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William Kininmonth (meteorologist)
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William Kininmonth is noted for his views as an opponent of global warming theory and frequently writes on the topic of climate change. He believes that the warming trend of the recent century is not unusual, and he is critical of the simple model of climate systems represented by the IPCC. While Kininmonth believes that anthropogenic sources may make a small contribution to global warming, he believes the natural variability far exceeds that contribution, and this poses serious hazards for human kind.
Kininmonth suggests that it would be unwise to commit scarce resources to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when there is insufficient evidence to support the proposition that global warming is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels. Like other global warming skeptics, such as Bjørn Lomborg, he believes that the diversion of resources from infrastructure projects, particularly in developing countries, would be counterproductive.
Kininmonth headed Australia's National Climate Centre from 1986 to 1998, with responsibilities for monitoring Australia's changing climate and advising the Australian government on the extent and severity of climate extremes. He was Australia's delegate to the WMO Commission for Climatology, was a member of Australia's delegations to the Second World Climate Conference (1990) and the subsequent intergovernmental negotiations for the Framework Convention on Climate Change (1991-1992).
Kininmouth is a science adviser to the Science and Public Policy Institute, formerly the Center for Science and Public Policy.
Peter Walsh, John Zillman, Ladies and Gentlemen
Before talking about the book, Climate Change: A Natural Hazard, there are a number of people that I must thank. Without their support there would not have been a book to launch.
Firstly, I must thank my family who have been supportive in this and many previous ventures associated with my indulgences in climate. Over the years my wife, Elaine, has been very understanding, as I have travelled the world increasing my knowledge of the global climate. More recently I have disappeared into my study for long periods to research and write. The task would never have been completed without her support and consideration.
The Lavoisier Group provides a forum for discussion and debate in Australia on the climate change issue, even when the public has been led to believe that the science of climate change has been settled. I sincerely thank the Lavoisier Group for having arranged this launch of the book, and also for the assistance and encouragement that has been provided, especially by Ray Evans.
I particularly thank John Zillman for taking on the role of formally launching the book. Our professional association in the Bureau of Meteorology goes back three decades but it was about 15 years ago that we were actively working towards achieving a National Climate Program for Australia. Seventy percent of natural disasters are associated with weather and climate extremes. As Director of Meteorology, John took the lead to ensure that the climate observing infrastructure, climate research and the range of services available to this country met our national needs.
Unfortunately, at the same time as the sober National Climate Program initiative was being prepared the prospect of dangerous anthropogenic global warming became an international environmental issue. Alas, greenhouse global warming became the prominent climate issue and a National Climate Program was never formally considered.
John Zillman, as Vice-President of the World Meteorological Organization, played a key role in establishing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) that was created within the UN system to provide an authoritative international statement of scientific opinion on climate change.
Nearly two decades later, we are still debating the science of climate change. This only underscores the complexity of the climate system. The book that I have written, Climate Change: A Natural Hazard, describes the important processes that are relevant to variability of the climate system on all timescales. It addresses controversial issues and I will briefly discuss a few of these now.
The Radiation Forcing Hypothesis is Flat-Earth Physics
For the IPCC, the concept of radiative forcing is central to climate change. Radiative forcing emerges from a one-dimensional radiation-convective model of the climate system. Radiative forcing assumes that there was radiation balance at the top of the atmosphere before industrialisation commenced.
Radiative forcing is a simple, seductive hypothesis for how emissions of carbon dioxide, especially burning of fossil fuels, will lead to global warming. If the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continues to increase it is suggested that dangerous climate change will occur.
The simple radiation forcing hypothesis cannot be sustained, except in the most qualitative terms. It ignores the energy reservoir of the tropical oceans and the need for deep convection to distribute excess energy of the tropical oceans through the atmosphere. It ignores that the earth is essentially two different regions---the tropics, over which solar radiation is accumulating, and the polar regions, where radiation loss to space is dominating.
If we were to only consider radiation and convection as the dominant processes of the atmosphere then we should expect to observe the tropics getting warmer and warmer and the polar regions getting colder and colder. We know this is not the case.
Ongoing poleward transport of energy by the atmospheric and ocean circulations is vital for a stable climate and global radiation balance. Variations of poleward transport of energy will lead to variations in global temperature.
Variability of the poleward transport of energy can cause major climate change. For example, during the last glacial cycle that lasted about 100 thousand years, the sea level dropped about 130 metres as mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets expanded. Then the sea level returned to its present level as mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets retreated. There is no evidence that the glacial cycle was forced by solar radiation because the annual total of solar radiation received by the earth did not change appreciably on these timescales.
A sustained change in poleward energy transport will cause a temperature change over middle and high latitudes. However, it is not necessarily true that radiation forcing will produce significant climate change.
Rudimentary Computer Models have Gross Inadequacies
The projections of the magnitude of global warming due to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration are based on computer model simulations. The veracity of those projections depends on the ability of the computer models to simulate the climate system.
The different computer models developed in the various research centres around the world have differences in their construction and specification of internal processes. They produce a range of estimates of future global warming. The performance characteristics of the various computer models have been examined within the framework of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP).
IPCC has drawn on the model intercomparison in its Third Assessment Report. The apparent ability of the computer models to simulate many of the characteristics of the current climate system is the basis for the IPCC confidence in their use.
However, the intercomparison also identifies some significant weakness in the computer simulations. On average, the rate of mass overturning of the tropical atmosphere is more than 20 percent less than observed for the atmosphere. This means that there are gross errors in the poleward transport of energy by the computer models.
The peak poleward transport of energy by the atmosphere is known with confidence from satellite and other direct observations. A decrease in the transport by only one percent would allow the volume of Arctic sea ice to more than double in ten years. It is surprising, therefore, that the gross underestimation of poleward energy transport by the computer models is not reflected as cooling and expansion of the ice sheets over the polar regions.
The computer models have compensating gross errors in the latitudinal distribution of net longwave radiation at the surface. There is too much radiation loss over the tropics, thus cooling the surface, and not enough radiation loss over polar regions, thus retaining energy in the surface. The magnitude of the radiation errors in the computer models is up to five times the expected radiation forcing from doubling carbon dioxide concentration.
The magnitude of global warming projected by the computer models cannot be considered reliable because of the errors in poleward energy transport and net surface longwave radiation.
Recent Global Warming
The IPCC claims that the global warming observed over the past 50 years has been due to human activities. This claim is based on the apparent ability of computer models, when forced by natural and anthropogenic factors, to simulate the global surface temperature record of the 20th century.
There is, however, an essential discrepancy between the computer simulations and observations. The computer models project warming of the atmosphere, especially over the tropics. Contrary to what the computer models project, over the past two and a half decades there is no evidence of warming of the tropical atmosphere. This is a period when accurate satellite observations have been available and we can directly compare the simulations by the computer models with observations.
The projection of atmospheric warming is the basis for claims of a positive feedback through water vapour, a natural greenhouse gas. Overall, the effect of water vapour feedback in the computer models is to amplify the direct effect of carbon dioxide several times over. By this mechanism, the computer models exaggerate the magnitude of anthropogenic greenhouse warming.
The IPCC conclusion that most of the warming of the past 50 years is attributable to human activities is not soundly based.
The Mythology of Runaway Global Warming
One of the fears raised in relation to continued burning of fossil fuels is that it will lead to runaway global warming. Sir David King, Chief Science Adviser to the British Government, has been quoted as saying that human induced climate change is a bigger danger than global terrorism. That is a big call.
We can be confident that the prospect of runaway global warming is a mirage conjured up by activists and propagandists. It is based on the spurious idea of positive feedbacks.
Bill Priestley, a former Chief of the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research, published a paper in 1966 on the limitation of temperature by evaporation in hot climates. From a study of worldwide surface temperature data he showed an upper limit of 33 ºC over well-watered vegetation. The study and its findings were in the context of agriculture and irrigation planning but the physics has universal application. In a passing comment, Priestley noted that 30 ºC represented a practical upper limit to surface temperatures over the ocean.
Observations of sea surface temperatures from the equatorial western Pacific Ocean, extending over the past two decades, confirm that the warmest ocean waters have fluctuated in a narrow temperature range about 30 ºC. At this temperature it is evaporation that dominates the energy exchange between the ocean and the atmosphere. Any reduction in net longwave radiation at the surface due to enhanced greenhouse gas concentration will be compensated by increased evaporation without an increase in surface temperature.
There has been no observed trend in the temperature of either the warmest ocean surface or the tropical troposphere. Nor should we expect any trend in the future. Temperatures of the warmest ocean surface and the tropical troposphere are constrained by natural upper bounds.
The Climate System does have Internal Variability
IPCC has claimed, based on analyses of computer models, that recent global warming is unlikely to be due to internal variability of the climate system. That is, the warming of the past 50 years is due to human activities.
More recent ocean research suggests that the global warming of recent decades can be directly linked to natural interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere.
A change in the surface wind field over the tropical Pacific Ocean has reduced the shallow overturning in the ocean surface layer since the mid-1970s. Reduced upwelling of cold water has altered the surface energy balance and caused the area with surface temperatures near 30 ºC to expand and for ocean surface temperatures elsewhere to warm. Overall, evaporation of water vapour from the oceans and the supply of latent energy to the atmosphere have increased.
An observed increase in the overturning tropical circulation during the past two decades can be directly attributable to the enhanced latent energy supply from the warmer tropical ocean. The more vigorous atmospheric circulation has increased the poleward transport of energy. Warming middle and high latitude temperatures and contracting ice mass are to be expected.
Satellite observations confirm that there has been an increase in the emission of longwave radiation to space from the tropics, consistent with warmer ocean surface temperatures. The increased radiation to space, however, is contrary to IPCC's radiation forcing hypothesis, which predicts that increased concentrations of carbon dioxide will reduce the emission of longwave radiation to space.
The oceans are the flywheels of the climate system as they have large thermal capacities and relatively long inertial periods. Each ocean circulation has characteristic inertial periods whose timescales reflect basin topography. The inertial periods range from the decadal to the millennial and are excited by changing surface wind stress.
The surface temperature patterns and energy exchanges from the oceans drive the atmospheric circulation. The atmospheric circulation responds rapidly to changing energy input from the oceans. This is clear from El Niño events and the more persistent tropical forcing since the middle 1970s. We should expect variations of local and regional climate that have timescales that are characteristic of the inertial periods of the ocean circulations.
Fluctuations of climate on a range of timescales are consistent with internal variability of the climate system.
Climate Change and Future Policy
The spectre of dangerous anthropogenic climate change has come to dominate government and business policy, especially across the energy and environment sectors. Decisions are being formulated and implemented based on the climate change projections endorsed by the IPCC. In particular, the Kyoto Protocol and its impending ratification mean that reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is an objective that takes priority over economic efficiency, international competitiveness and, in a number of sectors, job creation.
The science underpinning climate change projections is not settled. The book, Climate Change: A Natural Hazard, exposes serious defects in the IPCC Third Assessment Report and its climate change projections.
Weather and climate extremes are hazards that continue to threaten life and property and will not go away by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is important that scarce resources are applied to the development of community infrastructures that are resilient and provide protection against weather and climate extremes.
Climate Change: A Natural Hazard challenges widely held assumptions and highlights uncertainties of the science that tend to be conveniently ignored. I have also tried to ensure that the scientific arguments are clearly described and free from jargon to enable policymakers to participate in the important debate. It is not a debate that should be confined to the circles of the scientific elite. We must ensure a strong connect between the science and the dependent policy outcomes.
I thank everyone who has come to this occasion and, again, to John Zillman for doing me the honour of its launch.
The book is available for purchase tonight from my lovely daughters-in-law who are assisting The Avenue Book Store of Middle Park.
Climate Change: A Natural Hazard
by William Kininmonth
ISBN 0 906522 26 9 pp. viii + 208 £39
The recurring community and environmental impacts of climate extremes, such as the global pattern associated with the El Niño phenomenon, can bring hardship and set back development. It is no accident that those countries that recognise the importance of planning for climate extremes, adequately engineer public infrastructures, and implement appropriate community response strategies are better adapted. When we take a long view, from many decades to centuries, it is important to understand that there are natural fluctuations in climate system. The warming trend of the recent century is not unusual, although a colder climate has been a more persistent characteristic during the past few million years.
Climate Change: A Natural Hazard demonstrates that the simple model of the climate system represented by the IPCC is inadequate as a foundation for future planning. The climate change theory emphasises an expected change in magnitude of radiation processes as an outcome of changing concentrations of anthropogenic greenhouse gases and leads to flawed conclusions. The assumption of a stable climate system ignores natural variability and the occurrence of ice ages and lesser climate fluctuations of the past. The assumption of a climate system forced primarily by the radiation effects of greenhouse gases is a limited perspective of the complex climate system. A more complete description includes interacting phenomena and naturally varying processes associated with the flow of energy through the climate system, including:
seasonally varying equator-to-poles solar radiation input,
the energy reservoir of the warm surface waters of the tropical oceans,
energy and momentum exchanges between the land, oceans and atmosphere, and
latent energy exchanges as water moves between the oceans, vapour in the atmosphere and snow accumulation over the polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers.
The computer models that are the basis for IPCC's projections of future climate are misleading because of their rudimentary stage of development. They fail, in a gross sense, to meet the more demanding benchmarks when the description of the climate system is more complete. Failures of the computer models relate to:
The models systematically underestimate the magnitude of the overturning circulation and atmospheric energy transport. As a consequence, there is erroneous warming of the model troposphere. Deep equatorial convective clouds and the overturning atmospheric circulation of the Hadley Cells are critical processes necessary to distribute excess tropical solar radiation through the troposphere.
The models systematically underestimate the poleward transport of energy by the ocean circulations. Although the ocean circulations transport only between 10 and 15 percent of the excess energy of the tropics, the spatial sea surface temperature distribution is dependent on the energy budget in the surface mixed layer and is a crucial determinant of the intensity of the atmospheric circulation.
The models are inconsistent in their representation of longwave radiation at the earth's surface and, on average, overestimate the exchange in the tropics and underestimate the exchange over high latitudes. Net longwave radiation at the surface is the crucial interaction between greenhouse gases and the energetics of the climate system. The magnitudes of the differences between models and the systemic biases, when compared to the expected radiative forcing from increased greenhouse gas concentrations, make nonsense of computer projections of future climate.
The evidence is that the projections of more extreme global warming from increased greenhouse gas concentrations emanates from those models that contrive 'positive feedback' processes to amplify the impact. There is no evidence from observations over recent decades for such feedback. It would be a tragedy for civilisation if scarce resources were to be squandered on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The diversion of resources from community infrastructure projects would leave communities, especially those of developing countries, more susceptible to loss and damage from climate extremes.
About the author
William Kininmonth has a career in meteorological science and policy spanning more than 40 years. For more than a decade (1986-1998) he headed Australia's National Climate Centre with responsibilities for monitoring Australia's changing climate and advising the Australian government on the extent and severity of climate extremes, including the recurring drought episodes of the 1990s.
He has extensive knowledge of global climatology, the climate system and the impacts of climate extremes developed through more than two decades associated with the World Meteorological Organization. He was Australia's delegate to the WMO Commission for Climatology and more recently has been a consultant for implementation of its programs. He coordinated the scientific and technical review for the United Nations Task Force on El Niño following the disastrous 1997-1998 event, has participated in WMO expert working groups.
As a member of Australia's delegations to the Second World Climate Conference (1990) and the subsequent intergovernmental negotiations for the Framework Convention on Climate Change (1991-1992), William Kininmonth had a close association with the early developments of the climate change debate. His suspicions that the science and predictions of anthropogenic global warming had extended beyond sound theory and evidence were crystallised following the release of the 2001 Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In his new book, Climate Change: A Natural Hazard, he demonstrates that the model of the climate system represented by the IPCC is inadequate as a foundation for future planning.
William Kininmonth: Don't be Gored into going along
Global warming militants don't know what they're talking about
The Australian September 12, 2006
William Kininmonth, a former head of the National Climate Centre and a consultant to the World Meteorological Organisation, is author of Climate Change: A Natural Hazard (Multi-Science Publishing Co, 2004).
CLIMATE change is again making headlines as the world becomes mesmerised in the public relations glare of Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. For critics and reviewers alike, the movie is further proof in their minds that we are heading for a climate catastrophe. But what's missing from the debate is sober, rational analysis of some scientific facts.
Climate change attracts attention because weather and climate extremes account for 70 per cent of natural disasters. Also, the historical evidence is that climate goes through gyrations that are beneficial or destructive for civilisations.
The periods of the Roman Empire, medieval Europe and the past 200 years were all of remarkable warmth. The Dark Ages of the first millennium and the Little Ice Age of the second were characterised by cold, by advanced mountain glaciers and by social turmoil.
For the past 10,000 years, the Earth has been near peak warmth in the climatic roller-coaster that has characterised the past million years. Yet only 20,000 years ago, great ice sheets covered much of North America and Europe; permanent glaciers were also present over southeastern Australia and Tasmania. The sea level was 130m lower than today and land bridges connected New Guinea and Tasmania with the Australian mainland. The Great Barrier Reef was but limestone cliffs bordering the Coral Sea.
The former US vice-president and his fellow travellers would have us believe that the actions of our civilisation are leading to dangerous climate change, as if climate is not inherently dangerous. There are many inconvenient truths about climate that are being ignored in the scare campaign that is being waged with relentless determination by sections of the community.
Start with carbon dioxide. As a greenhouse gas, it is a spent force for climate change; its present concentration is slightly less than 400 parts per million. Calculations show that 66 per cent of the greenhouse effect of CO2 is caused by the first 50ppm. With each doubling of concentration, (from 50 to 100, then to 200 and 400ppm), the incremental advance of the greenhouse effect is reduced.
Even for a further doubling to 800ppm, as projected by 2100 in the case of unabated fossil fuel usage, the increase in the greenhouse effect will only be 10 per cent of the present component attributable to CO2. Overall, CO2 is a relatively minor contributor to the greenhouse effect, which is dominated by the varying water vapour and clouds of the atmosphere.
Increasing the CO2 concentration will have little additional effect.
Evaporation of water vapour will constrain the Earth's temperature and prevent a runaway greenhouse effect. Back radiation from the atmosphere because of greenhouse gases (water vapour, CO2 and so on), clouds and aerosols raises surface temperatures. But surface temperatures are also constrained by evaporation of water from plants, moist soil and the oceans. The tropical oceans generally do not exceed 30C and it is only over the arid inland that daytime temperatures exceed 40C. Any increase in back radiation because of increased CO2 will largely be offset by additional evaporation that will constrain the rise of surface temperature.
The oceans are the flywheels of the climate system. The warm tropical oceans are but a thin lens about 100m in thickness that overlay the cold abyss, extending to depths averaging about 5km. We are familiar with El Nino events, when changed upwelling modifies the entrainment of cold sub-surface water into the warm surface layer of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. As US climatologist Michael Glantz has noted, the changed surface temperature patterns modify the atmospheric circulation and spawn natural disasters such as floods, droughts and storms across the globe.
Global warming is constrained by the need to warm the ocean in advance. The polar ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are fundamentally stable. Ice cores recovered from there confirm that the ice sheets have survived previous interglacials and have likely existed for more than one million years. The surface elevation of the ice sheets is more than 3km above sea level across much of their extensive plateaus and temperatures remain below minus 10C during the brief summer. It is only at the lower elevations of the coastal margins that temperatures rise above freezing for a few months and the strong solar radiation causes ice-melt.
Collapse of the polar ice sheets and a sea level rise of several metres is an unlikely scenario.
There are predictions, based on computer models, that Australia's rainfall will decrease as CO2 concentrations rise. According to published Bureau of Meteorology data, Australia (except for the southwest corner) was wetter during the second half of the 20th century than during the first. Against the prediction, as CO2 concentrations increased, there was an increase in continent-wide rainfall. These trends are likely to be no more than coincidence in the cycles of climate variability.
The Earth's climate system is extremely complex and we have only limited knowledge of many of its aspects. International collaboration is slowly unravelling some of the secrets and providing the basis for preparation and adaptation to change.
Scientists' continuing inability to predict with confidence a season in advance should be cause for hesitation when projections of decades to centuries are made. Computer models are not reality and alarmist predictions have no sound basis.
The global warming sceptics
November 27, 2004
Climatologist William Kininmonth believes there are natural reasons for climate change.
Photo: Nicole Emanuel
Most scientists say that global warming is not only real, but is already contributing to extreme droughts, floods and the melting of the polar ice caps. But a few scientists still insist the idea is bunk. With the Kyoto Protocol about to come into force, Melissa Fyfe investigates the doubters, their financial backers and whether they are worth listening to.
At 401 Collins Street on Monday night, 50 men gathered in a room of plush green carpet, pottery and antique lights to launch a book about the science of climate change. Some of them were scientists. But many were engineers and retired captains of industry. Presiding was Hugh Morgan, president of the Business Council of Australia and former Western Mining boss. The master of ceremonies was retired Labor politician Peter Walsh.
Climate change is about science, but not just about science. It's about business and politics and wielding influence. The men - there was just one woman present - were all climate change sceptics, members of an organisation called the Lavoisier Group that argues global warming is nothing to worry about.
The book they launched - the latest weapon in the tussle for hearts and minds over global warming - was by Melbourne climate change sceptic William Kininmonth, former head of the National Climate Centre, part of the Bureau of Meteorology. He argues that global warming is natural and not caused by humans burning fossil fuels.
The book, Climate Change: A Natural Hazard, blasts the models used by climate scientists to predict and simulate what is happening. They are flawed, he says. "Climate change is naturally variable and it poses serious hazards for human kind," he writes. Focusing on man-made global warming is "self-delusion on a grand scale".
The only problem for the sceptics is that the vast majority of scientists think they are the ones that are deluded. "There's a better scientific consensus on this than on any issue I know - except maybe Newton's second law of dynamics", Dr James Baker, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, has said.
The Lavoisier Group challenges the orthodoxy and insists that that doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong. Named after a French scientist celebrated as a father of modern chemistry (and also famous for marrying a 13-year-old girl and meeting his end under the French Revolution's guillotine) the group was born in Australia in the 1990s specifically to question - some say undermine - greenhouse science and the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to cut global-warming emissions.
Secretary Ray Evans describes the 90-odd Lavoisier members as a "dad's army" of mostly retired engineers and scientists from the mining, manufacturing and construction industries. Many, he says, regard climate change as "a scam". It is unclear how much Hugh Morgan supports Lavoisier financially, but members pay an annual subscription of $50 and the annual budget is around $10,000. When they want to print a pamphlet to distribute at universities or take an advertisement in a newpaper - as they did in The Australian a few years ago - they appeal to members for money.
In Australia, the group is the obvious embodiment of the movement, but the idea has also been taken up by right-wing think tanks, such as the Institute of Public Affairs, and also feeds into a global network. It is a sophisticated machine that has successfully created the impression that climate change science is mired in uncertainty.
Scientists and environmentalists say the sceptics have been so good at spreading their message they have slowed action mitigating global warming. In Australia, the sceptics have been so persistent that the CSIRO, which employs some of the nation's leading climate scientists, has been forced to be far more proactive in defending climate change science .
Observers say sceptics have influenced attitudes of policy makers and politicians. A consultant and industry adviser on greenhouse gases who declined to be named, said: "I think the sceptics have had an impact. I think Australia's reluctance to ratify the Kyoto protocol has come down to the tactics of these groups that are supported by industry."
The nation's climate experts worry - mostly in private - that sceptics will delay action on climate change for another decade, using the same tools of hired guns and questionable scientific evidence as the tobacco industry wielded to deny cancer links in the 1970s and 1980s.
Recently, the sceptics have been on the back foot. Last week, the once-languishing Kyoto Protocol got its start date of February 16. This will set in train international mechanisms such as a global emissions market worth billions of dollars and financial incentives for renewable energy investment in developing countries.
Like the US, the Howard Government refuses to participate in Kyoto but says that by 2012 Australia will meet its targets anyhow.
It probably will, because recent decisions to end land clearing count as "credits" under Kyoto. The Howard Government backs the science that says most of the warming in the past 50 years was due to human-produced emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere that would normally radiate to space.
The 2504 scientists and reviewers who work under the banner of the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) look set to make even stronger pronouncements about the role of humans on climate in their next assessment, due in 2007. The scientific mainstream has become more confident about how global warming is affecting the world, particularly in the past 10 years. The panel's chairman, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, told The Age: "One can say scientifically it is human action that is driving the bulk of changes that are taking place today."
Meanwhile, the evidence of climate change keeps mounting. Last century's global warming of 0.6 degrees - 0.8 degrees in Australia - may sound small, but an extra 1.5 to two degrees will mean the loss of coral and other delicate ecosystems. It is the most rapid warming the planet has seen in 10,000 years. In that time, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere remained constant at around 280 parts per million. It is now nearly 380ppm, a level the earth has not experienced for at least 400,000 years.
This month, an eight-nation report found global warming was causing the polar ice-caps to melt at such an unprecedented rate significant portions could be gone by century's end. Land temperatures made last month the hottest October on record.
But still the sceptics resist. Some are convinced that humans can't render change on something as large as the atmosphere. Many, like the Lavoisier Group, are concerned about the cost of Kyoto to Australia's resource-intensive economy. Others, such as William Kininmonth, have found fame in sceptic circles in the twilight of their careers. Academics like the Australian National University's Ian Castles, a former Australian Statistian, have become hardened in their scepticism because the IPCC has reacted slowly to criticism.
Still others, such as geologists, are cranky because their study of climate change over millennia has been ignored, they argue. University of Melbourne geologist Ian Plimer says this period of climate change is just "one frame in a three-hour movie". Climate change, he says, is "a dogma, not a debate".
The Lavoisier Group distributes the work of geologist Bob Carter, Ian Castles, William Kininmonth, Ian Plimer and a few other Australian sceptics. The Institute of Public Affairs, which receives funding from companies such as ExxonMobil, the most sceptical of the world's fossil fuel giants, also engages in the debate, scouring the web and email groups for evidence that climate change is natural. Early next month, the IPA is bringing to Australia Andre Illarionov, the economic adviser to Russia's President Vladimir Putin, who lost the argument that his country should not sign Kyoto.
Recently, the doubters have been infuriated by NSW Premier Bob Carr's comments that in future, parts of the state will be like "living in an oven", and the Lavoisier Group is preparing a complaint to the ABC about its "appalling" and "sustained campaign" on climate change issues on Lateline and the 7.30 Report.
Australian sceptics are not as powerful as those in the US, where, for a long time, George Bush's Administration has also questioned the science.
Late last month, James Hansen, a director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, accused the Bush Administration of trying to stifle scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming. "I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it is now," he said.
In the past few years, with the exception of ExxonMobil, most fossil fuel companies in Australia are believed to have quietly accepted the climate science. But in their submissions to government, behind-the-scenes lobbying and through industry associations, many remain Kyoto-resistant and have argued recently against incentives for the renewable energy industry.
In the US, key sceptics have admitted to being on the fossil-fuel payroll, but Australians such as Ian Castles, Bob Carter and William Kininmonth say they are not paid for their views. However, earlier this year, before Russia had agreed to sign the Kyoto Protocol, Kininmonth accepted the International Policy Network's offer to fly him to a special climate science meeting in Moscow. The IPN is a right-wing think tank that has received funding from ExxonMobil and which networks with the IPA. But Kininmonth says he didn't know that. In an email to The Age, he said: "I was satisfied that it was a genuine invitation when the Russian ambassador telephoned me to co-ordinate obtaining a visa at such short notice."
Scepticism, of course, is a hallmark of science. Some global-warming critics are simply suspicious about the idea of consensus in the scientific community. As the Lavoisier Group's Ray Evans points out, the history of science is littered with hard-won battles of one man - such as Galileo - against a flat earth-like consensus. Evans also says he is a "Genesis 1:28 man". That's the passage that says: "God said to them 'Be fruitful and become many and fill the Earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the seas and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the Earth".
The global-warming doomsayers, says Evans, are anti-development. Moreover, they stem from an environmentalism that has taken the place of Christianity, particularly in Europe. "To put it in its bluntest terms, when you don't believe in God you don't believe in nothing. You believe in whatever is the fashion of the day, and environmentalism has scooped the pool."
In some cases, scepticism has been good for climate science. US scientist Richard Lindzen, regarded as an outstanding climatologist, has forced his colleagues to address issues such as the role of convection, cloud and water vapour. But most of the handful of scientists around the world that could be called sceptics - and they are mostly not climatologists - do not, as Lindzen does, publish in the recognised peer-reviewed literature, science's method of fact-checking and filtering out bad science.
"Sceptics in Australia function to promulgate these essentially dodgy kinds of studies. And I don't think that is is too strong language to say they are dodgy," says Dr James Risbey, a climatologist at Monash University's School of Mathematical Sciences.
Climate scientists are frustrated that the sceptics' arguments persist, even though they say they have addressed them. There are many uncertainties around climate science, but they are often not the ones peddled by sceptics, they say. Kevin Hennessy, senior research scientist at CSIRO's Atmospheric Research, said one of the main uncertainties was saying what proportion of human activity versus natural variability could be blamed in recent climate events and trends - such as the drought in south-eastern Australia, the Canberra bushfires or Europe's devastating heatwave last year. It is also uncertain how much emissions of carbon dioxide will grow in the future.
Predicting population growth, the growth of economies and technological breakthroughs that will help reduce emissions are all difficult.
Scientists say they are still unsure about some of the impacts of global warming. The effect on coral reefs is clear, but there's limited understanding about the impacts on fisheries, for example. "Likewise we have a good understanding of impacts on some crops, but a limited understanding of impacts on cities," Hennessy says.
Hugh Morgan, probably Australia's leading sceptic in business and the force behind the Lavoisier Group, remains dedicated to the cause. "We are interested in this debate because we see that John Citizen is going to be asked to do some dramatic things to change his way of life in respect of matters (the community) doesn't understand."
While William Kininmonth is respected by his former colleagues at the Bureau of Meteorology and they agree about the climate's natural variability, they disagree that recent warming is natural. In a review to be published in March in the Australian Meteorological Magazine, University of Melbourne associate professor of meteorology Kevin Walsh will argue that Kininmonth has failed to present the case for natural warming. "Some of his detailed arguments are a little bit curious," Dr Walsh told The Age. "Some of his statements actually contradict well-accepted work."
But strangely enough, the Lavoisier Group heard that message on Monday night. In what seemed like a coup, Hugh Morgan had secured the respected John Zillman, former head of the Bureau of Meteorology, to launch the book. Dr Zillman agreed, but made it clear that there were significant parts of the book that he disagreed with. Dr Zillman, who is known to be quite conservative about climate science, said he was concerned about appearing at a Lavoisier Group book launch, but did so in the interests of debate.
He says he is not aware of any sceptic argument that has invalidated the mainstream science, and is now convinced - although would not have been 10 years ago - that it is mostly humans changing the world's climate. "I won't be expecting to be invited back as a regular," he said.