Posts Tagged Tom Harris

Stuff’s stuff-up: climate liars on the loose Gareth Renowden Feb 23

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Stuff Nation was introduced a couple of years ago as the reader-led section of Fairfax Digital’s NZ news site, home to quiz groups and news submitted by readers. Sadly for them, one or two of their readers have been taking them for a ride, to judge by one of this weekend’s lead stories — a “reader report” by one Tom Harris titled We must adapt to climate change. Harris is highly unlikely to be a regular reader of Stuff Nation, being based in Ottawa, but he is executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, a spin-off from the NZ Climate Science Coalition established with money from US extreme right-wing lobby group the Heartland Institute.

The ICSC lists Bryan Leyland and Terry Dunleavy — two of the trustees of the NZ Climate Science Education Trust that are trying to avoid paying the costs they incurred in taking an idiotic court case against NIWA and the NZ temperature record — as key players, and it is probably safe to assume that Leyland, who has in the past boasted about his ability to “twist arms” in Fairfax newsrooms2, is responsible for placing Harris’s piece with Stuff. It’s an op-ed riffing off John Kerry’s comments about climate change during his recent Indonesia visit, so compelling and well-argued that it’s been featured in high profile outlets around the world including The Bahamas Weekly, and — well, that’s about it.

Harris’s piece should be an embarrassment to any media organisation that has pretensions to any kind of editorial standards. Among the lies, distortions and misleading statements are:

The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change demonstrates that much of what we thought we knew about climate is wrong or highly debatable. The science is becoming more unsettled as the field advances.

The NIPCC is a Heartland-funded exercise designed to massage the facts and mislead. It is better described as Heartland’s big book of lies about climate change, as I noted a while ago. Meanwhile, real climate scientists are becoming ever more certain that we are in deep trouble.

We do not actually know how much climate will change as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels continue to rise. We do not even know whether warming or cooling lies ahead.

Future warming is certain unless and until atmospheric CO2 levels begin to reduce. Future cooling is only possible should there be a large number of big volcanic eruptions, the sun reduces its energy output significantly, we pass through a large cloud of interstellar dust, or someone rewrites quantum physics to show that everything we know about radiatively active gases is wrong. Even if that were to happen, the oceans would still acidify and cause us huge problems.

While atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased about 8 per cent over the past 17 years, even the IPCC now acknowledges that planetary temperatures have not risen during this period for reasons they do not understand.

The planet has warmed over the last 17 years. The hottest year in the long term global record was 2010, and the next El Niño (2014/15?) is likely to usher in a new record.

Of greater concern than hypothetical future warming is the possibility that the past decade’s cold weather records are a harbinger of significant global cooling. Solar scientists are forecasting that cooling is inevitable as the sun weakens into a ‘grand minimum’ over the coming decades.

“Solar scientists” are forecasting no such thing. An oddball Russian scientist may be, but no one with real solar chops is suggesting that cooling is likely. If this is the official view of the ICSC, then it places them so far out into left field that they should probably be asked to leave the stadium.

…governments across the world are planning only for warming, a relatively benign scenario and one that is appearing increasingly improbable.

Warming will only be benign if carbon emissions are cut with extreme urgency, and if we can reduce the atmospheric carbon load to 350 ppm or lower as soon as possible. If we don’t — or can’t — do that, we are far more likely to be on the road to ruin.

And finally, Harris reveals his real agenda:

Moving away from coal and other hydrocarbon fuels to flimsy alternative power sources because of climate concerns would be suicide.

Failing to move away from coal and hydrocarbon fuels is the truly suicidal approach, but inconvenient to the fossil fuel interests that have bankrolled the campaign against emissions reductions, in which Harris has a been a bit-part player.

Harris’s interpretation of reality, born of an expedient ideology that lauds fossil fuels above all others and denies the reality of climate danger, is about as useful to any public debate on climate matters as a fart in the thunderstorm that’s just rattled through my neighbourhood. The digital overlords of Stuff Nation at Fairfax NZ have been made to look foolish. Their reader-led exercise in news gathering is only going to be useful if they do some cursory fact-checking. Or perhaps they have just demonstrated that they are willing fellow travellers with Harris on the highway to hell. Either way, they should be ashamed of themselves, and at the very least apologise to their readers for so egregiously misleading them.

  1. Internet home of Fairfax’s NZ newspapers, principally The Dominion Post (Wellington) and The Press (Christchurch).
  2. See update 2 to this post.

Prat watch #11: don’t fone us… Gareth Renowden Jun 16

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Bill McKibben must have been doing something right during his New Zealand tour: he’s drawn the ire of the local climate cranks in no uncertain fashion. Perhaps it was the packed houses he addressed in Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington, or his interview on RNZ National’s high-rating Saturday Morning show with Kim Hill, but the clarity and certainty of his message drew a vituperative response from “Climate Conversation” blogger Richard Treadgold. In an ill-tempered personal attack, Treadgold described McKibben as a “climate nutcase” and “a madman”.

His voice is engaging, almost reasonable, but his wild eyes cannot help but flash his burning lunacy at the camera.

It’s par for the course for Treadgold, whose tenuous claim to fame is as the man who kicked off the climate cranks’ losing attempt to sue the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA)1, but his fact-free and ill-informed rant was not the only attempt to counter McKibben’s message.

At Stuff Nation, Joe Fone teamed up with the executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, Canadian PR man Tom Harris to string together a lengthy list of standard crank nonsense. It’s the usual stuff — long debunked factoids and misrepresentations — but the pair set new standards for incoherence.

It is also important to recognise that commercial greenhouse operators routinely run their internal atmospheres at up to 1500 ppm CO2. This is more than four times McKibben’s so-called “safe” limit. Yet there is no hint of any consequent temperature rise, while the plants inside grow far more efficiently than at the 400 ppm in the outside atmosphere. This is not surprising. Grade school students understand that CO2 is plant food and so anything but “climate pollution” as former Vice President Al Gore wrongly labels it. In fact, CO2 concentrations on submarines can reach levels well above 10,000 ppm, thirty times the “safe” limit, with no harmful effects to the crew.

Quite remarkable, as stupid arguments go.

Words might fail me in dealing with Fone et al, but they never fail former ACT Party leader Rodney Hide, who uses his National Business Review column this week to claim that the Green Party has started downplaying the importance of global warming.

The down rating is huge. Green co-leader Russel Norman in his speech to this month’s annual conference never once mentioned global warming.

Hide did manage to notice that the following week the Greens hosted a one day conference on climate change in Parliament, bringing together scientists, activists and politicians for a discussion on how to make progress on climate action, but claimed that Norman’s speech there confirmed his view, because it lacked “fire and brimstone”.

As fatuous arguments go, Hide’s takes the biscuit. But it is confirmation, if any were needed, that the delusional denialists on the crank fringe have to continually reassure themselves that they’re winning, however pathetic the case they make, because reality is telling a rather different story…

  1. They still haven’t paid a brass farthing of the costs awarded against them.

Signing up to nonsense: denialists plot letter to UN secretary general Gareth Renowden Nov 29

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People send me stuff. Imagine my surprise when this morning’s mail included the text of a round robin email from Tom Harris — the Canadian PR man who heads the Heartland-funded denialist lobby group the International Climate Science Coalition [full text here]. It gives an interesting insight to how these groups work behind the scenes. Here’s Harris appealing for signatures to a letter to UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon:

Time is short if we are to mount a significant counterpoint to the scientifically invalid assertions already being broadcast by the 1,500 journalists and 7,000 environmentalists attending the UN climate conference now underway in Qatar.

Please find below our “Open Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations” to which we are inviting your endorsement. We have 61 qualified endorsers as of 9 pm EST, about 19 hours after we started to ask people.

Because we have an agreement with a major media outlet to publish the open letter on Thursday, I will need to know of your support within the next day if possible, please.

The denialist spin machine in action. The usual suspects queuing to sign up to a letter that’s going to be published — where? My guess would be the Wall Street Journal. Even more interesting is the nonsense these luminaries are so keen to endorse…

It’s worth noting that Harris is not giving anyone the chance to change his proposed letter. The usual suspects are expected to sign up without quibbling about wording. And they’re signing up to a thoroughly modern catechism of climate crank disinformation. Here are the key claims in the letter:

UK Met Office data shows “there has been no statistically significant global warming for almost 16 years”.

This is nonsense, based on a beat-up published by the Daily Mail a few months ago. Warming continues, as the World Meteorological Organisation points out.

Global warming that has not occurred cannot have caused the extreme weather of the past few years. Whether, when and how warming will resume is unknown. The science is unclear. Some scientists point out that near-term natural cooling, linked to variations in solar output, is also a distinct possibility.

“Some scientists”? I suspect only the signatories to Harris’s letter expect a “near-term natural cooling” caused by the sun1.

The “even larger climate shocks” you have mentioned would be worse if the world cooled than if it warmed.

A remarkable (and unsupportable) assertion. I will allow that an ice age might be an inconvenience, but as our emissions have effectively postponed the next one for the foreseeable future, that’s the least of our worries.

The incidence and severity of extreme weather has not increased. There is little evidence that dangerous weather-related events will occur more often in future.

The letter goes on to quote from last year’s IPCC special report on climate extremes (SREX), but ignores the key findings of that report: that increased extremes of hot weather and rainfall are being recorded, and are “virtually certain” to continue as the climate warms.

We also ask that you acknowledge that policy actions by the UN, or by the signatory nations to the UNFCCC, that aim to reduce CO2 emissions are unlikely to exercise any significant influence on future climate.

Harris and his tame signatories can ask, but to expect the UN secretary general to reject the advice of his own organisation and the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists on the basis of an error-ridden screed put together as a stunt by PR flacks for fossil fuel interests is a bit of stretch, I’d have thought. Harris’s letter will be just as effective as all the other letters he’s sent to UN secretary generals at climate conferences, and that is not at all.

  1. The phrasing recalls similar pronouncements by NZ’s very own Bryan Leyland, a veteran of several climate science coalitions. I wonder if by any chance he had a hand in the letter?

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

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