Is Maurice Newman a nutter or a genius?

Maurice Newman, former head of the Australian Stock Exchange and investment banking executive and the Prime Minister’s adviser on the needs of the business community, has written an opinion piece claiming that we are at serious risk of calamitous climate change.

Given Newman has described the widespread concern with human-induced climate change as a religious belief rather than based on sound science, this might come as a bit of a surprise.

However, Newman believes the risk is not climate change that leads to warming of the planet but rather abrupt cooling. According to Newman there is a scientific and media cover-up at work that is suppressing acknowledgement that work involving the world’s most powerful atomic particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, has validated the hypothesis that, “the sun alters the climate by influencing cosmic ray influx and cloud formation” which overwhelms any influence from greenhouse gases.

Newman suggests that the warm temperatures the Earth has been experiencing in the last few decades are due to unusually active solar activity and this is likely to come to abrupt end, plunging the planet into dangerous cooling. Newman notes:

If the world does indeed move into a cooling period, its citizens are ill-prepared. …It is interesting to contemplate how the West would handle the geopolitical and humanitarian challenges brought on by a colder climate’s shorter growing seasons and likely food shortages. Abundance is conducive to peace. However, a scenario where nations are desperately competing for available energy and food will bring unpredictable threats, far more testing than anything we have seen in recent history.

Newman suggests that it is critical the public accept the need to curtail government programs in areas such as social services and the environment because we need to funnel more money into the military to be ready for this increased probability of conflict.

For me, this brought to mind an email I recently received from a friend of mine asking for advice to deal with his father-in-law.

He explained that his father-in-law, a medical doctor, was starting to become especially strident in his advocacy that global warming was not occurring. This had got to the point where the other night as he was about to drive home from a family dinner, his father-in-law thrust a print-out into his window of an article from the website wattsupwiththat.com. This article proclaimed that we were now into our 15th year without any warming and, therefore, global warming was a crock.

My advice to him was as follows:

Mate,

Here is a link to a 'question and answer' document on climate change prepared jointly by the US Academy of Science and the UK’s Royal Society – the chief representative bodies for the scientific community in these two countries. You’ll find question 9 and question 10 go directly to your father-in-law's claim the global warming has halted and in fact the world is cooling. Also, I wrote a more pointed response to this claim in the article, Another scientific dagger to the deniers.

The scientific community is well aware of the information your father-in-law has found on wattsupwiththat.com and is not in any way trying to cover it up or ignore it. It’s just the science surrounding global warming is rather more complicated than just extra CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) automatically and immediately equals higher surface temperatures. This is because there are a range of other variables at play which lead to substantial variation or noise. In particular you need to appreciate that oceans have the capacity to absorb extra heat from the atmosphere and then after considerable lags later release it back into the atmosphere. Other factors include things like volcanic eruptions, smog and variation in solar output. All of these factors influencing global temperature are studied in great detail by the scientific community, they are not ignored or covered up. This is quite transparent if you take the time to read through scientific peer-reviewed journals that examine atmospheric science and history of past climate via geology.  

Now I’m sure your father in law being a medical doctor is very intelligent, but I suspect he hasn’t had the time nor the training to thoroughly familiarise himself with the thousands of articles in scientific literature.

In the end your father-in-law has to ask himself a tough question – does he trust wattsupwiththat.com as more likely to have got it right and more likely to represent an accurate reflection of this large body of scientific literature over:

– the National Academies of Science across the nations of the US, UK, Germany, Australia, Italy, Canada, France and others;

 – the World Meteorological Organisation, NASA and the government meteorology bodies across UK, Australia, the United States and many other countries across the developed world.

These bodies all concur that humans, thorough burning fossil fuels, are causing a rise in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is of such a level that it will lead to significant and rapid warming of the planet when compared to geological history going back many millions of years.

Now it may be possible that these all these bodies, and the hundreds of scientists involved in them, are engaged in a mass cover-up to misconstrue and hide data to play up the threat of global warming in order to access more government funding for their research.

But if your-father-in-law makes this argument, can I suggest you ask him the following:

Could it be perhaps more plausible that you – who’s day job is a physician [or banker, in the case of Newman] – might just have some gaps in your knowledge and understanding of atmospheric science that mean all of these expert scientific bodies are right and you are wrong?