What I am reading–well some of it

Lots of books on the go. I like books, by which I mean BOOKS with paper in them. I am old-fashioned that way, and am horrified by the vandalism we hear of in university libraries these days, Sydney’s Fisher being but the latest.

ONE of Australia’s most prestigious university libraries is to get rid of 30 staff and remove 500,000 books and journals.

In a fiery question-and-answer session yesterday, John Shipp, the librarian at Fisher Library at Sydney University, told staff and students of plans to reduce the main stack by almost half.

The cull is part of a redevelopment funded by the federal government…

Here are a pair of Oz journals, one venerable if controversial and the other a much more recent success story.


In The Monthly the cover story is on Chris Lilley. He merits the attention, undoubtedly brilliant as he is – but Peter Conrad always annoys the hell out of me. I can’t help thinking he is a total wanker, but I am sure that is unfair. Let’s just say his performances – a better word than critiques in his case – are amazing examples of the higher name dropping. Even so he does raise interesting issues about how to define comedy and what Lilley’s work actually does.

It’s worth the price to get The Monthly on a regular basis, however. There is always something of interest. This month I found Mark Aarons on The Greens and Fundamentalism made a lot of sense. So,e may think it a touch vindictive. I think it says what needs saying about the down side of Green purism.

…The NSW Greens leaders behaved just like the old parties. Byrne erred in denying that she had undertaken to bring BDS into the NSW parliament if she won Marrickville. She was damaged when the recording of her statement was produced; she exacerbated this error by denying she had agreed to speak at a BDS rally, only to have a flyer produced flatly contradicting her. The Greens dismissed these blunders, claiming they were a Labor “dirty tricks campaign”. This might have worked in the past, when there was little scrutiny of Greens’ policies. But the words of both the party’s policy and Marrickville Council’s resolution expose a determination to impose BDS as state (and federal) government policy.

The policy is so extreme that even those, who, like me, are critical of some of Israel’s policies (the West Bank occupation and continuing construction of settlements, for example) found it offensive. To compare Israel’s actions with apartheid is shallow and inaccurate: in one case, a white minority refused voting, civil and legal rights to the black majority; in the other, voting, civil and legal rights are universal. Israel is a fully functioning democracy where governments change after elections; an independent judiciary and media hold the government to account; and minorities (including Palestinians) are represented in parliament (under the Greens’ preferred system of proportional representation). Furthermore, the NSW Greens’ policy is silent about decades of Palestinian terrorism and aggression by Arab dictatorships.

Responsibility for the BDS catastrophe rests with the NSW Greens’ leadership, especially retiring upper house member Sylvia Hale (who initiated it) and senator-elect Lee Rhiannon…

To step over to Quadrant is like entering an alternate universe, or indeed  a sheltered workshop – albeit Les Murray still guarantees a purely literary interest remains.

In this month’s issue Bob Carter demonstrates why he is third rate and worth ignoring. I do agree on one thing with Bob: it is unfortunate that the term “carbon pollution” gained acceptance because that is a misnomer. CO2 isn’t a pollutant, but it IS a greenhouse gas.

… Given that carbon dioxide is indeed a greenhouse gas (albeit a mild and diminishingly effective one at currently increasing levels of atmospheric concentration), and that some human-caused emissions accrue in the atmosphere, the question of dangerous warming was a good one to raise back in the late 1980s. Since then, with the formation of the IPCC, and a parallel huge expansion of research and consultancy money into climate studies, energy studies and climate policy, an intensive effort has been made to identify and measure the human signature in the global temperature record at a cost that probably exceeds $100 billion. And, as Kevin Rudd might put it, “You know what? No such signature has been able to be isolated and measured.”

That, of course, doesn’t mean that humans have no effect on global temperature, because we know that carbon dioxide is a mild greenhouse gas, and we can also measure the local temperature effects of human activity, which are both warming (from the urban heat island effect) and cooling (due to other land-use change, including irrigation). Sum these effects all over the world and obviously there must be a global signal; that we can’t identify and measure it indicates that the signal is so small that it is lost in the noise of natural climate variation.

Twenty-five years on, therefore, we have answered the question, “Are human carbon dioxide emissions causing dangerous global warming”, and the answer is “No”; but strangely that answer causes environmental activists and their supporters, including apparently many scientists, to develop the disease known as deaf ear.

In such circumstances, how is it possible that hypothetical dangerous warming remains one of the most potent political issues in the world, and certainly so in Australia at the moment?…

Why should anyone bother? Almost everything Bob says about the issue in those paragraphs is utter bilge. A very cursory acquaintance indeed with the most reputable resources on the subject – try The Rpyal Society for starters – will very quick;y show that Bob isn’t just contrarian he is stark raving bonkers… Or so it seems to me.

You can pursue the rest of his article if you want to. Most of his alleged myths aren’t myths, but who cares eh!

A sensible discussion can be had about the appropriate measures to deal with climate change. The least sensible is playing catch-up when it’s too late. That’s the one Bob recommends.

The appropriate, cost-effective policy to deal with Victorian bushfires, Queensland floods, droughts, northern Australian cyclones and long-term cooling or warming trends (whether natural or human-caused) is the same. It is to prepare carefully for, and efficaciously deal with, and adapt to, all such events and trends, as and when they happen. Spending billions of dollars on expensive and ineffectual carbon dioxide taxes serves only to reduce our wealth and our capacity to address these genuine problems.

His set of references is extremely narrow and utterly partisan: “To maintain readability, the statements of fact made in this article are not referenced to source in detail. Persons wishing to check their validity should in the first instance consult my book Climate: The Counter Consensus, or the following websites.”  All the usual suspects.  Including the favourite radio weather man* of the denialist coven.

Read instead these PDF files: Climate change science and STATUS OF GLOBAL MITIGATION ACTION Current targets and policies in key countries. Yes they come from the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee – but they are far better referenced and considerably more objective than anything Carter has to say.

Sometimes when I read Quadrant these days – a travesty of the magazine I once subscribed to in my youth – I really do think conservatism  — or some people’s anyway – is a personality disorder.

* There’s an amusing development in the weird world of Watts. Rather embarrassing for one of Bob’s major points as well.

Last year Anthony Watts said that it was a certainty that siting differences caused a warm bias:

"I can say with certainty that our findings show that there are differences in siting that cause a difference in temperatures, not only from a high and low type measurement but also from a trend measurement and a trend calculation."

"The early arguments against this project said that all of these different biases are going to cancel themselves out and there would be cool biases as well as warm biases, but we discovered that that wasn’t the case. The vast majority of them are warm biases, and even such things as people thinking a tree might in fact keep the temperature cooler doesn’t really end up that way."

Now that Watts et al has been accepted for publication we find that his paper says the opposite and gets the same result as Menne at al:

Temperature trend estimates vary according to site classification, with poor siting leading to an overestimate of minimum temperature trends and an underestimate of maximum temperature trends, resulting in particular in a substantial difference in estimates of the diurnal temperature range trends. The opposite-signed differences of maximum and minimum temperature trends are similar in magnitude, so that the overall mean temperature trends are nearly identical across site classifications.

Mind you, if you read Pielke Sr’s spin, you might not notice:

Volunteer Study Finds Station Siting Problems Affect USA Multi-Decadal Surface Temperature Measurements

We found that the poor siting of a significant number of climate reference sites (USHCN) used by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) to monitor surface air temperatures has led to inaccuracies and larger uncertainties in the analysis of multi-decadal surface temperature anomalies and trends than assumed by NCDC.

And on and on for over 600 words about alleged inaccuracies in poorly sited stations before grudgingly conceding

In the United States, where this study was conducted, the biases in maximum and minimum temperature trends are fortuitously of opposite sign, but about the same magnitude, so they cancel each other and the mean trends are not much different from siting class to siting class.

Hat tip: Steve.

That is just typical of the games played by the mob Bob commends to us over and over again.


Looking back I see two rather more interesting articles in Quadrant.

The authors are indeed eminent, but not in climatology.

Geoffrey Lehmann is a poet. He was formerly a partner of a major international accounting firm and Chairman of the Australian Tax Research Foundation.

Peter Farrell is Founder and Executive Chairman of Resmed Inc, foundation Director and former Professor of the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering at the University of New South Wales, Chair of the Executive Council, Division of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Member Visiting Committee, Whitaker College of Life Sciences MIT.

Dick Warburton is Chairman of Westfield Retail Trust, Magellan Flagship Fund Ltd and the Board of Taxation and a Director of Citigroup Pty Ltd and of the Smith Family of which he is also Chairman-elect. He is a former Chairman and CEO of Du Pont Australia and New Zealand.

Which means they are not much more reliable than I am or you are really. The first one on the science is what you have come to expect. Believers in doing nothing will like it. Even so, these two articles are worth a look.