Cardinal Pell’s mine of climate misinformation

THE director of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayers must surely possess the patience of a saint or, if you don’t believe in saints, then the patience of my wife who has been waiting for me to fix the hole in the bathroom ceiling for well over three years.

Dr Ayers has finally gained some closure on an issue concerning Cardinal George Pell, the head of the Catholic church in Australia who while believing in saints, doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change.

Dr Ayer’s unloaded his frustrations on a senate estimates committee this week, saying he believed Cardinal Pell had been “misled” by a book called Heaven + Earth, written by Australian climate sceptic and mining director Professor Ian Plimer.

Back in October last year, the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee agreed to table a letter from Cardinal Pell which quoted heavily from Heaven + Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”.

After an early battle with Senator Ian McDonald, who didn’t want to give Dr Ayers time to respond, the bureau’s director finally managed to get his frustrations off his chest and onto the Hansard record. Dr Ayers’ explained how Cardinal Pell’s views on climate change were not only unsupported by the science but in some cases directly contradicted some of its core understandings. For example, he pointed out that Cardinal Pell had miraculously given nitrogen a new physical property.

At one stage [Cardinal Pell] lists greenhouse gases. Included in the list is the gas nitrogen. That is not a greenhouse gas; it is 78 per cent of the atmosphere. You cannot have people out there telling the public that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas, because it is not.

You can read Dr Ayers’ very full response to Cardinal Pell on Hansard here. The fact that Dr Ayers’ response is now there and that I can now point to it, illustrates why he argued so forcefully to be allowed to have his views put on record in the first place.

But as well as being a correction to the cardinal, Dr Ayers’ also critiqued the book which Cardinal Pell had drawn from (Professor Plimer, look away now).

The cardinal I do not anticipate would be an expert in these fields of science, so he has quoted very heavily from this book and the book is, frankly, misleading to all Australians in terms of what it represents.

Why would I say this book is not science? It is not me who says it so much, although I have read it myself; it has been widely reviewed by people in the scientific arena and it has been very heavily criticised for not presenting science but presenting a polemic from one individual. It has not been scientifically peer reviewed.

Dr Ayers’ goes on to describe in detail the great many scientific errors in Professor Plimer’s book. As I’ve personally pointed out many times – including during a face-to-face debate in Brisbane in 2009 – Professor Plimer has never written a peer-reviewed paper on climate change in his life.

Ian Plimer

But what neither Cardinal Pell nor Dr Ayers nor the media coverage has pointed out, is Professor Plimer’s role as a director and chairman with several mining companies, an occupation which he has recently expanded. These same energy-intensive operations are those which would be hardest hit under any plans to price carbon.

Professor Plimer has long-standing roles as a non-executive director with Australia-based mining companies Ivanhoe Australia and CBH Resources, which mainly dig up silver, gold, lead.copper, zinc and other minerals. Professor Plimer is shown in company reports to have earned about $270,000 from Ivanhoe in the last two years. He earned more than $300,000 from CBH Resources over the same period. He is also a director of UK-listed Kefi Minerals, where he recently disposed of 2,400,000 shares worth about $350,000. He has recently taken on the role as chairman of an unlisted tin mining company, called TNT Limited.

Professor Plimer is also a director of Ormil Energy, which is currently engaged in a $3.2 million commitment to investigate coal seam gas and coal mine gas in the Sydney basin, pending government approvals.

But back to Dr Ayers and the senate estimates hearing, where Nationals Senator Ron Boswell pleaded unsuccessfully that Professor Plimer should also be allowed to appear to answer the criticism.

Senator Boswell should already have been well aware of the scathing criticisms of Heaven + Earth, because he launched that very same book in May 2009, a good two weeks after a swathe of scientists had attacked its integrity.

Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald, who is also sceptical of human-caused climate change, was pressing for Professor Plimer’s views to be placed on the record and encouraged Ayers to “go and listen to Professor Carter some day” referring to Professor Bob Carter, another of Australia’s confirmed sceptics of human caused climate change.

Senator Macdonald also suggested he would be tabling an article which recorded how the US house of representatives had recently voted to pull all funding to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Given that the oil and gas industries have been found to have donated more than US$21 million to the current US Congress, should we be surprised that it has now decided to pull the US$2.3 million funding for the IPCC?

The calls for an appearance by Professor Plimer didn’t impress Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who claimed that all Professor Plimer needed to do to get himself heard was to “publish another work of science fiction”.

While the retort was obviously meant as a joke, there’s no fun in knowing that Australian Senators and the head of the Catholic church seem happy to take their views on climate from that piece of “science fiction”.

Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

6 thoughts on “Cardinal Pell’s mine of climate misinformation”

  1. George Pell also thinks that the human population is on the brink of collapse ( (western, that is) so I guess climate skepticism isn’t much of a stretch – particularly with the apparent need to overcome some cognitive dissonance: more babies = good, but more babies = more emissions & climate change, therefore climate change can’t be happening.

  2. I’ve just read the Hansard transcript,(21 Feb. 2011) of the discussions by a Senate estimates committee considering evidence of climate change. Sen. Ron Boswell asserted that he had rung ‘somebody’ at the Bureau of Meteorology (when specifically asked he couldn’t name his respondent) who he claimed had told him that in fact the rate of sea level rise in Australian waters in the recent past was 0.09mm/y, which was vastly different from the figure quoted by Greg Combet.

    I took the trouble to check the latest published report from the BOM, entitled ‘State of the Climate updated 2010’, in which the sea level rise in the South and East of Australia between 1993 and 2009 was clearly stated to be between 1.5 and 3mm per year, while the rise in northern Australia was closer to 7-10mm per year. Even if we take the lowest figure of what is clearly a highly variable parameter, the difference between Boswell’s unsubstantiated figure and the official data is in the order of 20 times.

    I find it difficult to believe that the Senator would deliberately mislead the house. Had he done so, then his only honourable course of action would be to resign immediately. As I say, it is difficult to believe that the Senator knowingly concocted a false estimate of sea level rise and then compounded the fraud by attributing the figure to some unnamed source at the BOM. One is forced therefore to assume that the Senator misheard or mis-understood the advice he was given by the unnamed source at BOM.

    Surely the people of Australia, and specifically the electors of Queensland deserve better representation of their interests than has been displayed on this occasion by Senator Boswell.

  3. Congratulations to Greg Ayers for fighting the anti-truth movement.
    The sheer cheek of these “authorities” using lying, selective quoting and pretending to do science when really they are just protecting their own interests.
    If the media chose to they would have a great story: How the climate change “controversy” is really a bunch of deliberate lies.
    Sure the real science has uncertainties…but at least it is honest.

  4. Great blog Graham!

    I recall sitting in front of the haze of alcohol fumes known as Senator Boswell at a Senate election count a few years back. It’s little wonder that the poor old duffer’s confused. At the point at which it was clear that the Howard government would have control of the senate he produced his mobile called John Howard and IN A ROOM FULL OF JOURNALISTS said in a full, manly and only slightly slurred manner, ‘we’ve done it. It’s open slather!’ Ditzy doesn’t come close – he’d probably accept the scientific veracity of ‘My Little Pony’ if it came in a bag that clinked.


  5. “Senator IAN MACDONALD–You should go and listen to Professor Carter some day.”

    The honourable senator realised that he backed the wrong horse with Plimer. Offering up Bob Carter is a good move. It is Bob Carter’s turn for the spotlight to shine on his unscientific polemics. Reviews of Carter’s book seem scarce so there is still a veneer of credibility. His book “Climate: The Counter Consensus” is a shocker. The only sense he makes is when he talks about his area of expertise: coral reefs. He claims his book is based on science. For someone who claims to be a paleoclimatologist, there is not one reference to any of his or Plimer’s geological papers to support his criticisms of AGW.

  6. Graham, you’ve got me going again. I’m sure there are better things to do on a Sunday morning:-

    From Hansard, Senate Estimates: Environment and Communications, 18/10/10

    Senator WILLIAMS—Are you familiar with Professor Latif, one of the key advisers to
    the IPCC? … He is one of the key advisers to the IPCC and he says now that the
    globe is not warming, that in fact it will cool for the next 10 to 20 years….Perhaps you might check him out. He is saying that the globe is actually cooling and will cool for the next 10 to 20 years, which makes a myth of the whole field.

    Prof. Steffen—No, again, from the Royal Society report, the decade 2000-09 was 0.15
    degrees Celsius warmer than the decade before. The decade 1990-99 was warmer than the one
    before. I can show you the temperature trend since the mid-1800s when greenhouse gases
    started going up, and you will see the trend quite clearly and it has not stopped during this last decade.

    A quick internet search, the kind that Senator Williams could have made himself before wasting the time of the committee with his absurd questions reveals the truth.

    Mojib Latif is Professor for Climate Physics at the University of Kiel. He has been a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society since 2002 and was awarded the Max Planck Prize for his ability to explain complicated research in a way which is accessible and understandable for all.
    “There is no doubt: climate change is happening, and mankind is increasingly to blame. ‘Climate Change: The Point of No Return’ by Mojib Latif provides a solid basis for the current discussion about climate change, by addressing the arguments from both sides of the debate and offering an objective evaluation of the facts. Using the latest scientific information about the causes of the global climate change, Professor Latif presents the likely scenario that will face us if we don’t dedicate ourselves to a course of sustainable development, and offers concrete options for action.”

    And again, from Wikipedia:

    New Scientist reported about Latif’s research that “we could be about to enter one or even two decades of cooler temperatures”.[3] This interpretation has been stated as incorrect in an interview with Latif,[4] after being asked whether he was a climate sceptic, he explained that “If my name was not Mojib Latif, my name would be global warming. So I really believe in Global Warming. Okay. However, you know, we have to accept that there are these natural fluctuations, and therefore, the temperature may not show additional warming temporarily.”[4]

    And finally, from the abstract of a 2008 paper published in Nature (my emphasis):

    Advancing decadal-scale climate prediction in the North Atlantic sector
    N. S. Keenlyside1, M. Latif1, J. Jungclaus2, L. Kornblueh2 & E. Roeckner2
    The climate of the North Atlantic region exhibits fluctuations on decadal timescales that have large societal consequences. Prominent examples include hurricane activity in the Atlantic1, and surface-temperature and rainfall variations over North America2, Europe3 and northern Africa4. Although these multidecadal variations are potentially predictable if the current state of the ocean is known5, 6, 7, the lack of subsurface ocean observations8 that constrain this state has been a limiting factor for realizing the full skill potential of such predictions9. Here we apply a simple approach—that uses only sea surface temperature (SST) observations—to partly overcome this difficulty and perform retrospective decadal predictions with a climate model. Skill is improved significantly relative to predictions made with incomplete knowledge of the ocean state10, particularly in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific oceans. Thus these results point towards the possibility of routine decadal climate predictions. Using this method, and by considering both internal natural climate variations and projected future anthropogenic forcing, we make the following forecast: over the next decade, the current Atlantic meridional overturning circulation will weaken to its long-term mean; moreover, North Atlantic SST and European and North American surface temperatures will cool slightly, whereas tropical Pacific SST will remain almost unchanged. Our results suggest that global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming.
    So finally the truth is revealed. The temperature of the globe:

    “may not increase” as a result of a cooling phase of an internal cyclical process which does not, in the longer term, contribute to global climate change.

    Clearly Professor Latif has been blatantly mis-represented by yet another contrarian Senator. I am stunned by the combination of ignorance and arrogance that permitted Senator Williams to tell Prof. Steffen to “check him out” without having even conducted the most rudimentary research of his own beyond spectacularly unreliable and frequently deliberately mis-leading newspaper reports.

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