Australia’s place in a global climate denial web

This post originally appeared on The Drum.

Climate sceptics, deniers, contrarians – call them what you like – are engaged in a fight for column inches, radio waves, TV talk-time and community sentiment.

In Australia, the issue has turned decidedly unsavoury, with climate scientists revealing inboxes chock-full of hate and Government advisors being slurred as Nazis.

But as a memo from US Republican communications guru Frank Luntz revealed in 2003, the most important aspect of climate change denial is not to throw hate, but to sow doubt.

Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.

Doubt is the product of the climate change denial industry – an industry which is tightly knit, well resourced and globally linked.

Hot on the heels of climate sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton’s visit, part-funded by the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies and supported by mining billionaire Gina Rinehart, will be Václav Klaus.

The president of the Czech Republic, a long-time denier of the evidence of climate change, is being flown to Australia to talk about the “mass delusion” of climate change.

Then, once president Klaus has done his bit for the cause, in comes yet another denier of the risks associated with human-caused climate change – Lord Lawson.

This conveyor belt of climate denial is no unhappy coincidence. Australia is an important hub in a long-standing global assault on climate science coordinated by a network of think tanks and front groups, many with links to fossil fuel and mining companies.

Earlier this week in The Age newspaper, Professor Bob Carter, an adjunct (unpaid) research fellow at James Cook University in Queensland, wrote one of his many columns questioning global warming.

Despite the fact that the World Meteorological Organisation has declared the decade just gone to be the warmest on record, Professor Carter claimed the world had gone through a “slight cooling”.

Writing in The Age today, John Cook, founder of the blog Skeptical Science, explains the methods Professor Carter uses to confuse readers, such as employing half-truths, cherry-picking data and conveniently ignoring other multiple lines of evidence.

Earlier this month in The Conversation, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, searched the leading science journals for peer-reviewed papers on climate change written by Professor Carter and other sceptics, and found only one.

The paper had claimed that natural variation in the climate could account for most of the observed global warming, but when a group of genuine climate change researchers examined the paper they found it seriously flawed. The conclusions made in the paper, wrote a group of eminent scientists in a response in the same journal, were “not supported by their analysis or any physical theory”.

In other words, Professor Carter and his co-authors had come to a conclusion which even their own analysis had failed to support. With this being Professor Carter’s only foray into the peer-reviewed literature, it is odd that he should be held up as a climate expert.

Yet he is touted as an expert, regularly, and not just here but in the United States and the UK by numerous organisations that deny the risks or even the very existence of human-caused climate change.

As well as being the sole science advisor to Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), Professor Carter is also listed as an advisor at the US-based Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) where Lord Christopher Monckton is the chief policy advisor.

The SPPI emerged from another think tank – the Centre for Science and Public Policy (CSPP) – which Greenpeace has discovered was launched with a grant from oil giant Exxon. Robert Ferguson, the SPPI president, was the executive director for CSPP and Lord Monckton an advisor.

Professor Carter is also the chief science advisor to the Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), where again he teams up with Lord Monckton , who is a policy advisor.

Australian Viv Forbes is also an ICSC advisor, as well as being an advisor to the Australian Climate Science Coalition and chairman of his own Carbon Sense Coalition. The Carbon Sense Coalition also includes former cat palmist Ken Ring amongst its advisors.

When long-serving coal industry director Mr Forbes isn’t advising to organisations spreading misinformation on climate science, he is serving as a director at coal export business Stanmore Coal.

On Friday, Professor Carter will be in Washington with a swag of contrarians as a keynote speaker at a conference dedicated to climate denial – mistitled the Sixth International Conference on Climate Change.

The conferences, which started in 2008, have been organised and sponsored by the Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank which has been heavily funded by fossil fuel companies including Exxon, the oil and gas billionaires the Koch brothers and the oil and banking family the Scaifes.

Professor Carter was also a key speaker at the first conference in New York, the second also held in New York, the third in Washington, the fourth in Chicago and the fifth in Sydney.

These have included Alan Moran, a researcher at the Institute of Public Affairs, Professor Ian Plimer, a geologist and mining entrepreneur and South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. Lord Monckton has also spoken at two of the conferences.

Alongside Heartland, Australia-based groups have given sponsorship. The IPA has sponsored three conferences and the Lavoisier Group, Carbon Sense Coalition and the Australian Libertarian Society (ALS) have each sponsored twice.

The ALS treasurer is Tim Andrews, who in 2009 spent a year in the US with the Koch Associate Program – set up by the same Koch brothers which have helped fund climate denial and the “grassroots” Tea Party movement in the US.

A series of Greenpeace USA reports have claimed that the companies, foundations and trusts of Charles and David Koch, of the oil and gas company Koch Industries, have ploughed more than $US55 million into think tanks and groups which challenge human-caused climate change.

The Lavoisier Group, which was founded by Hugh Morgan, former head of Western Mining Corporation, is an organisation devoted to climate denial. Mr Morgan is currently a member of the Liberal-led Coalition’s business group advising on its climate policy.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, another free-market US think tank receiving funding from Exxon, co-ordinates the Cooler Heads Coalition, which includes the Lavoisier Group among its members.

In Australia, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of climate denial has been the IPA which is not required to reveal its funders. Lavoisier founder Mr Morgan is a former director of the IPA and his son William is currently on the board.

In its latest attempt to confuse the public on climate change, the IPA will bring Czech Republic president Václav Klaus to Australia late next month.

President Klaus gives away some subtle clues to his long-held position on climate change in the titles of his talks.

Perth gets “Threats to freedom in the 21st century”, Sydney gets “Climate change the dangerous faith”, Melbourne enjoys “The mass delusion of climate change” and Brisbanites get to hear “Climate change a new ideology”.

After president Klaus flies out with his measured analysis still ringing in the ears, Australians will then be treated to climate sceptic Lord Lawson, president of the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation – yet another think tank devoted to confusing the public about climate change.

Presumably Lord Lawson will not be too concerned at missing president Klaus’ talk, given that last October he gave the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) annual lecture in Cambridge.

GWPF also has friends in Australia. Professors Plimer and Carter are both on its “academic advisory council“.

The IPA also brought Lord Lawson to Australia in 2007 (Lord Monckton’s sister is Rosa Monckton, who is married to Dominic Lawson – Lord Lawson’s eldest son). This time, the debate, to be held in Sydney in about five weeks time, is being organised by The Spectator magazine and its editor Tom Switzer, a long-time researcher at the IPA.

With all of this noise being generated in the coming weeks over climate change, Australians could be forgiven for thinking there is a genuine debate over the causes of rising global temperatures, melting ice-sheets, retreating Arctic ice, acidifying oceans, rising sea-levels or the many other direct consequences of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

No doubt there is a debate and no doubt, either, that it is being manufactured.


Author: Graham

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

8 thoughts on “Australia’s place in a global climate denial web”

  1. Hi Greame,
    Mate! Don’t you reckon it’s time to stop the name calling eg, deniers, denialists, etc. and get back to the basic argument? The science, or lack of. And get over Monckton.

  2. Old Fellah, perhaps you’d like to offer a more appropriate term to describe the decidedly unsceptical polemicists who contribute no new science of their own, but confine themselves to abusing and smearing real scientists and endlessly repeating long debunked nonsense on behalf of the doomed fossil fuel industry. Until then, the only game in town is to expose them for what they are – holocaust deniers!

  3. Excellent work, Graham. I’ll bookmark this page. I doubt the general public are aware how closely linked all these frauds are. Such a small number of people with no climate science between them being given so much airplay.

    The media is as much to blame as anyone. Quite disgraceful.

  4. Yeah, Graham, they’re all in the pay of Big-Oil or Big Tobacco or whatever you say…….

    Anyway, Monckton is at the National Press Club on 19 July debating the science and economics. Maybe you could book a gig too. Get some payback for that first round TKO he gave you in Brisbane last year.

    Seriously, this is what is needed. Real debates! Not the one hand clapping farce of Tony Jones or Red Kerry taking a scalpel to a climate heretic or the clown now heading the CSIRO saying sceptical scientists ought not be given coverage in th e media.

    What next? A ritual burning of books written by Carter, Plimer, Lindzen et al in the city square?

    On a related issue:- after the PM [the female one, not Bob Brown] announces the details of the Carbon Dioxide tax [which she deceptively mis-describes] let’s see what the public think of it. My prediction is it will take 2 Newspolls [3 at the maximum] before her polling falls so much that the Labor Party remove her and scrap this whole idea. One thing both sides agree on is that this is the only opportunity to pass such a tax – it will stand or fall now.

    I’m not a betting man but I like the odds on my side much, much better.

  5. Old Fellah @1, no doubt you have also gone to a denier blog to tell them to stop using the terms “warmists”, “warmologists”, “catastrophists” etc.

    Arnie @4

    “Seriously, this is what is needed. Real debates!”

    Seriously, what Plimer, Carter & Monckton need to do is publish a single peer reviewed climate related paper between them. Science is not advanced by who speaks best or the fastest at a public debate. It’s advanced by sound science. Carter, Plimer & Monckton are essentially side show alley acts.

    “What next? A ritual burning of books written by Carter, Plimer, Lindzen et al in the city square?”

    Why? They can go in the science fiction section. It’s a no brainer.

    The rest of your post makes it abundantly clear it’s more about defending your politics & less about the science. There is nothing short of your political party changing positions that would change your mind.

  6. Phil –

    The science fiction section is where the Al Gore thriller belongs, right next to the movie “2012′. THAT’s the no-brainer.

    What is abundantly clear from your post is that you’re intent on defending your left of centre political view, and less about the science or the facts.

    “There is nothing short of your political party changing positions that would change your mind.”

    You couldn’t be further from the truth Phil. Next election there will be a change of government. The polls show it. I know it. You know it. It is likely to be a heavy defeat for Labor and the Greens. I won’t change my view. A Liberal government will attempt to repeal this tax [if it is legislated]. The Greens will still likely hold the balance of power and have said, in their usual steadfast manner, that they won’t oblige, even though they represent relatively few. The pressure will be on Labor to respect the people’s mandate and they would be punished even further would anothe r election be required. I am quite relaxed because I believe this tax will barely get off the ground [if at all] before the people are given a say. The 1996 baseball bats are all being polished as we speak.
    Alarmists tend to support a Lazarus-like rertun of Turnbull to the leadership. That will never happen. He backed the wrong horse in the ETS and the polls in 2009 showed it. Abbott is on a winner. I know it – you know it – even though you’d never admit it.
    One thing I do agree with Gillard about is this – 2011 is the only opportunity Australia has to put a price on carbon dioxide [she always leaves that last word out – probably to fool the gullible I guess. Seems to work.]. No government will ever try it again.
    I am comforted by the knowledge that Aussies are far too smart to be conned by this and will deliver a harsh verdict. No future PM will be stupid enough to try again – we can concentrate on digging the country out of the chasm Labor has dug it into and 4 years and return to prosperity.
    Bring on an election ASAP I ask, so we can end this idiotic Quixotic attempt to tame nature and the sun .

  7. “The science fiction section is where the Al Gore thriller belongs, right next to the movie “2012′. THAT’s the no-brainer.

    What is abundantly clear from your post is that you’re intent on defending your left of centre political view, and less about the science or the facts.”

    Oh haw haw haaaw Arnie, really, just haw haw haaaw! So original! What are you 10 years old? You just repeat back to me what I’ve said to you & pass it off as something original? Your a smart one I can tell arnie, you have been learned real good.

    “You couldn’t be further from the truth Phil.The 1996 baseball bats are all being polished as we speak….”

    Oh yeah Arnie, your not half a right winger are you? Rusted on & completely duped by fossil fuel companies.

    “is that you’re intent on defending your left of centre political view, and less about the science or the facts.”

    Is that right Arnie? Well, unlike you I can point to conservative governments around the world N.Z, U.K, Germany, France etc that not only have a carbon tax, but have had it for years & are going nuts for green tech. Are they going commie too? It is only in Australia, Canada & the USA where such vehement opposition is experienced. That is because these countries have some of the biggest fossil fuel deposits & companies in the world, who in turn “donate” millions to the conservative parties in those countries. Gee, i wonder who those conservatives will back when millions are being thrown at them? Rusted on right wingers like yourself will dutifully become a sock puppet for anything your party says. If you DID care about the science & facts you would realise that not a single major scientific institute on the planet backs your view. Nor a single university.

    The only people that back your “scientific position” on AGW are a couple of mining scientists & a side show alley freak like Monckton. Your sooooo interested in the science aren’t you Arnie?

  8. Phil M, Arnie doesn’t really care about facts. He just lies back with a dopey smile on his face and cops it sweet when the professional deniers spin their lies to him. He believes everything they say with absolutely *no* reservations because … well … because … jeez, I can’t really think why any adult human would soo enjoy being sucked in like that.

    He’s foolish, credulous, utterly clueless, and just keeps avoiding the hard questions:

    (Gawd, I somehow managed to post this on the other thread as well. Almost arnie-like in my idiocy. Almost …)

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