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Cranking it out: NZ papers conned by denier media strategy cindy Jan 16

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My inbox in the last month has filled with emails about denier articles in leading New Zealand newspapers. It’s been a veritable crank central across the country. They include the ridiculous opinion piece by Jim Hopkins in the Herald late last year, a similar feature by Bryan Leyland  published in both the DomPost and The Press, then, last week, a piece by Chris de Freitas in the Herald, arguing that desertification in Africa isn’t caused by climate change.

Did Leyland and de Freitas, both leading lights in the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, take advantage of newspapers’ lack of feature material over the holiday break and provide some copy to fill the gap?

An insight to the strategy behind our newspapers’ fairly regular publication of our local deniers can be gained from reading a document I came across recently: the Canadian-based International Climate Science [denial] Coalition’s (ICSC) media strategy, originally posted on the front page of its website last year (pdf here).

Titled Winning Hearts and Minds to Climate and Energy Reality, the strategy is designed, apparently, to “help shift public, media and government opinion away from futile attempts to mitigate global climate change.”

How do they plan to achieve this?

“Continued provision of mass media commentary (either directly, or by assisting national CSCs and other allies) via newspaper and magazine opinion articles, letters to the editor, news releases, and radio and TV interviews, and call-ins, as well as private communication with receptive media players.”

It also aims to…

…take direct aim at dangerous attempts to replace significant amounts of conventional power with “low carbon energy.”

Their shining example of this is an article by Leyland entitled “Wind farms not everything they’re cranked up to be” published in the NZ Herald in late 2010.

They admit it will take “several years” to “completely derail climate alarmism”.

Just what is the ICSC? It is riddled with New Zealanders, who set it up after establishing the NZ Climate Science [denial] Coalition1.

Leyland is its “Energy Issues Advisor”. Its founding chairman and strategic advisor is the NZCSC’s wine expert, Terry Dunleavy. Auckland geographer Chris De Freitas is a consultant scientific advisor. Gerrit van der Lingen and Vincent Gray are on its science advisory board. Alan Gibbs and Owen McShane are on the policy advisory board and the webmaster is Allan Manson, who works for Datacom systems and owns the domain names for the NZCSC, the ICSC and the American Climate Science Coalition.

The rest are a who’s who of climate denial around the world. One member of the Policy Advisory Board is UK denier David Henderson, brought to New Zealand by the Treasury for a speaking tour in early 2007.

Canadian PR man Tom Harris runs the ICSC. Formerly associated with energy lobby groups and another group that lobbied for the tobacco industry, Harris has been a regular speaker at the Heartland international denier-fests.

The full web of connections between the Kiwi deniers, the ICSC and various US conservative think tanks funded by the fossil fuel industry to run campaigns of climate denial can be seen in this ExxonSecrets map. While Exxon isn’t the only one funding these groups, it’s nevertheless a good way of showing the web of denial the Kiwis are caught up in.

Leyland has already admitted that he was funded by the Heartland Institute to go to the 2007 UN climate talks in Bali — and presumably Heartland also paid for McShane and Gray to attend. Leyland has no climate change credentials at all — he works for the power industry and lobbies against renewable energy. In short, he’s an energy industry lobbyist who hates renewables.

De Frietas is not much better: the man is teaching climate denial to first year geography students at Auckland University, a story revealed by the Herald itself and analysed by Hot-Topic. He’s also worked with think thanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute — not forgetting his stint at Climate Research where he published an inordinate number of denial papers.

So why do our newspaper editors keep publishing these lobbyists connected with a bunch of US conservative think tanks? The ISCS strategy is not new — this is the same furrow ploughed by inactivists since the early 1990’s. But which of our papers seem to have fallen for these strategies the most? I’ve done some digging back through the archives to see how they’ve been doing.

The NZ Herald is among the worst, right up there with the National Business Review. Setting aside their opinion writers Jim Hopkins and Garth George (who has finally given up this job and moved to the Bay of Plenty), the Herald has repeatedly published the deniers’ screeds.

De Freitas is probably the most-published denier in NZ. He has helpfully listed all of his publications on his website . A quick look through this list produces some interesting numbers: Since 1982, the Herald has published 36 opinion pieces by de Freitas, 12 of them in the five years since the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment in 2007, surpassing even the NBR, which published only four of his pieces in the same timeframe.

The majority of the Herald opinion pieces (24) have been published during the reign of Herald editor Tim Murphy, who took over the helm in 2001 and moved up to editor-in-chief in 2005. It appears that the strategy of pestering editors has been successful, at least with Murphy — I have been told that he publishes them to get the NZCSC off the phone. Looks like he has fallen for the ISCS’s strategy of “private communication with receptive media players”.

Perhaps the most egregious was a feature page last year, with a de Freitas piece given equal weight as one by the Vice President of the Royal Society, Dr Keith Hunter, with the headline: “The Great Climate Debate”. While there are many “great debates” in the world of climate science, the “is it happening or not” debate is only actively promoted by deniers, just as the tobacco industry ran its “doubt” campaign in the ‘60’s.

This week’s effort by de Freitas has been the first under the helm of the new editor, Shayne Currie. Will he continue in the same vein as Murphy and publish de Freitas regularly?

The Herald has also published several articles by Leyland and one by Dunleavy.

Since 1982, the National Business Review has published 35 editorials by de Freitas denying the science of climate change. In a way, you’d expect that, given the NBR’s right-leaning ideology and strong anti-climate stance. Owen McShane has 46 denier articles and Leyland four.

De Freitas has also managed to get four pieces in The Listener, but none since 2008 when his piece, co-authored by Bryan Leyland, landed the magazine in the middle of a furore over the sacking of columnist Dave Hansford after his column revealing Leyland’s payment by the Heartland Institute.

The Dominion Post has been fairly measured, publishing only two of de Freitas’ pieces, but publishing a myriad of Vincent Gray’s letters (again, a strategy pushed by the ICSC). Leylan seems to get a receptive ear in the DomPost’s business section.

The Press has published very little, apart from a few letters – but it regularly quotes Leyland talking about the power industry, with some occasional stories quoting him as an NZCSC spokesman. I strongly suspect the recent Leyland piece was published by an editor standing in for Andrew Holden while he was on holiday.

Talk to the producers of some of the country’s major radio programmes and they will tell you how reluctant they are to host climate scientists because of the wall of vitriol they get from the denier camp every time they mention anything reflecting the mainstream climate science. They, too, are targets of the ICSC’s media strategy, which urges its members and associates to call in to radio shows.

Perhaps it’s time for New Zealand’s editors and producers — and indeed journalism lecturers — to read the work of former Time, Fortune and Businessweek editor/deputy editor Eric Pooley, who authored a 2009 study on climate change reporting in the US for Harvard University’s Joan Shorenstein Centre on Press and Public Policy. He looks at the “balance as bias” (or “he said she said”) syndrome in reporting on climate change — “a condition in which journalists stick to the role of stenographer, recording two sides of a debate even when the two sides are not of equal merit.”

“Notions of journalistic objectivity…shouldn’t prevent reporters from recognizing consensus and making judgments based on the best available evidence. Instead, they should help the public decide who is right and who is wrong in a debate where the stakes—our economy, our planet—could not be higher.”

Climate change reporting is not simple, but publishing outright lies by deniers is not helping anyone. Time for New Zealand’s newspaper editors to face facts, and refrain from printing lobbyists fantasies.

[Updated Jan 23 2011: ICSC removed doc link from their site; now leads to copy hosted here.]

  1. I put the word “denial” in there because their science is somewhat lacking

Jim Hopkins: vapid, vacuous, pretty vacant Gareth Renowden Dec 18

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There’s a terrible tyranny in being a columnist for a national newspaper, required to produce entertaining and informative copy every week. It’s a hard job, having an opinion and expressing it cogently. Some writers struggle and succeed, others strive and fail dismally. The NZ Herald — the newspaper of record for NZ’s biggest city — has a couple of fine examples of the latter: old curmudgeon Garth George, who meets the difficulties inherent in his job by ripping off other people’s copy, and red-spectacled “funny man” Jim Hopkins, who has never allowed the facts to get in the way of a good rant.

And what a diatribe he gave us last Friday! Global warming’s gone away, Jim reckons:

There has been a trickle of terror but, by and large, the whole calamitous narrative is a goneburger.

…and…

The conclusion’s inescapable. Either we (literally) cooked our goose a long time ago or global warming’s always been more chimera than catastrophe. Quids in, it’s the latter. This is a crisis of faith, not a crisis of fact.

…and…

We just don’t need to worry about it any more. That’s all. The prediction holds. Global warming has disappeared.

Yes that’s right, because the media isn’t giving global warming the same prominence as a few years ago, the problem must be over. Thank the Lord for that sir. And what a shame that Hopkins’ is talking — not to put too fine a point on it — complete bollocks. Here’s why:

Hopkins is wrong because the laws of physics haven’t changed. CO2 continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, the world continues to warm. But his position is actually worse than mere wishful thinking — it’s based on wilful ignorance. The world’s media have been providing the very kind of “calamitous narrative” he thinks has disappeared — but he’s failed to notice. Let’s count a few of the terrible weather disasters likely to have been made worse by a warming climate:

…and that’s just for starters. You’d think Hopkins might have noticed, but perhaps he needs a new prescription in those famous red specs of his.

You might also think that the powers that be at the NZ Herald would notice just how far removed from reality their “humorous” columnist1 has strayed — but given that they are happy to provide a regular platform for Garth George and Chris de Freitas, one has to assume they don’t care.

[See also: Phoebe Fletcher at Tumeke!]

[Pace the Sex Pistols, you'll always find that Hopkins is out to lunch.]

  1. He had me smiling at his “Higgs bison” quip in the opening par, but that was the extent of my amusement. Reminded me of something though: What’s the difference between a buffalo and a bison? You can’t wash your hands in a buffalo. [/Aussie accent]

Lazy old Garth Gareth Renowden Jun 21

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Some things you can rely on: death, taxes and Garth George. Yes, that wondrous old curmudgeon has published another piece that owes a heavy debt to the work of another. In the Otago Daily Times a couple of weeks ago he devoted an entire column to an espousal of a climate sceptic rant by Professor William Happer, recently published at a US right wing Christian web site. Let us not be too distracted by the fact that Happer’s opus is nonsense — that is what we expect of the wilder fringes of climate denial — but let’s look at the treatment Garth gives it: three short introductory sentences, then:

Prof Happer’s dissertation on greenhouse gasses and global warming runs to some 4500 words.

Here are some highlights.

His introduction is 153 words out of the 851 in the column (a mere 18%). The remainder is a thinly paraphrased or directly quoted lift from Happer’s article. Garth’s serial plagiarism of the work of others would be funny if it wasn’t being paid for by respected newspapers. We know that Garth is a fool, because we can read what he writes about climate change. But he is also making fools of some of the leading newspapers in this country. Who is the more foolish: the plagiarist or the people who pay him?

Garth goes off the deep end Gareth Renowden Apr 22

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Another week, another load of tripe from Garth George in the Herald. He emerges from his sulphurous lair stirred by stories of volcanoes in Iceland to lend his weight to calls for the suspension of the Emissions Trading Scheme. He makes so many egregious errors that he not only makes himself look foolish, but also calls into question the editorial standards of the Herald. Opinion is opinion (and Garth is entitled to his) but facts are facts, and the nation’s leading newspaper should not allow him to simply invent his own.

Let’s take a closer look…

Here’s his opening error:

…more and more evidence is available that gases such as carbon dioxide and methane have absolutely no effect on global temperatures.

What evidence would that be, one wonders, because Garth provides no clue. I haven’t heard of any major revisions in basic physics that would allow greenhouse gases not to warm the planet. I suspect Garth is just making stuff up, interviewing his typewriter (which, for all I know, may be about to win a Nobel prize for rewriting quantum physics).

I suspect that the eruption of Mt Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland shot more gases into the atmosphere in five minutes than New Zealand would in five years.

No need for suspicion. The figures are available, and even Garth could have Googled an answer to his rhetorical question. Leo Hickman at the Guardian has done the digging: Eyjafjallajökull has been emitting somewhere in the range of 150-300,000 tonnes of CO2 per day. New Zealand, on the other hand, emitted 74.7 million tonnes of CO2e in 2008 according to the latest MfE report. Garth could have argued that Eyjafjallajökull’s peak daily emissions were about the same as New Zealand’s, but they were also being more than offset by the cancellation of so many long distance flights.

The increasing scepticism over global warming throughout the world is not surprising after the shocking sub-zero weather which created chaos all over Britain, throughout Europe and in the United States in the depth of their winter.

It was the fourth warmest winter since records began.

There is increasing scepticism here, too, after one of the coldest winters in decades, which started early and finished late, afflicted much of New Zealand.

Wrong. New Zealand’s winter started early, and was quite cold, but it also ended early and August was the warmest in the record.

But the deception continues among the global warming scaremongers.

The chutzpah is breathtaking. A Biblical phrase about logs and eyes springs to mind.

Climate has been in a constant state of flux since God created the heavens and the land and the sea and placed the sun and the moon in their orbits.

When was that, Garth?

And I am persuaded absolutely that it is the sun, not the harmless, essential trace gas carbon dioxide, that drives climate change. So our emissions trading scheme will not just be a colossal waste of time and effort but an unaffordable waste of money.

Garth’s absolute certainty is ridiculously unpersuasive, based as it is on shoddy research and made-up “facts”. The Herald, if it wishes to retain any vestige of credibility in its opinion section, should apologise for foisting such ignorant and ill-informed ramblings on its readers.

A visitor from La-la Land: Garth George gets it wrong (again) Gareth Renowden Feb 18

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I suppose it was inevitable that the feeding frenzy about various “gates” in the British press would attract the attention of the wise old man of Rotorua, Garth George. In today’s Herald he emerges from his sulphurous lair to add his muted sqeak to the hubbub. It’s not much different to his last few columns on the subject, though the borrowing of material is perhaps a little less obvious. He cites his source (a horrendously bad piece by Jonathan Leake in the Sunday Times) and does a proper re-write rather than just quote the whole thing verbatim. But he adds some flourishes of his own:

Their concern – as it is with the data provided by our own National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) – is about the thousands of weather stations around the world which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site. This, of course, is the charge that has long been levelled at Niwa by a significant section of New Zealand’s scientific community.

Rubbish, Garth. What “significant section” would that be? The NZ CSC and Richard Treadgold’s anonymous team of “scientists”? Perhaps you counted that noted environmental scientist Rodney Hide. De Freitas and De Lange? Fringe figures of no great academic standing. You just made it up, didn’t you? Interviewed your typewriter and polled your patio pot plants, to lend false weight to a ridiculous smear campaign.

The rest of Garth’s piece repeats the main points of Leake’s article (handily debunked at Deltoid: keep an eye out for Tim’s Leakegate posts), but as he opened with some failed predictions from 1957, he closes with a prediction of his own:

So, just as Dr Kaplan’s predictions came to nought, so I believe will the scaremongering global warming predictions of today’s climate doomsayers. Perhaps 53 years from now someone will find an ancient copy of the Herald and laugh at the climate change paranoia which afflicted the world in 2010.

Of two things we can be sure: he will not be around to hear the laughter, and it will be Garth George they will be laughing at — if they’re not shedding tears of rage.

Is Garth George capable of original thought? Gareth Renowden Oct 15

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According to the Rotorua Daily Post, Garth George is “a veteran newspaperman living semi-retired in Rotorua”. Garth sallies forth from time to time to lend the benefit of his wisdom on climate policy to the readers of the NZ Herald, and on Thursday Oct 8th offered the following comment on reports of tax fraud in the EU emissions trading scheme:

For those of us who have known for years that man-made carbon dioxide emissions have nothing to do with global warming, and who recognise that an unnecessary international carbon trading scheme would be wide open to abuse, this comes as no surprise.

He then presented a few points “courtesy of Australia’s Carbon Sense Coalition”, beginning with:

There is no global warming crisis. The world is just emerging from the Little Ice Age, so naturally temperatures will be above those of last century.

There follow 317 words (yes, I counted them) lifted directly from this document (pdf), published in January by Viv Forbes of the aforementioned Carbon “Sense” Coalition. No quotation marks. No indication that this is a direct lift. But of the 800 words in Garth’s column, 37.5% were written by Viv Forbes. I wonder if Garth is forwarding a share of his cheque? The same column, in a slightly different form was reprinted in Rotorua the next day.

A sorry tale of lazy journalism maybe, but also the start of a little saga…

Jim Salinger, NZ’s best known climate scientist (last seen (that’s him on the left at the beginning) enjoying a sausage sizzle with Rhys Darby and Keisha Castle-Hughes), happened to read Garth’s column and was moved to pen a letter to the editor. It was published on October 12th, and said, in part:

The science of global warming is basic physics, well known since the late 19th century: Irish earth scientist John Tyndall in the 1860s found that greenhouse gases (CO2 and water vapour) block the earth’s heat escaping to space. In the 1900s, Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius calculated that doubling CO2 would raise global temperatures 5°C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s best estimate is now 3°C. And only last week top climate scientists at the UK MetOffice warned that unchecked global warming could bring a severe temperature rise of 4°C by 2060. [...] I urge George to stop emitting a load of hot air and get serious about the future of our civilisation on this planet.

Jim’s blunt statement of fact piqued Garth in his sulphurous lair, and this morning there appeared a robust response from our grizzled veteran newspaperman:

After 13 years of writing this weekly column I have become inured to criticism, to which I rarely respond, but the letter by Jim Salinger published on the page opposite on Monday demands a reply.

Typical of patronising PhDs, Dr Salinger labels me a “climate change denier”. That is downright dishonest. However, it is understandable considering that those who peddle the CO2-is-the-cause-of-global-warming fallacy rely on pseudo-science which is in itself dishonest.

Sock it to him Garth! This time you’ll have done your research and will be ready with well thought out answers to Jim’s basic physics, won’t you?

Well, er, no. Garth’s been thumbing through the works of great communicator Bob Carter, and proceeds to quote him extensively in the remainder of the column. You guessed it. 335 words (mostly pompous bollocks), this time (mostly) properly in quotes, but still amounting to 41% of his article. Is this intellectual dishonesty or lazy journalism? In either case, why is he being paid for this nonsense?

And as for that doyen of patronising PhD’s, he’s considering a response… But he’ll write it all himself.

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