Fairfax and Stuff.co.nz: presenting propaganda as opinion and lies as fact

By Gareth Renowden 02/08/2012

This morning the Sydney Morning Herald published an opinion piece by well-known Aussie climate denier David Evans, and later in the day the Fairfax New Zealand news web site Stuff.co.nz decided to feature the Evans article in their science section. Two small problems for Fairfax: Evans “opinion” piece is nothing more than propaganda masquerading as opinion, and contains straightforward lies about our understanding of climate.

We last met Evans back in April, when he unleashed on an unsuspecting world a risible political analysis of those who want action on climate change. Even so, the SMH, for reasons best known to themselves, chose to let him loose on their pages to present a “scientific” argument. The problem? Evans scientific understanding is as weak — if not weaker — than his political analysis. His deliberate misrepresentation of the state of scientific understanding of the climate system renders his “opinion” on the matter worthless, and calls the editorial judgement of the SMH and Stuff.co.nz into question.

One point will suffice to demonstrate just how blatant Evans’ lies are. Here’s an early section of his piece:

We scientists can calculate how much warming results directly from an increase in CO2 levels. We know how much CO2 levels and temperature have risen since pre-industrial times, but the warming directly due to CO2 is only a third of the observed warming. The theory assumes no other major influence on temperature changed, so the effect of the CO2 must have been amplified threefold, presumably by changes in the atmosphere due to humidity and clouds.

There is no observational evidence for this amplification, but it is nonetheless built into all the models. Sceptics point out that if the extra humidity simply forms extra clouds, then there would be no amplification.

The amplification Evans finds so troubling is a straightforward result of an extremely well understood phenomenon: a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour. The link between the two is described by the Clausius-Clapeyron relationship. Moreover, there is direct evidence — observational evidence, even — of an increase in atmospheric water vapour over recent decades. That increase in water vapour means that more and heavier rain can fall, and again, that’s something that’s being observed around the world.

Unpacking all the untruths and misrepresentations in just these two paragraphs would take an article as long, if not longer than Evans’ original, but it is quite clear to anyone who understands the first thing about climate science that Evans is playing fast and loose with the truth, and doing so in order to advance a political viewpoint.

So why did the SMH choose to run Evans’ propaganda, and why were the editors of the science section at Stuff.co.nz so quick to follow their lead? The Sydney Morning Herald must surely appreciate Evans background as one of Australia’s noisier climate deniers, prominent in the campaign against the carbon tax. In recent months, much has been made of mining billionaire Gina Rinehart’s investment in Fairfax, and her demands that the newspaper company should “teach the controversy” on climate1. Did that influence the editorial decision making at the Sydney Morning Herald?

Meanwhile, the editorial team at Stuff.co.nz clearly have a problem with their science section. If there is no-one there who understands climate science — not exactly one of the more obscure corners of human endeavour — then perhaps they should just shut the section down and concentrate on providing platforms for propagandists. They seem to be quite good at doing that already.

  1. Rinehart secured a seat for a crony on the Fairfax board, but he seems to have been unable to attend any board meetings.