The CSIRO decided to leave out some information about the state of our climate in their State of the Climate Report CSIRO.
CSIRO published these “Fast Facts” in bold. I’m publishing the things they didn’t say, but could have, in points in between.
Fast Facts from the CSIRO and BOM
- Scientifically, extreme weather measures are lousy indicators. They’re noisy and not very meaningful. They are however useful for getting newspaper headlines. It depends on what your aim is…
- Australia’s had extreme hot days for as long as we’ve been measuring the temperature. Charles Sturt recorded 53C in 1828 which seems fairly extreme. Thomas Mitchell did it too in 1845 and are many others (see the map below, check Trove, ask the BOM — no don’t ask the BOM). The records prior to 1910 seem to have gone down the memory hole, but if the BOM and CSIRO were trying to give Australians a true sense of the state of our climate perhaps Australians might like to know that extreme heat occurred even when CO2 levels were ideal.
- Before we hit the national Panic Button about the effect a hot day has on our airconditioners, ponder what other Australians went through. The January 1896 heat wave killed hundreds, and temperatures of close to, or over, 50C, were recorded right across the country in Mullewa, Carnarvon, Southern Cross, Wilcannia, Ungarie, Quirindi, Camden, Brewarrina, Cunnamulla and Mildura. No phones, no cars, no helicopters. No refrigerators.
- It’s misleading to say that the recent “extreme” records are meaningful. The cause and effect connection between man-made CO2 emissions and Australian “extreme” hot days is extremely tenuous. CO2 is a greenhouse gas every day of the year, so if extremes are rising in some places and on some days, but global trends are not, a normal scientist wouldn’t make much of the connection. But the CSIRO-BOM do, though in a special kind of caveat-speak where a null result is reframed:
”Some recent instances of extreme summer temperatures experienced around the world, including record-breaking summer temperatures in Australia over 2012–2013, are very unlikely to have been caused by natural variability alone.”
- In a nation with the most unpredictable rainfall in the world, it would be amazing if some regions did not show some change over short periods like 100 years.
- In South West WA, the rainfall decline correlated better with man-made land clearance than CO2. Rainfall declined the most in areas where the most native flora was cleared. It didn’t change much in zones where humans left the scrub alone. Apparently Australians don’t need to know that planting trees might increase the rainfall. (Which side of politics wants to plant 20 million trees, again?)
- Fires are caused by heat, humidity, winds, fuel loads, rainfall patterns and delinquent teenagers. In the last 100 years we are sure things have got hotter, and there are definitely more delinquent teenagers. But we can’t predict wind, fuel, or humidity, or for that matter, temperature in 2100. This apparently doesn’t stop us from accurately predicting “fire-weather”.
- This short recent trend (since the 1970s) may not include the worst fire seasons we know of like those that occurred in 1939 or even in 1851. Real scientists would not draw any serious conclusions from a marker as vague as a “fire season”, nor over such a short period of time.
- Temperatures started rising in the 1700s — long before CO2 did. Even though 85% of man-made CO2 was emitted after World War II, the rate of warming is no different to the era before that. The trend in the 1870s was the same as the peak trend in the 1980s. Even Phil Jones (Director of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia) agrees both rates peaked at 0.16 C per decade.
- The oceans appear to have warmed by two hundredths of a degree in the last 10 years. (If you believe that we can measure the 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of ocean to a hundredth of a degree, I have a giant working solar plant to sell you.)
- The heat stored in all the oceans is pretty hard to measure, and based on the best measurements we have, we are fairly, possibly, or a little bit sure the heat has increased. Though the increase was a lot less than we predicted, and quadrillions of joules of energy is missing, these may not matter because the real error bars are so large that the ones on the observations totally overlap the ones on the predictions, ergo, we are still possibly right (or at least Not Wrong Yet). In 40 years we’ll know, in the meantime call it “settled”.
- The seas started rising in the early 1800′s about the same time Napoleon launched the moon mission. (Sorry, we mean that horses, carts, and wind-driven-boats caused pollution. Scratch that. Punters don’t need to know that.)
- For most of the history of life on Earth CO2 levels were higher than they are today, sometimes 10 times higher. It was a lot hotter, except when it was a lot colder. For 500 million years nobody taxed carbon. Somehow life flourished and coral reefs existed.
- Sometimes asteroids dropped in — and then, boy, did that climate change. But that’s not the point, no one can tax an asteroid.^
- See the point about models above. The models don’t work. It would be cheaper and just as scientifically valid to throw darts.
If the BOM and CSIRO had wanted Australians to be informed and calm about the risks of Ocean Acidification, they would have said things like this:
- The oceans are not acidic, and not close to being acidic with a pH of more than 8 which is alkaline. However natural unpolluted clean rainfall has a shockingly acidic pH of about 5. [Source CSIRO] Life on Earth seems to cope. Some natural undersea vents have a pH as acidic as 2.8. That’s acidic.
- The ocean changes pH naturally. In the Southern Ocean pH shifts by 0.3-0.5 units every summer and winter. Quite a lot of marine life are okay with this.
- Some parts of the ocean vary even more every day than the most pessimistic models predict the ocean will change in the next 100 years.
- It’s tricky to know what the pH of the world’s oceans are today (because of this natural variability) but it’s even harder to know that the pH was in 1750 since the pH scale and meters and what not, was only invented 150 years later. Instead our scientists estimate what the pH might have been then with models. Did we mention we are uncertain about the accuracy?
- Sea level rise has decelerated lately, which suggests that more CO2 does not make the sea rise faster. A lot of heat is missing from climate models, but if the “missing heat” is hiding in the oceans — sea levels would be rising faster.
- Australian and New Zealand sea levels were rising faster in the 1930s and 1940s than they have in the last 40 years. (Isn’t that a bit relevant?)
- Sea levels all over the world started rising before 1800 when CO2 was still at “perfect” levels. Something was warming the planet back then. If climate modelers knew what it was, their models might work.
Our bank account is looking very low. All contributions would be gratefully received. Thanks
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* Remember how the BOM had to change the whole color scheme on the national weather map just to forecast a potential “50C” in 2013? They had to issue a whole press release, where they also didn’t mention the previous 50C+ days in our national archives. Spot the pattern.
^This does not preclude the possibility that we might “need” a large bureaucracy and soon, to protect us from falling space rocks. Pace NASA, and DOD. Awaiting events in Syria/Ukraine…
Scotese C.R., Golonka, J., and Ross, M.I. (1994) Phanerozoic Paleogeographic and Paleoclimatic Modeling Maps, in A. F. Embry, B. Beauchamp, and D.J. Glass (editors), Pangea, Global Environments and resources, Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, Memoir 17, p. 1-47.
Scotese, Worsley, T. R., Moore, T. L., and Fraticelli, C. M. (1994) Phanerozoic CO2 levels and global temperatures inferred from changing paleogeography, in Klein, George D., (editor), Pangea; paleoclimate, tectonics, and sedimentation during accretion, zenith and breakup of a supercontinent. Special Paper Geological Society of America 288, p. 57-73, Boulder, CO.
Scotese C.C., Upchurch, G.R., and Otto-Bliesner, B.L. (1999) Terrestrial vegetation and its effects on climate during the latest Cretaceous, E. Berrera and C. Johnson, (eds), The Evolution of Cretaceous Ocean/Climate Systems, Geol. Soc. Amer. Spec. Paper, v. 332, pp. 407-426.