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4.0 out of 5 stars The" Null Hypothesis" - that such climate change that is occurring is natural and not man-made - "Remains Unfalsified", 29 May 2010
This review is from: Climate: the Counter-consensus (Independent Minds) (Paperback)
I can't think of when I last read a book that started with an introductory essay by the publisher to explain why he had persuaded - reading between the lines, brow beaten? - the author into accepting a title for his book that he not only didn't like but with which he may positively have disagreed But that's how this one starts - and Bob Carter goes on in the book, inter-alia, to remind us repeatedly why the idea of consensus - pro or counter - has no place in science. While he does report many arguments by other climate change sceptics to disprove theories by "alarmists", he is very careful not to suggest that these constitute a consensus - scientists who seek to disprove the so-called "consensus" do not need to agree with each other.

The author identifies three "realities" of climate change, which he calls the science reality, the virtual reality and the public reality, and he examines these in turn. The first four chapters are devoted the examining the science, and much of the material here will be well know to anyone who has followed the climate change debate. Carter is a paleoclimatologist, and specifically an expert in the climate records from the oceans, and is therefore very much within his area of expertise when he examines evidence for temperature and CO2 concentrations over geological timescales and from oceanic sources. He concludes that there is no evidence that late twentieth century temperatures or rates of change were exceptional in a historical context, and points out that the world appears actually to have been cooling since 1998.

In the two chapters on the "virtual reality" Carter exposes the limited value of the computer models on which most "alarmist" arguments are founded. While the basic argument is not new - see for example the Pilkey's excellent book on modelling - Carter cites numerous papers challenging individual assertions in the IPCC's reports and brings it all together clearly and concisely. He suggests that in the absence of compelling empirical evidence that mankind's activities are changing climate at anything more than a local level, the "null hypothesis" that they are not - and therefore that any global climate changes are natural in origin - should stand.

Dr Carter suggests that there are more than 100 sub-disciplines of climate science, and that like most other climate scientists, he has deep expertise in at most two or three of them. The remainder of the book is devoted to examining the "public reality", and here it must be pointed out that he writes not so much as a scientific expert but rather as a layman. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book, with Carter exposing how politics has come to dominate a supposedly scientific debate. He is surprisingly measured in his choice of language, and if I have one disappointment about style it is that Dr Carter does not write with the same engaging and outspoken humour with which he speaks about these subjects; if you haven't already done so, look for his videos on You Tube (search for "Bob Carter torpedoes", for example) and you'll see what I mean. Perhaps he is keen to avoid any suggestion of the ad hominem and belittling attacks that have been a feature of climate debate.

If there is one omission, then I think that it is this. Carter frequently refers to the step-change in global temperature as a result of the El Nino "event" of 1998, and he mentions several other oceanic systems that might have similar effects. As a scientist who has studied the oceans over millennia, he would have been well placed to give us an explanation (or perhaps several alternative ones) of where the energy that can cause such step changes comes from.

Carter points to evidence that the world may now be set for a longer period of cooling, and that that may be rather more harmful than increasing temperatures would be. He suggests, therefore, that national climate policies should be designed not to reduce CO2 emissions nor to stop the warming of the planet - which is a futile objective whatever the cause - but to deal more effectively with such changes as do occur: with storms, droughts and other natural calamities, and with the effects of temperatures changes, be they higher or lower. And, he suggests on the final page in an argument similar to Bjorn Lomborg's, it would be beneficial to take that quarter of the world's population that is suffering conditions of poverty out of that situation not just because that is a worthy aim in itself but because they would then be able to contribute better to the world's wealth and thus its ability to adapt to whatever changes come our way.

I was hoping for the "page turner" impact of anther book in this Stacey International Independent Minds series, "The Hockey Stick Illusion" by A. W. Montford, but this one didn't quite deliver it. It's not a dry book, however, and is well worth the read if you are interested in the "global warming" debate. Sadly, I expect, it will be read primarily by the "climate rationalists", as Carter describes them, and not the "alarmists". We shall have to wait and see whether Carter is right that the former are now winning the debate.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 27 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Aug 2010 08:42:33 BDT
Dear Nick - I've enjoyed your reviews on a range of subjects (I do the same kind of work as you ) but particularly on climate change. Would you consider keeping me posted on new titles you come across in that area, and any reviews you do? I've particularly enjoyed Peter Taylor's 'Chill' myself, and of course Nigel Lawson and Patrick Michaels; equally I've appreciated a heavier but very honest and informative book, David MacKay's 'Sustainable Energy - without the hot air'. You can find my reviews of Taylor and Lawson on Amazon.
Best regards - Simon Loveday

Posted on 3 Jul 2011 11:26:00 BDT
Last edited by the author on 3 Jul 2011 11:27:17 BDT
Martin Lack says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jul 2011 21:29:27 BDT
Dear Mr or Ms Lack,

Hmm. "we shall have to wait.." is not, by any definition, a proposition. It is in effect a question - is Bob Carter right to state that the formr are winning the debate?

Not with you clearly.

Please tell me - what evidence do you have to support your proposition that Bob Carter is "ideologically driven" or that he proposes perpetual growth?

Have you actually read the book?


In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jul 2011 10:25:43 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jul 2011 10:37:42 BDT
Martin Lack says:

Apologies for the ambiguity regarding my gender (hopefully now resolved).

Did you see the front page of last Friday's Independent newspaper (regarding attribution to AGW of the evidentially-increased frequency of extreme weather events)? This is just one reason why I don't need to read Bob Carter's book (or any others by people willfully refusing to accept reality). Cognitive disonnance or confirmation bias, whatever it is, the only reasonable explanation is that the sufferer has predetermined what they want to believe (in this case that humanity is not to blame for climate change); and has therefore set out to find evidence to support that hypothesis.

Like Bob Carter, I have a geological background. But unlike him, I look at the geological record and see clear evidence for the current changes being unlike any other in at least the last 55 million years (since the Himalaya formed); and it would seem that the Geological Society of London has done the same. Why else, given the high proportion of its members that are involved in fossil fuel industry, would it have finally got off the fence and said as much last November?

Finally, I am afraid that I read your final paragraph as a proposal for us to "wait and see" (i.e. a proposition), which I think is fundamentally erroneous. Thanks to Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, we have already waited far too long; and so many are still sufficiently confused by all the misinformation sloshing around that, it would seem, we will have to wait a while longer yet...

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jul 2011 10:36:43 BDT
Dear Nick - the fact that you have a geological background adds more weight to your opinion. However, geology is a science, and science proceeds by evidence. Everyone accepts that the climate is changing, but that's always been the case, and indeed it's changed very dramatically over the last thousand years. The anthropogenic hypothesis rests on four pillars: a) the climate is changing, b) that change is a trend rather than a cycle, c) it's man-made, and d) it's so dangerous that we should focus uniquely on that to the exclusion of such important concerns as (for example) environmental protection, eliminating underdevelopment and poverty, protecting endangered species, and so on. Of course we'd all accept (a), but I have read some very good scientific evidence challenging (b), (c), and (d), and I think it's a pity that a geologist like you doesn't confront and challenge the specific arguments put forward by your opponents. If you know a good book putting forward your side of the argument I'd be happy to read it - as long as you'd respond by reading one that challenges it!
Simon Loveday

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jul 2011 11:02:16 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jul 2011 11:08:53 BDT
Martin Lack says:
Nick reviewed the book, I responded.

You say, "but that's always been the case". However, current change is unprecidented because human activity has upset dynamic equilibrium of long-term carbon cylce by releasing 3 million years worth of fossil fuels into the atmosphere per year (i.e. much faster than the oceans can absorb it).
Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air
Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change

If you can find me a book or theory that has not already been debunked by a peer reviewed Journal, I will read it. However, before suggesting one, please review all theories debunked by, for example, skepticalscience ("getting skeptical about global warming skepticism").

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jul 2011 13:52:30 BDT
Dear Martin - thanks for yours. A fair reply. (Sorry about getting the name wrong.) I would argue that there's a logical flaw in your argument because it's one thing to say, correctly, that we've released three million years of fossil fuels into the atmosphere, and another to argue that that determines (rather than influences) temperature. However, the Sustainable Energy book looks good and when I'm back from holiday I'll take you up on the challenge. In return, can I suggest you read either Peter Taylor, Chill, or even better Svensmark and Calder, The Chilling Stars? Fair deal?
Best regards, Simon Loveday

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Dec 2011 09:54:19 GMT
Anthony says:
You need to prove that AGW is true, not just that the climate is changing. You've offered no real counter-evidence to this particular book, and sorry, but peer reviewed journals (whatever that dubious accolade is worth) critiquing something is not "debunking" it, not by a longshot.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Dec 2011 10:07:49 GMT
Last edited by the author on 7 Dec 2011 10:14:41 GMT
Martin Lack says:
Anthony, I guess you also believe that 9/11 was an inside job? How about FDR allowing the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbour in order to give himself an excuse to enter WW2, or that the CIA assassinated JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Martin Luther King? Indeed, were the "Moon Landings" filmed in the deserts of of New Mexico; and poor old Princess Diana bumped-off by MI6 (at Prince Philips request)... Please wake up. Reality is leaving you for dead! Voodoo Histories: How Conspiracy Theory Has Shaped Modern History

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Mar 2012 09:04:14 GMT
[Deleted by Amazon on 25 Jan 2014 14:22:06 GMT]
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