Posts Tagged Australia

George Brandis and the “settled science” of climate change

George Brandis in Australia's Senate

George Brandis in Australia’s Senate

Australia’s Attorney-General Senator George Brandis gave an interview a couple of weeks ago where he got all upset about people who say the science of climate change is “settled”.

Brandis said people who made this claim were “ignorant” and “medieval” and ventured further into the defence of climate science deniers over a few glasses of who-knows-what with Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the online magazine Spiked ( a new incarnation of a magazine that used to be called Living Marxism) .

The interview was widely reported  - The Guardian, ABC and Sydney Morning Herald all had a crack at the story.

On my Planet Oz Guardian blog, I went to visit Brandis to warn him he might have got his alternate and actual universes transposed.

Brandis had tried to paint climate science deniers as poor sidelined victims at a time when they’re all over Australia’s dominant media outlet, News Corp.

Peter Ellerton, a lecturer in critical thinking at the University of Queensland, put it succinctly when he wrote on The Conversation: “Brandis has confused the right to speak an idea with the non-existent right that the idea be given credibility.”

Ellerton added:

Brandis hopes that our natural repulsion at excluding a particular view from the public arena will be aroused in support of climate science denial. This, however, ignores a vital characteristic of public debate: when ideas suffer body blows of sustained scientific refutation any attempt to maintain their status by appeal to an equal right of hearing is also an attempt to exempt them from evidential requirements and argumentative rigour.

Brandis reserved particular disdain for Senator Penny Wong, who he has apparently crowned the “high priestess of political correctness”.

So I went back to some of the exchanges between Brandis and Wong recorded in the Australian Parliamentary Hansard.  It turns out that nobody should have been surprised at what Brandis had said. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Greg Hunt’s unusually cool US winter that wasn’t

OPPOSITION spokesperson on climate change Greg Hunt has been quoted across the news wires today as saying that while Australia has experienced its hottest summer on record, it’s been unusually cold elsewhere.

The story is based on an interview with ABC Radio, where Mr Hunt is commenting on a new report – The Angry Summer – from Australia’s Climate Commission. The report points out the role that climate change is playing in heatwaves, bushfires and floods.

The report comes just a week after the Bureau of Meteorology declared that Australia’s summer of 2012/2013 was the hottest on record. January 2013 was also Australia’s hottest month on record.

If you listen to the interview, Mr Hunt makes a point of saying that when considering global warming, we need to look at the long term trends rather than pick single events. Quite right.

To demonstrate this, he said that “we have had record cold temperatures in Russia, parts of the United States and China” over a similar period to Australia’s hottest summer on record.

Even in a warming world, you’ll still get record cold events – it’s just that the hot ones are outnumbering the cold ones. In Australia, for example, for every record cold temperature there’s three record hot ones. In the US, a 2009 study found record high temperatures were outstripping record colds by two to one.

I had a quick look at this unusually cold US winter which Greg Hunt alludes to. The government’s National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration has all the figures. Incidentally, January 2013 is the 335th consecutive month where global average temperatures have been above average.

Final rankings for the US winter are not expected to be out for a week or so yet but, so far, the chilly winter turns out not to have been that chilly after all. In fact, the period November 2012 to January 2013 ranks 109th (with a rank of 1 indicating the coldest and 118 the warmest) in a record going back 118 years.

So there you go. As Mr Hunt says, best to check with the experts.

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Give us a break on the climate science denial

Flooding in Bundaberg, January 2013. Credit Instagram/ABC News

“GIVE me a break,” said the premier of the Australian state of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell when asked if recent devastating floods might have something to do with climate change.

“Let’s not turn this near disaster, this episode that has damaged so many properties and other things, farm properties and other things, into some politically correct debate about climate change,” said Mr O’Farrell.

Let’s just all reach for the “pause” button for a second.

Mr O’Farrell now thinks the issue of climate change is one of “political correctness” which sits alongside debates about the appropriate language to describe homosexuals or whether Christmas trees might offend one religious group above another.

Not to degrade those important debates, but political correctness doesn’t flood thousands of people’s homes, threaten water and food supplies or machine-gun the economy leaving a scattering of billion dollar-sized bullet holes.

The flooding concentrated in Queensland has so far killed six people, devastated several towns and cities and thousands of people’s homes, in particular in Bundaberg, and sparked food supply fears after crop damage.

The disaster has come just weeks after the longest and most widespread extreme heatwave in Australia’s recorded history, causing life and livelihood-threatening bush fires. In all likelihood, January 2013 will turn out to be Australia’s hottest ever month on record. Queensland still remembers the 2011 floods which put a dent in the country’s GDP of an estimated $30 billion.

Mr O’Farrell’s fellow Liberal, Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott, was similarly dismissive of climate change when he was asked by a journalist if he thought that climate change had played any role in the recent floods. He broadened his answer to include the role of climate change in droughts and fires.

“Droughts, fires, floods have been a part of this country’s experience since records were kept,” Mr Abbott said. “Now, I think that climate change is real and humanity does make a contribution and we must have a strong and effective policy to deal with it, but I don’t think anyone could credibly say that this kind of thing has only happened since man made carbon dioxide increases started.” Read the rest of this entry »
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