Thank God for paywalls — saving you from reading Piers Akerman

Yesterday I bought the Sunday Telegraph. There were two featured opinion pieces about climate change/bushfires, one by Peta Credlin, the other by that old climate change recalcitrant Piers Akerman — I say old, but hard to believe he is actually seven years younger than I am — not that this is all that relevant. What is relevant is that he is no more a climate scientist, or any kind of scientist, than I am — or Peta Credlin, or Greta Thunberg if it comes to that. As you might expect the two opinion pieces were in beautiful harmony. I should add that there were some substantive news pieces in the same paper on the effects of the bushfires.

Akerman begins — I cut the article out — by slamming David Haslingden, calling him a “global warmist”, for daring to suggest in The Australian of all places that “The human race is burning far too many fossil fuels and has for a very long time. As a result of this and other human activities we have increased average global temperature by 0.8C from pre-industrial levels. The extreme weather events we are seeing all over the world are the direct result.”

Well, isn’t that perfectly reasonable? I hear you cry. Not to our Mr Akerman. After informing us that Haslingden, though chairman of the Australian Geographic Society, is not a scientist — a factor he, Piers, Peta and I all share — he goes on to crow: “Well, what’s simple for Mr Haslingden and his noisy cohorts is not so straightforward to scientists who actually study the stuff.” Piers, of course, is never noisy, but he is a master cherry-picker, especially perhaps of scientific articles he hasn’t really read and very likely would not understand. Nor does he grasp what “certainty” means in scientific circles. See for your own edification and as background How reliable are climate models?

The three zingers Piers hangs his case on are a report from the Tyndall Centre, the case of the signs in Glacier National Park, Montana, and a highly technical paper called “Propagation of Error and the Reliability of Global Air Temperature Projections.” That last one is a tad beyond me, I’m afraid, and also beyond Piers, I suspect. He extracts one sentence from it: “The unavoidable conclusion is that anthropogenic air temperature signal cannot have been, nor presently can be, evidenced in climate observables.”

I strongly suspect Piers read about this article on that notorious blog Watt’s Up With That. Be that as it may,  you, I and Piers can all read the original here. UPDATE: Clearly Piers really is relying not on the original paper but on this guest post on — you guessed it!– What’s Up With That.

As I said, it’s a bit much for me, but there is a giveaway at the end: “This article is dedicated to the memory of Prof. Robert ‘Bob’ Carter; a fine scientist and a wonderful guy. The author thanks a climate physicist who prefers anonymity, for freely providing the A-Train annual average TCF data sets as well as the CMIP3 and CMIP5 climate model annual average TCF simulations. The author also thanks Prof. Christopher Essex, University of Western Ontario, for helpful conversations.” You will find a rather different view of Robert Carter here. There you will find a series of misleading claims made by said Bob Carter.

You might also compare New evidence on the reliability of climate modeling.

Now those glaciers — in a way an amusing story.

Montana Glacier National Park Mountains Cracker Lake

Last week, Glacier National Park announced that it will be changing signs warning that its signature glaciers would disappear by 2020. The park says the signs, put in more than a decade ago, were based on the best available predictions at the time.

Montana Public Radio’s Aaron Bolton spoke about what changed with Caitlyn Florentine, a research physical scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center….

Caitlyn Florentine  In 2003 a study was published that considered how the landscape would change both in terms of glacier evolution as well as vegetation change. And that 2003 study showed that one of the glaciers in Glacier National Park would entirely disappear by 2030. And then as time went on, more observations unique to Glacier National Park were collected. So more measurements were made. You know, more scientists started to scrutinize. And as I mentioned, make more observations….

Bolton How should the average person be thinking about predictions on climate change, like when glaciers melt? I mean, is it fair to have this expectation that it’s going to be correct most of the time, when in fact, it’s a prediction based on the best available science and data that you guys can get a hold of?

Florentine Yeah, absolutely. When a prediction is based on the best available science, then I think it is. I mean, well, even then, it’s a personal call, right, where you put your faith. But, you know, I think also the level of scrutiny and faith is going to vary, whether you’re somebody walking through a visitor center in a national park versus whether you’re the mayor of Miami making decisions about how the city is run and how city planning happens; or if you’re a congressperson deciding how money will be allocated based on some other, you know, consideration of where water mass is located.

But I can tell you with a straight face and with confidence that there is, the people that I interact with professionally are earnestly dedicated to using science to connect — both expose and connect — all of us to, you know, as capital ‘t’ truth as we can get. And it’s an imperfect process. But the whole process of peer review is that things are honestly poked and prodded and analyzed many different ways, and still seems to be true. That’s the information to be trusted in….

Now guess where Piers read about that? Yes, Watt’s Up With That 7 June 2019! A picture is beginning to emerge of the quality of Piers Akerman’s scientific research! But do check out National Geographic.

And on Piers’s favourite blog. this is probably worth following up.

I am not a climate scientist, but a professional and active scientist who teaches and carries out research at a university in the UK. The views I express here are my own and not those of my employer.

This blog used to be known as WottsUpWithThatBlog, which was chosen to indicate that a goal was to address climate science claims made on Anthony Watts’s Watts Up With That (WUWT) site. I say “address” because the goal wasn’t to simply refute what was said on WUWT. It was also to acknowledge contributions there that added positively to the discussions around climate science – didn’t happen often, sadly.

I did, however, eventually realise that there wasn’t much merit in continuing to mainly address claims made on WUWT, so decided to change the name of the blog and to change the focus somewhat.  Hat Tip to BBD for the idea.  ..and then there’s physics is an appropriate response (in my opinion, at least) to those who try to convince you that there are problems with climate science because of – for example – the climategate emails, or because some scientists are advocating for action.

Finally, the Tyndall Centre. You can download a pdf for yourself of their briefing note on wildfires. It is sensible stuff. Did Piers really read it?

Summary. Human-induced climate change promotes the conditions on which wildfires depend, enhancing their likelihood and challenging suppression efforts. Human-induced warming has already led to a global increase in the frequency and severity of fire weather, increasing the risks of wildfire. This signal has emerged from natural variability in many regions, including the western US and Canada, southern Europe, Scandinavia and Amazonia. Human-induced warming is also increasing fire risks in other regions, including Siberia and Australia. Nonetheless, wildfire activity is determined by a range of other factors includ- ing land management and ignition sources, and on the global-scale most datasets indicate a reduction in burned area in recent years, chiefly due to clearing of natural land for agriculture.

Blogging the 2010s — 11 — January 2018

Christos Tsiolkas speaks my mind…

In conversations with friends I have in recent months expressed some disquiet about the series of accusations of sexual harassment, bullying,  and/or sexual assault that have so dominated the media, social and traditional. Part of me keeps harking back to those terrifying scenes in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. You know the ones.

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Today we have the news that Rugby League legend Graham Langlands has died. I did not know him, but a friend here in Wollongong, where Langlands came from, was a lifelong friend. We have been talking over the accusations made against Langlands, as you might expect. It troubles me that so often accusation seems to become fact, even when it is untested. In the case of Langlands it never will be now. Today’s piece by Andrew Webster is, based on what I know from Langlands’s childhood friend, accurate enough.

…many of [Langlands’s friends]  are convinced the St George icon died in his sleep over the weekend at the age of 76 unaware of the serious sexual assault allegations levelled at him in November last year.

Langlands was charged with six counts of indecent treatment of a child under 16 on the Gold Coast, which was related to one alleged event in 1982 between the March 25 and June 30…

Now, the allegations just hang in the air; a sad full stop on his muddled life after football.

Now to Christos Tsiolkas last Saturday. It is a long essay, very much worth reading. An extract:

We don’t suspect that there are reds under the bed any more but maybe we believe that there is a ped, a paedophile, under every third or fourth one. Or if not a paedophile, possibly a white supremacist. In the 21st century these have become our monsters. Of course, our rage and hatred of the child sexual abuser, of the rapist, of the violent racist, all makes sense. I have experienced a glee at watching Harvey Weinstein come undone. I did not know of his sexual crimes but I had hated him for years, because of how he had destroyed careers and reputations in the film industry for decades, and how he had purchased films to never release them so that his own productions would saturate the market and that the labour of love of some poor filmmaker went unseen.

The revealing of the long history of abuse in the Catholic Church has been one of the momentous political moments of the past 25 years. The exposing of sexual harassment across media, business and politics is long overdue…

But I can’t forget the lessons I learnt reading about Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover. I subscribe to a few left-wing news sites that come out of the US and straight after the riots in Charlottesville over the removal of a Confederate statue I read with increasing unease the comments pages, where people gleefully boasted of having found the names of racists who marched in support of retaining the statues, revealed them to employers as white racists, got them sacked from their jobs….

I am nervous of writing this. Of course I am. I don’t want to be seen as excusing harassment or sexual and racist violence. But I think it is fundamental to a functioning and democratic civil society that perpetrators of sexual and racial violence are indicted in the law courts, not on social media. And I don’t think an opinion equates to an action. That is what McCarthy and Hoover believed. I think in that conflation something truly monstrous is born.

I don’t understand those whose righteousness and conviction makes them believe they have the right to play God with people’s lives and reputations. The criminal needs to be held to account and to be punished and also, crucially, to be given the opportunity for rehabilitation. But those so pure that they believe they have the right to toss the first stone, those so certain that they see any doubt as vacillation or compromise, those so furious that they abhor dialogue as co-option and condemn mercy as weakness, I don’t trust them at all. They believe they have the right to play God. I just see them as another form of monster.

Christos Tsiolkas has perfectly captured my own gnawing unease.

A welcome innovation from the ABC

Suits me especially: ABC Radio has released its broadcasts to the digital bands so that they can be heard on digital TV. For me that means a much better reception of Radio National, the old 2BL Sydney, Classic FM and more at the touch of a button that turns my TV into a radio receiver. So with my remote I can switch from TV to radio when, for example, a string of commercials on a free-to-air TV channel are really annoying me. I tested that out last night on the semi-final of Australia’s Got Talent (Channel 7), moving between that and Radio National. Worked a treat.

During the day yesterday I heard a fascinating podcast on RN: Episode 1 of “Snowball”, a tale of a Kiwi family who were victims of an amazing scam centred on a mystery woman from the USA, or Armenia, via London and Paris. Very well told through interviews with family members and others, the show was a reminder of how good oral story-telling still can be. I’ll be looking out for later episodes.

In 2006, Kiwi expat Greg Wards was living it up on his big OE in London. One night he went to a house party and met an American woman.

And this meeting changed his life, and his family’s lives, forever.

Greg’s brother Ollie is a producer for the ABC’s Triple J radio station, but he’s created a brand-new podcast series called Snowball, telling the sordid, mysterious, salacious story.

Meanwhile, how about the Ashes! No, I didn’t sit up and watch it all. One test at The Oval to go, but Australia has won the series now.

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China, M&M, Hastie

Last Friday I found myself caught up in a moderately fiery exchange on Facebook with an old friend, Matt da Silva, in defence of another friend, M, who, as you may know if you are a regular here, came to Australia from China in December 1989. I have known M since July 1990. Matt I first met in Glebe in the early 1980s through the literary magazine “Neos” with which we were both associated.

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Surry Hills Christmas 1992 or 1993: l-r George from Shanghai, me, M — and as you can see, 25+ years is rather a long time!

The occasion was the publication in the Sydney Morning Herald of Andrew Hastie’s We must see China — the opportunities and the threats — with clear eyes. A backbencher, Hastie is chair of the Australian parliamentary joint committee for intelligence and security, and a former elite soldier. He is also a well-known conservative, very much to the Right. His words have attracted condemnation from China — no surprise there — but also from Australian politicians and commentators, not only those on the Left, as unhelpful. Matt’s post began with what I thought a very poor sketch of US/China relations under Clinton and Deng Xiaoping, though to be fair he was perhaps stirring the possum a bit.

It surprised me that M joined the conversation. suggesting essentially that Matt should ask some Chinese people what they think. That’s where Matt’s response stirred me up in defence of M — and I admit I laid it on with a trowel, though I stand by what I said.

The irony is that I don’t entirely disagree with Hastie, at least so far as there is a need for “clear eyes” about China, a point developed in a column I subsequently read in the next day’s Herald: Anne-Marie Brady, “We need to talk about China — why Hastie was right to sound the alarm.” Professor Brady is a China specialist from New Zealand but she does have a history of her own. I have seen it said that she may be a CIA asset! I have no idea really….

Hastie does in my opinion indulge in enough over-ripe rhetoric and bad analogy to justify the exception many have taken to his piece — me not least.

Imagine if you will that the very latest military kit from China fell out of the sky over, say, Wollongong. What do you think our people would do with it? Exactly.

Hastie begins by recounting such an event, much less hysterically noted in Ron Huisken, Introducing China — the World’s Oldest Superpower Charts its Next Comeback, Canberra, ANU E Press 2010. “When US President George W. Bush assumed office in January 2001, his Administration essentially codified the preceding decade of difficulty and deterioration in US-China relations. During the election campaign, the Bush team had bluntly characterised China as a strategic competitor. Once in office, it consciously took a more detached or aloof approach to China, signalling—as befits a sole superpower—that China was an important concern but not especially important. In an early crisis—the collision between a Chinese fighter aircraft and a US intelligence-gathering EP-3 aircraft in international airspace off Hainan Island in April 2001—the Bush Administration conspicuously resisted elevating its significance and pursued a resolution through normal diplomatic channels.” Hastie notes the plane was returned in pieces.

Hastie sees this as “the most significant geopolitical moment of the 21st century” — yes, even more significant than 9/11!

Hastie goes on to liken the belief, once common in the West, that China would eventually become more democratic as economic liberalism prevailed there, to the “Maginot line”, so implying an equation between China and the threat of Nazi Germany, we being protected from China by that comforting but dubious belief. The sunny idea he alludes to was no doubt part of the “end of history” meme following the fall of the Soviet Union and encouraged by the student movement in China.

Now let me reinterpret that idea of a Maginot Line, for the moment ignoring that rarely have apples and oranges been so confused as in Hastie’s rhetoric.

If I were Chinese I might see those militarised islands in the South China Sea as something of a “Maginot Line”, protecting China’s interests against possible encroachments or invasions. (Of course the view from Vietnam or the Philippines would differ.) The century of humiliation before 1949 was not forgotten, is not forgotten. It is in part what Mao was referring to in 1949 when he asserted that the Chinese people had stood up.

Just 30 years before at Versailles the assembled powers had left then impotent China in no doubt where it stood. “The event that ought to have marked a new era for Europe and the world took place in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on Saturday afternoon, June 28, on the spot where the German Empire had been proclaimed in 1870. Had the treaty been really based on Mr. Wilson’s program, as it purported to be, had it contained a League of Nations Covenant along the lines of the noble conception of its advocates, had one weight and one measure been applied to all alike, there would have been some hope of a European and world peace born in the hearts of men that day…. The Italians and Japanese and most of the small powers had no particular interest in the treaty. Fearing to be assassinated if they returned home after having put China’s name to such a document, the Chinese at the last minute refused to sign…. The ceremony was like a funeral; for a consciousness of failure was present among the signatories. And among some was a consciousness of shame. I talked to two of the principal signatories on the eve of the ceremony, and they told me that they felt they were going to do something dishonorable. Another signatory, representing one of the British dominions, told me on the evening of June 28 that it had been the saddest day of his life.” That is from a forgotten book by a US journalist with excellent connections, Herbert Adams Gibbons, Europe Since 1918, NY, The Century Co., 1923. Good writer too. The contrasting treatment of China and Japan was the sticking point then: consider what was done with Shantung, for example. In China — “The intellectual modernization of China goes under the name of the ‘Movement of May Fourth’, because on May 4th, 1919, students of the National University in Peking demonstrated against the government and their pro-Japanese adherents.” (Wolfram Eberhard, A History of China, University of California, 3rd edition 1969.)

As you know if you have seen or read Empire of the Sun, those foreign concessions in Shanghai and elsewhere persisted until the Japanese war was over and the Peoples Republic was proclaimed. Remember the signs: “No Dogs or Chinese Allowed.”

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An ethnic Chinese writer, Len Mei, in an e-book published in 2011, The Last Days of an Empire, has a point. (English is clearly not Len Mei’s first language, nor is it M’s. M also speaks three Chinese languages — Mandarin, Shanghainese and Jiangsu dialect — and now English, which only in recent years has he been confident enough to write unassisted. Bi- or multi-lingualism are not unusual in China.) “It is difficult to separate the China today from the China yesterday,” writes Len Mei. “China’s fall in the nineteenth century was so unfathomable, that in spite of thirty years of miraculous economic growth since 1980, she is still a poor country in terms of per capita income. Only her sheer size makes her an economic giant. After reading this book, you might realize how difficult the task to restore China to her previous prosperity. From my point of view, it would need at least thirty more years. Is China today different from China yesterday? The political system may be different. One can argue that the essence remains the same. The Communist China is by the name of communism only. The Chinese communists cling to communism because it is their mandate of heaven, their justification to hold onto their power. It is the same mandate of heaven that dynasties justified their rules. Nothing that communist government does today is relevant to the communism that it preaches.”

One can well argue about that last point of course, and Hastie does. It is also true that ideologically Xi Jinping has taken the country backwards, though not as far as the years of the Cultural Revolution of which he and Deng Xiaoping were victims. Hence Deng’s invention of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and his famed remarks about the relative merits of black and white cats. But true, China is an authoritarian place — as of course is Saudi Arabia, and North Korea is worse — and not likely anytime soon to adopt democracy.

What M knows from personal experience — and he was last in China just this year — is that the lives of his family in Shanghai and of the people around are immeasurably better than they were, materially and also spiritually, in that however much the government tries to control them travel and access to foreign ideas, including democratic ones, are far more possible now than they were at any time in M’s first 25 years. He can remember the final phase of the Cultural Revolution, and famine (in part man-made of course) when there was nothing to eat but cabbage. As a child M recalls enviously watching his neighbours eat.

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M in China, 2019

Neither I nor M is saying everything is wonderful in China, or that we in Australia need not be cautious in our dealings with Chinese officialdom. Indeed in November 2018 M was in Taiwan and had this to say: “First time in Taiwan, enjoying it! Excellent food ( not expensive) nice weather, easy transportation,the people here so friendly and warm, today on the train a mother told her teenager son to give his seat to a lady who carried a kid and the lady never heard the mother and son’s conversation, I was impressed, people here got good traditional and courtesy, I think Taiwan people a different breed to Hong Kong and mainland Chinese, I feel more comfortable here, they are representing Chinese tradition and values, if I have to choose to live any Chinese city it would be Taiwan!”

And yes, I am cheering like mad, trembling, for the people of Hong Kong right now.

Interesting to read the conclusion of Ron Huisken’s 2010 study: “China takes itself very seriously and seems to be engaged in a quite stunning demonstration of Sun Tzu’s dictum that ‘to subdue the enemy without fighting is the supreme excellence’, inviting the world to overlook the evidence about the formidable hard power assets it is determined to acquire in favour of simply enjoying the fruits of its market and trusting in the sincerity of its rhetoric on being determined to become a benign and peaceful new-age major power without a realist bone in its body.

“One does not have to believe that China’s rise is an ominous development to see prudence in questioning its endeavour to ‘keep a low profile and hide its strengths’ until some date in the still distant future. Playing along with this strategy, but also, inevitably, being driven to hedge against less optimistic scenarios, is a recipe for a steady erosion of trust and confidence, and the emergence of a serious adversarial relationship in circumstances of already heightened military preparedness. China is well past the point where any reasonable doubt can be attached either to its aspirations to become one of the world’s dominant states or to its capacity to achieve these aspirations. It could be the case that the Chinese Government’s rhetoric about the sort of international actor it intends to be is wholly sincere. It is the case, however, that China’s system of governance inescapably erodes the credibility of that rhetoric. The policy prescription that emerges from this assessment is to become more persistent and resolute in requiring China to measure up to contemporary standards of openness and transparency, and to create opportunities for China to display its willingness to enter into obligations and commitments that genuinely constrain its policy options.”

How much of that still applies ten years on? See Ron Huisken, Australia–China relations: who’s in the dark? The Strategist 11 September 2018. Do compare some of my earlier posts such as Not forgetting China 30 years on.

Consider too Nicholas Jose, “Tiananmen remains unfinished business for China, and for Australia”, in The Strategist 4 June 2019. Nicholas Jose is fluent in Mandarin and was Cultural Counsellor at the Australian Embassy in Beijing from 1987 to 1990. Chinese democracy advocate, Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died in prison in 2017, was a personal friend. “His ashes were scattered at sea, preventing the site of his remains from becoming a shrine. It is hard to believe that one individual could so enrage the powerful Chinese Communist Party. It is hard to understand why China would destroy one of its best and brightest for advocating non-violent reform in legal and constitutional ways.” In the mid 1990s, through Nick, I had the privilege of meeting Liu Xiaobo in Sydney.

Meanwhile the Chinese keep coming to City Diggers Wollongong and eating all our fish and chips! How dare they? No, they aren’t really eating all of them, and they are paying. Helping to keep my meals cheap in fact by keeping the club going.

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Wollongong City Diggers, 9 August 2019

Oh, and this has been written (despite the US branding HP) on my Chinese computer…

Reading: I would still recommend the Chinese histories of Jonathan Spence — very readable and full of interesting ideas and personalities. More recently, I recommend Are We Asian Yet? History vs Geography, Australian Foreign Affairs, Issue 5, February 2019. Note that the seventh issue of Australian Foreign Affairs (October 2019) will explore Australia’s status as the most China-dependent country in the developed world, and the potential risks this poses to its future prosperity and security.

To judge from page 6 of the Sydney Morning Herald 12 August, it appears there is a campaign on. The Peril riding again perhaps? I think I will leave that alone though.

But do read Peter Hartcher.

Australian media owners and journalists unite to call for laws to protect a free press

Thanks AdNews.

Media owners have united in an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking him to defend press freedom in Australia.

The “Journalism is not a Crime” letter was published in News Corp Australia newspapers, including The Australian, and Nine newspapers, including The Sydney Morning Herald.

The letter, also signed by some of the nation’s most prominent journalists, including Karen Middleton, David Marr, Kathrine Murphy, Laurie Oaks and Malcolm Farr, calls for legislation to “recognise and enshrine a positive public interest protection for whistleblowers and for journalists”….

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