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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Ian Pilmer: Heaven and Earth « Previous | |Next »
April 28, 2009

I've been listening with one ear to the bits and pieces of the responses in the media to Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth on Counterpoint and Lateline. The text is one in which Pilmer challenges the accepted science of global warming, as his argument is within the tradition of those who argue that natural climate change. The process of natural climate change are outside of human hands and are unable to be manipulated by human efforts. The most we could do is adapt to the changes that are occurring.

The natural science argument is reasonable. The Earth is an evolving dynamic system. Current changes in climate, sea level and ice are within variability. Atmospheric CO2 is the lowest for 500 million years. Climate has always been driven by the Sun, the Earth’s orbit and plate tectonics and the oceans, atmosphere and life respond.I have no problems with that.

My problem is with Pilmer's inference from this ---global warming does not threaten the world because human activity does not cause global warming. The world does not face catastrophic climate change unless carbon emissions are drastically reduced, since there is no global warming as temperatures have been dropping since 1998.

Pilmer's claim that global temperatures have dropped since 1998, thus disproving a warming trend, is one that is contested by many of the world's climate scientists. The counter argument is that though temperatures have dropped a very small amount since 1998, both in surface temperatures and in atmospheric temperatures measured from satellites. However, that doesn't mean that global warming has stopped , since The temperatures, if we average from 1998 to 2008, are warmer than the previous 10 years, or the 10 years before that, or any 10-year period over at least the last 150 years.

That issue will be resolved by the normal procedures of science in terms of theory, evidence and modelling.

PIlmer's second argument is quite different as it steps outside natural science. He argues that climate change politics is religious fundamentalism masquerading as science. It's triumph is computer models unrelated to observations in nature and there has been no critical due diligence of the science of climate change. Moreover, dogma dominates, sceptics are pilloried and 17th Century thinking promotes prophets of doom, guilt and penance. Scientists are part of a new religious-like dogma that closes down debate.

I find this equation of normal science with the dogma of religious fundamentalism masquerading as science as crazy stuff. Though I suspect that it derives from Pilmer's adherence to Popper's philosophy of science, Popper's his equation of Freudism and Marxism as nonscience, and his defence of the open society, Pilmer's claim of totalitarianism still makes no sense to me. My eyes glaze over when I read it given that our cultural history has been characterised by the conflict between science vs. fundamentalist religion since Galileo. Is “climate-change fundamentalism” a little poetic license on Pilmer's part, in which senior scientists are likened to the priesthood, Nobel laureates are likened to doctrinal authorities and that science has sacred texts, cience "has rites and rituals? Or does Pilmer understand fundamentalism as “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.”

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:13 AM | | Comments (11)


The National Farmers' Federation has thrown its backing behind controversial climate change dissenter, Professor Ian Plimer, whose new book aims to debunk the theories and dire predictions of some within the scientific fraternity.

Conforms my suspicions. That is why the drought is the explanation for no water in the Murray River.

Greg Melleuish's op -ed in The Australian argues for natiral climate change. he ends thus:

Human beings should be humble in the face of the immense forces of nature and recognise that their power to manipulate and change the world is very limited. They can do this only if they recognise that adherence to climate change is the ultimate expression of hubris. There are times when the best thing for the state to do is nothing.

It's all about hubris for Melleuish. If human beings did not have climate change they might find themselves reduced to being mere spectators in a cosmos over which they had fairly limited control. They would feel that their stature had been diminished.

Put simply, we need climate change because we want to feel in control of nature.

if fundamentalism is “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles”, then climate change's set of basic principles would include the scientific method, as distinct from magic or scripture

The Lateline interview was a cracker.

Plimer begins by referring to the IPCC and the scientists whose work contributed to the report as a group of 'comrades'. Pretty obvious where it was all going from there. Alarmist climate science attracts government research grants etc. Like so many others on his side of politics, he left out Margaret Thatcher's role in the conspiracy.

Isn't real science apolitical?

He accused climate scientists of cherry picking evidence to suit their positions and not taking the holistic dynamic of geological time into account, then supported his own side with the 1988 cooling argument.

He rejected the arguments of another scientist on the grounds that he's just a species extinction guy, then argued it's fair enough to be selective with other people's data when you're writing a book for a popular, non-expert, audience.

And he justified sliding all of this under the peer review radar on the grounds that the public has a right to know the truth.

He criticised his opponents as slaves to greeny religion, but chucked the enlightenment out the window by ignoring disagreeable bits of science and skipping peer review.

And finished it all off with the inference that the ABC doesn't respect him because it's politically biased. Is he not at all concerned about the respect of his fellow scientists?

What I want to know, is why an airhead ignoramus like Robert Manne thinks HE is qualified to criticise Palmer, or indeed comment on this issue at all.,25197,25380219-7583,00.html

you could say the same about Christopher Pearson on the issue. What matters is their argument surely. The implied censorship in your remarks indicates that you do not seem to be an advocate of the open society. Does that suggest your position is one of authoritarian conservatism not liberalism?

Manne's criticism is directed at the politics of climate change and the role of The Australian in this debate in rejecting the argument that climate change is partly caused by human beings ( eg., the Co2 emissions produced by the coal fired power stations). He is competent to talk on that given his role as a public intellectual in the public sphere.

Christopher Pearson states that:

if Manne had paid any attention in secondary school science classes he'd know that, unlike theology, science sets no store in arguments from authority. Nor does science attach any weight to majorities or consensus. It advances by testing the evidence, replicating experiments, conjecture and refutation.
That is Popper's interpretation of the philosophy of science not Kuhns.

Pearson makes no attempt to assess whether the science climate change functions in terms Popper's philosophy of science. He just claims that this science amounts topseudo-scientific pronouncements coming out of the IPCC, long captured by a small group of eco-fundamentalists, and particularly by its summaries for policymakers. Pearson quotes Pilmer in support:

The environmental romantics have a loathing and fear of population increase, seek to return to the past and promote pagan superstitions. Well before the crunch of global warming appeared, the environmental romantics hated the modern world despite the fact that in industrial societies we live longer, we are healthier, the air and water are getting cleaner, the area of forests is expanding and we have far greater freedom than in past times. It is the energy-intensive communication systems of the modern world that allow the environmental romantics to spread the word.

That's no argument about Popper's philosophy of science showing that climate change science is not science.

if there is an argument it is that computer modeling (theory) does not equal science. Science is about observation and evidence. Modeling is not observation or evidence, therefore it is not science.

Sceptics such as Pearson appear to assume a positivist philosophy of science--knowledge is built up from bits of data gathered by observation. Then you construct a hypothesis, then you test by evidence. If the evidence is shaky you then dump it.

It doesn't occur to Pearson that actual science may not operate according to Popper's philosophy of science.

"My problem is with Pilmer's inference from this ---global warming does not threaten the world because human activity does not cause global warming."

I am reading Pilmer's book. Presently 2/3 of the way through.
I contest Gary's assertion that Pilmer's inference is that Global Warming is not man-made and therefore does not endanger mankind.
Indeed Pilmer asserts to the contrary that mankind has prospered during period of global warming. Population growths occur along with strong economic growth.
He points out that man has survived past global warmings (e.g. Medieval Warming which was warming than the present warming by his figures)and will no doubt adjust to survive this one, should it continue to warm, which he does not accept.

If Plimer is right-----he can do what he claims, and can prove that human emissions of CO2 have no effect on the climate--- then he needs to be able to show that the work of literally thousands of oceanographers, solar physicists, biologists, atmospheric scientists, geologists, and snow and ice researchers during the past 100 years is fundamentally flawed.

Is this what you are suggesting?

The kind of work required for Pilmer to prove his claims would rank as one of the greatest discoveries of the century and would almost certainly earn him a Nobel prize.

According to Plimer, Earth's climate has always changed, humans are too puny to change it, and so there's no reason to put economic activity at risk by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. It's time, he claims, for independent thinkers to challenge the "scientific orthodoxy" that burning fossil fuels warms the planet.

The assumption here is that because climate has changed in the geological past in response to natural processes, it is doing so now, producing the biological, atmospheric and geophysical changes observed worldwide. Its that assumption that has been questioned.