Climate Change Impacts

Real holes in science

I’m sometimes asked to describe what science is. Well, there are many definitions and philosophical positions which cover this question, but to me, as a working scientist, one stands out above all others as relevant to what I do. Science constrains uncertainty. Or, to put it in a slightly longer form, science is the method that allows humans to put realistic bounds on our understanding of how the world (the universe) works and the natural laws it obeys. Although there is almost no problem in science that can be explained fully, and few ideas can be proven absolutely, science is still among our most effective intellectual tools. From the technological sophistication of our modern society, to our appreciation of the hidden mechanisms of evolution or quantum mechanics, science tells us what is possible (and plausible), but not what is, or must be.

One scientific problem for which we can never have definitive proof is the cause of past extinctions. Such events can never be replayed or observed directly, and so cannot be tested or falsified; moreover, evidence from the past is inevitably sketchy and difficult to interpret. Yet, despite these inherent limitations, we can still assess how our available data stacks up against alternative ideas, and arrive at a probabilistic judgement on what is more or less likely. The extinction of the dinosaurs is the most famous example, but there are many others. In this week’s issue of Science, I have a co-authored paper “And then there were none?” with Bert Roberts on the extinction of Australia’s megafauna and the probable role of early modern people. There is a write-up of the story in The Australian, here.

In short, we argue that improved dating methods show that humans and megafauna only co-existed for a relatively short span of time after people invaded Australia, adding weight to the argument that hunting led to the extinction of many large-bodied species. In particular, new methods for direct dating of teeth and bones at a site long been claimed to provide evidence that humans and megafauna lived side-by-side for 20,000 years, has revealed that this site actually shows nothing of the sort — the bones and stone tools are not of the same age and were probably redeposited together due to erosion and floods. Although this latest finding doesn’t ‘prove’ that humans hunted megafauna to extinction, it does withdraw an important piece of supporting evidence for the alternative climate (drought) hypothesis. So, incrementally, science advances by narrowing uncertainty. Email me if you want a PDF of the article.

More broadly, many aspects of climate science can be looked at in a similar light — especially with respect to our efforts to understand the relative importance of past climate forcing effects, and our projections of future change. We cannot ever know what will happen in the future, for a whole variety of reasons (imperfect knowledge, limitations on our models and our ability to parameterise them, uncertainty about human decisions); likewise, we cannot ever be sure just how important greenhouse gases, ice albedo, dust, volcanoes and the sun were in perturbing past climates, nor how abruptly and markedly they did this. Yet we can still assess, based on multiple lines of evidence, what is more or less likely, and make decisions on energy pathways and other globally significant human activities on this basis, under a risk management framework.

In this context, Nature has just produced a great news feature called “The real holes in climate science” (available free, here). To quote:

Like any other field, research on climate change has some fundamental gaps, although not the ones typically claimed by sceptics. Quirin Schiermeier takes a hard look at some of the biggest problem areas.

The four areas of greatest uncertainty they discuss are regional climate predictions and downscaling (an area of particular interest in my research on ecological impacts that are relevant at the population and individual scale), precipitation (where will it get wetter, drier, snowier or more barren and how quickly will these shifts occur?), aerosols (how much warming sulphates and dust suppressing, and what is the heating effect of black carbon?) and palaeoclimatic reconstruction (the ‘tree ring controversy’ and related uncertainties). I would also add feedbacks, abrupt change and slow/fast climate sensitivity to that list…

Also, be sure to read the associated editorial, Climate of suspicion:

With climate-change sceptics waiting to pounce on any scientific uncertainties, researchers need a sophisticated strategy for communication.

This provides sound advice for all scientists wishing to engage on the topic of climate change in the public arena. Which definitely includes me, now that I’ve agreed to ‘debate’ Christopher Monckton and Ian Plimer, with the help of Graham Readfearn (of’s Green Blog), at The Brisbane Institute on 29 January. As many BNC readers may suspect, I plan to focus on the underlying motivations for this argument over ‘holes in the science’, rather than getting entangled in the scientific details or background of the antagonists, and will propose some ideas for cutting the Gordian knot (which, in my humble opinion, ultimately boils down to a question of energy economics). This is only fitting, given my evolution of thought on the matter of climate and energy over the last year.


In other BNC-related news:

— The BraveNewClimate blog has passed half-a-million hits (with 225 posts and 12,000 comments) since its birth in late 2008. Thanks to you all for making it a success!

— Tom Blees, author of Prescription for the Planet and president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives, will be visiting Australia (Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane) in early February (that’s in just a few weeks time!). More on this in an upcoming post, but click here for some information about events.

— Kent Hawkins from the MasterResource energy blog has done a detailed write-up of and commentary on Peter Lang’s recent work on emissions reductions. It’s an excellent summary and provides a concise compliment to the original piece. I thoroughly recommend this article, and other related work by Kent.

— Be sure to read Haydon Manning’s response to his critics (predominantly Jim Green). It’s a wonderful rejoinder.

— Finally, it’s now been confirmed that my book on nuclear power as a sustainable energy source, co-authored with ACF President Ian Lowe and published in Pantera Press’ small books debating big issues series, will hit bookstores in May this year. It will be distributed by Simon & Schuster.

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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.

67 replies on “Real holes in science”

It is pointless to debate Christopher Monckton.

Isn`t it likely that pushing (nuclear) energy agenda on your side will raise eyebrows on your side (Graham) too?

Is there any way to watch that one live or taped over the internet?


What (nuclear) ‘agenda’ do you mean? In what way is it an agenda? Perhaps it is, if by that you mean a task that ought to be done, but that’s an archaic definition.

Matt, I will address they science as it should be addressed — by considering the bounds of uncertainty, and what the alternatives offer in constraining these.


On the debate – my understanding is that the good Lord is also a keen advocate of nuclear power so there could be some common ground.

Also I fear that “I plan to focus on the underlying motivations for this argument over ‘holes in the science’, rather than getting entangled in the scientific details or background of the antagonists” will play in to their hands, as they will want to talk “science” and you will look evasive by talking about motivation, and indeed the motivations Monckton believes that the UN has are terrible indeed:)


For the record Barry, I also doubt the usefulness of debating these fraudsters.

It’s unlikely they will permit a debate and less likely still that any light that emerges will be honestly and thoughly reported.

What will be reported will be the snappy soundbytes and the fact that honest and serious people like you take these charlatans seriously enough to argue with them.


“Science does not know everything.” This is true enough. But not necessarily in the way that it is typically intended. A better statement would be “Science can model anything.”

If there is something that we can observe and attempt to understand then the scientific method can address it. If something can be defined, then we can attempt to model it. If it can be observed, then we can compare our models with the observation.

The scientific method, is the best, most powerful, most reliable tool available. Nothing else has been so effective. Nothing has helped humanity advance as far. However, if one assumes there is something defective about this approach, there would be certain difficulties in proving some other way is better. For to prove another method is more effective than science, one would have to present a comparison of results. One would have create new hypotheses, set up tests, check and double-check the test for fairness, and determine which one produces the best results.

And what do you call that process?



I’ve always thought that deciding the date of X by measuring the date
of the stuff surrounding it in a dig was suspect. Certainly acceptable as
a best guess when you couldn’t date X directly. Explaining how X
got to be where it is a separate issue …

As for the how, I find burning a more convincing explanation than

Burning is exactly what small, insignificant but cunning hunters would


Would love to attend the “debate” in Brisbane , but I am not going to hand over $100 + of my hardearned , to hear the Moncktons of this world spout their hogwash.
I have written a number of letters to the editor of the Oz in response to some of their climate change debate (Or what passes for debate rather), but they never get published. They were rather witty imho, perhaps they were too sarcastic , dunno.
PS Am with you on the disappearance of the Aus megafauna, not being a scientist, cannot contribute to debate, but yor explanation sounds plausible.


Barry…remind everyone on this list when we get close to Feb 5th about the debate, please. You & Tom should kick ass if you can use real science to cut through Caldicott’s fear mongering. She destroys here own credibility of course, but only if it’s pointed out. Take careful notes and destroy her. By all means.



Sorry I can’t be at the Caldicott event — I’m in Sydney …

NB typo at link: response to climate change

Best …


Correction to my comment at 1 – should be Judith Field not Wroe – I believe Wroe long ago abandoned any conviction that the overlap between humans and megafauna was shown, by the mixing of bones at Cuddie Springs, to be longer than originally thought.


“There are two theories. One is people came in and did so much burning of vegetation and that caused hardship and the megafauna died of starvation,” they wrote.

“The other is they (humans) only had to eat a very few each year and they still would have driven the species to extinction.”

What ferals mainly do [and they’re doing it in spades right now] is simply kill and keep killing the young.
The European Red Fox is doing that to so many of the rarer breeds of wallabies that are too big for them to attack and they eventually wipe them out. It’s already happened to the macropods on Fraser Island by the feral dingo. In my neck of the woods there are colonies of big old wallabies that have not bred for years and will soon die out locally. Various ferals are responsible but early feral man would have been a very efficient exterminator and the challenge of the megafauna would have been irresistible. When you’ve been fed bedtime stories about real, actual monsters out there in the night, every young hunter would know what he had to do. Their young would always be the low hanging fruit.


Yes, quite SD, I wrote a model and a paper looking at the idea of picking off the young and leaving the large adults alone:

Brook, B.W. & Johnson, C.N. (2006) Selective hunting of juveniles as a cause of the imperceptible overkill of the Australian Pleistocene megafauna. Alcheringa Special Issue, 1, 39-48. doi: 10.1080/03115510608619573


The scientific discipline hinges on self-correcting evidence-based procedures, documenting new observations, measuring data and formulating testable hypothesis, which may or may not survive further tests.

If and when a scientific hypothesis graduates into a theory, beyohd reasonable doubt in view of contemporaneous evidence, it may still be refined in view of new observations and, in some instances, replaced by a new theory,.

A process which led to insights such as Darwinian evolution, Newton’s gravity, Einstein’s relativty, Hubble’s universal expansion and plate tectonics.

What the denialists are offering instead is no more than medieval prejudice.


Overharvesting of youngstock may also cause irreplaceable loss of some iconic tree species. When I lived in NSW I noticed cattle ate seedlings of the river she-oak Casuarina cunninghamiana. The older woody plants are unpalatable so when they die they will not be replaced. In Tasmania and Victoria the Mountain Ash or Swamp Gum Eucalyptus regnans is being logged or subjected to over frequent fire. The older trees may have splits in the timber making them less attractive to loggers so they get left behind. The logged trees are just babies 200-300 years old. Habitat fragmentation, destruction of companion shade plants, local microclimate changes and AGW mean they won’t grow back to 100m tall. That’s just below the biggest US redwoods and doug firs in height but E. regnans is a flowering plant.

So the Europeans took over from where the indigenous population left off. At some point someone will wonder why these iconic species have suddenly disappeared from their usual habitat.


re: Megafauna extinction. Note to those outside AU:

I suspect that this topic is going to be strongly political in AU. Some “Ideologiekritik”:

Even “Nature” describes the presumed culprits as “ancestors of Aust. Aborigines”; New Scientist and mainstream media have referred merely to “humans”. This designation is striking, given that it has become routine in other discourse about the pre-history of AU to state that Aborigines (not humans, and not ancestors) entered AU around 60,000 BCE.

Now within AU, there was an anti-assimilationist shift in government policy towards the Indigeneous in the mid-70s. The land rights movement and legal rulings in favour of the Indigenous intensified since ca 1991 (compare also: Canada).

AU is split between mining interests (which want to mine (also uranium) on lands nominally sacred to the Indigenous) and their political proxies; and the opposition, which sees a sometime alliance betwen Greens and Indigenous.

So I infer that given the high status of anti-racism in the Anglosphere for reasons of colonial history, there is an intense reluctance among AU university scientists and the media to call an Indigenous spade a spade for fear of being perceived to undermine “separatist” Indigenous land rights and/or to appear “racist”.

So it is amazing given the anti-PC political stance of The Australian, owned by Netanyahu’s good friend and FoxNews owner Rupert Murdoch, that this newspaper too refers in the megafauna story merely to “humans”.

That is, given the current strength of Animal Rights, including retroactive popular affection for extinct beasts, any scientifically-substantiated allegation that it was the Indigenous (and not “humans” or “ancestors”) that behaved like any other humans in wiping out big furry AU animals is liable to be grist to the mill of those trying to delegitimate the “sacred link” between the Indigenous and the land of AU. This will include the AU right wing, including international mineral extraction corporations in general, and adherents of e.g. historian Keith Windschuttle in particular. And also the “assimilationist” Bennelong Society.

I believe that in the USA, the political controversy over Native American archaeology e.g. Kennewick Man is comparable in nature.

In closing: there is an indirect link between nuclear policy as discussed on this blog and the question of who is allowed to do what with the land (including uranium) in AU, which has a large minority of of global reserves. This link is of an emotional nature in everyday AU politics, as in: “Why should Aborigines who killed off all our big animals back then be allowed to run around saying they were always in harmony with Nature and have a better/prior land rights claim to AU?”

I cannot imagine that this has not occurred to Barry Brooks.


@Barry Brook

you wrote:

The URL you provide is to Wikipedia, but I hope you do not permit your students to cite this amateur source as automatically credible? I confess I am amazed at your allegation “archaic”: so what do you currently call the list of points to be dealt with at your departmental meetings, if not an “agenda”?

It seems you are confusing the connotation, i.e. emotional meaning of “agenda” for yourself and others with what linguists call its denotation, i.e. its content. That is, there is no such thing as “the definition” of a word.

It is reassuring however that even a working scientist such as yourself, who claims the high ground of objectivity, falls into this linguistic trap, which experience tells me is often played down as “mere (sic) semantics”.


@Barry Brook.

you refer to me as a “certifiable nutter” i.e. mad. Do you prefer neurotic or psychotic? Who is certifying, you? by remote internet access diagnosis ? Is this an approved method? Have you checked it out with the AMA? (Helen C. is a qualified MD, but I don’t think she would help you out…)

is “nutter” a step up or down from your previous abuse some weeks back? The powers that be eg. in the USSR or other states have invariably classed dissidents as mad, nothing new there. Makes a change from burning at the stake for witchcraft, I suppose. I think it was Marx who said: the ruling opinion is the opinion of the rulers. QED.

Getting back to the point: I suggest that you research the use to which pre-history is put in political struggles across the world. Having said which, your own intererest in the AU megafauna extinction was presumably driven by scientfic interest and not by any implication for uranium mining.

But, it is just that politics in AU will likely use/abuse your finding as needed in the context of Indigenous policy.


who is this ‘p.c. gone mad’ person? i take exception to;
“high status of anti-racism in the Anglosphere for reasons of colonial history” i don’t oppose racists out of colonial guilt, i do it as a supporter of fundamental human rights! and science! there is no such thing as a ‘human race’, we are all the same sub-species.
saying any one group’s ‘ancestors’ were ‘responsible’ for an extinction that long ago and over this large an area is just bad science. you might as well say my ‘ancestors’ were responsible for the extinction of homo neanderthalis in europe at the same time.

barry, greetings from england!
thank you for all your work on this blog. i am using it as a brilliant resource to educate the ‘nuclear queasy’ folk on the green and climate change forums i post on.


For those interested on the issue of the role of humans in the extinction of megafauna, I can recommend the following book:

‘Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators’, William Stolzenburg

On Amazon, 16 out of 17 ratings are 5 stars.


@Geoff Russell:

I don´t know if BNC adherents are up to speed on use/abuse of archaeology outside/inside AU in fights over government spending on indigenous minorities in USA; Canada.

Unlikely, given BNC written style/vocab, which is coming from science/tech. Further, BNC people do not give the impression of associating with Indigenous activists.

My point was: any strong evidence that Palaeolithic Aborigines wiped out megafauna is likely to be used in the land rights fight in AU. Because one support of native title to land at the everyday emotional level is the notion of indigenous always having been in harmony with Nature. If you do not believe that the “Zeitgeist” in AU does not affect so-called “hard legal rulings” read Ron Brunton’s account of the Nyungar (Perth) ruling on native title.

This use/abuse of megafauna destruction in current
politics will either happen or it won’t.

By the way, the link between uranium mining and Aboriginal land rights in AU is long-standing. Money and the potential rollout of NPPs in AU is at stake. The career and statements of Hugh Morgan on nuclear and land rights show this.

Comprehensible, Geoff?


Lalor: Is Brunton piece online? I’m guessing (why don’t you say what
you mean instead of writing tangentially) that you are implying that
some will argue that the aboriginal destruction of megafauna implies that they
deserve squat now? I’m sure the odd shock-jock will say that, but is our
judicial system run by shock jocks? In any event, should scientists not
research this issue because of such possible implications? Or worse, just
make something up that is more palatable?


@Russell:, paper by Ron Brunton of Jan. 2007.

1. I am not claiming that Brunton refers to megafauna destruction or indeed any pre-1788 events and their current use/abuse in his discussion of the attitudes and beliefs driving legal recognition of Nungar native title.
2. I am not saying that uranium mining is mentioned by him.
3. I am saying that as described by a UK pol. scientist on sabbatical in Melb. some years ago, there are Settler Nationalists and Indigenous Nationalists in AU. Your restriction of the former to “shock jocks” would seem inaccurate, as it understates the dimensions.
4. I am indeed saying that megafauna destruction could become a useful tool for “Settlers” in delegitimating the Indigenous Nationalist discourse since ca 1980, in respect of native title and the associated topic of uranium mining.
5. I agree that the Truth Will Out, ie if the Indigenous destroyed megafauna, the fact should not be used/abused for current purposes. However, experience of the politics of Indigenous archaeology in the USA, Canada and NZ predicts otherwise.
6. BNC wants Gen III NPPs in AU, as Gen IV is not up and running. Gen III needs uranium, not spent fuel. This uranium will, as in the past, be a focus of relations between miners and Indigenous.
7. Your phrase “to deserve squat” addresses a topic which is not in the ambit of BNC, ie the future of the Indigenous.


Well…if they lived there back then they had all the right to kill some game…
Why not buy the right to mine on their land…if they don`t want sacred land to be mined then your out of luck.


Seeing no hope in winning any technical arguments against nuclear power, Peter Lalor must resort to an attempt to play different sections of Australia off against each other, confusing the nuclear power issue with the indiginous rights issue. I believe that the indiginous folk of WA who were directly responsible for the land on which a proposed new uranium mine would be located are all for it.


There appears to be a diconnect between Brook’s understanding of “sophisticated strategy for communication” and any reasonable interpretation.

He understands it isn’t a debate (hence the quotation marks), yet proceeds nonetheless.

Verdict in on the Plimer/Monckton v Brook/Readfearn

“Aided by Adelaide’s Professor Ian Plimer, Lord Monckton cruised to victory before a partisan crowd of suits and ties, movers and shakers.”

What is worse is that this debacle was televised nationally on multiple occasions by sky news active.

Barry Brook did a disservice to the community by engaging in this debacle. My observation is that this is generally consistent with his approach to climate change.

Giving air time to Plimer and Monckton, and being roundly “outperformed” in the process is neither necessary nor productive.


Those who said “Professor Ian Plimer, Lord Monckton cruised to victory” were the “partisan crowd of suits and ties, movers and shakers“, so I wouldn’t read anything more into that, it could never be any other way. As to whether I should have participated or not, iain, your opinion is just that — your opinion. And how is this generally consistent with my approach to climate change? If you mean by being pragmatic rather than idealistic when dealing with the real world, then you’re dead right, mate. Get over it.


Your approach to climate change “debate” is unhelpful Barry.

You are doing the community a disservice by providing national television air time for the views of Plimer and Monckton.

The quote that Plimer and Monckton cruised to victory is from the main newspaper in Queensland.

It does not auger well for climate change policy that you are assisting with the denialist’s agenda. How has your role in the Plimer/Monckton debacle a “sophisticated strategy for communication”?

Sure it helps you achieve profile and continue earning revenue within climate change related work. But it does not help with achieving any real change in public opinion – which is steadily growing against climate action.

Hate to say it – but my observation is that your obfuscation on real climate policy is consistent with your performance on stage with Monckton.


Roger Jones has stated elsewhere that : “the members of Climate Scientists Australia will not debate denialists becuse we believe that it is the wrong medium to counter simple lies with complex truths”.

Brook’s motivations for going against this considered and clear view need to be seriously questioned. Although I doubt there is much room for self reflection and self doubt within someone who jumps at the egotistical opportunity to perform on stage with Monckton.

Brook’s has not contributed to a “sophisticated strategy for communication” on climate change issues in this regard, in fact, the exact opposite has occurred.

Being woefully outperformed by Monckton in a climate change debate is seriously unhelpful.


Hate to say it – but my observation is that your obfuscation on real climate policy is consistent with your performance on stage with Monckton.

Eh? To the best of my knowledge, Barry advocates the expeditious utilisation of nuclear power to halt the bulk of CO2 emissions as soon as possible as the main platform of climate policy. Is there a better way forward which you believe superior?



Do you think Barry’s performance was consistent with a “sophisticated strategy for communication”?

Why do you think Climate Scientists Australia won’t debate Monckton? And is it wise to ignore these warnings?

Was the outcome of Brook’s performance consistent with these warnings? Do you think there is room for reflection on this?

Considering that climate change is a symptom (of addiction to socially unnecessary commodities), any focus on just technology or energy mix is obfuscation against focus on the critical main issues.

“Better” approaches may need to focus more directly on social change mechanisms.

This may require a reorientation of moments of societal change: this includes a new “technology mix” (for sure), but also extends to promoting new relationships to nature, new social relations, new organisation of production, new mental conceptions of the world, new daily life patterns, and new institutional arrangements.


Do you think Barry’s performance was consistent with a “sophisticated strategy for communication”?

Why do you think Climate Scientists Australia won’t debate Monckton? And is it wise to ignore these warnings?

Was the outcome of Brook’s performance consistent with these warnings? Do you think there is room for reflection on this?

Iain, I haven’t seen the debate you’re talking about, so I have no idea what to make of it. I’m not going to concede it was a failure on your say-so.

Considering that climate change is a symptom (of addiction to socially unnecessary commodities), any focus on just technology or energy mix is obfuscation against focus on the critical main issues.

“Better” approaches may need to focus more directly on social change mechanisms.

This may require a reorientation of moments of societal change: this includes a new “technology mix” (for sure), but also extends to promoting new relationships to nature, new social relations, new organisation of production, new mental conceptions of the world, new daily life patterns, and new institutional arrangements.

So this is the answer to my question. Rather than move to a technologically superior power system which overcomes the disadvantages and limitations of the old, you would rather use a crisis as an excuse to exercise control over people, to restrict options, to close the doors to the future. ‘Socially unneccessary commodities’ indeed!


@Finrod – it’s a waste of time engaging with the likes of iain, they don’t live in the real world. Not only that if the crunch does come, the mobs are going to be calling for their heads first, not ours.

At any rate he has a religion, and religion will never admit it is wrong


Technological determinists are just as blind as environmentalists and environmental determinists.

Neither have much clue about how to actually address climate change in a manner that achieves any real result.

Brook’s perfomance with Monckton is an example of this ineffectiveness.

The results speak for themselves.


Iain – you obviously didn’t listen to the same debate that I did!
Barry Brook came across as calm, knowledgeable, believable and pragmatically sensible. Monckton merely dragged red herrings like the CRU Climategate- the IPCC glacier slip-up and the so called problem of applying the precautionary principle leading to mass starvation due to increased biofuel usage. Personally I thought it was very brave of Prof Brook to enter the lion’s den – and that was what it was – a partisan group of died in the wool pseudo sceptics with an obvious agenda.
Despite this Prof Brook was warmly applauded and was actually congratulated on his presentation by many in the audience.
Kudos to you Barry for having the guts to put up!
For a taste of the opposing positions follow these two You tube offerings:
As to the media claiming that Monckton was victoriou well how surprising – from right wing tabloids!


“As to the media claiming that Monckton was victoriou well how surprising – from right wing tabloids!”

The claim that Monckton easily won was from the same newspaper as Brook’s partner on stage.

For those naive about how these debates work – you should give some thought to why this is the case.

These sorts of debates are a setback for any serious action to address climate change.

There is a reason why Climate Scientists Australia advised against this debate.

Neither Brook’s, nor his sycophants, understand this point. As this thread attests.


When someone uses the term ‘sycophants’ against a blog owner, you know they are trolling. ‘iain’ gets stamped with a big fat IGNORE button henceforth. And the wisdom of DV82XL shows through again.


People should follow the video links and make up their own minds as to was the more logical and who relied on the scientific evidence and not populist spin and obfuscation.
BTW iain there would be no prize for guessing whose sycophant you are! As this thread attests!


This might be worth a look — and a reading in association with the information about the amounts of uranium and thorium in coal plant exhaust during normal operation.

Health Physics:
November 2009 – Volume 97 – Issue 5 – pp 407-415
doi: 10.1097/HP.0b013e3181b1871b
Warren K. Sinclair Keynote Address: Paper
Low-Dose Extrapolation of Radiation Health Risks: Some Implications of Uncertainty for Radiation Protection At Low Doses

“… Our estimates of radiation-related risk are uncertain, reflecting statistical variation and our imperfect understanding of crucial assumptions that must be made if we are to apply existing epidemiological data to particular situations. Fortunately, that uncertainty is also highly quantifiable, and can be presented concisely and transparently. Radiation protection is ultimately a political process that involves consent by stakeholders, a diverse group that includes people who might be expected to be risk-averse and concerned with plausible upper limits on risk (how bad could it be?), cost-averse and concerned with lower limits on risk (can you prove there is a nontrivial risk at current dose levels?), or combining both points of view. How radiation-related risk is viewed by individuals and population subgroups also depends very much on perception of related benefit, which might be (for example) medical, economic, altruistic, or nonexistent. The following presentation follows the lead of National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) Commentary 14, NCRP Report 126, and later documents in treating radiation protection from the viewpoint of quantitative uncertainty analysis.”


Typically a coal-fired power plant emits about 3.3 times the amount of radioactive material into the environment that a nuclear plant does for a similar amount of power produced. This is due to the fact that coal contains radioactive material, mostly uranium and thorium, at about 4 parts per million. Now this does not seem like a lot until the quantity of coal a 1000 megawatt plant will burn in a day, around 11,000 tons, is considered. This works out to be roughly 40 kilos of radioactive material (88 pounds) each day. About 10% of this will be released to the atmosphere and the rest will end up in the ash pile and subject to weathering. If proper scrubbers are in place as little as 1% could reach the atmosphere, but this is still rather significant given the tonnage of coal burned for electric generation. Additionally there is the radon present in coal that is directly vented to the atmosphere by mining operations and the smaller amounts of more dangerous radioactive elements like radioactive potassium or phosphorous.

HOWEVER this is only relevant because NPP are held to a much higher standard for radioisotope releases than coal power plants. Right now antinuclear forces are demanding the shut-down of Vermont Yankee, an NPP in the North-Western US for violating its license, over a tritium spill equivalent to the radioactivity found in one of those self-luminous key-chain fobs. Meanwhile coal plants vomit several hundred orders of magnitude more radioactive material into the environment, protected by grandfather clauses in the relevant regulations.

Nor is coal the only one. In 2008 radioactive discharges from the non-nuclear industries were estimated to contribute more than 90% of the European population’s total exposure. Oil and gas operations contributed 35% and phosphates, 55%.

As far as the health risks from ether of these goes, it is minimal simply because the absorbed dosages are far below known levels of harm. The belief that they might be is based upon a laughable error. If one person eats 200 aspirin, he will die. These people figure that if 200 people eat one aspirin each, there will be one death. If two million people are exposed to a dose rate of one aspirin per person, there will be 20,000 deaths. In fact one aspirin is beneficial, and low levels of radiation are beneficial. Geographical areas with higher background radiation have lower levels of cancer.

Legislatively however, the current accepted standard is the linear no-threshold model (LNT), which states that the damage caused by ionizing radiation presupposes that the response is linear (i.e. directly proportional to the dose) at all dose levels. Thus LNT asserts that there is no threshold of exposure below which there is no adverse impact. In practice this means that if a particular dose of radiation is found to produce one extra case of cancer in every thousand people exposed, the LNT predicts that one thousandth of this dose will produce one extra case in every million people so exposed, and that one millionth of this dose will produce one extra case in every billion people exposed, and so on with no safe limit except zero. Thus it is claimed that radiation’s carcinogenic effects should be considered to be proportional to the dose an individual receives, regardless of how small that dose is.

The evidence against the linear model and for radiation hormesis has been solid as a rock for 40 years. Yet the LNT model prevails. Why? Politics. Not political body wants to be seen as being soft on this matter, and there is now a radiation protection industry worth billions that will keep it this way regardless of the evidence agaist LNT.


Just found an interview with Greg Cary and Barry on 4BC Brisbane.
It seems that Greg (who was there too) doesn’t agree with some of the media interpretations that that Monckton won the debate. Great interview – Barry! Very impressive!
Scroll down the page and on the left hand side you will find the link to the interview under “HIGHLIGHTS” “Lord Monckton storms Brisbane” + Greg Cary with Professor Barry Brook. I tried to cut and paste the exact interview link but it didn’t work. Perhaps Barry can link to it:)


You appear to be a reasonable person. Please do not use “denier” as a synonym for skeptic. It is distasteful, in its equating holocaust denial to climate change denial.

I view myself as a layperson,familiar with computer modeling but no background in higher level physics. I guess objectively I am a lukewarmer,ie. man has an impact but unknown to what extent. If “warmists” wish to lose the argument for the middle ground, continue this usage.


Mr Kaplan iterated:

You appear to be a reasonable person. Please do not use “denier” as a synonym for skeptic. It is distasteful, in its equating holocaust denial to climate change denial.

This what is known as concern trolling. You don’t believe what you are saying but are attempting to reiterate two familiar specious claims —

1. that the term denier can only refer to holocaust deniers; and related that we allude to such things. It’s actually far more common for us to compare your lot with the kinds of people who deny science more generally, asserting the Young Earth aka the creationist paradigm, opposition to the theory of natural selection etc …

The term is apt because you want not merely your own opinion about what should be done, but the right to deny observable reality.

2. That your true category name is “skeptic”. This is also specious. Skeptics are those who can demonstrate that they have grasped the corpus of knowledge of which they are skeptical well enough to offer a systematic account of its flaws with accompanying data to support the account.

By that standard, there are no true skeptics of the mainstream science on climate change amongst the denier groups. Putting on a surgeon’s outfit or a wimple doesn’t make one respectively a doctor or a nun, and simply repeating truisms about skepticism in science gravely insults the memory of those entitled to claim the title.

It is an interesting fact that if onje goes though each of the reports of the IPCC since 1990, their errors have overwhelming been to understate the speed and force of the climate anomaly we have been witnessing these last 130 years. That the people calling themselves “skeptics” include nobody asserting that the IPCC has been optimistic and overly cautious, and that each of these “skeptics” treats their cultural fellow travellers with credulity, regardless of the demonstrable nonsense they utter, shows dramatically that the “skeptic” campaign has nothing whatever to do with a search for clarity in science and precision in related public policy but is rather an instantiation of a cyncical and opportunistic battle to subvert good policy so as to serve the interests of fossil fuel asset holders.

Please don’t insult us here with your trolling discourse. We are all too aware of your misanthropic shenanigans.


@Ewen Laver:

thank you very much indeed for that masterly and stylish rejoinder to Kaplan, especially the stringent logic of the last para.

It may also be cf. Clive Hamilton, that fear drives at least the following if not the leading “denialists.” Attacking the bearers of bad tidings has a long history, after all.

Another term for them, should the Kaplanesque (compare: Chaplinesque) keep on moaning, is “contrarian”, as used by James Hansen. He cross -references denialist to contrarian in the index of his recent “Storms…”

It occurs to me that given the apparent importance to the USA of the USS Israel anchored 24/7 in the Med. to ride herd on recalcitrant Arabs supplying fossil fuel, it will shortly occur to the likes of Kaplan to smear scientists in general as “anti-semitic” for devaluing (sic) the term “denier.”

This smear may play well in the Anglosphere media incl. Murdoch’s, so a fallback term would be Hansen’s “contrarian”.


Thanks for your support Peter …

Your point on Israel draws a rather long bow, but I suppose one should never say never.


A hole in climatology that is a real one is that the climate models of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are non-falsifiable, thus lying outside science. The basis in fact for the perceived need for governmental regulation of carbon dioxide emissions is represented by the IPCC as scientific in origin but this representation is not true!


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