Monday, 23 July 2007

Durkin replies to his critics

Martin Durkin has answered his critics(1) in The Australian, following the airing of his documentary 'The Great Global Warming Swindle.' It's a lot of bluster and bravado, but mostly another 'B' word, bullshit.

It is an interesting piece of writing, not for what it says, for Durkin resorts to the usual tactic of ignoring facts and data that don't fit, and makes claims that aren't true. It is interesting more because of the style that he adopts, and what we learn about him. God knows, it contributes nothing to the science of global warming, or non-scientists' understanding ot it.

Take the first line of his response:

"WHEN I agreed to make The Great Global Warming Swindle, I was warned a
middle-class fatwa would be placed on my head."(2)
It is odd that Durkin choses to describe the criticism of his program as a 'middle-class' response, rather than as scientific. Lets be blunt here. Most middle-class people aren't very good environmentalists, with their 4x4s, conspicuous consumption and multiple annual overseas holidays. The suggestion that they might attack a program that tells them that what they do is okay is odd logic. It is also interesting that he refers to the criticism as a "fatwa," a term suggestive, to most of his readers, of alien, fundamentalist religion. Again, the criticism hasn't come from Muslims, middle-class or otherwise - it has come from scientists.

Durkin suggests scientists are angry with him for questioning the sacred principles of global warming:

There are scientists and journalists (a surprising number) who have built
careers championing the cause. There's more money going into global warming
research than there is chasing a cure for cancer. Many important people and
institutions have staked their reputations on it. There's a lot riding on this
theory ... That is why the warmers greeted my film with red glowing eyes. (3)
Only, that doesn't stack up. Scientists attacked the program because it was not factually correct. Durkin selected evidence that could be used to support his hypothesis that human activity isn't contributing to climate change. He ignored evidence that did not fit in with this and misrepresented the facts. He then attacks the attackers, claiming the "whole damned theory is in tatters"(3).

First, he claims the Earth is not getting warmer: "To the utter dismay of the global warming lobby, the world does not appear to be getting warmer. According to their own figures (from the UN-linked Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the temperature has been static or slightly declining since 1998. The satellite data confirms this."(4) This is a misrepresentation of easily available data. 1998 was exceptionally warm. Tempratures since then have not reached such heights, but the five year average temperature is still on the up(5).

He then claims that "the ice-core data ... shows there's a connection between carbon dioxide and temperature ... [and] the connection is the wrong way around; temperature leads, CO2 follows."(6) This is true, but totally misses the point. In fact, it blows his own anti-AGW argument out of the water, as it admits that CO2 is linked to climate change. The lag between temprature increases and CO2 has been done to death. It is almost embarrassing that a numbskull like me has to correct someone like Durkin, who gets to make TV documentaries.

Thousands of years ago, there were no humans pumping out CO2 to kickstart the process. Instead, the global temprature increased, for reasons unknown, though there are plentyof possible causes. This increase leads to the release of CO2 as the eco-system reponds to the changing environment, which in turn leads to a temprature increase, which lead to more CO2 ... A simple feedback loop.

There is a lag of about 800 years, according to ice-core samples, between the temprature increases and the CO2 increases. All this proves, according to Real Climate, is "that CO2 did not cause the first 800 years of warming, out of the 5000 year trend. The other 4200 years of warming could in fact have been caused by CO2, as far as we can tell from this ice core data."(7) Once the cycle is kicked off, the CO2 feeds the temprature, which increases the CO2 and so on. The difference is that this time around the process is being started the other way around - we are releasing the CO2 which will drive up the temprature. The danger is that we may do enough to kick off the feedback loop again, in which case we are in real trouble.

Then Durkin turns to a favourite topic of climate change deniers, the (unjustly) infamous 'hockey stick' graph:

Then there's the precious "hockey stick". This was the famous graph that
purported to show global temperature flat-lining for 1000 years, then rising
during the 19th and 20th centuries. It magicked away the Medieval warm period
and made the recent warming look alarming, instead of just part of the general
toing and froing of the Earth's climate.(8)
First, the Medieval warm period wasn't a global event, or even hemispheric, but localised(9), so it wouldn't show up on a reconstruction of temprature for the northern hemisphere. Second, even though it was localised, a general slight increase in temprature between 1000 and 1400 centuries is visible on the "Hockey stick" graph(10) . The IPCC has not shiftily dropped the Hockey Stick as Durkin claims. It has been superceded. It would be strange indeed to publish a report that simply regurgitated the previous report.

Finally, Durkin claims ,

there are those pesky satellites. If greenhouse gases were the cause of warming,
then the rate of warming should have been greater, higher up in the Earth's
atmosphere (the bit known as the troposphere). But all the satellite and balloon
data says the exact opposite. In other words, the best observational data we
have flatly contradicts the whole bally idea of man-made climate change."(11)

Again, however, Durkin is not telling the truth. He is referring to old data, which has been showed to be erroneous. It has been corrected, and it now shows that - gosh - there IS troposhperic warming(12). Again, this data is not squirrelled away somewhere. It is freely available and really rather understandable. To disagree with it, provided that you do so from a scientific basis, is one thing. To simply pretend it doesn't exist, as Durkin does, is another all together.

He makes two further points, both minor. Fist, he calims that scientists "concede that CO2 cannot have caused the warming at the beginning of the 20th century, which was greater and steeper than the recent warming."(13) Yup, so what? Back then, the temprature increase was mostly (not - MOSTLY) caused by other factors. This time, it appears to be mostly (note - MOSTLY) caused by anthropogenic activity. And finally, scientists "can't explain the cooling from 1940 to the mid-'70s."(14) This is simply untrue. The blip in temprature between 1940 and 1975 has been attributed to the cooling effect of sulphate aerosols(15). Again, old knowledge and easily available for those who look. Because Durkin has missed stuff I've been able to find, quite easily, it raises questions about his honesty, and hence the savaging of his 'documentary' is justified.

1 - "Up against the warming zealots," Martin Durkin in The Australian, July 21, 2007. (,25197,22105154-30417,00.html)
2 - Ibid.
3 - Ibid.
5 - "Global Temperature" graph, viewed on Wikipedia on 31st July 2007. (
6 - Durkin, op. cit.
7 - 'What does the lag of CO2 behind temperature in ice cores tell us about global warming?' by Jeff Severinghaus, on Real Climate, (
8 - Durkin, Op. cit.
9 - "Medieval Warm Period," Wikipedia article, linked 23rd July, 2007. (
10 - "Hockey stick chart ipcc.jpg," Wikipedia, linked 23rd July
2007. (
11 - Durkin, Op. Cit.
12 - "Reconciliation of satellites, radiosondes and climate models," Wikipedia article, linked 31st July 2007. ( 13 - Durkin, Op. Cit.
14 - Durkin, Op. Cit.
15 - "Climate myths: The cooling after 1940 shows CO2 does not cause warming," by Catherine Brahic, on, 16th May 2007. Viewed on 31st July 2007. (



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lurgee said...

The most disturbing thing about The Great Global Warming Swindle, and the article of Durkin's that I trashed, above, is how easy it was to do. There was nothing in it that a non-expert, like myself, could dismantle in a few hours of investigation.

The misinformation he gave about troposhperic satellite data is a good example - Hell, I can barely spell tropospheric, and have only a vague idea what it is, but was weasily able to show that his claims about the crucial data were, AT BEST, questionable.

If Durkin were simply saying he doesn't agree with this or that thesis, for such and such a reason, it would be okay. Instead, he doesn't even admit that whole bodies of scientific thought or research exist, like his claim that science can't account for the mid-20th century temprature dip. It can, but he simply ignores that awkward fact.