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.
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).
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”.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New research put together by more than 400 scientists from across the world, published this week, finds that greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels are increasing the chances of extreme weather events like heatwaves, droughts and floods happening.
Left sounding especially hollow and irresponsible in this video are the interspersed comments from Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, who says the world can “adapt” to what he says is an “engineering problem”.
CANADIAN blogger and climate science sceptic Donna Laframboise has flown off for a tour of Australia to tell anyone willing to listen that the world’s foremost body on climate change, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is something resembling a shambling mess.
Laframboise’s trip has been organised by free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, which has a long history of promoting doubt about the science of human-caused climate change and the risks of the unmitigated burning of fossil fuels.
The IPA describe’s Laframboise as a “world renowned author” which is stretching credibility to breaking point. This “world renowned author” has written just two books. Her first was about feminism published in 1996. The Delinquent Teenager is her second, and is currently ranked #17952 in the book seller Amazon’s Kindle store [#41,202 in the U.S. Amazon Kindle Store.]
Essentially the book makes three central claims. The first is that the IPCC has engaged several young scientists which Laframboise says goes against the IPCC’s claims that they use the world’s top scientists. A second is that some of the scientists working on some of the reports have links to environmental groups which are not always made clear. A third is that the IPCC reports use too much non-peer reviewed literature.
All of these arguments are used as a proxy to question the science. Yet the IPCC’s main climate change reports (the latest being the 2007 Assessment Report 4, the next being AR5 currently being worked on by more than 800 authors and expected some time in late 2013 or early 2014) don’t actually do any science.
They are reviews – albeit almighty ones – of research being conducted at institutions around the world and of scientific papers published in journals. This means that even if the IPCC was found to be run by a small group of mentally-challenged llamas, this wouldn’t affect the science on human-caused climate change. In essence, Laframboise’s book is one giant strawman argument.
But when it comes to arguably the planet’s most pressing problem – human-caused climate change – the Australian mining magnate Gina Rinehart dismisses out of hand not only the issue, but the expertise of the world’s climate science community.
Now, Rinehart, the head and owner of Hancock Prospecting, has revealed that she wants to use her substantial stakes in two leading Australian media companies to be able to promote the views of climate science deniers.
Earlier this week, the publicly-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s investigative television documentary Four Corners looked at Ms Rinehart’s life story.
Her climate science denial did not appear in the broadcast, but the ABC did ask her about it and has released the answers to a series of questions on the issue of climate change and her promotion of climate scepticism.
The program comes as Rinehart is engaged in a very public fight with the board of Fairfax, the media company which owns the nation’s most respected newspapers the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
WHEN you think the news stories just aren’t going your way – when parts of the media just refuse to toe your particular ideological line – what are your options?
For most people, the choices are limited. You could perhaps write a letter to the editor or maybe even pen an opinion piece or start your own blog.
But if you’re the world’s richest woman with a penchant for climate science denial and a coal and iron ore empire to maintain, then your options are considerably broader.
This week, the Australian oligarch Gina Rinehart took the logical step for someone with a personal fortune approaching $30 billion and bought the opposition.
The mining magnate now holds 19 per cent of all the shares in Fairfax – the Australian media organisation which owns the country’s most respected newspapers the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne) and the Australian Financial Review.
Rinehart has been increasingly vocal in her opposition to taxes on mining and the Labor Government’s carbon price legislation, while backing and promoting climate science doubt mongerers – even going as far as to appoint one to the board of two of her companies.
Beyond the publicly-funded ABC, in Australia Fairfax provides the only mainstream centre-left balance to much of the anti-environmental, climate sceptic rhetoric offered by the columnists in the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Ltd papers.
IMAGINE coming in to work and opening your inbox to read an email asking you to “kill yourself” before another note reads “I hope someone puts a bullet between your eyes”.
How about another email where the sender describes themselves as a “one man swat team” telling you to “back the FUck off” or they will “smack the living shit out of you”.
Another emailer says “I’d kill you in a second if given the chance” and another writes that you have been “blacklisted” and that “your children and family will know because we know where you live… expect us at your door to say hello.”
This is not an imaginary scenario, but is instead a sample from the inbox of climate scientist Professor Phil Jones, of the University of East Anglia in the UK, as revealed following a Freedom of Information request realised yesterday.
Professor Jones wasn’t alone in the halls of the university. The FOI reveals how a presumably US-based emailer warned that if Prof Acton, the university’s vice-chancellor, was to ever travel to America that “we will have plans for you as well. If you bring your family, all the merrier.”
Remarkably, these examples (the full release is here on a pdf) are not the worst, nor are they the nastiest. What’s more, they provide an insight – whether we want it or not – of the campaign against Professor Jones which at one point, caused him to consider suicide in the wake of the non-scandal that was Climategate.
The climate sceptic blog Bishop Hill was equally disgusted at the most recent release of emails, suggesting that “there are several messages in there that seem to me to be criminal”.
In the pages of The Australian newspaper, commentators and journalists have editorialised this issue to suggest the threats are overblown.
In one recent story, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell even went as far as to claim that he, too, had received death threats about climate change. “These climate scientists need to harden up,” he told one of his own reporters, who presumably didn’t ask his boss for any evidence.
But even if Chris Mitchell has received abuse over his newspaper’s warped coverage of climate science, the point is that climate scientists such as Phil Jones are not editors of newspapers. They are scientists. Chris Mitchell chose to be part of the public discourse and is engaged in it daily. Professor Phil Jones didn’t.
What is now clear is that climate scientists around the world are being subjected to a vicious and hate-filled campaign of intimidation. These are individuals who have chosen to devote their lives to enabling the world to understand how the planet works and the risks of artificially changing the composition of its atmosphere and oceans.
The focus of journalists and commentators so far has been on the content of the emails and on the scientists on the receiving end.
The situation mirrors that of “climategate” where almost three years of police investigations have so far failed to reveal who orchestrated the unlawful hacking and release of University of East Anglia emails.
Yet while we know the names of the some of the scientists being targeted and harassed, we are always spared the identities of those who are responsible for compiling the hate and then clicking the “send” button.
Isn’t it now time the nature of the inquiry turned to the campaign’s perpetrators, rather than the victims?
UPDATE: A version of this blog has been posted on DeSmogBlog, with some added detail.
CAREFULLY plucked like dew-covered orchids from the garden of YouTube, I hereby present the ten funniest videos about climate change which have ever been made, ever, by anyone, anywhere, ever – or at least of those I’ve seen. Which isn’t many.
But anyway, I should say there’s swearing and stuff, so best turn the sound down. I think the phrase is “Not Suitable For Work” which generally means it’s suitable for sharing at work.
1. Worrying research from the coal lobby. Wind turbines could blow the earth off its orbit. The Onion discusses.