An Interview with Ian Plimer by Robert Tracinski and Tom Minchin Aug 05, 2009
In our recent article on the "intellectual climate change" in the global warming debate in Australia, Tom Minchin and I mentioned the key role played by geologist Ian Plimer of the University of Adelaide.
Plimer's book Heaven and Earth, which is now available in America, is an authoritative scientific refutation of the claims of human-caused global warming, and it has helped turn the tide of public opinion down under against the environmentalist hysteria.
This is crucially important in Australia, a nation that derives 80% of its electricity from coal and would suffer an economic catastrophe under any version of "cap and trade" energy rationing.
It's also important for us here in America, because it shows that it is possible to counter the all-pervasive global warming propaganda campaign.The influence of Plimer's book is particularly interesting because it is not a light introduction to the topic. It is a thick book, chock full of science.
Plimer's prose is quite readable, but there's so much detail it can be a lot take in. Yet that is part of the point of the book. It is not so much a primer as a comprehensive reference, with chapters organized around answering all the questions an intelligent layman might have about the factors that influence climate, under the headings of "History" (of warmings and coolings), "The Sun," "Earth," "Ice," "Water," and "Air."
If the book is comprehensive in its scope, that is because everything science has discovered about "history, archaeology, geology, astronomy, ocean sciences, atmospheric sciences, and the life sciences"—Plimer's list—refutes the global warming dogma.
Tom and I recently corresponded with Professor Plimer and asked him a few questions about his book, about what the evidence really tells us about the climate, and about the political and cultural aspects of the global warming debate. His reply, like his book, is notable for a kind of cantankerous independence, a part of the Australian character that particularly resonates with the American sense of life. Our exchange is below.—
RWTTIA: The most striking thing about your book—and the reason it has caused such a stir—is that you are not a climate "skeptic." You don't have a few doubts or quibbles about human-caused global warming—you think it's all bunk. What makes you so certain that the global warming theories are wrong?
Plimer: The past is the key to the present. Previous rapid and large climate changes were not related to carbon dioxide.This has occurred on all scales of time. This century temperature has been decreasing, yet CO2 has been increasing. Over the last 150 years, temperature has increased (1860–1880, 1910–1940, 1976–1998) and decreased (1880–1910, 1940–1976, and 2002 to the present), yet CO2 has been increasing. If CO2 has been increasing, how can CO2-driven warming have driven cooling? Over historical times, there were the Minoan, Roman, and Medieval warmings, when temperature was a few degrees higher than at present. Sea level did not change. Over archaeological time, ice cores show that temperature peaks some 800 years before CO2 peaks, hence CO2 could not have driven temperature rise.In geological time, there have been six major ice ages. During five of these six, the CO2 content was higher than now, and for two of these six, the CO2 content has been up to 1,000 times higher than now. If high atmospheric CO2 drives warming, then how could there be an ice age during times of high CO2? Furthermore, two of these six ice ages were at sea level at the equator.Over the history of time, climate changes have been driven by galactic, solar, orbital, tidal, and tectonic processes, and there has been no climate change in the past driven by CO2. The [current] rate of sea level change, CO2 release, and temperature rise and fall are well within variability, hence modern times are little different from past times.
TIA: What do you think of the scientific literacy of those who refer to carbon as a pollutant? Can you summarize why it is not a pollutant?
Plimer: Carbon dioxide is plant food and the basis of life. If CO2 is less than 200 parts per million, then plant life struggles and dies. By contrast, pollution shortens your life and kills life.
TIA: We've noticed a few other geologists among the public opponents of global warming. Is there something about your field that makes you particularly disposed to reject the global warming claims?
Plimer: Geologists use integrated interdisciplinary science and look at planetary cycles over the history of time. Anything catastrophic that can happen has happened over the last 4,567 million years, and such events are preserved in the geological record. It is only if time is ignored that we can conclude that humans change climate by CO2 emissions.
TIA: The idea that global warming is caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide is always taken for granted as the default assumption, and if you don't agree with it, you have to explain yourself. Let's reverse that presumption and put the burden of proof where it belongs: is there, or has there ever been, any evidence that CO2 drives the climate? Is this a theory that should ever have gotten off the ground?
Plimer: The hypothesis that human emissions of CO2 [drive the climate] is invalid because on all past time scales, CO2 has never driven climate. There is a minor greenhouse contribution of CO2 (and a major contribution by water vapor), and the history of time shows us that CO2 changes follow climate change and do not drive it. Furthermore, over the history of time, CO2 has been sequestered from the atmosphere into sediments, sedimentary rocks, altered rocks, oceans, soil, and life to its current level of 385 parts per million; [the atmosphere] once contained about 30% CO2
TIA: Do we know what drives the climate?
Plimer: A combination of cycles—galactic, solar, orbital, and tidal—and random event, volcanoes, changing ocean floor shapes, changing planetary shape, opening/closing of seaways, etc.
TIA: Is climatology a mature science, one that is actually capable of identifying fundamental causes and making reliable predictions about the future?
Plimer: Climatology suffers from the same fads, fashions, dictators, and fraud that other fields of endeavor enjoy. In order to be funded well, climatology needs to be fashionable, and it is. The fundamental causes have been known for a long time, but predictions are only based on computer models that have very incomplete input. The IPCC models of 1990 and 1995 did not predict the 1998 El Nino nor the 21st century cooling. So how can we use these to predict climate a century in advance? Prediction in science is rather courageous, because there are always factors about which we have no knowledge.We can not use models when we do not understand the inputs. The models have been spectacularly wrong, yet they are still used with no humility.
TIA: Is there really a scientific "consensus" about global warming—and should we care?
Plimer: I doubt if there is a consensus, and consensus does not mean that global warming derives from human activity. Consensus is a word of politics. Science is married to evidence, which constantly changes, hence science is always at the boundary of what we know and what we don't know.
TIA: You write that all of the normal rules of science have been suspended when it comes to global warming. In what way?
Plimer: Because contrary evidence is blissfully ignored.
TIA: Global warming alarmists co-opted science to their cause very early. Why has it taken so long for authoritative refutation—such as Heaven and Earth—to surface? Why haven't more scientists spoken out with the same kind of certainty, and do you expect more of them to do so?
Plimer: Most scientists are dependent upon governments for research funding, most universities have a large proportion of funding for climate research, and to challenge the popular paradigm is to guarantee suicide. It is really only retired scientists or those few like me who are fearlessly independent who dare to question the popular paradigm, put up with the incessant ad hominem attacks, and who are prepared to represent those that fund them, i.e., taxpayers, not governments.Heaven and Earth was started in 2002. I have a huge full-time teaching-administrative-research load and I had some 10 meters of scientific papers. The book was released when I finished it, and it is quite coincidental that this was at an important time politically. I would love to take credit for perfect timing but I cannot.
TIA: You have argued that the proper approach of a scientist is to seek and respect the facts. What should be the proper approach of a politician to passing laws that depend on a scientific theory?
Plimer: To understand that all science is contentious, where there is one theory there is a competing theory, and that as a legislator one must look to keeping maximum gainful employment of the electorate.
TIA: Australia has a lot at stake if cap-and-trade legislation gets passed. What would the consequences be for the Australian economy? What is at stake for the rest of the world?
Plimer: Cap-and-trade legislation in the US will seriously add costs to the wealth-generating enterprises of agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and energy generation. By contrast, the more draconian legislation in Australia will send many productive enterprises broke. The end result is that efficient, low-polluting, low-cost enterprises will be shifted to either the Third World or to subsidized economies (i.e., Europe). In effect, the proposed legislation is a massive transfer of hard-earned wealth and employment from countries with a responsible ethical, corporate, and regulatory regime to unregulated jurisdictions.
TIA: Would you welcome an opportunity to address the partyrooms [i.e., meetings of lawmakers of one party for agenda discussions] of both political parties in Australia and the US? If so, what would you say?
Plimer: I would welcome the opportunity and would give exactly the same address to both sides of politics in whatever country I address those politicians, because science is unrelated to politics. The difficulty for politicians is that science is now politicized in the bureaucracy, universities, and research institutes and in many ways is forced to arrive at a predestined conclusion. We now live in a research environment where Einstein, Watson, Crick, etc., would never be funded, as curiosity no longer drives research.
TIA: You say that global warming has become a new religion for "urban atheists." What are the characteristics of religion that you see in the modern environmentalist movement?
Plimer: Environmentalism has many of the hallmarks of failed European socialism and Western (failed) Christianity. It has a holy book which few have read (IPCC reports), has prophets (Gore) who cannot be challenged, relies on dogma, ignores contrary evidence, has armies of wide-eyed missionaries who have no knowledge of the holy book or the structure of religion; imposes guilt, has a catastrophist view of the planet, and seeks indulgences.In modern urban environments where people have no connection with nature, they often search for a spiritual meaning to life and environmentalism gives this to them with little trouble—i.e., they do not have to study for decades, they need no knowledge, they can indulge in symbolism, can worship nature yet have no contact with nature.
TIA: What advice do you have for laymen who support your conclusion that there is no established connection between temperature and man-made carbon-dioxide? What can they do to help this fact penetrate the political debate?
Plimer: Continually pester your politicians, make radio/TV/newspaper comment, write letters to the editor and start a groundswell of opinion. This needs to start like a guerilla war in rural, smokestack, and mining areas and to be brought into the cities, where there are queues lining up to make a fortune on cap-and-trade activities. A tax on thin air is what we are begin asked to approve.
Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com. Tom Minchin is a writer, researcher, and businessman in Melbourne, Australia.