Clickbait climate denial from The Australian

COOL spell to chill hearts of climate activists,” says the clickbait headline in today’s The Australian.

The story, a reprint from the Sunday Times’ Jonathan Leake, is just the kind of editorialised-opinion-disguised-as-news which The Australian has become known for whenever it reports about climate change.

Let’s have a quick look through the piece, because obviously we’ve all got nothing better to do.

THE world’s climate has cooled during last year and this year, temperature data from Britain’s Met Office reveals — just before this year’s talks on cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.

The figures show that, although global temperatures are still well above the long-term average, they have fallen since the record seen in 2010. The findings could prove politically sensitive, coming ahead of the UN’s climate summit in Doha, Qatar, where the global system for regulating greenhouse gas emissions faces collapse.

The threat comes because the Kyoto Treaty, under which developed nations pledged to cut their carbon emissions, expires at the end of this year. Doha is seen as the last hope of securing an extension.

In such a febrile situation, any data casting doubt on climate scientists’ predictions is potentially explosive.

The findings could prove politically sensitive? Any data casting doubt on climate scientists’ predictions?

I would challenge Jonathan Leake to find any climate scientist who has “predicted” in the peer reviewed literature (or anywhere else for that matter) that global temperatures will rise uniformly year upon year. This only becomes “politically sensitive” if the politicians in question accept this sort of spoon-fed misrepresentation of the science.

Given that 2012 will probably end up as another year in the top ten warmest years ever recorded (something the Met Office predicted back in January) , actually reinforces what the climate scientists have been “predicting” rather than casting doubt on them.

Not only that, but the expert from the UK’s Met Office which Leake quotes, Peter Stott, even spells out for Leake why the strawman argument he went on to insert into his story is wrong.

However, it is such a short period that it is scientifically meaningless. Climate change can only be measured over decades — and the records show that the world has warmed by 0.75C over the past century.

Also in the story, Leake says

The World Meteorological Organisation, which oversees the publication of climate trend data from the four main global centres, including the British Met Office, has been strongly criticised for its policy of releasing such data just before the UN’s key annual summits.

Because of course, it would be much better for policy makers and global leaders not to have the latest information available to them from their major agencies when they enter major international climate summits.

This excellent graphic from Skeptical Science demonstrates just how ridiculous these arguments, from the likes of Jonathan Leake and The Australian , actually are  and why it’s a misrepresentation of what’s actually happening in the world.


Author: Graham

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

15 thoughts on “Clickbait climate denial from The Australian”

  1. Bad enough if it was only the Oz but the Fairfax papers are increasingly characterized by the ‘opinion’ of high profile climate change deniers like William Kininmonth and Bob Carter serving up the usual salad of lies and deception as if it had equal status with the science. I despair.

  2. And neither is the amount of extra heat energy absorbed by the oceans ever mentioned in these articles. Considering that this dwarfs atmospheric heating you just have to shake your head in disbelief.

  3. Shaking my head in disbelief, but for all the other reasons…

    While climate models do not predict that every single year will rise in temperature, not even their lowest prediction shows 10 years without warming. The second graph provided on the link below shows climate model predictions compared with actual temperatures. Satellite temperature data is shown with the big blue dots, all the squiggly lines above, are the climate model forecasts. The predictions are basically 3 fold off course – what an embarrassing disaster! The core reason for the discrepancy are the many assumptions that go into the models and the over estimation of the feedback.

    Sad fact that our political leaders are so overwhelmingly misinformed.

    As for ocean temperatures, the Argo project is the only accurate source of ocean temperature measurement, which began in 2003 and has, no surprise, shown absolutely no warming trend. That means no heat hidden in the ocean either! The Argo data is plotted on the graph at the link below and nicely compared with the climate model predictions.

    It’s good riddance to the myth that it was worse than anything the scientists predicted.

  4. HI Graham
    You’ve kind of misunderstood this story. But that’s not surprising because you wrote this post without contacting me for comment or explanation. That’s a recipe for inaccuracy – which is why proper journalists always try to contact those they are writing about. I imagine you spent a bit of time just writing the above – so why not take an extra minute or two to email me?
    If you want an insight then take a look at my comments on Carbon Brief’s website at
    The key point is that while short-term variations like cooling (or warming) over 2-3 years are indeed irrelevant when considering a long term issue like climate change, they still get exploited by so-called sceptics to try to undermine climate science.
    You say: “This only becomes “politically sensitive” if the politicians in question accept this sort of spoon-fed misrepresentation of the science.” This is completely correct – but it is also exactly what happens – I’ve attended enough of the climate talks myself to see that.
    Anyway, just to reiterate, it’s pretty discourteous to those your write about and and to your readers, not to do basic homework like checking facts and contacting people. You’re welcome to write about me again but feel free to get in touch and check your facts first. Who knows -it might even make your blog more interesting as well as more accurate.

  5. from Mr Leake:

    “it’s pretty discourteous to those your write about and and to your readers, not to do basic homework like checking facts and contacting people.”

    Oh my, this from the author of the “Amazongate” story? The story that you can no longer find online because the Sunday Times had to retract it and issue a major apology?

    This from a journalist who wrote a story about what he thought was a dodgy report (WWF), but never once bothered to pick up the phone and call the author of that report before he slagged it off in a major “scandal”? No wonder he was forced to apologise. The Australian was also forced to apologise.

    That you, the author of one of the worst examples of mainstream journalistic misreporting on climate change in recent years, can start lecturing a fellow-journalist about how to be a journalist, simply beggars belief.

    I’ll finish with two words: Pot, Kettle.

  6. Listen to Leake! “…proper journalists always try and contact those they are writing about”… What an utter hypocrite!

    Leake has concocted stories in the past by passing off old lines in documents as current quotes from climate scientists! Does the article ‘Climate change data dumped’ ring a bell, Jonny? An infamous effort from the time of the ‘climate gate’ frenzy in which you took a routine,mundane line from a UEA CRU webpage posted many months before the event and turned it into a paraphrased quote from a fantasy interview made in response to the email theft.

    ‘Proper journalist’ indeed.

  7. Dear Nick and Patsi

    Your replies really make my point for me. You haven’t checked your facts and so you got them wrong.

    Patsi, The Amazon story was indeed a very serious blunder for us. But it happened because of a series of production problems in our newsroom, not through any ill-intent. It’s a long story but put briefly, I wrote an article about the sourcing of data in the IPCC’s report and then checked it back with the scientists quoted. This article was meant to run at some length but then, very late in production, lost much of its space. The article was then compressed and completely rewritten by a news editor with no knowledge of the subject. This makes it no less serious but it was a process and sub-editing problem rather than misreporting.
    Interestingly, despite the many blogs and other diatribes about this saga none of those who wrote them has ever contacted me to ask what exactly happened – with the single honourable exception of George Monbiot ( ). So the real story is still largely untold. But if you actually read the correction we published you will see it refers to late editing as the source of the problem. This is not to make it any less serious, but it’s a different kind of problem to the one you have assumed.

    Nick: you cite our report on the loss of climate data. You’re wrong to say we did not contact the University of East Anglia and I can’t imagine why you have assumed this without asking me.
    In fact I contacted them directly to make sure that the comments on their website (about having lost the original climate data) were accurate. I will post the original article below. One key point is that journalists usually contact far more people when researching an article than actually get quoted so when UEA confirmed the story we used the original quote. This story appeared on Page 1 so it needed to be double-checked.
    What’s more, the story itself was not just true but quite important. The original data had been collected from stations around the world and then adjusted using a complex series of algorithms that may themselves have been in error. In any area of science its important to have a system for back-checking – but without the original data this becomes quite hard. So it’s just good practice to retain all data – especially in such a politicised area as climate science.
    I hope that helps. Climate science generates a lot of political interest with all kinds of rows and battles – but having been at the heart of one and seen many others, I can say the underlying stories are often very different to what appears on blogs and those commenting on them. What’s more, they are usually much more interesting – so it’s a shame when they don’t get out!

    Climate change data dumped
    Jonathan Leake Environment Editor
    380 words
    29 November 2009
    The Sunday Times
    © 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved
    SCIENTISTS at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based.

    It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.

    The UEA’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) was forced to reveal the loss following requests for the data under Freedom of Information legislation.

    The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building.

    The admission follows the leaking of a thousand private emails sent and received by Professor Phil Jones, the CRU’s director. In them he discusses thwarting climate sceptics seeking access to such data.

    In a statement on its website, the CRU said: “We do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (quality controlled and homogenised) data.”

    The CRU is the world’s leading centre for reconstructing past climate and temperatures. Climate change sceptics have long been keen to examine exactly how its data were compiled.

    That is now impossible.

    Roger Pielke, professor of environmental studies at Colorado University, discovered data had been lost when he asked for original records. “The CRU is basically saying, ‘Trust us’. So much for settling questions and resolving debates with science,” he said.

    Jones was not in charge of the CRU when the data were thrown away in the 1980s, a time when climate change was seen as a less pressing issue. The lost material was used to build the databases that have been his life’s work, showing how the world has warmed by 0.8C over the past 157 years.

    He and his colleagues say this temperature rise is “unequivocally” linked to greenhouse gas emissions generated by humans. Their findings are one of the main pieces of evidence used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which says global warming is a threat to humanity

  8. One last point. I understand the Australian has reprinted some of my articles on climate. I believe we have a syndication agreement with them. However, those articles may have been sub-edited or been given new headlines without any reference to me – so please do bear this in mind when reading them. I have never done a comparison of our originals and what they print but suspect there could be some major differences!

  9. I realise your column was three years ago Johnathan but … “That is now impossible.” … was probably the lazy way out for the so-called skeptics. The deniers always had, and still have, the option of collecting their *own* data, doing the requisite analysis, then submitting their (presumably dissenting) findings for peer review.

    They could just stop whining and go do the science for themselves but so far they’ve produced nothing substantive except the BEST project … and that wound up affirming the consensus.

    I wonder where Anthony Watts’ widely trumpeted Surface Stations Project is at these days ? I’d certainly like to read a clear-eyed assessment of that pathetic turd polishing effort in an august weekly like the Sunday Times. One can live in hope I guess.

    I’m also interested in whether your opinion has changed since you wrote that piece in 2009 – has your position hardened against or moved towards what the science is telling us. In your column above you come across as having severe doubts about the whole AGW proposition but I’d suggest that as time has gone by, scientific support for the consensus view has done nothing but strengthen.

    Lastly I’d just say that CRU is not now and never has been the sole organisation that ‘does’ climate change science. There are a few others.

  10. Hi Chris
    The scientific concensus is very clear – the world has warmed significantly and is in great danger of warming even more on a very short (decadal) timescale – far too short for us or the natural world to adapt to. There’s little evidence to support sceptics who argue that the world is not warming – and a great deal against them.

    If you talk to sceptics, however, you tend to find their views are not that simple. Most of them now seem to accept the world has warmed over the last century or two but now argue that it’s largely a natural phenomenon.

    There’s also an argument over whether warming happens relatively smoothly or incrementally – in fits and starts. This last issue has been exploited by some sceptics because it generates short spells of cooling amidst the longer term warming – and so has had a political impact. (See David Rose’s articles in the Mail on Sunday for examples.)

    Politicians often don’t get natural variation – and that is what prompted our article.

    (By the way, you can’t tell from the web but that article appeared deep inside our paper and had little prominence. The real aim of the Met Office in giving the figures to us was to anticipate and defuse the possible publicity the climate figures would generate when released by the WMO just before Doha).

    Anyway, Watts project may find warming, if it finds anything, without that finding undermining the sceptics’ case as they now articulate it.

    You ask about my opinion. This is a little like the question I often hear put to people along the lines of ‘do you believe in climate change? The implication is that climate change is some kind of belief system akin to politics or religion. Obviously that’s silly. This is a science-based issue and we have to go by the evidence. And that evidence is very clear on the problem (a high risk of rapid global warming) and the solution (cutting emissions).

    There is one other question that always puzzles me which is: what drives the sceptics? It’s clearly not just about science. The real explanations seem to be more in the psychology and politics of those on each side. Working out just why climate change-related issues make people so angry and emotional (as seen on blogs like this and many others) on both the ‘warmist’ and the ‘sceptic’ sides looks like being as important as understanding the science if there is to be any political progress.

  11. Jonathan,

    I’d just say that what I was trying to get at in asking your opinion wasn’t religious. It comes from the viewpoint of reading your 2009 article above, concluding that you were dismissive of AGW, and being curious as to whether now, three years later, you’ve been at all swayed by the ever growing concerns of professional climate scientists and the slowly deteriorating climate system.

    I guess what aggravates people like me is that the deniers keep revising their various and contradictory positions as they become untenable due to the objective reality of what’s going on in the physical world … and they do this with what seems complete impunity.

    Their claims are never subjected to careful scrutiny, their failings never given the same degree of prominence as, say, the over-hyped Climategate, and they’re never, ever, called to account for their intellectual dishonesty. It’s almost like jounalists – the people we rely on to ask them the hard questions – are wilfully deaf, blind, and dumb as a bag of hammers.

    Anyway, good luck to you Jonathan, and thanks for your response above. I’m now a bit more well-disposed towards the ‘Jonathan Leake’ you read about on some ‘warmist’ blogs 🙂

    All the best.

  12. In an Italian court recently, several geologists were convicted of manslaughter because they downplayed the risk of an earthquake. The Italian scientists may be guilty of neglect but it is hard to believe that they deliberately mislead the public. The same cannot be said for The Australian and environment editor Graham Lloyd. The unending series of deliberately distorted articles which has appeared in that newspaper over the last several years cannot be excused as legitimately sceptical. In many cases the self-contradiction is proven by the information (inadvertently) supplied in the article. One spectacular example of this appeared recently (29/9/12) under the headline “Sea level fall defies climate warnings”. The article identifies a fall of 5 mm in global average sea level in 2011, claiming this is calls into question climate scientists prediction of a 3 mm/year rise in sea levels. The article even includes a CSIRO graph which clearly shows that the sea level made up for the deviation with an 11 mm rise the following year. If we add the 5 mm loss in 2011 to the predicted 6 mm rise over two years to 2012 we get 11 mm! Sea level rise is back in line with the 30 year trend identified in the graph, proving the headline was nothing short of a deliberate misrepresentation.

  13. Jonathan,you concocted that story,pure and simple,and your choice of wording gave a misleading impression about the timing of details,and the false impression that ‘scientists admitted’ throwing away original data. The “admission” about the disposal of the copied data was no admission but a routine disclosure made on a data availability page of interest only to clients of UEA CRUs services. This disclosure was made well before the media circus descended on the stolen emails.

    The claim of impossibility [and the implication of the necessity] of ‘skeptics’ replicating how UEA CRU built its data base is a complete nonsense,as the raw data resides with those agencies which collected it,and is now widely available from many sources.

    Meanwhile ‘climate skeptics’ have done bugger all with freely available data and copious adjustment literature to reconstruct from first principles their own datasets.

  14. Just revisited this article,and I stand by my claims that Leake creates a false impression with his obviously deliberate choice of loaded words like ‘admit’. I’m still angry at his audacity.

    The disclosure about the disposal of some old data copies was up on the web before Leake wrote his article, As such,it was a DISCLOSURE for potential data customers. Leake has called it an ADMISSION,obviously in the context of pressure from inquiry stimulated by Climategate.

    His third sentence is nonsense. UEA CRU were not ‘forced to admit’ what they had in fact routinely disclosed. It’s a concoction.

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