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Maurice Newman’s flight of climate denialist fantasy takes off from Cobar Airport

Maurice Newman

Maurice Newman, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pick as chairman of his business advisory panel,  is back with yet more conspiratorial climate science denial in The Australian.

Where else?

It’s full of the usual stuff about climate change zealots, global warming having stopped (it hasn’t) and how sceptics are being victimised.

But I just want to look at one point Maurice Newman makes.

In the op-ed, he says this:

We learn from a voluntary independent auditor, Ken Stewart, that after analysing 84 out of 104 Bureau of Meteorology sites, the effect of adjustments made to create the official Australian temper­ature record is an increase in the warming trend for minima of 66.6 per cent and 13 per cent for maxima… The data included 30 years of temperatures from Cobar airport from 1962, despite it not opening until 1993. Always, the trend is to warming.

The official Australia temperature record that Newman is referring to is called ACORN-SAT  - it stands for the Australian Climate Observations Reference Network and is maintained and managed by the Bureau of Meteorology.

When Newman says “the data included 30 years of temperatures from Cobar airport” it can’t have, because the Cobar Airport monitoring station is not part of ACORN-SAT as anyone armed with an internet search engine can find out.

The BoM even has a document describing each of the sites that make up ACORN-SAT. The document describes the site at Cobar included in the ACORN-SAT.

Easy mistake to make though, no, if you’re not intimate with this particular central New South Wales town ? Not really. BoM says in the document:

There is a separate site (048237) at the airport which is not used in ACORN-SAT.

Oops.

Elsewhere in Newman’s op-ed he also flails at people who “resort to authority” and “personal abuse”.

Newman then resorts to the authority of a scientist who claims there’s more evidence for creationism than there is for evolution and who says people who used the term “denier” to describe people who deny science should themselves be described as “global warming Nazis“.

Maybe instead Newman could have resorted to the authority of the BoM who could at least have pointed him at the intertubes?

 

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Cut and paste qualifiers for your climate and science stories

The ABC reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Indonesians that human-caused climate change could threaten their “entire way of life”.

Kerry called the science “unequivocal” and told the audience: ”We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists … and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact.”

This statement struck me to be a little ironic, given that the ABC story also contained this sentence:

Despite evidence that human activities that emit carbon dioxide contribute to climate change, some sceptics believe a rise in global temperatures is due to natural variability or other non-human factors.

Aside from pointing out that those “sceptics” aren’t really sceptics, I wonder for how long editors will continue to think that the presence of extreme fringe beliefs backed by hunches and conspiracy theories deserve the insertion of little qualifiers in stories.

Despite overwhelming evidence that something is happening, there are some people who think it isn’t and so until every last corner of the internet has been scoured for contrarians we’ll continue to point out that those people are still around.

I wonder too why such qualifiers are not always  extended to other stories?  I mean, where would you stop? I’ve fashioned a few other examples which editors can feel free to cut and paste as they wish.

Despite evidence that the Earth is basically a sphere, some sceptics believe that the globe is either flat or some other shape because if the Earth really is spinning, how come centrifugal force hasn’t thrown us all off into outer space, eh?

Despite evidence that Santa Claus isn’t real, there are some people who believe that he absolutely is because he, like, so is, because they get presents under the tree once a year and the fact we live in a seventh floor flat with no chimney doesn’t matter because he SO has a magic key that lets you get through any door. And he can stop time.

Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines reduce the prevalence of a number of very nasty diseases, some people think that all those diseases mystically went away and so it’s OK not to subject their children to injections, which hurt a bit and are therefore cruel.

Despite evidence that human activities that emit carbon dioxide contribute to climate change, some sceptics believe that the earth’s climate is controlled by god or that it has something to do with magnetism.

Despite evidence that smoking causes cancer and heart disease, some sceptics believe there is evidence that people have lived to be really really old after smoking five packs a day for sodding decades – just ask my wheezy Uncle Dave about this.

Despite evidence that animals and plants have evolved over hundreds of millions of years, some sceptics think that a god put them there and that, in any case, how can they have evolved over millions of years when the Earth is only a few thousands years old, which is totally science.

Despite evidence that massive oil slicks can be damaging to birds, some sceptics believe the birds have doused themselves in crude through choice as they go through a dark and introspective “Emo” phase.

Despite evidence that astrology lacks any basic mechanism, some people think that today is their day to shine, just be careful not to let the opportunity drift away after that recent run of bad luck. Today’s fate colour is: mauve.

Despite evidence that rapid melting of ice sheets contributes to rising sea levels, some sceptics believe they are not melting and even if they are, this effect can be offset by simply asking people to build more swimming pools to store the extra water in.

Despite evidence that NASA did land a few dudes on the moon once, some sceptics believe the whole shebang was a hoax cooked up in a studio. And while we’re at it, Elvis is so alive.

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Future of Science Journalism

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The 2014 Australian Science Communicators Conference. From left, Ian Townsend, Leigh Dayton, me, Jenni Metcalfe: Picture courtesy of Corey Watts

I TOOK part in a cracking panel discussion earlier this month at the 2014 Australian Science Communicators national conference in Brisbane.

I joined former science editor on The Australian, Leigh Dayton, ABC Background Briefing’s Ian Townsend and Jenni Metcalfe, of science communication agency Econnect , for a chat/argument about the future of science journalism.

ABC Radio National host Natasha Mitchell was the moderator.

You can’t argue that mainstream journalism is going through a bit of a crisis at the moment – or at least the way its funded is.

As newsrooms shrink, so do the number of specialist journalists.  It leaves a lovely gaping hole ripe for exploitation by PR, think tanks and the like.

I shared my thoughts on the challenges journalists face when scientific issues like climate change become politicised and how just being a conduit for the opinions of others doesn’t always cut it.

Listen to the whole metaphorical shooting match below and, below that, a Storify of reaction to the panel.

Thanks to Bianca Nogrady and Sarah Keenihan for putting the panel together. Read the rest of this entry »

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Video charts the use of doubt as a product in smoking and climate science denial

WHEN tobacco companies began to understand that science linking tobacco smoking to lung cancer could have an impact on their industry profits, they began to produce another product – doubt.

Spreading doubt about the science could water-down public concern, cut the motivation to act and reduce the risk of policies that affect your bottom line.

Video blogger and journalist Peter Sinclair – of Climate Crock of the Week fame – has put together this new video showing the at times startling similarities between the denial of the health impacts from smoking and the denial of the science of human-caused climate change.

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Top physicist accuses The Australian newspaper of misrepresenting his climate change views

Professor Richard Muller – fair to say he’s not happy with a recent column in The Australian that misrepresented his views on climate chnage

IN a column this week in The Australian, writer Gary Johns tried to argue that the science of human-caused climate change was “contentious”, that climate change might not be that bad and that we shouldn’t bother to cut down on emissions.

The Australian newspaper has a record for favouring climate science denialism and contrarianism above genuine expertise.

Columns and coverage like this come along in the pages of the Rupert Murdoch-owned press with such regularity that you might think [blush] that they’ve got some kind of an agenda. Honestly, you could really think that.

In the latest column – “Let’s get realistic about reducing carbon emissions” – Johns writes approvingly of a project called the Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) while finding disparaging remarks about the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Johns doesn’t mention that the NIPCC is run by the fossil-fuel funded Heartland Institute in the United States, which advocates free market ideology within which businesses should be allowed to do pretty much whatever they like, such as using the atmosphere as a free waste dump.

But in one section of Johns’ column, he quotes and paraphrases Professor Richard Muller, a respected American physicist who was once sceptical of human-caused climate change.

As reported in The Guardian and elsewhere, a couple of years ago Muller led a team based at the University of California which analysed more than 14 million temperature readings from 44,455 measuring sites from around the world going back to the mid 18th century.

Professor Muller found the world had warmed by 1.5C in the last 50 years and that burning fossil fuels and other human industrial processes were “almost entirely” the cause.

I emailed Professor Muller about the column to ask if he felt his words had been fairly represented.

First, I asked Professor Muller about this section of the column. Read the rest of this entry »

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The undiscerning climate bookshelf

Book shelf displaying climate change books at Dymocks book store

Climate sceptic book Taxing Air coming to an undiscerning book store near you

SHELVES in popular book stores can be undiscerning little buggers, as can the book stores themselves.

For example, I recently had cause to wander through the tightly-bound and bulging aisles of my local Dymocks book store. They have some really quite “special” offerings both online and in-store.

Even though we essentially know that astrology is, for all intents and purposes, basically b******s, I can report that the paperback version of “Practical Astrology” is “in stock”.

Failing that, there’s also “Homeopathy for your Cat” within the pages of which you can find out how magic water can cure your ginger’s urinary tract issue.

Are you a book shopping parent who has “wished for a handbook on each child”? Well tough, because Dymocks has sold out of “Homeopathy and Your Child” so you’ll have to work out your kid’s “physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs” some other way (by the way, I’m not singling out Dymocks here – most of the big high street book sellers also hawk similar enlightenment-crushing garbage).

And there are the books on climate change.

Without any prior knowledge, it’s easy to see how the average punter might be easily fooled by the line-up of  books cosying-up in Dymocks and elsewhere. As you can see by the image above, there’s some excellent stuff on offer from well credentialed authors and scientists.

There’s What We Know About Climate Change by MIT Professor of Atmospheric Science Kerry Emanuel. Just beneath, is The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the front lines from Professor Michael Mann, director of Earth System Science at Penn State University, also in the US.

And sharing the same shelf space, is Taxing Air written by Dr Bob Carter, an Australian geologist and advisor to about a dozen climate science denial organisations around the world, and John Spooner, a cartoonist for The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia.

Bob Carter’s fringe views on climate change (it’s all natural) make him a favourite of fossil fuel-funded propaganda unit the Heartland Institute and many, many other groups with similarly dismissive views on human-caused climate change and its risks.

Carter was recently let go by James Cook University in Queensland, where he had been an unpaid adjunct professor for over a decade, because he wasn’t pulling his weight.

Carter hinted – and his supporters screamed – that he had been booted out because he was a climate sceptic. I covered that case for DeSmogBlog and also summarised this and other recent goings on for the ABC Science Show.

But back to Taxing Air, which is yet another climate sceptic book with strong links to a conservative “think tank” – in this case, the Institute for Public Affairs, where Dr Carter is the Science Policy Advisor.

The IPA paid for copies to be sent out to Australian members of parliament and has also hosted a launch event for the book. Research has found that almost four out of five climate sceptic books published since the early 80s have links to conservative think tanks.

Dr Carter, it should be noted, has only written one scientific paper on atmospheric climate change, which claimed – wrongly as it turned out – to have found that recent global warming was down to natural cycles of water temperatures in the Pacific. One group of leading climate scientists who analysed carter’s paper concluded that the conclusions he and his co-authors drew were “not supported by their analysis or any physical theory presented in their paper”.

But is Taxing Air any good? Well, I have a copy which I’m still trudging through (I may not get to the end). But one academic who has finished it is Australian Ian Enting, and he is none too impressed. Mathematical physicist Enting (author of the Australian Mathematical Scences Institute book Twisted: The distorted mathematics of greenhouse denialworked at Australia’s leading science agency, the CSIRO, for 24 years in atmospheric research and modelling of the global carbon cycle.

Enting has analysed the book, describing it as a “polemic” characterised by “half-truths and slanted misrepresentation” and “appalling hypocrisy”.

At one point, Enting’s document notes how one chart  in Taxing Air is taken from a leaked draft of the not-yet-published United Nations IPCC Assessment Report 5 (due out in two weeks).

The chart has been altered, Enting’s document notes, removing a shaded area that shows the uncertainty range which, had it been left in, s

Cover of Killing the Earth to Save It by James Delingpole

hows how climate models agree with the observations within the range of uncertainty. Enting finds dozens of other examples like this.

But my real reason for going into the Brisbane Dymocks store was to hunt out a copy of Killing the Earth To Save It, written by UK-based climate science denialist and wind-farm hater James Delingpole.

In the UK, it was published under the name Watermelons. There was something remarkable about the book which I had read and was keen to confirm.

The book was published by Connor Court, which has published several other climate sceptic books. The editorial board of Connor Court also includes the IPA executive director John Roskam.

The IPA also paid for Delingpole to tour Australia to promote his book in September 2012 – a favour which he returned by running a public appeal for people to donate cash to the Melbourne-based group, which doesn’t reveal its funders but has run a long campaign of climate misinformation.

But none of these are the “remarkable thing” I referred to earlier.

The remarkable thing was an entry in Chapter 8 – “Welcome To The New World Order”. Delingpole continues to spruik on his Daily Telegraph blog, most recently earlier this week. Here’s what Delingpole says on page 174 of my newly purchased copy:

Probably the best analysis of the Club of Rome’s tangible effects on global environmental policy comes courtesy of a website called “The Green Agenda”:

While researching [...] and during my academic studies, I have come across many references to the Club of Rome (CoR), and reports produced by them. Initially I assumed that they were just another high-level environmental think-tank and dismissed the conspiracy theories found on many website claiming that the CoR is a group of global elitists attempting to impose some kind of one world government. I am not a conspiratorial person by nature and was faced with a dilemma when I first read their reports. But it’s all there – in black and white.

Indeed

So what exactly is “The Green Agenda” which Delingpole tells his readers is offering this leading analysis? Here’s the source of the quote, on the website “The Green Agenda”. And who runs “The Green Agenda”? It is a sister site of The Watchman’s Post - which describes itself as a “Christian/ Messianic  End Time Messenger!” based in New Zealand.

That’s right. Delingpole’s “analysis” of a jumped-up conspiracy theory about plans for a one world government come direct from a group of Christian fundamentalists who preach about second comings and “end times”. The watchman’s website details the coming of an “anti-Christ”, “times of distress and tribulation” and “Triads of evil”.

Here’s a taster:

True Christians will be seen at best as ‘insane’ and at worst as worthy of elimination. However, note; the period being introduced at that time and rightly called the ‘Time of Tribulation’ will quickly degenerate into a terrible time of trouble for almost everyone in the whole world, not just believers in Jesus. [We will explain more, later!] We can add with conviction, that we believe the ‘Time of God’s judgmental anger’ is a separate period of time as indicated by the pouring out of the ‘Bowls of Wrath’ when all true Believers will be sovereignly protected! [We will explain later.]

Perhaps it might be worth checking a few more of Delingpole’s sources in “Killing the earth to Save It” which is described by News Corp. columnist Andrew Bolt on the back cover as “wonderful” with “devastating facts and lacerating anecdotes”.

Not just devastating and lacerating, but potentially world ending – apparently – just not in the way Bolt and Delingpole might have expected.

Oh, did I say that Killing the World To Save It and Taxing Air are available in “all good bookshops”?

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New blog Planet Oz gets a slot on The Guardian

YOU might have seen or even read already that I’ve got a new blogging gig with The Guardian.

As you can see it features a lovely little banner and a picture of me which, I’m being told repeatedly, looks like it was taken by a police officer shortly before  charges were laid.

Anyway, the blog is called Planet Oz and it has a little homepage and RSS feed all of its own in the maelstrom of information that is The Guardian’s web-beast. There are already a couple of posts for you to chew over.

One – “How climate scientists are being framed” – looked at how some climate science mangling columnists and conservative opinistamakerpeople are trying in their writings to get us to associate climate scientists with things like sick children and totalitarian regimes. I sneaked onto the site’s front page with that one.

Another post – “Great Barrier Reef is at risk even if it doesn’t make Unesco’s danger list” – reviewed some of the recent research on the future of the reef. I argued that even if the United Nations does put it on its World Heritage “danger list” as it is threatening to do, the evidence suggests the reef is still facing a pretty dire future.

I’ll be hoping to cover a whole bunch of issues on the blog related to climate change, climate science denial, the environment, energy, sustainability and other such stuff. I’m still freelance so I’ll keep contributing to DeSmogBlog and hopefully I can keep writing for places like Green Lifestyle magazine and ABC Environment.

Planet Oz is part of a network of environment blogs which The Guardian has created in the mould of its science blog network project. In the same way that the science bloggers can write about “what they want, when they want” – within the boundaries of The Guardian’s own Editorial Guidelines – the environment bloggers should be given the same freedom once we’ve got our heads around the content management system and how not to fill our posts with garbled html code and pictures that don’t fit the screen.

Despite some confusion, Planet Oz and the blog network is separate from the approaching launch of Guardian Australia (hopefully though the very nice people at Guardian Australia will feature the posts).

The venture was actually announced back in December 2012 and I’m told about 800 people applied to be environment bloggers. Before the launch, some of the prospective bloggers had a little try out. I wrote about Australia’s love of exporting fossil fuels.

There are some cracking blogs already launched as part of the network and I’m kinda chuffed to be in their company. There’s Nafeez Ahmed’s Earth Insight, Jenni Duggan’s China’s Choice, John Abrahan and Dana Nuccitelli’s Climate Consensus – the 97%, Kavitha Rao’s Terra India, Canadian journalist Martin Lukacs’ True North, Emma Bryce’s World On A Plate and Africa Wild by Paula Kahumba. I think there are one or two more still to launch (I’ll add them here when I get them). UPDATE: Also now launched, fellow Aussie Alexander White’s Southern Crossroads, Peru-based David Hill’s Andes To The Amazon and  New York-based Sputh African film maker Adam Welz’s Nature Up.

Please go off and check them all out and share the posts if you like them. Even if you don’t like them, share them anyway and keep the comment threads healthy.

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The Australian publishes James Delingpole’s call for climate “alarmists” to face court with power to issue death sentence

James Delingpole

I IMAGINE only a small percentage of people reading this have had any journalism training, but don’t let that stop you from pondering the following ethical question.

If you read a newspaper story that included a direct quote from someone – let’s say, for instance, UK climate scientist Dr David Viner – would it be acceptable to put quotation marks on the headline of that story and claim it was a quote from Dr Viner? You can have a minute to think about it.

It might help you to know that the headline was not written by the reporter who interviewed Dr Viner and wrote the story, and certainly not by Dr Viner himself. In short, a third person – a sub-editor – wrote the headline.

You don’t need a minute? Of course not: it would be unprofessional, unethical and factually wrong to pass off a sub-editor’s made-up words as Dr Viner’s.

The Australian newspaper has just published a column from UK-based climate science mangler and anti-wind farm activist James Delingpole that tries to argue that Australia’s recent unprecedented heatwave and hottest month on record wasn’t all that hot and that global warming “alarmists” should be answering to a court with the power to issue a death sentence (no, I don’t exaggerate, but we’ll get to that at the end).

In the story, Delingpole says that Dr Viner had “famously declared” in 2000 that “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”.

But here’s the thing. Dr Viner never did utter those words. He was indeed quoted in a story in the UK’s The Independent newspaper which carried the headline “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”. But the headline was a gross over-statement: the first paragraph makes the  far more modest claim that a trend to warmer winters meant that  “snow is starting to disappear from our lives”.

The reporter, Charles Onians, quoted Dr Viner as saying that within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. Note the absence of quote marks on the time frame being within a few years – they were Onians’s words, just as the headline was the sub-editor’s.

So Dr Viner’s actual prediction was that at some point in the future snow could become “a very rare and exciting event”. As well, the story paraphrases him as adding an important qualifier – that heavy snow will return occasionally and catch people unprepared. But Delingpole leaves this bit out.

Delingpole then uses the non-quote that Dr Viner didn’t say as a launchpad to ridicule him. “Viner has since become a legend in his own lunchtime, frequently quoted on the internet, sometimes having his name joshingly used as a synonym for snow. This isn’t because he got his prediction right, of course. It’s because, like Flannery, he got it so spectacularly, hilariously, hopelessly wrong.”

Hopelessly wrong, Mr Delingpole? What, like hopelessly attributing a quote to someone who never said it?

Delingpole is of course “reporting” from an unseasonably cold and recently snowbound United Kingdom, which the BBC reports has just experienced its second coldest March since records began.

Scientists are now reporting a link between the loss of sea ice in the Arctic – driven by human-caused climate change – and cold snaps in the northern hemisphere like the one experienced by the UK. A recent scientific paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explained the link.

Delingpole also says in the column that Australia’s recent record-breaking summer heatwave wasn’t that hot. “The thermometers were higher when the First Fleet arrived in the Sydney summer of 1790-91,” writes Delingpole, presumably having travelled back in time to check that the First Fleet thermometer was positioned within something resembling a Stevenson screen to ensure sunlight or incorrect air flow didn’t corrupt the reading.

It’s possible that Delingpole based his statement from this guest blog post by Australian MP Craig Kelly on Watts Up With That, where Kelly wrote that on December 27th 1790 one of these First Fleet thermometers near Observatory Hill in Sydney recorded a temperature of 42.8C.

It’s a shame that Delingpole didn’t check this figure. Four days after Kelly wrote that story, Sydney recorded its hottest day ever with 45.8C at Observatory Hill on 18 January – a full three degrees hotter than Kelly’s favoured First Fleet thermometer. Even The Australian reported it.

But in any case, Australia’s recent record breaking heatwave wasn’t a heatwave confined to one temperature reading in one place. As a Bureau of Meteorology special climate statement pointed out, “maximum temperatures over the period 1–18 January have been 6 °C or more above normal over a wide area of interior central and southern Australia and 45 °C has been reached at least once during the event over 46.9 per cent of Australia.”

You might think that The Australian would be wary about using Delingpole, after a recent Australian Press Council upheld a complaint about one of his previous contributions to Australia’s only national newspaper.

In that story in May last year, Delingpole quoted an un-named sheep farmer as saying that the wind farm industry  was ”bloody well near a pedophile ring. They’re f . . king our families and knowingly doing so”.

The APC said this was “highly offensive” and “the level of offensiveness is so high that it outweighs the very strong public interest in freedom of speech”.

But rather than heed the blunt-toothed press council’s finding, Delingpole was given more space by The Australian to respond. He wrote: “I stand by every word of the piece – especially the bit about pedophiles. I would concede that the analogy may be somewhat offensive to the pedophile community.”

How could even Delingpole top this statement for offensiveness?  He has a prime contender at the bottom of his most recent column, where he writes: “The climate alarmist industry has some very tough questions to answer: preferably in the defendant’s dock in a court of law, before a judge wearing a black cap.”

To those not au fait with the traditions of the English courts, black caps were only worn by judges when handing out death sentences.

By continuing to publish such low-grade and offensive polemics, in my view the only things hanging limp from the gallows are The Australian‘s credibility on climate change and its professional standards.

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Murdering a scientific paper on sea-level rise – the Graham Lloyd way

UNRAVELLING the causes of rising sea-levels across the globe is a little like one of those Agatha Christie TV murder whodunnits that you might have sat through while your Sunday lunch disappated through your system.

There are all sorts of co-conspirators that come together in the plot that’s causing sea levels to rise.

There’s thermal expansion of the oceans – which basically means as the oceans warm up the body of water gets larger and pushes higher. Then there’s water from melting glaciers and water melting from ice-sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.

There are also events that have a mild cooling effect on the climate, such as volcanic eruptions and the amount of energy coming from the sun as it moves through its cycles.

But according to The Australian newspaper, a new piece of research on sea levels “has found no link to global warming and no increase in the rate of glacier melt over the past 100 years”.  Now that seems to be pretty categorical doesn’t it?  Just in case you weren’t sure, the headline states even more clearly “Sea rise ‘not linked to warming’, says report

The Australian’s environment editor Graham Lloyd reports on a paper published in the Journal of Climate and points out that one of the globe’s leading expert on sea level rise, Dr John Church, is a co-author. This lends some degree of credibility to the paper.

Strangely, The Australian doesn’t quote Church, which is perhaps just as well given that he told reporters this morning that Lloyd’s story was misleading. “Sea level clearly is linked to climate change, it clearly is linked to greenhouse gases and that was in the paper quoted by The Australian. The quote is, I am sorry, inaccurate,” The Conversation reports.

Now we could simply leave it there, with Lloyd hoisted on his own petard. But let’s have a look at how The Australian has misinterpreted – or perhaps even misrepresented – what the paper, published in November last year, actually says about the role of humans in rising sea levels and how it in no way concludes what Lloyd says it concludes.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Greenhouse gas theory disproved with two fish boxes and a roll of cling film

Cling film – useful for keeping food fresh and debunking climate change, apparently

SOMETIMES in the world of climate science “scepticism”, things can become a little surreal. A bit odd, if you will, to the point where you need to inflict a sharp pain upon your person to confirm you’ve not drifted off into an alternate reality.

Like the time when TV station Channel Seven, for example, chose a “climate expert” who, as it later turned out, had once written a book called “Pawmistry” describing how reading your cat’s paws could reveal their unique character.

Or the time when a Christian fundamentalist claimed the Victorian bushfires were his god’s revenge for the state’s “incendiary abortion laws which decimate life in the womb”.

Then there was the time when US free market think-tank the Heartland Institute said that “the people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

To me, the odd thing about these instances is not that they actually happened or that there are people with enough arrogance and ideology to believe their own fantasies. What’s odd, is that people in positions of influence still associate themselves with them.

Ken Ring, the “pawmistry” guy, still gets slots on Channel Seven. He was on again just a couple of months ago.

The fundamentalist Christian Pastor Daniel Nalliah recently hosted climate science denier extraordinaire Lord Christopher Monckton, who is also favoured by the world’s richest woman Gina Rinehart.

The Heartland Institute may have paid the price for its billboard campaign comparing acceptance of climate science to the unabomber, but it didn’t stop Institute of Public Affairs science fellow Professor Bob Carter concluding the campaign was a good idea.

And so with all this in mind, we come to the latest episode where Queensland’s currently in-power Liberal-National Party has accepted a motion that climate science shouldn’t be taught in schools. The proposer of the motion, which was accepted unanimously (but may not be taken up by the parliamentary wing of the party), is a Dr Richard Pearson, from Noosa.

It now appears that Dr Pearson has been running his own climate science experiments at home, in his kitchen, with results that some may find remarkable. Armed only with thermometers, two fish cooler boxes and a roll of cling film, Dr Pearson believes he may have disproved the greenhouse effect (you may now pinch yourself).

We know this becuase he wrote about his experiment on the website of the climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement – patron, radio presenter Alan Jones. Dr Pearson’s conclusion?

 The Greenhouse Effect theory is not confirmed by this experiment and may be disproved by it.

Now, even though the notion that a guy in his kitchen in Noosa armed with two fish cooler boxes and a roll of cling film could single-handedly disprove the greenhouse theory may seem a little fanciful (because I acknowledge that to some it may), I thought I’d waste the time of an actual atmospheric scientist.

Because after all, I don’t presume to be a scientist even though I did once make one of those volcanoes from bicarb of soda, vinegar and food colouring. My experiment was a success and also falsified the outrageous claim that my mum’s tablecloth was “stainless”.

I guess though that there’s an extraordinarily slim chance that a Nobel prize could be winging its way to Dr Pearson’s residence (he could put it in his fish cooler box for safe keeping). So I asked Professor Steven Sherwood at the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre to review Dr Pearson’s experiment. This is his response. Settle in.

This request falls at an interesting time, as I just finished lecturing about the greenhouse effect to students who have no background in science  - they’re mostly arts majors.  At this point I would expect – or hope – these students have sufficient understanding to see why this “experiment” by Dr. Pearson did not work.  In fact I may use this as a test question or follow-up question to see if they understood the lecture.  Also, if Dr. Pearson would spend even one hour studying the greenhouse effect he would learn why this test does not work.

The greenhouse effect is determined by the difference in temperature between the added infrared absorber (in this case, CO2) and the surface.  Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere radiate to space at an average temperature of about 250K (-23C).  It is because they are so cold that they exert a greenhouse effect.  Absorbers at temperatures matching those of the surface would exert no greenhouse effect.

In his film-covered boxes, the temperature is essentially uniform.  Thus there is no greenhouse effect, no matter what substance he puts into the box.  Incidentally for a number of years I had students build such boxes(not filled with CO2) and they can be a good way to learn about radiation — for example, if he places this (air-filled) box outside at night he will see that the temperature falls below the surface temperature.  This is because of emission of infrared radiation which is not balanced by sunlight.

In fact, Dr. Pearson could mimic the true greenhouse effect if he could build a several-layer system and put CO2 in the top layer, but thermally insulate it from the lower layer.  This would be quite a bit more difficult to build, and the performance could be severely compromised by diffusion of heat within the apparatus and to the outside, but in principle could begin to reveal the greenhouse effect.

By the way, the greenhouse trapping of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is not a theory as Pearson falsely claims but is directly observed by satellites.  It is an observed fact, and the warming follows from the principle of conservation of energy, which is as close to observed fact as one gets with theories in physics.

So there you go.  If only Dr Pearson had checked with an actual expert in atmospheric physics, then he could have saved himself some time and the cost of some Glad Wrap.

If you bother to read Dr Pearson’s “experiment” then it could sound vaguely plausible to non-experts, such as the vast majority of the general public. At the end of his experiment, Dr Pearson recounts how his daughter had questioned how a man with cling film could “disprove a theory that hundreds of climate scientists around the world say is true”. “That my darling is science”, was Dr Pearson’s response. Is it really?

“When Dr. Pearson says, “that’s science,” he is I am afraid kidding himself,” adds Professor Sherwood. “The way a real scientist interprets an observation is to write down the equations governing the system.  This is what my students have done.  They are not hard, and for the type of system Dr Pearson is putting together do not involve, for example, calculus – only the ability to solve a coupled system of linear equations.  Only then do you know whether you are interpreting it correctly.”

Professor Matthew England, of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre and also chairman of the Australian Climate Commission’s science advisory panel, says the motion which Dr Pearson managed to get passed at the LNP’s state conference could have broad ramifications, if only for the state’s reputation.

If the proposal to remove greenhouse science from the school curriculum is enacted, Queensland’s education system will become an international joke overnight.  Basic greenhouse gas physics has been established with around 200 years of scientific progress – any move to muzzle climate science facts from being taught at schools will be condemned as world’s worst practice in scientific education.
So if the Queensland Education Minister John Paul Langbroek does act on the motion from his party, then Prof England says the  state will be a laughing stock.
Until then, we’ll just have to settle for the majority of the members of the LNP.
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