Category Archives: Public opinion

Climate change denial in decline? SciAm study points to that possibility

A recent survey conducted by Scientific American on a range of issues notes that climate change scepticism may be in decline:

“…Numerous polls show a decline in the percentage of Americans who believe humans affect climate, but our survey suggests the nation is not among the worst deniers. (Those are France, Japan and Australia.) Attitudes, however, may be shifting the other way. Among those respondents who have changed their opinions in the past year, three times more said they are more certain than less certain that humans are changing the climate.”

 Are things swinging towards a greater acceptance of climate change?  

The survey asked the following question: “Over the past year, have your views on climate altered in any way?”  

The figures for Australia are as follows:  

  • My views have not changed – 49%
  • I am more doubtful that human activity is changing the climate – 37%
  • I am more certain humans are changing the climate – 14%  

Of those changing their minds, more people are accepting the science.  

Which indicates, that despite all the sound-and-fury of the denial movement they are losing.

However, the survey conducted polled SciAm readers, as science friendly sample as you are going to get:

“…Scientific American partnered with our sister publication, Nature, the international journal of science, to poll readers online. More than 21,000 people responded via the Web sites of Nature and of Scientific American and its international editions. As expected, it was a supportive and science-literate crowd—19 percent identified themselves as Ph.Ds. But attitudes differed widely depending on particular issues—climate, evolution, technology—and on whether respondents live in the U.S., Europe or Asia.”

Still, interesting.  

I’ve been saying that climate change denial is entering it’s own death spiral in response to real world events.  

Time will tell.  

[Hat tip: Pharyngula]

The coming political instability: new politics for a new planet

“…global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It’s our reality. We’ve changed the planet, changed it in large and fundamental ways. And these changes are far, far more evident in the toughest parts of the globe, where climate change is already wrecking thousands of lives daily…”  – Bill McKibbin, Eaarth

Extraordinary things are happening in Australian politics today.

Kevin Rudd, who lead the Labour part to a “smashing” victory in 2007 – and was once Australia’s most popular Prime Minister – has been ousted and replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gaillard.

There are far more qualified people who can comment on this, however thinking about this in the context of climate change I believe this is a harbinger of things to come.

In less than twelve months a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition have been deposed because of the politics surrounding climate change.

Late last year, Malcolm Turnbull was ousted by right-wing elements of the Liberal Party who rejected not only the ETS, but the idea that humanity was causing global warming.

Rudd was elected in large part because many Australians wanted action on climate change. There are many reasons for the collapse in public support for Rudd, however the key moment was his “back flip” on the Emissions Trading Scheme that destroyed people trust in him and the governments willingness to take action:

By November, the Rudd government appeared unassailable, enhanced by the faltering state of then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Rudd went to Copenhagen with fading hopes of climate glory on either the international or national stage.

This was to mark the beginning of his slide.

As Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who had been hoisted by the vigorously anti-emissions trading scheme agitators within the Coalition, began to badger Mr Rudd over the ”great big new tax”, his climate ardour cooled.

His backing away from legislation, let alone a double dissolution, on the climate issue became corrosive.

The politics of climate change destroyed two political leaders: what’s next?

The politics of climate change is not the sole driver of these events.

However, I think we can say climate change is no longer an issue politicians can afford to ignore.

The majority of Australians (let’s ignore the highly vocal, but significant minority of “sceptics”) want action on climate change. Rudd disappointed with his ETS back flip.

Conversely, sceptics of climate change backed the new Liberal leader Tony Abbot whose acceptance of the science is at best tenuous.

I think it goes without saying that climate change issues will completely reshape the political landscape over the next few years.

As it’s effects begun to be felt even more, politicians who once chanted the “growth” mantra will struggle to develop policies that will mitigate the effects of global warming and put a price on carbon.

The public will become even more divided on what they believe is an adequate response to climate change. This in turn may drive even wilder swings in opinion polls.

Perhaps politics will become even more partisan. Having delayed action for nearly twenty years, governments and politicians around the world will scramble to develop effective and popular strategies.

But what will this mean for us, the ordinary citizens of democracies such as Australia?

New politics for a new planet: the “Green-Security” political paradigm

As Bill McKibben said in his recent book Eaarth, we live on a new planet.

Thus it makes sense that we will see a new form of politics emerging, one very different from the neo-conservative politics of the last few decades that have placed a primacy on economic growth and management.

It won’t be “It’s the economy stupid” but “It’s the planet, stupid”.

Economic issues, once the predominant concern of politics is going to take a back seat.

The old distinctions between left, right, liberal, green, progressive and conservative will become increasingly meaningless.

Instead, we may see a politics that is focussed on conversation and security.

The politics of green parties will merge into the mainstream, as we see the effects of climate change become even more apparent – protecting the environment will become the central position of most parties. [1].

Twinned to this will be a concerns about security: food security as agriculture suffers under climate change; border security as populations become displaced and waves of refugees shift in response to weather; economic security as we struggle with the costs climate change will wreck on our economics; energy security; and military security, as conflicts escalate.

This hybrid “Green-Security” politics will be a direct product of climate change. [2]

We will lurch between wanting to mitigate the effect of global warming, desperately trying to reduce the volume of CO2 we put into the atmosphere and dealing with the political and economic impacts all this entails.

We’ve left Earth with its familiar climate, cultures and politics.

We’re about to land on Eaarth, a very different planet.

[1] This won’t stop the denial movement, even as the seas rise they’ll claim it’s the sun, faulty weather stations or a conspiracy orchestrated by green-socialist-bankers.

[2] I’m struggling for an adequate definition, happy for other suggestions

The rule of law: litigation as a legitimate strategy and the need to encourage “whistle blowers” from the denial movement

A magic formula?

Within the science community, and it’s supporters, litigation is viewed often with suspicion or beneath the scientific community. Reticence is based on two arguments:

  • This is a scientific question, therefore we should let the evidence speak for itself.
  • Resorting to litigation or (civil action) is seen to be “beneath” the methodology and reputation of the science community.

Litigation implies “dirty hands”, a course of action that compromises the “purity” of science.

However I would contend that the litigation process – primarily as a response to libel and defamation of individuals and institutions – is a legitimate strategy to counter the denial movement.

The comparison to the “tobacco wars” and wave of class actions that effectively neutered the industry is not simply analogous, but a good model for how we can fight the industry funded think tanks and the armies of professional PR “hacks”.

They not only mislead the public, but through their websites, blogs, YouTube video’s, newspaper articles and books defame both individual scientists and institutions.

It’s often been said the climate debate is a street fight, and the denial movement is not afraid to throw some low blows. While I’d not advocate adopting the same “dirty tricks” of the deniers, there are legitimate counter strategies and tactics to neutralise their effectiveness.

Suing for defamation is a legitimate and perhaps effective strategy.

The “tobacco wars” as a model

“For 40 years, the US tobacco industry was invincible in court. Tobacco companies have long been among the most profitable in the US, and used that money to fund a seemingly unbeatable legal defence team…” ~ Tobacco Wars, BBC

The denial movement is a direct outgrowth of the tobacco industries campaign to discredit science by establishing “independent” think tanks that challenged the scientific evidence. Groups such as “The Advancement of Sound Science Association” (TASSA) where established and seeded with money from Philip Morris.

Let’s not forget our old friend, Richard S. Courtney, who works for a think tank that challenges both climate change and the effects of second hand smoke.

For almost thirty years the denial movement has thrown the wildest accusations at the scientific community. They have defamed the reputation of scientists calling them “frauds”, “liars” and “criminals” and accusing them of deliberately fudging data, making up “global warming” and wanting to tear down industrial civilisation.

These wild claims and been thrown around by the denial movement with careless abandon.

And for those same thirty years the scientific community ignored these attacks. By not engaging with the denial movement, or directly countering these charges, it was hoped they would simply go away. Given how preposterous these charges where, many felt the public would reject them outright.

Sadly, they have not. Being “skeptical” of climate change is now mainstream.

There are many ways to challenge the claims of the deniers. Sites such as Skeptical Science perform an invaluable service in countering the many obvious flaws in their misrepresentation of the science. But facts will not move people alone.

Helping the public understand how they have been deceived will cripple the legitimacy of the denial movement.

For a good comparison I’d urge people to view the the BBC series “Tobacco Wars”. It traces the history of their campaign of denial and how they where effectively countered. Here’s our model.

Episode One: Smokescreen

See also:

I’d also also the great website Tobacco.Org. They continue to effectively monitor the tobacco industry.

What are the possible gains in such a strategy

Firstly, it would shut down the most outrageous lies and slander peddled by the deniers. By setting a precedent it would as a precautionary example to many in the denial movement. It signals that they will be held to account – something they have lacked for decades.

Secondly, during what is called the discovery process (when both sides exchange documents) we would gain access to the emails, documents and memos that detail just how deliberate and considered their misinformation campaign. The tobacco litigation in the US made available thousands of documents that simultaneously:

  • demonstrated how they deliberately mislead the public
  • damned them with their own words as outlined in the tens of thousands of documents that demonstrated their premeditated deceit

How deep are the pockets of the deniers?

Deep.

But so were the pockets of the tobacco industry.

And yet they still lost. They can be challenged. It’s been done before.

Strangling free speech?

I’ll be the first to defend free speech. However, there are limits to free speech and this is recognised in the various libel and defamation laws found in most common law countries. Already we have two examples of scientists either  or contemplating or starting legal action for libel/defamation.

Obviously this is a very complex issue, and the effectiveness of pursuing such a strategy needs to be debated. However the counter balance to this is challenging obvious falsehoods or the statements that slander the reputation of individuals.

The denial movement needs to be held to account. When you make outrageous claims you have the responsibility to back up those claims. Freedom of speech does not exempt one from responsibility.

Encouraging whistle blowers: a few good men and women

As the scientific evidence gets clearer the deniers have ratcheted up their campaign of confusion. By making more “noise” they hope to mislead the public and drown out ever increasing number of studies that confirm the reality of AGW.

I believe there are individuals of good conscience who have – for what ever reason – found themselves enmeshed in the denial movement. And yet they may find themselves questioning the actions of the denial movement.

We need our very own “Insider”, a heroic individual in the mould of Jeffrey Wigand who blew the lid on the tobacco industries deceit:

“Wigand became nationally known as a whistle blower regarding the company’s decisions involving the selection of ingredients in their cigarettes when on February 4, 1996 on the CBS news program 60 Minutes, he stated Brown & Williamson intentionally manipulates the tobacco blend to increase the amount of nicotine in cigarette smoke, thereby increasing the ‘impact’ to the smoker. Nicotine is a naturally occurring substance in tobacco that is widely held to be responsible for the habit-forming and addictive effects of cigarette smoking. Wigand claims that he was subsequently harassed and received anonymous death threats…”

We should encourage and make ourselves available to “whistle blowers”.

I have no doubt that some of those individuals deeply embedded within the denial movement have come to realise that the actions of the TASSA, Heartland and Exxon-Mobil not only confuse the public but stymie our response to the challenge of climate change.

Such “insiders” would be privy to documents, emails and sources of funding that could be made public.

Their release would open the door to challenge the denial movement and mobilise public opinion in the same way the revelations about the tobacco industry made clear their deliberate campaign to mislead.

We need to tear down the wall the deniers operate behind and expose their “dirty secrets”.

It’s time to turn the tables.

[Note:  I am not a lawyer, and note this is a complex area. Thoughts, comments or criticism on this idea welcome]

Inherit the wind: the bipartisian war on science by climate change denialists and religious conservatives

Who shall inherit the wind?

As one dives deeper into the literature of the denial movement, you come across the same names and arguments. What is even more striking is the deep links between creationism – a movement denying evolution – and climate change  denial.

Not only do these two anti-science movements share a disdain for science, but a similar world view. As I have noted previously the denial movement is very much centred in the US, and that many of it’s most prominent members are conservative Christians.

Roy Spencer is an example of someone on record for doubting both evolution and climate change. “Sceptical” bloggers such as Andrew Bolt and Jo Nova “import” a great deal of this material by republishing it on their own sites.

As it’s been demonstrated time and time again, both movements have a deep antipathy towards science, particularly it’s emphasis on methodological naturalism. Methodological what you ask?

Simply put science assumes only natural phenomena can explain the workings of the universe around us. It explicitly excludes supernatural phenomena as a means to explaining “how things work”.

Let’s take one example: earthquakes. In order to explain *why* earthquakes occur we must understand geology and plate tectonics. We don’t assume a god, or gods, got angry and shook the earth. There are good reasons for taking this approach which has a great deal to do with epistemology and the scientific method.

Let’s just say, it’s easier to guess how the earth’s continental plates may shift than try to divine the intention of an angry Earth god or goddess.

Inherit the wind: the conservative religious backlash against climate science

For some – not all, and I’d stress this – religious people methodological naturalism removes the need for a “creator” who “watches over” the world and individual human beings. It’s a deeply threatening position to take, as one cannot explain events by saying “This god did it”.

Whether that be the movement of continental plates or the creation of the universe, the default position of science is to remove a deity from any hypothesis. For some conservative Christians, the science of climate change is as deeply threatening as Darwin’s theory of Evolution. The reasons why conservative Christianity are “opposed” to climate science are complex, but it boils down to two reasons.

Firstly it implies God is “not in control”. Thus for some Christians it’s an almost existential fear: how could God allow the climate change and cause massive suffering without intervening? Better to believe the climate is not changing. Theodicy has never been able to explain away why a good God allows “evil things” to happen. Climate change is “an evil” almost beyond comprehension, and seriously calls into question God’s omnipotence. [2]

A perfect example of this line of thinking is Illinois Republican John Shimkus who blatantly states “only God can destroy the Earth”:

The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.

Secondly, this antipathy to climate science is a by-product of the “culture wars” in the US, in which science and scientists are perceived as godless liberals, hostile to Christian beliefs. Therefore, anything scientists have to say on a topic should be treated with deep scepticism.

So, what does this diversion into the philosophy of science and creationism have to do with the denial movement?

Well, as I like to say “Everything”. [wink]

A great deal of the material produced by the denial movement is authored – and aimed for consumption by – conservative Christians.

Want further evidence? Let’s look at a recent example of this on Jo Nova’s blog where she promotes a recent publication by conservative Christian, Art Robinson.

Jo Nova: net importer of conservative religious propaganda

When the results of science don’t agree with your politics, there is only one thing to do: declare all science “corrupt”. Not just climate science, but all science. In her ironically titled post “The truth shall make you free” West Australian denier Jo Nova cites a recent publication by Art Robinson a well-known climate change “sceptic”.

The thrust of article is that science has been corrupted by government grant money, allowing a small group of non-scientists to control the outcome of scientific research:

“A relatively small group of fourth-rate scientists, who would never be scientists at all under the standards that prevailed 50 years ago, have received huge grants of research funds and extensive mainstream media notoriety by – there is no polite way to put this – lying about climate science in order to provide political cover for the U.N. political agenda. By all objective standards of inquiry, the hypothesis they promote is not just unproved; it is definitively disproved by the experimental and observational research record…”

This is the standard conspiracy claim made by most of the denial movement – it’s the classic “follow the money” argument. We’ve heard this many times before, both from the movements “official” spokespersons and the foot soldiers who plague Internet forums and the comments section of online newspapers. Robinson’s paper itself contains barely any citations, is strictly an opinion piece and is largely incoherent.

Robinson finishes his piece with a rather nasty revenge fantasy:

“…Are our best scientists blameless in this? Again, no. They have watched passively as their profession, which depends upon absolute honesty, is represented by dishonest people in public forums – and many have not spoken in opposition to these misrepresentations. If they permit this to continue, the inevitable backlash will eventually come. When that happens, the true scientists will suffer right along with the pseudo scientists – a reward they both will richly deserve.”

What “reward” Robinson hopes scientists to receive is not clear, though I’m pretty sure it involves fire and brimstone.

Who is the intended audience for Robinson’s paper?

This is not the language of science, or even reasoned political debate. It’s conservative Christian propaganda by conservatives for conservatives. It makes wild accusations without any references to the scientific literature.

There is little point taking apart the claims made by the paper. I have neither the time or inclination to correct it’s many factual inaccuracies (however at the end of these article I’ve explored one claim which is easily refuted). Reading Robinson’s paper one is immediately struck by the explicit references to God:

“In the second edition of the “Principia,” in which he published most of his discoveries in physics, Newton writes:

The true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful being. His duration reaches from eternity to eternity; His presence from infinity to infinity. He governs all things.

Newton wrote only three books – the “Optics,” the “Principia,” and “Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse of St. John.” Averaged over the course of his life, he divided his time equally between his physics and his Bible, believing that his physics was a biblical ministry. To Dr. Bently he wrote, “When I wrote my Treatise about our System [the “Principia”], I had an Eye upon such Principles as might work with considering Men, for the belief of a Deity, and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that Purpose.”

Science is a search for truth among the things that man can see. The Bible teaches that there are things that man can see and those that he cannot see – “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” and “we see through a glass darkly.” It teaches that “the truth shall make you free” – the truth about both things seen and things not seen.”

And this is the opening paragraphs.

When I first read the paper I was surprised by how heavily it was influenced by a religious outlook: “Is this paper serious?” I asked myself. But then I was able to make the connection between conservative Christianity’s rejection of a great deal of science.

Right from the beginning Robinson is citing biblical authority over science. I’m not criticising Robinson’s spiritual beliefs – these are his own – but in science explicitly putting faith before empirical evidence is a major red flag. The scientific method is built around methodological naturalism, the very opposite of Robinson’s approach. In addition to the above, Robinson’s paper is sprinkled with religious references. Here he is talking about the “golden age” of science during the 1940’s and 1950’s:

Most American scientists of that era held to strong Judeo-Christian principles. The majority were dedicated Christians and Jews, with the remainder largely following the custom and culture of those principles. Most were politically conservative. They had just fought and won a great war against government tyranny and did not think tyranny could ever come to their country.

The import of Robinson’s argument is clear: science was good when most scientists were dedicated Christians and Jews”. Today there are less Christian and Jewish scientists, ergo there is a problem with science. Can anyone else see the glaring non sequitur?

The paper contains numerous links to WorldNetDaily (WND), a “news service” with very strong evangelical Christian leanings. Indeed it not only questions climate science but evolutionary science. The WND is well recognised as a the home for all kinds of fringe beliefs, including musings on the apocalypse, the Antichrist and other “end times” subjects. Amongst the science community it is a recognised vehicle for all kinds of wackiness.

Throughout Robinson’s paper there many links to WND articles clearly demonstrating it is intended to be consumed by an evangelical audience.

Why would Nova promote such a piece?

Many of the sceptics I’ve encountered are horrified to associated with creationism. They can’t see the similarities between the two anti-science movements, however they have enough sense to recognise that creationism is a fringe belief.

The interesting question for me is why would Nova promote such a piece? In the extracts she cites from the paper she explicitly removes all references to God: she tones down the heavy religious overtones of Robinson’s paper. Is that she didn’t read the paper in full? I ploughed through it in fifteen minutes, and understood very clearly the authors world view.

Perhaps it is a case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend?”.

Perhaps. Or is it possible that Nova herself has some sympathy with the more conservative Christian values as many of the deniers in the US? Hard to say as I can’t find any references to Nova’s religious beliefs. Of course, one is entitled to their own beliefs about God and the origin of the universe. But, if your religion clouds your understanding of science, and you spend your time trying to discredit climate science then it is a legitimate question to ask.

However, whatever her motivations are, one thing is very clear.

Robinson’s paper, and Nova’s promotion of it to the denial movement in Australia, makes it very clear both movements will happily wage a bipartisan war against science to further their own interests.

Appendix: Robinson claims there is “no observational proof” for climate change

Robinson puts forward on the most common denialist assertions on pages 8-9 of his “report”:

“Promoted by United Nations projects, primarily the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and related activities, and funded by tens of billions of dollars in “research” funds, the “climate change” business is now in full swing. Astonishingly, there are no experimental or observational facts that support the hypothesis of catastrophic human-caused global warming – not even one. This hypothesis is supported entirely by computer models that do not conform to experiment…”

This is a disingenuous claim. The science behind climate change is not reliant upon computer models. Indeed, there is a wealth of observational proof. To pick but one example, see the CSIRO’s recent “State of the Climate Report” which utilises historical data related to rainfall and temperature stretching back over 100 years. There are thousands of good quality research papers out there that also confirm that climate change is directly attributable to human activities. I’d suggest starting with this list of papers from AGW Observer.

Notes to article

[1] SourceWatch notes Robinson as a “…conservative Christian”

[2] I’m familiar with the problem of evil and debate around the issue, please don’t bombard me with statements about how contemporary philosophy treats the issue of “evil”.

Importing the craziness: yes Andrew, Laurie Oakes article was was aimed at you…

Laurie Oakes is one of Australia’s most respected and experienced political journalists. He recently published a rather refreshing and interesting article in the Herald Sun about the just how poisonous the political debate is in the US and how this is fuelled by what he terms “craziness”

“WINGNUTS – people on the lunatic fringe of politics – are winning in America. A new poll just about puts it beyond doubt. Released a few days ago, it shows that 40 per cent of Americans believe Barack Obama is a socialist, a third think he’s Muslim, three out of 10 fear he “wants to turn over the sovereignty of the US to a one-world government”, and 14 per cent agree that the President “may be the anti-Christ”. 

Phew! 

 Can a whole country go crazy? 

It makes you wonder. Australians, thank goodness, are still pretty sane when it comes to politics. Plenty of us are unimpressed by Kevin Rudd or have less-than-flattering views of Tony Abbott, but we don’t go overboard. We can still have a civilised and relatively civil political discourse in this country. It is important we keep it that way… The debate over health reform here and in the US gives a good indication of how fortunate we are, but it also provides a warning of what could happen if we are not careful.” 

He warns against our own political debate becoming “infected” by this same disease. What is that this grab bag of opinions have in common?

A conspiratorial world view. 

Oakes did not cite those percentages of belief for those other fantasists: the creationists and climate change denialists. If you look at the percentages of people in the US who believe that evolution is “not true” (at least 25% deny it and 36% are not sure according to this Gallop poll) and those who  believe global warming is due to natural causes (see 46% according to this Gallop poll) you will see that many in the US have an issue with understanding science. 

This alone does not prove anything. So let’s have a look at the Gallop poll related to climate change. It asks respondents if there is a scientific consensus on whether or not global warming can be attributed to human activity: 

“Since last fall, there have been widespread news accounts of allegations of errors in scientific reports on global warming and alleged attempts by some scientists to doctor the global warming record. These news reports may well have caused some Americans to re-evaluate the scientific consensus on global warming. Roughly half of Americans now say that “most scientists believe that global warming is occurring,” down from 65% in recent years. The dominant opposing thesis, held by 36% of Americans, is that scientists are unsure about global warming. An additional 10% say most scientists believe global warming is not occurring…” 

As far as the scientific consensus goes its pretty much unanimous. However many people now believe scientists either overstate it’s importance or are actively fabricating data to make it look like it’s happening. 

Indeed, this is the very craziness that Oakes is referring too.

When a large percentage of your electorate believes scientists and politicians are actively conspiring to fabricate data and mislead the world about the reality of AGW you know you have a real problem.  

Our net importers of craziness: denialist bloggers 

Our local denial movement does not just metaphorically import the craziness, it does so literally by circulating recycled “denialist literature” from the larger providers of this material.

The US is very much the homeland of climate change denial. Most of the large think tanks associated with funding and publishing denialist propaganda can be found in the US, while the movements most prominent members are mostly North American. This includes such luminaries of the denial movement as Republican Senator James Inhofe and blogger Anthony Watts (of “Watts up with that?”). 

Thanks to the Internet the quality of the debate in the US around climate change directly impacts our own conversations. Indeed, our local denial movement is dependent on these materials to populate content on their own blogs and web sites.

They “import” these material from blogs such as “Watts up with that?” (WUWT) and republish them as authoratative discussion on “the science”. A few mouse clicks, some copying and pasting and “hep presto” instant denial. 

Oakes in his article notes the effect (some) bloggers are having on the quality of political debate in the US, though the same applies to many other deabtes: 

“George W’s father, former president George H. W. Bush, spoke out last year in condemnation of attempts to demonise Obama. The President, he said, was “entitled to civil treatment and intellectual honesty when it comes to critics”. Bush Sr added: “People ought to be civil. I worry about yelling at people and this yelling mentality that seems to accompany presidents.” No one listened. Perhaps they just didn’t hear him above the yelling of the talkback ranters, the self-righteous cable TV egomaniacs and the bitter bloggers…” 

Thus, Oakes article could also be read as a shot across the bow of deniers such as the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt. Of course Bolt recognises this and takes a few swipes at Oakes here, ending his article with the fine words: 

“…In short, Oakes’ column is a self-pleasuring fantasy, produced by the very kind of tactics he condemns.” 

Naturally it escapes Andrew’s attention that he is engaging in the very thing Oakes warns us about. 

How to import the craziness: copy and paste 

Bolt’s blog is the main clearing house for denialist propaganda in Australia. With his blog registering millions of hits, Bolt is one of our biggest “net importers” of this denialist material. 

Bolt frequently republishes material from Roy Spencer, the creationist who also disputes the evidence for climate change. However most posts by Bolt related to climate change are simply republished blog entries from WUWT? one of the worlds largest “denialist blogs”. 

Don’t believe me? 

Have a look. 

Importing the craziness: the evidence 

Let’s have a look at a recent climate related blog post by Bolt posted on March 28. Note the topic and image:  

Such a pretty image...

Now, let’s look at post on WUWT that was posted on March 26. Again, note the text and the image:  

...which we've seen before

Both posts relate to the effects of global warming on England’s climate. Both use the same image and have near identical wording. 

I’ve noted that generally there is one to two days lag between what appears on WUWT and the material republished on Bolt’s blog. Its safe to say that a large percentage of Andrew Bolt’s “writing” (and let me emphasis those scare quotes)  on climate change is simply republished WUWT posts with some paraphrasing. 

No wonder Andrew Bolt was upset with Oakes comments, he knows exactly the issue our most respected political commentator is referring too. 

I’ll end this post by quoting Oakes directly: 

The language in our political discussion is becoming harsher and more alarmist. The quality of debate is declining. Partisan hostility is growing. 

We should not forget that the wing nuts are waiting. 

Sermon on the field: the world laughs at, not with, Ablett

Now that the final siren has sounded, it’s safe to assume team Ablett were crushed by team science. Let’s look at the “after the match” analysis.

PZ Myers at Pharyngula, perhaps the largest science blog in the world, picks up the story:

The rest of Ablett’s arguments are just as inane, and are similarly ripped off almost literally from common creationist canards. There’s nothing original and nothing intelligent anywhere in it — it’s just sad how feeble these guys are getting.

Jason Ball at Young Aussie Skeptics:

Ablett also talks about how abiogenesis is the theory that life can grow in peanut butter jars, that DNA has shown evolution to be false, all with large passages of the Bible chucked in at random. I dare you to read the entire thing.

It is possibly the most stupid thing I have ever read, and the funniest

Anarchist6[zero]6 has this to say:

I knew this girl who thought that the paperback copy of the Necronomicon  she owned gave her the power of call spirits from the earth. Now it is unlikely that many people would think that her views were correct. However, imagine she was famous, had been on reality TV or was a sports star; then perhaps she might be given prominent media space to shout her Cthulhu-views. Sounds crazy, I know but in Australia, a ex-footballer has been given a platform to wax lyrical about evolution.

Wikipedia picks up on the fact the article was mostly plagiarised:

On Friday March 26th, 2010, an article attributed to Ablett was published in the Victorian newspaper The Herald Sun.[2] It was soon after revealed that a large section of the article was lifted from the website of Grace Haven Ministries, a US evangelical organisation.

Radio announcer Derryn Hinch has this to say:

Ablett has decided to be the moral compass for a godless Australia. He says he is no scientist but dismisses the Theory of Evolution and atheists like Richard Dawkins in a couple of sentences.

He does admit he runs the risk of public ridicule, so here goes.

Ablett says people remember him for his on-field successes but also because of what he calls his ‘off-field moments which were not so successful’.  And says that in life we each experience our ups and downs.

Hew talks about a serious decline in moral values and drug and alcohol abuse, family breakdowns and ‘the devaluing of human life and dignity’.

He doesn’t mention Alisha Horan. That poor, star-struck teenager who died of a drug overdose – administered by Ablett – in a hotel room. Not much dignity in the way she died. And when he did a runner he didn’t place much value on her life.

About three years Ablett went down this Holy Roller route of self-justification. Also in the Herald Sun. He said he’d been ‘disappointed and grieved at how self-righteous some people can be. Considering everyone has their own skeletons in the closet’.

Not many have one concerning the death of a teenager, a friend of your daughter’s, an Ablett fan with your picture on her bedroom walls, whom you enticed on a drug-fuelled binge. Alisha Horan died in Ablett’s hotel room.

And Oztheist picks it up:

Ablett’s knowledge of evolution is basically non-existent and his regurgitating of several creationist ideas which have been well and truly debunked shows his total lack of research. It is also quite laughable of Ablett to try and lecture us on morals considering he supplied a 20 year old woman drugs from which she died whilst in his hotel room.

I have a suggestion to Mr Ablett, stick to talking about something you know – football.

I think it’s safe to assume that Ablett has kicked an own goal.

Now, all we need to do is alert the public to the fact that the claims of the denial movement are equally ludicrous.

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.

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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