Steve Fielding’s question

Senator Steve Fielding from Family First has recently discovered that there is a debate about the science of global warming. Specifically, he has a question about why co2 emissions have continued going up over the past eight years, but temperatures have not. It’s a reasonable question. And there is a reasonable answer.

Too often the climate change debate is bitter and people are intolerant of the comments from the “enemy”, so it was good to see a calm, friendly, rational comment from Ian McHugh, explaining how the last eight years could simply be “noise” and it does not disprove man-made global warming.

I certainly hope that warming has stopped. But with climate trends it is necessary to take a long-term approach and it inappropriate to draw strong conculsions from just eight years of data.

10 thoughts on “Steve Fielding’s question

  1. A comment in The Oz claimed that the chemicals which we now use in place of the ones that caused o-zone hole damage are chemicals with an even worse effect on the atmosphere in terms of greenhouse warming! (Bottom of page 3)
    It seems like we can’t win!

  2. Yeah, I was speaking with a friend the other day about this. The idea that the up-down cycles still occur with an upward underlying trend is a fairly straight-forward answer, and so I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t being used with Fielding (despite being a skeptic myself).

    But then, people have been dismissing skepticism for so long (which is why Fielding is at pains to pretend he isn’t one), that it’s possibly just force of habit… or maybe they don’t want to lend credibility to the skeptics amongst us after declaring the debate over for so long.

    It really is a weird game they’re all playing, where nobody says what they’re really thinking.

  3. McHugh may be calm, friendly and rational, but he does not properly answer Fielding’s question. Indeed, he makes the same mistake as he accuses Fielding of making – he relies on too short a time period.

    Viewed over a significantly longer time period than since 1880, the current increase in global temperatures (assuming it is real, as McHugh claims) is not unusual. Temperatures have been much higher in the past when human produced greenhouse gases could not possibly have been the cause. They also fell all by themselves.

    It’s good to be friendly and rational, but it does not improve accuracy.

  4. That’s right David, Fielding’s answer was also about the short term too so that invalidates it.

    To add to Fielding’s question, Co2 levels have been going up by record levels and yet the temp has basically not moved.

    Attributing this to just noise is hardly an answer we should expect from the science that says the debate is over.

  5. Missouri Senator , Kit Bond reports that initial review of the US cap and trade proposal shows that the cheap credits are skewed towards the states that lean Democrat. Nice!

  6. We should change the tax mix to reflect the possible risks and then get on with other things (like reducing public spending and taxes in general) whilst the science matures.

  7. DavidL — the main question that Fielding has been repeating on TV, and one of the questions in his briefing papers, is about the last eight years… so McHugh as directly answering that question.

    And while it is true that temps have been higher in the past with lower levels of greenhouse gases, nobody has ever denied that, and it is perfectly consistent with the idea (accepted by all mainstream scientists) that there has previously been many natural climate changes.

    JC — the point you raise is Fielding’s issue, so it doesn’t add to it. The answer, as outlined by McHugh, is that temperatures vary in response to many causes, including El Nino and the sun.

    We are currently going through a period of low sun-spot activity, so that will naturally put a downward pressure on temperatures. Given that they are remaining constant (not decreasing) that seems to give support to the idea that we still have an upward trend.

    I certainly hope that there is no more warming. But I think it is far too early to make such claims.

  8. The science in the Global Warming debate usually isn’t about whether or not the world is at its hottest now (although it is often portrayed that way), the science is about whether or not humans are going to experience problems as a result of the level of warming we will potentially experience.

    Most scientists I’ve read are happy to admit that the earth is quite cool by dinosaur standards. But that isn’t the issue. The issue is whether or not the warming we potentially will see is going to result in catastrophic consequences/ costs.

    Natural disasters cost a LOT of money. Global Warming has the potential to cause “natural” disasters such as the flooding of cities of low altitude and turbulent weather conditions (hurricanes, cyclones, etc). The cost of prevention (through reducing human input to temperatures) may well be cheaper than the cost of rebuilding/ relocating cities that could face these kind of consequences.

    While the debate is framed around CO2 emissions, I bet that world governments would still want to act on Global Warming even if it was an entirely natural phenomena. In fact, if Global Warming was natural I bet the government would have an even stronger mandate to act and there wouldn’t be anywhere near the same level of debate.

    Governments act to try to prevent or fight natural disasters all the time. Even most libertarians would agree that governments spending money on combating volcanic eruptions, rescuing people from floods, etc is worth it.

    That said I’m not trying to make any kind of judgement call on the Climate Change debate. I’m still undecided on whether or not I think that government should act; I’m still somewhat sceptical on parts of the science. But I think it’s important to realise that despite the heavy politicisation, scientifically it is an issue that could have dramatic human cost- even if it is natural- even if we are still in a “cold” period.

    That said we also need to be aware of the human cost that stifling industry may have. It’s fossil fuels that have allowed our life expectancies to increase from 50 to 80. And if Global Warming is a natural occurrence then we might be targeting it in altogether the wrong way.

  9. Shem — the impact of climate change on natural disasters is uncertain. Man-made climate change is likely to lead to greater warming in cold climates, and in winter, and at night… which will decrease the temperature variance, and possibly decrease some natural disasters. And it will almost certainly decrease the number of people who die from cold weather, which is a much bigger problem than deaths from warm weather.

    Evidence on the effect of recent warming on disasters is inconclusive. Pat Michaels book is very good at looking at the actual consequences of climate change, and he makes a compelling case that we shouldn’t be so worried.

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