Taxing Air - Facts & Fallacies about Climate Change

Full Length Reviews

What the fuss is all about
Australian Financial Review, August 2, 2013

Carbon cycle. A recent contribution from the sceptical side of the climate change debate examines key tipping points in the argument, but certain aspects risk turning readers off.

About two years ago, in an exchange of emails, I asked a Nobel Prize winner who had recently been quoted as fully supporting the scientific orthodoxy on greenhouse warming about an aspect of the debate. His response was that he did not know, as he had never had time to look at it. I won't embarrass that very distinguished scientist by revealing his name, but the exchange underlies one of my main observations about the greenhouse debate, that many of its participants have only a vague idea of its basics, or they have fundamentally misunderstood it.

A case in point are statements by the US activist Bill McKibben, as a guest on the ABC TV program Q&A in June, in which he declared that warming is due to the heat-trapping effects of carbon dioxide and this was all pointed out more than a century ago. In fact, the heat-trapping effects of carbon dioxide are well known, have never been in dispute, and are not the direct cause of the many degrees of warming we have been repeatedly warned about. Major increases in CO2 cause comparatively mild warming that permits the atmosphere to hold more water vapour (a potent greenhouse gas), which amplifies the initial warming, or at least that's the heavily contested theory.

A new book, Taxing Air, by Bob Carter, with cartoons by veteran cartoonist John Spooner and with assistance from Bill Kininmonth, Martin Feil, Stewart Franks and Bryan Leyland, starts with the basics in this debate - such as the above feedback effect. By reaching the end of this accessible book, any layman with an open mind would be wondering what the fuss is all about.

Bob Carter, a marine geologist turned climate scientist and former head of the Earth Sciences faculty at James Cook University in Townsville, has been an outspoken opponent of greenhouse theory. His remaining, tenuous connections with JCU were severed in the past few weeks, an action which he says was due to his undoubtedly high international profile in the debate. Kininmonth is a former head of the Bureau of Meteorology's national climate centre and has brought out his own book on the debate. Franks is a hydroclimatologist and foundation professor of environmental engineering at the University of Tasmania. Leyland is an engineer and Feil is an economist active in this debate.

Although this book seems a late contribution to the conversation, with the many passionate advocates on both sides weary of calling each other names, the argument has reached key turning points - similar to the tipping points in the earth's climate system about which we are constantly warned.

The first of these is that most of the advanced greenhouse warming advocates have of late grumpily acknowledged that temperature increases have been somewhat more subdued over the past decade and a half than the climate models forecast. The story now, according to leading warming theory proponent scientist Kevin Trenberth, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in the US, and others, is that the oceans are warming instead of the atmosphere.

Whatever readers may make of that explanation the question becomes, "what is the prognosis?"

Another tipping point in the climate debate is the increasing suspicion that the sun may be entering a Maunder Minimum - a period in which its magnetic behaviour is quite different-as shown by a distinct lack of its usual 11-year sunspot cycle. The last time a Maunder Minimum was observed was during the depths of the Little Ice Age during the 17th century.

The second point is that with a federal election looming, Australia's renewable energy targets may change. The book has a section on alternative energy which would repay reading by anyone who can find no fault with the wind generators sprouting on Australian farmland.

My criticism of this book is that at times it goes too far. A case in point is when it states that carbon dioxide injected into the atmosphere resides there for about seven years before being absorbed. Quite so. The trouble is, if you accept that figure, the empire of carbon comes tumbling to the ground, since it calls into question whether human activity is having any effect much for ordinary readers, let alone activists. Indeed, one can hear the global warming activists shrieking with laughter, and chanting "denier!"

Having tried to get to the bottom of the carbon cycle debate myself, I have a sneaking suspicion that Carter and company may well be right, but the weight of scientific orthodoxy is very heavy in this area. A more apologetic approach and more explanation would have been a good idea. That said, the book is certainly an excellent, accessible way to become acquainted with the sceptical case in this long-running debate.

Taxing Air: Facts and Fallacies about Climate Change - Kelpie Books, 2013 (, by Bob Carter and John Spooner, with Bill Kininmonth, Martin Feil, Stewart Franks and Bryan Leyland.

Mark Lawson is a senior writer at the AFR and author of A Guide to Climate Change Lunacy, Connor Court, 2010.

Original Article here (requires subscription)

Taxing Air by Bob Carter and John Spooner

by Bob Carter & John Spooner
with Bill Kininmonth, Martin Feil,
Stewart Franks, Bryan Leyland

ISBN: 9780646902180
Full colour paperback, 288 pp
Distributed by Dennis Jones
Pub date: 1 July 2013

$30.00 + p&p

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