Ian Plimer “Heaven and Earth – Global Warming: the missing science”

ISBN 978-07043-7166-8. “Heaven and Earth – Global Warming: the Missing Science” was written by Ian Plimer and published by Quartet Books in 2009. This is quite a weighty tome measuring in at 503 pages including eight chapters and an index. It will take you a bit if time to wade through it. You probably shouldn’t bother. For once we have a genuine scientist (a Geologist) writing of his doubts about man-made climate change. This does appeal to some of us who would rather not have sensation-seeking journalists & paranoid right-wing radio DJ’s make this stuff up. To be fair this book is relatively free of some of the more tiresome polemic of other climate-change denial books. You can wade into this book and be overwhelmed by how all ‘sciencey’ it sounds but be warned: it is worth checking out some of the expert opinions from genuine Climatologists (available online). This book is riddled with errors, opinions and conjecture wrapped up as science. In the interest of filling 500 pages Plimer seems to have taken the view that his readership is slightly dim therefore if he can get away with blinding them with science. They then might believe him. Even if you hadn’t been warned anyone in basic possession of an analytical mind will find themselves scratching their heads in disbelief. That’s if you have the patience to get to the end of the book and his “Et Moi” which you SHOULD read FIRST.

Chapter 2 (which deals with the history of the Earth and its climate) stretches for what seems like an endless 68 pages. It quotes so many scientific papers and books in the footnotes that these notes are often longer than the actual text they refer to. However, even just skimming through quickly gives the impression that Plimer is just babbling. He goes around in circles to show that the climate has always changed and sometimes dramatically. “Voila!” you can hear him exclaiming, as he “proves” that man made CO2 cannot cause climate change. Eh? This really is insulting to the intelligence of most readers. Who cares if the climate changed before the industrial revolution? Since this was before the period of anthropogenic interference in the climate then it proves nothing. A child could see that. It is like saying that because you could get a sun-tan before the availability of sun-beds that the UV-tubes can’t possibly work! Why Plimer? Even worse he goes on and on about how HE (we assume ‘the great and powerful wizard of science’) can do what the IPCC cannot do. He can interpret cave paintings, food prices and even the clouds on old paintings to tell us what the temperature was in 1603! Gee, all those PhD’s at the IPCC must feel really humbled by this man’s awesomeness.

So what drives “Australia’s best-known geologist” to write such twaddle in the full knowledge that another set of scientists (in fact the vast majority of actual climatologists) will simply tear him to shreds? Well, of course, no serious scientist (nor Government) is interested in individual cranks like this. The reason the IPCC was formed was to assess the evidence and come up with a reasoned opinion. Sure there have been mistakes, and the process hasn’t been perfect, but generally it has got the job done. It has never claimed that ALL the evidence was absolutely conclusive. To be fair to the doubters, there is some mileage in the view that the IPCC found anthropogenic climate change because it was paid to… But that isn’t Plimer’s angle. The IPCC is a meta-study organisation setup as an agency of the UN to reach a conclusion so that the UN and individual Governments could set policy. Plimer ignores this and claims that the IPCC is flawed because it didn’t employ proper scientists. Some of the reviewers were (wait for it) shock (!), horror (!) “environmentalists”. With this revelation Plimer lets slip what is really going on in his ideology. This book is based upon the author’s distrust of anyone who isn’t either an Australian or a Coal Mining Geologist. Since those pesky environmentalists aren’t in Plimer’s private clique then they are not to be trusted.

You could largely dispense with the first 363 pages of the book, ie, Chapters 1 through 6, as they have little or no bearing upon the authenticity of anthropogenic climate change other than to introduce us to natural cycles and the roles of ocean currents. By Chapter 7 he finally talks about the actual climate by trying to convince the reader that there is serious doubt that temperatures are rising and we aren’t sure about man-made CO2 either. He really stretches himself here but proves nothing. He talks about the pre-Mauna Loa infra-red spectroscopy readings as if they were of any use (page 420). Even his own diagram shows them varying wildly between 1810 and 1950 which is probably due to them being taken in the industrial heartlands of Europe. This was the reason they moved the equipment to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They were unreliable. He even tries to tell the reader there is no such thing as the greenhouse effect (pages 365 and 366) and that it is all down to convective losses. If that sounds a little weird you should reflect on the near-absence of references for large sections of that Chapter. He may not be making it up but he sees no reason to back up any of his numbers or assumptions. Why? This should be the most important section of the book, where he could undermine the IPCC case, but he completely fluffs it. His killer diagram at the bottom of page 375 shows that there is not a linear relationship between CO2 and temperature. Just as adding another layer of glass to your greenhouse doesn’t make it twice as hot – all CO2 ppmv beyond about 260 cease to have much effect. He fails at this point either to provide a reference for this diagram or to explain the IPCC view that it is water vapour feedback that does most of the work. He only mentions this right at the end of the book – probably in the hope that the reader will have forgotten his earlier comments where he derided the IPCC for ignoring water vapour feedback!

For all Plimer’s claims of ‘science’ and his self-alleged command of geography, history, climate and physics he has some remarkable weak spots – namely mathematics in general and statistics specifically. He tells us that there is no such thing in science as a “tipping point” (page 338). Well that may be the media-friendly way of describing a “non-linear event” but certainly non-linear systems are very much a matter for science and engineering. He tells us that the ‘precautionary principle’ is also not scientific. Really? He says the same about ‘consensus’. For him the world is black and white. For him the science is either right or wrong. There is no shades of grey, no possibilities, no risks, no need for mitigation and no probabilities. He tells us the 0.8degreesC +/- 0.8degreesC is “meaningless”. Actually it is not. Getting a ‘mean’ result from a ‘distribution’ of data points and assigning a degree of error tells us a great deal. In this he misleads the reader and for a ‘man of science’ this is utterly shameful. There is far more to this book than an assessment of the science. That’s the problem.

So to Plimer’s ideology. On page 298 we get this: “The slightest change in Nature is viewed as a message that we humans are changing the climate, that this is evil and that we must rid the world of this evil.” He devotes an entire chapter just to himself “Et Moi” at the end so he could expand upon this “evil” topic. On page 411/412 he writes “To call for the lowering of the carbon footprint is asinine. To refer to “carbon pollution” is ascientific political spin. To tax, ration and control the basic element for life is a micro-management of human freedom.” Human freedom? Or the freedom of the Australian Coal Mining industry? On page 428 “One can only speculate as to why political activists concentrate their attention on CO2 rather than methane. It may be because CO2 is linked to industrial growth whereas methane is considered more “natural” and emitted by less developed nations.” Or maybe it is because we can clean up industrial processes a lot easier that it would be for us to tell cows not to fart or people not to eat? On page 436 this “Green ideology and political pressure take place in a science-free zone.” On page 438 “…the green movements have been taken over by neo-Marxists promoting anti-trade, anti-globalisation and anti-civilisation.” Page 446: “Cheap abundant energy is fundamental to all economies.” whilst on page 447 he follows up by saying that it is “suicide to impose other energy sources onto communities.” For Plimer “extreme environmentalism” is a new religion (page 463). On page 465 “Minority groups (such as farmers and miners) who provide the basic necessities of urban life are sitting ducks for cheap shots by environmental groups…” and this is one of two references to mining (or “mineral extraction” as he euphemistically calls it – he means coal mining) and agriculture in the same sentence. To Plimer there are only three noble professions: science, farming and mining. Everyone else is an environmental extremist or “romantic”. According to Plimer the world of the “romantics” does not exist (page 468): “Sustainability creates a miserable existence, poverty, disease, depopulation and ignorance.” Plimer believes that it is mankind’s divine right to battle and become victorious over Nature because Nature is ‘bad’ & out-to-get-us. It is us or the bunnies. Only HIS “science” can save us. So what if we don’t live sustainably? We’ll all die glorious deaths and go to Valhalla. On page 472 he makes a passionate plea for the Gulf States to import cheap Australian Coal to generate electricity because it is so much cheaper than solar energy.

It is difficult to lampoon this guy as he does it so well himself.

The author believes Global Warming is GOOD. Good for biodiversity and humanity. It will not lead to extinctions, and, if it did, that would be completely natural. Whilst he makes some valid points about how warming is more desirable for the human species than cooling he misses the point by a mile…. It isn’t that “global warming” in the historical record was a “bad” thing. It is that ANY climate change in THIS time period is dangerous. There is no historical precedence so we must assume the worst. We live in a crowded planet with 7 billion people. Just because a few Cro-Magnons enjoyed a good sun tan 200,000 years ago doesn’t mean that this over-populated Earth is going to enjoy it in quite the same way. We have made our ecology fragile. When your biodiversity is already under stress it won’t take much to push many species under. That is what we are doing. This is entirely new and utterly dangerous. Ancient history will not hold the answers. Since the soil holds a lot of carbon and we are killing it with nitrate fertilisers (derived from dwindling fossil fuels) then we are piling disaster upon disaster. Our human ecology is a pack of cards on the Titanic and we are steering it towards an iceberg. Yes the bacteria, cockroaches and rats will survive long after man has extinguished its existence from this planet. That doesn’t mean we should aim for this self-destruction with gay abandon. You can’t just shrug your shoulders.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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