The environmental Nazi hunter

This post originally appeared on The Drum.

As a sort of “grand finale” to a presentation at a conference earlier this month in Los Angeles, climate “sceptic” Lord Christopher Monckton displayed on the giant conference screen a large Nazi swastika next to a quote from Adolf Hitler.

A few seconds later came another quote, next to another large swastika – an emblem still offensive to most people seven decades after the end of WWII.

The quote this time was from Australia’s climate change advisor Professor Ross Garnaut, which suggested that “on a balance of probabilities, the mainstream science is right” on human-caused climate change.

Professor Garnaut’s opinion was, according to the presiding hereditary peer, a “fascist point of view”. This paranoia sits beside Lord Monckton’s regularly expressed view that environmentalists are communists in disguise.

The conference was organised by the American Freedom Alliance, a think-tank which is currently involved in a long-running legal battle with a California science education centre. The AFA wanted to screen a documentary which featured scientists attacking Darwin’s theory of evolution in favour of intelligent design, but the education centre cancelled the screening. Continue reading “The environmental Nazi hunter”

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Mining millionaires who supported Monckton’s climate change denial

This post originally appeared on The Drum.

DENIAL of the seriousness of human-caused climate change or the reliability of the science comes in many guises but none are more eccentric, more rhetorical or more consistently wrong than that manifested in the human form of Lord Christopher Monckton.

English hereditary peer Lord Monckton, the Third Viscount of Brenchley, is one of the world’s most charismatic and omnipresent climate change deniers, despite having no science qualifications. He’s coming to Australia. Again.

Among other things, Lord Monckton argues that attempts by Governments and the United Nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from deforestation and burning fossil fuels are part of a conspiracy to install a world government. In Lord Monckton’s eyes, it’s all a socialist plot. Climate change is not caused by burning fossil fuels and, even if it was, the impact is negligible. No action is required.

Over the last few years as he has toured Australia, the UK and America, working climate scientists have examined and roundly debunked his unique interpretation of climate change science. The Australian science-based blog Skeptical Science currently lists some 75 “Monckton Myths“- each showing how Lord Monckton has misrepresented, misunderstood or misinterpreted the peer-reviewed science.

But as Lord Monckton’s credibility among working climate scientists continues to hover somewhere between zero and the negatives, plans are afoot to fly him to Australia for a repeat of his 2010 nationwide speaking tour, which received much media attention.

In a barely disguised fundraising advertisement, journalist James Massola wrote in his Capital Circle column for The Australian earlier this week how “funds are needed” to finance the tour. Massola helpfully linked to a website with account details for people to deposit money.

But even before the tour’s schedule is established, Lord Monckton has secured his first engagement with a spot at the annual convention of the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies in Perth at the end of June. His presentation is titled “Maths Lessons for Climate-Crazed Lawmakers”.

But support for Lord Monckton’s unique brand of climate denial is nothing new for the Australian mining community. At key stages in Lord Monckton’s 2010 tour of Australia, wealthy and respected mining figures were there to lend a hand, provide a forum and, in some cases, to give cash support. Continue reading “Mining millionaires who supported Monckton’s climate change denial”

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Cardinal Pell’s mine of climate misinformation

THE director of Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology Dr Greg Ayers must surely possess the patience of a saint or, if you don’t believe in saints, then the patience of my wife who has been waiting for me to fix the hole in the bathroom ceiling for well over three years.

Dr Ayers has finally gained some closure on an issue concerning Cardinal George Pell, the head of the Catholic church in Australia who while believing in saints, doesn’t believe in human-caused climate change.

Dr Ayer’s unloaded his frustrations on a senate estimates committee this week, saying he believed Cardinal Pell had been “misled” by a book called Heaven + Earth, written by Australian climate sceptic and mining director Professor Ian Plimer.

Back in October last year, the Senate’s Environment and Communications Legislation Committee agreed to table a letter from Cardinal Pell which quoted heavily from Heaven + Earth to claim there were “good reasons for doubting that carbon dioxide causes warmer temperatures”.

After an early battle with Senator Ian McDonald, who didn’t want to give Dr Ayers time to respond, the bureau’s director finally managed to get his frustrations off his chest and onto the Hansard record. Dr Ayers’ explained how Cardinal Pell’s views on climate change were not only unsupported by the science but in some cases directly contradicted some of its core understandings. For example, he pointed out that Cardinal Pell had miraculously given nitrogen a new physical property.

At one stage [Cardinal Pell] lists greenhouse gases. Included in the list is the gas nitrogen. That is not a greenhouse gas; it is 78 per cent of the atmosphere. You cannot have people out there telling the public that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas, because it is not.

You can read Dr Ayers’ very full response to Cardinal Pell on Hansard here. The fact that Dr Ayers’ response is now there and that I can now point to it, illustrates why he argued so forcefully to be allowed to have his views put on record in the first place.

But as well as being a correction to the cardinal, Dr Ayers’ also critiqued the book which Cardinal Pell had drawn from (Professor Plimer, look away now).

The cardinal I do not anticipate would be an expert in these fields of science, so he has quoted very heavily from this book and the book is, frankly, misleading to all Australians in terms of what it represents.

Why would I say this book is not science? It is not me who says it so much, although I have read it myself; it has been widely reviewed by people in the scientific arena and it has been very heavily criticised for not presenting science but presenting a polemic from one individual. It has not been scientifically peer reviewed.

Dr Ayers’ goes on to describe in detail the great many scientific errors in Professor Plimer’s book. As I’ve personally pointed out many times – including during a face-to-face debate in Brisbane in 2009 – Professor Plimer has never written a peer-reviewed paper on climate change in his life.

Ian Plimer

But what neither Cardinal Pell nor Dr Ayers nor the media coverage has pointed out, is Professor Plimer’s role as a director and chairman with several mining companies, an occupation which he has recently expanded. These same energy-intensive operations are those which would be hardest hit under any plans to price carbon.

Professor Plimer has long-standing roles as a non-executive director with Australia-based mining companies Ivanhoe Australia and CBH Resources, which mainly dig up silver, gold, lead.copper, zinc and other minerals. Professor Plimer is shown in company reports to have earned about $270,000 from Ivanhoe in the last two years. He earned more than $300,000 from CBH Resources over the same period. He is also a director of UK-listed Kefi Minerals, where he recently disposed of 2,400,000 shares worth about $350,000. He has recently taken on the role as chairman of an unlisted tin mining company, called TNT Limited.

Professor Plimer is also a director of Ormil Energy, which is currently engaged in a $3.2 million commitment to investigate coal seam gas and coal mine gas in the Sydney basin, pending government approvals.

But back to Dr Ayers and the senate estimates hearing, where Nationals Senator Ron Boswell pleaded unsuccessfully that Professor Plimer should also be allowed to appear to answer the criticism.

Senator Boswell should already have been well aware of the scathing criticisms of Heaven + Earth, because he launched that very same book in May 2009, a good two weeks after a swathe of scientists had attacked its integrity.

Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald, who is also sceptical of human-caused climate change, was pressing for Professor Plimer’s views to be placed on the record and encouraged Ayers to “go and listen to Professor Carter some day” referring to Professor Bob Carter, another of Australia’s confirmed sceptics of human caused climate change.

Senator Macdonald also suggested he would be tabling an article which recorded how the US house of representatives had recently voted to pull all funding to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Given that the oil and gas industries have been found to have donated more than US$21 million to the current US Congress, should we be surprised that it has now decided to pull the US$2.3 million funding for the IPCC?

The calls for an appearance by Professor Plimer didn’t impress Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, who claimed that all Professor Plimer needed to do to get himself heard was to “publish another work of science fiction”.

While the retort was obviously meant as a joke, there’s no fun in knowing that Australian Senators and the head of the Catholic church seem happy to take their views on climate from that piece of “science fiction”.

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Australia’s very own Merchants of Climate Doubt

AS a celebrated historian, Professor Naomi Oreskes is interested in the origin of things – where ideas start from, what drives them and ultimately who propagates them.

Oreskes, Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California San Diego, has just arrived in Australia on a whistle-stop speaking tour promoting her new book, co-authored with Erik Conway, titled Merchants of Doubt – How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming.

The book, five years in the writing, ultimately concludes that much of the world’s scepticism on climate change – whether that be over the validity or certainty of the science of climate change, its causes or the need to act – is chiefly driven by a paranoid ideological fear of socialism and an unbending faith and belief in free-markets.

Put simply, free-market think-tanks such as the George C Marshall Institute, the Heartland Institute, The Science and Public Policy Institute and the Why-Can’t-You-Just-Leave-us-Alone-While-We-Make-Oodles-of-Cash Institute (not a real institute) don’t like industry to have to be held accountable.

Oreskes spoke to the ABC’s Lateline program on this brand of scepticism which also drove shoulder-shrugs over acid rain, tobacco smoke and ozone depletion

It’s part of this whole ideological program of challenging any science that could lead to government regulation, because it’s part of an ideological conviction that all regulation is bad, that any time the government steps in to ‘protect’ us from harm, that we’re on the slippery slope to socialism, and this the ideology that you see underlying a kind of almost paranoid anti-communism. So even after the Cold War is over, these people are seeing reds under the bed.

But before we all shake our heads at the audacity of these US think-tanks, muttering under our breath phrases like “only in America”, we should acknowledge that Australia has its own Merchants of Doubt, some of which have long-held associations with the US denialist machinery and share its habits.

In last night’s speech to the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, Oreskes even went as far as to list Australia’s The Institute of Public Affairs alongside other free market think tanks including the George C Marshall Institute (a focus of her book), The Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

On its website, the IPA says it “supports the free market of ideas, the free flow of capital, a limited and efficient government, evidence-based public policy, the rule of law, and representative democracy. Throughout human history, these ideas have proven themselves to be the most dynamic, liberating and exciting.”

The IPA’s researchers and fellows are prolific in their writing and are virtual ever-presents in the op-ed pages of newspapers and on popular web opinion sites such as The Drum and The Punch. But given their open support for free markets, small governments and minimal regulation, they’re “research” and “analysis” is always designed to come to the same predictable conclusion.

Let me demonstrate.

Continue reading “Australia’s very own Merchants of Climate Doubt”

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