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The Wong-Fielding meeting on global warming

Finally, the question we’ve all wanted to ask of the people in power: Where’s the evidence?

Senator Fielding holds a crucial vote on the proposed Emissions Trading Legislation.  Fielding and four independent scientists faced the Minister for the Climate Change and Water, Penny Wong, The Chief Scientist, Penny Sackett, and Professor Will Steffen, director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University. Read what happened from someone who was there.  Joanne Nova

Guest Post by Dr David Evans
17 June 2009

The Australian Parliament
Australia’s Parliament House


Australian Senator Steve Fielding met with the Australian Minister of Climate Change, Senator Penny Wong, on 15 June 2009. Senator Fielding was seeking evidence that human emissions of carbon dioxide were the main cause of global warming; Senator Wong presumably wanted Senator Fielding’s vote for the upcoming Emission Trading Scheme legislation.

I was at that meeting, one of four independent scientists invited by Senator Fielding. Many people have asked me what happened, so I am replying to everyone at once like this. These are my impressions of the meeting, with special attention to the way the meeting was conducted and to the arguments used by the alarmists. This account is not primarily a science discussion; nor is it a record of who said what. I took some notes during the meeting, but otherwise it is written from memory over the next three days.

Meetings between official alarmist and skeptical scientists are so rare they are newsworthy in their own right (see, there was no debate). The aim here is to inform the public about what sort of things happen at an event like this. While it is not the aim of this account to persuade anyone of a point of view on the causes of global warming, obviously it will be told from my skeptical viewpoint.


Steve Fielding before the meeting

Senator Fielding in his office before the meeting.

It is skeptics calling for a debate.

Alarmists avoid debate (especially Al Gore and Stephen Schneider). At the Bali 2007 Conference we challenged Greenpeace to debate but they didn’t even reply, and in 2008 Greenpeace announced an official policy of not debating the causes or merits of climate change. If Greenpeace is so right and moral, what are they afraid of?

When Senator Fielding called last week asking me to come to Canberra to attend this meeting, I figured it was the best offer I was ever likely to get, and accepted.

By the way, Senator Fielding held a five-minute press conference just before the meeting. The camera was trained on the Senator, but you should have seen the looks of contempt and certainty on some (but not all) of the reporters who were asking questions. It was clear what the views of those reporters were. If they are not professional enough to hide their personal views on the job, how accurate are their reports?

The Participants

The Climate Change Minister Penny Wong brought with her the Chief Scientist Professor Penny Sackett, science adviser Professor Will Steffen, three senior members of the Department, and her assistant, making seven on their side.

Senator Fielding is not a skeptic, but was asking questions about whether carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming. The four independent scientists he invited to back him up are all skeptics: presumably he was afraid of being snowed by the Department, which in any case could be relied upon to present the alarmist viewpoint. Senator Fielding prepared a description of the four independent scientists, reproduced here. And a staffer from Senator Fielding’s office also came, making six on our side.

And I use the word “side” literally. We entered the room first and sat on one side of a long table, then they filed in from a different entrance and sat on the other side of the table. Senator Wong came around to our side before we sat down, exchanged pleasantries with Senator Fielding and introduced herself to us, but otherwise we stayed on our respective sides.

William Kininmonth, Bob Carter, Steve Franks

Independent scientists before the meeting: Stewart Franks, William Kininmonth, and Bob Carter (I am taking the photo).

Senator Wong, Professor Sackett, and Professor Steffen did all the talking for their side. Professor Sackett is an astronomer and not an expert in climate science; she is the Chief Scientist and cannot be expected to be an expert on everything. Professor Steffen did most of their science talking.

On our side, Fielding asked questions and the four independent scientists asked questions and made points.

We four independent scientists paid our own way to get there, and no one was paying us wages (except that Stewart is presumably paid by his university). Everyone else at the meeting was being paid by the Australian taxpayer.

Funny how skeptics are portrayed in the press as being in the pay of someone. We were the only unpaid people in the room. In fact most skeptic scientists are retired or from different fields, free from the corrupting influence of climate science funding. Many alarmist scientists and bureaucrats would lose their jobs or funding if the belief that carbon emissions were causing global warming died, yet we—not they—are accused of vested interests. Very odd.

The Lecture

The meeting started at 4pm, and from then until 4:36 we were treated to a lecture.

We were given an eleven page handout, and talked to without a chance to ask any questions. The handout and lecture were of excellent quality: the handout was clear and nicely printed, and the verbal delivery was clear, brisk but not too fast—the lecture was intended to be understood. The speakers talked to the handout. The handout contained the standard IPCC arguments and graphics, most of which we independent scientists have all seen before.

First the Chief Scientist spoke on how fluctuations in solar irradiance (the amount of light and heat coming from the sun) hadn’t changed enough to account for more than a small fraction of the recent global warming. We agree, but could not speak so the lecture rolled on for five pages. This is the standard alarmist misdirection about the sun—the sun’s magnetic field and its role in shielding us from cloud-forming cosmic rays is never mentioned. The implication is that the sun can only effect us through irradiance, the irradiance changes are small, so the sun does not play a role in global warming. Presumably the Chief Scientist was responding to a recent remark made by Senator Fielding in New York that perhaps the sun played a role, without realizing that he was referring to its magnetic effects. This part of the lecture was irrelevant, but it was a nice lecture on stuff everyone knew, and it was good to start with a topic in which everyone was in agreement. Running down the clock though.

Next, Professor Will Steffen spoke about rising human emissions of greenhouse gases, the rising trend in air temperature, how the climate models require the warming effects of the rising levels of those greenhouse gases to successfully hindcast the last century’s air temperatures, the heat build-up in the oceans to 2003 and continuing ever upwards through 2007, and sea level rises. Again, standard alarmist stuff. The only new feature was the extra emphasis on the heat build-up in the oceans and the claim that it was continuing unabated through to 2007, and the reduced emphasis on air temperatures (which have been falling slightly for the last seven years). The basic theme was they had thought of everything, it all fitted together, and there was nothing significant that could possibly have been left out. And that human emissions of CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide were the cause of global warming, which showed no signs of abating.

All intimidating stuff—if you didn’t know what they omitted, where their models are exaggerating wildly, and that the ocean temperatures have only been measured accurately since 2003 and that they show a slight cooling trend.

It felt like we were ignorant wayward children, now being set straight on the way things really are. Here were the authority figures telling us we were wrong, wrong, wrong. Just shut up and listen. Presumably that was how we were meant to feel. Just for a moment it was tempting to be cowed, take our medicine, and slink out of there without a peep. And if the lecture wasn’t so irrelevant and wrong, it might have worked!

The Questions

Senator Fielding had prepared three questions, reproduced here. They are good sensible questions for a legislator wondering if the pain of carbon emission rationing is worth it. I think it amazing that more legislators have not asked: it is a matter of basic due diligence.

Senator Fielding is in a unique position due to his swing vote in the Senate, but in my opinion he joins Dr Dennis Jensen as one of the two heroes of the Australian Parliament for having the bravery to ask the obvious. And perhaps it is no coincidence: I am pretty sure those two are the only Australian parliamentarians with professional training in the hard physical sciences. Senator Fielding is an engineer; Dr Jensen is a PhD-level physicist.

The ostensible purpose of the meeting was for the Department to address those questions. The rest of the meeting loosely followed the agenda formed by the questions, but it was fairly free flowing and relaxed for much of the time.

The Discussion

I wish someone had been counting interruptions: I am certain that we were interrupted many, many more times than we interrupted. Often you could do more than acknowledge the last point when they interrupted you just as you started to make your own point. For much of the meeting we could hardly get a word in edgeways. Some terrible nonsense got by unchallenged.

All the speakers on the alarmist side frequently rephrased our questions. Often the rephrasing changed the meaning, and often it set up a straw man. It was as if they had to map the question to the nearest Grist talking point. I’m not sure how much of the rephrasing was a way of answering a question they would prefer to answer, and how much was because they genuinely did not understand what point we were making, but there was certainly at least some of both types.

It’s as if they had never before encountered real live competent skeptics or their arguments. Actually, there is a technical reason for this: they probably hadn’t. Only alarmists work in alarmist organizations; they only hire like-minded people. Skeptics who know what they are talking about are booted off alarmist websites (the good arguments are nearly all on the skeptic websites). Like the mainstream media, alarmists suppress and avoid skeptic thought at all cost. This has left alarmists generally very ill informed about either the skeptic arguments or the caliber and numbers of skeptics. It is easy for alarmists never to encounter competent skeptics, and to believe their own political line that the skeptics are just a few misinformed cranks in the pay of big oil.

We pointed out that they hadn’t actually presented any evidence that carbon was the main cause of global warming. No response. Clearly they thought they had, but all they presented was evidence that warming occurred and some models results. Models are theory, not evidence. So: warming, but no evidence that carbon done it. The attempt to frame carbon is a classic stitch up, based mainly on the IPCC’s refusal to consider other suspects.

We pointed out that the models were wrong because they predict a hotspot and there was no hotspot. The amount of warming is equal to the “no-feedback warming” (due to the forcings, which we agreed they had about right for CO2) multiplied by the “feedback factor”. The models assume that the feedback is predominately due to water vapor, and that the feedback factor is about 2.5 – 3. The weakest spot in the IPCC calculations is the effect of feedbacks. This is where they get it seriously wrong, resorting to hand waving and assumptions instead of empirically-validated physics. Naturally they instead draw your attention to the forcing calculations, which are solid.

We showed them the diagram of the model predictions versus the radiosonde observations in my No Evidence paper (page 7). (Warning: horn tooting. That document explains why, despite media impressions, there is no actual evidence that rising carbon dioxide levels are the main cause of global warming. I recommend at least the introduction.) But if there is no hotspot then there is no water vapor feedback, in which case the feedback factor must be less than 1.2, and so the climate models exaggerate predicted temperature rises by at least a factor of two. All IPCC models and calculations of temperature rises rely on a large feedback factor, but the missing hotspot is empirical evidence that it is in fact small.

I thought it appeared from their faces they this was news to them, or at least an unusual argument. Their response was interesting: they replied simply that they had not used models in their arguments at the meeting. There was a moment’s awkward silence, then they moved on. You see, the lecture handout had concluded with the statement “the mid-range amount predicted from the human-driven change in radiative forcing at equilibrium is 1.3 C”, which is a model result. And the lecture had included climate model hindcasts of the last century’s air temperatures with and without the CO2 forcings, and this had been presented to us as evidence. And they relied on model forecasts plenty in the discussion that followed. So if the models are wrong, their conclusions are wrong too.

So why are they not defending the models? Or did they just not want to answer that particular question, and we were bamboozled out of pursuing it? (If so, did the Senators notice the glaring problem?) Perhaps they were being tricky—you can basically do any temperature prediction by the models with a short calculation based on a system diagram with feedbacks. Takes two minutes with a calculator, you don’t actually need to run the models. Perhaps they meant that the quoted results were “calculated by hand”, not “using models”? Surely not? Anyway, we didn’t explore that topic further. I thought it brazen, but crying “rubbish” would have seemed out of keeping with the tone of the meeting.

The other tactic of note was their reliance on ocean temperatures and the deemphasizing of air temperatures. They based the whole empirical part of their case on their claim that ocean temperatures are rising. However this is not a credible claim. We did not dispute it much, because it is a matter of measurement and data and it didn’t seem to me that this meeting should be exploring those narrow technical issues. At one stage William Kininmonth, 45 years a climatologist and head of Australia’s National Climate Centre for 12 years, explained the physics of how this was not credible, but they didn’t seem to notice.

Ocean temperatures have only been measured in any detail or to any depth for five years, by the Argo buoys. And as that article says, “Josh Willis of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has reported that the Argo system has shown no ocean warming since it started in 2003. “There has been a very slight cooling, but not anything really significant””. The Argo buoys have been recalibrated, and for a while they showed a slight warming trend. The latest result seems to be slight cooling: see the graphs on this Argo site.

The ocean temperature data is sufficient to prove that the IPCC are wrong about the climate (the rise would have to be over a certain amount to confirm the IPCC case). We did not bring this up at the meeting, though we had discussed the Argo ocean temperatures just before the meeting. There is a larger problem: alarmists have all the authority positions in climate science and own (manage) all the datasets. Datasets that contradict the IPCC climate theory have a habit of being recalibrated or otherwise adjusted for technical reasons, and the changes to the datasets always make them more supportive of the IPCC theory. It has happened several times now—but by chance alone you would expect technical adjustments to make the data less supportive of any given position about half the time.

The only other unusual issue was the discussion about Figure 3A in Senator Fielding’s questions. This graph, by Syun Akasofu, shows all the observed global air temperatures, which go back to about 1880. It shows a rising temperature trend as the Earth comes out of the little ice age of the 1600s and 1700s, with alternating warming and cooling periods of about 30 years around the trend. It is discussed here. Human emissions of CO2 were only significant after 1940 (Figures 2 and 3), but the temperature rise had been rising fairly steadily since 1750 or at least 1880—which seemed to interest Senator Wong.

They asked how the straight trend line was drawn; we replied it had been done with a ruler, and that this was simply empirical evidence. The Department’s science adviser replied that they had much more sophisticated methods of drawing trend lines. We were all so impressed!

The meeting finished at 5:26. For political meetings such as this, a meeting of an hour and a half is considered long. I am thankful they gave us a hearing at all, though in the larger scheme of things they should of course be talking to us regularly. (Remember, a trial without a defense is a sham, business without competition is a monopoly, science without debate is propaganda, and government without an opposition is usually a disaster. Who is paid to audit the IPCC? No one, it’s just a few unpaid bloggers.)

Senators Wong and Fielding stayed behind for a few minutes of discussion, but the rest of us left. The alarmists strode out their own exit without any eye contact, handshakes, or any other contact with us. Seemed a bit rude, but perhaps that is how it is done in bureaucracy. So we wandered off back to Senator Fielding’s office.

The Answers

As I recall, these were the answers. The Department is providing written answers soon; they will be interesting to compare.

Question 1. They didn’t answer directly, but the answer seemed to be that air temperatures are to be disregarded and ocean temperatures to be used instead, because so much more heat is stored in the oceans. This seemed a bit like moving the goal posts now that air temperatures are dropping, because we don’t recall the previous predictions of warming being for ocean temperatures only.

They also said in the lecture: “Thus, the air temperature is changing in proportion to carbon emissions”. Plainly it hasn’t over the last ten years, as the graphs attached to Senator Fielding’s question show. However they stressed that this statement applies “at equilibrium”, which means that although it hasn’t fully heated yet they think it will, it is just delayed by the lags in the positive feedbacks (there’s that non-existent water vapor feedback again). Which begs the question of where the heating is hiding at the moment, to which they reply that it is in the warming oceans. But the Argos buoys show that ocean warming is at best slight and is certainly not occurring as fast as the IPCC predicts. They also say that “time periods of 50 years or longer are required to discern long term trends in climate with confidence”, so I suppose we have to wait another 40 years to convince them. On the other hand, the Akasofu graph (Figure 3) shows the warming trends were in place well for at least 60 years before human emissions of CO2 became significant (in 1940).

Question 2. Again, they didn’t answer directly. They felt the ice age warmings depicted in Figure 2b, which are far faster and larger than warming in the last two centuries, weren’t relevant. They felt that recent changes were “dramatic”. They did not comment on the Akasofu graph, which shows the latest warming period to be just another 30 year oscillation in a steady warming trend that has been going for at least 130 years, and that we seem to be tracking into another typical cooling period.

Question 3. Again, we didn’t get a “yes” or a “no” to a question that invited it. I don’t recall we got an answer to this, except perhaps that:


Near the end of the meeting Senator Fielding presented Senator Wong and the Chief Scientist with the hefty hard copy of the NIPCC, which is a compendium of the relevant climate science that “demonstrates overwhelming scientific support for the position that the warming of the twentieth century was moderate and not unprecedented, that its impact on human health and wildlife was positive, and that carbon dioxide probably is not the driving factor behind climate change.”

It is similar in length and complexity to the IPCC Assessment Report 4, but unlike the IPCC report it is easy to read—presumably because it is intended to be understood rather than to intimidate. Presumably Senator Wong and the Chief Scientist cannot now say they weren’t informed of the scientific evidence that carbon dioxide emissions are not the cause of global warming.

The Follow Up

Senator Fielding asked me for a one page overview about the Global and Continental Temperature Change graphic of model hindcasts. Senator Wong had found it important and referred to it as “evidence”. Finding I could only get one word in edgeways, the word I chose was “worthless”. Perhaps a little colorful, but it was accurate. Here is why.

Senator Fielding asked me for a one page overview of the four air temperature datasets, which is here.

Bob Carter wrote an article that has appeared in The Australian newspaper.

See the end of this article for updates.

Closing Observations

It felt more like a political meeting than a science meeting, because there was a lot of posturing, spin, trying to counter the fog of spin and misinformation, and only a little truth-finding. 90% politics, but a bit of science sneaked in.

My overwhelming impressions were of authority and arrogance. I felt they tried to intimidate us into acquiescence—perhaps that is just standard politics and I am not accustomed to it. The arrogant attitude was very strong. Lots of spin, some brazen statements, talking down to us and lecturing, and authoritative statements that they knew it all. They ignored the contrary evidence we presented, and never acknowledged any point, no matter how small, unless we demanded it. Their chief tactic was to appear confident and knowledgeable (in some cases using jargon fairly meaninglessly), and to talk past us. They never answered our specific questions in the terms they were asked, as if denying that the questions were even worthy of discussion. The lords were lecturing us ignorant peasants. And all this from a science team that was describing, literally, a different planet!

Senator Wong was professional, engaged, and pleasant throughout. She ran the meeting well, was personable and relaxed, and appeared to be paying close attention. She expressed no opinions on the science, only on the interaction of the science with policy. She stressed at once stage that current policy was what her party had won the last election with. Clearly she was focused on choosing the right policies. It appeared to me that late in the meeting she seemed to realize that we were credible and were presenting some information that, although contrary to her previous advice, was potentially interesting. I am left wondering whether she noticed the contradictions and weakness of the science case her side presented. She impressed as an intelligent lawyer doing her job properly.

Professor Sackett presented a good briefing on the sun’s irradiance, as noted above. The only jarring note was when, in response to our point that the sun could also influence the earth’s climate through its magnetic field, she expressed the opinion that the astronomy and physics of the situation was all well understood and that they would have noticed by now if there was any such effect. Bearing in mind that the Chief Scientist is not an expert on climate issues, I thought she did her job well.

Senator Fielding stuck to his guns and asked reasonable questions throughout. He wanted his questions answered, and politely persisted. I guess he is used to the pressure and political games. Clearly a very competent and determined person.

For the last two decades the alarmist scientists have been safe in the knowledge that the valid criticisms of their theories and models are just a little bit more complex than the politicians and most of the public are willing to hear. On the other hand, the alarmists have lots of time and media space to get across the complexities of their message. But finally, after the usual warming cycle apparently ran its course by 2002, the public and politicians are noticing that temperatures are not rising as the alarmists said they would—and the public and politicians understand temperatures (and job losses and increased power bills)!

It seems to me that politicians and bureaucrats might be able to effect an elegant dismount from the IPCC’s climate theory as it becomes more and more obvious that it is false. Maybe that positioning will become evident in the next year or two. But some scientists will shrilly defend the CO2 theory of unstoppable global warming, and their jobs, to the bitter end—because they are unlikely to ever find better jobs. (Check out this 20 page list of recipients of Australian Research Council research grants, including $1.9m for David Karoly and almost $2.5m for Matthew England).


Tuesday 24 June: Senator Fielding announced his position: “Family First senator Steve Fielding has made up his mind on global warming – there’s not enough evidence that it’s real.” And “there’s not enough evidence that it’s real”.

Senator Fielding on ABC News

Minister Wong posted answers to Senator Fielding’s three questions here.

Senator Fielding released his Assessment of Penny Wong’s Response to My 3 Questions on Climate Change.

Friday July 3: The 50-page due diligence report on Minister Wong’s answers by us four independent scientists is finally released by Senator Fielding.

Final: The full set of official and unofficial documents arising from the meeting are all listed and linked to here.

UPDATE: Wong’s answer is here.  The Debate continues with Prof Matthew Englands “Funded Arrogance”. And here with the new bluff on Ocean Temperatures.

Updated image links Nov 2014

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