Reflections on a changing climate

Was Villach the start of global warming?

Among the many climate science meetings I have attended, the most significant, at least as far as climate change is concerned, was my involvement in the UN-sponsored international conference held in the beautiful Austrian town of Villach in October 1985.

One hundred experts from 30 countries attended the meeting (in contrast to ten to twenty thousand who now attend such meetings), and I was privileged to be the only New Zealander invited. We were all there as experts – not representing our respective organisations – in various fields of science, endeavouring to do the best we could in looking at the complexities of climate science.

One of the principal findings of this conference was that

“while other factors, such as aerosol concentration, changes in solar energy input, and changes in vegetation, may also influence climate, the greenhouse gases are likely to be the most important cause of climate change over the next century.”

At that time, even though I was partly responsible for the writing of the above paragraph, I, along with a few of my colleagues, had some misgivings about it, and were somewhat surprised that within a year ‘human-induced global warming’ caught the imagination of much of the world. Indeed, not a day now goes by without some mention of global warming, climate change, emission trading schemes, etc. – terms which were the preserve of academic text books until recently.

Despite this concern, a colleague of mine from Australia, Bill Kininmonth, who in 2004 wrote a book called Climate Change – A Natural Hazard, has mentioned to me on several occasions that I have changed from being the ‘gamekeeper’ to being the ‘poacher’. Whether that is true is a matter of opinion. However, irrespective of my personal views on the matter, it is clear that there are two main views held by climate scientists and others on the subject of global warming and climate change.

First, there are those involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, many or most government scientists, plus others, such as Al Gore and many politicians and most journalists, who consider that man, with domestic animals, is the prime cause of recent changes in the climate.

Second, there are some university scientists, many retired climatologists, and a minority of politicians and journalists who consider that nature is the main cause of changes in the climate.

Twenty years ago, it was inconceivable that the New Zealand Government would have a Minister of Climate Change; indeed, back then, as weather forecasters and climatologists we just got on with our job of making the best possible weather forecast and providing the best climate advice to all those who requested information, without guidance or interference from the Government of the day.

How things have changed!


The web site of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) includes this statement:

In 1985 a joint UNEP/WMO/ICSU Conference was convened in Villach (Austria) on the “Assessment of the Role of Carbon Dioxide and of Other Greenhouse Gases in Climate Variations and Associated Impacts”. The conference concluded, that “as a result of the increasing greenhouse gases it is now believed that in the first half of the next century (21st century) a rise of global mean temperature could occur which is greater than any in man’s history.”

They were already using the language of alarm – no wonder politicians figured this could produce a jolly good scare; and terror has always been the best means to move serious amounts of money into the treasury. So the politicians were the first targets of the activists and the first to take the bait. Because they held the purse strings, they soon gave scientists the subtle but unmistakable message: if you don’t investigate this (whatever your topic), funding could prove difficult.

Yet only six years earlier the language at the first World Climate Conference had been much more reserved and cautious:

In 1979 the first “World Climate Conference” organized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) expressed concern that “continued expansion of man’s activities on Earth may cause significant extended regional and even global changes of climate.” It called for “global cooperation to explore the possible future course of global climate and to take this new understanding into account in planning for the future development of human society.”

Though it will no doubt provide interesting material one day for historians curious about a period of mass lunacy, this is all water under the bridge. Our task now is to stop the spread of the nonsense.

My thanks to John for his snapshot of the start of the madness.

Views: 169

6 Thoughts on “Reflections on a changing climate

  1. Mike Jowsey on 07/05/2012 at 12:44 am said:

    For the first time in history, people shouting “the end is nigh” are somehow the sane ones, while those of us who say it is not are now the lunatics.

    John, when you say “I, along with a few of my colleagues, had some misgivings about it”, could you elaborate?

  2. Flipper on 08/05/2012 at 9:51 am said:

    I know it is ad hominem, and for that I apologise. But I distrust “Phuds” who persist in describing themselves as “Dr” rather than “John Doe, PhD.”. (Self aggrandizement?)
    Well, perhaps I am being too harsh. Afterall “Doctor Jim Salinger” (aka J. Salinger, PhD) has provided us with much entertainment and, I guess Richard’s Climate Conversation would not be what it is were it not for him.

    NB: I do not liken Maunder J to Salinger J.

  3. Sorry, lads, I missed these comments when they came in. You’re being unduly harsh on John Maunder.

    I applied the “Dr” to his name, out of editorial respect for his doctorate. I had to look him up first to find out he had the PhD — he didn’t tell me.


  4. To John Maunder – I hope I have found the right person.

    I was trying to track down a paper titled something like “The best climates in the best climate in the world” in which you assessed around 40 locations in New Zealand.

    If this was you and you still have it somewhere in your archives I should very much appreciate a copy. I read it back in the 1970s, but did not keep a copy or the reference.

    We are doing studies of outdoor comfort in NZ urban areas and I would like to be able to refer to it if possible.

    [George, your comment came in a few days ago and went to the moderation queue; my apologies for missing it. John Maunder can be reached at: climate [at] – an address published on his web site at – RT]
  5. Pingback: Das Thema Klimawandel ist nicht neu | habito

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation