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August 01 2012

20:47

Victory Declared For The Climate Science Denialists

A VICTORY has been declared in the field of climate change but the lap of honour is not being run by research scientists or renewable energy bosses, or by coral reefs, drought-stricken farmers or the citizens of low-lying countries.

Rather, if you accept as valid this declaration of victory from one of Australia’s leading thinkers, then those popping the champagne corks are the fossil fuel lobby.

Standing by the track cheering this triumph, are the conservative think tanks and the free market ideologues that believe the world should be run on their terms. To follow the analogy through to the bitter end, the losers are everyone else.

Professor Robert Manne, a political philosopher at La Trobe University, is making this declaration in a 7000-word essay published tomorrow in The Monthly magazine – its cover screaming “Victory of the Denialists: How Climate Science Was Vanquished”.

Manne’s essay charts the decades-long effort to spread doubt and confusion about the science of human-caused climate change, focusing on the think tanks and corporations that created and backed a “relentless” campaign in the United States which has infected other parts of the western world, including Australia.

Manne draws on already published books and research papers about the climate denial industry, and so in that respect close watchers won’t find anything new. But it is his declaration that climate science denialists have won which will stick in the throat of many climate change campaigners and science communicators.

I asked Professor Manne why he had come to that conclusion.

I find it difficult to see how a reasonably objective observer could deny that this is what has happened—gradually at first but also dramatically since the end of 2009 due largely to the combination of the failure of Copenhagen and the impact of 'Climategate'.

 

The victory I write about is limited to the United States, although denialism is an important and almost certainly growing movement in Canada, Australia and the UK.

If climate change denialists are pleased [by the conclusion] then they have chosen to ignore the explicit claim of the article that they are part of an irrationalist movement that is placing the future of the Earth at risk. The role of analysis is to be as faithful to the truth as one can be, not to boost morale or to support delusion.

For the denialists to be “victorious” they do not need to "prove" that global warming is a "hoax". All they have to do is to "manufacture doubt", that is to say to create a substantial level of public doubt about the solidity of the science.


According to Manne, President Barack Obama has been “nobbled” by the denialist campaign and the Republican Party almost “entirely converted” to denying the science.

Manne concludes in his essay that the success of the denialist campaign is one that subsequent generations will look upon “as perhaps the darkest in the history of humankind”.

But just as Manne makes his declaration, a project funded by two of America’s greatest supporters of the “denialist” campaign has backfired spectacularly.

Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, led a project that accepted a $150,000 donation from a foundation controlled by the Koch brothers to study global temperature records (the Kochs have pumped millions into the global climate denial campaign).

Muller had previously stated that claims by skeptics that temperature records were unreliable merited a major investigation. He has also previously criticised the work of Pennsylvania State University scientist Professor Michael Manne, whose research gave birth to the now famous hockey stick graph showing a sharp rise in recent global temperatures.

After going through 1.6 billion records from 36,000 temperature stations, Muller’s team says the world’s temperature has risen by 1.5C in the 250 years since the start of the industrial revolution. More than half of this increase has occurred in the last 50 years.

What’s more, Muller now says that human activity, mainly burning fossil fuels, is to blame for practically all of that warming.

Muller’s study, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, has been widely reported not because of a novel approach to climate science research, or because it tells us anything new, but rather because of his reported “conversion” from being skeptical to accepting the science.  He now describes himself as a “converted skeptic”.

Presumably, the oil rich Koch brothers were so convinced the world’s temperature gauges were lying, that they were happy to provide a no strings donation to Muller’s project, which stipulated its donors  “have no say over how we conduct the research or what we publish”.

But in a chronology, Muller’s work has come to essentially the same conclusion as the rest of the climate science community, except they got there a good decade or so earlier.

In The Monthly, Manne defines “denialists” as “orthodox members of a tightly knit group whose natural disposition is not to think for themselves”.

But on the same spectrum is a group of individuals, lobbyists and think-tankers who hide their skepticism behind a charade of pragmatism. Professor Clive Hamilton, recently appointed to board of the Australian Government’s Climate Change Authority, describes them as the “luke warmists”.

Luke warmists, Hamilton wrote recently, accept the science but relentlessly and unrealistically emphasise uncertainties, play down the dangers and advocate for only tokenistic, low-impact policy responses.

But what about those world leaders who have accepted the science of human caused climate change and have articulated the risks? Even these have hardly covered themselves in glory.

Because after Kyotos, Copenhagens, Durbans, Cancuns and revisits to Rio for new earth summits, the world’s emissions continue to boom reaching an all-time record last year.

Even though Australia has introduced a price on greenhouse gas emissions on the heaviest polluters, the scheme will allow these emitters to buy carbon credits from overseas to offset as much as half their liabilities.

This means that Australia’s domestically generated emissions will likely rise for the next 20 years, although not nearly as quickly as they would have risen without the scheme altogether.

Bizarrely, this situation is seen by some as major progress.

The carbon price is an important step forward and will help drive the roll-out of renewable energy in the same way that decades of subsidies have helped the fossil fuel industry to retain its market dominance.

But then there is Australia’s hypocritical position of claiming to be concerned about climate change while at the same time becoming a world leader in the export of coal and gas to be burned outside the jurisdiction of any carbon pricing mechanism (although plans to price carbon in China could change things).

Research just published by not-for-profit group Beyond Zero Emissions suggests when Australia’s domestic emissions are added to those from the coal and gas we export, Australia becomes a major global emitter, ranking sixth globally.

The BZE Laggard to Leader report finds that by 2030, the emissions locked-up in Australian coal and gas exports would combine with domestic emissions to give the country an annual carbon footprint in the region of 2.2 billion tonnes.

In terms of exports, these emissions from Australian coal and gas exports will be almost double those coming from Saudi Arabia’s exports of oil.

And this is the position currently being advocated by Australia, whose Prime Minister Julia Gillard says that inaction on climate change is “ultimately threatening for our planet”. She is certainly no “denialist”.

Robert Manne says the denialist triumph might not be stable “in the long term”.“Who can tell?” he said in an email to me. “As Maynard Keynes once famously observed: in the long-term we are all dead."

February 14 2012

02:10

A Curious Tale of Monckton, Rinehart and Blaming God For Bushfire Deaths

IT was an extraordinary response, but then it was an extraordinary video revealing some extraordinary alliances.

Two weeks ago I posted a story on my blog about a YouTube video featuring one of the world’s least media-shy deniers of human-caused climate change - British hereditary peer Lord Christopher Monckton, the third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley*.

In the video, the Viscount was in the boardroom of the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, a free-market think-tank founded by west Australian mining magnate Ron Manners.

The video had been watched only 130 times when I clapped eyes on it following a Twitter post from journalist Leo Hickman, of the UK’s The Guardian. In the video, posted by Mannkal (but since removed… and then reinstated… but possibly removed again by the time you read this), Lord Monckton suggests a good way to get free-market, climate science-denying views into the mainstream media, is simply to find some “super-rich” backers to buy the mainstream media.

As I watched the video last Tuesday evening, news was just emerging that mining billionaire and Asia’s richest woman, Gina Rinehart, had bought $192 million worth of shares in Fairfax (the publisher of Brisbane Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and many regional newspapers and city-based radio stations) to take her share in the company to about 14 per cent. To me, these two events were intrinsically linked, and not just because Mr Manners is a personal friend of Ms Rinehart’s.

read more

September 15 2011

16:21

How The Australian Newspaper Warps The World of Climate Science

THERE is a publication in Australia where for every one story you read which agrees society should take firm steps to combat climate change, there are four stories suggesting we shouldn’t.

When climate change is viewed through the pages of this publication, most of the world’s “experts” think it’s either not happening, not worth worrying about or not caused by humans.

Advocates for strong action on climate change are variously described as “prophets of doom”, “greenhouse hysterics” or “hair-shirted greenhouse penitents”. 

As extreme as these positions might appear, this publication is not a newsletter from a fringe group or a bulletin from the Tea Party.
 
This is the divisive state of climate change science in the pages of the nation’s sole national newspaper The Australian, according to a 115-page examination of the publication’s role in shaping how Australia thinks.
 
The essay – Bad News (paywalled) - is written by author Professor Robert Manne, one of the country’s leading political thinkers.
 
In an excerpt from his essay, published in The Age, Manne writes
 
As we shall see, what The Australian has contributed on climate change under editor Chris Mitchell's watch is a frightful hotchpotch of ideological prejudice and intellectual muddle
 
The Australian’s owner is Rupert Murdoch, who in 2006 said the planet deserved “the benefit of the doubt" and that it was now time to “take a lead” on the issue.
 
Manne analysed climate change articles printed by The Australian between January 2004 and April 2011 and found that 700 articles were “unfavourable” to action on climate change.
 
That is, they either disagreed with the consensus of climate science, didn’t support Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol or didn’t support previous governments’ steps towards a carbon trading scheme. 
 
Balanced against these 700 articles, there were 180 stories and columns “favourable” to  action on climate change. 
 
Climate skepticism and denial also heavily dominated the newspaper’s columns and opinion articles, Manne found.
 
Dozens of articles were published by “scientists” which rejected the consensual view.  

Sceptics including Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, Christopher Monckton, Richard Lindzen, David Bellamy and John Christy were all given space in The Australian
 
In particular, Bob Carter wrote nine articles, Bjorn Lomborg penned 25 and two members of the Australian “free market” think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, well known for dissemination of climate denial, wrote 16 articles. 
 
Contributions from recognised climate science experts, such as James Hansen and the immediate past president of the Australian Academy of Science Professor Kurt Lambeck, were outnumbered by ten to one.
 
Among The Australian’s in-house regulars, Manne documents the “comical degree of self-confidence” with which its writers disagreed with established climate science.
 
While in its official editorials, The Australian has said it accepts the science of climate change, Manne looks closer at the newspaper's record.

In its coverage of climate change, The Australian had failed to acknowledge the distinction between genuine expertise and “contrarians or cranks” and had “threatened the always vulnerable place of reason in public life”.
 
Manne's essay is just the latest to question The Australian's coverage of climate change.
 
Astrophysicist Michael Ashley recently documented on The Conversation the newspaper's questionable record and described its climate change coverage as resembling an “event horizon” where “our normal perception of reality is so completely overturned”.
 
In a long-running series, Tim Lambert’s Deltoid blog has been documenting The Australian’s “war on science” - a list of errors and misrepresentations - which is currently up to 70.
 
In a profile of The Australian’s editor Chris Mitchell, published in the August issue of magazine The Monthly, it was revealed that News Limited’s environment and climate change manager Dr Tony Wilkins had himself canceled his subscription to The Australian over its coverage of climate change.
 
When a former journalist at The Australian complained during a conference last year that writing on climate change for the newspaper had been “torture”, Mitchell threatened to sue academic Julie Posetti, who had tweeted the comments.
 
Legal letters went backwards and forwards in what became known as #Twitdef – the hashtag used by followers of the case on Twitter. The threat has not been withdrawn.

 

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