Category Archives: CSIRO

John Howard’s faith vs climate science: former PM to headline talk at climate denial think tank

The first order of business for the incoming Abbott government has been to systematically dismantle Australia’s response to the challenge of climate change.

Whether that be “axing the tax”, cutting agencies such as the Climate Commission or dismantling the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Abbott & Co. are gleefully wrecking revenge on the very notion of climate change.

Not only were these actions anticipated, but they represent a return to the “glory years” of the Howard government.

Disdain for science and obstruction are once again the first order of business. Without doubt Abbott is clearly following the lead of his mentor – John Howard.

Thus it comes as no surprise to learn John Howard will be delivering the Global Warming Policy Foundations annual lecture in November titled “One religion is enough”.

Note the title: climate sceptics disparage the science as a “faith” in the exact same way creationists dismiss evolution as a “religion”. It betrays an almost medieval ambivalence to science and the challenge it presents to its authority.

There is an underlying similarity in the opposition to the science expressed by Australian conservative politicians such as Howard, Abbott and public figures such as Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell (a close confident of both).

All of them profess a deeply reactionary view of morality, the family, marriage and antipathy to science informed by their religiosity.

All of them disdain environmentalism, and regard it as a form of paganism or competing religion to the “one true faith”.

As Pell noted in an 2008 interview with the sceptic think tank, the Science and Public Policy Institute:

“It is true that some of the more hysterical and extreme claims about global warming appear symptomatic of a pagan emptiness, of a Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. 

Years ago I was struck by the fears that middle-class kids without religion had about nuclear war. It was almost an obsession with a few of them. It’s almost as though people without religion, who don’t belong to any of the great religious traditions, have got to be frightened of something. 

Perhaps they’re looking for a cause that is almost a substitute for religion. I often point out that some of those who are now warning us against global warming were warning us back in the 1970s about an imminent new ice age, because according to some criteria an ice age is a bit overdue. Remember the fuss about the millennium bug and our computer systems in the lead-up to the year 2000…”

Pell’s response is reminiscent of that Catholic Church when confronted by Galileo’s evidence for a heliocentric solar system.

Howard was a “late convert” to the science in 2007 as the election that spelt his demise loomed.

However, since being thrown out he has thrown his clout behind the deniers now freed from the constraints of office.

In 2011 Howard helped launched Ian Plimer’s “How to get expelled”, a nasty and error-riddled little tome designed to mislead school students:

Mr Howard attacked the one-sided teaching of climate change in schools.

“People ought to be worried about what their children are being taught at school,” he said.

“It’s a matter of real concern”.

As Michelle Gratton notes in The Conversation, one of Abbott’s most senior advisers is Maurice Newman, a noted climate sceptic and who recently dismissed climate change as a myth:

Newman chairs Abbott’s Business Advisory Group and this week wrote in the Financial Review of climate change “myths”.

“The new Coalition government is faced with enormous structural issues that have been camouflaged by effective propaganda and supported by well-organised elements in the public service, the media, the universities, trade unions and the climate establishment,” Newman wrote.

“With a huge vested interest in the status quo, they will be vocal opponents of change. The CSIRO, for example, has 27 scientists dedicated to climate change. It and the Weather Bureau have become global warming advocates. They continue to propagate the myth of anthropological climate change and are likely to be background critics of the Coalition’s Direct Action policies.”

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

A war on science has begun.

Or should we say, has resumed?

How Tony Abbott killed the Australian climate sceptic movement and schooled them in realpolitik

In June of 2012 I wrote a post on the politics of climate change in Australia and what to expect in 2013 and 2014. At the time I thought it overly optimistic, if not risky given that most predictions turn out to be spectacularly wrong.

Titled The coming disappointment: how the deniers are about to get a harsh lesson in realpolitik I suggested:

  • 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 should have also added it would signal the death knell of the sceptic movement as a cultural and political force in Australia. Abbott may shut down the Climate Commission as a symbolic act, but it will be no more than that – a sop for the more rabid elements of the Murdoch Press.

Now that Abbott is assured the Prime Ministership both he and the LNP are distancing themselves from climate change scepticism.

Abbott has just recently indicated that once he becomes Prime Minister he will work with China and the United States to formulate a global agreement and (believe it or not) raise their emission reduction targets:

The coalition will consider ramping up the national target for reduced emissions as part of its Direct Action policy, The Australian Financial Review reports.

According to the newspaper, Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt told an audience in Canberra last night Australia would “easily meet” the already set target of reducing emissions by five per cent by 2020.

Mr Hunt conceded his confidence was rooted in a future coalition government’s willingness to consider raising the emissions reduction target as early as 2015.

Mr Hunt’s concession comes as opposition leader Tony Abbott unveiled plans to play a lead role in convincing China and the United States to sign up for a global climate change deal if he wins government.

Mr Hunt said under a coalition government Australia would still be part of a UN climate change process but would also pursue action with key members of Group of 20 nations.

“Where a real global agreement will come is when China and United States reach a point of common position and when that’s backed up with India and the EU,” Mr Hunt told ABC TV on Thursday.

Mr Hunt said Australia would chair the G20 summit in Brisbane next year and it was in a unique position “to bring together the G4 as the basis for a global agreement”.

“I think (Tony’s) a fantastic negotiator,” he said

Yes that’s right – a global governance regime and working with the UN. The very things the likes of Christopher Monckton, Jo Nova, David Evans, Andrew Bolt and James Delingpole fear. Does this make Abbott an agent of the New World Order?

Hunt also recently appeared on the Andrew Bolt show arguing the case for global action:

GREG HUNT: If we act with China, the United States, India and the EU, that can be a positive. But acting alone, and at the moment, the Government is acting alone in a way where we have a higher tax than anybody else in the world is ultimately not effective, particularly when you are simply sending the emissions and the jobs to China, to India and to Indonesia. 

ANDREW BOLT: Can you explain to me why, and I always ask the question of you whenever I see you as you know… 

GREG HUNT: You do. 

ANDREW BOLT: And I always try to ask that of the Government when they don’t come into the studio anyway. But why is that I don’t get an answer anyway on that? I mean it’s quite a, scientists have got the figure, and they put it out there, this is the difference you will make and you guys never tell us, yes or no. 

GREG HUNT: The answer is we will make a difference of 155 million tonnes… 

ANDREW BOLT: No in temperature. 

GREG HUNT: Acting alone the difference is minimal but… 

ANDREW BOLT: Everyone watching us now has just seen me asking you the question a couple of times and everyone watching this now has seen you dodge it and they will say he’s not answering it. 

That’s what really strikes me, why do politicians never answer the very basic question. For all this pain what is the gain in temperature? 

GREG HUNT: There are different views on the impact. 

ANDREW BOLT: And what’s your view? 

GREG HUNT: My view is that alone it is minimal. With others you can have some sort of impact but above all else, we’ve got an environmental policy which is about clean air and clean land, things that you can support irrespective of where you stand on the science.

The LNP’s pivot back to the centre: ditching the crazies

Mainstream politicians don’t win elections pandering to extremists and conspiracy theorists. The Republicans failed to learn that lesson in 2012.

However Abbott & Co. is doing what the GOP and Mitt Romney failed to do in the final stages of the 2012 US election: swing back to political centre to capture moderate and undecided voters. Abbott learnt the lesson the GOP failed to learn – ditch the crazies.

The carbon tax protests of several years ago demonstrated to most Australians the sceptic movement is a collection of intellectual fringe dwellers and conspiracy theorists. Only 6% of the Australian public identify themselves as climate sceptics. It is a demographic the Coalition and LNP and Abbott would do well to ditch – and so they are.

Conservative commentator (and George W. Bush speechwriter) David Frum recently wrote the harm extremist views can have on the electoral prospects of a political party. Reflecting on the reasons for the GOP’s defeat in the last US Presidential election he noted the toxic role the “conservative entertainment complex” played :

“The alternative information system built by conservative elites imprisons them as much as it does the movement’s rank and file. Exactly at the moment when realism and restraint are most needed, those qualities are spurned by a political movement that has furnished its collective mind with pseudo-facts and pretend information.” (Why Romney Lost, 2012)

The climate sceptic movement is just that: an alternative system of knowledge. If you recall, every GOP presidential candidate stated they were a climate sceptic: not one of them became the President of the United States.

Abbott and Greg Hunt are smart enough to start freeing themselves from the grip of the sceptic movement: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Where’s the love Tony? Sceptics feel the cold shoulder

This reality is only just dawning on Australia’s more vocal sceptics. Evidence of this can be seen in a recent post by Jo Nova in which she lashes out at Abbott and the LNP.

Titled Australian conservatives going Labor lite – pandering to the “green vote” or just confused? she states:

Tony Abbott has a plan to try to convince China and the US to sign up for the “global climate change deal.” As if the world’s number one and two economies, with a population of 1.6 billion combined, will be waiting for instructions. And as if the global climate needed “a deal”. Hey but we do have 22 million people. squeak. squeak.

To make matters worse, Greg Hunt — the opposition spokesman for the environment — said a Coalition Government might not wipe out the emissions reductions target but… wait, they might lift the target instead. Thus taking something useless, expensive and ineffective against a problem-that-doesn’t-exist and making it moreso [sic].

It’s a mistake every which way. The Liberal Party could play them at their own green game and beat them, just by applying common sense. Instead its appeasing the politically correct namecallers [sic] (who wouldn’t vote for them anyway), and the price they pay is to look weak, irrational and lacking in conviction.

Jo can’t understand why Abbott and Hunt accept climate change as real:

If the Liberal Party were serious about protecting the environment, they would promise to drop funding for pointless fantasies and token do-gooder projects and get the science right first. A government that was serious about the environment would use some saved funds to set up an entirely new climate science research unit — one that aimed at predicting the climate (inasmuch as it is possible). Better climate models would help farmers, town planners, tourism operators, emergency services, dams and water catchments. It’s not just green, its a productivity thing too. Better than a wind-farm…

The new unit could compete with the BOM and CSIRO and may the best scientists win.

A real green policymaker would audit our temperature records independently. How can we be serious about managing Australia’s climate if our records have biased and inexplicable adjustments, that are described as “neutral”? Why would anyone who cares about the environment be prepared to accept shoddy data, bugs, and mysterious black box methods that no one can test?

Put aside her fantasy of creating yet another scientific institution – at great expense to the taxpayer – the necessary competition between scientists has already happened: it’s called the peer-review system. Over 95% of climate scientists agree humanity is changing the atmosphere of the planet.

Abbott and the LNP have accepted that scientific consensus: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Abbott’s coming political challenge: Australia’s business community want’s a price on carbon

A recent article in the Australian Financial Review stated both power and multinational firms are signalling their strong desire to see a price on carbon is maintained:

Power companies are demanding the federal opposition rethink its “direct action’’ plan for reducing carbon emissions, warning that its company baseline approach could be more difficult to operate than Labor’s trading scheme.

The Energy Supply Association of Australia said falling demand for power meant the Coalition must review its energy and climate change policy if it gains power at the September 14 federal election.

The warning comes amid growing support by multinational companies and major business groups for a market-based scheme, such as an emissions trading scheme, linked to the currently low prices set in European and other international markets.

ESSA, which represents big power companies such as Origin, TRUenergy and International Power, has long supported an emissions trading scheme.

“What we are seeing is the conditions in the market moving so quickly that there is a need to rethink the rules with a view to resetting or rethinking Direct Action,” ESAA chief executive Matthew Warren told The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday.

But the Coalition is refusing to budge. The opposition’s spokesman on ­climate action, Greg Hunt, said on Tuesday that it was committed to dumping the carbon tax.

“We remain completely committed to the policy as it removes a costly tax on business,” he said.

After the 2013 election the LNP will face enormous pressure from business to shift its position.

The hard sell will be trying to convince the voting public retaining a price on carbon is not a price on carbon. But a price on carbon is here to stay.

Would not the public see that as a cynical ploy, thus hurting freshly minted Prime Minister Abbott’s approval ratings? More than likely.

But the LNP will have a sizable majority in the lower house and the potential to ride out initial voter backlash.

Cynical? Perhaps.

But that is how the game is played.

Realpolitik triumphs: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Ironically it is Tony Abbott driving some of the final nails into the coffin of the climate sceptic movement –  the same man who famously called climate change “crap” and ran a tawdry scare campaign against the carbon “tax”.

There are times when politics creates situations of exquisite irony.

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Australia 2070: we won’t recognize the environment according to CSIRO

The CSIRO has recently released a report (see here) on how climate change is going to radically impact the Australian environment. Even News Corporation publication The Herald Sun – home of Andrew Bolt – is reporting:

And the study’s lead researchers fear Australians may not be ready to accept the new way their country may soon smell, sound and look. 

The Commonwealth’s science and research body has produced the first “Australia-wide assessment of the magnitude of the ecological impact that climate change could have on biodiversity” and how the changes could be managed. 

It says totally new environments will emerge while others vanish and there will be a decline in forest environments, which will give way to shrubs and grasslands. 

“Climate change is likely to start to transform some of Australia’s natural landscapes by 2030,” said lead researcher Dr Michael Dunlop, from the CSIRO’s Ecosystem Sciences division. 

“By 2070, the ecological impacts are likely to be very significant and widespread.


“Many of the environments our plants and animals currently exist in will disappear from the continent. Our grandchildren are likely to experience landscapes that are very different to the ones we have known.” 

The changes will be so profound that they will have major implications for management of the environment and, in particular, Australia’s national parks and nature reserves. 

“If future generations want to experience and enjoy our distinctive plants and animals and the wonders of the Australian bush, then we need to give biodiversity the greatest opportunity to adapt naturally in a changing and variable environment, rather than trying to prevent ecological change,” Dr Dunlop said. 

The study identified a range of management options, including ensuring there is plenty of habitat of different types available for plants and animals. 

“But one of the biggest challenges could be the community accepting the levels of ecological change that we could experience,” Dr Dunlop said.

There has been a steady chorus arguing for adaptation measures and planning to begin immediately. This is not to take away from the issue of mitigation – reducing CO2 emissions.

But the truth – the hard, scary, ugly truth –  is that we are going to overshoot safe boundary limits.

CSIRO hides the methane decline: or, propoganda in four easy steps

Evidence of a scandal?

As we noted earlier this year, the CSIRO and BoM released a document that made deniers furious (see “CSIRO forces the hand of the media” and “Rage against the science“). It conclusively demonstrated that temperatures had risen over the last century, and that this could be attributed to human activity.

However, for the last couple of weeks deniers niggling at it, trying to chip away at the credibility of both the report and the CSIRO itself.

Like creationists who attack scientists and museums, they can’t abide the what the science is telling us so they look for tiny inconsistencies and attempt to blow them up into scandals. This “anomaly hunting” is the stock in trade of all ant-science movements.

Recently, a new claim has been doing the rounds amongst the Australian denial movement. They are working very hard to try and manufacture a scandal. So far it’s failing. Apart from a few excited blog posts by the usual suspects (I’m looking at you Andrew Bolt), now one else seems to be biting. Still it’s worth investigating.

Here’s the claim (my words):

The Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research organisation (CSIRO) “hid” data about the level of atmosphere methane in their “State of the climate” report.

As one would expect, the CSIRO did no such thing.

But what we do have is a perfect, text-book example of how the denial movement attempts to manufacture controversy.

Leading the recent charge against the CSIRO is Tom Quirk, a member of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). The IPA is the think tank behind a great deal of denialist activity and propoganda in Australia. Recently Quirk has claimed the CSIRO had attempted to “hide the plateau” in atmosphere methane emissions in the State of the Climate report.

Step 1: Publish your “peer-reviewed” research” for credibility

Local deniers can’t abide that the CSIRO is one of the countries most trusted institutions. That the CSIRO is supportive of the science underpinning global warming is doubly frustrating. That thing called “science” is very frustrating when it’s results conflict with your world view, but gosh-darn-it denialists crave the authority and respectability that science bestows.

Indeed they crave it so much so that they have manufactued a alternative science with its own journals, conferences and blog sites.

Quirk has published some research – and I do use the term loosely – on atmospheric methane in the notoriously unreliable journal, Energy and Environment (E&E). E&E has a partisan editor who is sceptical of IPCC and sees their role to “balance” the opinion of the IPCC and scientists. It is also how many deniers claim to have published “peer-reviewed” research. [1]

The standards and reputation of E&E are so poor that genuine scientists avoid publishing articles in E&E.

E&E articles are widely cited by deniers, but hold very little weight in the scientific community because the quality of the papers are generally thought of a low standard.

Quirks paper, Twentieth Century Sources of Methane in the Atmosphere (Energy & Environment Volume 21, p 251, No. 3, 2010) was published early in the year.

Thus having established his “credentials” to talk about methane, Quirks then hits the denial blogosphere…

Step 2: Publish in well-known denial magazines

On May 19, Quirk published his views on Quadrant, a right-wing journal that frequently publishes the views of deniers. In it, Quirk claimed;

The CSIRO paper “State of the Climate” is as much a commentary on the state of the climate scientists who put the document together. The CSIRO has waded into a large government funded trough and is not inclined to publish anything that gets between it and the trough.

Not exactly scholarly language is it? His specific claim is this:

The insert of Figure 1 shows that the methane data is only plotted up to 1990. This is some ten years short of the carbon dioxide measurements. Yet groups within the CSIRO have been involved in measurements up to the present within international collaborations.

What has happened since that time? Figure 2 tells the story. Methane concentrations have plateaued. This does not fit the CSIRO storyline.

Shocking! If it was true…

Quirk is attempting to do is manufacture a controversy. He has found a tiny, insignificant anomaly and his trying to create a “hide the decline” scandal ala “Climategate”.

Step 3: Get “sceptical” bloggers to link to your article to circulate the meme

The next part is inevitable, and was actually brought to my attention my a reader of this blog [hat tip AS]. Andrew Bolt of the Herald Sun mentioned Quirk’s Quadrant article on his blog on May 21:

Tom Quirk is puzzled. Why, in its State of the Climate report, did the CSIRO leave out the last 20 years of data of methane concentrations?

Is it because the concentration of this greenhouse gas has barely increased since, against the warmists’ theory?

Both myself and AS stopped by to point out the obvious flaws in Quirk’s article. Simply put, he played around with a graph (discussed in more detail below).

Step 4: Get “sceptical” journalists to paraphrase your arguments in a major daily

Terry McCrann, a business writer for Murdoch’s Herald Sun and The Australian joined the attack on May 29

In March, it joined with the Bureau of Meteorology to produce a “snapshot of the state of the climate to update Australians about how their climate has changed and what it means”. Although the pamphlet had a neutral title, “State of the Climate”, it was clearly designed to bring the great weight of the apparent credibility of these two organisations to bear against, and hopefully crush, those pesky climate change sceptics…

…In short, the CSIRO is a fully signed-up member of the climate change club. It wanted to project the horror story of continually rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. So it simply disappeared inconvenient evidence to the contrary, in the process announcing it cannot be trusted ever again to deliver objective scientific evidence.”

Quite the claim. Let’s hope we can trust CSIRO the next time a virus breaks out.

McCrann goes on:

Did the answer lie in the inconvenient truth that methane concentrations have plateaued since the mid-1990s? Yet here is the CSIRO, the organisation dedicated to scientific truth, pretending — even stating — that they’re still going up, Climategate style. This is bad enough, but just as with Treasury, real policies are built on this sort of “analysis”. The first version of the so-called carbon pollution reduction scheme included farming to address the methane question. But as Quirk has shown in a peer-reviewed paper, atmospheric methane is driven by a combination of volcanos, El Ninos and pipeline (mostly dodgy old Soviet) leakage.

Australian Climate Madness picks up the story later on May 30 here, claiming:

CSIRO, The Bureau of Meteorology, the UK Royal Society, the American National Academy of Sciences and hundreds of other organisations have all nailed their colours to the climate change mast, abandoning objective scientific enquiry in favour of environmental advocacy.

Between Quirk publishing an article earlier this year in the dodgy E&E and late May the “hide the methane” claim had become a truism in the denial community.

Andrew Bolt mentions it again on May 29, doing his usual tag-team effort with fellow Murdoch journalist McCrann. Bolt, in his usual style uses the stock-in-trade language of outrage and hyperbole:

“Meanwhile, a private citizen forces the CSIRO to (very quietly) fix up a very suspicious mistake. Tery McCrann describes the CSIRO’s latest shame…”

Somehow I think the shame rests elsewhere.

Note the use of language:  Quirk a director of the IPA become a “private citizen” who has fixed up a “suspicious mistake”. ”

Really, who can you trust to tell you the truth about climate change? Scientists? Hell no!

Better to trust “pesky” directors of think tanks who publish in journals of dubious quality.

Did the CSIRO “fudge” the data?

In the end it’s a silly claim, especially since there is peer-reviewed literature out there in which the CSIRO has stated that methane concentrations had been stable for some time (see below). CSIRO scientists helped author the following 2008 paper:

After almost a decade with little change in global atmospheric methane mole fraction, we present measurements from the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation networks that show renewed growth starting near the beginning of 2007. A similar growth rate is found at all monitoring locations from this time until the latest measurements.[2]

Methane concentrations did “pause” for 10 years in the early part of the 21st century, but a this recent paper shows concentrations are rising again.

Tha main claim is that the tend line in the CSIRO report for methane atmosphere concentration “stopped” in 1990, therefore “hiding” the plateau (see the above graph). CSIRO did amend the document after Quirk’s article to include more recent data. However, they did make clear if very clear why they did. Quadrant did graciously allow them to publish a response on their website:

The methane and carbon dioxide data shown in State of Climate are annual means up to and including 2009. The methane data were plotted by a non-CSIRO designer in a manner that resulted in about a 20 year lag at the end of the record, presumably to separate them visually from the carbon dioxide record. This should have been explained in State of Climate – unfortunately it was not, and this has lead to Quirk’s misinterpretation of the data. The data are now correctly plotted on the ‘snapshot’ web-site.

Science is a self-correcting process, and State of the Climate was intended to present data to a lay audience. One tiny error fuels suspicion and paranoia.

In the end there is no scandal.

However, it shows how the denial movement will cherry pick tiny inconsistencies and try to magnify these. This is very much a case of creating scandal when none exist. Given that our old friends the IPA are behind this push it’s not suprising.

Six aspects of denial

I’d nominate the following “Six aspects of Denial” that characterises the latest attack on CSIRO:

  • Question the motives and integrity of scientists – without question this is a direct assault on the CSIRO and it’s scientists. The language of Bolt, Quirk and McCrann is inflammatory and they directly accuse them of “wading” into the government-funded trough. Never mind that CSIRO received funding under the conservative Howard government to conduct research into climate change.

[1] See Wikipedia article for background. The editor of E&E is on record saying “I’m following my political agenda — a bit, anyway. But isn’t that the right of the editor?”

[2] Renewed growth of atmospheric methane, M. Rigby GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 35, L22805, doi:10.1029/2008GL036037, 2008

McGauren’s attack on CSIRO: throwing the denial movement a bone

The impact of the CSIRO’s “State of the Climate” report becomes more evident, as noted by Crikey:

“The basic denialist technique is to sew confusion in the community by repeatedly throwing up confected and disproven claims about the science, or attacking the credibility of climate scientists and scientific institutions, and keep doing it until people figure there must be something to their claims. And it has worked, with assistance from the media.

..But once Australians start making the connection between their own experiences and climate change, and moving climate change from a nebulous future threat to something happening in Australia right now, that technique stops working.  And that’s what the CSIRO-BOM report did.”

I think this confirms my initial analysis of the impact CSIRO’s report will have.

Obviously the denial movement is looking desperately for someone – anyone – in politics to “tell it as it is” and pander to their fantasies of conspiracies and data manipulation. It would be inappropriate for Leader of the opposition, Tony Abbott, to attack the CSIRO: it would look incredibly foolish (as I’ve noted here).

Abbot tends to shoot from the hip, and get himself into trouble. Heck if even Andrew Bolt criticises Abbot on his statements about gays, then he really needs to start watching his words.

Avoiding the CSIRO report is probably a smart strategy, Abbot does want to be caught between having to support the science or attack the CSIRO.

Still, the small but electorally significant denial movement that has thrown it’s support behind the Liberals needs to feel that their concerns are being noted.

Release the hounds on climate science! Or a hound. Actually, release a small rather toothless puppy…

Leave it to Victorian Senator Julian McGauren’s to attack not just on the CSIRO report, but the organisation itself:

Senator McGauran says the organisation has been stripped of its independence and is doing the bidding of the Minister for Science, Kim Carr.

“Minister Carr without doubt has wandered through the CSIRO offices, intimidating the scientists and the executive to do as they’re told,” he said.

“This is now a political organisation. The executive have become compliant to the minister, utterly.”

A few pot-shots from a Senator barely anyone knows is the denial movements white knight. A quick check of his history demonstrates a rather colourful history and repeated incidents of behaviour that borders on the unethical:

On 11 August, after the Liberal-National Coalition narrowly won a vote in the Senate, he made a gesture to Labor Party senators on the floor of the Senate in response to comments. This prompted calls from Labor senators and Greens Senator Bob Brown that he be sacked as Deputy Government Whip in the Senate. Senate President Paul Calvert ruled that the gesture was “unseemly but not obscene.”[1]

In 2005 McGauran was accused of releasing to The Age newspaper the private patient records of a woman who had had an abortion, in breach of a Supreme Court suppression order; however, he denies this accusation.[2] The Victoria Health Minister, Bronwyn Pike, is quoted in the article as saying that McGauran was “exploiting this woman in pursuit of his own ideological agenda”, describing the act as an assault on the doctor-patient relationship.

A man of high ideals and integrity indeed.

Give the dog a bone: go get ’em Senator!

The short-termism of this strategy will no doubt rebound on the Senator. No doubt he’ll get a flood of emails from deniers complementing him on his bold statements, but for mainstream Australia it just looks, well, nuts.

It will further convince most Australians the denial movement is a bit like that embarrassing uncle that turns up at family weddings: a bit of a duffer obsessed with JFK conspiracy theories and perpetual motion machines. Harmless and best avoided: “A conspiracy you say? Oh my that’s interesting…. is that the canapes? Must go!”

Really, it’s just dog whistle politics – get a unknown backbencher to throw the denial movement a few bones and keep them happy. Deniers will chew over and relish the comments in their forums and blogs and be kept happy, distracted and amused.

We can safely ignore McGauren’s comments, it simply highlights how the ground is slowly shifting beneath the feet of the denial movement.

And again, it shows how science communication done correctly is a powerful tool to counter the distortions and misinformation of the denial movement.

Note: Crikey has a wonderfully funny comic on the issue here.

Tempering blogging enthusiasm: perspective and the long view

Keep some perspective on the debate... and your own writing

Obviously I’ve been keen on CSIRO’s recent strategy and their document. However, I’m keen to emphasise that this is by no means a decisive victory. It’s an encouraging development, and there are some signs that CSIRO have hit the mark with their approach.

However, it does not mean the editors at The Australian “have seen the light” or the denial movement is about to collapse. CSIRO sets a good example: scientists, bloggers and science communicators can learn from them.

The “fight” is by no means over.

Bloggers should always temper their enthusiasm: statements such as “this is the BIGGEST THING since X!” are hyperbole and only make the author look foolish. No-one is exempt from that, including myself.

Victories are made by a thousand small advances on a broad front.

CSIRO’s foray into the media over the last few days is one of those small, but significant advances.

The implications of CSIRO’s strategy are being noted…

It’s starting to click with others. People are understanding the strength of CSIROs strategy. An article in today’s Sydney Morning Herald backs up my basic points:

Like a punch drunk boxer climate science has been stumbling around for months after a barrage of punches from the climate sceptics.Monday’s release of a modest six-page report from Australia’s premier scientific body is the first sure-footed step the science community has taken for months…

…CSIRO and BoM’s intervention this week is what Flannery was calling for; a clear, unambiguous explanation of what is being observed and what it means, that ‘‘climate change is real.’’

BoM director Dr Greg Ayres said on releasing the report the purpose was provide ‘‘objective and observable climate information.’’

It’s what the public has been asking for, and the impact of “The State of the Climate” will only continue to grow. CSIRO/BoM are letting the facts speak for themselves.

Let’s hope more scientists and science communicators learn from this example. And for gawds sake guys – make damn sure the supporting data is accurate, relies upon good quality sources and peer reviewed research.

The last thing that’s needed is another IPCC-Glaciergate fiasco.

CSIRO forces the hand of the media, reshapes the debate

The denial movement went into full meltdown yesterday after the CSIRO’s six page document clearly demonstrating the effect climate change has had on Australia. It was a smart move by CSIRO, as it focussed primarily on how climate change has affected Australia – it brings the message home to everyone.

This is how it impacts you.

It makes the issue tangible for most Australians: this is how it’s changed our climate. This is how it’s going to continue to shape our environment. In “State of the Climate” CSIRO makes the science accessible.

Nor does this document simply shape the media debate. It will become a much cited and authoritative document in the blogosphere. Already other media outlets around the world are picking it up.

It was a damn smart move by CSIRO, however I don’t think the implications of their counter-attack on the denial movement – and how it will shape the climate debate – are fully appreciated.

Pushing deniers back to the fringe

Acceptance of CSIRO’s statements on climate change will become the default “mainstream” view in both the media and in the political debate.

CSIRO has forced major media outlets – and by extension political parties – to either accept the science or deny it. The choice is between taking a respectable position or to engage in frothy-mouthed denial.

Politicians that either reject the science or remain ambiguous will either have to publically accept the CSIRO’s statement, or attack the credibility of CSIRO itself. Most politicians understand that this is not a viable strategy. It would make them look irresponsible and foolish.

The CSIRO is a respected institution in Australia. People understand the work they do, and have great pride in its achievements. When the CSIRO speaks most Australians listen and accept their message. To attack and denigrate such a respected authority will only reflect poorly on them (a point Andrew Bolt fails to grasp).

The big shapers of public opinion in the media are also forced to make that same choice, and one can see how it’s already happened.

The Australian: “OK, maybe you scientists are right….”

The Australian, Murdoch’s national daily has long had a problematical relationship with the science. But now the choice for Murdoch’s stable of deniers at The Australian is quite stark: denial or acceptance.

Fortunately they have conceded that the science is “solid“:

“…SERIOUS climate change debate is not the place for alarmist hyperbole and sophistry. Australians need to come to grips with the issue through quality science and rational argument, which is why a new CSIRO/Bureau of Meteorology analysis is welcome. While more than 90 per cent certain that greenhouse emissions have caused most of the global warming observed since 1950, the report’s balanced approach enhances its credibility….

…CSIRO executive director Dr Megan Clark correctly points out the value of scientific observation and hard data, the hallmarks of the new report, which is based on some of the most accurate meteorology records in the world. The report is a useful resource to inform sensible debate.”

Here the debate shifts from the acceptance of the science to the political, economic and social responses to climate change. It’s a debate that is necessary, and will no doubt be intense. But this is a signal that media outlets are now passing through the denial stage.

Personally, I think the rest of the article has some problems – especially their considerations on the economic implications of responding to climate change. However this blog is about climate change denial, not the policy implications.

The first stage is acceptance of the science.

Implications for the denial movement: their high-water mark is receding

Is this “nail in the coffin” for the denial movement?

Of course not, they’ll continue to sputter and rage for a few more years. However, CSIRO’s document delegitimizes their claims of conspiracies, data manipulation and deceit by the scientific establishment. Responsible politicians and journalists will be forced to distance themselves from their wild claims.

The “sophistry” (i.e. spin and lies) of the denail movement are longer acceptable. It will take some time for the denier community to accept this, but they’ve passed their high-water mark.

Last November it looked like that had gained the upper hand through their manipulation of the Climategate emails and problems with the IPCC fourth assessment report. Yes, they gained some traction in the mainstream press and blogosphere. But ultimately these events will be of no lasting importance.

The debate has moved on. It is moving on, and they are being left behind.

The likes of Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova and Ian Pilmer will continue to rage, however they will be preaching to a ever decreasing, but shrill minority.

Rage against the science: CSIRO makes deniers mad!

Co2 and Methine parts per million

The CSIRO has been making a concentrated effort to communicate the reality of climate change over the past few days in the Australia media. They’ve just put out a “easy to understand” six page report which illustrates long term warming trends. They state:

“Our observations clearly demonstrate that climate change is real. CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. will continue to provide observations and research so that Australia’s responses are underpinned by science of the highest quality.” – State of the Climate

It does not get any clearer than that.

But the last part of that quote has got the denial movement hoping mad. Science of the highest quality? Pfft to that! We’re not scientists, but we know more about science than they do!

Denier meltdown: I can’t, I won’t… I simply can’t believe it!

Three cheers for CSIRO for getting into the debate and putting real science out there to counter the lies, distortions and fantasies of the denial movement. It’s a good document: simple, clear and concise.

It distills a great deal of science’s understanding of climate change, and is about historical data, not the much derided “computer modelling”. Also, a big cheer for the Herald Sun who published a good article on the report.

Of course Australia’s most prominent denier, the Herald Sun’s very own Andrew Bolt goes apoplectic:

How much can this propaganda sheet be trusted to tell you the let-the-card-sfall-where-they-may truth?

The toxicity of the comments of the deniers needs to be seen to be believed. Anger, rage… and of course denial:

“…F*** the Met and F*** the CSIRO – we don’t deny the climate is changing, you stupid idiots; we deny that anthropogenic CO2 release is the major or only driver thereof. Stop being so disingenuous; we know what you’re trying to do and we don’t approve. My advice to school-leavers is to train as a meteorologist, because the new government is going to gut the bureau in its fury when it gets in, and rightly so. Never mind that they’re acting under orders – they can’t be trusted any more.”

“…The subversives, of which CSIRO and BOM, have proven their membership, along with the ABC, never cease their ridiculous tirade of unscientific nonsense.”

The only weapon the denialist have is to try and besmirch the reputation of the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, accusing them of deception.

Which in the end, is all they’ve got: rage, anger and denial.

All they can do is hint at dark conspiracies and the workings of the evil UN, CSIRO, IPCC, world governments, Al Gore, scientists, public servants, the Labour Party, Keven Rudd, international capital, the ABC, Tim Flannery… it’s a paranoid, conspiratorial world view of “us” against “them”.

Note: The comments on Andrew Bolt’s blog are now >200, and full of wonderful howlers.

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