Senator Malcolm Roberts fails high school science in maiden speech

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What happens when a climate science denialist gets things badly, horribly, terribly, and embarrassingly wrong.

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DeSmog

rsz_roberts_grab_maiden

Climate science denialists will often fool people, and sometimes themselves, by cherry-picking the bits of evidence they think fit their argument.

At other times, they’ll construct elaborate conspiracy theories about human-caused climate change being a front for a New World Order, with the United Nations as the Illuminati.

But often, they just get things badly, horribly, terribly, and embarrassingly wrong.

Australian Senator Malcolm Roberts, of the far-right One Nation party, had all this and more in his maiden speech to parliament this week. It made it all the way to the UK’s BBC.

It is clear that climate change is a scam,” said Roberts, before laying down some hardcore sciencey-stuff on Australia’s upper chamber.

He said that “changes in the carbon dioxide level [of the atmosphere] are a result of changes in temperature, not a cause.” This, despite scientists being able to check the chemical signature of carbon dioxide gases that show the extra CO2 comes from the thousands of millions of metric tons of fossil fuels being burned every year.

Roberts tried to boil his whole understanding of atmospheric physics into one neat little paragraph. It went like this:

“It is basic. The sun warms the earth’s surface. The surface, by contact, warms the moving, circulating atmosphere. That means the atmosphere cools the surface. How then can the atmosphere warm it? It cannot. That is why their computer models are wrong. The UN‘s claim is absurd. Instead of science, activists invoke morality, imply natural weather events are unusual, appeal to authority and use name-calling, ridicule and emotion. They avoid discussing facts and rely on pictures of cute smiling dolphins. These are not evidence of human effect on climate.”

Now I haven’t asked all of them, but I’m pretty confident that no climate scientist has ever used a picture of a dolphin — even a cute, smiling one — as “evidence of human effect on climate.”  I might be wrong though.

It’s All Greek

Said Roberts: “Like Socrates, I love asking questions to get to the truth.”

So, in the spirit of Greek philosophy (or something) I asked some climate scientists about Roberts’ statement on the “circulating atmosphere” and how it “can’t warm” the planet.  And when I say I asked them, I mean I wasted their valuable time.

Professor Matthew England, at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Climate Change Research Center in Australia, told me:

“Where do you start? This denies that the atmosphere has any heat storage capacity, or that greenhouse gases re-radiate heat back down to the Earth.

This really is high school geography that Malcolm Roberts has messed up here. We have known about the greenhouse effect since about the middle of the 19th century.

We have directly measured warming of the oceans, for example, where about 90 percent of the human-caused heat has gone. You can measure that heat. And we know with absolute certainty that this heat has come from the atmosphere.

Anyone in public office, as a Senator speaking about something as important as climate change, should be across these basic facts.”

Professor David Karoly, of the University of Melbourne, Australia, said, “Of course, Malcolm Roberts is wrong.”

“There is a wealth of ‘empirical evidence’ from observations of the surface energy balance at every observing site around the world with relevant instruments and measurements.

Downward long-wave or infrared radiation from the atmosphere to the surface is a vital component to warming the Earth’s surface. The atmosphere warms the surface and cools the surface. In fact, on average through day and night and over a whole year over the whole Earth’s surface, downward infrared radiation is more important than downward solar radiation from the Sun in warming the surface.”

Karoly also sent a schematic, derived from this journal paper and published by the UN‘s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which Roberts hates. While criminally bereft of smiling dolphins, the image shows how greenhouse gases interact with the Earth’s surface.

Credit: IPCC Assessment Report 5
Credit: IPCC Assessment Report 5

Professor Roger Jones, of Victoria University, Australia, has worked on several IPCC climate reports, which naturally will make Roberts uneasy. But he told me:

“There is so much wrong in these few sentences that it is almost beyond parody — it turns the Senate Chamber into the theater of the absurd.

Malcolm Roberts broke the first law of thermodynamics, which is the simplest — the conservation of energy — and then broke the rest of them.”

Dr. Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, also at the UNSW’s Climate Change Research Center, started with the absolute basics by pointing out to Roberts that the atmosphere is made up of gas. Then she got a bit technical.

“Greenhouse gases which are present in the atmosphere absorb and re-emit particular wavelengths of radiation, under particular conditions. Each GHG [greenhouse gas] absorbs and re-emits certain bands of the long wave radiation coming off the Earth. Yes, some of these re-emitted bands go into space, but some also go back into the atmosphere, thus heating it up. Long wave radiation essentially equals heat. More GHG equals more absorption and re-emitting of long wave bands, and that equals an increase in temperatures.”

So, there you have it.

Roberts broke basic laws of physics, managed to forget high school science, and ignored the properties of the greenhouse gases he claims to have studied while working in the coal industry.

Apart from that, a pretty good effort?

Source: DesMog. Reproduced with permission.

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20 Comments
  1. john 2 years ago

    The “Show me the empirical evidence” man.
    The isotopic make up of the constituent CO2 in the atmosphere shows where the increase is coming from.
    The increase in temperature is not due to extra sun strength.
    The physical decay in glaciers particularly on land.
    The increase in ocean temperature.
    These are a few of the physical indisputable lines of evidence all of which are not believed by the said man.
    His list of reliable people that have educated him read as a whose who of cranks ratbags and frankly wingnuts.
    It is deplorable that he now has a soap box to give him a cloak of credibility for his deluded fantasy world of non science.

  2. AllanO 2 years ago

    In the fortified echo chamber of his own cranium, Roberts’ position is impregnable.

    Any contrary data or facts must by definition have been manipulated and corrupted to hide the self-evident “truth” that there is no anthropogenic global warming.

    Ridiculing his egregious nonsense just confirms him in his Galileo / Socrates delusion, as opponents would only resort to ridicule if they have no “empirical evidence” to rebut him (on which point see previous sentence).

    He is more infuriating than a swarm of mosquitoes and potentially a lot more dangerous.

  3. Kevin O'Dea 2 years ago

    The corporate interests of coal/gas/oil/aluminium/steel and their quest for PROFIT are the primary driving force of denialism in the climate change saga. Malcolm Roberts and his mates in Big Business remain impervious to the rational discourse of scientific dialogue, cherrypicking whatever evidence they choose to employ with their strategy. Meantime, the Earth’s processes are not waiting for anyone, the planet is slowly but inevitably changing, and many species of life are facing extinction as a consequence.

    • MrMauricio 2 years ago

      Yes even though their own scientists knew of the effects of burning their products on the climate-Exxon scientists,since the 1960s and Peabody coal not long after.The biggest oil and coal companies respectively. This makes them CULPABLE!!!

  4. solarguy 2 years ago

    Roberts, an intellectual drop kick, sponsered by king coal or schizophrenic?

  5. Geoff 2 years ago

    I think I’ve said this in another post on renew economy but all the guy is, is a merchant of doubt. Can’t really describe him as anything else…

  6. Albery Moray 2 years ago

    Roberts either failed his thermodynamics class at uni (has anyone check to see if he really did study engineering?) or he has misled the parliament.

  7. Nicko 2 years ago

    Thanks, Malcolm, for the stunt double dissolution election that put Malcolm Roberts in parliament!

    • Dispassionate 2 years ago

      Malcolm Turnbull didn’t put Malcolm Roberts in parliament, the people of Australia did that!

      • Nicko 2 years ago

        Roberts wouldn’t be there if it was a normal half Senate election. Hanson would be, but not Roberts. So Turnbull’s stunt election meant Roberts gets the soapbox.

        Even as he makes a fool of himself, it does him no harm, as this just reinforces his “heroic” stand to the uneducated far right constituency.

        Mind you, Turnbull is specifically trying to stymie clean energy, despite the “innovation” spin, so the likes of Roberts to keep the confusion and distraction up works for Turnbull too.

        • Dispassionate 2 years ago

          If we are going to go down this track then we could track the blame back to those that allowed the double dissolution election legislation through in the first place.

          So again, Malcolm Turnbull didn’t put Malcolm Roberts in parliament, the people of Australia did that!

  8. Chris Fraser 2 years ago

    Good timing for uttering denialist rubbish. The maiden speech is the only time the other Senators are not allowed to laugh.

  9. Graham Strong 2 years ago

    There’s a cartoon in my head: Malcolm Roberts is taken on a tour of CSIRO HQ by some climate science experts as a ‘good will’ gesture. They lead him down to secret basement to a big heavy security door signed ‘EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE’, they lead him in then a ‘SWING…CLUNK!!’ ……a close look at the fine print below the door sign…..’for idiots’.

  10. electroteque 2 years ago

    Elementary not high school. I was taught about the greenhouse effect in primary school in the 80’s

  11. Richard Andrew 2 years ago

    This is all quite understandable. Roberts is funded by the fossil fuel industry, or by a representative of it. So of course he is going to talk drivel. The campaign of misinformation run by the fossil fuel industry has been extremely successful. Roberts is just another part of their game. Sad and dangerous.

  12. Bob Fearn 2 years ago

    In 1856 an American female scientist Eunice Foote but thermometers and various gases into several glass jars. She then put the jars into the sunshine and observed that the jar filled with CO2 warmed the fastest and highest and was the slowest to return to the ambient temperature when the jars were placed back inside.
    Unfortunately this multi billion dollar experiment has been far too expensive for the fossil fuel companies to duplicate. It has also been, apparently far to complicated for many politicians to understand.

    • Chris Fraser 2 years ago

      But we do appreciate the scientific explanation – thank you.

  13. Jan van Dalfsen 2 years ago

    I think Roberts is driven by his conspiracy theories above all else.

  14. John Nicol 2 years ago

    The statement by Roberts is essentially correct. The diagram you present above which was devised by James Hansen who is NOT a spectroscopist and had no idea what he was talking about. Showing a return to earth of 342 Watts per square meter as appears in that diagram is totally ridiculous. When you go out side under the sky, but being shaded from the sun, do you suddenly feel the same heat as you would being close to a 400 W light bulb? Of course you would not, but that is what the diagram is trying to make you believe.

    It is sad to see the statements below from people whose knowledge of the science is probably zero, yet are happy to make fun of another human being simply because his own statements are different from what they believe.

    As far back as 1984, Professor Jack Barrett, Professor of Chemistry at Imperial College, London, showed from careful expariment and theory (Barrett was an internationally recognised infra red spectroscopist and expert in gas physics) that increases iin atmospheric carbon dioxide could NOT cause the degree of global warming claimed by proponents of the hypothesis, which is based on a false use of the work of Svante Arrhenius, himself a chemist, who determined as accurately as could be done at that time, that the presence of carbon dioxide in the atmophere contributed to the warming of the atmospher, augmenting the effects of the contact between the air and the surface – land or water – and the evaporation process itself.

    My own wide experience in discussing this topic over some twelve years, as a working physicist, with the people from Australia’s many University Climate units which have grown out of their Geography Departments, and with meteorologist, Dr Penny Whetton, Head of CSIRO’s climate modelling unit – modelling as in weather forecasting long range not studying the effects of carbon dioxide – reveals disappointingly that they cannot produce one single paper which demonstrates the physics of carbon dioxide in the atmophere, emitting and absorbing radiation.

    So please do not be too critical of the Senator.
    John Nicol PhD(Physics) atomic and molecular physicist and high/very high resolution Gas Spectroscopist.

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