How climate science denier Senator Malcolm Roberts turned warmer into colder

Sometimes watching YouTube videos is a lot like eating your favourite flavour of chip, fudge or whatever else it is that you think is moreish.

You watch one video and then, on that panel on the right hand side, up pops a whole load of others that YouTube thinks you’ll like.

No doubt because of my years of writing about climate science denial, YouTube taunts me with all manner of climate science denialist crap – some quite sophisticated, some not.

And so it was that I failed to resist a video entitled Senator Malcolm Roberts – How Climate Actually Works (presumably there’s another video somewhere called President Trump – How Uranium Actually Works.)

Roberts was being interviewed at length by David Pellowe. Honestly, I don’t know much about Pellowe, but he did run as a candidate for Family First in the Queensland state election in 2015.

His online media effort – called Church and State – says it wants to “rebuild the strong Judeo-Christian values – the foundations of our nation – to their proper place in Australian society.”

Pellowe is trying to grow an audience but, for whatever reason, not many people seem to be paying much attention.

But I paid a bit more attention to Pellowe’s interview than others because he’s based in the same city as me and he was interviewing Senator Malcolm Roberts, the Queensland Senator for One Nation.

But I found the whole thing instructive.

Not because Roberts was wrong about something (this happens all the time when he talks about climate change) but rather, Pellowe’s willingness to accept what Roberts told him and then provide a forum for it.

Pellowe’s videos then become part of that morass of climate science denial videos on YouTube that help confuse people about climate change.

I’m just picking here on one small segment of the interview, but I have watched the rest of it (and the others in the series) and it consists of Roberts’ usual cooked-up conspiracy theories about world governments and the United Nations. The whole thing is heavily spiced with hubris and conceit.

Pellowe first makes an appeal, saying his aim is “empowering viewers to be better informed and better involved.”

“We want to talk about the data, the facts and the evidence,” says Pellowe.

“I love this… OK,” mutters Roberts.

Then later, Roberts says this.

In Australia in the 1880s and 1890s, the temperature was warmer than today. We know that for a fact because the Bureau of Meteorology’s measurements show that. But the Bureau of Meteorology only puts up graphs from 1910 onwards.

Right. So let’s deal with this.

There are a bunch of reasons why the Bureau of Meteorology’s high-quality dataset starts in 1910 and they that have nothing to do with the conspiracy that people like Roberts and Jennifer Marohasy, of the Institute of Public Affairs, like to hint at. You know – hide the data because it doesn’t fit the narrative.

As the BoM explains, around 1910 is when the number of temperature monitoring stations had reached critical mass in Australia. That’s the point when you can start to reliably build a picture of what was going on with temperatures across the continent.

In other words, by 1910 there were enough temperature stations that were widely spread and of sufficient quality containing standardised equipment.

But there is data available for individual areas that go back much further. Contrary to what some might have you believe, the bureau does not hide this data and it has not deleted it. It’s on the website.

But here, for those interested, is what that data looks like. It’s called ACORN – the Australia Climate Observations Network.

A chart from the Bureau of Meteorology showing annual temperatures across the continent since 1910, using the ACORN-SAT dataset.

But what about those earlier temperatures?

A team of climate scientists and researchers at the Berkeley Earth project took all the data available for Australia to do their own reconstruction of average land temperatures going as far back as the 1850s.

Was it warmer in the late 19th century than it is today, as Roberts claimed the data clearly shows? No. It. Was. Not.

But Roberts didn’t only confine his wrongness to Australia. He also had a thoroughly successful crack at being entirely wrong about the United States too.

Roberts said: “In America in the 1930s, the temperature was warmer in the 1930s and 1940s than it is today.”

No. It. Was. Not.

You can check this on the temperature records of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website.

Starting with the hottest single years on a record going back to 1895, the ten warmest years on record for the US are 2012, 2016, 2015, 2006, 1998 and then 1934. This is followed by 1999, 1921, 2001 and 2007.

Berkeley Earth has also analysed the land temperatures for the United States.

When Roberts says it was “warmer in the 1930s”, this is what that looks like.

A Berkeley Earth reconstruction of temperatures across the United States since the 1850s. Clearly, the 1940s were warmer than today. Clearly?

Roberts also claims that the “longest temperature trend” on the recent global record was between the 1940s and 1970s and suggests something is wrong because this also coincided with a rise in emissions of CO2 from industrial activities.  This is a very old talking point that’s used by denialists like Roberts to mislead people.

So I’ll point to a very old explanation of this myth in NewScientist, from 2007.  But in short, that post-war industrial boom also coincided with an awful lot of particulate pollution and some volcanic eruptions that helped to keep temperatures lower.

The problem here is that it’s easy to get distracted by claims about average temperatures, when the aspects of climate change that actually impact people, flora and fauna are things like the temperature extremes, the rising sea levels, the risk of losing coastal cities and the trillions of dollars in assets and the billions of people currently on this coastlines.

The other problem here too is that Senator Roberts has a platform and resources.

He goes around Queensland and goes on the telly and radio pushing this sort of misinformation on the people that he meets.

People building their own platforms, like David Pellowe, also build their own convictions about climate change based on stuff that people like Malcolm Roberts tell them.

People have a right to say what they like. Some people have a duty of care not to be misled.


Author: Graham

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

1 thought on “How climate science denier Senator Malcolm Roberts turned warmer into colder”

  1. There is another important reason, beside sufficient network density, why pre-1910 observations are not used in the national climate network: the process of standardising equipment and thermometer housing was not well advanced. Many sites till used Glaisher screens rather than the Stevenson screen that became the sole housing after the turn of the 19th century. Glaisher screens generated higher readings relative to Stevenson.
    Good discussion here:

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