Michael Duffy: If you needed any evidence that the Australian
publishing industry is either incredibly wise or resolutely
left-wing consider this.
As far as we've been able to establish,
until now there has not been one Australian book to question the
orthodoxy on climate change.
Well, such a book has now appeared,
it's called Heaven and Earth and we're joined by its author.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: Ian Plimer is a geologist and a professor at
the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of
Ian, welcome back to the program.
Ian Plimer: Thank you very much, Paul.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: Let's start with the basic one, with
temperature. Do you accept that the world on average is warming?
Ian Plimer: Yes and no, it depends upon when you ask the question.
Sometimes it warms, sometimes it cools.
If you'd asked me that
question in the '70s I would have said it's cooling.
If you'd asked
me that in the '80s I would have said it's warming.
If you'd ask me
that now, I'd say it's cooling.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: The key word here, it's a word that appears a
lot in your book, is 'dynamic'.
Ian Plimer: 'Dynamic'. And the other word is that absolutely
glorious four-letter word 'time', and if you ignore history and if
you ignore time you come up with the hysteria that we're currently
Michael Duffy: Ian, there has been some warming, hasn't
there... until about ten years ago there was warming for, say, 20
years or so. But anyway, tell us about what it is that does affect
climate, whether it's going up or down.
What's the main thing that
determines what happens?
Ian Plimer: Ever since that Thursday 4,567 million years ago when
the Earth formed, climates have been changing...
Sea levels have been
going up and down. And those climates changed due to where we are in
the galaxy, and there's a galactic cycle, there are
every 1,500 years, 210 years, 87 years, 22 years and 11 years.
are tidal cycles every 18.5 years, and there are extraordinary
events like El Niño, volcanic eruptions, earthquake swarms,
impacts, all of those change climate.
Michael Duffy: Tell us about the role of the Sun.
Ian Plimer: The Sun is this marvelous body of heat somewhere up
there in the sky, and for some odd reason we have ignored the role
of the Sun pumps out... it's the Sun that does it, and the Sun pumps
out huge amounts of heat. It varies, and it varies very slightly.
Those slight variations can give us great variations in temperature
on the Earth, and we've only got to have a change of about 1.5 watts
of energy coming out of the Sun, and that's not very much, and we
can see climates change.
What helps that are coincidences of events.
So sometimes we're a bit further away from the Sun. That we get from
the Earth's orbit, and these are on 100,000-year, 42,000-year and
The Sun also varies in the amount of energy it
pumps out, and the Sun's energy also blasts away cosmic radiation. Put all those cycles together and you get two or three coincidental
events and suddenly you get a
It's very rapid and
very great and far greater than anything else we've been able to
measure in modern times.
Michael Duffy: So is there a correlation between some sort of solar
activity and the Earth's climate?
Ian Plimer: There's a
very tight correlation between solar activity
and climate. That correlation is in cycle.
The main cycles which we
correlated are 22-year cycles and we've got a measuring station in
the Nile River that gives us the correlation of cycles over the last
We see in ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica there
are cycles, and mainly the 210-year cycle and the 1,500-year cycle
we see in the ice caps. So we see these massive changes in ice caps,
in sea floor sediment, in river flow, and they fit in with the solar
That's a correlation.
Correlations don't mean very much...
What we need is a causation, and the causation has recently been
found, and we've really known about this for a long time because
there are cloud chambers where radioactive particles or cosmic rays
go through and you create clouds.
We've done that experimentally,
we've observed it, we've measured it, and when cosmic radiation hits
the atmosphere we form clouds.
Low level clouds form by many methods
but this is one of them and it bounces light and heat back into
We've only got to change the cloudiness by about 1% and you
can account for all of the measured climate change over the last 100
Michael Duffy: I don't think there's any doubt that humans are
putting more carbon dioxide into the air.
Do you think that's had
any influence at all on climate?
Ian Plimer: The role of carbon dioxide is not well promoted.
extremely well known, and that is that the first 50 parts per
million of carbon dioxide has a profound effect, and that absorbs a
lot of the infrared radiation.
Once we're above 50 parts per
million, in effect carbon dioxide has done its job, and you can keep
increasing carbon dioxide and that has very little change on
We have very good evidence from the past on that
because we've had periods of time when the carbon dioxide has been
30%, 10%, 5% compared with now 0.0385%, and we haven't had a runaway
greenhouse, we haven't had acid oceans.
Yes, it's been slightly
warmer but for 80% of the time the planet's been much warmer than
now and much wetter then now and has had no ice.
is a very small player, only for the first amount in the atmosphere...
After that, the main greenhouse gas is water vapor.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: Let's talk a bit more about ice. What does the
geological data tell you about the advance and retreat of ice?
Ian Plimer: Ice advances and retreats, it's doing it all the time.
That's part of the planet being dynamic.
The ice advance is not due
to very simple phenomena like temperature, it's due to a combination
of phenomena, and one of the main ones is that ice recrystallizes,
and as it moves down slow it's actually forming bigger and bigger
As it retreats it melts, and melt waters start at the top
and the edge of a glacier, and ice is very dynamic, so ice gives us
a very good window, in a broad-brush approach, to the past.
The great ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica actually sit in
basins, and for the ice to come out of that basin it actually has to
Temperature doesn't do that, it's pressure.
So when we
load up the ice sheets with more and more snow, it's a bit like
putting our fist into a Christmas pudding, it flows out the side of
the bowl and then drops off as glaciers into the oceans.
So ice is a
very plastic substance, it flows due to its plasticity, and in those
ice sheets we're constantly
them and losing
materials, but the ice sheets on a very broad scale tell us when
we've had cosmic events, when we've had volcanic events and when
we've had changes in temperature.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: In the popular press we've read recently the
Antarctic ice cover is increasing but this is due to the hole in the
ozone layer, the ozone levels will recover within 100 years and the
result will be less Antarctic sea ice.
Your comments on that?
Ian Plimer: We have a very complex sequence of events occurring in
both the Arctic and the Antarctic.
In the Arctic we've had a
decrease in sea ice, mainly due to that 18.5-year cycle, the tidal
cycle blowing and pushing warm water into the Arctic.
Now that has
stopped and we're increasing Arctic ice, that's happened in 2008 and
In Antarctica it's isolated. There's a current that goes
around Antarctica and basically isolates it from everything else. In
Antarctica we've had an increase in sea ice, this has been measured
many, many times by many groups.
We've got an increase in
snow... certainly in the west Antarctic ice sheet we've got a little
increase, but the east Antarctic it's a huge increase.
telling us is Antarctica is dynamic.
We have a volcano in Antarctica, Mt Erebus, that's pumping out huge
amounts of chlorofluorocarbons. These actually can break down ozone.
There have been some measurements of the chlorofluorocarbons coming
out but it's not constantly monitored.
So there are many other
possibilities as to why we might be changing ozone in Antarctica. We
could be doing it from sea ice, having sea spray on it, that sea
spray breaks down and puts chlorine gases into the atmosphere. So
there are many possible reasons, it's not just one reason.
that's the nature of science, we argue about evidence and we argue
about how we interpret it.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: Al Gore has claimed that warming in the
Antarctic could lead to a sea level rise of six meters.
has been discussed on ABC television recently, and Al Gore says
something new is happening, so does Peter Garrett.
But how would you
describe the behavior of sea levels over the last 6,000 years?
Ian Plimer: Al Gore has made a wonderful Hollywood film.
films are based on fantasy, they're hyped right up, people spend
money and go to them, and people make a lot of money from making
Hollywood films, and Al Gore has fulfilled all those criteria.
for comments on science by Al Gore I'd have to raise a couple of
eyebrows really, to have Mr Gore talk about science. Sea levels are
up and down all the time. At the same time land levels are going up
It is an incredibly difficult thing to measure, and the normal way
we can understand sea level changes is to look back in time, and
that's why that glorious four-letter word is so important in
understanding the planet.
For example, the poor folk on Tuvalu have
settled on a coral atoll where the floor of the Pacific Ocean is
sinking. Unfortunately Tuvalu is sinking, it's not a global sea
But we know from Charles Darwin's time that as atolls
start to sink the corals starts to grow and grow, and we see that in
many parts of the world.
We see over the last 6,000 years that we've had a significant change
in sea level. 6,000 years ago sea level was about two meters higher
than now, it was considerably warmer than now, we were at the peak
of the interglacial.
Sea level goes up and down, the ocean floor
goes up and down, we change the shape of the ocean floor. If we have
a massive volcanic eruption on the sea floor we displace water, sea
level goes up.
So to blandly state that the melting of ice increases
sea level is ignoring all of the other factors on a dynamic planet.
Michael Duffy: Ian, what about hurricanes? We often hear that global
warming will lead to increased hurricane activity, and some people
even say that's already happened.
What's the situation there?
Ian Plimer: There is a lot of damage if you live in hurricane alley,
in the Gulf of Texas, it is well known.
What has happened over the
last 50 years is Americans have got wealthier, they have wanted to
live next to the coast, and they have built bigger and bigger
structures in the path of hurricanes, so hurricane damage has
However, the incidence of hurricanes has gone
down, and to make matters even worse in the Texas gulf there is a
lot of petroleum extracted from the sediments, there's also water
extracted, there's also traffic in cities like New Orleans, and in
the couple of years before
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, New
Orleans actually sank a meter, and that's due to vibration, that's
due to pulling that petroleum and water.
So there are many other
factors. But when we listen to some of the North American hurricane
specialists, hurricanes come and go.
There are cycles of hurricanes,
and we are currently in a period where there are not that many
hurricanes compared with the past.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: The climate debate, as you have known for some
time, is the most politicized scientific debate in living memory,
and you state in your book,
Penny Wong published a green
paper which contained a short opening sentence with seven scientific
That sentence states Carbon pollution is causing climate
change resulting in higher temperatures, more droughts, rising sea
levels and more extreme weather.'
Can you take us through the
minister's scientific errors as you see them?
Ian Plimer: Carbon pollution; carbon is element number six on the
periodic table, carbon is black. So if we had carbon pollution in
the atmosphere, you couldn't see.
The skies would be black. And
carbon particles in the atmosphere would be so dense you'd die of
coughing, you'd be choking.
That is not carbon pollution at all. So
we have no such thing as carbon pollution. She is arguing that we
have carbon in the atmosphere.
Her level of science is such that she
is unable to distinguish between the element carbon and carbon
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a wonderful stuff, it
makes the grass grow so we can grow meat, it makes wheat grow so we
can eat bread, it even makes lentils grow, so carbon dioxide is
So that's two of her scientific errors.
none of us are supporting putting substances into the
atmosphere or the waterways that might be pollutants, but
dioxide is not a pollutant.
If Senator Wong was really serious about
her science she would stop breathing because you inhale air that's
got 385 parts per million carbon dioxide in it and you exhale air
with about ten times as much, and that extra carbon comes from what
So that is absolute nonsense...
In terms of 'climate change', another two words in her sentence,
climates always change, and when we look back in the geological
past, we have never seen a climate change due to carbon dioxide, we
have seen carbon dioxide following any climate change.
she is scientifically incorrect.
we get high temperatures for many, many reasons.
Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been a player in increasing
atmospheric temperatures but it's not the only player.
droughts, when we look back in the history of time,
are really in periods of cold.
The really great droughts, the really
great deposition of sand dunes and salt has occurred when it's been
very, very cold and windy.
I think she deserves some sort of medal
for getting seven scientific errors in 21 words, and later we can
check the Guinness Book of Records, but she really should be there.
Michael Duffy: Ian, there's a fascinating picture in your book here,
it's in fact called Figure 1, and it shows five computer predictions
of climate made in 2000, and they all show the temperature shooting
That's quite fascinating. These predictions presumably were made
Is that part of the problem here in the way we see
reality? Are we depending too much on computer models?
Ian Plimer: I think there's a couple of factors there.
computer model is an attempt to understand reality, but if you don't
have all the factors to put into a computer model then what comes
out is garbage, and that's what we see.
In this book I have in the
last chapter predictions about the end of the world, and I've got
about four pages, over the last 2,000 years, of folk predicting the
end of the world.
I can be quite happy when my wife tells me I'm 99%
wrong, but to be 100% wrong is just not possible except for people
that have predicted the end of the world, they have managed to do
it, and I think that's fabulous.
So we don't know much about the way this planet operates, and if we
don't know much and try to put in that limited information, then
we'll get garbage coming out of the computer.
The problem is that
the information that goes into the computer models is very, very
selective, and in this book I've tried to look at the missing
A lot of areas of the earth sciences, which are not even
considered in computer models, but we scientists know very well.
I don't think computer models tell us anything at all.
modelers in the insurance business certainly didn't
predict that a couple of jets were going to go into the World Trade
Centre, the government computer modelers did not tell us that we
were going to go into an economic crisis, and the same sort of
models are used to predict the future.
I think if you think you can
predict the future you should be adding ice blocks to your drinks.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: Still on computer models, you state in your
book that 'the IPCC models just don't do clouds'.
Does that imply
then that the models aren't doing the job? Why are clouds so
Ian Plimer: We only have to change cloudiness by about 1% and we've
changed climate significantly, and we really don't understand very
much about clouds and it's only recently we've learned that cosmic
radiation can form low-level clouds, that's one of the mechanisms of
getting low-level clouds.
And so if we don't put those factors into
the IPCC models then we cannot understand how climate works.
The IPCC models of 1990 did not predict the El Niño of 1998, they did
not predict the cooling that's happened this century. So it's
blatantly obvious that these models are an attempt to try to
understand reality but they're not anywhere near understanding it.
I would argue that there are two sorts of sciences being practiced
One is a group of scientists sitting with a massive computer,
massaging someone else's data and creating a model from that.
are another group of scientists (and I'm one of those, a natural
scientist) that actually goes outdoors, despite the weather,
collecting new data. We collect data in an empirical fashion and
analyzing that data, incorporating that wonderful word 'time'.
many ways the climate battles are between modelers, who are
mathematicians locked in a white walled room playing with a
computer, and people who get outdoors.
Paul Comrie-Thomson: I've had the comment made to Michael and me
about models of the financial crisis... do models give us predictions
or just projections?
Ian Plimer: I don't think they give us either.
I think they're
potential scenarios and I think politicians and the media have been
very guilty of latching onto these and thinking they were
predictions, because the IPCC reports are two-fold...
report which is a summary for policy makers and that has to get the
tick of approval from governments, and scientists actually don't
write that, and the other is a scientific report which no-one reads.
Michael Duffy: I think we'd better leave it there, but thank you
very much Ian Plimer for joining us today.
Ian Plimer: Thank you Michael and Paul.
Michael Duffy: Ian Plimer is a geologist and a professor at the
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of
Adelaide. His book is called Heaven and Earth, it's published by
Connor Court, and it's selling very well.