Whoa, I know that guy!

I was reading about the ongoing climate change debate in Australia, and a name from my past came up: Alan Finkel. I used to do contract programming for his company, Axon Instruments (all the neuroscientists out there know that name — it’s pretty much the premier company for making essential neurophysiology gadgets). I had to look up what Finkel has been doing in the last 20 years, since I last worked with him (I was one of the people working on his foray into cellular imaging, of which he says “we didn’t make a successful play in the market”, which is true).

Anyway, he was caught explaining climate change to that idiot, Malcolm Roberts. It’s an excellent explanation.

Across all the countries of the planet we’ve been burning fossil fuels for a rapid rate. It’s clear that by doing that we are emitting ever-increasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The natural systems can’t absorb that. There’s a clear hypothesis, then there’s clear evidence. The thing that I find most compelling, senator, is that when you have a combination of a hypothesis and evidence.
When it comes to carbon dioxide it’s clear what would be driving increases in carbon dioxide, then you go out and measure it. Carbon dioxide goes up every year. Last year carbon dioxide went up 3.05 ppm which is more than any other time.

So the carbon dioxide is going up. Does that create warming? The theory is that carbon dioxide does trap heat, so ultraviolet light comes through the atmosphere without interruption, or almost without interruption, hits the ground, warms the ground and you get an infrared radiation from the ground which is then to some extent trapped by the carbon dioxide.

That theory goes back to 1896, Swedish physical chemist Svante Arrhenius did the initial work on that. He subsequently got a Nobel prize for other work and he identified that back in 1896 that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, for basic physical reasons will trap heat.

So you’ve got the carbon dioxide, you’ve got the physics that says carbon dioxide would trap heat coming off the ground being radiated from the surface and from the water as well.

Do you have the evidence? Yes!

The temperature is going up and up and up. It was just yesterday that NASA declared that the last 12 months, yet again have been the hottest on record. So in both cases carbon dioxide is going up and it’s trapping heat, you’ve got evidence and theory. The second case is that that trapped heat will lead to an increase in temperature, you’ve got the theory and the evidence. That’s steps one and two.

The third step is the impact. The temperatures going up, what will that do to climate? That’s where it gets very, very difficult now you’re into the world of modelling.

I’m impressed. When I worked with him, he was sharp, talked very fast, and was incredibly focused and enthusiastic. It looks like he still is.


  1. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    One little nit. The atmosphere is transparent in the visible as well as the UV. The majority of the Sun’s irradiance is in the visible–that’s what provides the energy influx, not UV.

  2. marcoli says

    Very good. I had been my impression that most climate change deniers will accept that CO2 levels are going up, because that evidence is sufficiently strong and simple that they can not deny it. They just insert some other argument that it is not ‘us’ that is solely doing it, or that some other factor is at work to dampen its effects. A detail that I think should help push the point that the added CO2 is from fossil fuels is that the extra CO2 has the ratio of carbon isotopes that come from carbon fixing photosynthetic species, and that the only extra source dumping that particular kind of carbon into the atmosphere is from burning fossil fuels. So the added CO2 is not from other sources like volcanic activity. However, this detail unfortunately gets rather technical, and this crowd of deniers do not show the attention span to follow it.
    That is too bad.

  3. Silver Fox says

    The deniers will only accept global warming as a fact when it’s 80F in Minnesota in January and Miami Beach is under water. Until then it’s barbecue time for them. I think it may be time for the alien hybrids to come down and take over. We are certainly not up to the job of running the planet.

  4. Raucous Indignation says

    That was remarkably cogent. I think, maybe, that I’ve answered one question, maybe, that well in my entire life.

  5. slatham says

    Another nit — I think John Tyndall was before Svante Arrhenius for figuring out that CO2 was a greenhouse gas.

  6. says

    @3 They then just assert that 300ppm couldn’t possibly have that effect. No evidence provided of course. I then ask them if 300ppm can’t possibly have an effect, can I put 300ppm hydrogen cyanide in your morning coffee? To which I get no response generally.

    Finkel is wasting his time. There is no convincing these fools. Especially when they are getting paid 200K tax payer $$ a year.

    Roberts, by the way, is a soverign citizen, just to add to the copious amounts of stupid.

  7. bargearse says

    F.O. @8

    To be fair most of that increase in support is due to their racist arseholery rather than their climate change denial arseholery. Not that that makes things better, both forms make me want weep with frustration.

  8. Rob Grigjanis says

    marcoli @3:

    So the added CO2 is not from other sources like volcanic activity.

    I remember a bullshit argument about volcanoes producing 100 times as much CO₂ as humans. This has been looked into;

    not only does volcanic CO₂ not dwarf that of human activity, it actually comprises less than 1 percent of that value.

    So they’re only out by a factor of 10,000. They’ve done worse.

    Another bullshit argument I’ve seen is that ancient warmings were not initiated by rises in CO₂ levels, therefore CO₂ can’t cause warming. Like saying ancient forest fires weren’t caused by matches, therefore matches can’t cause forest fires. Head meet desk.

  9. F.O. says

    @bargearse #9 Indeed it is.
    But in an ideal world I’d expect politicians who are divorced from reality to at least lose some support, not see their polls skyrocket.
    But we the people are divorced ourselves from reality, and we get the pollies we deserve.

  10. fredex says

    For #8, #9 and #10
    Not to be too depressed – The Guardian got it wrong.
    Hansonites have not magically tripled in number since the election.
    The Guardian says ON scored 1.3% at the election but that is only for the House of Reps where they ran in just a few electorates.
    In the Senate which covered all voters they scored [from memory] 4.3% and have since received between 5% and 6% in opinion polls – the latest being Essential Research this week giving them 5%, which whilst a sad reflection of our electorate does not warrant the scary response of the Guardian.

  11. Meg Thornton says

    The bit about One Notion is they offer solutions to complicated problems (global climate change, stagnant growth, increased international insecurity, wars in other nations, etc) which are, as the quote goes “simple, straightforward, and wrong” (Ignore it, stop immigration, blame Islam, blame Islam and stop immigration). This plays into an electorate which has been pretty much subsisting on Murdochian tabloid news for the last forty years or so (seriously, the Murdoch press owns 70% of the newspapers, and largely dominates and dictates the media environment here in Australia) and has either lost track of how to think critically about difficult topics, or never learned this skill in the first place.

    However, I’m busy looking at their previous trajectory (and the trajectories of similar small parties in the Senate over the previous few years – let’s not forget Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party, the PUP Australians were sold during the 2013 election) and I suspect we’re going to start seeing a dissolution and shattering of the party at some stage in the next couple of years. Too many strong egos, you see, and little arguments in a small party become big ones so very easily. We may well wind up with Perilous Pauline for a full six years (unless Uncle Malcolm finds another Double Dissolution trigger in the Liberals legislative agenda to pull, in the hope this time it will work out right for him), but I sincerely doubt we’re going to have One Nation as a major parliamentary force for anywhere near that length of time.

  12. fredex says

    @Meg Thornton
    Yep, I agree, with both paragraphs [and I reckon you can add KAP, FF and NXT to the list of parties that have and will fade away, possibly to be replaced by some new mob of ephemerals].