One side of a hot issue




By Bob Carter and John Spooner et al
Kelpie Press, $29.95

I have kept a weather eye on the climate debate and have written about it occasionally. But my profession is not climate science. It is critical-thinking skills. When asked a couple of years ago by a friend, who worked for a large mining company, where I stood on the global-warming debate, I replied, ''I believe we should think as clearly as possible about it. That's where I stand.''

That was not evasion. It was principle. How does such a principle apply when reviewing a book that directly contradicts conventional wisdom? It means that one looks at the tone of the book, actively seeks to understand its argument, and asks if it is plausible that this argument would need to be presented in a self-published book in Australia if its conclusions were correct.

The tone of Taxing Air is disarmingly reasonable. It is neither polemical nor agitated. It reads easily and is very clearly laid out. It is replete with comprehensible graphs and charts, which purport to provide the evidence for the case being made. It is delightfully illustrated with numerous witty cartoons by Age cartoonist John Spooner. To my knowledge, it provides the clearest and most complete summation of the ''sceptic'' case in print. On all these counts, it is better than Ian Plimer's best-selling book Heaven and Earth. If you are curious about why ''climate sceptics'' are ''in denial'', read this book. It is all laid out here for you.

The argument has many aspects that cannot be dealt with in so brief a review as this. However, there is no more pungent summation of it than on pages 108-110. Here, the authors set out five key empirical tests of the hypothesis that dangerous anthropogenic global warming is occurring and they find the hypothesis to fail on each count. The five are as follows:


■ There has been no statistically significant warming during the past 16 years, despite the continuing increase in carbon-dioxide emissions, and this directly contradicts the hypothesis, which therefore fails.

■ The warming that did occur in the 20th century falls well within what we would have expected from the natural climate change as the world emerged from the Little Ice Age. There is nothing to suggest an unusual forcing by CO2 emissions; therefore, again, the hypothesis fails.

■ The geological record shows that CO2 increases in the atmosphere have followed, not preceded, periods of warming. Therefore, a key premise of the hypothesis is invalid and, as a consequence, fails.

■ The best deterministic computer models that have been used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to project dangerous warming trends have failed to predict what has happened during the past decade and a half.

■ These models predict an atmospheric hot spot at eight to 10 kilometres above the Earth's surface in equatorial regions and enhanced warming near both poles. But direct measurements by weather balloon radiosondes and satellite sensors show a complete absence of the hot spot and no warming in Antarctica; therefore, the hypothesis fails.

These claims have the right ''syntax'' of scientific argument. They are characteristic of how the book as a whole is presented. There is nothing self-evidently spurious or wrong-headed about them. There is, therefore, good reason to use them (and other similar claims in the book) as a sound test case for the controversy that has bedevilled public debate on this subject for some years.

That brings me to my third point: if this argument is so robust, why isn't it taking the scientific and policy world by storm? Is it that those worlds have been somehow corrupted and the truth is being suppressed? Or is it that the authors of this book are themselves in error, but cannot see it? You can rationalise whatever you happen to believe right now, or you can use this book as an opportunity to hone your thinking and understanding of the issues.

Here is how to do it in a simple and straightforward way. Read it, then compare its core arguments with the patiently assembled defence of the conventional wisdom by John Cook on his website Skeptical Science. Let no one deter you. But be sure to do both, freely and calmly.

■ Paul Monk is co-founder of Austhink Consulting.