SciBlogs

Posts Tagged Climate cranks

Hot Air: the sorry tale of climate policy in New Zealand Gareth Renowden Jul 23

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

This guest post is by Alister Barry, producer and co-director of the new documentary Hot Air, which will be premiered in Wellington next week. Hot Air is screening in the New Zealand International Film Festival around the country over the next month.

Hot Air is a story of compromise, broken promises and corporate pressure, of misinformation and pseudo-scientific propaganda. It’s also a story of good intentions. The 1989 Labour government under Geoffrey Palmer began to map out the first emissions policy. In the 1990s Simon Upton, the National government’s minister responsible for climate change policy tried to put a carbon tax in place as did his successor Labour’s Pete Hodgson. After 2005 David Parker struggled to pass an emissions trading scheme.

I began work on Hot Air in 2009 thinking it might take a couple of years. I recall one of my partners saying, “You better get it done quickly, because within a few years the film will be out of date. Climate change will have been confronted and dealt with.” No such luck.

I soon found that while there have been some books written about the history of the politics of climate change in the UK, the US and elsewhere, there was no comprehensive account telling the New Zealand story. I spent a lot of time in the National Library doing the basic slog of getting the history down on paper. Then I had to condense it into a documentary script before beginning actually making the film.

One benefit of the long gestation period was the unexpected number of key figures that agreed to be interviewed for the film. Experts from both the environmental and economic fields, newspaper editors, businessmen, and a wide range of political figures including National’s Simon Upton, and Labour’s Pete Hodgson & David Parker, all one-time Ministers of Environment, contributed. Many of the major players (particularly Labour’s ruffled former Minister of Environment, Pete Hodgson) clearly welcomed the opportunity to tell their stories, as well as vent some frustrations!

Editing has taken a couple of years finding and fitting together archive footage with the original interview material and condensing that into an informative, and we hope entertaining film. Co-director and editor Abi King-Jones has done a masterful job creating a film that is a pleasure to watch.

On one level the film attempts to provide an understanding of the political landscape on which those of us who want to see some effective action on climate change will have to fight, on another level it is a case study of the extent to which power in our society has shifted to the corporate elite and away from the rest of us.

Hot Air is screening in the New Zealand International Film Festival around the country beginning on July 31st in Wellington.

Here are all the current screening times.

Auckland

Friday, 1 August — 1:00 p.m, Sky City Cinema

Saturday 2 August — 3:30 p.m, Sky City Cinema

Wellington

Thursday 31 July — 6:15 p.m, Paramount Cinema (World Premiere)

Wednesday 6 August — 11.00 a.m, Paramount Cinema

Dunedin

Friday 8 August — 1:00 pm, Rialto

Sunday 10 August — 1:15pm, Rialto

Christchurch

Mon 11 Aug — 6.00pm, Hoyts Northlands 3

Tues 12 Aug — 11.00am, Hoyts Northlands 3

Bookings and tickets are available at the New Zealand International Film Festival website.

Barry Brill and Anonymous: U R A Fraud Gareth Renowden Jul 22

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

People send me things. Brightening my email inbox last week was a pithy little email, headed U r a fraud. It didn’t have much to say. Here it is, in its entirety, exactly as it appeared:

Please take down your posts about barry brill or Anonymous may have to

Make some “unauthorized” changes to your shitty website.

I had to laugh. Barry Brill — the man who formed a charitable trust in order to avoid the financial consequences of a failed legal action against the New Zealand temperature record — must have some very strange friends1. The idea that hacktivists like Anonymous would side with Brill and his climate crank pals against climate reality strikes me as drawing a very long bow — but there are certainly hackers for hire in Russia and China who might be prepared to repeat their efforts against the Climatic Research Unit’s email servers2 in order to take down this little web site. But who would fund that? Not Brill, I’m sure. He’s too busy taking the Heartland shilling, campaigning hard for a worse future for the world, and avoiding payment of court-ordered costs.

Meanwhile, I shall watch my server logs with interest (but I won’t be holding my breath, and certainly won’t be removing any posts about Brill).

[Sheer Heart Attack]

  1. Indeed, he does – as shown by his attendance at the recent Heartland-funded climate crank networking event in Las Vegas, where he rubbed shoulders with all the luminaries of the crank pantheon, from Monckton to Don Easterbrook.
  2. aka the so-called Climategate hack.

Little Whyte Bull Gareth Renowden Jul 09

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Late last week, New Zealand’s far right ACT party was pleased to let the media know that its leader, Jamie Whyte, had won the “prestigious Institute of Economic Affairs’ Seldon1 Award” — an award given to IEA fellows by the IEA for work published by the IEA. Whyte is an IEA fellow, which may (or may not) be prestigious in itself — the IEA is the grandaddy of British free-market “think tanks” — but the award appears to be little more than a bit of mutual backslapping. Whyte won for a paper published last year entitled Quack Policy – Abusing Science in the Cause of Paternalism (pdf), in which he sets out to show that “much ‘evidence-based policy’ is grounded on poor scientific reasoning and even worse economics”. Unfortunately, in his discussion of climate science in the paper, he shows an incredibly poor understanding of what the science actually says, and an even worse appreciation of its implications for humanity.

Here’s Whyte asserting that “the science is not settled” (p80 of the pdf):

The forecasts for AGW relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other authorities are derived from modern climate science and, especially, from general circulation models (GCMs). How credible are these models and the climate science behind them? Or, more precisely, how much credence should we give their predictions of a calamitous man-made increase in the global climate (sic) in several decades’ time?

That climate models are especially important in determining a need to urgently cut carbon emissions is a common fallacy expressed by those who seek to minimise the need for action to reduce those emissions. Climate models are extremely useful tools, and they allow us to ask a great many “what if” questions about the way the ocean/atmosphere climate system works, but to know that we are in big trouble all we need is basic physics and an understanding of climate history.

What do we know with great certainty?

  • Adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere must result in heat accumulating in the climate system. This is both theoretically obvious — known for 150 years — and understood down to the quantum level.
  • The pattern of warming observed — the fingerprint — is precisely what would be expected from increased greenhouse gas levels. It is supported by observations of land and ocean warming, land and sea ice reductions, and stratospheric cooling.
  • The study of past climate states — paleoclimate — tells us that when atmospheric CO2 was at levels equivalent to today’s, sea levels were 16-20 metres higher than now, and the world was a much warmer place, with little or no ice in the Arctic and a greatly reduced Antarctic ice sheet.

No models are required to suggest that dumping ever more carbon into the atmosphere is going to get us into big trouble. The models provide useful advice about what we can expect to happen and when, given assumptions about future greenhouse gas emissions, but they are not the only or even the most important reason2 why we need to act to stabilise and reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas loading.

A paragraph later, Whyte suggests a null hypothesis, but gets it completely the wrong way round.

This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that we do not know what the climate would be in 50 years’ time if the climate models that predict AGW were false. In other words, we do not know what the climate would be if the null hypothesis were correct. No one denies that the climate changes even without any human influence. But, without depending on the very models we seek to test, we cannot predict the future climate without the effects of greenhouse gases. This means that we do not know which future climatic observations would confirm the AGW hypothesis and which would disconfirm it.

When we have observations showing that the planet is warming because of increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases, and a detailed understanding of why based on well-understood physics, then the correct null hypothesis is that warming will continue if greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. The onus of proof lies with those who want to overturn that understanding. I somehow don’t think that Whyte is quite ready to re-write quantum physics.

Whyte’s misunderstanding of climate models and what they tell us is not limited to the foregoing, and I leave it as an exercise for the reader to enumerate all the ways in which he is wrong3, but it is worth looking closely at his discussion of “uncertainty and climate policy” (p91 et sub). Here’s his introduction:

The predictions of theories that have not been tested, and are not entailed by well-known facts, do not warrant high levels of certainty. Those who insist on this are not ‘anti-science’, as they are often claimed to be. On the contrary, it is those who are willing to be convinced in the absence of predictive success who display an unscientific cast of mind. The predictions of AGW may well be true but the certainty we should have in them falls well short of the certainty properly enjoyed by the predictions of physics. Those scientists who say otherwise – who claim that the predictions of climate science warrant as much confidence as predictions based on gravity, or that the AGW thesis is ‘settled’ – do not promote the public understanding of science.

Whyte’s fixation with, and denial of, the “predictive success” of climate models is just one more straw man among many, but his misunderstanding of certainty implies that the “motivated certainty” he imputes to scientists is much more in evidence in his own thinking. He argues, but fails to convincingly demonstrate, that we can’t be certain of the truth of the “AGW thesis”, and that therefore we should not act to cut emissions. It’s been difficult to get international agreements on emissions reductions, he says, and then states:

Add to this the uncertainty about the AGW thesis, and pursuing the policy of cutting carbon emissions looks misguided.

As non-sequitors go, that has to take the biscuit, if not a whole packet of jammy dodgers. It is certainly difficult to get international cooperation on climate matters, but that is true on almost any policy matter. I don’t expect to find Whyte’s ACT party arguing against the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement on the ground that it’s difficult to negotiate and that its benefits are uncertain, though both are certainly true.

Whyte’s failure to grasp even the bare bones of the climate problem lead him to some truly facile statements about sensible policy options.

If AGW is uncertain, and if the future climate even without AGW is uncertain, how can you decide which adaptive policies are wise? The short answer is that you need only respond to market prices. [...] …adaptations to climate change will occur without any direction from governments. Insurers and investors have a private interest in adjusting the prices they charge to changing risks, and businesses and households have private interests in responding to those changing prices. No government policy is called for.

There’s one small problem for this view, and it’s a trap Whyte would have avoided had he bothered to familiarise himself with what we really know about the climate system. We no longer live in a static climate. Heat is accumulating in the system, and even if atmospheric greenhouse gases were to somehow, magically4, stabilise at current levels, the planet’s surface would continue to warm for at least another 30 years, and sea level rise would continue far into the future. If you take no steps to cut emissions and stabilise greenhouse gases, you are committed to adapt to a moving target.

Acting to reduce emissions amounts to a sensible insurance policy5, because it reduces the risk of low probability, but high cost damages in the future. We may not be certain that warming will be catastrophic, but even a low probability of that being true should motivate us to act urgently, because the ultimate costs will be so large.

Those costs, however, are not purely economic and cannot be assigned a single monetary value. You cannot simply assume that economic growth will continue in the future, or that future generations will inevitably be richer than we are today. The environmental damages of climate instability and resource restraints on an increasingly crowded planet will make continued economic growth (as it is presently defined) ever more difficult to achieve. The economy and the environment are not two separate but interacting systems. Economies exist inside earth systems that provide free support services (air, water, soil, stable climate etc). When those services fail, economies inevitably struggle. Money is of no use if there is no food to buy.

If you accept the evidence offered by climate science at face value — that the planet is warming, and it would be wise to try to stabilise and then reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere — then policy making can flow from that. The message is not itself political: it is a statement of well understood fact. The denial of that fact is, however, motivated by economic interests and political ideologies. Whyte is just another ideologue making stuff up to justify his world view. Apparently that’s enough to get a form prize in year 12 philosophy at Free Market Grammar.

In some respects it’s not surprising that the right wing, free market, libertarian-leaning wing of political thought should be uncomfortable with the recent emphasis on building government policy around real evidence, and not just gut feelings or populist sentiment. As Stephen Colbert has pointed out, reality has a well-known liberal bias. It’s hard to think of a single tenet of free-market, right wing policy which has any broad base of evidential support. So what do you do when you don’t like the facts? You shoot the messenger delivering them.

Whyte’s paper, in its section on climate science and condescending nonsense about scientific expertise, is just a well-written but intellectually lightweight exercise in building straw men and shooting them full of arrows. In right wing circles, this obviously plays well, as his award — and rapid elevation to the leadership of the ACT party — demonstrates. The real world is not about to cooperate, however hard Whyte, ACT and the ideologues of the right might wish it to.

[Tommy Steele]

  1. Not this Seldon, sadly.
  2. Ocean acidification alone should be enough to motivate steep emissions cuts and ultimately, reduction of atmospheric GHG levels.
  3. They are many, and various, but life is too short etc etc…
  4. The free market at work, perhaps?
  5. Whyte manages to get the insurance argument wrong, too, in a section in which he discusses alien abduction policies(!).

People talkin’ #16 Gareth Renowden Jun 25

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

I promised an open thread, so here’s one to hold all your latest thoughts and wisdom. What’s it to be? Wind power, silly “solar models” built on notch filters and fudge factors, or the abysmal climate politics afflicting our friends across the Tasman? You decide. I only ask that you abide by the comment policy and stay roughly on the climate beat.

Brill’s bills still unpaid, but Barry’s off to Vegas Gareth Renowden Jun 19

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

The attempt by a small group of climate cranks to bring a legal case against the New Zealand temperature record will leave the taxpayer to pick up a bill likely to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Radio NZ News yesterday. Efforts by the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) to recover court-ordered costs of $90,000 from the NZ Climate Science Education Trust (CSET) are virtually certain to fail according to the official liquidator, leaving the bill to be met by taxpayers. The Trust has no assets, and the prospects of any pay out are rated “unlikely”. But despite initiating the legal case and orchestrating the trust’s attempts to avoid meeting its liabilities, Barry Brill, the retired lawyer and former National Party politician who chairs the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, is flying off to Las Vegas to speak at the latest climate crank networking event organised by far-right US lobby group the Heartland Institute.

The latest report from the official liquidator (pdf) makes it obvious that the CSET was formed with the express intention of bringing the court action and as a cover to protect the litigants from the financial consequences of failure. It also raises serious questions about the way that the case was funded. The evidence is damning:

  • The CSET’s statement of claim against NIWA was filed with the High Court on July 5th, 2010.
  • The CSET’s deed of trust is dated July 30th – more than three weeks after the case was filed in its name.
  • The CSET was not officially registered as a trust until August 10th, 2010.
  • The CSET did nothing except bring an action against NIWA.

In addition, according to the liquidator’s report, the CSET had no assets, did not receive or disburse any monies, and did not keep any financial records. But CSET trustee Bryan Leyland told the Sunday Star Times in January:

We spent a large amount of money on the court case, there were some expensive legal technicalities.” Funding had come “from a number of sources, which are confidential”.

The statements made to the liquidator tell a different story:

The trustees were questioned about how the charitable trust funded the legal proceedings against NIWA. They advised that all legal advice and representation was provided on a pro bono basis and Mr Brill paid for the court fees personally.

Leyland’s comments to the SST are clearly not compatible with the statements made to the official liquidator. If a “large amount of money” was spent on the case, but legal representation was provided pro bono, where was the money spent and why was it not channeled through the trust and properly recorded in the CSET’s accounts? Either Leyland was misleading the Sunday Star Times, or he was misleading the official liquidator.

It’s worth recalling that Brill’s original presentation of the CSET’s arguments was so bad that the trust had to call in a barrister — Terry Sissons — to lick their arguments into shape, and present the case in the High Court. Did Sissons represent the CSET pro bono? On the face of it, that seems unlikely. If he did not, was he paid by Brill, the trustees or a third party, and why was that not recorded by the Trust as expenditure on their activities?

It is clear that Brill and the trustees have serious questions to answer regarding the management and funding of their legal action, and their misuse and mismanagement of a charitable trust.

Meanwhile, Brill is off to the Heartland Institute’s 9th “conference” on climate change. Readers with long memories may recall that the last time Brill addressed the world’s assembled cranks1 he was pushing legal action against national temperature records as something that should be tried all over the world.

Brill’s travel expenses are likely to have been funded by Heartland — who have a history of funding NZ climate crank organisations. He is set to appear on a panel2 discussing “international perspectives on climate change”, along with potty peer Christopher Monckton and Sebastian Luning from Germany.

I think we can safely assume that Brill will not be describing the failure of his much vaunted legal action, or passing the hat round in order to help the New Zealand taxpayer meet the costs of his stupid, self-serving and politically-motivated legal action.

  1. In Washington in 2011, see footnote 2 here.
  2. From 4pm to 5pm on Tuesday , July 8, full schedule here.

Taxing Rodney: Hide’s carbon hypocrisy Gareth Renowden Jun 08

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Untroubled as he is by the responsibilities of public office, or any apparent need to appear consistent, the former leader of the far-right ACT Party, Rodney Hide, attempts to ridicule the Green Party’s new carbon tax policy in his column at the National Business Review this week. You can’t actually read the column, because it’s behind a paywall, but the ever-helpful Cameron Slater at Whale Oil comes to the rescue by copy/pasting all the best bits. Here’s Hide, 2014 style:

We desperately need the Russel-Norman. A tax to deal to a problem bigger than World War II, the Depression and the Plague all at once.

We must go Green, save the planet and get rich. What a plan! What a vision!

Years ago an old man grumbled to me. GST. Bah. He didn’t think taxing food was right. “What’s next? The air we breathe?” Nope. Our new tax is on a trace gas that we all breathe out.

But those of us with functioning memories will recall that back when Rodney was ACT leader and a minister in a National-led government — only six years ago — he was advocating that the Emissions Trading Scheme be dropped and replaced by — wait for it — a carbon tax. Here’s Rodney in 2010, talking to Guyon Espiner on TV1:

We don’t think we should be doing anything, but what we’ve said is, if you were going to do something, it would be far cheaper and far easier just to put a low tax across fossil fuels. That would achieve the same result, you could also subsidise forestry, and we’ve offered that up to the National Party as an alternative that would be easier. Why would it be easier? It would administratively much less costly, because you’d just put a tax across rather than try and operate a trading mechanism…

I think I sort of understand what’s going on in Rodney’s head. When he was trying to be an electable politician, he at least made an effort to make sense. Now that he’s just another libertarian ideologue with a soapbox he can say whatever he wants, and the green-hating rabid right so ably fed and watered at Slater’s blog will lap it up. Meanwhile, out in the real world, perhaps a carbon tax’s time has come…

Carter and de Lange’s GWPF sea level report plagiarises their own Heartland-funded NIPCC propaganda Gareth Renowden May 27

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Analysis of a report on sea level rise — Sea-level Change: Living with uncertainty — published earlier this month by Nigel Lawson’s UK climate lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and written by NZ scientists Willem de Lange and Bob Carter, shows that it extensively plagiarises last year’s heavily criticised Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report, funded and published by US lobby group the Heartland Institute. The GWPF report’s conclusions are taken word-for-word from chapter six of the NIPCC report — Observations: The Hydrosphere and Ocean [pdf] — also written by de Lange and Carter. Nowhere in the report do the report’s authors or the GWPF acknowledge the extent to which they rely on the earlier publication. Carter and de Lange fail to credit themselves, Heartland, or the NIPCC beyond a single reference to their chapter in the list of sources appended to the GWPF report.

Here is the first policy recommendation from the GWPF report:

1. Abandonment of ‘let’s stop global sea-level rise’ policies

No justification exists for continuing to base sea-level policy and coastal management regulation upon the outcomes of deterministic or semi-empirical sea-level modelling. Such modelling remains speculative rather than predictive. The practice of using a global rate of sea-level change to manage specific coastal locations worldwide is irrational, and should be abandoned.

This bears a striking resemblance to the first of the “conclusions” offered on p796 of chapter six of the NIPCC report:

Abandon “let’s stop global sea-level rise” policies

No justification exists for continuing to base sea-level policy and coastal management regulation on the outcomes of deterministic or semi-empirical sea-level modeling. Such modeling remains highly speculative. Even if the rate of eustatic sea-level change was known accurately, the practice of using a notional global rate of sea-level change to manage specific coastal locations worldwide is irrational, and it should be abandoned.

The eagle-eyed will notice that words in italics are edited from the GWPF version, but in every other respect the two sections are identical. The final two GWPF conclusions are also drawn verbatim from the NIPCC chapter, as are many other parts of the GWPF report.

Where it draws verbatim on the NIPCC work, the GWPF report is both unoriginal and wrong, and where it can be bothered to be original it is also wrong. In either case it is work of shoddy scholarship that reflects badly on its authors, the institutions with which they are associated, and the GWPF.

In addition to the GWPF report’s conclusions being copied from pseudoscientific propaganda commissioned by a US-based far-right lobby group, many other sections also draw word for word from the same source. Here’s part of the section on atolls and low-lying tropical islands from the GWPF version:

Seldom more than a metre or two above sea- level, all atolls and related sand-cay islands are at the continuing mercy of the same wind, waves, tides and weather events that built them. They are dynamic features of the seascape, and over timescales of decades to centuries they erode here, grow there, and sometimes disappear beneath the waves forever. Thus a coral atoll is not so much a ‘thing’ as it is a process, and they are obviously not good places in which to develop
major human population centres.

Section 6.2.1.6. of the NIPCC chapter includes the following paragraph on p776:

Seldom more than a meter or two above sea level, all atolls and related sand-cay and gravel-motu islands are at the continuing mercy of the wind, waves, tides, and weather events that built them. They are dynamic features of the seascape; over timescales of decades to centuries they erode here, grow there, and sometimes disappear beneath the waves forever. A coral atoll is not so much a “thing” as a process, and they are obviously not good places on which to develop major human population centers.

Once again, the GWPF report can be seen to be a lightly edited rehash of the work done by Carter and de Lange for the Heartland Institute, and for which Carter at least was paid significant sums. One wonders if the GWPF’s financial backers, whose privacy is so keenly defended by Lawson and GWPF director Benny Peiser, are aware that they are paying for once-over-lightly retreads of others work?

The GWPF report includes little that is novel when compared with the NIPCC, but in the section headed Future environmental conditions and rates of change, it includes the following paragraph:

The IPCC and its scientific advisers remain committed to the view that global warming, albeit temporarily suspended, will resume and that sea-levels will rise. Other equally qualified but independent scientists, including a number of solar astrophysicists (viz. Bonev et al. 2004), are of the view that over the next few decades cooling is more likely than warming.

Carter and de Lange helpfully provide a full reference for the Bonev et al paper, and it can be read on the web here. The paper speculates about the possibility of reduced solar activity in the 21st century, but nowhere does it mention climate change or suggest that climate cooling is more likely than warming in the “next few decades”.

Shoddy scholarship? Certainly. But the original source document — the NIPCC report — is even worse. Life is too short to go through even one NIPCC chapter with a fine-tooth comb — anyone with a working knowledge of the subject matter would be tearing their hair out long before a comb became useful — but one figure illustrates nicely the contempt with which Carter and de Lange treat the scientific literature and their readers.

On page 758, they include Figure 6.2.1.1.2, which de Lange and Carter say is “adapted from” a couple of papers on post glacial maximum sea level rise. Here is their figure:

NIPCCSLR1

Unfortunately, they do not credit the real source of their graph, which is Robert Rohde’s Global Warming Art project, via Wikipedia:

Post Glacial Sea Level

Shoddy scholarship or copyright theft? You be the judge…

The GWPF’s sea level report is nothing more than propaganda plagiarised from an American lobby group’s attempts to counteract the message coming from the scientific literature via the IPCC. Was it beyond Peiser et al to apply original thought to the question of sea level rise, to find authors who would do more than misrepresent the current state of knowledge? The GWPF, recently forced to set up a campaigning arm in order to protect their charitable status, likes to present itself as an unbiased commentator on climate science, yet appears to be perfectly happy to commission and promote rubbish like this.

For de Lange and Carter, being caught out in self-plagiarism is potentially serious — more so for de Lange, who lists his NIPCC contribution as a scholarly publication on his University of Waikato page. Carter, who long ago cut his ties with academe and now flies under a flag of convenience provided by the Australian Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing lobby group in the Heartland mould, has long since given up any pretence to doing real science.

Failing to correctly cite a source would get a first year university student heavily marked down. Misrepresenting what that source says would merit a fail. Outright plagiarism would probably get a student suspended. Yet de Lange and Carter — senior academics represented by the GWPF as experts to be taken seriously — commit all three sins in their work. In sceptic circles, they may still be regarded as experts, but in the real world their inexpertise and cavalier attitude to academic standards is all too evident. They are piss-poor propagandists profiting from the misfortune of others.

Something for the weekend: boy child birth on the way, will get feet wet Gareth Renowden May 09

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Odds are shortening on the imminent arrival of an El Niño, as Peter Sinclair explores in his latest video for the Yale Climate & Media Forum (see also Climate Progress), and we can expect a wild ride. Meanwhile the ice continues to melt and the oceans rise: in Wellington and Christchurch they’re planning for 1 metre by the end of the century. As Jim Salinger noted this week, we need a big picture fix for the problem — adaptation is essential, with mitigation to prevent the worst happening. And while China plans a high speed train network to span Eurasia and North America, oil investors are looking nervously at the $1.1 trillion oil companies are gambling on a high carbon future. Yes folks, it’s time for another open thread, and there is no shortage of hot topics to discuss…

Whale meat again – Slater’s climate pseudoskeptic siren songs Gareth Renowden May 06

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

New Zealand’s highest traffic blog is Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil Beef Hooked (try saying it in an Irish accent) — an aggressive right-wing sensationalist blog not noted for its delicate approach to current affairs. Unsurprisingly, Slater is an outspoken climate pseudoskeptic, with a long history of posts rubbishing climate science and the reality of climate change. This morning’s effort — The Cognitive Dissonance Of The Media On Climate Change — is pretty much par for Slater’s course, but riffs on an interesting new paper about the potential for serious additional ice loss from Antarctica which has been getting quite a bit of local media coverage (Stuff, RNZ News).

Slater’s complaint is straightforward enough: he relies on Monckton’s latest temperature trend cherry pick at µWatts and Climate Depot to demonstrate that there’s “no global warming for the last 17 years and 9 months”, shows a graph of the current increase in Antarctic sea ice, and then complains that because the NZ media has given prominence to a new study by Matthias Mengel and Anders Levermann at the Potsdam Institute1 that finds that a large chunk of the East Antarctic ice sheet could be vulnerable if warming continues, then the media must be biased. As he puts it:

These scaremongering scenarios really do show the cognitive dissonance of the mainstream media and their inability to look dispassionately at the evidence before us, instead they push political lines. All of their stories have “could”, “should”, “might” and “maybe” qualifiers.

Unfortunately, Slater’s the one with the cognitive dissonance. His “dispassionate” look at the evidence is anything but, and his aggressive rejection of the new ice sheet evidence — “This report doesn’t sound plausible at all, it sounds like horse crap to me” — appears to be based entirely on his own lack of understanding of ice sheet dynamics.

Let’s look at Slater’s choice of counter evidence. Monckton’s “17 years” is straightforwardly misleading for two main reasons. The first is handily summarised by Skeptical Science’s well-known “Escalator” graph:

Picking periods of negative or no trend in the surface temperature record2 tells us nothing about the long term — in which warming is unequivocal — or about the big picture, in which heat continues to accumulate in the system. Ice melts, oceans warm, heatwaves and storms get worse.

Next Slater shows the current NSIDC graph of Antarctic sea ice extent. It’s running above average as the ice heads towards its winter maximum. He doesn’t show you the equivalent NSIDC graph of Arctic sea ice, which is running well below the 1981-2010 average, or acknowledge that Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice mass, or that the world’s glaciers are melting away rapidly. Looking at Antarctic sea ice on its own tells us nothing about the big picture. In other words, it’s another cherry ripe for the picking, designed to mislead the unwary.

Slater’s final argument amounts to little more than “it’s cold in Antarctica, so the ice won’t melt” — which shows that he doesn’t understand the key point about the new research. From the Science Daily report:

“East Antarctica’s Wilkes Basin is like a bottle on a slant,” says lead-author Matthias Mengel, “once uncorked, it empties out.” The basin is the largest region of marine ice on rocky ground in East Antarctica. Currently a rim of ice at the coast holds the ice behind in place: like a cork holding back the content of a bottle. While the air over Antarctica remains cold, warming oceans can cause ice loss on the coast. Ice melting could make this relatively small cork disappear — once lost, this would trigger a long term sea-level rise of 300-400 centimeters. “The full sea-level rise would ultimately be up to 80 times bigger than the initial melting of the ice cork,” says co-author Anders Levermann.

Warming ocean waters are already causing ice loss in West Antarctica — particularly around the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers that flow into the Amundsen Sea, which are both likely to become “unpinned” in the same way Mengel and Levermann have modelled for the Wilkes Basin — but a lot sooner.

It’s tempting to write off Slater’s misunderstandings and misrepresentation as just another example of political ideology trumping uncomfortable fact, but with his sizeable audience and hotline to key government figures such as Prime Minister John Key, recently fired cabinet minister Maurice Wilkinson and the beleaguered minister of justice Judith Collins, it’s reasonable to ask to what extent Slater’s aggressive denial of climate reality is something the government is quite happy to hide behind. They are certainly not acting as if they take the problem seriously.

  1. M. Mengel, A. Levermann. Ice plug prevents irreversible discharge from East Antarctica. Nature Climate Change, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2226
  2. See also Colin Sharples’ superb demonstration of the effects of changing trend windows in this classic Hot Topic post from 2009.

Herald gives de Freitas platform to smear climate science Bryan Walker May 01

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Climate change denier and Auckland University geographer Chris de Freitas seems to have fast access to the dialogue pages of the NZ Herald. His latest effort this week is a long ramble ostensibly around the possibility of an El Niño this year, but at its centre contains a nasty slur on the honesty of climate scientists. He confuses, presumably deliberately, predictions of a weather event in the short term with the longer term predictions of climate change.

The short term prediction relates to the possibility of an El Niño event this year. He claims NIWA’s reported 50% chance of an El Niño is not a prediction at all, but more akin to tossing a coin. This observation doesn’t stand up. NIWA doesn’t say every year that there’s a 50% chance of an El Niño. They were drawing attention to current developments which point in the direction of an El Niño.

Nevertheless de Freitas presumably sees his observation as a useful build-up to his planned attack. His next step is to comment on how incredibly complex climate systems are, and to quote no less an authority than Albert Einstein who said of the weather that prediction for even a few days ahead is impossible. Incidentally I’ve never seen a climate scientist claiming to predict the weather next week. But in de Freitas’ mind this leads to a climax:

The problem is complicated by the fact that the public usually fear the worst, and fear sells. So, if the period for which the prediction is made is beyond the end of the climate scientist’s lifetime, such as with long-term predictions of human-caused climate change, or “global warming”, any scary prediction will attract attention and hopefully also research funds or job promotion.

There follows a comment which perhaps is intended to qualify, but is vague and undeveloped and certainly does not undo the damaging assertion which precedes it:

Many experts passionately declare they believe future climate will be dramatically different due to human action. However, the challenge in climate science is correctly attributing cause.

He then returns to El Niño and after some reflection on how difficult it is to predict El Niño events advises preparedness to adapt to drought and flood. Without any recognition of irony he concludes:

The emphasis needs to be on dealing with the social, political and economic impediments that prevent effective flood-risk or drought-risk reduction.

The Herald has hosted a sloppy article which despicably insinuates that climate scientists are deliberately overstating the risks of climate change in order to attract attention and increase their funding and job prospects. It’s a familiar claim in the denial industry, but surely not one that our leading newspaper should allow in the face of the overwhelming scientific judgment that the the findings of climate science are  authentic.

I can think of no journalistic standard to justify opening a responsible newspaper’s opinion pages to a propagandistic accusation which casually defames the integrity of thousands of climate scientists.

Gareth adds: NIWA’s stated probability of an El Niño event looks conservative, as the Herald article to which de Freitas responds points out. For a regularly updated outlook, I recommend the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s web site here. BOM’s current expectation (issued on April 22nd) notes:

The likelihood of El Niño remains high, with all climate models surveyed by the Bureau now indicating El Niño is likely to occur in 2014. Six of the seven models suggest El Niño thresholds may be exceeded as early as July.

Kevin Trenberth, in a video interview with Peter Sinclair, suggests that the only question now left to answer is how big the coming El Niño event will be. Skeptical Science looks at that question here, and NIWA has a useful explanation of what impacts El Niño events are likely to have on weather in New Zealand.

El Niño events are also associated with spikes in global temperature as ocean heat is released to the atmosphere and heat transfer to the deep ocean is slowed. The earlier this event gets going, the bigger the impact on this year’s temperatures will be, but it is likely that the biggest impact on global average temperature will be in 2015. Joe Romm has more on that at Climate Progress.

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer