The biased leading the blind

By Gareth Renowden 25/09/2009


homer.jpgTwo of New Zealand’s most prominent climate cranks, “inexpert witness” Chris de Freitas and Bob “great communicator” Carter are no strangers to the art of misrepresenting facts in support of their peculiar political visions, but recent articles by the pair set new standards for economy with the truth. Here’s De Freitas, writing in Energy NZ:

…no one has yet found even a shred of objective scientific evidence that humans are causing damaging global climate change.

No to be outdone, in Aussie “journal of ideas” Quadrant Carter revives the oldest zombie fact of them all:

As the temperature trend for ten years now has been one of cooling, since the unusually warm El Nino year of 1998, this requires a precautionary response to cooling rather than warming.

De Freitas’ piece is — even to my jaundiced eyes — remarkable for how liberally he misleads his readers…

Fit the first:

In preparation, the Government has committed New Zealand to cut up to a third of current emissions by 2020.

The economic, social and moral implications are immense, since carbon taxes and tradable emissions alone cannot make such a massive reduction. Sweeping legislation restricting the use of oil, coal and natural gas would be required, along with far-reaching reforms in pastoral farming to cut methane release.

De Freitas is ignoring the fact that any 2020 target will be for net emissions, that is, emissions after taking into account the carbon stored away in New Zealand’s growing forests. The government is aiming to weaken the emissions trading scheme, but still apparently expects forestry to play a major role in helping NZ to meet the target. But de Freitas prefers to spin a scary fairy tale…

Second fit:

…no one has yet found even a shred of objective scientific evidence that humans are causing damaging global climate change.

Breathtaking in its ignorance. But he continues:

There are no published scientific papers that show irrefutable proof of human-caused global warming.

Oh really? Depends what you mean by irrefutable, I suppose. There’s a very large attribution literature, handily summarised in Chapter 9 (PDF) of the WG1 report in IPPC’s Fourth Report (AR4). It starts: Human-induced warming of the climate system is widespread, and references approximately 550 papers. Either de Freitas has read them all and prepared detailed rebuttals, or his refutation technique is to deny the evidence exists, or if it can’t be denied, to stick his fingers in his ears and say “la la la, can’t hear you”. Effective at playgroup level perhaps, but odd behaviour by an associate professor at the University of Auckland.

After a ritual swipe at the IPCC, he then makes the following astonishing assertion (fit the third):

It is a conveniently forgotten fact that most of the industrialised world went into hysterics during the 40 years of global cooling beginning in the late 1930s.

This is — not to put too fine a point on it — complete invention. There were a few magazine and newspaper articles about possible cooling, and at least one book, but no-one was having hysterics. Undaunted, de Freitas continues with his fictionalisation of climate history:

Fifty years ago it became clear that global carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were increasing at a rate of about 1.8 ppmv per year. It was assumed that this was the prime contributor to an observed increase in global temperatures. On this basis, the carbon dioxide data were used in climate model projections for future global warming.

Assumed? What about the fact — understood for 150 years — that CO2 has an impact on radiation passing through the atmosphere? No assumptions required. There was sound theory supported by measurement, and to have left that out of the models would have been academic suicide.

de Freitas then trots through a few crank tropes, including the mandatory assertion of global cooling:

By 2006, despite the ongoing rise in global carbon dioxide emissions, data showed that mean global temperature rise had slowed, and currently shows signs of falling.

Now that’s he’s working up a bit of steam, he delivers this final fit:

Government decision-makers should have heard by now that the basis for the longstanding claim that carbon dioxide is a major driver of global climate is being questioned; along with it the hitherto assumed need for costly measures to restrict carbon dioxide emissions. If they have not heard, it is because of the din of global warming hysteria that relies on the logical fallacy of ‘argument from ignorance’ and predictions of computer models.

Risible. The only person arguing from ignorance is de Freitas. The “din of global warming hysteria” comes not from the real science that underpins our understanding of the problem, but from sceptics like de Freitas who have to make ever more shrill and ridiculous pronouncements to be heard.

On the other side of the Tasman, Bob Carter is the better writer, but equally ridiculous in his arguments:

…the real climatic risks faced by our societies, not least because it assumes that global warming is more dangerous, or more to be feared, than is global cooling. In reality, the converse is true.

That’s the version of reality that Bob and his crank mates occupy. It’s a strange planet, but not ours. They have odd models too…

Some computer models (General Circulation Models; deterministic) project that the global temperature in ten years time will be warmer than today’s. Other computer models (statistical; based upon projection of past climate patterns) project that global temperature will be cooler ten years hence. The reality is, therefore, that no scientist can tell you with confidence whether the temperature in 2020, let alone 2100, will be warmer or cooler than today’s.

Told you Bob’s planet was a strange place. On the one I inhabit there are plenty of people, scientists even, who would happily accept a wager that the next ten years will be warmer on average than the last ten. And I know of no credible “statistical models” that project cooling — but I do know of at least one that projects continued warming.

Bob then delivers a broadside against Australia’s planned emissions legislation, and finishes with this dramatic flourish:

If such a monstrously socially damaging and environmentally ineffectual measure as the government’s carbon dioxide taxation bill becomes law, it will stand for decades as an indictment of all the parliamentarians who voted for it.

In which event, be sure to remember their names, for nothing is more certain than that you are going to want to exercise retribution thereafter.

The names that will be remembered as the world burns will be those of the vocal minority who were willing to prostitute their academic reputations in service of delaying action. One wonders what “retribution” Carter and de Freitas will face. Opprobrium and ridicule will be the least of their worries when harsh reality intrudes on their ideology.