Climate Change Sceptics

Memo to Stephen Fielding: It’s not the sun

‘Solar variability does not explain late-20th-century warming’, says the title of a short paper published earlier this year by Philip Duffy, Ben Santer and Tom Wigley in Physics Today. The reason I bring up the topic of the sun and climate now is that an Australian Senator, Stephen Fielding of the Family First party, has recently been concerned that the solar variability could be a cause of recent warming, as the vote for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme comes before the Upper House. Apparently, he got this information from the American Heartland Institute. Well, let me put the good Senator’s concerns to rest.

This topic was dealt with in some detail on BraveNewClimate last year, in the post ‘What if the sun got stuck?‘. There is also an excellent coverage of this issue here, here and here. As Graeme Pearman said in the ABC story linked above, it’s an old debate. Pearman:

Senator Fielding might have just learnt about it, but in fact the science community has been aware of it for many years. The changes of output of the sun are well and truly documented. We’ve been observing this for over a hundred years. We understand that there was probably some warming earlier last century, due to changes of emissions from the sun, but no evidence that the recent warming is due to that. And therefore there’s no anticipation that that will be a major factor through this century.”

The Duffy et al. 2009 paper (download the PDF here) was written in response to an Opinion Piece published in Physics Today in March 2008, by Nicola Scafetta and Bruce West, entitled: “Is climate sensitive to solar variability?” (download here). I strongly recommend that you read the Duffy et al. paper in full (it’s only 2 information-packed pages long), but the conclusion really does say it all:

In summary, the hypothesis of Scafetta and West — that solar variability is the dominant climate influence during the late 20th century — is a non-solution to a non-problem. There is no problem because the history of global temperatures during the 20th century is adequately explained by known phenomena: greenhouse gases, volcanic eruptions, aerosols, and, yes, to a small degree, solar variability. That conventional explanation is simple, self-consistent, and relies on well established physics. The Scafetta and West hypothesis is a non-solution because it is inconsistent with a range of observations and invokes new an unproven physics. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof; Scafetta and West have failed to provide it.

It’s always been amazing to me that some people go to such lengths to try to explain most of the warming over the last 150 years by reference to the sun, rather than ascribing it to an increase in greenhouse gases (GHG). Both, obviously, can change the climate; no argument there. But what about the principle of parsimony, folks? This argument distorts it to the extreme.

The sun delivers our planet almost all of its energy, and an increase in total solar irradiance (for whatever reason) of just a few percent would have a profound effect on Earth’s temperatures. Likewise, a large increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide and other GHG (methane, nitrous oxide, CFCs etc.) would, on the basis of fundamental physics, be expected to invoke a serious planetary warming event.

So, let’s look at the problem in the simplest possible terms:

1. The Earth’s temperature is rising.

2. Solar activity and GHG both force the climate system.

3. There is no trend in solar activity.

4. There is an upwards trend in greenhouse gas concentration.

Simple reasoning will point to the trending driver (GHG) over the non-trending driver (solar) being the culprit. For a solar explanation to work, you not only have to explain why a climate forcing agent would be exerting a directional effect of the climate system when it itself is NOT changing — you also have to explain how that stationary agent is also able to negate another climate forcing agent that IS changing.

Sheesh. Socrates and William of Ockham would have shaken their collective heads in disbelief…

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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.

53 replies on “Memo to Stephen Fielding: It’s not the sun”

Barry – Fielding refers to some graphs he got from the Heartland sceptics, which he submits proves the solar warming theory. Do you know which graphs he is referring to? I imagine it will be the same suspects from GGWS and other pseudo-sceptic analyses. It would be good to know exactly what they are and put him right about them. He plans to show them to Wong – apparently he thinks she will have the scientific answers, which I doubt. He asks for access to climate change scientists – easy I should have thought – “ask and ye shall receive” :) Perhaps you should offer to help him out!!


Perhaps its a top secret graph that the Heartland Institute want to keep to themselves? Fearing evil scientist will make if disappear if they ever find the secret graph that disproves AGW.


As he is apparently an engineer by training, maybe the Institute of Engineers could update his membership (if lapsed) and dispatch a re-education core post haste. Family orientated, committed christians preferred. God help us.


Don’t hold your breath, Perps.

I’ve emailed the senator’s office previously (regarding his position on the recent transparency bill rejected by the Senate). All I received was an automated reply basically acknowledging the receipt of my emailed question. No response since.


You’re even luckier – he keeps me updated on what he’s doing :(


Pablo, You scoff at Feilding being an engineer.
I would prefer science offered by Feilding any day to science offered by the politician Al Gore who bombed his uni. degree with a D in science. Al is a baptist; both are christian family men wouldn’t you say Pablo?


Again no science in NZ Mack’s post. Again an adhom attack on Al Gore. Your choice Mack, your best shot?


NZ Mack,try to look at this event clearly.

Senator Fielding publicly announces that he is travelling to the US at his own expense to examine the AGW question. He then reveals he has visited a notorious lobby group and returns with some “information”. This lobby group does not do research in the sciences; it simply modifies/eviscerates the work of others. Even without considering their motives,they can only be regarded as a secondary source at best.

He has made no attempt to visit any genuine primary research body,such as NASA’s GISS at Columbia, or NOAA’s Climate Diagnostic Centre at Boulder, to name but two of many centres of learning that he could easily have organised contact with.

Worse than that,just around the corner in Canberra,he could have arranged briefings through the CSIRO,or the Australian Academy of Science, or with BOM in Melbourne. Science and synthesis from source.

The Senator could easily have done this privately or publicly,and indeed should have months ago,but he prefers to fly by press-release and blog entry. He has taken advantage of a break in Senate sessions for a holiday from reality,and to send signals to his constituents that he is an ‘independent”disinterested’ party in a ‘debate’. Never mind that he is trashing the professional reputations of real scientific institutions by publicly shunning them.

This is the kind of pantomime that our political classes are accustomed to perform.


I’d prefer the science offered by actual scientists, best summarised by the IPCC reports.

You don’t have to get your science from politicians, whether Gore or Fielding, NZ Mack.


Sorry Gaz but we already have got our science from a politician in the first place. We’ve had it for nearly 30 yrs. The science belongs to Al ; Fielding is just attempting to refute it.
Al is the person standing at the front of the classroom with a pointer and graphs of CO2 and temp. teaching us. A politician with a D in science lecturing us in science. You know that Inconvenient Truth educational thing.
You’re right Gaz, I don’t have to get my science from a politician. I’m ignoring the science from Al. I’m writing the science off as quack mainly because it is fed to me by a dumb politician.


Gore didn’t produce the science. The hard yards were done by many researchers working in their own fields.

And just what is your fetish with Gore? No one here is talking about him. Just you.


“Sorry Gaz but we already have got our science from a politician in the first place.”

What do you mean “we”?? I’ve never read anything Gore has written, nor have I seen his movie, and I’m sure I’m not the only one here who could say the same.

If you can’t stop thinking about Al Gore, get some counselling.

In the meantime, rather than “writing the science off as quack” because it come from a “dumb politician”, how about getting the science from actual scientists instead?

Or would that take away your excuse for ignoring it?


Go back to Climate Denial Crock responses and carefully read what Ive said to see where I’m coming from Gaz.
Meanwhile Ive had my say and am looking forward to my annual visit to your lovely Gold Coast beaches to escape the global warming….Yeah right.
Cheers Aussie bros


Gaz, I read NZ Mack’s posts on Climate Crock, I’m not sure what his point is, other than Al Gore bad or similar.


Cheers Bro. Gold Coast! Thet’s totely beached as Bro!


Go back to Climate Denial Crock responses and carefully read what Ive said to see where I’m coming from Gaz.

I just did. Coming to grips with the science is obviously too much effort for you. You can’t tell the difference between climate and weather. You enjoy making blanket assertions about the allegedly corrupt relationship between scientists and politicians. That is where you’re coming from.

Enjoy the Gold Coast. Don’t eat too much plenkton, bro.


Careful – you could need a boat – not for the sea but for the floods. Forget about the beach – it has been washed away pr is closed due to the ferocity of the high tides. But then as you don’t believe global warming is happening you should be safely “buoyed” by your pseudo-scepticism!


Thats a fourth post in a row with no content, just name-calling, NZMack. If you can’t add anything of substance, maybe our moderator should consider a ritual disemvowelling.

PS: Its spelled “Fielding”.


I don’t see Fielding’s statements as scientific. His message and motivation are political – but he tries to frame them in science, scientific terminology, etc. to lend credibility to his argument.

It’s a thinly veiled attempt to prolong the transition away from coal and other fossil fuels. He should be exposed for what he is, a consensus ignoring shill for the fossil industry and the worst sort of politician.

Chris Mooney has written much about the Framing of Science and subsequent irresponsible political abuse.


‘I don’t see Fielding’s statements as scientific. His message and motivation are political….’

Unlike Gore, Obama, Rudd, Wong, Gillard, etc,etc, etc, eh, Ed?


‘I don’t see Fielding’s statements as scientific. His message and motivation are political….’

Unlike politicians on your side of the argument, eh Ed?


‘The battle over global warming and low-carbon policies will not be decided over scientific issues. It will be determined by governments and lawmakers on the basis of politics and special interests.’
— Benny Peiser

Try to keep him on your side, Ed, at least until after the vote. You can only assume he is ‘a consensus ignoring shill’ (unless you can read minds).


So, you agree with me, Fielding’s comments have nothing to do with science.

In the short term Peiser’s quote may appear valid, but one can not lobby the laws of physics.


The Greens are going to vote against the ETS bill as well. Will that be for scientific or political reasons?



Politicians look to the next election and recent statements from the Greens reflect a desire to really cash in from the next one. Milne bashes the ETS and one whole day later, Ludlam spews misinformation about nuclear power [the most significant, untapped, credible solution for Australia]. It seems to be nothing more than strategic, election politics.

Statesmen look to the next generation. Unfortunately it takes about that long for a decent statesman, a ‘bold leader’, to come along. Milne had to regress to the 1960’s and relocate to the other side of the planet to quote Kennedy for example.


If the science aligns with the politics, the two aren’t incompatible. What I reject is the notion that opposing the ETS is merely cynical politics. Milne’s statement of the reasons is entirely credible, and if it happens to work politically then good for them.

I share your frustration with the Green’s attitude to nuclear power. I hope that can change with time, correct information and enough supportive voices. Its a question of values and strategies. I think the Green’s values on climate change are right but their strategy (no nukes) is wrong. I’d rather try to change the Green’s strategy (one reason I recently joined the party) than the other mob’s values. If you’d rather work it the other way round, go convert the other mob, and if you get there first I’ll change my colours.

In his book “Collapse”, Jared Diamond finds a handful of key factors contributing to the collapse of civilizations – productive soil, congenial climate, war, nearby trading nations, etc. The factor that surprised me was ‘values’. The Greenland Viking settlement failed in part because eating seal was against their values as european christians, and they starved while their Inuit neighbours thrived rather than compromise this value. On the other hand, the people of the Pacific island of Tikopia, despite the high status of keeping pigs in their society, slaughtered the lot because of the environmental damage they caused. Rejecting this value helped save their civilization.

The (non-Promethean) environmental movement’s opposition to nuclear power strikes me as exactly this sort of value problem. Holding to an antinuclear position as a value could ultimately contribute to our own civilization’s collapse, but rejecting that value could help save it. One hopes they choose wisely.


I agree with you John and wish you the best of luck in your efforts to transition the Greens the way you have described. I didn’t mean to imply that I thought Milne was off the mark. Ludlam on the other hand, is doing much more harm that good.

If it were up to me, I’d cast a vote against the ETS as well. It is inadequate and sends a message of compromise to other countries that – if repeated – will not do much to achieve respectable emission reduction goals. But Fielding’s reasoning against it (what started this thread) is dangerous politicking indeed.

But to hedge against a potential comment from Kasphar – I still see my views against the ETS as mostly political. If I took a purely technical / scientific perspective; any reduction would be better than the status quo. But looking through a more political lens, passing a weak ETS now would provide political traction for unfounded claims of victory and less support for more action in the future. This is why I answered ‘political’ above.

I believe your work will be considerably easier now than it would have been just a few years ago. Greens around the world continue to become enlightened about the realities of nuclear power. Your efforts are desperately need to accelerate that transition – more perhaps, than you may realise if James Hansen et al are close to the mark.

Again – good luck!



I posted on this at the Blogocrats today and have had a discussion, and I knew that solar had been covered over and over again – but Senator Fielding did not see it. Because he says it was not in the “media”.

He has a major role to play in passing the CPRS legislation – why does he just not read the evidence that the actual scientists put forward?


As a fundamentalist christian, the Accidental Senator from Victoria is already adept at ignoring evidence.


Barry – Thanks for providing a response to this from Senator Fielding. I left a posting on his blog – perhaps he will get Ender fatigue as well.

BTW Prescription for the Planet arrived today – about half way through it.


Fielding stated in an ABC tv interview that he was an engineer. I have some familiarity with the Institute of Engineers, and I am presuming that their publications, particularly a monthly mag would carry some serious and ongoing commentary on AGW. My suggestion that a delegation make representations to the pivotal Senator was not meant to make fun of his profession. The further qualifications I suggested were within fair political comment in keeping with Family First ideals. My reference to God is an unnecessary personal admission of just how serious I view the quality of the lobbying that I think Sen Fielding be subjected as Joni reiterates.


Reference has been made to Senator Fielding’s attendance at the recent Heartland Conference on climate change.

At that Conference, a 880 page report, “Climate Change Reconsidered” – the report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), was launched. It is now available for downloading, free of charge, at Plenty of robust science and reading.

The Executive Summary at pp. 1-8 provides a run-down on each chapter and “bullet points” the key points made.

The Report challenges the scientific basis of concerns that global warming is either man-made or would have harmful effects.

Other links related to the book and its launch can be found at

Australian contributors and reviewers include Prof. Bob Carter , Kesten Green, and Dr. William Kininmonth, all with plenty of relevant experience and solid research backgrounds.

The Heartland Institute has held two international conferences (2008 and 2009) on climate change, with a wide range of experts from around the world presenting papers (over 170) on the topic and associated areas. Videos, audios and slides from the presentations can be found at and


In case anyone was under the misimpression that the Heartland Institute was a credible scientific organisation, they are not. The Heartland Institute is a Public Relations agency promoting policy that suits their preferred ideology. (Public Relations
is new-speak for propaganda, and “Think Tank” is new-speak for ideological lobby group).

Such groups have risen with the a growth of corporate power as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy. Certain interest are safer under a “managed democracy”.
He is some background on The Heartland Institute’s practices:


Mark Byrne-truly great scientific references you have there ,Mark. Did you find them all by yourself,? How accurate would you assume them to be? who cares?


Milanković @ 9

Plenty of robust science and reading.

Just no robust science to mention here?

All we need to know are the words “international”, “conference”, “800 pages”, “robust science”.

That must be credible; surely they wouldn’t go to all that trouble without demolishing the climate science.

Classic propaganda.

Tim Lambert linked to a very interesting stroy, that demonstrates the Sun Tsu styled appraoch taken by some of these guys. my resume


You do realise that 140 of those pages are just a petition … nothing scientific or robust about those pages and pretty dry reading as well.


If yo go to: and look at Willie Soon’s presentation you will see where Fielding is coming from – especially slides 17-19 – blatant cherry-picking of some temperature station records that look something like the solar forcing curve.

You can go to the NASA GISS site and look at the station data – see how many you can find that look convincingly like the solar forcing curve. Of course, if you look at the global mean it doesn’t – especially over the last 20-30 years. But we all know that.

Neil White


I read in the Australian the statement Fielding put out about why he is seeking ‘both’ ‘sides’ in the ‘debate’ on AGW. It came across to me as a fig leaf to try and hide that he has already made up his mind….. for the denialists. One bit of evidence is to count how many times he will use in media interviews that he paid his own way to the US. Its also a bit telling that he had to go to the US. What! Aren’t our home grown denialists good enough for him! What about the sterling work by the IPA and the Lavosier group over the years. Surely their lines of propaganda must be equally as good as what the Heartland people put out.

But, by saying you paid you own way and went all the way to the US, that shows you are serious even though you end up talking to the same minds.

Fielding’s trip was a sham.


Sadly there are very few votes coming to Fielding if he backs AGW mainstream science. Reality is that he is a sideshow trying to seem relevant.


Milanković (#9),

Thanks for the link to the report published by the Heartland Institute, “Climate Change Reconsidered”. I read through it and saw that the report accepts that there is a greenhouse effect and does not dispute that greenhouse gases such as CO2 are rising in the atmosphere. As a consequence the issue of climate sensitivity becomes a central issue to consider.

I was, therefore, particularly interested in the argument advanced in chapter 2 that the climate sensitivity is much lower than accepted by the IPCC (i.e. around 3C for a doubling of CO2 to 550ppm). However, I was surprised to see extensive reliance on the “iris effect” advanced by Richard Lindzen nearly a decade ago in chapter 2 and section 1.3 in the report. Lindzen has not published evidence to support his original hypothesis and even he appears to have abandoned it in his publications and public statements since 2002. The report cited no publications on this topic after 2002 and, consequently, it seems difficult to justify the suggestion on page 17 of the report that “the debate over the reality and/or magnitude of the adaptive infrared iris effect continues”.

I concluded that the criticisms of the climate sensitivity adopted by the IPCC in chapter 2 of the report was not supported by the evidence and analysis presented in the report. I, therefore, concluded that at least this central element of the report was flawed.


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This is not the real scandal! The real scandal is this:

In the early 1980s, with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, scientists at the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia established the Climate Research Unit (CRU) to produce the world’s first comprehensive history of surface temperature. It’s known in the trade as the “Jones and Wigley” record for its authors, Phil Jones and Tom Wigley, and it served as the primary reference standard for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) until 2007. It was this record that prompted the IPCC to claim a “discernible human influence on global climate.”

Now begins the fun. Warwick Hughes, an Australian scientist, wondered where that “+/–” came from, so he politely wrote Phil Jones in early 2005, asking for the original data. Jones’s response to a fellow scientist attempting to replicate his work was, “We have 25 years or so invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it?”


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