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de Freitas feeds his students sceptic propaganda Gareth Renowden Jul 17

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Auckland University associate professor Chris de Freitas has been caught feeding climate denier propaganda to first year geography students. A close examination of the student workbook for de Freitas’ lectures on climate for the University’s core first year geography course reveals that it includes material from sceptic blogs and US think tanks — even a misleading graph prepared by Christopher “Garnaut’s a NaziMonckton.

The NZ Herald‘s Chris Barton broke the story this weekend — first year geography students have complained that their climate lectures didn’t reflect what they were learning elsewhere in the university:

…according to some students of de Freitas’s 101 course on the basics of climate you won’t hear about how climate scientists are now seeing such patterns [of extreme weather]. Or about the building evidence that human-induced climate change is changing precipitation and the hydrological cycle, especially the extremes.

And that 2010 ranked as the warmest year on record, together with 2005 and 1998, making the first decade of the 21st century the warmest ever according to the World Meteorological Organization. [...]

“No, nothing,” a student in the course told the Herald. “I learned all that in my Environmental Science class.”

The Geography 101 lecture workbook confirms the lack of such information. There seems little, if any, reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its landmark 2007 reports were not listed in the course reading material. Climate scientists shown the workbook were surprised at how out of date much of the material was.

A glance at the lecture workbook, however, shows that de Freitas’ misdirection of his students goes much further…

The climate section of GEOG101 consists of eight lectures given by de Freitas. A copy of the workbook for this year’s autumn series, including one student’s annotations, can be download here (pdf, 6MB). Much of it is pretty straightforward stuff, primarily based on material from the two reference texts de Freitas recommends1. The student notes are interesting to scan, and highlight in several places apparent attempts by de Freitas to downplay CO2‘s role in climate change, and to play up ENSO as the cause of warming. More telling than the notes, however, is the selection of material de Freitas lines up for his last lecture: Natural climate variability and change [a higher resolution pdf of the notes for that lecture is available here (pdf, 6MB)]. A couple of the slides looked strangely familiar…

The last slide on the first page is credited to “Spencer 2008″. It looks like this:

CdFSpencer1

The original can be found as an illustration to an essay by prominent sceptic Roy Spencer titled Global Warming and Nature’s Thermostat,2 which seems to have been published on the web in early 2008. Spencer has taken a paleo temperature “reconstruction” by Craig Loehle3, and stitched it on to the Hadley Centre global temperature record. It’s about as far from the mainstream of paleoclimate reconstructions for the last 2,000 years as it is possible to be.

But it gets worse. The last two slides on the next page of the workbook pdf (p3 of the hi-res pdf, p62 of the low res) include little inset graphs. The first of these is a graph of monthly global satellite temperatures with the increase in CO2 overlaid, prepared by US weatherman and noisy climate denier Joe D’Aleo. The last slide on that page includes a little inset graph that looked familiar.

CdFMonckton1

It took a little hunting, but I eventually tracked down the original4, from Christopher Monckton’s March 2009 SPPI Monthly CO2 Report at the web site of the Science and Public Policy Institute, the US lobby group that promotes many of Monckton’s activities:

CdFSPPI2

De Freitas is presenting material prepared by US lobby groups and bloggers — stuff that’s been deliberately designed to confuse the issue, not provide educational material for use in university foundation courses.

At no point in his lecture series does de Freitas use what might be called a mainstream paleoclimate reconstruction. Every slide he shows emphasises a Medieval Warm Period, and minimises current warmth5. He uses old, out-dated resources, as well as misleading stuff concocted by Monckton and Spencer. As Barton’s Herald article confirms, at no point does he bring the IPCC or current climate information into his lectures.

The other important piece of context for de Freitas’ behaviour is the people he is lecturing. They are first year geography students, probably 18 – 19 years old, fresh out of school. They are in their first term at university, and they are being badly misinformed by a senior academic at the university they are paying to attend. There is no attempt by de Freitas to “teach the controversy”, no attempt to present both sides of the debate sceptics like to insist still continues. Instead, he presents a partial picture that fits with his preconceived position. His students finish his course likely to believe that CO2 is not important, ENSO rules global temperature, the surface temperature record is unreliable and that current gobal temperatures are not all that warm. They have been grievously ill-informed.

This is not a matter of “academic freedom” — de Freitas is perfectly entitled to believe what he wants — but he should not be teaching foundation courses in climate that depend on the output of US lobby groups and far-right British politicians or are so far out of touch with the mainstream of the science he is purporting to present. His students deserve to learn the subject as we best understand it, not just the painted pig that de Freitas dangles in front of them. In the meantime, the University of Auckland has a problem. What price academic excellence, when you have an associate professor determined to ignore that fine idea?

  1. Strahler, A. and Strahler, A, 2005. Physical Geography – Science and Systems of the Human Environment, 3rd edition, John Wiley and Sons, New York; Smithson, P, Addison, K. and Atkinson, K., 2002. Fundamentals of the Physical Environment, 3rd edition, Routledge, London.
  2. Several other graphs in this section are similarly credited, and can be found on that web page.
  3. Loehle, C. 2007. A 2000-year global temperature reconstruction based on non-treering proxies. Energy & Environment 18(7-8): 1049-1058. Published in 2007, and heavily criticised at the time.
  4. There are some very minor differences between the two graphics, and CdF’s seems to have been taken from a printed source, but they are clearly from the same author
  5. Most of the slides look like they’ve been drawn from the IPCC First Assessment Report’s paleoclimate graph, itself based on one originally drawn by pioneer climatologist HH Lamb, perhaps as early as the 1960s, IIRC

Buffoons in arms: Goddard joins Monckton at SPPI Gareth Renowden Oct 30

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Oh frabjous day! Steven Goddard is joining “potty peer” Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley as one of the slithy toves contributing to the Science and Public Policy Institute‘s never-ending stream of climate denier propaganda, and on the evidence of his first “paper” he will be a valuable* addition to the team. The SPPI pantheon is in dire need of a fillip, given Monckton’s lacklustre recent performance (of which more later), and so Goddard is given his head to produce a truly wondrous counterblast to the recent NOAA 2010 Arctic Report CardTo a geologist, ’the past is key to the future’. To give you a flavour of his wisdom, here are Goddard’s conclusions:

  1. The widespread belief that the poles are rapidly melting down is incorrect, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere.
  2. Arctic temperatures are cyclical. Much of the Arctic has been warmer during the last 100 years.
  3. The satellite record from 1979-2010 coincided with the warm phase of the PDO. It covers less than one half of an Arctic temperature cycle. Given this cyclical behavior, it makes little scientific sense to extrapolate linearly based on a time period which is too short. Until satellites record at least one entire Arctic cycle, the extrapolations are misleading.
  4. There is little (if any) evidence linking recent changes in the Arctic to CO2. At this point there is no solid reason to believe we are seeing anything other than natural Arctic cycles. Greenland temperatures are cooler than 70 years ago.

Great stuff. Either completely wrong, not supported by the evidence or pure wishful thinking. Positively Moncktonian in its cavalier disregard for the facts, but lacking the great man’s prolix delivery and intellectual turgidity…

Followers of events in the Arctic will know Goddard as the erstwhile author of numerous and inventive “sea ice updates” at Anthony Watts’ µWatts blog — a man with an amazing ability to conjure cooling out of nothing. A few months ago an obdurate Goddard appears to have strained the patience of the saintly Watts and he departed to set up his own blog called, with no apparent hint of irony, Real Science.

To illustrate just how far Goddard’s SPPI opus stays from reality, let’s consider his claim that “Greenland temperatures are cooler than 70 years ago“. To arrive at this conclusion he chooses two Greenland temperature stations from the NASA GISTEMP dataset (Godthab Nuuk and Angmagssalik), plots their annual averages over the last 100 years, finds two periods of warming, and then — after long detours around sea ice and CO2 — declares that Greenland has cooled over the last 70 years. Cherry-picking at its finest…

What does the NOAA Arctic Report Card have to say about current Greenland temperatures?

A clear pattern of exceptional and record-setting warm air temperatures is evident at long-term meteorological stations around Greenland. For instance:

Nuuk (64.2°N along Greenland’s west coast): Year 2010 summer, spring, and winter 2009/2010 were the warmest on record since record keeping began in 1873.

Temperature records were being set all round Greenland during the last year, leading to a record ice melt season: the area of the ice sheet that melted was 8% greater than the previous record, set in 2007, and melt continued for much longer than usual:

The melt duration was as much as 50 days greater than average in areas of west Greenland that had an elevation between 1200 and 2400 meters above sea level.

The obvious disconnect between Goddard’s reporting and the real state of Greenland goes a long way to suggest why he was dropped by Watts, and it says just as much about SPPI’s decision to run his material. To paraphrase former NZ prime minister Rob Muldoon, Goddard’s move has raised the average IQ at both places…

Meanwhile, followers of the antics of Monckton will be puzzled by the poor quality of his recent output, and mystified by his inability to carry the floor at a recent debate in Cork. The peer’s attempted rebuttal of the dismemberment of his testimony to Congress earlier this year is thin stuff, long on words (of course) but woefully short of substance.

Slightly meatier is his attempt to debunk a recent keynote address given by Obama’s science adviser John Holdren in Oslo in September. Here’s a chunk of classic Monckton:

On go the lurid scares. ’Melting permafrost’ is next. The fact that many of the burial grounds of the Vikings around the Hvalsey settlement are still under permafrost to this day, when they were certainly not under permafrost when the bodies were buried, is conveniently overlooked.

This is a claim that has popped up in a number of Monckton’s articles, and one that’s often repeated by sceptics who want to pretend that conditions in Greenland are not unusual. Unfortunately, as is so often the case when you look into the details, it turns out that Monckton is talking nonsense. The Citizen’s Challenge blog decided to do some exhumation of the facts, and got in touch with a few experts who know the Hvalsey site well. Here’s what Georg Nyegaard, curator of the Greenland National Museum & Archives had to say:

I know the site of the Hvalsey Fjord Church very well — was the curator of the nearby museum of Qaqortoq for 12 years. You are completely right about your doubts: There is absolutely no permafrost at this site.

I look forward to Monckton’s retraction and apology for so grievously misleading his readers, but history suggests I would not be wise to hold my breath while waiting. But Monckton isn’t finished with permafrost. Here’s his next sentence:

In fact, melting permafrost is nothing but a good thing: despite the lurid tales of methane trapped in the permafrost and waiting to erupt and give the planet a fever, methane is really a non-issue now that the Russian pipeline to Europe has been repaired. There has been no noticeable increase in atmospheric methane since the repairs were completed in the year 2000. If the permafrost were to thaw, billions of acres of productive agricultural land would become available.

Breathtaking stuff. Manages to ignore the evidence, downplay the danger, and blame the Russians, all in one sentence. It’s the sort of claim Monckton can make in a debate, leaving his opponents wondering whether they should unpack the falsehoods or ignore them. But such sophistry didn’t work for the prolix peer when he took part in a debate with Graham Parkes, professor of philosophy and head of the school of sociology and philosophy for University College Cork, at the beginning of October. Scott Mandia has Parkes’ full speech here.

The result? Parkes won the debate by 100 votes to 3. Sic transit gloria Moncktonii…

(*) “Valuable”, in so far as it makes SPPI’s output look even less credible (if that’s possible).

[Dire, that's what it is.]

Follow the climate money? Well, they did… Gareth Renowden Jan 13

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This is a cross-post from Peter Griffin’s blog Griffin’s Gadgets over at Sciblogs. Peter (head of the NZ Science Media Centre), had the chance to explore some of the background to the intense lobbying being carried out on climate action (or inaction) when he met Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity recently…

In the wake of Climategate and especially during the Copenhagen climate talks, much was made by climate sceptics of the “billions” climate scientists have received over the last two decades to undertake research into the claimed impacts of global warming.

This claim from the grand-sounding but climate crank-infested Science and Public Policy Institute typifies the criticisms:

The US Government has spent more than US$79 billion of taxpayers’ money since 1989 on policies related to climate change, including science and technology research, administration, propaganda campaigns, foreign aid, and tax breaks. Most of this spending was unnecessary.

cfpiWell, a group with a well-earned reputation for independent investigative journalism has followed the money trail of the climate change lobby set up to insulate the multibillion dollar industries that have the most to lose from the world’s governments getting serious about tackling climate change.

I had the pleasure of last week catching up with Bill Buzenberg, the executive director of the Washington-based Centre for Public Integrity. Holidaying in New Zealand while visiting his daughter-in-law Dacia Herbulock, my colleague at the Science Media Centre, the Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist filled me in on the centre’s latest investigation:

Our team pieced together the story of a far-reaching, multinational backlash by fossil fuel industries and other heavy carbon emitters aimed at slowing progress on control of greenhouse gas emissions. Employing thousands of lobbyists, millions in political contributions, and widespread fear tactics, entrenched interests worldwide are thwarting the steps that scientists say are needed to stave off a looming environmental calamity, the investigation found.

This, from a piece on the oil and coal industries’ lobbying efforts in Copenhagen:

The world’s two largest publicly traded companies, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil, together earned nearly US$8 billion in the last quarter alone. They are leaders in an industry that employed more than 350 lobbyists in Washington during the first six months of 2009. Shell secured the lobbying expertise of a former U.S. senator. Exxon hired a former staffer for the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The extensive coverage following the global lobbying efforts on climate change makes for fascinating reading. If climate scientists have been riding a gravy train of Government funding, at least there’s transparency in where the money went. The climate change lobbyists, most of them working for energy providers and major polluters, are incentivised to win concessions for their deep-pocketed pay masters. The extent of this industry is hard to judge, as the centre discovered when it delved into the global lobbying industry.

For a taste of the issues that preoccupy these highly-paid lobbyists, read this piece on the jostling for position that was underway on the fringes of the Copenhagen conference:

For carbon-intensive power companies, the ideal outcome for a UN framework would feature major carbon reduction targets by the year 2050 or thereabout – allowing them to outfit their plants with technology to sequester carbon and store it underground. If faced with nearer term targets… many companies would have to turn to natural gas – a technology investment that wouldn’t payoff in the long run.

Sadly for the coal industry and despite the furious lobbying, carbon capture and storage remained off the agenda at Copenhagen and will not be added to the list of technologies that industrial countries can invest in to offset their emissions.

The point here is that for every dollar that goes to a scientist researching climate change, at least the same amount and likely much more is going into the pockets of people paid to maintain the status quo, discredit the scientists, slow progress on climate change. What is worse is that their activities are not transparent.

Follow the money say the sceptics. Well it is interesting, as the Centre for Public Integrity reveals in its investigation, that the aims of the climate change lobby groups and the large industries they represent dovetail quite nicely with the arguments put forward by the sceptics. As this report on Politico from the centre’s reporters notes:

Put the 60 or so venture and investment firm lobbyists together with the 170 alternative energy lobbyists and 160 environmental lobbyists, and they are still outnumbered 5-to-1 by the approximately 2,000 representatives of major sectors that are looking for a slowdown or handout – traditional manufacturers, power companies, oil and gas, transportation and agriculture. The total number of climate lobbyists working for all those interest groups, new and old, stands at about 2,780 – five for every member of Congress. That’s 400 percent more than when lawmakers first considered a nationwide greenhouse gas reduction program six years ago. If they all want a place at the Senate’s table, there had better be plenty of chairs.

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Popgun for hire: A$20,000 Gareth Renowden Jan 04

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Christopher, Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, the man who put the pier in peer review, is on his way to Australia at the end of January to make “a barnstorming three-week lecture-tour” designed to reassure audiences in major cities that “‘Global Warming’ is Not a Global Crisis“. His fee? A$20,000 (£11,000), plus all flights and hotel accommodation for himself and his wife. The speaking tour, organised with the assistance of Australia’s Climate Sceptics Party, is expected to cost around A$100,000. Announcing the tour in a forum post in mid-December, the treasurer of the CSP was looking for money:

As you can understand, the cost of this exercise will be very substantial as we have to (and from) fly Lord Monkton (sic) to Australia, all his domestic travel and accommodation plus a ’stipend’ of $20,000.

Our aim is to cover these costs from donations from individuals, appropriate associations and corporations; we expect the required total to be of the order of $100,000. We would like to keep the cost of admission to Monckton’s lectures at around $20 so as to maximise the number of people that will come to hear him.
We have had a number of offers of the order of $1,000 and would prefer donations to be of that order, but of course any amount is very welcome. Should there be a surplus, this, depending on the amount, will be given to Lord Monckton and/or the Climate Sceptics Party which is assisting with this project.

Sufficient funds were obviously forthcoming, because the tour was confirmed today at the Science and Public Policy Institute blog, Monckton’s personal digital fiefdom. Aussie sceptic Ian Plimer will accompany Monckton on his walkabout, which begins in Sydney on Jan 26th. Monckton also released the text of a letter to Aussie PM Kevin Rudd in which he offers “personal briefings on why ’global warming’ is a non-problem to you and other party leaders” during his trip. He explains in detail, and at enormous length, what he plans to do:

Nor is the IPCC’s great lie the only lie. If you will allow me to brief you and your advisers, I will show you lie after lie after lie after lie in the official documents of the IPCC and in the speeches of its current chairman, who has made himself a multi-millionaire as a ’global warming’ profiteer.

Monckton, of course, will only receive A$20,000 for his Aussie excursion — a mere pittance when a cursory check suggests that he usually charges at least £8,000 (A$14,400) for a single speaking engagement. Clearly Aussie sceptics drive a hard bargain. Two mysteries remain. Given the relatively recent plea for funds, who stepped up to the plate to support the tour? And why have New Zealand’s cranks not jumped at the chance of bringing the potty peer over here? I also find it rather suspicious that no mention is made of funding for Monckton’s manservant… I may have to dig a little deeper into the background of the tour. ;-)

[For really deep background refer to: Monckton & The Case Of The Missing Curry, Mycroft Mockton Makes Mischief, and Something Potty In The State Of Denmark]

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