments, social organizations and cultures appear not to misperceive and misrepresent reality so sharply, yet distortions of what is somehow real are still taken to be true and shared as if factual by aggregates of people.

A term of art in psychology is useful here, folie a deux. The term means that two people share an identical distortion of reality. This understanding leads to other terms, folie a deux cent million for a social order or folie a deux billion for a culture. These terms refer to misperceived aspects of reality commonly shared and held by many people in aggregates. One way to define the highest standard of what is normal for the individual and for people in aggregations is in terms of being able to see what is reasonably and sensibly free of illusion, what appears to be real based on scientific evidence. Hence, in taking note of the process of humankind becoming evermore aware in the passage of space-time of whatsoever is somehow real by means of acquiring good scientific evidence, we can track the evolution of science.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
established 2001


It is amazing to see another group of scientists, very few of whom seem to have qualifications in the area of physics required to understand the basic green house processes, confidently urging the government to act on a problem said to arise from this effect, as if they themselves understand the mechanisms upon which the assumption of increased warming depends.

It used to be a common saying in the world of scientific research, when anyone strayed outside their field of expertise with a perhaps inappropriate comment, that such a person should “stick to his knitting”. In earlier times, the vague quoting of second hand knowledge based on what is now referred to as a “consensus”, was seriously frowned upon as being meaningless unless the group for whom such consensus applied, could clearly demonstrate the fundamental reasoning behind any claims they made for recognition of their research results.

In this letter, we see again the same familiar claims of melting ice and rising oceans, devastating droughts and localized storms, all being produced because of “Global Warming” – not any old global warming, but the warming produced by manmade carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. All of this conjecture is based on the single result of averaging the output of 23 Atmospheric and Oceanic General Circulation Models

What is clearly missing from this letter, is a statement describing the modern scientific basis for the green house effect, which is believed to be the cause of increased global warming.

There is no point in arguing that the melting of Arctic ice proves that anthropogenic global warming is upon us, when last year, one adventurous Englishman, Lewis Gordon Pugh, managed to kayak to within about 900 kilometres of the North Pole to demonstrate the effects of Global Warming, while in 1893, a similarly adventurous Norwegian, Fridtjof Nansen, was able to kayak to within 560 km of the same North Pole – 340 km closer to the pole.

Similarly, there is nothing to be gained by upholding an argument that the effective temperature of the earth, Teff, is dependent on the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere when this concentration has increased by a measured amount of about 5%, while the effective temperature has decreased, since 2002, by about the same amount (0.6 C) that the temperature rose between 1980 and 1998.

Any such letter urging action on the global warming hypothesis, requires an explanation as to why the signatories support such action.
• Not through a reference to “scientific consensus”, which is totally meaningless, since the outcomes from research do not depend on votes for support.
• Not quoting the output from the models used by the IPCC to obtain a projection of some several degrees of increase in the effective global temperature since these models are only experimental at best and rely totally on the input of man made information – assumed heating because of increased carbon dioxide.

But a clear statement
• showing why increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will lead to increases in the effective temperature of the earth.
• containing numbers, showing the height in the troposphere at which the signatories believe the IR radiation from the earth is absorbed by green house gases.
• describing the outcome from the multiple collisions between the other, higher density, atmospheric gas molecules and those of the green house gases.
• Explaining whether the energy absorbed by a green house gas is radiated back to earth, heating its surface, or transferred as kinetic energy to the surrounding molecules, thus heating the atmosphere in that region.
• defining the amount of energy currently absorbed by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and that which will be absorbed when the concentration of carbon dioxide is doubled.
• concerning the broadening of the individual spectral lines which constitute the absorption bands and determine the additional, often ignored , absorption of radiation at wavelengths occupying the region between the well defined bands.

These factors represent the basic elements of the behaviour of carbon dioxide and any other gas defined as a contributor to the “green house” effect. If such behaviour is found to lead to an increase in atmospheric or surface warming, then the application of an AOGCM to determine the final outcome is appropriate. This outcome may of course lead to an increased cooling effect. The green house gases present at high altitudes, are responsible for the global cooling which enables the earth, with its insulating blanket of air, to cool to an average temperature lower than that which is common in the equatorial regions and would be carried by wind to all regions, were it not for this cooling.

Models do exist which demonstrate this cooling effect as dominating the outcome of increased carbon dioxide, but according to the IPCC report, such models have been eliminated from the set used to determine the future outcome, since it is believed that this result is “implausible”. For this reason, all models used to determine the average projected effective global temperature, provide positive results. i.e. they all point to an increase in global temperature through increased CO2 concentrations.

If such behaviour is found not to lead to an increase in the energy confined in the atmosphere, no process can be demonstrated through modelling or any other analysis, which would lead to global heating.

Thus, letter writers advocating increased government action on carbon reduction, should concentrate on the details which could show that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide will produce some increase in atmospheric heating which clearly exceeds the inevitable increase in atmospheric cooling. This may not be easy for them.

However, without making some attempt to demonstrate scientifically, employing appropriate principles of radiation physics, that they have good reason to believe that increased CO2 will lead to increased global temperatures, any genuine scientist should desist from signing such a letter.

The general public is entitled to believe that a statement from a scientist represents that person’s considered scientific opinion based on his/her training, experience and acquired expertise. To make a public statement, as a scientist, implies the ability to demonstrate, from first principles or from empirical evidence, that that statement is true. Such a statement should not be made, implying such scientific understanding, when it is merely referring to results from a third party who is claiming to have determined a scientific fact. This represents a prostitution of the relationship between a scientist, who is generally well supported from public moneys, and the members of that public.

The confidence of the signatories in the model results as illustrated by this letter, is curiously not shared by the authors of the IPCC report, as is clearly apparent from any casual reading of Chapter 8 of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, (FAR) published in 2007. For instance in section 8..1.2.2 we find: Metrics of Model Reliability
What does the accuracy of a climate model’s simulation of past or contemporary climate say about the accuracy of its projections of climate change? This question is just beginning
to be addressed, exploiting the newly available ensembles of models.
The simulation of past or present climate represents the only available experimental technique for evaluation of the models. This provides the empirical data with which any scientific theoretical results must be compared before they can be accepted as a correct representation of the facts. The IPCC authors are clearly admitting that at this stage, 2007, some 27 years after the first attempts were made to model global climates, it is not known if the models can project future climate correctly, even if they had been shown to be able to replicate known climate conditions of recent years. It is quite clear that they have been unable to replicate any of the last ten years and with regard to the changes in temperature, they were unable to determine the sign correctly, projecting positive increases in 2007 when the outcome was negative.

The failure of the models to predict the abnormal warming of 1998 and the sequential static temperatures in the years following, as well as having clearly misjudged the cooling regime which followed 2002, with the well documented fall in the effective global temperature of 2007/2008 returning to the level of 1980, clearly illustrates the many points made in the IPCC reports, which imply that there is a wide range of uncertainty in the inputs used to seed each of the models.

Again one can quote:

For any given metric, it is important to assess how good a test it is of model results for making projections of future climate change. This cannot be tested directly, since there are no observed periods with forcing changes exactly analogous to those expected over the 21st century.

Meaning we just don’t know!

While the signed open letter makes reference to El Nino, (“…subtropical Australia is susceptible to increasingly frequent El-Niño effects and cyclones,…) the IPCC claims that the models are ineffective in reproducing these major climatic events and that La Nina and El Nino conditions cannot be represented by the models. How then is it known by the signatories, that there will be increases in El Nino conditions effecting Australia? To be consistent, the open letter should contain at least a foot note explaining when and how this new information has been acquired.

It would be entirely appropriate, I believe, if the author of this open letter were to retract the current version and replace it with a more up to date version which takes account of the comments given above. These remarks are intended to be helpful and are provided in a spirit of ensuring that the science community of Australia seeks to serve its public and Government by providing accurate and meaningful accounts of the state of any particular science for which they have obviously been in receipt of at least reasonable public funding.

John Nicol
Chairman, Scientific Advisory Committee, Australian Climate Science Coalition.


John Nicol, you must have set the world record for sophistry here.

You say: “What is clearly missing from this letter, is a statement describing the modern scientific basis for the green house effect, which is believed to be the cause of increased global warming.”

I suppose this is meant to imply there is no scientific basis but, really, who are you kidding? Does everyone venturing an opinion have to re-hash the physics or point to the sections of the IPCC reports that summarise the science or list hundreds of references? Just to counter dodgy arguments like your assertion that GCM models “rely totally” on “assumed heating because of increased carbon dioxide”. Assumed? Oh, for goodness sake.

You rubbish the models whose conclusions make you feel uncomfortable, but somehow have faith in models that “demonstrate this cooling effect as dominating the outcome of increased carbon dioxide”. Dominating?

John, cherry-picking aside, have you noticed what’s happened to the world’s temperature over the past century or so? The reason the IPCC referred to these modles as “implausible” is because they’re… wait for it.. implausible.

If the cooling effect dominates the warming effect, rather than amplifies it, what’s your explanation for the those lovely warm interglacials? Their warmth has to be explained by the warming effect of CO2 feedbacks, because it can’t be explained by increased solar radiation alone. But if the cooling effect dominates, why can’t we go ice skating on Sydney Harbour, what with all this CO2 wafting around?

You say: “It is amazing to see another group of scientists, very few of whom seem to have qualifications in the area of physics required to understand the basic green house processes, confidently urging the government to act on a problem said to arise from this effect, as if they themselves understand the mechanisms upon which the assumption of increased warming depends.”

Why is it amazing? I’d say it was quite reasonable because there IS a group of scientists who DO have qualifications in the area of physics required to understand the basic green house processes, who ARE confidently urging the government to act on a problem said to arise from this effect, BECAUSE THEY DO themselves understand the mechanisms upon which the assumption of increased warming depends.”

Should the rest of us ignore them?

You refer to “The failure of the models to predict the abnormal warming of 1998.. etc” as if to imply that GCMs should predict El Nino effects and similar short term variations in the climate, when they do not try to do any such thing, as anyone with more than a passing interest in this discussion will know. I can only be thankful that you have only used a mild version of the ridiculous old denialist mantra that if models can’t predict the weather next week how can they predict the climate next century. So it’s only mildly ridiculous, I suppose.

And this: “All of this conjecture is based on the single result of averaging the output of 23 Atmospheric and Oceanic General Circulation Models.”

OK, John. This is patently untrue (vis: all the simpler pre-supercomputer models going back over a century, the paleoclimate evidence, the basic physics, the lack of any other explanation with the tiniest bit of credibility).

But even if it were true, and it all came down to the GCMs, just how many would be enough. Not 23, obviously. How about 100? 1,000? 1 million? Well?? Pick a number. Amuse us. How many would it take to bring us beyond “conjecture”.

You take this comment from the IPCC: “This cannot be tested directly, since there are no observed periods with forcing changes exactly analogous to those expected over the 21st century.”

Then you insist it means that “we just don’t know!” Just, I suppose, as Galileo could have had no idea which would fall faster off the tower at Pisa, the lead ball or the feather that legend says he dropped, because no one had ever done it before? Or that Einstein could not have known what would happen when… oh, never mind.

Do you mean to say we should give up wondering about climate change because, obviously, there are no examples of forcing changes exactly analogous to the 21st century? Are you arguing that it is in fact impossible to know the answer to the question of anthropogenic global warning? To any reasonable degree of certainty? Because conditions have never been EXACTLY as they are now?

This brings up the old question, often asked but never answered by the head-in-the-sand crowd. Just what WOULD constitute proof? What is it, specifically, that would convince you? To “demonstrate”, as you claim some models have done with regard to the allegedly dominant cooling effects of CO2?

When I read contributions like yours, so full of intellectual sleight-of-hand and half-baked debating tricks, I suspect that there is no answer to this question.


John Nicol

Don’t bother tolling on this site – we have had your ilk on here before – they quickly retreat when faced with the real science which has debunked, ad nauseam, all your puerile arguments. If you are serious about learning the science behind AGW listen to the series of lectures on this blog, and all your queries will be answered – AGAIN! Of course, it may be that you and your Australian Climate Science Coalition may have an agenda which colours your thinking – yep! I just checked your credentials – as I thought! Try somewhere else you have been sprung here!


Just a correction – my previous post read “If the cooling effect dominates the warming effect, rather than amplifies it..” should have read something like “If the cooling effect of the CO2 dominates the warming effect, rather than the other way around..” Should be obvious from the cotect, but that’s just to make it clear.


Perps @18

I can’t agree with you.

To agree with you is akin to making Barry’s site no different to the likes of Anthony Watt’s, Jennifer Marohasy’s or Steve Mac’s (for example) – full of ad homs and vitriol for anyone else that has a different ‘take’ on things.

Indeed, we should encourage those with alternate views to come here (or sites like Real Climate) – they may learn something.

There are others here (as Gaz so eloquently demonstrated – I tips-me-hat to you sir) that can logically and rationally refute any such claims as Jon Nicol espouses.

I for one certainly learn more from such refutations than if they were not challenged at all. I would not improve my understanding if people (of different “ilk”) are exiled to the nether-nether.


David K @ 20
I agree with you in some particulars. Indeed, this is a site we should encourage those who are genuinely sceptical and keen to learn what the science says, to visit. Unfortunately, those of John’s “ilk” post the same tired old denialist arguments on many sites, with the prime aim to confuse people about the scientific consensus. They know that their contrary views have been addressed and disproved many times; hence my accusation of “trolling”. This is a genuine and credible scientific site and many posts have been placed by Barry and his peers, guiding people to the correct information, only to be accused of not answering the questions, which are then posed again, as if they were new points. Indeed several of these bloggers have already been banned from this site for these very tactics.Incidentally, The Australian Climate Science Coalition is run from an Arizona based ISP, which also hosts the NZ Climate Science Coalition and the International Climate Science Coalition. If you Google them, or their members you will find that their affiliations are with right-wing thinktanks and energy and mining companies.Other methods of checking their credentials are to go to Sourcewatch.or or and check their research databases. Finally you could hardly compare my reasoned attack, on the duplicity of the post, with the ad hom personal attacks on JM’s site (and others)You should go and have a look at the filth they have poured on Barry and some others willing to put their heads above the parapet for the sake of “good” i.e.peer reviewed science. Of course, it could be David K that you already know all this and are aligned with the “sceptics” camp. When any of their number are able to get a peer reviewed paper, on their sceptical points, in a respected scientific journal, I will be more than willing to listen and be convinced.


Actually, DavidK, I have a lot of sympathy with the position taken by Perps, though I appreciate your kind compliment.

The reason I decided to reply to his post was simply to show that his arguments are full of holes. Big holes.

This, however, is not always enough.

There are people (and organisations like Australian Climate Science Coalition) who see it as their mission in life to argue against climate science and to do it relentlessly on multiple forums. They do this using the same tired old arguments, despite being repeatedly shown to have misrepresented the data or the scientific arguments, or to have used dubious logic.

I think it’s entirely valid for Perps to point this out, and I can understand a little frustration creeping in occasionally, given the tactics of the anti-science brigade, including the repeated claim that global warming is a “hoax”.

Here is an example of such tactics, just while I’m in the mood.

On the web site of the Australian Climate Science Coalition, of whose Science Advisory Panel John Nicol is a member, there is a link (up on the top right of the home page) to “Layman’s Guide to Global Warming Hoax”.

In that guide you will find this claim: “Curiously enough, the UN IPCC reports don’t even mention water vapor, since it is technically not a “gas” in the atmosphere.”

If that were true it would be an astonishing failure, but luckily it’s easy enough for anyone with an internent connection and a pdf (acrobat) file reader, with its search function, to check.

As it turns out, the 4th IPCC physical science report includes the words water vapour (or vapor) well over 400 times, on quite a few occasions stating that water vapour is the most important greenhouse gas.

As for water vapour “technically” not being a gas…

Curiously enough, the UN IPCC reports don’t even mention water vapor, since it is technically not a “gas” in the atmosphere.


Gaz @ 22
Fortunately, for me, there are those, like yourself, on Barry’s site who are able to counter the false scientific arguments. Not being a scientist I can only comment on the tactics used by the denialist camp. As a member of the public, convinced by the science and what I see happening in the world, I am desperately worried about the future for my children and grandchildren. That is why, as you correctly surmised, I have lost patience with posts like David K’s, as I see them as a deliberately mischievious attempt to delay action by sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of casual visitors to reputable sites like these. Thankyou for your support :-)



With respect, I suggest you calm down.

If you really want to know where I’m coming from, take a cursory look at some of the posts I have made at this site (under the tag Q&A).

I ‘blow off steam’. Why? Because it is a ‘populist’ mainstream blog site run by someone who has his head firmly buried in the sand, his feet stuck in the mud and his butt pointed to the sky emitting some well known GHG – well, that’s probably going too far, but you get my meaning.

If you want to cast me in the ‘deny-n-delay brigade’ … that’s your prerogative, but you will be wrong.

Btw, I am an old fart of a scientist with particular expertise and research interests in coupled ocean/land/atmospheric systems. I prefer to just do my job and otherwise lead a normal life – unfortunately, there are too many ‘experts’ out there (from plumbers to accountants) that want to tell people from my “ilk” how to do our job or that we have got it all wrong.

Excursions like this are but a distraction – I enjoy your refutations.


John Nicol is an emeritus professor of physics from James Cook University. You can find some of his publications by searching on “‘JL Nicol’ jcu” at Google Scholar. He’s also the author of a dissenting opus on the atmospheric physics of the greenhouse effect that you can find here:

Personally I lost a lot of interest in climate change skepticism once I found paleoclimate arguments for climate sensitivity being about 3 degrees. See for example the paragraph here beginning “We’ve often gone over the Charney sensitivity constraint for the Last Glacial Maximum”:

I also know from experience what a tiresome chore it can be to find the errors in a lengthy piece of quantitative physical reasoning. And the case of special relativity in physics suggests that there will simply be no end to the supply of such dissent, when people have independent motivation to disbelieve. In the case of relativity, there are lots of people who believe in absolute simultaneity. In the case of the greenhouse effect, since it implies such drastic changes to the material basis of our civilization, there will also be an unending supply of critics. So one becomes reluctant to make the effort of counter-critique, knowing that there is guaranteed to be another to rebut, and another, and another – not because of the merit of the skeptical position, but just because of the strength of its motivation.

Nonetheless, I think people will at length be compelled to assemble a first-principles account of the scientific case for catastrophic anthropogenic global warming, covering everything from basic atmospheric physics to the inference of climate sensitivity from historical data. Many of the ingredients for such an account already exist. (The IPCC documents don’t quite count, as they are a literature review rather than a textbook.) As I said, it will be a thankless task, because there will be no end to the independent criticism claiming to have found loopholes or refutations. But as the climate skeptics like to say that the case has not been made (and they are certainly correct that the case *needs* to be made, for any claim demanding such radical and expensive actions), perhaps such a comprehensive independent account will shut a few of them up.

As a minor step towards this end, I think someone somewhere will have to tackle Nicol’s opus. (I cannot see that anyone has done so yet.) In the spectrum of greenhouse skepticism, it’s a rather radical piece: the guy says (see his Conclusion) that the warming experienced by the Earth due to greenhouse gases is actually *independent of their concentration*! I have not yet attempted to reconstruct the argument, but given the extremity of the conclusion, I should be able to predict that there is a serious error buried in there somewhere.


Mitchell Porter@ 27
Thanks for the info on John Nicol.Something puzzles me though.
Why is it, do you think, that John Nicol has self-published his dissenting opus at -the website for a company part owned by him, called Jondas Rural Investments?
If the opus is so groundbreaking and throws serious doubt on the atmospheric physics behind the AGW theory why hasn’t it been subjected to peer review and published in a respected scientific journal like Science or Nature? I am sure they would be greatly interested in having John submit it. I presume that the errors in the piece would then be revealed.


It’s impossible to prove climate sensitivity to GHG’s to the satisfaction of people who are determined to believe AGW is false. Is a concise, comprehensive logical proof, layman comprehensible and incontrovertable even possible? Sounds like there’s an expectation that science dealing with complex systems like climate should be like the science of the turn of last century that was dealing with the relatively straightforward. Any proof that doesn’t fit that mould is rejected as not being “real” science. Having the Nicols of the world deciding what is and isn’t valid science is a clear recipe for failing the climate challenge.

I do welcome the letter outlining a plan for tackling this challenge. A plan that leads to getting a handle on global emissions is essential, but we need all plans to be leading to that end and within our gov’ts there are lots of plans and some are about maximising growth including growth in the mining and export of coal. I suspect that the latter have a much firmer footing than the former. In the realm of real action and real policy that takes this issue as seriously as it should be, voices like Nicol’s are still hands down winners. Of course they begin with the home advantage – keeping the momentum of something moving is easier than slowing or shifting it’s course – so I can’t give them much real credit.


Thanks Gaz and Mitchell for providing those detailed responses to the Nicol non-greenhouse theorist recycling. I really wonder who he thinks he is kidding? I’m almost at the point where I can’t be tossed responding to such guff directly anymore – it’s just so laughably lame. Thanks guys for taking the time to show why.

For people who want to know why in detail, take a read of the other posts in my ‘Spot the Recycled Denial’ series (all of those are members of or associated with Nicol’s coalition).


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