Climate: The Counter Consensus

by Gareth on April 29, 2011

ClimateThis review of Bob Carter’s latest book, by Dr James Renwick, Principal Scientist at NIWA’s Climate Variability & Change group, was first published in the March newsletter of the Geoscience Society of New Zealand. My thanks to Jim for permission to republish it here.

This book is a curious read, full of misinformation, straw-man arguments, and poorly-documented assertions. To become immersed in it, we must enter the through-the-looking-glass world of the “independent” scientist, where those such as myself are the ones “…who have dissembled, told half-truths, cherry-picked their data, fantastically exaggerated, and suppressed the circulation of better science” (Prefatory Essay, p. 19). Meanwhile, the ideas put forward by Prof. Carter are portrayed as representing a balanced appraisal of the issues. From where I sit, that’s the opposite of reality.

The basic premise of the book is that observed climate changes are a result of natural variability, with at most a very gentle nudge from human activity. Carter asserts that future global cooling is at least as likely as warming. And those whose work suggests that human-induced climate change is real and is a significant threat have either become politicised (p. 231), or have been pressured into submission (p. 181). To support his case, Carter lists many references, relying heavily on his own publications plus those of Soon, Loehle, McLean, McKitrick et al., and with extensive reference to the blogosphere –,,, etc.

Much of the criticism is directed at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body that every few years provides a synthesis of what’s published in the scientific literature on climate change. The IPCC report writing is done by volunteer teams of scientists, and every effort is made to be inclusive, broad-ranging, and authoritative. But in Carter’s book, the IPCC is portrayed as a slick PR machine designed to push a political line, resistance to which is professional suicide. Carter claims that major news organisations, science academies, the Archbishop of Canterbury and even Prince Charles (!) are involved in the relentless drive to squash opposition (p 162). Many authors are quoted out of context, in part to portray the idea that there’s a growing number of brave souls who are starting to see the light [1. For example the Introduction (p 30) cites Perlwitz et al. (2009), noting that they say “Doubts on the science of human-induced climate change have been cast by recent cooling.” We are not told that the Perlwitz paper also states “The implication is that the pace of North American warming is likely to resume in coming years, and that climate is unlikely embarking upon a prolonged cooling.”].

Climate science is seen as “consensus science” and so by definition is not science at all. The IPCC is again painted as the major villain. Actually, there’s an overwhelming weight of evidence in the literature that supports the reality of human-induced climate change. This could be described as a consensus, which could then be criticised for being a consensus, if scientific agreement is seen as a bad thing. Galileo is held up as proof that consensus is meaningless – one man turned the consensus of his time on its head. Since Galileo’s time, a general consensus has developed that he was right, because a mountain of observational evidence and theory has built up to back his findings. That adds weight to Galileo’s ideas, rather than detracting from them. There are the occasional Galileos (e.g. Milankovitch, Arrhenius), but most scientific advance is incremental, carried out by large teams who communicate widely, guided by the observational evidence to hand.

The book begins with an overview of the geological context, covering orbital forcing, Milankovitch cycles, abrupt events, and the Holocene. The existence of large natural variations in the past is used to argue that present-day variability is nothing unusual, and that there’s no evidence that human activity is having a significant effect today. The crucial point left out is that the major influence changing the climate today is the increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, a result of human activity. That is true regardless of climate history and the existence of other natural forcings. The tight coupling between carbon dioxide and global temperature is undisputed and is documented through the ice ages and beyond. The basic radiation physics has not changed.

Because we need that geological “long view”, the instrumental record is seen as woefully inadequate (Chapter 2). Moreover, because it is standard meteorological practice to define climate “normals” as 30-year averages, we are told there is only one new climate observation every 30 years, hence the complete instrumental record is only 5 points long!

Chapter 3 covers climate sensitivity and greenhouse gases. Here, CO2 is portrayed as a benign gas with a limited role in the radiation balance. The bulk of the literature on this subject is ignored, in favour of work by Ernst Beck[2. Check for a summary of the dubious nature of Beck’s “research”.] and Chris deFreitas. Climate sensitivity is portrayed as low, and uncertainty very high. I wish this were so, but the vast majority of research over recent decades (ignored here) says the opposite. Chapter 4 discusses the oceans. Again we are told that there’s no cause for concern, that sea level rise is all natural (and certainly not accelerating), and anyway, according to Carter the oceans are now cooling (p. 121). Ocean acidification (described as a deliberately “emotional” expression) is portrayed as a non-issue. Again, the reality of the situation, and the vast majority of the literature on this topic, is not discussed.

Climate models are roundly rubbished in Chapter 5, being described later as “playstation games.” Supporting evidence comes from Soon, McKitrick, Essex et al., again ignoring 99.9% of the scientific literature, and the long list of climate modelling achievements. There are many inconsistencies throughout this book, such as the statement on page 121 that models incorrectly project increasing ocean heat content, while observations show no warming for the last five years. After dismissing 150 years of instrumental observations in Chapter 2, we are given one sixth of one data point to imply (erroneously) that models are wrong.

Chapter 6 claims to show that evidence of (human-induced) climate change is either fraudulent, or exaggerated, or actually the result of natural variability. Amongst many other things, Carter claims that the Great Barrier Reef and its waters are in the same state they were in the 1700s – supported by reference to one of his own papers. That claim ignores well-documented declining water quality from runoff, loss of coastal wetlands, overfishing, invasive species, acidification…

If the author had a genuine case to make [...] he would be the toast of the science community everywhere [...] a modern-day Galileo.

Chapter 7 suggests that most of the climate science community has been corrupted by the vast sums of money on offer (certainly not my experience), or intimidated by science academies and others. We’re told that even the US National Academy of Sciences has been “infiltrated by environmental activist scientists” (p 167). Chapter 8 implies that “independent scientists” such as the author are deliberately shut out of public meetings on climate change. If the author had a genuine case to make, and could demonstrate that the threat of human-induced climate change is not real, he would certainly get entry to public forums. In fact, he would be the toast of the science community everywhere, having overturned thousands of person-years of research effort –- a modern-day Galileo.

Chapter 9 discusses the IPCC at some length. The strength of the IPCC reports is the breadth of research that is surveyed, literally tens of thousands of papers are referenced and woven into the biggest of big pictures on climate change. Carter’s contention that a small politically-motivated clique runs things is just not the case. As Carter notes, peer-review is not perfect, but I, and most in the science community, recognise that it’s a very good start. Yes, mistakes are made, but no document is error-free, and the number of identified errors is remarkably small for the 3000 pages of text and figures in the IPCC 4th Assessment Report. Similarly, a small number of scientists have expressed dissatisfaction with the IPCC process. Yet, the more notable thing to my mind is the huge number who have not expressed any disquiet and who are genuinely keen to contribute.

Chapters 10 and 11 discuss two things: that we should prepare for global cooling; and that adapting to regional natural variability and extremes (what Carter calls “Plan B”) makes more sense than worrying about climate change (Carter’s “Plan A”). The first point is risible, given that the globe continues to warm[3.], glaciers continue to melt[4.] and sea levels continue to rise[5.]. The second point fits closely with strategies already adopted by many central and local government agencies in New Zealand and around the world: Plan B is already under way. At the same time, we need more emphasis on Plan A (climate change mitigation), if we are to avoid really major changes in climate.

The final chapter covers “Climategate”. The book makes the illegal release of e-mails and other material from the University of East Anglia sound like the death knell for climate science. Again, that is just not so. All the official inquiries into the matter have since vindicated Phil Jones and the Climatic Research Unit, find no tampering with data, and no conspiracy to suppress anything or trick anyone. A huge amount of time and public money has been wasted looking in to crimes that were never committed.

In summary, I cannot recommend this book. Carter’s criticisms of the IPCC and the climate science community are just not true. The book’s scientific arguments are based upon a very selective reading of the literature and do not stand up to scrutiny.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Unifex April 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm

No doubt this will end up on the Borders top 10 non-fiction like Aircon and Ken Rings pseudoscience. :/

bill April 29, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Wow, John D, here’s yet another person saying the very same things about the idiocy of the notion of a Climate Change Industry.

Notice the persistent theme that these positions are the result of repeatedly selecting a minority – and ignoring the overwhelming majority – of research conclusions across a range of fields?

Please read in detail all the things that are said about the structure of the IPCC – then we may all stand back in amazement as this unwanted information instantly evaporates in John D’s Broiler of Belief, never to be comprehended again!

The blackly-funny ‘global cooling’ thing really is outrageously over-egging the pudding, as should be obvious to anyone who has ever looked at a global temperature chart! But it’ll be oh so satisfying for some…

No doubt, then, John and his peers will be dolloping out many a tasty morsel out of this tome. None so blind…

John D April 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Bill, your constant denialism of the existence of the climate change industry is quite bizarre.

I can go to London, photograph a sign that says “Grantham Institute for Climate Change”, show you a picture of their PR guy Bob Ward, who is a professional spin doctor whose job it is to appear in print media, TV and radio, to smear anyone who doesn’t agree with the “consensus”

Yet you continue to deny that this is an industry.

In my world, there are lobby groups of all persuasions. Some fossil fuel-funded, some by NGO/governments.

I don’t deny this, though I believe the money that goes to the green/NGO is somewhat larger than the amount from “big oil”. We can argue about that elsewhere.

However, your denial that the green lobby, well funded and often by governments, doesn’t exist, is hard to fathom.

Gareth April 29, 2011 at 4:04 pm

More fact-free assertions, JD. Please provide evidence, or your comments will not be approved. And I do not mean random links to sceptic bloggers.

John D April 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Not sure exactly what you want evidence of.

Here is Bob Ward’s wiki page:

Specifically, I am interested in this line:

In 2010 he expressed concern over reports that some Fellows of the Royal Society disagreed with the Society’s official policy on “Preventing dangerous climate change” as stated in December 2009. In a letter to The Times and in an Op-Ed in The Guardian he urged the Royal Society to clarify its stance on global warming

So Bob Ward, “communications director” was concerned that some members of the Royal Society were disagreeing with the “official view”.

Is this how science works these days?

Gareth April 29, 2011 at 6:09 pm

The point, JD, is that you are falsely comparing an academic institution funded by Grantham with lobbying and campaigning to derail action coordinated by US oil and fossil fuel interests.

Having said that, it would be very odd indeed if people who have examined the evidence and determined that we face a huge problem did not make efforts to ensure that society at large took steps to address it.

bill April 29, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I don’t deny this, though I believe the money that goes to the green/NGO is somewhat larger than the amount from “big oil”.

Oh, for God’s sake! From where? Christ, John, I hang around with the top tier of local The Wilderness Society, and they get really excited if they can afford a new colour laser copier! What conceivable source of this alleged massive lobbying income could there possibly be? Street donations? T-shirt sales?

As opposed to the income and budgets of the world’s largest corporations! Are you really this thick?

And who the hell is this Grantham Institute? And who cares? If that’s really the best you can do you’re just making a blatant fool of yourself on an international stage! Thanks, you keep on doing our work for us!

And, wow, this sinister institute has a PR guy! As opposed to, say, Exxon’s skyscrapers full of them, the CEI’s floors of them, or the ‘Community Engagement’ team at your local council? What effing planet are you living on, John? More than half of all journalism graduates now do this stuff…

This wouldn’t be some half-digested malcomprehension – your persistent pathological failure to understand merits the neologism – of this garbage, would it?

John D April 29, 2011 at 4:56 pm

And who the hell is this Grantham Institute? And who cares?

Bill, I am quite surprised that you do not know of the Grantham Institute

Here’s some info for you

Grantham was started by billionaire benefactor Jeremy Grantham.

Jeremy, together with Hannelore Grantham established the Grantham Foundation for the protection of the environment in 1997. Substantial commitments have been made to both Imperial College and London School of Economics, to establish the Grantham Institutes for Climate Change and the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, which will enable both institutions to build on their extensive expertise in climate change research

Seriously, have you not heard of this Bill?
Your continued mockery of me as some kind of fringe crank is starting to look decidedly shaky

bill April 29, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Gee, persuasive stuff – all of one case.

And somehow this mob are responsible for the overwhelming bulk of the climate change message, are they? Pouring funding into CSIRO, the BoM, NIWA, NoAA, NASA, the CRU – all organisations I have heard of and had assumed the actual science was coming out of, oddly enough? Now I find it’s just the product of this – woooo – ‘pro-environmental’ (like ‘Marxist,’ crank-crony code meaning ‘rational’ in conventional discourse) think tank, after all.

So much so that they’ve probably managed to out-spend the Koch brothers, Exxon, the CEI, Heartland, etc.! Now, that’s an achievement.

I confess, I played hookey whenever we did Unlikely Conspiracy Theories 101 at school… Would you care to buy this rather spectacular bridge in Sydney I just happen to find on my hands, John?

Is it conceivable that you – or anyone else – really believes this?

(No need to answer, this is a rhetorical question, for the benefit of any ‘skeptical’ readers who have not quite attained your fever pitch of ‘true belief’. I don’t think you really do, but you can hide behind the notion that you bloody-well might really believe it, and are entitled to – so there! What I came to think of as ‘implausible deniability’ after all those years under Howard…)

The fact is your otherwise feeble cause receives a ludicrously disproportionate level of attention precisely because so many genuinely rich, powerful and ruthless interests see themselves as having so much to lose. Your lot may not have the brains on your side but what you do have is tank-loads of money and little compunction in throwing it around.

And we’re all going to pay. Dearly.

Mike Palin April 29, 2011 at 10:34 pm

How’s the reading going?

Offer stands. What do you have to loose? I mean it’s not like I’m an agent of the Grantham Institute with a secret mission to abduct you in order to perform invasive mind-altering experiments or something.

bill May 1, 2011 at 11:19 am

Oooh, Mike, watch the cat vis-à-vis the bag – this double-bluff stuff may be a bit too subtle!…

John D May 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm

I have got the book in my Amazon basket. I don’t rush out and buy books on a whim, since I have a lot of reading to do, and tend to wait for 5 or 6 before I make the purchase. That’s one of the downsides of living in NZ – high book prices.

In the meantime, I have been lent a copy of “Hot Topic” to read.

bill May 2, 2011 at 1:31 pm

Hey John, here’s an interview with one of these Grantham Institute propaganda operatives for you to glower over!

Beaker May 3, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Hang on Bill, remember that John D successfully outed me as a Big Wind Shil. Paid by the nefarious wind industry to further its evil world domination plans by pointing out John D perpetuates wind NIMBY cobblers. Have just spent a week in the torture dungeon of my masters for being caught, and the family met with a fatal ‘accident’ – could add them to the Caithness wind accidents log that John D endorses.

_R2D2 April 29, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Im feeling a little bit ignored. My comments no longer get replies since the emergence of John D!

RW April 29, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Tough. Start a fight with him – if either of you leaves, that’s a win.

Richard C1 April 29, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I really miss the thumbs up button. :-)

Thomas April 29, 2011 at 10:33 pm
Carol Cowan April 30, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Likewise for the thumbs down button, Richard.

bill April 29, 2011 at 9:25 pm

As a veritable living caricature of the contrarian position he really is making your lot look rather silly, don’t you think?

As RW says, why not call him out on it? I notice that despite your remarkable ‘tonal’ sensitivities directed at Warmists you’ve never managed to be offended by even Joe Fone’s egregious and abusive ramblings.

Or back him up, and come right out in the open…

R2D2 April 30, 2011 at 12:08 am

Haha I don’t really pay enough attention to the comments and there are already lots of replys usually. But OK, I will make an effort.

Carol Cowan April 30, 2011 at 8:39 pm

As one of our kiwi ads says, No surprises there.

Richard Christie May 1, 2011 at 9:26 am

The Counter Consensus

? surely there is an oxymoron in the title?

rogerromneyhughes May 1, 2011 at 10:53 am

The same issue of the Newsletter contained an entertaining exposition by former NZ Geological Survey director David Kear on how carbon dioxide has exactly the same physical properties as glass. We reproduce some of it here.

Thomas May 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Wow! Thanks Roger! What wonderful site! Love it! :-)
To those who have not ventured there, its definitely worth a read. Lots of great stuff. Well done!

CTG May 2, 2011 at 7:14 am

More evidence of how the “counter-consensus” works here.

Pat Michaels and his hench-ferret Chip Knappenberger produce a paper claiming that Greenland melting has stopped. However, their paper left out the data from 2010, which if included would invalidate their conclusions. During peer review, this is pointed out, and the reviewer makes a strong recommendation that the paper should not be published without this data.

And yet, despite the fact that we are constantly told that the skeptic’s viewpoint is constantly being censored, this deplorable and fatally flawed paper gets published anyway.


Byron Smith May 12, 2011 at 4:59 am

Thanks for wading through the swamps to save the rest of us (some of) the trouble.

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