The Australians backing Heartland’s climate science misinformation

A version of this blog originally appeared at DeSmogBlog.

ANY conference worth its salt needs a nice long list of sponsors to give the impression of widespread diverse support for whatever the conference organisers are advocating.

In the case of the Heartland Institute and their advocacy for the denial of the risks of human-caused climate change, their just-started conference for climate science misinformers in Chicago can boast official supporters from as far and wide as India, England, Austria and New Zealand.

But one of the most devoted and long-standing group of supporters for their climate change denial conferences over the years has come from Australia. This year there are four Australia-based groups listed as “co-sponsors” and over the history of the seven conferences no less than nine different Australian groups have been happy to have their organisation’s name hitched to Heartland’s colors.

A mistaken impression could be that there’s widespread support for Heartland’s extremist views in Australia. The word “co-sponsor” gives the impression that these organisations are willing to actually give up money to support.

Yet in at least one case, and probably several others, being a co-sponsor is as easy as contacting Heartland and saying that you agree with them. The reality is that those supporting Heartland from Australia come from a small circle of active and loud free-market idealogues.
Take for example a first-time sponsor, the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance, an organisation launched in May this year by its executive director Tim Andrews. Mr Andrews has spent recent years in Washington being taught how to build a “grassroots” movement of free-market idealism in Australia similar to that of America’s Tea Party movement.
Andrews is a graduate of the Koch Associate Program, a scheme funded by the same oil billionaire Koch brothers who have been pumping millions into America’s climate denial campaign under the umbrella of a “grassroots” Tea Party movement. Andrews also worked for Americans for Tax Reform, which has also sponsored Heartland’s conferences. It’s a “grassroots” movement being created in the narrow interests of the likes of the Koch brothers. Continue reading “The Australians backing Heartland’s climate science misinformation”
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Ten Funniest Climate Change Videos Ever (that I’ve seen and can remember)

CAREFULLY plucked like dew-covered orchids from the garden of YouTube, I hereby present the ten funniest videos about climate change which have ever been made, ever, by anyone, anywhere, ever – or at least of those I’ve seen. Which isn’t many.

But anyway, I should say there’s swearing and stuff, so best turn the sound down. I think the phrase is “Not Suitable For Work” which generally means it’s suitable for sharing at work.

1. Worrying research from the coal lobby. Wind turbines could blow the earth off its orbit. The Onion discusses.

2 British comedian Sean Lock on mopping up oil spills with a seal pup and feeling generally helpless. Continue reading “Ten Funniest Climate Change Videos Ever (that I’ve seen and can remember)”

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Hate campaign against climate scientists has not been debunked

WHEN you say that you have evidence to “debunk” something, then it is a good idea to make sure that the evidence you’ve got is actually up to the “debunking”.

Last week, The Australian newspaper reported that claims of climate scientists at the Australian National University receiving death threats as part of an ongoing email hate campaign had been “debunked”.

The evidence for the story, under the headline “Climate scientists’ claims of email death threats go up in smoke“, was a report from Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim.

Mr Pilgrim’s report concluded that 11 documents which had been identified in a Freedom of Information request, could be released to the public.

Although the commissioner concluded that 10 of the 11 documents “contain abuse in the sense that they contain insulting and offensive language” they did not contain “threats to kill or threats of harm”. Even so, releasing the documents could “lead to further insulting or offensive communication being directed at ANU personnel or expressed through social media”, the commissioner’s report said.

A spokesperson for the ANU has told me that the university is “currently reviewing the report” and is “considering its options” which, presumably, are either to accept the ruling and release the documents, or to appeal.

The FOI request had followed reports in June 2011 that ANU researchers were facing the ongoing campaign and had been moved, The Australian said, to “more secure buildings” following explicit threats. As I’ve previously written, a host of commentators and bloggers have used the report to dismiss the hate campaign entirely.

As the original Canberra Times story had pointed out, the newspaper had found evidence of a campaign against at least 30 climate scientists at institutions across the country.

Today, Canberra Times environment and science reporter Rosslyn Beeby, who broke the story, has called for a more mature debate, while outlining again the disturbing nature of the campaign. One researcher’s two young children were named and threatened.

Yet the FOI request was restricted in asking only for documents and correspondence between January and June 2011 and only those sent to six named academics at ANU.

But let’s go back to the The Australian and its original claim, repeated at popular sceptic blogs around the world, that the claims of death threats had been “debunked”. The report in The Australian claimed that Privacy Commissioner had been called in to “adjudicate” on FOI in relation to reports of the campaign which had led to staff being moved to more secure premises.

Professor Will Steffen, the director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, has now told me staff were moved to a more secure area in April 2010, well before the period covered by the Privacy Commissioners report.

He said: “I and my Climate Change Institute staff were moved to more secure quarters around March/April 2010 because of concerns my staff had about the very open and accessible premises we had at that time. I had a duty of care to my staff to respond to these concerns. The move was taken in consultation with the Vice-Chancellor and with the ANU security office. This, of course, is well before the Jan-Jun 2011 period that the FOI request is concerned with.”

I understand there were several incidents at the ANU in early 2010. On two separate occasions, individuals had walked into institute premises demanding to see particular staff members. Both individuals were acting “aggressively” Professor Steffen said. The institute’s offices were on the ground floor with open access with no security restrictions. The institute’s website had also been subjected to what Prof Steffen described as a “cyber attack”.

At the same time, other climate scientists at other institutions had been receiving abusive messages and emails. These can be considered to be serious security flaws in the institution’s network. Maybe the institution can consider hiring an IT firm (like IT Management service lincoln or in the vicinity) that can help identify the nature of such cyber attacks and work towards preventing them in the future.

That said, shortly after ANU staff were moved, there was an incident at an ANU public engagement event where a climate sceptic who had been invited to attend had become frustrated. During an exchange, the individual had showed what he claimed was a gun licence to people sitting at the table, before claiming he was a “good shot”. The individual is understood to have left voluntarily.

Whether or not any of these incidents constitute a “death threat” is, to me at least, beside the point.But you have to ask yourself. If you were their boss and the staff were concerned about their safety, what would you have done?

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What role for politics in science denial?

ONE  enormous field of inquiry which had its veneer scratched in the recent ABC documentary “I Can Change Your Mind About… Climate” was the emerging understanding of why some politically-aligned people are able to accept or deny scientific facts.

Two books published recently in the US have begun to examine this science of ideology and how it plays out in politics. Chris Mooney (a fellow DeSmogBlog contributor) is the author of The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality. Jonathan Haidt is the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are divided.

Watch their fascinating discussion on the msnbc show Up with Chris Hayes on the politics of science denial – touching on evolution and human-caused climate change. At one point the discussion becomes frustratingly circular, but to me it tells us something about why the climate change debate has become so polarised. The advert’s annoying.. sorry.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Heartland billboards strike grubby new low

IN a promotional video for the upcoming Heartland Institute’s climate change sceptics’ conference in Chicago, the think-tank’s president Joseph Bast said the scientists coming together for the shindig “deserve a lot of attention”.

So how would Joe Bast help them to gain that richly deserved attention?

How about sticking a picture of murderer and terrorist Ted Kaczynski – a.k.a the Unambomber – on a giant billboard next to the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?”

According to a Heartland press release, this would be the first in a series of ads which would feature Osama Bin Laden, Fidel Castro and Charles Manson, who Heartland says all “believe” in global warming.

In a press release, Joe Bast said:

Heartland’s first digital billboard…  is the latest effort by the free-market think tank to inform the public about what it views as the collapsing scientific, political, and public support for the theory of man-made global warming. It is also reminding viewers of the questionable ethics of global warming’s most prominent proponents.

There’s not much point in spelling out why this campaign is mind-numbingly dumb and stupefyingly offensive, but then let’s be pointless for a moment. I wonder if the unabomber, or Castro or bin Laden accept evolution too and if I should then feel dirty and grubby for having that in common with them. On the picture used for the billboard, Kaczynski can clearly be seen wearing clothes. I wear clothes too. Am I turning into some sort of nutcase?

The Guardian’s Leo Hickman called the campaign “possibly one of the most ill-judged poster campaigns in the history of ill-judged poster campaigns”.

Bast, with his hypocrisy-booster now turned up well past eleven, justified the posters by saying: “We found it interesting that the ad seemed to evoke reactions more passionate than when leading alarmists compare climate realists to Nazis or declare they are imposing on our children a mass death sentence.”

Perhaps climate science denier Lord Christopher Monckton should give Mr Bast a call to set him straight, given he has cornered the market in Nazi name-calling.

Heartland has now pulled the digital billboard after a stream of protests from those which it would consider to be on their side, although Joe Bast said he would not apologise. Climate sceptic Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the conference speakers, threatened to pull out if the ads were not removed. Another speaker, climate sceptic Ross McKitrick, called the ads “fallacious, juvenile and inflammatory” and believed the campaign “sullies the reputation of the speakers you had recruited”.

Heartland last made headlines when a small cache of documents, deceptively acquired from its headquarters by scientist Peter Gleick, revealed the institute was planning to devise a new curriculum to teach climate denial in schools. The documents also revealed it was paying some academics thousands, including James Cook University’s Bob Carter, who is a speaker at the Chicago conference at the end of the month. Professor Carter is an advisor to a string of climate science misinforming organisations, including the Institute of Public Affairs, a sponsor of previous Heartland conferences.

Professor Carter isn’t the only Australian connection to the conference. Among its “silver sponsors” are the Australian Libertarian Society and the Carbon Sense Coalition.

The ALS treasurer is Tim Andrews, the executive director of the new Australian Taxpayers Alliance which has stated its first mission to campaign against Australia’s carbon price legislation. Andrews is a veteran of the Koch Associate Program in the US, a project of the oil industry billionaire Koch brothers who have been pouring millions into climate denial campaigns.

The Carbon Sense Coalition is a small-time climate change sceptic organisation founded by coal industry veteran Vivian Forbes, a current director at Brisbane-based Stanmore Coal.

Presumably after this episode, the 19 corporations which – along with the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil – have helped fund some of Heartland’s projects over the years will now be considering whether they’re happy to ever again have their names associated with a think-tank which juxtaposes climate science acceptance with the morals of mass murderers.

After the Heartland leaks earlier this year, GM Motors said it was severing all ties with Heartland. Will the likes of PepsiCo, Pfizer and Time Warner Cable now follow?

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Hate campaign against climate scientists hits the denier spin-cycle

RIGHT now, as I type, we’re in the middle of the global dissemination of a gross misrepresentation of facts.

The line currently being spun by climate change sceptic commentators and bloggers is that climate change scientists have lied about getting death threats.

At the same time a campaign of systematic abuse of climate scientists in an attempt to get them to withdraw from public debate is being ignored.

This spin-cycle started yesterday in The Australian, with a story reporting the findings of a report from the Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim.

Mr Pilgrim ordered that 11 documents turned up through a Freedom of Information request to the Australian National University could, against the wishes of the university, be released to the public.

Mr Pilgrim concluded that 10 of the 11 documents “contain abuse in the sense that they contain insulting and offensive language” but did not contain “threats to kill or threats of harm”.

Oh. Well that’s OK then?

One email, the commissioner said, described an “exchange” during an “off-campus” event. The commissioner said the exchange “could be regarded as intimidating and at its highest perhaps alluding to a threat”, adding that the “danger to life or physical safety” was “only a possibility, not a real chance”.

In the report, Mr Pilgrim added: “In my view, there is a risk that release of the documents could lead to further insulting or offensive communication being directed at ANU personnel or expressed through social media. However, there is no evidence to suggest disclosure would, or could reasonably be expected to, endanger the life or physical safety of any person.”

Climate sceptic commentators and bloggers have taken this decision to mean that climate scientists have not received death threats and, on the face of it, that might seem like a fair conclusion.

Except they’ve ignored two key facts which undermine their conclusion.

The first, is that the FOI request only asked for correspondence covering a six month period from January to June 2011. What’s more, the request only asked for correspondence regarding six ANU academics. The report from the Privacy Commissioner made this clear.

Secondly, the original investigation which sparked the FOI request, published in The Canberra Times, found more than 30 climate scientists had received threats or abuse of one kind or another at universities across Australia and that this campaign had been going on for years. It wasn’t news to some of us. None of the emails I published on my blog were from scientists at ANU.

Despite the narrow nature of the FOI request and the foul nature of the campaign, sceptic blogger Jo Nova was utterly beside herself claiming the Privacy Commissioner’s report had shown that the campaign of intimidation didn’t exist.

Anthony Watts wrote the claims were entirely “manufactured” with “not a single document” to back it up.

James Delingpole said there had been no death threats “whatsoever” during the campaign, and then went on to trivialise reports that Professor Phil Jones, of the University of East Anglia, had considered suicide.

At Catallaxy Files, senior IPA fellow Sinclair Davidson, said the threats “never happened” and were a lie.

All of these reports, no doubt hastily compiled but with a total lack of care or compassion, failed to take into account that the FOI request was so narrow that it couldn’t possibly back up their conclusions.

Sounds to me a little bit like cherry-picking one particular piece of climate data to try and construct an argument, while ignoring all the other evidence around them.

We still don’t even know what the documents in this selective trove actually say because the ANU has not yet released them, saying instead that it is “reviewing the report” and “considering our options”.

The question of whether the abuse constitutes a “death threat” is a red herring.

When climate researchers have their children threatened with sexual abuse, have their cars smeared with excrement and get emails telling them they’re going to “end up collateral damage”, then what else is it but a hate campaign.

In my view, the campaign of abuse is designed to intimidate climate scientists, discourage them from engaging with the public and discourage them from carrying out their research. Failing to condemn it shows just how low the climate change debate has become.

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