Had a reply letter published today in the SMH on a climate change denier’s wilful misquoting of scientists on climate change.

The environment is something I’m quite passionate about and like a lot of people I imagine: I get worried about the misquoting and lies that people are telling to justify continuing along without lifting our game.

Original letter

The letter I was responding to went like this:

Cheap energy must be given priority

Saturday’s front-page photograph of a wheat farmer knee-deep in mud should serve to remind us it was not so long ago that climate experts were predicting south-eastern Australia had moved into a state of permanent drought (“This drought may never break”, January 4, 2008).

The inability of climate experts to predict even a few years into the future casts much doubt on the credibility of their 50-year forecasts, and the extent to which man-made carbon emissions can affect these forecasts.

Politicians should take great care about formulating carbon emission policies that will result in large energy price rises based on the advice of those demonstrated to be frequently wrong in their predictions.

The climate does change: sometimes it gets drier and sometimes it wetter; sometimes it gets warmer and sometimes cooler. We would be better served by policies that recognise these cyclical changes occur and that result in securing our most critical resources: cheap water and energy.

Ron Blombery McMahons Point

To which I applied a bit of sceptical thinking to what he was claiming and thought “hey, that doesn’t sound like a prediction climate scientists would make”. Sure enough the original article “This drought may never break” made no such claim that if climate change was correct: we’d see no more rain..

My letter

My response to Ron Bombery’s misinterpretation of what was said:

Scientists didn’t come down in the last shower

Ron Blombery (Letters, December 6) wrongly says a rainfall prediction was made by climate experts in the 2008 article he cites. The story was very clear. It said: ”There is absolutely no debate that Australia is warming.” On the subject of drought (rainfall and temperature) it said: “There is a debate in the climate community, after … close to 12 years of drought, whether this is something permanent. Certainly, in terms of temperature, that seems to be our reality, and that there is no turning back.”

Short of reading only the headline (which says the drought ”may” never break, not ”will”), I fail to see how one could conclude that the scientists had staked the validity of climate science to a prediction of zero rainfall in a specific part of Australia. There was no failure of science, only a failure by Mr Blombery to read the article properly.

Nathan Lee Surry Hills

I think we have given preference to cheap energy plenty: cheap and dirty unfortunately. Mr Blombery needs to go to China to see what focussing on cheap energy, cheap manufacturing, cheap goods results in. So what if we’re wrong on climate change anyhow?
Looks like others agreed on the topic:

The recent rain is an example of weather, which is difficult to predict even a few weeks ahead due to its inherently chaotic nature. Climate is weather averaged out over a longer period. The recent rain does not somehow cancel out all the observations of the past

60 years that show south-east Australia is getting hotter and drier, or that the past decade has been the hottest on record.

The CSIRO’s State of the Climate Report 2010 confirms this, and points out that the number of record hot days has been rising since 1960, and the number of record cold days over the same period has been decreasing.

Unfortunately, too many politicians exhibit a similar level of logic and misunderstanding when it comes to differentiating between weather and climate, and this is partly why we find ourselves in the do-nothing position that characterises so much public policy associated with climate change.

Jim Russell Balmain

Cheap energy is the problem, not the solution. Whether or not carbon emissions are changing the climate, oil production is peaking and the coal and gas won’t last forever. The cheaper they are, the faster they run out. Raise the price and they last longer and encourage people to invest in alternative and renewable sources.

Hey presto, we postpone or even avoid wars over expensive, dwindling energy resources.

Jeffrey Mellefont Coogee

I love the Australian approach to climate change. “The climate does change: sometimes it gets drier and sometimes wetter; sometimes it gets warmer and sometimes cooler”. Onya Ron, problem solved, no worries. What do these bloody scientists know anyway?

Steve Durham Northbridge

Good to see there was a decent amount of column space to people replying to his climate change denial. I don’t think it’ll change his mind one little bit that he has managed to misread an article as supporting his view somehow when the scientist clearly said there’s no debate.

What if we're wrong on climate change?

What if we're wrong on climate change?

I wonder at what point the guy reckons we stop focusing on cheap (dirty) energy? If not today: in 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? When the coal runs out and global temperature is many degrees higher? When we ARE able to predict that certain parts of Australia will be in permanent drought? When?

A search for Ron Blombery’s letters
It looks like Ron, like myself, likes to write letters to the SMH. It is easy to see why he thinks climate change is crap when he has shares in mining companies (or at least superannuation that he’s concerned about):
he doesn’t want them taxed more that’s for sure:

To fund our retirement, superannuation funds invest in businesses such as mining that offer good asset growth and dividends. Now the government is going to make these businesses pay a lot more tax, which will reduce their asset value and dividends. At the same time, it encourages us, and forces employers, to put more money into the superannuation system whose future returns it has just diminished. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Ron Blombery McMahons Point

Perhaps they will move shares to green energy companies? Or do investors never sell shares?

He also seems concerned about the environmental benefits of the insulation scheme: though with a pro-mining, climate change denying stance it’s hard to see why he would care one little bit about environmental outcomes when he doesn’t think we’re changing the climate anyhow:

No one seems to be asking the most obvious question about home insulation: what did we get for $2.5 billion? The evidence shows we got rampant opportunism, skulduggery and employment of “the most vulnerable, youngest, unskilled workers” (”Spin and silver tongues can’t hide an empty morality”, February 18). But did the program achieve anything for energy conservation?

By now, a significant proportion of houses should be enjoying the benefits of new insulation. The energy companies can readily produce statistics on power consumed on comparable summer days this year and last year. If there were measurable benefits, surely the government would be telling us. Where are the results? Or did we just waste $2.5 billion?

Ron Blombery McMahons Point

Isn’t ripping out cheap coal and burning it despite clear evidence that it is polluting the atmosphere some sort of opportunism? Or is selling boatloads of it to China for cut price “opportunism”.

So perhaps instead of just thinking about purely financial matters: Ron should think about the future of the environment. If we dig up and burn away everything in the pursuit of Ron Blombery’s personal financial well being: we’ll not achieve much. We have to consider the children and grandchildren of Ron Blombery even if he won’t.

6 Responses to “Scientists didn’t come down in the last shower”

  1. on 08 Dec 2010 at 17:33Ron Blombery

    Hello Nathan
    I’m flattered that you give my letters so much prominence! Like you, I enjoy writing letters, especially when I see such stupidity in government. Looking back over them (thanks for collecting them) I can now see a common theme: I don’t like tax, because it simply hands money to governments to spend badly.

    Having browsed your web site, you would be surprised to learn that I agree with maybe 90% of what you are saying. I don’t even disagree that the world’s climate is changing…it’s just what causes it, and what we do about it, where I might differ.

    You might be interested to read my response to your and your colleagues’ letters to SMH – not published, probably because it needs to be read in context:

    ” I’m happy to admit to choosing facts that best suit my argument (Letters, December 6), but not so happy when my critics resort to the same tactics (Letters, December 7). Nathan, Jim, Jeffrey and Steve were all keen to select just one point from my letter of December 6, and ignore the larger theme.

    Nathan, I did read the article. It talked about two quite distinct things: historical observations of temperature, with which I have no dispute; and a demonstrably incorrect forecast of below normal rainfall over a long time frame (“permanent” sounds like a long time to me). As a general principle, history collected by reputable scientists is highly reliable, whereas predictions by the same reputable scientists, but based on an incomplete understanding of underlying complex phenomena, are likely to be unreliable. The drought predictions in the article illustrate that principle.

    Jim, I do understand the difference between weather and climate. It is selective on your part to define your “longer period” for the temperature trend as 10 years, or 60 years, simply because it supports your beliefs. Why not 60,000 years? There is ample evidence that we have had a few ups and downs over that period. Trend lines of complex phenomena, like the global climate, and the global economy, have an unfortunate history of reversing suddenly. Remember the GFC?

    Jeffrey, I couldn’t agree with you more. Let’s all switch to West Australian LNG for our energy needs and solve our carbon emission and cost issues in one go. It just needs a political leader with the vision and courage to do it.

    Steve, mate, you either didn’t read or didn’t understand my last sentence, so I’ll say it again slowly. We need government policies, translated into action, that recognise changing climate, but deal with the real problems of water supply and energy cost.”

    And by the way, I used to be a Research Scientist at CSIRO, so everything I say MUST be true…mustn’t it?

    Best wishes
    Ron

  2. on 08 Dec 2010 at 20:18Nathan

    Hi Ron,
    happy you take the time (as I do) to write about things you’re passionate about. So many people take the apathy route out..
    But onto this particular issue.
    I would have liked to quote the entire article, but I thought I’d pick the bit most appropriate to the claim you were making: that there was some sort of prediction made. I still don’t see any prediction made by the climate change scientists other than that temperature seemed to be unlikely to be going down..
    Even if they DID predict drought conditions: how does one particular rainy event undo the less than X mm of rain a year it gets that is the drought definition?
    They didn’t say “it won’t rain again here because of global warming” they said there was debate as to whether drought conditions were the new norm but temperature was unlikely to be reversing its upward trend.
    The point is there’s an upward trend in temperature, so you’re right: sometimes it is drier, sometimes wetter, but the warmer and cooler bit is inching up bit by bit.. The article even gave an example of how the abnormally warm weather was the same as moving toward the equator..
    But throughout the article the focus was on temperature, sure they said drier at points but there was nothing that precluded heavy rain..

    So it wasn’t picking facts, it was misquoting an article to suggest that a prediction was made which wasn’t. Focusing on a single flood event would not invalidate such a prediction at any rate (if for the other 11 months of the year the place doesn’t get a drop). It’s like the climate change deniers who point at a cold winter and say “there, see global warming is crap”. You’re doing it with rainfall.
    Climate scientists are improving their predictions and the models are getting sophisticated enough to start hitting things with more accuracy.
    “The inability of climate experts to predict even a few years into the future casts much doubt on the credibility of their 50-year forecasts, and the extent to which man-made carbon emissions can affect these forecasts.”

    They’re pretty spot on with temperature rises aren’t they? The dishonest thing you did there was to invent a prediction and then dismiss it on a single short term event. Climate change scientists aren’t the guys you go to for tomorrow’s weather report, but if you want longer term trends in temperature and some of the modelling around what that means to the climate: then they are your guys.

    The article made no mention of cyclical temperatures (as you suggest is all that’s happening): it was pretty clear that it was rising and there was no dispute. The argument that this is a natural or solar activity based cycle of sorts has been debunked a long time ago.

    As for cheap water and electricity: cheap and dirty really where you want to stay? Wouldn’t you rather we weren’t polluting as much to get our electricity (coal pumping out CO2 is just one of the things it pumps out. Switching to gas just puts off the problem: we can get all the base load we want from solar.. No need to keep on with fossil fuels. Sure in the transition: swap over coal stations to gas.. But let’s not build any more when we could do it with off the shelf technology today.
    I reckon the first country that goes 100% renewables will have a MASSIVE market advantage, particularly as CO2 becomes a cost as a pollution that can’t be ignored by spineless leaders any more (we agree on that for sure).

    I think what we really need are some statesmen/stateswomen with the balls (or female equivalent) to make some bold statements. e.g. We’re going to go to the moon equivalent. How about “We’re going to have zero dependency on coal in 10 years”.

    The reason I wrote in reply to your letter was because its the misinformation or muddying the waters that climate change denial has on giving politicians the kick up the bum they need. When you get papers like the Australian/telegraph etc (murdoch’s crapsheet papers) always pushing the idea that there’s debate (yes, debate between learned scientists who work in climate change and laymen/mining magnates/polluters who do not) it just puts off action longer.. Next come the arguments that Australia is too small to have any impact (rubbish: we’ve one of the highest per capital emissions.. we should definitely tighten our belt.. plus we export much of the coal to China, the biggest polluter in the world). So we need less FUD, more push for good. You want cheap energy: invest in renewables on a massive scale now, get the manufacturing capacity built up, switch off petrol (thus reducing the risk of having to import ever more expensive oil) etc etc..

    Anyhow, look forward to your thoughts on that (lengthy rant)

  3. on 10 Dec 2010 at 16:37Ron Blombery

    Nathan, I feel sure you would never allow me to have the last say on anything, so I’ll hand over to the Australian Oxford Dictionary, and you can tell them that they are wrong…
    Permanent: lasting or intended to last or function indefinitely
    Drought: the continuous absence of rain
    A permanent drought sounds like what happens when it doesn’t rain for a very long time, and it doesn’t sound much like what we are seeing at the moment. But I suppose that we all interpret things in ways that best suit our beliefs.

    Now for energy and tax.
    I have a fair amount of real life business experience: I started an IT company with one person in the 1980s, and when I sold it in 2000, I had a staff of 65. So I’m no Bill Gates, but I consider I have had a fairly successful career in science and business. One of the things I learned was that one of the core properties of a successful business (and also in scientific research) was building and maintaining a distinctive competitive advantage in the products or services that you provide.
    It’s the same for countries. One of Australia’s key competitive advantages is abundant energy. We have (to name a few) coal, natural gas, coal seam gas, oil, uranium, sunlight, wind, waves, tides, hot rock and hydro. So much that we can’t sell the stuff fast enough to other countries. Because energy costs flow through the cost structure of the whole economy, it makes no sense to me to kill off our competitive advantage by taxing it to death.
    Yes, I agree we need to change our preferred sources of energy, but not because of climate change. Rather, because oil, which will be far more valuable in future as a petrochemical feedstock than a fuel, is running out. I guess the other reason is that I personally object to paying billions of dollars to buy oil from people who want to kill us.
    I don’t like the idea of a carbon tax. I understand how it can encourage the development of alternative low emission energy sources, but it suffers from the failure of all taxes: once the government gets their hands on money, it is squandered. It seems to me that the major parties talk climate change, but their real motive is to seize the opportunity to levy yet another tax, using the high moral principle of saving the world as the justification for their actions, so as to blunt any public outcry. Then they hand back the money to consumers as an energy subsidy, but only to the low income ones whose votes they need.

    So I agree totally with your approach: we need a leader with a bold vision like “We’re going to have zero dependency on coal in 10 years” to which I would add “and on imported oil as a fuel”. I’m not sure of the best mechanism for doing this, but I am sure that it’s not going to happen until someone decides to do it.

  4. on 25 Jan 2011 at 15:47Ron Blombery

    I have just two words to add: “SOME DROUGHT!”

  5. on 28 Jan 2011 at 17:29Nathan

    There you go again making out like they predicted never-ending drought. They didn’t.
    But how about Australia day: Sydney’s hottest Australia day in 20 years.
    2010 top 3 hottest years since records began in 1850.
    Decade may well be the hottest ever.

    http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/decade-to-close-as-hottest-ever-un/story-e6frfku0-1225965005116

  6. on 05 Feb 2011 at 10:10Ron Blombery

    If Australia Day was the hottest in 20 years, that means it was hotter 20 years ago than it is now. Please explain?

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