Category Archives: Climate change sceptics

IPCC releases early drafts of reports to counter deniers: will it work?

nitpicking

For those that deny climate change, the work of the IPCC is not merely anathema, but subject to a relentless campaign to discredit it in the eyes of the public.

The sceptic community has made a small industry out of picking over every line of IPCC reports in order to find errors. In their mind a typographical error incorrectly cited article falsifies decades of science.

As the Irish Times reports, it now seems the IPCC is trying to get the jump on sceptics by publishing early drafts and written comments:

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has taken the unprecedented step of publishing earlier drafts of its latest report on global warming and all 54,677 written contributions by expert and government reviewers.

This is seen as a co-ordinated effort by the IPCC to bolster its own credibility and disarm climate change deniers in the wake of controversies over such “mistakes” as a poorly grounded forecast that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

The report, Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis, was published last September. It confirmed that warming was “unequivocal”; human influence on the climate system was “clear”; and huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions were needed.

The full report, released yesterday as part of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment of climate change, runs to more than 1,500 pages, includes 600 diagrams and cites in excess of 9,000 scientific publications since the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment in 2007.

The full report is here:

Will it satisfy the sceptics?

Obviously even the most compelling evidence won’t convince the sceptics.

But personally, I think the move to greater transparency is a good thing. Especially when it comes to assuring the public the process is open and mistakes can and will be fixed early.

WUWT attacks WtD: I learn the only thing to fear from the sceptics is your own fear

Holding the line against the sceptic army

An interesting day in this small, and for some obscure front of the climate change war.

As some readers may have noticed, Mr. Watts of the sceptical blog Watts up with that? and I have been engaged in some friendly debate over the nature of sea-ice graphs.

I believe the matter to be resolved on my part, having replied to Mr. Watts requests.

However I do earnestly hope Mr. Watts responds to my suggestion and ensure his blog presents data in a manner not to confuse the public. A reasonable request one would think.

The experience of being in the sceptic cross-hairs

It was fascinating being the recipient of the full weight of the denial machine for an afternoon. 

How was it  you may ask? Stressful? Hardly.

It was is interesting to see the empty bluster, cheap bravado and vile insults pour into the comments section of WtD (still are by the way).

In fairness, I will note most comments were polite and simply stated their views. I have no issue with that, so my thanks to those who acted with respect. We disagree about the science, but at least you have been respectful. Many of those I’m allowing.

But I was left with a strong impression, and not the one Mr. Watts or others may have intended.

The only thing to fear from the sceptics is our own fear. 

“These are the dreaded climate sceptics, who like He-Who-Cannot-Named we’ve ascribed almost mythical powers and influence?” I thought to myself.

These are the people who so terrified and cowed some in the science community?

How disappointing; how underwhelming.

That the worst I did was make a throw away line in jest, and then saw thousands descend upon my blog with vile and enmity…

And what was their intent?

To force me to stop writing? To shed a tear? Did they force such things?

Hardly.

Longtime readers know I’ve always drawn from the lessons of history, and rightly or wrongly draw analogies with past and present events.

As the day passed an image formed in my mind – that of the 93rd Highland Regiment at the Battle of Balaclava (1854). Between their own rearguard and camp they stood in a ragged line, forcing back thousands of Russian cavalry.

From a distance they looked like a thin red line, standing against enormous odds. 

For me, today was about being that thin red line. 

Not that hard really.

What I learned today, and what you should learn from this

Lesson the first – the only thing to fear from the sceptics, is your own fear.

Lesson the second – don’t stop.

That is all, now carry on.

[Note: thanks John B for helping me hold the line as well]

A note on who tipped off Mr. Watts

Finally, some house keeping.

The WUWT post has been useful in showing me Mr. Watts source:

Erric Worrall writes:

An Australian alarmist blog, Watching The Deniers, has just accused Anthony Watts of photoshopping one of the Sea Ice Graphs.

Eric, I was about to email you this week and release you from the temporary ban.

It was never intended to be permanent, and I believe I treated you with respect. I also gave you enormous latitude when you posted here – to the extent other readers expressed frustration with me.

You were given three chances to modify your behavior, which you ignored. The rules of engagement were clear, and plenty of warning was given.

In light of today (and the great latitude I once gave you) your ban will be extended another three months. Such are the consequences of your actions. We all make choices Eric. And we must live with them.

Actually, that is light punishment considering your actions. But fortunately for you I’m made of stern stuff and remain unfazed by today’s events.

I’m also grateful for the small bump in traffic Mr.Watts links afforded me.

That is all, now carry on.

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Monckton Enjoys Lunch and Sings a Pretty Song for the Australian Financial Review (Reprint)

Lord Monckton, the climate denier who believes Obama’s birth certificate was faked and likes to associate with the wilder fringes of conspiracy culture (he is a regular on a  show hosted by 9/11 Truther, Alex Jones) recently scored an interview with The Australian Financial Review.

Tim at New Anthropocene takes the article apart in a great post: Monckton Enjoys Lunch and Sings a Pretty Song for the AFR.

“It’s of no surprise to learn that the Australian Financial Review interviewed Chris Monckton, for his message is surely the sweetest lullaby to many of its readers. In the interview, titled, Lunch with the AFR | Christopher Monckton, Chris Short recorded an illuminating interview.

At least in this interview, Monckton made it clear; his is purely a political fight. Thank you very much for that.

It’s of course interesting that Monckton has taken a fondness to Chinese philosophy – a country overrun by his worst nightmare, Communists… I must actually look up on these philosophical principles to learn if this topic, unlike so many others he waxes lyrical upon, is represented correctly.

On that, Monckton makes the point that his was the last generation taught not to be credulous… Please, dear Lord, muse through my offerings on New Anthro. As a bloke half your age, I’m certain you will find many examples of a young man with a nasty habit for fact checking.”

Enjoy.

via Monckton Enjoys Lunch and Sings a Pretty Song for the Australian Financial Review (Reprint).

Recursive Fury: the involvement of conspiracist ideation in rejection of science

An interesting paper has just been published further examining the connection between climate scepticism and “conspiracy ideation” (see title above): 

Conspiracist ideation has been repeatedly implicated in the rejection of scientific propositions, although empirical evidence to date has been sparse. A recent study involving visitors to climate blogs found that conspiracist ideation was associated with the rejection of climate science and the rejection of other scientific propositions such as the link between lung cancer and smoking, and between HIV and AIDS (Lewandowsky, Oberauer, & Gignac, in press; LOG12 from here on). This article analyzes the response of the climate blogosphere to the publication of LOG12. We identify and trace the hypotheses that emerged in response to LOG12 and that questioned the validity of the paper’s conclusions. Using established criteria to identify conspiracist ideation, we show that many of the hypotheses exhibited conspiratorial content and counterfactual thinking. For example, whereas hypotheses were initially narrowly focused on LOG12, some ultimately grew in scope to include actors beyond the authors of LOG12, such as university executives, a media organization, and the Australian government. The overall pattern of the blogosphere’s response to LOG12 illustrates the possible role of conspiracist ideation in the rejection of science, although alternative scholarly interpretations may be advanced in the future

The paper explores the sceptic response to research suggesting there is a link between climate scepticism and conspiracy ideation (i.e. conspiracy theory making). For those who may recall, I’m referring to the 2012 Stephen Lewandowsky et.al paper NASA faked the moon landing: therefore climate change is a hoax (NASA paper):

Although nearly all domain experts agree that human CO2 emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific c evidence. Internet blogs have become a vocal platform for climate denial, and bloggers have taken a prominent and influential role in questioning climate science. We report a survey (N> 1100) of climate blog users to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Paralleling previous work, we find that endorsement of a laissez-faire conception of free-market economics predicts rejection of climate science (r ‘ :80 between latent constructs). Endorsement of the free market also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the CIA killed Martin-Luther King or that NASA faked the moon landing) predicts rejection of climate science as well as the rejection of other scientific c findings, above and beyond endorsement of laissez-faire free markets. This provides empirical confirmation of previous suggestions that conspiracist ideation contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.

No one expected the level of interest the NASA paper generated within the sceptic blogosphere.

Indeed, it seemed to have struck a chord (or nerve) within the sceptic movement as a kind of “recursive fury” dominated the pages of their blogs for several weeks. Sceptic bloggers engaged in (what appeared to be) a rash of conspiracy theory making.

There was wide-ranging speculation about the intentions of the NASA paper authors , attempts to undermine the methodology of the research and Stephen was subjected to FOI requests.

In the weeks following the publication of the original paper I was invited to participate in a study of the  sceptic response. To have had the opportunity to work with people such as Stephen Lewandowsky, John Cook and  Klaus Oberauer was a real privilege. My gratitude towards these individuals is enormous. 

I’ll be doing a series of posts on the paper and some of its conclusions – and some of my own thoughts about conspiracy culture and its influence on the sceptic movement. As long time readers of the blog appreciate, understanding what drives individuals to accept and promulgate conspiracy theories is one my main areas of interest.

It is a topic I hope to explore more fully this year, and will be the focus of my research and writing efforts.

Questions and comments can be made on the blog or directed to watchthedeniers_@_gmail.com

Regards,
Mike – “Watching the Deniers”

See also:

The sceptic response

I’ll also track and make note of the claims of sceptic bloggers in response to this paper:

  • Skeptic baiting and academic misconduct, The Lukewarmers way: “As a non-skeptic I feel the strong desires to a) defend skeptics as not fitting Lewandowsky’s description and b) slap him across the face for contributing to the cheapening of the already debased nature of climate conversations.”
  • More shameless conspiracy theory from the ‘Skeptical Science’ smear quest team, Watts Up With That: “The cartoonist (John Cook, purveyor of the laughably named “Skeptical Science”) and the psychologist (Stephan Lewandowsky), the two rightmost people in the photo above, are working together again to smear anyone who has doubts about the severity of the global warming.”
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Money quotes and ripe cherries: can scientists avoid having their research “cherry picked” by climate sceptics?

 cherrypicking

Every  day there are dozens of new research papers on climate change related matters published, monthly there are thousands of them. In addition to the peer reviewed literature hundreds if not thousands of white papers, articles and blog posts are produced by the science community on climate change.

And while this cornucopia knowledge can be overwhelming even for the most dedicated reader on the topic, it represents a rich field of opportunity for those who wish to mischaracterise the work of scientists.

We are of course talking about the practice of cherry picking: selecting data and quotes from the vast sea of climate change related informaiton and reproducing it out of context. In doing so, opponents to mainstream science hope to cast doubt on the scientific consensus and undermine the public’s trust in scientists by taking their words out of context.

Two recent examples illustrate the practice of cherry picking by sceptics. In addition some suggestions are made to avoid or mitigate this tactic.

The Australian: no link between sea level rise and global warming?

The first example is that of The Australian’s misleading coverage of recent research on sea level rise. Environment Editor Graham Lloyd wrote a series of articles implying that there was no link between sea level rise and global warming during the 20th century.

Lloyd referenced the paper Twentieth-century global-mean sea-level rise: is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? and seized upon by the following sentence in the abstract:

“Semi-empirical methods for projecting GMSLR (global mean sea level rise) depend on the existence of a relationship between global climate change and the rate of GMSLR, but the implication of our closure of the budget is that such a relationship is weak or absent during the 20th century.

A reading of the entire paper suggests no such thing. As Graham Readfearn pointed out it was merely an attempt to “murder a scientific paper” by cherry picking a single sentence. Indeed one of the papers authors, John Church stated the article produced by Lloyd was misleading.

Fortunately in this case The Australian was forced acknowledge the article was factually incorrect, even going so far to issue a rare correction.

Did NASA scientist James Hansen really admit global warming “stalled”?

The second and most recent example is provided by sceptical blogger Anthony Watts (Watts up with that?).

Watts cherry picked a quote form a recent paper by noted NASA scientist James Hansen, implying Hanesen recently admitted there has been no global warming for the last 16 years:

Dr. James Hansen and Reto Ruedy of NASA GISS have written a paper (non peer reviewed) with a remarkable admission in it. It is titled Global Temperature Update Through 2012.

Here is the money quote, which pretty much ends the caterwauling from naysayers about global temperature being stalled for the last decade.

The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for the last decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slow down in the growth rate of net climate forcing.

Gosh, I thought Hansen had claimed that “climate forcings” had overwhelmed natural variability?

A simple check of the original source demonstrates the clumsy manner in which Watt’s has cherry picked the quote to turn it into a “money quote” about stalled global temperatures. Here is the sentence in context (relevant quote underlined):

Global surface temperature in 2012 was +0.56°C (1°F) warmer than the 1951-1980 base period average, despite much of the year being affected by a strong La Nina. Global temperature thus continues at a high level that is sufficient to cause a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme warm anomalies. The 5-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slowdown in the growth rate of the net climate forcing.

An update through 2012 of our global analysis (Fig. 1) reveals 2012 as having practically the same temperature as 2011, significantly lower than the maximum reached in 2010. These short-term global fluctuations are associated principally with natural oscillations of tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures summarized in the Nino index in the lower part of the figure. 2012 is nominally the 9th warmest year, but it is indistinguishable in rank with several other years, as shown by the error estimate for comparing nearby years. Note that the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998.

The long-term warming trend, including continual warming since the mid-1970s, has been conclusively associated with the predominant global climate forcing, human-made greenhouse gases, which began to grow substantially early in the 20th century.

As can be seen Watts has merely lifted a single sentence to mischaracterise the paper. Hansen and Ruedy do provide the appropriate context, highlighting the fact that “the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998″.

So in this charged environment what can the scientific community do to mitigate such abuses?

Don’t give them cherries

Real Climate noted the sentence in the Church et.al. sceptics seized upon was “awkwardly phrased”. However the Hansen and Ruedy paper is well written, clear and when seen in context the cherry picked sentence makes perfect sense.

For this reason scientists should not berate themselves for seeing their own words used against them.

A first step – and not to slight the authors of the paper on sea level rise – would be to avoid giving sceptics the oppurtunity to pick low-hanging fruit (it is acknowledged the vast majority of scientists are indeed very careful).

However, Watts unintentionally reveals the mindset of climate sceptics by referring to the sentence he lifted from the Hansen/Ruedy paper as a “money quote”.

Sceptics such as Watts are not engaged in reading the scientific literature in an intellectually honest way: they are hunting for anomalies. Regardless of how much caution a scientist may take, it is inevitable sceptics will cherry pick the literature in order to cast doubt on the science.

Stopping the lie before goes around the world: rapid response and press council complaints

To quote Mark Twain “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” But once the lie has taken flight how should we respond?

Rapidly, calmly and with the facts.

The recent example of The Australian being forced to issue a rare correction offers a salient lesson in dealing not only with the claims of climate sceptics, but with blunting a potent “meme”.

Sites such as Skeptical Science, Real Climate, DeSmogBlog, The Conversation and Climate Progress are all excellent platforms for countering misinformation. Were possible, getting corrections published in the mainstream media is worth pursuing. That includes authoring articles or writing letters to the editor. Even jumping into the forum comments might help undo some of the damage.

Nor should individuals and scientists be afraid to take their concerns to regulatory bodies such as the Australian Press Council (PAC) to tackle misinformation that appears in the mainstream media (MSM).

A member of the public is free to lodge a complaint; however doing so is not a trivial matter. It is vital to review the guidelines for making a complaint.

While sceptics often cry “censorship” when they find themselves corrected, it is vital to counter their misinformation.

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War on the IPCC: on that leaked IPCC draft document

I’m not going to claim any prescience but some time ago I suggested the denial machine would begin its war on the credibility of the IPCC and its fifth assessment report due to be released in 2013.

In the past few days we’ve just witnessed the opening salvo in the denial machines attempt to undermine public confidence in the IPCC.

For those not up to speed, this is what transpired:

  • late last week climate sceptic blogger Alec Rawls got hold of draft versions of the IPCCs upcoming fifth report
  • Rawls breathlessly announced to the world that that IPCC admitted that “enhanced solar forcing” was the cause of recent warming.

In other words, Rawls claims the IPCC is admitting it’s the sun and not human activities – none of which is true. Journalist and blogger Graham Readfearn provides a good summary of what happened:

  • Rawls registered himself as a reviewer via online form – something any member of the public can do – obtained copies of the draft documents and leaked them to the internet
  • Rawls has misread, misinterpreted and cherry-picked the draft report.

There is an irony in this, as the actual conclusions of the draft report confirm that human influence on the climate is undeniable and is deeply concerning (for further commentary I’d also suggest the following article on The Conversation).

Of course all the usual suspects amongst the denial movement are salivating over the leaked documents. Sceptic blogger Anthony Watts is calls it “game changing” while Daily Telegraph blogger James Delingpole claims the IPCC has just admitted the “jigs up”.

None of which is true of course – they’ve merely cherry picked a single paragraph from the leaked document in order to mislead the public.

While it is impossible to know what motivated Rawls to sign up as a reviewer of the latest IPCC report, I’m going to make the assumption he did so with less than honourable intentions.

Weather he acted alone or in concert makes little difference – Rawls abused the process and undermined the IPCCs attempts to make itself more transparent.

All I can say is expect much more of these kind of tactics over the coming months.

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High Confidence: survey of 13,000 science papers finds only 24 that reject climate change

Sometimes a picture (or graph) can say it all:

pie-chart-climate_png_492x0_q85_crop-smart

A survey of scientific literature conducted by James Lawrence Powell of or 13,000 papers on global warming found that ony 24 (0.17%) rejected the connection between carbon emissions and global warming.

Powell reviewed papers published between January 1991 and November 2012 – a twenty-one year period.

It’s not a question of the debate being over – there never was a debate.

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It’s a mad, mad and hotter world: the top 6 climate stories of 2012

As the year comes to a close its time to reflect upon the previous year’s climate related news. I mean who doesn’t love a good end of year “The best of” list?

So what made headlines? What events mattered? And crucially what shaped the public’s understanding of climate change?

In order to address the above questions I’ve selected what I believe are the top six “breakthrough” climate stories of the year. These are the issues that had a strong influence on the public’s understanding of climate change.

I’m confident we’ve witnessed an important shift in the climate debate as (a) evidence of rapid global warming has manifested with a vengeance and (b) the majority of the public now accept the reality of global warming.

But what caused this shift? Ultimately the climate stepped in to adjudicate the debate.

In a year of record temperatures and super-storms, the physics of climate change demonstrated its reality.

And while the debate between sceptics and warmists will grind on for several more years it was the evidence presented in the form of drowned cities, withered crops and searing temperatures that shaped public perception.

1. It’s global warming stupid: Hurricane Sandy and the North American summer. And the drought. And the derecho storm. And killer tornadoes. And wildfires.

Perhaps it was the thousands of temperature records smashed, the devastating drought that gripped large sections of the United States, the rare derecho storm that lead to millions losing power or the hundreds of tornadoes that that ripped through the country that taught millions of Americans the climate was changing. Let’s not forget the wildfires either.

By the end of 2012 the belief the climate was not changing became untenable. An overwhelming majority of the American public now accept the reality of climate change (up to 70% according to Business Week).

And then there was Sandy. Who can forget the images of a devastated New York and East Coast?

Not only did Sandy influence the US Presidential election in painting Mitt Romney and the Republicans as the party in dangerous denial – they had a good chuckle about climate change at their convention – it also tangibly and tragically demonstrated what to expect from a climate spinning out of control.

2. Red alert: Greenland melt accelerates

There are troubling things happening up north, not least of all the record breaking seasonal melt for Greenland in August of this year. And while some claimed this news was insufficiently reported in the mainstream press (of which there is some truth) bloggers, tweeters and social media activists did the job for them.

While the fourth estate slept, denizens of what I’d like to call the fifth estate (social media content creators) stepped in to spread the word.

3. Going, going, gone: Arctic sea-ice reaches lowest minimum

If you want to know what the Arctic’s death spiral looks like merely cast your eyes over the above graph. George Monbiot said it best: “Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow…”

And how did humanity react to this worrying trend? Giving fossil fuel companies license to rush in and explore for more oil.

4. Apocalypse averted: the Carbon Tax debate fizzles out

The end product of the merchants of hate (source News)

In the coming decades, future generations will puzzle over how the Australian political system almost imploded over the fight to introduce a price on carbon.

The Murdoch press ran an orchestrated campaign against the tax while right-wing radio shock jocks worked up the angry masses into even greater levels of well.. anger. The Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, ran a two year fear campaign against the tax claiming “We will be rooned, roooooned!”

Australian political debate reached a new low with nasty catch phrases such as “Juliar” (in reference to Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard) entering the popular lexicon and radio presenter Alan Jones claiming climate science was “witchcraft”.

The forces arrayed against the tax included private think tanks, News Ltd, the Liberal National Party, large segments of the resources sector and eccentric billionaires such as Gina Rinehart.

And yet the government managed to get the legislation through both houses of Parliament. In retrospect it is amazing the minority Gillard government didn’t collapse and still manage to introduce a price on carbon – something that had eluded previous governments for almost 20 years.

So did the world end? Did Australia become an improvised, backwards economic wasteland? Are we Aussies now all living in caves, desperately missing hot showers and street lighting?

Rest assured – the world didn’t end, the sun is still shining and industrial civilisation didn’t collapse as the sceptics warned us.

5. It’s worse than you think: PWC, World Bank reports and news of the permafrost melting

Imagine you’ve just been told by your doctor you have cancer: you’ve got maybe five years. But with treatment you could extend your life well beyond that.

You’d be alarmed and no doubt take positive steps to address the issue: you’d undergo medical treatment, change your diet, exercise and consider changing you life.

Who want’s to die prematurely? Or maybe you’d still be in denial.

Either way, you’re presented with this information and the opportunity to act.

But a month after being told the above, you return to see your doctor only to be told he was wrong. A new round of tests conclusively proves you’ve got a year – maybe two.

“So sorry…” states your doctor “…but the cancer is far more aggressive. Fortunately we’ve caught it early due to some new technology and diagnostic methods. But we need to start treatment right away.”

This is the situation humanity faces.

In the past six months a series of reports and a rash of new scientific evidence has been presented that makes for alarming reading:

It not just the IPCC or those radical socialists otherwise known as “climate scientists” saying the climate is changing more rapidly than anticipated. Some of the most conservative institutions and corporations have joined the chorus for urgent action by signalling their alarm.

Which means either one of two things: the need to act is increasingly urgent or that every scientific, political, media, business and professional association is part of the conspiracy.

6. No sympathy for the devil: Peter Gleick disembowels the Heartland Institute

I believe scientist Peter Gleick did humanity a favor, even if his methods were controversial.

Gleick obtained key strategy and planning documents from The Heartland Institute – the US libertarian think tank – by pretending to be one of its board members. He simply called up reception and asked for documents to be sent to an email account.

Was it worth it?

In retrospect, yes.

The documents revealed how Heartland and other think tanks manufacture doubt.

Once the story went viral and was picked up my mainstream media the reputation of Heartland suffered enormously – it lost millions in funding and was forced to cancel their annual conference for sceptics.

Gleick revealed the dark underbelly of the climate sceptic movement: the anonymous funding and the deliberate campaign to deceive.

Sceptics were furious of course – “How dare he, that criminal!” they fumed. Anthony Watts and others threatened to sue Gleick or bring in the authorities- but as suspected, nothing eventuated. Such actions would have brought a level of accountability bodies such as The Heartland Institute seek to avoid.

And that’s just what Gleick did: bring greater transparency and accountability to the climate debate.

The denial movement has been milking Climategate for years. To this day deniers continue to salaciously drool over the half dozen meaningless emails hacked form the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

But the public twigged to the hypocrisy: the Gleick episode demonstrated the public has no sympathy for the devil.

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Of sea ice & Andrew Bolt: freedom of speech under attack?

Pity Andrew Bolt who seems to be under some form of “investigation’ by the dark forces of censorship.

In a November 20 blog post titled Record ice around Antarctica Blot hints that he – and indeed the very notion of freedom of speech – is under attack:  

I am in a dispute with a free-speech regulator which fancies putting out a statement declaring this freezing essentially patchy, small and recent and proposes to find fault in me not quoting warmists who make irrelevant arguments…

All very sinister by the sounds of it. One wonders if Andrew was dragged out of the Herald Sun’s South Bank tower in the middle of the night, and like Galileo shown the instruments of torture. What has our fearless commentator now said that has sent the forces of darkness against him?

Bolt has been pushing the old denier canard that the growth of sea ice in Antarctica somehow disproves climate change. Bolt references an article from that august scientific publication from the UK The Daily Mail. Titled Now there’s more ice at South Pole than ever (So much for global warming thawing Antarctica!):

Ice around the South Pole has expanded to cover a record area, scientists revealed yesterday – a month after saying that the North Pole had lost an unprecedented amount of its ice.

Researchers say – rather confusingly – that both occurrences are down to the ‘complex and surprising’ effects of global warming.

The record Antarctic sea ice cover was revealed in satellite images from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado….

At the end of the southern winter in September, ice covered 7.51million square miles of sea – more than at any time since records began in 1979. For the last 30 years the amount of Antarctic sea ice has been increasing by 1 per cent each decade.

One assumes a complaint was made to Australian Press Council (APC) about of one of Andrew’s many lies misrepresentations concerning climate change.

And no, it wasn’t me – but I’ve often thought about it. Still I have little doubt what conclusions such an investigation would find: Andrew got his facts wrong. Again.

But let’s be clear about one thing: freedom of speech is not under attack.

Andrew Bolt is a privileged member of the media elite; he commands a large audience, gets paid handsomely and seeks to influence the political debate within Australia. Bolt is not an outlier – despite posing as a gadfly or intellectual rebel. He is simply one of the more prominent members of News Limited’s stable of conservative journalists.

Unlike Mr Bolt, most ordinary individuals lack the backing of a global media giant that generates billions in revenue and armies of lawyers to represent you in court when you get basic facts wrong.

Regulators such as the APC and ACMA help provide a level playing field. Checks and balances are essential to limit abuses of power. The APC and ACMA are merely part of a system of checks and balances.

Let’s be honest these aren’t vast, monolithic agents of totalitarian repression. They’re rather toothless really: they’re primary role is help foster standards.

Standards such as getting the facts right.

What Andrew Bolt and many of the other hyper-sensitive climate change sceptics frequently overlook is that criticism and having you claims critically examined by a neutral third-party is not censorship.

It rather simple really: when you fail to play by the rules of evidence, you’re going to get caught out.

And if you’re wrong – as Andrew is so very often on climate change – then it is only reasonable to expect repercussions. If you’re wrong, you are going to be called on it. Indeed, this debate and validation of claims are an essential part this whole “freedom of speech” thing Andrew wishes to make himself the poster boy for.

Freedom of speech is not just shouting at the world your own point of view, which is what Andrew seems to believe. There is the freedom for others to answer back and challenge claims.

Andrew Bolt is free to lie, misrepresent and distort the facts about climate change.

But no amount of chest-pounding and hyperbole is going to change the fact that he is consistently wrong about the science of climate change.

However in a rather grandiose fashion, Bolt conflates criticism of his many factual errors with an attack on free speech, liberty and democracy.

He simply can’t admit error; therefore he turns these episodes into little mini-dramas in which he is the victim of a vast conspiracy of leftists, warmists, socialists and nasty environmentalists.

How else can he explain to both himself and the diminishing ranks of climate sceptics these “attacks”?

Surely HE can’t be wrong… surely it’s the fault of those scheming “warmists” making “irrelevant arguments”.

And the sea ice?

Yes it is true the sea ice has been growing 1 per cent each decade. But Bolt and the denial cheer squad exclude some key facts.

Overall, Antarctica is losing ice: sea ice may be increasing due to the complex interplay of winds, a declining Ozone hole and natural variation.

But Bolt and the deniers overlook – deliberately – the fact that land ice is declining.

As this National Geographic article points out, Antarctica is warming but at a slower pace than the Arctic:

Q. While Arctic sea ice is decreasing, the Antarctic is now slightly increasing. Why is there so much variation between Arctic and Antarctic ice?

Well we have a continent on the South Pole. On the North Pole we have nothing but ocean. In the Arctic you see full-fledged warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, plus increased ice transport [out of the region, which removes cold air and water]. So all of these effects contribute to reduce the sea ice cover in the Arctic.

In the Antarctic, you have to think of it as its own climate system. It’s a big continent isolated from the rest of the world. It has ocean all around it. It has wind regimes that blow clockwise around it and isolate it. It acts differently from the Arctic, which is completely connected to the rest of the North Hemisphere.

Q. Considering we regularly hear about the planet’s stressed climate system, is this good news?

Really, it’s consistent with our understanding of a warming world. Some of the regional details are not something we can easily predict. But the general trends of decay of the sea ice cover and decay of the Greenland ice sheets and ice caps is in line with what we expect.

The Antarctic has not been warming up as fast as the models thought. It’s warming up, but slower. So it’s all consistent with a warming planet.

What I suspect happened is this: Bolt, like most deniers, cherry picked some facts about Antarctica’s sea ice growing, alluding that climate change wasn’t real. Bolt has been called on this, and deeply resents the fact he has been made accountable.

The “irrelevant arguments” by warmists Andrew is desperate to dismiss are no doubt facts that challenge his world view.

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War is over: victory over the deniers

Time for bold claims: the war is over.

The International Herald Tribune picks up on what may be an emerging trend: the decline of climate scepticism:

In a blog entry this summer, famed international correspondent Christiane Amanpour opined that the climate change denial club “is actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.” 

Opinion surveys suggest she’s right. Two factors that may contribute to the changing attitude about the changing climate — and the melting away of many skeptics — are the extreme weather events that have affected the United States recently and the legions of climate activists who make it their business to convince and motivate an increasingly receptive public.

The post referenced above is titled The climate debate is over:

In the fierce and sometimes ugly fight over global climate change, we finally have an answer coming from the earth itself: the weather is telling us climate change is here and we are causing it. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku is among the scientist who say the world is giving us signs that climate change is already happening (to see how he explains it, watch the video above).

This summer, there have been relentless droughts, wildfires, melting glaciers and unprecedented storms – all happening at the same time. And around the world people are demanding something be done about it. Even in the United States, ground zero for climate change denial, six in ten Americans say they believe it is indeed happening. But political leaders are missing in action – cowed by a vociferous climate change denial club, which is actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.

In the video physicist Michio Kaku admits he was a sceptic until he looked at the evidence.

War is over…

Personally, I believe the climate change denial movement will splutter and rage on for a few more years as the most prominent voices and their well funded supporters continue to rage against reality.

But already one gets the sense the voices of Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova, David Evans, Anthony Watts, Marc Morano et.al are becoming increasingly marginal. Ironically they are becoming even more shrill in their claims of conspiracy theories and “It’s not happening”.

News Corporation and the think tanks will continue their desperate rearguard action against the public’s acceptance of the science: history’s judgement will be no doubt be unkind.

The deniers will achieve a few more Pyrrhic Victories: maybe they’ll find a flaw or two in the next IPCC report (AR5), publish a few hundred more op-ed pieces in major dailies and delay a carbon tax in the US for an electoral cycle or two.

Sure – public acceptance of the science will swing this and that for a few more years, but the trend is towards majority acceptance of the science. At some point public tolerance for the deniers will shift from a bemused indifference to disgust and exasperation.

Will that greater public acceptance of the science translate into voter demand for action?

The denial machine will attempt to arrest that as well – after all, that is their raison d’etre. They’re skilled at halting progress so they’ll continue to block, obstruct and show the seeds of disinformation.

But that’s all the denial movement has to look forward too: small scale, tactical victories in a war that is over. The funding for their activities will soon begin to dry up: they will retreat to the fringes of internet culture with flat Earth fanatics, UFO enthusiasts and other intellectual fringe dwellers.

How the war was “won”

However we must be honest: the victory was not achieved by activists or science communicators. Too late it was realized it was never about the science, but values and world view; ideology was the crucial driver of those rejecting the science.

We – the journalists, activists, bloggers, politicians, scientists fighting to bring climate to the forefront of public perception – fought the good fight. We did all we could have been asked to do: but the denial machine was more organised, better funded and prepared to engage in suspect and unethical behavior. Ruthlessness tipped the battle in their favor for close to three decades.

But at some point physics and chemistry was going to resolve the debate: brute reality was always the final arbiter.

And so 2012 will be regarded as the year the debate “shifted” against the sceptic movement – the extreme weather events of this year and Sandy ensured that.

But something like Hurricane Sandy was inevitable. Whether a storm of Sandy’s kind arrived this year or next, something of Sandy’s scale was always coming – and with it the profound  social and political implications of such a storm.

[Note: upon reflection, I think Tamino is very correct: activists and bloggers fought a valuable holding action, doing their best to hold off the onslaught against science.]

War is over – if you wan’t it

And so – with mock solemnity and virtual trumpets – I declare the end of hostilities in what is merely the opening phases of a longer conflict over containing climate change.

Let’s call it the “First Climate War”, a virtual battle over public perception fought in the opinion pages of newspapers, on blogs and social media and in back rooms across the globe. It was fought in the streets of Copenhagen and influenced the Australian election of 2007.

Participants included global media corporations, NGOs, sovereign nations, transnational bodies such as the UN, the fossil fuel industry, think tanks, scientists, eccentric billionaires, bloggers and politicians.

The First Climate War was a messy and brutal conflict more impenetrable and confusing than the Thirty Years War – and much like the Thirty Years War it was a conflict that drew in major powers, religious fanatics and obscure principalities, off of whom were sucked into its vortex by a mixture of principles and power politics.

But this initial phase of the conflict is coming to a close.

War is over…

Can we can go “home”; can we go back to how things were?

Can we dismantle our blogs; discontinue our Twitter accounts?

Can we can lay down our (metaphorical) arms, and begin to count the cost?

Those of you have been personally involved in this “debate” knows how it can feel: like brutal, bloody trench warfare.

But Like all wars, the cessation of hostilities is merely the prelude to reconstruction and new debates, the emergence of strange new alliances and emergencies.

As the World Bank notes in their recent report:

“A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2°C,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.”

And that:

As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C, there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.

The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.

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