The 7PM Project and a dose of climate misinfotainment

This post originally appeared at Crikey.

LAST Monday evening between 7pm and 7.30pm about 755,000 everyday Australian television viewers were told by two people that emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels wasn’t worth worrying about.

Two other people, told them that it was.

During the four-minute segment on Channel Ten’s flagship “infotainment” show The 7pm Project, there was claim and counter-claim about the role of carbon dioxide on the greenhouse effect.

“Will the estimated $863 annual bill [from a carbon tax] actually see temperatures fall any time soon,’’ asked host Charlie Pickering, with no hint of irony.

After the segment was shown, on-air panelist Tracey Curro, a communications consultant and Al Gore-trained climate presenter, turned to her three co-presenters with a look of despair. “You would think from that sort of reporting that the evidence was equally divided… and it’s not,” she said.

Almost everything that is wrong with the way climate change is being presented for public consumption was condensed into those four minutes of pre-recorded material.

The show’s producers went looking for conflict and argument and in so doing, failed its audience. Entertaining? Perhaps. Enlightening? No. Damaging? Certainly.

But back to the segment, where Dr Steve Rintoul, a lead researcher at CSIRO, and Professor Tim Flannery, Australia’s new Climate Change Commissioner argued that burning fossil fuels was having a significant negative impact on the climate

Arguing broadly the opposite, were News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt and University of Newcastle Associate Professor Stewart Franks, who has been claiming for some years that CO2 is not the devil it’s made out to be and once described Flannery as being among those “most ignorant” of the climate change issue.

During the segment, Franks said carbon dioxide was a “very minor component of the greenhouse effect” and believed it’s role had been “exaggerated”. Tim Flannery said there was a 90 per cent certainty that humans were responsible for “global warming”.

Andrew Bolt said humans were responsible for “a bit” but the question was how much, how bad it would be and whether we should do anything.

Just who we were supposed to believe, the viewers were not told.

Speaking to Crikey yesterday, Curro said she had seen the pre-recorded segment during the day’s production meeting, just a couple of hours before the live show.

“I was the first to comment on it, and that comment was that I felt like throwing my glasses at the television screen. The reaction of the editorial staff in that room was – ‘well do that [on air] if that’s how you feel’.”

Curro said she was encouraged to vent her frustration when the segment was broadcast during the live show, which she did.

“I can’t believe that we are still asking the same question and what dismays me is that time and time again the way this issue is reported in the media suggests that the evidence is evenly divided, and clearly it’s not,’’ she told Crikey. “The good thing about 7pm is that it’s a forum where there’s time to make that kind of comment.”

Speaking generally about how climate change is being reported in the media, Curro commented that science was not leading the debate.

“There are a million sources of frustration around this issue and how it plays out on the public stage. The false balance in the reporting – I just despair that we really have not moved on.”

Steve Rintoul, who was featured in the segment, shared Curro’s frustrations. While he said the show had been fair in reporting his own comments, he said the way it had split the issue into two opposing halves “could lead people to think there’s an even split in the scientific community.”

He said: “In terms of where the science stands, the case for CO2 increasing and that it has changed the climate is overwhelming – in terms of the size of the evidence.

“There is some risk that this gives the impression that things are more uncertain than they are. It is very easy to sell confusion.

“What’s frustrating for me personally is that we have some tough choices to make in Australia and globally and making effective choices is not made easier if people are cherry-picking particular pieces of evidence to reach a pre-conceived position. We don’t have time for that.

“The reason that climate scientists are so convinced that human activities have caused the change is the accumulated raft of evidence from observations of the climate.”

Playing on the general public’s ignorance of the important nuances of climate science, A/Prof Franks stridently claimed that if Australia did cut emissions by five per cent, this reduction in CO2  would have “no impact on Australian climate” and would not stop floods, droughts or cyclones or do anything for global temperatures.

Professor Franks is, of course, right. But this misses the point. The Earth’s climate system, complex beast that is, cannot distinguish between CO2 emitted in Australia or anywhere else.

To hint that the climate system should dutifully dole out benefits proportionate to a country’s efforts to cut emissions is as ridiculous as it is misleading.

Just a few hours before The 7pm Project went to air, Professor Steve Sherwood, of the University of New South Wales, spoke to a conference in Cairns of leading Australian climate researchers about uncertainties in climate predictions and the role of clouds and water vapour.

He said that Associate Professor Franks assertion that water vapour was a “minor component” of the greenhouse effect was “very misleading”.

“CO2 is the main agent of change. CO2 is under human control. When we increase CO2 it may only be 25 per cent of the total greenhouse effect but that’s all you need to drive a change in water vapour or cloud effects.”

He said none of the guests invited to speak on the Channel Ten segment were actually atmospheric scientists. Producers and journalists were not paying enough attention to the credentials of guests, he argued.

“It’s infuriating, of course,’’ he said. “It is preposterous the way this is going and it’s certainly infuriating to those of us that actually study the problem.

“I think that is a great failing of the media. I consistently see people being interviewed whose credentials are not appropriate for the questions they are being asked.”

Professor Andy Pitman, co-director of the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre, reviewed the segment and told Crikey: “According to the material broadcast, Franks is confused on the water vapor feedback. The feedback relevant to global warming only acts on a forcing. That forcing is human CO2 emissions. Without the human CO2 emissions there is no additional water vapor feedback.

“Franks would know this and it is unfortunate that he or Channel 10 only highlights a fraction of the relevant science and omits the requirement for balance.”

Some media observers will no doubt be wondering if this is a sign of things to come on Ten, given that mining billionaire and climate sceptic supporter Gina Rinehart bought a 10 per cent stake in the network and a seat on the board last December.

In a column supporting Rinehart’s new 10 per cent stake in Ten, Andrew Bolt wrote last year that she was “on a mission”.

Bolt’s “not entirely uninformed hunch” was that Rinehart was out to reshape a “smug and deadly mindset” of people in eastern states who were living off the riches of mining while at the same time condemning the industry.

Last week, it was claimed in The Australian that Bolt had already filmed a pilot for a new Sunday morning show for Ten and that Rinehart had been a “keen advocate” of the idea.

Climate scientists should perhaps ready themselves for further frustration. Tracey Curro should get several spare pairs of glasses.

Crikey contacted The 7pm Project yesterday but was told the show’s executive producer was unavailable at short notice due to meetings.

Author: Graham

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

4 thoughts on “The 7PM Project and a dose of climate misinfotainment”

  1. One day, commentators just like these, perhaps even the same ones, will look back at the mind numbing stupidity of climate change denial and shake their heads at the thought that people could have been so short sighted as to let the world go to hell.
    “How come none of these so-called scientists who are telling us that it’s too late now – global warming will continue no matter what we do – how come they never said anything back then?”
    And they’ll all nod sagely, congratulate themselves for their grasp of the ‘big issues’ and then get back to the latest outrageous story about Grandma Gaga’s antics.

    But I won’t be gloating, just weeping.

    It’s not just the denialists who are getting it wrong.

    I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the Prime Minister and her front bench, who seem totally incapable of explaining why they want to introduce a complex carbon tax as a method of reducing CO2 emissions by 5%.
    Rather than wait until they have a fully balanced and costed package that makes sense, they announced bit and pieces that make it easy for the Dope Addict ( Tony Abbott is addicted to dopey advice) to make them and the tax look silly.
    Don’t they realize that by the time they finally complete this interminable drip-feed, no one will be listening. Telling people you’re going to raise taxes for no credible reason, then announcing that you’re going to give half of it back so that low income earners will be better off makes no sense at all. (This is despite the fact that the tax actually does make sense as a means of driving power generators and major industrial users of fossil fuels to migrate to low carbon technologies, carrying the consumers with them)

    What saddens me most is that the Australian public were ready in 2007 to take a hit in the back pocket for the sake of the planet and their children’s future. But since then the Labor Party has equivocated and back-pedalled so hard that very few people can see the point of having a tax that won’t make any real difference. None of them has the courage to say ‘But 5% is just the beginning, we’ll have to make much deeper cuts, more like 80%!’

    Ask anyone if they want to pay more taxes and they’ll say ‘no!’, but in the next breath, if you just have the sense to listen, they’ll say, ‘But we want better schools, hospitals, and a future for our children, so I’ll pay what I have to.’
    Did Gillard actually tell Rudd to ‘back off’ on climate change and then ‘reluctantly’ take the leadership because he had ‘lost momentum’, then turn round and promise not to introduce a carbon tax if she were elected, before doing a post-election deal with the Greens to do ‘What she always intended’ and introduce an emissions trading scheme?

  2. Tracy and others on the IPCC wagon would do well to study the science not examined by the IPCC, namely all that science which finds that our planet’s climate dynamics does not depend on Carbon Dioxide whether produced by homo sapiens or other processes. Tracey, Andy, Steve and Tim and all the others on the IPCC cart, know that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change defines (Art 1) climate change as: a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity.

    Hundreds of high quality scientific papers show our planet’s climate dynamics are driven largely by the Sun.

    Interested readers can find one significant but relatively small collection of some solar/atmospheric science here:

    Please note that all of this, often quite difficult to follow science (which is of the highest quality) concerns only one of the four solar processes driving climate. The others are light, gravity & magnetism.

    Even though this research focuses on only one aspect of solar activity, the evidence is sufficient for Professor Tinsley to find:

    About half of the global warming over the past century can be accounted for by changes in the sun and the solar wind, and there are well documented correlations of climate during past millennia with cosmic ray flux changes. These can be understood in terms of electrical interactions between cloud droplets and aerosol particles responding to solar wind-induced changes in atmospheric ionization (Jz) and in the latitude distribution of the ionosphere-earth current density that is part of the global atmospheric electric circuit, and which flows down from the ionosphere to the surface and through clouds.

    On his website Professor Tinsley explains

    The solar wind is a highly conducting, extremely hot gas that blows from the sun outward over the earth. It impedes the flow of high energy cosmic ray particles coming in from the galaxy, and energizes high energy electrons in the earth’s radiation belts that precipitate into the atmosphere; both of these effects change the column conductivity between the ionosphere and the earth’s surface. The solar wind also changes the potential difference between the ionosphere and the earth in the polar cap regions. All three effects alter the ionosphere-earth current density, Jz.

    In the gradients of conductivity at boundaries of clouds and aerosol layers the current flow generates a changing potential gradient and a layer of space charge (unipolar charge) in accordance with Poisson’s equation. This charge is transferred from air ions to aerosol particles and to droplets, and allows much higher equilibrium charges to persist on aerosol particles or droplets than would be the case without Jz.

    There is much, much more to this science than this meagre summary. There are links on Prof Tinsley’s website to 15 major papers of the highest quality published in the most prestigious scientific journals. I hope that Tracey, Andy, Steve and Tim will study them vary carefully.

  3. What is it with the 7pm project ? It used to be fairly even handed, now it seems to have taken a lean to the right. Is this to counter George Negus’s 6pm segment? Has someone told Charlie Pickering you can let your political colours show now that Rhinehart & Murdoch have a say in the stations direction?

    It certainly feels like the young liberals have their own t.v show now.

    Watson, that is a poignant statement:
    “Ask anyone if they want to pay more taxes and they’ll say ‘no!’, but in the next breath, if you just have the sense to listen, they’ll say, ‘But we want better schools, hospitals, and a future for our children, so I’ll pay what I have to.’”

    I know many many people who have these ideologically opposed viewpoints & all in the same mind. I often hear we need to cut all taxes, or why should i pay any tax? Then the same people will demand better public hospitals, more police, ambulance, smaller classrooms, better roads, more of them, more public transport, more regulation on coles & woolies.

    But come voting time, they parrot the same crap without a second thought. Less regulation!! Free markets , less tax, smaller government.

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