Category Archives: Climate debate

A man exploiting the moment, or a man for all seasons? Tony Abbott’s legacy will be defined by climate change

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On September 7 2013, the Australian voting public put into high office a man known for his scepticism of climate change, for surrounding himself with a coterie of fellow sceptics and for turning his back on partisan efforts to introduce a price on carbon. 

It is scarcely acknowledged today, but as late as June 2009 Tony Abbott argued for a price on carbon. In Sky News interview, Abbott stated: 

“If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax. Why not ask motorists to pay more? Why not ask electricity consumers to pay more? 

And then at the end of the year, you can take your invoices to the tax office and get a rebate on the carbon tax you paid. 

It would be burdensome, all taxes are burdensome, but it would certainly change the price on carbon, raise the price of carbon without increasing in any way the overall tax burden.” 

Abbott’s repudiation of his own position and that of perceived wisdom is one of the most stunning turnarounds in Australia political history. The question, though it may never be answered, is what prompted Abbott’s about face? There are clues given to us but the man himself. 

Following the defeat of Howard Government in 2007 Abbott found solace in writing what should be regarded as his manifesto for the government he leads, Battlelines. 

Of it’s almost 200 pages, Abbott dedicates a scant four of them to climate change. And yet those four pages tell us all we need to know about Abbott the man and his view on the issue.

Abbott cites notable climate sceptic Ian Plimer as an authority, regurgitating many of the same arguments made by Plimer that have been widely dismissed by the scientific community. He also cites the equally discredited economist Bjorn Lomberg, of “sceptical environmentalist” fame. Lomberg acknowledges global warming but cherry picks facts without reservation to downplay it’s seriousness. It is an argument Abbott uncritically adopts in Battlelines, and without doubt guides his actions on climate change.

A clue to Abbott’s radical shift can be found in his concluding sentences on the issue, where he notes:

“Australians will continue to tell pollsters that they want action for a cleaner environment, but they are unlikely to support policy changes that they think might make daily life harder or much more expensive” (Battlelines, page 173).

Perhaps climate change is real. Perhaps not. Perhaps technology solutions and nuclear energy is the answer. Or not.

Regardless, it seems Abbott has cynically read the mood of parts of the electorate and played to them. Abbott is now in a position to impose the views expressed in his Battlelines manifesto upon the country.

There is much irony in that Abbott, the man who grudgingly acknowledges the science (in public at least), who will dismantle the carbon price and who has closed institutions such as the Climate Commission is defined by the politics global warming.

Without doubt Abbott, his government and his legacy will be measured against his policy approach to climate change, the very issue he denies is a genuine risk to Australia or the world. 

A man for our time, or a man for all seasons?

In the play A man for all seasons, playwright Robert Bolt muses on questions of identity and personal conscience in politics.

Based upon the life and death of Thomas More, Bolt suggests via the narrative of the play a person of conscience will stand by their principles regardless of external pressures and the temptations of short term gain.

By abiding by their principles, such individuals forfeit the temptations of power and its abuse. They remain true to themselves, a person “for all seasons”,

In the plays most famous scene, More argues against those who would put aside laws for the sake of expediency. He argues with his son-in-law, who urges the illegal arrest of a man who would eventually go on to betray him:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

It is well known tony Abbott has yearned for the Prime Ministership all his life. 

When the opportunity was presented to him, Abbott recognised the thicket of laws he needed to cut down to achieve his ambitions. He read discontent is some parts of the electorate, and played to their fears.

At this moment of writing, fire-storms are wiping out communities across New South Wales. There is no respite at this point, conditions such as these may last for weeks.

It is early spring, Australia’s extended fire season is upon us. The ill winds of climate change are upon us. 

Against this background Prime Minster Tony Abbott moves steadily, without pause or consideration to cut down laws. 

Who is Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a man cynically exploiting the moment or a man for all seasons?

The Climate Culture War enters a new phase in Australia

Abbott_Signs

It is telling that one of the very the first acts of the incoming Abbott government was the dismantling of Climate Commission and the sacking of Tim Flannery.

Moves are also under way to wind up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and repeal the “carbon tax”. The freshly minted Environment Minister, Greg Hunt has dismissed the CEFC as as a speculative hedge fund:

Mr Hunt labels the corporation a green hedge fund, “borrowed in taxpayers’ name for investing in speculative ventures”

Without doubt this little piece of Orwellian cant is meant to associate investment in renewable energy with risky financial speculation.

As Michelle Grattan noted in The Conversation, a select few high-profile public servants have been the victim of their association with Labor’s carbon price:

“One of the strikes against [Martin] Parkinson was that he headed the then Climate Change department and was at the centre of Labor’s work on a carbon price. This was particularly in the mind of some in the Abbott office.”

Grattan also expressed a fear many in the science community must be feeling:

“The CSIRO comes under the Industry department. The scientists working in the climate area might be getting a little nervous.”

Indeed, however it is not just climate scientists who are nervous.

Cheering on the planet’s destruction: the sceptic response

Of course the denial movement has been in an orgiastic state of schadenfreude in response to these cuts.

The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt demands Tim Flannery refund his salary for his “dud predictions”; conspiracy theorist Jo Nova calls it a “win for Australia”; American blogger Anthony Watts gloats in several posts, dismissing Flannery as a “high paid fool”.

There are of course many more examples of such thinly veiled pleasure in the misfortune of others.

Sitting above this scrum of sceptic bloggers and News Corp hacks, presiding over events like a bad caricature of Ann Ryan’s John Galt, is Rupert Murdoch:

RM_Tweet

Abbott, the LNP, Murdoch and the sceptics have turned back time. They desire nothing more than to wipe from Australia’s political and cultural memory the years 2007-2013.

It is as if the last five years didn’t happen: no first woman prime minister; no Labor in power; no price on carbon; no pesky scientists to remind us of the dangers of climate change.

Down the memory hole they go.

A great first day indeed.

Climate change as lighting rod for conservative anxieties in a changing world

The culture war fought over climate science has raged for more than three decades.

During this period the forces of obstruction had the upper hand in Australia, especially during the Howard years. But their ascendancy was broken in Australia in 2007 with Rudd’s election.

For a few brief years it seemed Australia might take substantive action on climate change: the signing of the Kyoto protocol;  the introduction of the carbon price; greater public acceptance of the science and the desire to act.

Thus 2007 represented a wrong in the eyes of the LNP and conservatives that had to be righted. In response we have witnessed five years of rage and fury. 

And while some may think these events are about climate change, they aren’t.

It is about the soul of the nation: it is what Australia could or should be.

Murdoch, Abbott and the gaggle of sceptics looked out at the world and the shift in our culture and feared what they saw. They are of course differences among all these individuals and the groups they represent. But what united and drove them was hatred of the scientific consensus on climate change.

Climate change has become a lighting rod for conservative anxieties and fears about a rapidly changing world. 

What do individuals do when they feel their “culture” is under attack? 

They mount a counter-offensive. 

This is what the 2013 Abbott victory represents, a cultural coup d’etat. 

Conservatives fear the evolution of Australia’s culture: one that embraces sustainability and equality; one that rejects the values of the past; one that places the market second to the needs of society; one that embraces a post-materialist world view. 

Expunging the heresy of climate science: why we should be concerned for science in Australia

Abbott is keen to project an orderly transition to power, but his targets demonstrate a quiet rage and considered preciseness.

As Flannery noted in his press conference following his sacking:

“As global action on climate change deepens, propaganda aimed at misinforming  the public about climate change, and so blunting any action, increases.”

This should send a chill down the collective spine of scientific community. It remains to be seen how this will play out, but the signs are ominous.

When the Canadian conservatives under Stephan Harper’ got into power they began a war on science and withdrew from the Kyoto treaty. A war on science was also a feature of George W. Bush’s Presidency, notably recorded by Chris Mooney in “The Republican War on Science”.

We may see similar events play out under the Abbott government: the heavy hand of Liberal Party apparatchiks in muting or censoring reports; the defunding of climate research programs; obstruction at climate conferences; more sackings; and pressure on the science community to remain silent on climate change.

Of course it will all be done in the name of savings, efficiency and small government. It will be done in the name of a “mandate”.

But the targets make it obvious.

Welcome to a renewed phase of the climate culture wars. 

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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The Law of Denial and Prime Godwins; in the climate debate, the probability of conspiracy theories being invoked is one

Between work and study, I’ve taken the time to jump into a recent debate on The Conversation. The article itself is worth reading, as it discusses science education and climate change in the classroom.

Of course the moment climate change is discussed in any context sceptics begin peppering the discussion with misinformation. Like a swarm of irritating and persistent gnats, they arrive to disrupt the conversation and seed disinformation.

However it was fascinating to see one troll jump into the conversation and instantly invoke Godwin’s Law:

A good argument for home schooling! And opposing any federal ideological rubbish on climate change. The science is still undecided, fast fading from view due to a number of factors, and highly controversial. Climate change is possibly the most compromised perversion of science ever perpetrated. A parallel is the indoctrination under Nazi Germany. Almost a form of child abuse!

For those who don’t know Godwin’s Law:

Godwin’s law (also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies) is an assertion made by Mike Godwin in 1990 that has become an Internet adage. It states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, Godwin said that, given enough time, in any online discussion—regardless of topic or scope—someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis.

Very shortly this same troll invoked not only Godwin’s Law for a second time but explicitly linked the Nazi’s with the “Green Agenda”, the IPCC and Agenda 21:

There is a lot of ignorance of the history of philosophy here. Heidegger (prominent Nazi philosopher) was one of the forerunners of the deep ecology movement and the desire to return to a romantic past. It was essentially a philosophy that longed for a return to a mythical pre-technological past, very much like that desired by the IPCC and their Agenda 21. So I’m not that far off the mark!

I think we’ve seen a variation of Godwin’s Law emerge.

And with more than a hint of self-indulgence I’m going to call it WTD’s Law (or The Deniers Law; or The Law of Denial):

In any online conversation related to climate change the probability of conspiracy theories, political/religious orthodoxy and totalitarian regimes being invoked is 1.

Sceptics will jump in and make conspiracy claims at the beginning, middle and end of the conversation. Whereas under Godwin’s Law online conversations inevitably produce a comparison to Hitler, in the climate debate one expects such claims to be made immediately and throughout the conversation.

Go have a look at any conversation on the internet regarding climate change.

I think I’m correct in this assertion.

A Prime Godwin

In discussions with some others in the same thread we decided we’d witnessed a variation of Godwin’s Law. The troll/poster instantly jumped to Hitler and the Nazi’s.

“Instant Godwin” was suggested, however I think a better term is Prime Godwin:

When your first and last argument is HITLER you are engaged in invoking a Prime Godwin.

Let me know your thoughts.

[Hat tip Felix MacNiell for helping me refine The Law of Denial. ]

2/3 Australian don’t want carbon price scrapped, or why debate on the carbon price is set to intensify

From today’s Age, confirmation Tony Abbott will have an uphill battle trying to repeal the Emissions Trading Scheme:

Tony Abbott’s insistence that the election will be a ”referendum on the carbon tax” has been undermined by polling showing that just a third of voters support the Coalition’s plan to abolish it.

Fewer voters want to see the carbon tax removed now than before it took effect on July 1 last year. Nearly half, or 48 per cent, wanted the tax scrapped a year ago.

But a poll of 1009 people, conducted by JWS Research for the Climate Institute, found just 37 per cent of them now supported the Coalition’s intention to wind the tax back in favour of its ”Direct Action” policy, which involves paying companies to reduce emissions.

Even fewer people – 34 per cent – would back an Abbott government calling a double dissolution election to fulfil its ”pledge in blood” to repeal the tax.

Fewer than half the Coalition voters would back Mr Abbott taking Australia back to the polls.

JWS pollster John Scales said the Opposition Leader had failed to convince people that carbon pricing should be scrapped because two-thirds of Australians believed climate change was real.

Climate change believers accounted for 66 per cent of voters, compared with 64 per cent a year ago.

As I have been saying for some time, a crisis for Abbott and the LNP is looming: 

- Tony Abbott and the LNP would win the 2013 Federal election
- Abbott would look to “axe-the-tax” (price on carbon) in name only, introducing a face-saving sleight-of-hand in but still maintain a price on carbon
- The climate sceptic movement would be bitterly disappointed, as the realisation began to dawn on them that Abbott played the populist hand against the carbon tax in order to undermine the Gillard government’s legitimacy
- For the climate sceptics (deniers) it would be an object lesson in realpolitik.

I suspect the LNP is going to find climate policy just as complicated, if not more so once in office.

One needs real policies then, nor four word slogans.  The debate over a price on carbon is far from over: if anything it is going to intensify.

As noted above, the public don’t understand nor want the Direct Action Plan proposed by the LNP.

Nor does it seem they willing to give control of the Senate to Abbott. However, the Coalition have locked themselves into silly “blood oath” giving themselves little to move.

The question is what happens when they can’t “ax-the-tax” what compromises an Abbott led government will be forced to make.

Hang on for the ride, as climate politics is going to get wilder.

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The sacrifices one must make (part 2): should Gillard resign for the good of the nation? Yes.

My post on whether or not Julia Gillard should stand aside  as Prime Minister got a little attention. But it was not an easy thing to suggest, especially given the vitriol and hatred the Prime Minister has experienced. I do not wish to “let the bastards win”. No one does.

But what matters now is the future of nation, the skeletal climate change policy framework we have only just begun to implement and a genuine contest of ideas.

There are times when personal careers have to be sacrificed.

This is such a time.

The editors of The Age have come to similar conclusions, arguing for “the good of the nation” Julia Gillard must stand aside:

It is time for Julia Gillard to stand aside as leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, as Prime Minister of Australia, so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again. Ms Gillard should do so in the interests of the Labor Party, in the interests of the nation and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy. The Age’s overriding concern is that, under Ms Gillard’s leadership, the Labor Party’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate. Our fear is that if there is no change in Labor leadership before the September 14 election, voters will be denied a proper contest of ideas and policies – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.

And that:

The opposition under Tony Abbott has contentious policies on the carbon tax, the mining tax and schools funding; these are just the start of it. Yet Labor under Ms Gillard has been unable to step up to the contest. Mr Abbott is being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with his preposterous claim that a Coalition government would ”stop the boats”, in part by turning back the pathetic trail of rickety vessels laden with asylum seekers. This is a potentially dangerous and deeply dispiriting approach. Labor’s inability to unscramble this sloganeering is damning.

Time is running out. Labor needs to refresh its public face and present a compelling, united and inspiring voice. It is capable of doing so. Now it must find the will. There may only be one chance to minimise the damage that appears inevitable in September. To do nothing would implicitly weaken the democratic choice. If it is to be done, it is best done now. But it must be an unequivocal and energising change for the better.

There was nothing prescient in what I wrote, nor do I think the MSM pays much attention to bloggers such as myself. Farifax’s Sydney Morning Herald said the same thing a few weeks back.

It is simply that I am not alone in reading the situation or the risks should Labor continue to be led by Julia Gillard. Commentators across all sections of the media and on both sides can see the writing on the wall.

Is it fair? No.

Did Gillard deserve to be treated with respect? Yes.

Was she handed an extraordinarily difficult situation? Yes.

Was overt sexism a feature of the attacks on her? Yes.

Was the malice of the shock jocks and News Limited a factor? Yes.

As a nation, we need to reflect on just how toxic the level of debate has become these past few years. I lay much of the blame on News Limited and the Coalition. But the blame also rests with the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan.

The nexus for all this strife began when the “kitchen sink” cabinet that included Swan and Gillard convinced Rudd not to take us to a double dissolution election on the carbon price. At that time the public and mood of the nation was with them.

But they blinked, they thought they could ditch a policy which helped deliver them office in 2007. Since then Labor has been paying the price for the failure of the first iteration of the ETS under Rudd.

They thought we lived in a time of “politics as usual”.

Politics has been reshaped by climate change: it is time to acknowledge that reality.

This is the new normal on so many fronts.

If you want to proportion blame then start with this decision. 

Julia’s finest hour, and the speech that will be her enduring legacy:

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Stopped clocks, bad debts and climate sceptics: or why the latest paper on climate sensitivity does not vindicate the sceptics (nor suggests complacency)

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For those who pay attention to minutiae of the climate debate, you may have noticed the denial-blog-sphere is all-a-flutter with claims of “Sceptics proven right.”

This source of this self-congratulation among the sceptics is a recently published paper in Nature Geoscience titled Energy budget constraints on climate response by Alexander Otto et al [doi:10.1038/ngeo1836].

I was able to source a copy of the paper and took the time to appraise how it could possibly be the source of so much sceptic excitement.

Let me quote from the paper so that you may judge whether-or-not the sceptics have been vindicated:  

“The rate of global mean warming has been lower over the past decade than previously. It has been argued that this observation might require a downwards revision of estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity, that is, the long-term (equilibrium) temperature response to a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations…”

The paper notes:

“The most likely value of equilibrium climate sensitivity based on the energy budget of the most recent decade is 2.0 °C, with a 5–95% confidence interval of 1.2–3.9 °C…”

From this, sceptics have claimed the death knell of climate science. Having read it, the take home points are for me are:

  • the oceans have been sequestering a great deal of heat – much more and much more rapidly than we thought 
  • that will come to an end at some point in the future, with the heat coming back out as the climate system tries to reach a point of equilibrium (note: as the atmosphere and oceans exchange heat)
  • the rate of warming for the last decade has been at the lower end of model projections
  • thus in the short-term the climate may warm 20% more slowly than previously expected (i.e. transient climate response)
  • even though we may not see some of the extremes predicted in earlier models, a doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration opens the door for an average temperature increase of +/- 4.0C.

Good news story and the death knell of the climate conspiracy?

Hardly.

The research is not that a radical departure from the results of climate science, but consistent with other work within the field.

It is also worth noting the paper does not take into consideration tipping points or other anticipated positive feedback mechanisms such as increased methane emissions – the release of vast quantities of this most potent greenhouse gas from beneath the Arctic tundra due to warming.

A small and maybe irrelevant point? Must likely not.

Indeed there are a quite few nasty surprises like methane out-gassing lurking out there – things known but generally avoided in many models (the planets decreasing albedo effect as the extent of the Arctic ice decreases anyone – anyone?).

It will be worth watching the research on climate sensitivity over the coming years: at least form the perspective of how policy makers, sceptics and the public react to this informaiton.

Just how fast, and how extreme, will the warming be?

A very interesting question indeed.  

Bad “climate” debts accumulating: no time for complacency

A 2.0C-4.0C increase in average temperatures will have a significant impact on large parts of the globe, if not devastating large swathes of it.

As the oceans draw down heat it will fuel their thermal expansion, a major driver of projected sea level rise. Nor will the oceans continue to do humanity a favour by acting as endless sink for the additional heat we’re adding to the climate system.

Crop production around the mid-latitudes is going to be hit hard, which incidentally is where most of humanity resides. Remember the aforementioned sea level rise? Many millions in the mid-latitudes will be forced to relocate.

But hey, wheat production will increasingly shift to Canada and the Arctic circle. You win some, lose some right?

Like avoiding a bad debt by taking out another high interest credit card to cover your repayments, this warming is going to raise its ugly head in the future. One may avoid paying your debts in the short-term, but at some point the Sheriff will come a-knocking and take the keys to your car and what personal property you have.

Likewise, the climate will come and “ask” us for the debt we “owe it”.

Things like coastal cities and productive farmlands will be the collateral confiscated to service the “warming debt” our species is accumulating.

Perhaps we’ve gained a little extra time – a tiny window of opportunity really – to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps we have more time to plan adaptation measures.

Whatever the case, the window for action is still narrow: this research is not cause for complacency.

Sadly I fear laggard policy makers and the mischievous will see it as such, and continue to push the cause of inaction.

Deep time, deep history, climate change and living through interesting times

Let’s also place this “pause in warming” in context.

In geologic terms, the rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 and the warming trend is unprecedented in the planet’s history.

It is vital we stop thinking in terms of a climate change as the up-or-down temperature swings of a particular decade. We accuse sceptics of cherry picking; likewise we need to remove our own myopic filters.

We need to pay far closer attention to the paleoclimate record: as James Hansen has recently argued, we cannot fully appreciate the profound changes the planet is undergoing without drawing on the lessons of the geologic past.

Nor should we disregard the warming oceans, the decline of Arctic sea ice and the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere – and the many other metrics – all point to the same conclusion: warming has not stopped.

Perhaps it is the own cognitive limitations and the transient nature of how we experience time that creates such a short-sighted and myopic view of climate change.

I suggest we think in terms of both deep time and deep history.

2.5 billion years from now, should our descendants or a successor species of comparable intelligence dig into the Earth’s crust they’ll find evidence of our civilisation: but not in artifacts or fossils.

Instead they will note the abrupt disappearance of species in the fossil record (evidence of a mass extinction event) and the changed chemical composition of ocean floor and terrestrial sediments.

The evidence will point to a warmer world relative to other periods within geologic history. Billions of years into the future, a faint but still distinguishable trace of humanity’s impact will be evident. 

That’s how profound and long-lasting the changes humanity has wrought are.

We’ve not seen this level of CO2 in the atmosphere in millions of years: most recently during the mid-Pliocene (5.3-2.5 million years ago).

At that point the average temperature was 3.0C-4.0C higher, while sea levels were 25 meters higher.

However, we won’t have the luxury of billions of years of perspective to ponder what happened: we’ll be living through those profound planet-shaping and epoch-defining changes.

Actually, we are living through those planet-shaping and epoch-defining changes.

Of stopped clocks and claims the planet is no longer warming

What also interests me is the sceptic response.

As anticipated, they’ve misinterpreted the paper and claimed it as vindication of their views.

My response to that is even a stopped clock gives the right time twice a day.

It’s well understood the rate of temperature change has varied over the last 150 years: to claim such a pause is evidence against warming is to merely be right by chance, and not for the reasons the sceptics likes to claim.

The sceptics are in no way vindicated: a slower rise in land temperatures does not imply climate change has stopped, or was “exaggerated”.

Indeed, lead author of the paper Alexander Otto makes that point in an interview with The Guardian:

“Otto said that this most recent pattern could not be taken as evidence that climate change has stopped. “Given the noise in the climate and temperature system, you would need to see a much longer period of any pause in order to draw the conclusion that global warming was not occurring,” he said. Such a period could be as long as 40 years of the climate record, he said…”

Sage advice the sceptics are won’t to ignore.

Which of course they do…

Perth’s resident climate sceptic and conspiracy theorist Jo Nova is the most self-congratulatory, breathlessly announcing they (sceptics) where right all along:

I think the climate sensitivity figure is still too high but it’s good to see estimates being revised in the right direction. Reality bites back. The deniers were ahead of the climate experts. We said the models were exaggerating and we were right.

Andrew Bolt in his usual fashion is not even close to being wrong claiming “alarmists” have finally admitted defeat:

Sure, warmists exaggerated the temperature rise so far, The Age finally admits. But we still have to believe they’ll be right about the apocalypse to come:

The rate of global warming caused by rising greenhouse gas levels could be slower than previously thought, but will still result in the same eventual higher temperatures as earlier forecast, new research has found.

Note also the story suggests there has been a “rate of global warming” over the past decade, without actually telling you what it is. If the reporter did, he’d have to admit there’s been no warming at all…

Bolt completely misrepresents the results of this paper; his view that there has been no warming is completely contradicted by Otto’s statements – whose work Bolt seeks to misappropriate to support his fallacious argument.

Bolt also gets it spectacularly wrong in his first sentence: no one is revising historical temperature increases down (as his wording implies), they are revising the short-term (i.e. transient) rise in the global temperature average slightly down over the coming decades.

Global warming has not stopped; it just may have hit a very small and minor speed bump. It is virtually certain to pick up speed again. 

Thus it would seem Mr. Bolt is struggling with such basic concepts as the past and future. But, hey like whatever Andrew: us warmists have always got it wrong.

I’m sure he got his “facts” from Watts up with That? or some other climate sceptic blog and they fitted nicely with his prejudices – he tags the post “Dud predictions” without fully appreciating what he is posting.  

Sorry to disappoint Andrew, but we’re still heading towards a much warmer world.

The sceptic response: the enemy of my enemy is the fact we can cherry pick

What’s remarkable here is not the paper itself, but the sceptic response. Indeed, their response is ripe with irony.

For decades sceptics have claimed the models constructed by climate scientists are unreliable and not to be trusted.

And yet, when a model or a piece of research shares the barest hint of concordance with their views they proclaim it as a victory for sceptics.

It seems the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” applies. 

To paraphrase in sceptic terms, “the enemy of my enemy is the facts I can cherry pick”.

Sceptic victory?

Hardly.

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: how Andrew poisons the well (part 2 of 11)

Putting Andrew's claims to the test

Putting Andrew’s claims to the test

Part 2 of a line-by-line examination of the claims made by Andrew Bolt in his article The death of global warmism.

Summary of Bolt’s argument in the opening paragraphs: The claims of scientists don’t stand up; they have engaged in dubious, if not illegal activities and need to be held to account.

Summary response: Andrew Bolt’s opening is a text-book example of a logical fallacy – poisoning the well. He prefaces his article with an attack on the credibility of scientists, implies their activities are both self-seeking and perhaps even criminal. He cherry picks his sources and employs a number of logical fallacies.

Logical fallacies present: Poisoning the well (x1); argument from personal taste (1); guilt by association (x2).

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Introduction: poisoning the well

Andrew Bolt is a master of employing rhetorical devices to prejudice his audience against those he sees as his opponents – in this case scientists and those accepting the scientific consensus on climate change.

The death of global warmism opens with the (informal) logical fallacy known as poisoning the well.

He is priming the reader by preemptively attacking the credibility of scientists and ridiculing the science of climate change. A writer employing this rhetorical device will employ emotive terms, typically negative.

An example of poisoning the well would read thus:

“You may not wish to listen to the evidence of my opponent, as they have been proven time and again to be a liar and fraud”

Or:

Any claims made by person X cannot be relied upon because of Y

The following is a deconstruction of the opening paragraphs.

Bolt: “The 10 signs of the death of the scare are unmistakable. Now it’s time to hold the guilty to account.”

Response: The choice of words helps prime the audience: “scare” and “hold the guilty to account” strongly imply scientists are engaged in something illegal or morally dubious. A text-book example of poisoning the well.

Bolt: “Just why did we spend the past year paying the world’s biggest carbon tax, which drove our power bills through the roof?”

Response: There is very little evidence to support his claim – and Bolt offers none. While Australian electricity prices have been increasing, the impact of the carbon tax has been negligible. Six months after its introduction the government reported a 9% reduction in emissions from power generators. As I noted earlier, the Australian economy has not collapsed with 50,000 jobs added in the last quarter.

Bolt: “Why were our children forced to sit through multiple screenings of Al Gore’s dodgy scare-flick An Inconvenient Truth?”

Response: Bolt implies the forced watching of Al Gore’s film was a form of child abuse. He offers no evidence to support the claim it was a negative experience for children.

Bolt: “Why did we scar the most beautiful parts of our coast with ludicrously expensive wind farms?”

Response: Wind power is a rapidly growing source of energy in Australia: in the five years prior to 2011 the annual rate of growth in installed capacity grew by 35%. In South Australia wind power accounts for 21% of electricity production in the state – it is neither a marginal source of power, or “ludicrously expensive”.  Bolt’s main objection appears to be based upon his own aesthetic values: however to quote the old Latin maxim “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes”.

Bolt: “And why did so many people swallow such bull, from the British Climatic Research Unit’s prediction that “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” to ABC science presenter Robyn Williams’ claim that 100m rises in sea levels this century were “possible, yes”.

Response: The quote “children just aren’t going to know what snow is” was cherry picked from an article published by the Independent in 2000. It misrepresents the words of  Dr David Viner (CRU). Viner prefaced this statement by saying snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event” – he did not claim snow would stop falling.

In 2007 episode of the ABC’s Science Show, Robyn Williams spoke about how coral reefs have helped science understand how sea level rises and falls in response to global temperatures.

He noted:

“How are ancient sea levels determined? It’s with corals. They act as bathtub rings. Ancient reefs now exposed can be dated and placed in time. Sea level has been 100m higher than present, when there were no ice sheets, and about 120m lower than present during glacial periods.”

Bolt took this to imply Williams was arguing we would see a 100m sea level rise this century.  Bolt and Williams argued this point in a heated exchange on The Science Show on (10 March 2010):

Andrew Bolt: I ask you, Robyn, 100 metres in the next century…do you really think that?

Robyn Williams: It is possible, yes. The increase of melting that they’ve noticed in Greenland and the amount that we’ve seen from the western part of Antarctica, if those increases of three times the expected rate continue, it will be huge, but the question…

Williams notes it is possible that if we see warming of 3-degrees this century, we may see a significant increase in seal level rise. I will not argue whether or not Williams is correct: but I will note he is drawing his conclusion based upon the paleoclimate record.

In choosing these two quotes Bolt is employing the guilt by association fallacy – citing these as examples of poor predictions by scientists, he implies all the claims made by scientists are equally poor.

To given another example of the guilt by association fallacy:

Bob has a black beard, he also has a history of robbing banks: therefore all men with black beards are bank robbers.

Given that thousands of papers on climate change are produced every year supporting the scientific consensus, Bolt’s conclusion is as absurd as the claim all men with black beards are bank robbers.

Bolt: “Yes, we may yet see some warming resume one day.”

Response: Bolt makes a concession – warming may resume.

Bolt: “But we will be wiser. We have learned not to fall so fast for the end-of-the-world sermons of salvation-seekers and the tin-rattling of green carpetbaggers.”

Response: In this final sentence of the article’s introductory paragraphs Bolt implies scientists and activists have a hidden agenda: either converting people to a set of beliefs (salvation-seekers) or venal self-interest (green carpetbaggers).

This is a variation of the climate sceptic myth that scientists are perpetrating a hoax for funding, while green activists are employing the global warming “scare” to destroy capitalism and usher in a one-world-government.

It is yet again an example of the guilt by association fallacy.

Next: Part 3, Andrew continues to claim the world isn’t warming despite the overwhelming evidence.

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Andrew Bolt’s “The Death of Global Warmism”: a special WtD response to his most recent article (part1)

Overview: The first in a special 11 post series examining the validity of the claims and arguments made by Andrew Bolt in his article of 13 May 2013  in the Herald Sun, “The death of global warmism: 10 signs of hope”.

Followers of the climate debate may be familiar with the name Andrew Bolt.

Bolt, a commentator for the News Limited tabloid the Herald Sun [1] is perhaps one of the most vocal climate change sceptics in the Australian media.

He claims to have one of the most widely read blogs in Australia (most likely true), and uses it as a platform to disseminate climate sceptic disinformation. He also hosts his own television show, The Bolt Report, in which he frequently takes swipes at scientists and climate science.

In December of last year the Australian Press Council (APC) adjudicated three separate complaints made in relation to an article by Bolt in which he claimed “…the planet hasn’t warmed for a decade – or even 15 years, according to new temperature data from Britain’s Met Office”.

The claim stemmed from an article by David Rose in the UK’s Mail on Sunday, which the Met refuted.

The APC found the Bolt had ignored the Met Offices correction:

The Press Council has concluded that Mr Bolt was clearly entitled to express his own opinion about the Met Office data but in doing so he needed to avoid conveying a misleading interpretation of the Met Office’s own views on its data. In a blog posting two days earlier (30 January) he had quoted Mr Rose’s assertion about the lack of warming and a reader then posted a comment referring him to the Met Office’s description of that assertion. The Met Office description should have been mentioned in Mr Bolt’s print article and blog of 1 February, even if he then rebutted it as unconvincing. It was not sufficient in these circumstances to assert ignorance of the response or to rely on the reader’s previous posting to inform other readers about it. Accordingly, the complaint is upheld on that ground.

Being proven wrong does not seem to concern Bolt. Ignoring the findings of the APC, Bolt continues to make the same claim.

Thus I was interested to see in today’s Herald Sun an article by Bolt titled “The death of global warmism: 10 signs of hope“.

Bolt believes he has marshaled ten “killer” arguments against the science. A full-page is given over to the article in which Bolt makes this and a number of other claims: climate models are unreliable; climate change is a scam; and even if it was warming, it’s a good thing.

Having read the article it became very apparent I could not begin to address all of his claims in a single post.

Thus this week my focus will be on this one Bolt article.

Why you may ask?

This latest article by Bolt serves as a kind of magnum opus of all of his claims. He recycles the same claims he has made about the science and scientists for years. Thus it allows us to critically examine Bolt’s position on climate change in one article.

I will examine the 10 claims individually: I’ll match quotes and sources he cites against original sources; I’ll look at the underlying structure of his arguments; and I’ll test his arguments against the basic rules of logic (whether his premises match the conclusions).

I’ll also pay attention to his language and his use of metaphor in constructing his arguments.

Each post will adopt the following structure:

  • Bolt’s Argument – A direct quote or summary of Bolt’s argument
  • Summary response – A single paragraph summarising my findings
  • Full response – an in-depth examination of Bolt’s claims, use of evidence and argument structure.

I’m going to treat Andrew’s article to forensic analysis to see how well his arguments stack up. Some may argue that I’m not a disinterested commentator. I acknowledge Bolt and I differ on the science: I accept the scientific consensus, Andrew Bolt rejects it.

However it is worthy examining how Bolt arrives at his conclusions. I will acknowledge that he is a good communicator, with a persuasive style and a flair for weaving his personal opinions with “facts”.

Andrew Bolt has a disproportionate influence on the discussion about climate change in Australia: he is given a national platform via News Limited’s 70% market share of the Australian newspaper market. Channel 10   has given him a Sunday morning television show in which he ridicules scientists and showcases a parade of climate sceptics. 

Next post: Poisoning the well against climate science: how Andrew’s  introduction to “The death of global warmism” frames his arguments and primes the reader.

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[1] The Herald Sun is one of Melbourne’s daily newspapers with a circulation of approximately 2 million. It is one of the papers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation who control 70% of the Australian newspaper market.

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Of ice ages, the view from nowhere and the value of one’s soul: Graham Lloyd, The Australian and the repackaging of fringe science

Not long ago Hollywood rediscovered the disaster genre, delivering to the movie viewers a spate of gloriously visualised, but implausible apocalyptic visions. As examples of the zeitgeist they’re fascinating examples of our existential fears made real.  

In what lovers of the genre call “disaster porn” the CGI wizards of Hollywood treated us to a variety of end time scenarios: from giant meteorites in the execrable Armageddon (1998); global pandemics in Outbreak (1995) and I am Legend (2007); the Godzilla inspired monster of Cloverfield (2008); the New Age eschatology implied by ending of the Mayan Long Count calendar in the film 2012 (made in 2009); to the current most-favoured harbingers of the apocalypse, the zombies of The Walking Dead.

My favourite of this genre has to be The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a film which imagines the globe caught in the grip of a sudden ice age which descends over a series of days rather than the millennia it normally takes. The film chronicles a series of extreme weather events, precursors to the Northern Hemisphere being blanketed in ice.

The film treats us to a touching father-son reconciliation, a trite love story and lots of ice.

Pure bunk of course – however scientists have long resigned themselves to the fact that Hollywood will choose spectacle over fact. Most of us can discern fact from film fantasy. But sadly, not all of us can make such distinctions.

Point in case The Australian’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, who recently published an article containing “facts” about as plausible as the script as The Day After Tomorrow.

According to Graham there is serious scientific debate about a coming ice age. No really, he argues such.

An ice age cometh: we’re about to enter a 30 year cooling period?

In an article titled Emissions debate heats up while experts warn of a coming ice age (May 4 2013), Lloyd rips his facts straight from the big screen and pages of fringe science blogs to suggest there is some debate over an imminent ice age:

In Russia, one of the world’s leading solar physicists, Habibullo Abdussamatov, says the planet is well on the way to another deep freeze. Abdussamatov is the head of space research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

In an interview with Principia Scientific International, Abdussamatov said results of research from the ISS had indicated a decline in total solar irradiance, which was having a dramatic effect on the global climate.

Data indicated the onset of a mini ice age.

If true, then all this fuss over global warming is actually distracting us from the actual (and in Graham’s view equally plausible) threat of an imminent ice age.

The impressively credentialed Habibullo Abdussamatov seems uniquely qualified to put forward such an argument. That is until one starts digging as Abdussamatov seems to hold some very strange views.

Abdussamatov: does not believe in any greenhouse effect

Abdussamatov is a vocal sceptic of global warming within the parallel universe the deniers inhabit, but as far as the science community is concerned he is relatively obscure.

He is not a leading solar physicist: this is merely another example of the old sceptic tactic of inflating the reputation and achievements of “experts” such as Abdussamatov. In fact, a quick search of the internet will find he has been making the same claims for several years.

His most unusual claim is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all. In a 2007 article published on Canada.com (website of Canadian newspaper publisher Postmedia Network) Abdussamatov is quoted as saying:

Dr. Abdussamatov goes further, debunking the very notion of a greenhouse effect. “Ascribing ‘greenhouse’ effect properties to the Earth’s atmosphere is not scientifically substantiated,” he maintains. “Heated greenhouse gases, which become lighter as a result of expansion, ascend to the atmosphere only to give the absorbed heat away.”

Such a claim would be news to the scientific community to say the least.

Actually, it is almost impossible to convey just how absurd his proposition is – it is the scientific equivalent of arguing the sun still goes around the Earth. His view of the behaviour of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is pure fantasy without a shred of evidence.

Even the most extreme sceptics – Jo Nova, Lord Monckton and Anthony Watts – don’t subscribe to this view.

They acknowledge the greenhouse effect: they argue a doubling of CO2 will have a negligible impact on global temperatures. According to them, the heat trapping potential of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been overstated by the scientific community.

Thus Abdussamatov would be considered fringe even by their standards – which is saying a lot. If that is not bad enough, things go from bad to worse in Lloyd’s article.

Graham Lloyd plagiarizing content: word for word his article mimics a 2007 article from Canada Free Press

The practice of using material word-for-word without attribution or acknowledging the source is generally frowned upon by journalists. 

The more cynical call it plagiarism. Sadly, Lloyd appears to be engaged in this very activity.

Lloyd attributes the following quotes to Abdussamatov (italics mine):

Abdussamatov said there had been five deep cold periods in the past 1000 years – in 1030, 1315, 1500, 1680 and 1805.

 He said another cool period was due and would come about regardless of whether industrialised countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Mars has global warming – but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” Abdussamatov said.

“These parallel global warmings – observed simultaneously on Mars and on the Earth – can only be a consequence of the effect of the same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

 Abdussamatov said a new “little ice age” would start this or next year and hit a low around 2040, with a deep freeze that would last for the rest of the century.

The quotes Lloyd use mimic word-for-word quotes in the aforementioned 2007 article (italics):

Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” he told me. “These parallel global warmings — observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth — can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

Lloyd has merely broken the later paragraph up and substituted some words.

Perhaps Lloyd was sloppy, or merely forgot to correctly attribute his sources. We all make mistakes.

The more cynical of us would call it plagiarism.   

False balance: Lloyd’s view from nowhere is really the view from the fringes

Lloyd is a practitioner of the journalistic style of “the view from nowhere”.

He tries to eschew any editorialising in order to present “both sides of the debate” so that the informed reader can make up their own mind.

In reality, Lloyd’s view from nowhere is the view from the fringes of the scientific community: more specifically the view of a crank, Abdussamatov.

Lloyd elevates Abdussamatov to the level of one the world’s “leading solar physicists” and a voice we should be paying attention too. Lloyd frames the article in such a way to imply there is some debate amongst the scientific community that an ice age may very well be immanent.

Let’s be clear: there’s no debate: there are no concerns about a mini-ice age.

What we have is the spectacle of The Australian plucking fringe beliefs from the sceptic blogosphere and given them credibility.

The real story that needs to be told is not that of scientists debating about scenarios reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow.

The real story that needs to be told is just how partisan The Australian has become on the issue of climate change.

Lloyd’s article smells of desperation: it is the feeble clutching for facts in order to deny reality.

The planet is warming; climate change is real; humanity is the architect of this warming.

We all have a choice: one can accept reality or live in denial. Lloyd seems to have made his choice: he is a nowhere man living in an alternative reality of facts made to suit the opinions of Editor Chris Mitchell and owner Rupert Murdoch.

But what is cost of this?

Not only to Lloyd and the reputation of The Australian as a news source – but to us, the general public who needs to be informed? We may shake our heads at the antics of Lloyd, but ultimately it is a grossly misinformed public who suffers most.

At least Lloyd gets paid for his efforts: I guess I gain some satisfaction in correcting his falsehoods.

But again – at what cost?

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

Graham Lloyd and The Australian: rapidly fading credibility

It says a lot about the quality of a newspaper when their Environment Editor is either a) unable to distinguish fringe beliefs from actual science or b) happy to publish such tripe if it undermines the scientific consensus on global warming.

Over the years we’ve witnessed The Australian publish some appalling misinformation on climate change: this without doubt is the nadir of their reporting on climate change.

For a paper which likes to think of itself as the “voice of the nation” this is an appalling lapse in journalistic standards.

We – the reading public – have a right to expect better than this. This is the very impulse that motivated me to start this blog. We are all ill-served by the mainstream media if this is the best they have to offer.

Perhaps there is a circle in Hell for once good journalists who have turned away from the ethics of the profession: if so it must be full of News Limited journalists who felt compelled – or were coerced – to publish pieces such as Lloyd’s.

For good reason many of us are exhausted auditing the self-proclaimed auditors of science. We’ve been engaged in this activity for over thirty years when the “debate” first emerged.

I believe there is a more important question to address: the question of why. Of why elements of the media – who have the power to shape public opinion and debate – have granted themselves permission to distort the truth and mislead the public.

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

[Note: see also Graham Readfearn's piece on the same topic - what can I say? Great minds think alike. Readfearn does some great detective work on finding all the sources Lloyd uses.]

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[Disclaimer: This article contains both original research and some elements of satire. Every effort is made to ensure the validity of the claims made by the blog's author. ]

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