Hypocrisy at the NZ Herald: de Freitas given platform for more climate lies

By Gareth Renowden 27/05/2013

When the NZ Climate Science Coalition lost its court case against the New Zealand temperature record last year, the NZ Herald — the newspaper of record for NZ’s largest city — ran an editorial pointing out the stupidity of the climate cranks tactics. It went on to criticise the views of Auckland University’s Chris de Freitas — a man with a long history of distorting the facts about climate science — expressed in an opinion piece on the judgement published in their own paper. Two years ago the Herald also broke the news that de Freitas was teaching climate denial to first year university students.

You might think that those experiences would have left the paper a little wary about giving de Freitas a platform in its pages, but it appears that the newspaper is a slow learner. This morning, the Herald carried another opinion piece by de Freitas under the headline Science proves alarmist global warming claims nothing but hot air, a response of sorts to an opinion piece by Jim Salinger that appeared in Friday’s paper. Here’s the opening sentence:

Several aspects of Jim Salinger’s op-ed “Climate hurtling towards a hothouse Earth” (Herald 24/5/13) are quite misleading.

Unfortunately for the reputation of the Herald, de Freitas goes on to be more than “quite misleading”: he tells a remarkable number of straightforward lies about our understanding of climate change. It appears that the newspaper believes it’s acceptable to print lies when they masquerade under the flag of opinion.

Unpacking all of the distortions and misdirections in de Freitas’ article would require a much longer post than I have time to write, but here are the major points:

1: de Freitas writes: “…there is no evidence that the putative change would be large or damaging”.

No evidence. Really? CdF is not merely expressing a personal view of the nature or quality of the evidence, he’s denying outright that it exists — and that’s a straightforward lie. There’s considerable evidence assembled in the IPCC reports and the peer-reviewed literature of both the magnitude of expected warming and the damage likely to result.

2: “The so-called evidence of minor human-caused climatic change can also be attributed to causes or processes other than those related to the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere”

Recent warming has been robustly attributed to atmospheric CO2 increases. Once again, the IPCC assembled a handy overview of the huge amount of work done in this area in their Fourth Report (2007), and will produce an update later this year. No doubt de Freitas will pretend that doesn’t exist either.

3: “…climate alarmists who assume climate is governed by positive feedback processes which they claim will lead to runaway global warming. Four billion years of global climate history shows that negative feedbacks prevail.”

It would take a long time to unpack all the misrepresentation in these two sentences, but the idea that negative feedbacks prevail over positive feedbacks is proven wrong by the climate history of the last few million years. If negative feedbacks really dominated over positive, then we’d be stuck in a permanent ice age.

4: “Climate warming does not confirm that carbon dioxide is causing it. The evidence would have to distinguish between human-caused warming and natural warming. This has not been done.”

Another straightforward lie, unless de Freitas claims to be completely ignorant of the entire attribution literature — which would be odd for a man who has repeatedly represented himself as a climate scientist. Chapter 9 of IPCC AR4 has that subject covered, and references over 500 papers.

5: “There are natural variability theories of warming. Much of the talk of “increasing evidence for global warming” is actually evidence of climate variability.”

It is true that there are crank theories of warming that don’t allow CO2 to have a role — but none that explain why the well understood radiation physics of the gas should suddenly cease to apply now, and none in the peer-reviewed literature. There’s plenty of evidence that current warming is beyond “natural” variability — see 2 above.

6: “During the Medieval Warm Period from 900 to 1200AD, the Vikings sailed in arctic waters that are now covered with sea ice, and farmed Greenland soil that is now too cold for agriculture.”

De Freitas is apparently as ill-informed about the history of Viking Greenland and its agricultural systems as he is about the rest of climate science. The rapid warming that Greenland is currently experiencing is bringing about amazing changes in what can be grown there as the growing season warms and lengthens. The Independent went into much more detail in March:

Sten Erik Langstrup Pedersen, who runs an organic farm on a fjord near Nuuk, first grew potatoes in 1976. Now he can plant crops two weeks earlier in May and harvest three weeks later in October compared with more than a decade ago. He grows 23 kinds of vegetables, compared with 15 a decade ago, including beans, peas, herbs and strawberries.

7: “From the results of research to date, it appears the influence of increasing carbon dioxide on global warming is almost indiscernible. Future warming could occur, but there is no evidence to suggest it will amount to much.”

Indiscernible! A big word, and the very opposite of the truth. Once again, CdF claims there’s “no evidence”, when there’s evidence available aplenty — from the rapid reduction in Arctic sea ice and global glacier retreat, to shifts in ecosystems and weather patterns.

There’s more that I could pick apart in de Freitas’ feeble attempt to argue that black is white, but that would be to give a propagandist more than his due. The big question is why the Herald continues to give him space. Here’s a line from that editorial about the NZ CSC’s failed court case:

Too often, the claims of unqualified people have been able to cast doubt on the view of the majority of active climate scientists who are certain human industry is contributing to global warming.

De Freitas demonstrates his lack of qualifications as a climate scientist by his denial of the existence of the peer-reviewed literature. His opinions carry no credibility with his peers, and bear no relation to the truth. He serves a different master — an ideology that would see this planet fry sooner than cut emissions.

Shame on the Herald for giving him a platform to spout lies, for in doing that — however good the rest of their climate coverage may be — they feed the pathetic little campaign to do nothing to address the problem that will shape all our lives over the next century and beyond. High time that the paper took to heart the old adage that every man is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts1. The Herald seems to think that De Freitas is entitled to both. He is not.

  1. Commonly attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, but James Schlesinger or Bernard Baruch might have claims to prior art.