Climate Change

The Climate Change ‘debate’

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There are two sides to every ‘debate’, and here they are.

Powell-Science-Pie-Chart-500x339

Just sayin’…

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Rolling the dice on climate change

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Hot on the heels of a fresh data analysis by Richard Muller to which I referred in this discussion, here is another damning analysis which should give climate change deniers pause for thought.

I like the approach taken by this author, James Hansen, because he addresses the simplistic fallacy made (intentionally) by many deniers, and intuitively by those who simply go on gut feel and recent experience. I refer to the ‘but this winter has been so cold‘ or ‘but it’s been raining cats and dogs and our storages are full‘ approach to climate analysis. Some denialists drag out some more numbers to illustrate, but that’s their general point. Look no further than Andrew Bolt for example.

In this article Hansen refers to his new peer-reviewed study, (which you can read in full here) published by the US National Academy of Sciences, which makes clear that not only are average global temperatures steadily rising due to a warming climate, but that the extremes are actually becoming much more frequent and more intense worldwide. The interesting thing about this conclusion is that climate scientists have been avoiding this conclusion until this point – that is, they have not been willing to go on record to say that the increased rate of natural disasters is in any way linked to climate change, let alone man-made climate change. Why? Because they haven’t had the evidence. Hansen says:

… our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change. The deadly European heatwave of 2003, the fiery Russian heatwave of 2010 and catastrophic droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change. And once the data is gathered in a few weeks’ time, it’s likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the US is suffering.

This changes the picture. Hansen’s report apparently shows that heatwave and drought and other extreme climate events in the last decade or two are well outside what he describes and ‘natural variability’. This natural variability is what your old aunt is referring to when she says that this winter has been particularly cold, so how can there be global warming? Hansen describes the situation nicely with a dice analogy thus:

The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills.

Years ago, I introduced the concept of ”climate dice” to help distinguish the long-term trend of climate change from the natural variability of day-to-day weather. Some summers are hot, some cool. Some winters brutal, some mild. That’s natural variability.

But as the climate warms, natural variability is altered, too. In a normal climate without global warming, two sides of the dice would represent cooler-than-normal weather, two sides would be normal weather, and two sides would be warmer-than-normal weather. Rolling the dice season after season, you would get an equal variation of weather over time.

But loading the dice with a warming climate changes the odds. You end up with only one side cooler than normal, one side average, and four sides warmer than normal.

So what does this mean in practice? He goes on to say of extreme weather events:

Such events used to be exceedingly rare. Extremely hot temperatures covered about 0.1 per cent to 0.2 per cent of the globe in the base period of our study, from 1951 to 1980. In the past three decades, while the average temperature has slowly risen, the extremes have soared and now cover about 10 per cent of the globe.

This is the world we have changed, and we have to live in it – the world that caused the 2003 heatwave in Europe that killed more than 50,000 people and the 2011 drought in Texas that caused more than $5 billion in damage. Such events, our data shows, will become even more frequent and more severe.

This is certainly a gloomy and frightening outlook. What is his solution?

There is still time to act and avoid a worsening climate but we are wasting precious time. We can solve the challenge of climate change with a gradually rising fee on carbon collected from fossil-fuel companies, with 100 per cent of the money rebated to all legal residents on a per capita basis. This would stimulate innovations and create a robust clean-energy economy with millions of new jobs. It is a simple, honest and effective solution.

From where I sit, the approach being taken by Australia is a no-brainer. And I don’t mean introduction of a carbon price was done without thinking it through. What I mean is that it takes very little in the way of brains to conclude that the science is telling us that we need to act. And even if you are not a fan of the science, just think through the economics of those extreme weather events – sure, we’re now in effect paying a form of tax, resulting from the price rises resulting from the introduction of a price on carbon for the big polluters. But we are paying a much higher tax in the form of a flood levy for recent events in Queensland. (This levy is 0.5% of gross income above 50k, rising to 1% over 100k. This far exceeds the impact of the carbon price on low income earners.) And as extreme events continue, that ‘remediation’ tax will only increase.

In fact, here’s a challenge to Alan Jones and all those ‘axe the tax’ nutters – apply the same standard to the Queensland flood levy – ‘axe the levy’ (ok, I need a catchier phrase, but you get the idea). After all, the levy is a tax which is hurting Australia’s working poor etc etc.

I won’t be holding my breath.

Oh, the horror! Climate denial meets conspiracy theory

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Last November I wrote a piece on the successful passage of the carbon price legislation through the senate here in Australia. That particular piece of legislation has caused howls of protest amongst the deluded, the dishonest and the easily-led. The sky was going to fall in.

Well, true to all predictions of those with any common sense, the carbon price has come in, and guess what? Barely a ripple. Apart from a few unscrupulous traders trying to jack their prices up and blame the carbon tax, it’s been all quiet (well done ACCC on naming and shaming those businesses). Alas, the nay-sayers continue to bleat – reminiscent of the two old hecklers in the Muppet Show.

In that article, I also referred to one Richard Muller, a sceptical climate scientist, who had changed his mind and now believed in man-made climate change, since confirming a 1.5C rise in average global temperatures since the 50′s.

Well, Muller has continued his work, and has done a bigger, better study which has not only confirmed his earlier findings, but he has now concluded that the predicted temperature rises will be more than those predicted by the IPCC report. Key quotes from this article are:

Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by 2½ degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of 1½ degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases,” Professor Muller wrote in an opinion piece for The New York Times.

The team of scientists based at the University of California, Berkeley, gathered and merged 14.4 million land temperature observations from 44,455 sites across the world dating back to 1753. Previous datasets created by NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Britain’s Meteorological Office and the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit had gone back only to the mid-1800s and used five times fewer weather station records.

Needless to say, confirmed denialists continue to nit-pick and try to find flaws in the work. But they’re just body-surfing in tidal wave of science. They will grasp any flimsy argument to bolster their ideology – their certainty that they’re right. What they don’t seem to realise is that it is not a battle of ideologies. It is not a philosophical discussion. The findings from the science are not an ideological outcome – they are simply a reflection of reality, to the extent that we can describe it.

This trenchant refusal to budge is emphasised in this article which quotes some sceptic as saying:

“I’m not convinced that he [Muller] was ever a sceptic although, of people I respect, there is a couple who do have a decent opinion of him”

While giving Muller some grudging support, it seems they want to disown him now. Funny about that. It’s a lot like the christian community wanting to disown Anders Breivik – “he was never a real christian”. How convenient.

However, what’s new in this second article is reference to the ‘Galileo Movement‘. This tawdry little group is basically a right-wing ‘axe-the-tax’ mob, featuring all the usual suspects, most of whom I’ve had a crack at on this blog over the journey – for example, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones, Monckton (I refuse to call him a Lord), Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, Jennifer Marohasy so on and so forth. And I must say I object to them appropriating the name Galileo for their slimy purposes. Yes, yes, I know he was persecuted for his views. But there are 2 key differences between the big G and this little kindergarten playgroup. Firstly, Galileo was doing SCIENCE and was sticking up for the facts (“and yet, it moves”). Secondly, these fools are not persecuted in any sense. Ridiculed, yes, persecuted, no. It is they who accuse scientists of being dishonest. In fact, if we are drawing parallels, this movement is much closer to the Catholic Church of the time – driven by ideology, and unwilling to be persuaded that their beliefs may be false – choosing to remain ignorant of the fact that the earth does move around the sun. The irony in that choice of name is therefore obvious.

Just going to the main page of this site is instructive – front and centre is ‘Beat the Deceit’. Yes, they’re still bleating about the manner in which the carbon price was introduced. They go on to deploy every trick in the book to denigrate the science and pump up their ideology. These are the truly deluded; blinded by their ideology in a big way.

However the biggest surprise (or maybe not) was at the end of that article which quoted a Malcolm Roberts, the manager of the movement as saying:

” .. climate change science had been captured by “some of the major banking families in the world” who form a “tight-knit cabal”.

Mr Roberts said he understood that the group’s views might sound strange, but claimed they were increasingly popular. “It does sound outlandish,” he said. “I, like you, was reluctant to believe it [but] there are significant things going on in Australia that people are waking up to”.

So what do we have here? Oh boy! It’s the New World Order conspiracy! Is that what these people are waiting for?

Although I’ve not written too much about it, I’m aware of this sub-genus of nutters who believe that a new world order is coming, as a group of powerful bankers (led by the Rothschild family) and the ‘Illuminati‘ take over the world, for some purpose. It seems the Galileo Movement is a member of this species, at least according to its manager.

Apart from the obvious nuttiness in maintaining this position, the hypocrisy is breathtaking. Here is a bunch of right-wing mouthpieces, who will yell from the roof tops about making government smaller, and allowing big business to do its thing, and yet, if a big banking enterprise is trying to get bigger (for the good of employment and prosperity of the little guy of course), they suddenly accuse it of all sorts of nefarious purposes. I say, all power to the Illuminati if it supports continued economic growth, right?

But seriously, how typical is this whole scene? To use a mathematical expression:

RW = f (immovable ideology, religion, denialism, economic rationalism, conspiracy, …).

What this means is that right-wing is usually a function of immovable ideology, religion, denialism and so forth.

We see it time and again, and I suspect it is just human nature. Perhaps we should round them all up and put them in prison camps. That way, they would have a real conspiracy and tangible persecution to talk about, rather than a manufactured enemy.

More nonsense from the Heartland Institute

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If you had any doubts about the mission of the Heartland Institute after my recent articles here and here, then they will evaporate after you read of their latest exploits, here.

The article tells us of a poster campaign by the Heartland Institute, designed to discredit what they call ‘climate alarmists’. Here’s an example:

Really. Of all the ridiculous, pathetic, childish, transparent, simple-minded, fallacious, disingenuous tactics to try, they wheel out the Hitler fallacy. This is a tactic employed during debates to tarnish some argument by association with Hitler. You know, Hitler was an atheist (err, he wasn’t, try Roman Catholic), and therefore atheists are very bad people without morals.

Anyway, the geniuses at Heartland have also reportedly created billboards with Charles Manson and Fidel Castro.

Hey, all these guys smoked too. Does Heartland still want to invoke them as the bad guy?  No, I thought not, given the vast tobacco industry funding to HI in the past.

If you read the article, it quotes a press release by the Heartless Institute in defence of its really intelligent advertising, which in part reads:

Why did Heartland choose to feature these people on its billboards? Because what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the “mainstream” media, and liberal politicians say about global warming. The point is that believing in global warming is not “mainstream,” smart, or sophisticated. In fact, it is just the opposite of those things. Still believing in man-made global warming – after all the scientific discoveries and revelations that point against this theory – is more than a little nutty. In fact, some really crazy people use it to justify immoral and frightening behavior.

So let me get this straight: Because some crazy mass murderers may have similar views on climate change to spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the “mainstream” media, and liberal politicians, then naturally people in these groups are crazy, right?. Very sophisticated argument that. I’m dazzled by the train of reasoning employed.

So let’s see what the many Heartland Institute plants, like Dr. Bob Carter, have to say about this. Do they support this? What about that HI trojan horse, the Australian Environment Foundation? And what about the Institute of Public Affairs. Is this your position too?

I’m guessing we’ll just get the head in the sand defence on this one. ‘Nothing to do with us’ will be the response. ‘Completely different organisations’ etc etc.

The usual gutless smoke and mirrors tactics.

Another right wing trojan horse – Australian Environment Foundation

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It’s a fucking outrage.

The more you learn, the more outrageous it becomes. Fresh from this recent burst which drew attention to the US right wing think tank which is funding climate change denial across the globe, this week’s Media Watch (episode of 19th March) has alerted us to the AEF – the Australian Environment Foundation, which is just such a think tank.

The show pointed out how the AEF was established by the dreaded Institute of Public Affairs, which is the most rabid and conscience-free right wing organisation since the Tea Party (at this point, their collective chests will be swelling with pride).  The IPA practice policy development by spreadsheet – whatever position makes the most money for private individuals, becomes their position. And they are fronted by some truly awful individuals, whom I won’t mention by name, since that’s inviting the opportunity to enhance someone’s personal wealth. Just look at the AEF About page in the link above, and look at the media releases on the right-hand side; they include:

  • MD Basin plan based on junk science
  • CSIRO report on wind farms not credible
  • Get Up campaigns against the environment
  • IPCC exposed
  • Poor want climate policies that work
  • The crumbling edifice of the IPCC.
These headlines are absolutely predictable, given the nature of this organisation, especially relying on the old ‘speaking for the poor’ gambit, which is ironic and hilarious at the same time as being pathetic.

Oh boy. Talk about dark forces.

However the connection of the AEF with the IPA was highlighted by some recent work by one of the members of the AEF, Dr. Jennifer Marohasey, who was formerly  a senior fellow of the IPA (2004-2009). Seems that Dr. Marohasey is is a climate denier of the highest order – she admits to this on her own website. She is the author of the report which claims that the MD basin plan is based on ‘junk science’. Has the report been peer reviewed? Oh yes, of course. By a Professor Peter Ridd. And oh, my, look at that – he’s a director of the AEF! That’s handy. When challenged to provide additional evidence of review, Dr. Marohasey provided a few names, most of which rubbished her work comprehensively, with comments such as:

The paper appears to be a crusade against the barrages, and the scientists who have actually carried out their unbiased science there, rather than a sound scientific paper.

and,

Science should not be twisted to support a poorly supported and dangerous policy option.

And her cohorts at the AEF include the usual suspects. The AEF subsequently launched another organisation called the Australian Climate Science Coalition, the ‘expert panel’ of which is a who’s-who of climate denialists, including Bob Carter and Ian Plimer. You’ll recall from my earlier piece that Bob Carter is already on the payroll of a US climate denial ‘think tank’, the Heartland Institute.

And guess what. The ACSC received almost all of its funding from the American Climate Science Coalition. Seems the yanks are pulling some strings. The Tea Party connection is not that far away really.

This is all pretty grubby really. Basically, these people are hiding behind a name, to push commercial interests above all else – not even the truth gets in the way.

The real issue is the dishonesty and deceptive behaviour of some of these groups and individuals, who are hell-bent on sowing doubt among the population to further their own ideology. They try desperately to sell us the message that it’s the evil scientists who are distorting the truth, especially that most evil of organisations, the CSIRO, but ultimately they are just con-men in a cheap suit.

In her letter to Media Watch, Dr. Marohasey challenged them to say that she was doing this for personal financial gain, which they backed off from doing. Rather, Media Watch focused on the credulous reporting around the whole issue. I don’t think she’s doing it for personal financial gain either, but I think she’s crafted those words cunningly. No, it’s not financial gain, but it’s certainly to push a particular ideology – squash anything that limits profits. Simple. Why don’t they just own up to that, and spare us all the environmental posturing?

You only need to read the first line of their About page to understand their mind-set. They are cunning, but their bias is clear.

The Australian Environment Foundation (AEF) is a not-for-profit, membership-based environmental organisation having no political affiliation.  We take an evidence-based, solution focused approach to environmental issues.

As for their claim of  ‘evidence-based’, if not an outright lie, then this statement is at least highly delusional.

I’m afraid the only ‘evidence’ I see is of an elaborate and shameless scam being perpetrated on the Australian public by some right wing nutters, who drape themselves in the fine cloth of science and environmentalism only to disguise their duplicity with a thin veneer of respectability.

See! Now they’ve forced me into a mangled metaphor – now I’m really angry.

Oh Bolty, you’ve done it again

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With apologies to the McCain people. At least their product had some utility in society, unlike the doltish drivel churned out by Andrew Bolt. When Bolt meets climate change, the nonsense just seems to flow. I refer to this recent article, which I just happened to see while at my aunt’s house. Try as I might, I couldn’t avert my eyes – damn you Bolt.

This time, he tries very hard to be amusing by using sarcasm, although fails dismally. Rather than coming off as clever, he once again shows either:

a. His complete and utter lack of understanding of climate change, or,

b. Willful disregard of the facts in order to churn out more pointless column-inches.

The source of his failed attempt at humour is that all the rain and flooding around the country is another nail in the coffin of climate change. To make his point, he dredges up irrelevant quotes from people who talked up the drought a couple of years back. I’m not even going to quote from the article, because I couldn’t find anything worth directly commenting upon.

Andrew. How can I say this in terms you will understand? Let me try.

GLOBAL WARMING IS NOT THE SAME AS CLIMATE CHANGE. THE FORMER IS THE CAUSE, THE LATTER IS THE RESULT.

GLOBAL WARMING IS NOW AN INCONTROVERTIBLE FACT – I DON’T EVEN ASK YOU TO ACCEPT THAT IT IS MAN-MADE, EVEN THOUGH THIS ALSO BEYOND DISPUTE.

CLIMATE CHANGE WILL VARY ON DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE GLOBE – THIS MEANS THE POSSIBILITY OF MORE DROUGHTS AND MORE FLOODS.

ANECDOTAL STORIES BASED ON A HANDFUL OF OBSERVATIONS CANNOT BE USED TO PROVE OR DISPROVE THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE – LONGER TERM OBSERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED.

So, what is it about these primary-school level ideas that so challenge you Andrew?

You have in the past accused climate researchers for having less than pure motives. Well, it seems that you are willing to fill newspapers with this sort of pointless and misleading content for money alone, since you could not possibly be so ill-informed.

Could you?

Happy Birthday Rationalbrain! What did I get? A carbon price – at last.

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Yes, this humble blog has turned one.

It was about this time last year, buoyed by the impending Amazing Meeting, that rationalbrain was born, over a cup of tea at lunchtime no less. Rather than write down my thoughts on a blank sheet of paper to let off some steam, I decided to perhaps share the thoughts with others. Sorry.

And so one year later, rationalbrain has a small, but exceedingly high quality following. Thanks go to regular commenters, including:

  • neutralturn (aka pizza)
  • luxinvestor
  • blamer
  • Martin Cleaver (loved the Netherlands Martin!)
  • Rationalfollower
  • MyBrainHurts
  • Elaine
  • Reservoir Dad
  • Thomas Hughes
  • PhysioMP
  • MrBonchapeau
  • Cerebrate, and
  • Marts
And also those subscribers who tend not to comment (come on Tone, give it a go!)
I should also give a shout out to the Elmore-bots, who have tried relentlessly to keep the marketing spin flowing.
One of my objectives has been to demystify some aspects of science for those who wouldn’t normally get into the detail. An early attempt was Climate Change for Dummies, which tried to present a summary of a summary of the science in such a way that an ordinary person could see how basic the stuff is, and therefore why I am so persuaded by it.

Apart from the science however, there has been a raging debate here in Oz for some years, firstly about the reality of climate change, and secondly about what to do about it. I won’t rehash all the politics – suffice to say that much of the commentary was so simplistic and puerile that it was depressing. You know the sort of thing – ‘but we’ve had a cold, wet winter – I don’t see any evidence for climate change“.  Aaargghhh. Not to mention (this is a strange expression really, since I will now go on to mention it…)  “a carbon price is just another tax and it will mean the loss of thousands of jobs and the end of the steel industry“, or, “Australia is so small, we won’t make any difference to the climate, but it will destroy our economy“. Spare me.

And right on cue for the birthday celebrations, yesterday our Senate passed the legislation to enable a price on carbon, with the target being a reduction of 80% on 2000 levels by the year 2050. It’s actually a modest target, but better than nothing. The benefits in my mind are two-fold. Firstly, one lot of crap public debate can be put to rest (to no doubt be replaced by another lot), and, secondly and most importantly, we are finally doing something about climate change.

I am reminded of a story of one of our old-time football coaches, Yabbie Jeans, whose team was trailing badly at 3/4 time in the final. In his address to the players, the coach looked eat each player in the eye and implored him: “for god’s sake, go out there and do something“. In this simple sentence was implied that each player should take the responsibility to make something happen – don’t wait for someone else to do it. So it is with our carbon pricing legislation. Someone has to do something – has to take responsibility for doing something.

So it all went through the Senate. And now we have the ear-piercing, mind-numbing bleating from conservative politicians, commentators, re-hashing the old chestnuts as listed above. But I believe their complaints are completely disingenuous –  they won’t say what they really believe. Deep down, they simply don’t believe or trust the science. If they did, they wouldn’t be complaining. Of course, the right wing media has also whipped up a certain segment of the general public into a frenzy, and they then repeat the cleverly crafted canards.

One of those guilty of whipping up hysteria is one Barnaby Joyce, shadow minister for finance, who thrives on the sound of his own voice, but ultimately has no clue about Finance or Science. Think bible belt of Queensland. The land where daylight savings fades curtains. You get the idea. Here’s an exchange in a recent interview. You decide whether he’s nuts or not:

LYNDAL CURTIS: Isn’t the government doing some of that through its carbon farming initiative?

BARNABY JOYCE: No, what they are doing is bringing in a tax. They are bringing in a tax and if taxes cooled the planet, the place would be an icebox. It is absurd. Using the same logic, every time you increase income tax the place would get colder, every time you reduce income tax it would warm up a little bit.

I mean it is just this absurd analysis. Where they always, and the way they go about it, where they create fear and loathing and moral outrage. You will instantaneously combust if you don’t drown, and people say oh that sounds bad. People will die all round the world, there will be droughts, droughts, fire, flood and famine.

And then people say I feel bad about this, I must do something about this. But then when people ask the logical question, hang on, how does a tax have anything to do with those things you just said then …

LYNDAL CURTIS: Don’t taxes change behaviour?

BARNABY JOYCE: Yes, they do. They make you poorer. They make it so you can’t afford things. That is precisely what this is. Yet they’re now saying, well it doesn’t have that much of an effect. Well, if it doesn’t have that much of an effect, why are you doing it?

But, of course, it does have an effect and you’re dead right. It does make you poorer, it is a pricing mechanism to make you poorer so you can not afford things, you can not buy them and the nasty little pill about this is that the thing that people can’t afford will be their power. And there are people right now Lyndal who can’t afford their power. They don’t need any more motivation to be poor, the government has got them to a poor position quite alright right now.

LYNDAL CURTIS: You say the tax will make people poorer but the government’s also going to be giving some compensation, some tax cuts and pension rises to people. Are you happy going to the next election saying to people we will take those tax cuts and pension rises away?

BARNABY JOYCE: This is an absurdity. They must think we are all fools. They’re saying they are going to take all this money of you and then I am going to give you a little bit of your own money back and you will say thank you to me.

How about we just leave all the money in their pocket, that’s a much better idea. But this idea we can take the money off you, spinning it around a department, for which I hear there are 1,000 people at the moment in the Climate Change Department, I don’t know how they’re going, it was a bit cold this morning, they should have warmed it up this morning. But then the 1,000 people get paid an average of $140,000 per year. Tell that to the lady on the checkout.

Did you get that? Yes, “taxes change behaviour – they make you poorer” ! Barnaby, they don’t think we’re all fools. Just you.

Then while waiting for a coffee this morning, I browsed the ‘letters to the editor’  in the HeraldSun newspaper. For those not from Melbourne, this paper was once the paper for the common man, but has in recent years become a mouthpiece for the conservatives and shock-jocks. And their readership clearly reflects that, giving us the full gamut of inane complaints about carbon pricing. Generally the comments reflect their certainty that the sky would fall in, and that we will be ruined economically, or that l’il ol’ Australia can’t make a jot of difference to global warming. Fairly hysterical stuff. Far more hysterical than the recent news that a new analysis of data has some skeptical scientists (Richard Muller, for example, in this one of many recent articles) changing their mind and now believing in man-made climate change, having confirmed a 1.5C rise in average global temperatures since the 50’s. Far more hysterical than observing that many low-lying bits of land, such as Tuvalu in the Pacific, are literally struggling to keep above the water line.

It’s going to be some ride, and I’ll endeavour to keep you posted.

Now for some of that birthday cake.

And, oh yes, Yabbie’s team got up and won the game.