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The Long View: climate change and the search for balanced reporting

These days anybody can publish, spreading news and opinion to the world. Meanwhile, holed up in the remaining nooks, crannies and shelters of mainstream media, journalists adhere to their traditional credo: that what they publish should be balanced. That disinterested reporting, a fair shake of the stick to all concerned, is what defines credible media.

But what does that mean? The case de jour, and for that matter of the year, the decade and the century, is climate change. What constitutes balanced reporting?

Climate change adviser Ross Garnaut recently suggested the media treatment of the issue has undermined support for action by giving equal weight to mainstream peer-reviewed science and sceptical views not backed by published evidence. He said:

If you take our mainstream media, it will often seek to provide some balance between people who base their views on the mainstream science and people who don’t.

That’s a very strange sort of balance. It’s a balance of words, and not a balance of scientific authority.”

Data is hard, perhaps impossible, to obtain. After all, climate change is an issue that bleeds into everything else, from the economy to gardening columns. How does one even begin to measure amounts of air play or balance? It’s a bit like trying to measure the coverage given to food, money, motherhood or any other foundation of our existence.

Yet the impression remains that as the majority of scientists become more certain on the evidence, and their predictions grow more gloomy, climate change is being treated with less urgency and more scepticism by journalists and the public they serve.

And then there is the straight-out drubbing given to the experts by some, such as this effort by Andrew Bolt, first on the Steve Price Breakfast Show and then in transcript and text, when Jill Duggan from the European Commissions’s Directorate General of Climate Action was the guest.

It seems there is an edge to the debate in this country and in the US, a scepticism about the weight of scientific opinion, which doesn’t exist in Europe. Consider the comments on this story as just one example. You’ll find similar fare at the foot of most online reports on the issue.

Why is it so? And what, if anything, has changed in media coverage since 2007, when Kevin Rudd was elected after declaring climate change the greatest moral challenge of our times, and today when carbon tax might turn out too hard a political ask?

I spent some time contacting the people who run our news services last week to get their response to these questions. Some, sadly, such as the editor of The Age, Paul Ramadge and the editor-in-chief of the Herald and Weekly Times, Phil Gardner, did not respond to stimuli.

Others, such as the ABC’s head of policy for news, Alan Sunderland, responded with length and thought, his answers sure to provide more fodder for the ferals on Senate Estimates next time that particular show rolls into town. (For Sunderland’s complete response, see my blog.)

Keep in mind that this is a particularly pointy issue for those at the ABC, with chairman Maurice Newman having last year declared himself a climate change “agnostic” (as though it were a question of religion, not science), and labelled those journalists who fail to report sceptics as being guilty of group think.

But we all know, if we think about it at all, that the battle for mainstream opinion is fought, not on the ABC’s airwaves but on commercial radio and commercial television news, still the main sources of news and information for the majority of Australians.

The head of news and current affairs at Channel Seven, Peter Meakin, said that although he didn’t have figures to back up his impressions, he believed climate change was more newsworthy now than it had been in 2007, and as a result  his channel was running more stories about it.

Why? Because of  the floods, bushfires and other natural disasters that had pushed the issue to the front of viewers’ minds. His newsman’s instinct was that people in general were more worried about it now than they had been in 2007, and Channel Seven was responding to that.

And what about balance? It was the nature of public debate, says Meakin that passionate believers “would like to see their opponents silenced”. It was the job of journalists to make sure that didn’t happen.

Not all climate change sceptics are lunatics,” he said. And most journalists were not scientists. Balance meant representing the debate that was actually occurring, not trying to create the debate that one or other side thought should occur.

Sunderland, on the other hand, rejects any notion of balance that means tit-for-tat coverage. His understanding leaves a role for journalistic judgment and weighing of evidence. He says:

It is one of the most common and inaccurate myths about balance on this or any other topic that it requires all sides to be given equal time and equal weight. It does not. It never has and it never will. Our editorial policies make it quite clear that ‘it is not essential to give all sides equal time’. Another better way to express and understand this is to understand that the kind of balance we aim to achieve in our news coverage is balance that follows the weight of evidence. In other words, if for example 90% of credible, peer-reviewed scientific opinion supports the existence of human-induced global warming, then you would expect that weight to be reflected in our coverage. I believe it is.”

Yet those inside the ABC will tell you wearily how every time they publish or broadcast a climate change scientist, the sceptics will complain. And being an accountable public broadcaster each complaint must be dealt with, in triplicate, before the aforementioned hashing over in Senate Estimates. In this, the real politic is that the more Clive Hamilton you publish,  the greater the pressure to publish Mike Hendrickx as well.

Balance is even harder to maintain, or even to define, when suffering from battle fatigue.

The classic example of dilemmas to do with balance in journalism is the tobacco and public health debate in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Would a good journalist in those days have given equal coverage to the scientists who said that smoking damaged health, and the industry that claimed there was no evidence to support the contention?

In hindsight, we know that the industry itself had evidence that it chose to cover up about the damaging health affects, so it is easy to assess right and wrong.

But the climate change debate is much bigger than even Big Tobacco. As Sunderland says, it is a story that impacts on every other. And we have no hindsight.

Climate change is more than one issue, and it is simplistic to simply conflate all of the aspects into one topic. There is, of course, a continuing debate over the fundamental question of the extent of human-induced climate change, and this debate has both a scientific and political aspect to it. There is also a debate about the appropriate responses to human-induced climate change, including the appropriate policy settings. This too has  scientific and political aspects to it as well, and it is a debate that is taking place internationally as well as taking place within Australia … And within the broad issue, there are also very specific associated issues such as the state of Arctic ice, the fate of low-lying islands in the Pacific, the future of nuclear power, the future of coal-based industries, the role of fossil fuels and biofuels, etc, etc, etc …

So what does balance mean? What does a good journalist do?

Hard to proscribe.  At this time in human history, climate change is about everything, and everything is about climate change.

And if objectivity means anything, it surely means slavish, courageous following of the evidence. We have yet to see if humanity is up to that task, let alone the media.

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  • 1
    Captain Planet
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Alan Sunderland:-

    if for example 90% of credible, peer-reviewed scientific opinion supports the existence of human-induced global warming, then you would expect that weight to be reflected in our coverage.”

    Hear, Hear.

    Finally a voice of reason from within the media establishment.

  • 2
    willozap
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Surely the central credo of a good journalist is not to adhere to some mythical notion of ‘balance’, but to represent both knowledge and uncertainty as accurately as possible? Surely?

  • 3
    Captain Planet
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    @ WilloZap,

    Unfortunately in the modern media environment the central credo of a “good” journalist is to write stories which sell as much advertising, newspapers, airtime etc. as possible.

    Creating the illusion of a hard fought debate over climate science and then covering the manufactured debate with breathless anticipation, as though it were a world heavyweight title fight, sells more papers and attracts more viewers / listeners than sound, accurate presentation representative of the majority of the world’s scientific opinion.

    Especially when the intrinsic message is that our way of life has to change drastically. People don’t want to hear that and they will flock to any media outlet which offers them an alternative viewpoint - no matter how unsubstantiated.

  • 4
    Jedimaster
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    As Garnaut said: “That’s a very strange sort of balance. It’s a balance of words, and not a balance of scientific authority.”

    The ABC should heed this comment. For example, in its coverage of the on-going nuclear power station problems in Japan, the ABC has given prominence to two passionate, non-expert nuclear boosters- Ziggy Switkowski and Barry Brook.

    Fran Kelly was almost fawning when she back-announced Switkowski last Monday as a “nuclear expert”. He was a theoretical physicist 35 years ago and Ansto chairman recently, but he is not an engineer or nuclear safety expert.

    Brook is a professor of environmental science, not even nuclear science, but continues to get airplay on ABC’s 24, making reassuring, seemingly technical, comments about a topic that is far afield from his expertise.

    If these gentlemen were asked for their qualifications to substantiate their opinions, they would be found wanting. As would many interviewees on the ABC who are more than eager to make unsubstantiated claims for their cause.

    Of course journalists cannot be expected to be expert on everything that they have to report on, but they need to have the skills to verify the expertise of those whom they interview.

    And they should heed Lord Northcliffe’s dictum: “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

  • 5
    klewso
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Which “journalists” (holed up in thoose nooks and crannies - like “cockroaches”?) that “adhere to their traditional credo: that what they publish should be balanced” are you referring to - read today’s editorial and that piece - nurturing uncertainty and prejudice?
    “Journalists”? You mean like “Papa ‘doch’s” “political correspondents” - with an agenda to run?

  • 6
    willozap
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    @Captain Planet: Oh, I don’t doubt it that journalists have to drum up readership.

    I just thought we were debating the pull of journalists’ ethical code (as Margaret argues, balance; as I would prefer, accuracy) against any more prosaic business interests.

  • 7
    arnold ziffel
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    I cannot reoncile the quote from Sunderland above with the attention that was given to Lord Monckton last year - the ABC’s idea of balance apparently doesn’t consider credibility as a factor.

  • 8
    RoXX
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    A nonsense story - more deserving of a place in “The Australian”.

    Blind Freddy or possibly even a cadet journalist will be able to discover the difference between *truth* and *lies* in a complex story - all in less than half an hour.

    Especially anyone who has been trained to use the research *tools* that are now generally available to everyone. And if they can think then they might even do it in 15 minutes.

    Or are you saying the current crop of *journalists* can’t do that?

  • 9
    Meski
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    @Jedi: A bad joke, to demonstrate things regarding Aussie experts in the nuclear field.

    Q: What do you call a qualified Aussie nuclear engineer?

    A: Unemployed.

  • 10
    Meski
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    @Climate Change: Yes, I’d give the mainstream scientific viewpoint on this the benefit of the doubt, but *never* be uncritical of it. After all, Heliocentrism[1] was once mainstream too. :^) It’s kind of disappointing that the mainstream scientists are behaving like the Vatican in the sixteenth century.

    [1] and a long long list of science ‘facts’ over the centuries.

  • 11
    michael r james
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    MESKI Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 2:30 pm |

    Q: What do you call a qualified Aussie nuclear engineer?
    A: Unemployed.

    No, it would be closer to the old joke about the death of British science: Contrary to claims that British research is dead, in fact it is alive and well. It’s just that it is in California.

  • 12
    danr
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    How can people say that man made global warming is not real when governments have spent billions worldwide to research the problem.

    There are thousands of PHDs who know that AGW is very real and will lead to runaway global temperatures far too soon for us and our children.

    As one blogger says, “Australia has the worst pollution record in the developed world” and we must take action now.

    Surely. People cant be serious when, like Andrew Bolt, they questions the ABC.

    The ABC is a Government funded institution and has the benefit of all Government scientific resources at its disposal in addition to a fine moderator in Tony Jones.

    If it pushes a certain view it is because it must be so confident of it’s position that there is no need to be impartial.

    It’s just more convenient that way.

  • 13
    Jim Reiher
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Roxx - I dont quite get your point. Are you saying that the current crop of journalists are good at distinguishing between truth and exagguration? Or are you being a bit tongue in cheek and implying that they are 2nd rate at reasoning and logic?

    I wonder if a lot of current journalists are the failed students who really wanted to do other courses, but just were not smart enough to get in, or complete them. I suspect that many of them are actually of pretty average intelligence or lower. There are some wonderful exceptions, but the industry as a whole, has not won any merit points from me.

    Especially in the way it handles the topic of climate change.

  • 14
    johnd
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    What people forget is that the Andrew Bolts of this world are actually proud of their ignorance. They parade it as some sort of measure of how close they are to the “common man”. Bolt doesn’t understand the science, so it must be fake or wrong.

    Of course, they are dragging the “common man” down to their level, but their readers don’t see this as they feel safe and comfortable with Bolt calling all the science wrong. They therefore don’t have to make any effort to understand it.

  • 15
    Flower
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Why would ethical journalists give equal time to a climate sceptic like Plimer who has been ridiculed for a comedy of errors, fudging and manipulation of the data in his book:, Heaven and “Mirth?” Plimer’s book was thoroughly debunked and murdered by Australia’s most eminent scientists.

    Then there’s the self-appointed climate expert and Plimer shill, Cardinal Pell, whose letter on climate change was actually incorporated into Hansard. Let this guy blog away like the rest of us, particularly when he wrote that that he has metadata analysis—that is, “ an analysis that sits above all the papers that are random reviews—but he just cannot find it.”

    Pell writes of greenhouse gases where he includes the gas nitrogen. Head of BOM Dr Ayer, a former CSIRO marine and atmospheric research chief who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry , advised the Senate hearing: “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.”

    ”Ayers, when he spoke to the House, was obviously a hot-air specialist. I’ve rarely heard such an unscientific contribution,” crowed Pell to the Herald after telling people at a public lecture earlier that “There’s no substitute for knowing what you’re talking about,”

    On reflection how about a comic series Crikey? Like: “First dog on the moon barks at climate goons?” Membership of the climate mafia would be sufficient for the series to run for a week, surely?

  • 16
    Meski
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    @Flower: Pell really said that? You’ve made my day. He needs to be alerted to the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide.

  • 17
    Flower
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    That’s it Meski - He can drink from the fount of the holy dihydrogen monoxide if he insists but will he leave out the Chivas Regal?

  • 18
    John
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Who are these scientists who are making gloomy predictions about climate change, apart from the few UN funded IPCC lackeys? Thousands of independent (not for sale) climate scientists refute the dodgy science and crooked data dished up by the warmists. Let’s get real here.

  • 19
    wayne robinson
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    John, when you write about the thousands of independent scientists who doubt AGW, you don’t mean the notorious Oregon petition, with its list of 30,000 signatures? The list includes extremely few climate scientists, consisting mostly of engineers, computer scientists and medical practitioners. The category of atmosphere experts also include astronomers.

    What I find convincing is that all the national science associations, such as the Royal Society, have all put out position papers agreeing with the seriousness of AGW, with none disagreeing and only a few non-committal such as the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.

    It’s not just climate scientists who agree that AGW is occurring.

  • 20
    David
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    What people forget is that the Andrew Bolts of this world are actually proud of their ignorance.

    The very same Bolt who on the weekend insisted a dose of uranium “is good for you”. Ignorance doesn’t do justice to the tosser.

  • 21
    wothers
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Margaret, I read Bolts interview with Jill Duggan - so where is the “drubbing”. Bolt asks her a lot of totally daft questions like “how much is it going to cost” which she answered “I don’t know”. Bolt apparently thinks the sort of “costings” pumped out by economists like Lomborg and others have some validity. You are right in one sense, Jill Duggan was far too polite to Bolt. In her shoes I would have answered “I don’t know, you silly twat”.

  • 22
    danr
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Meski.

    It’s good that you highlighted “dihydrogen monoxide.”

    Along with Boron, associated with nuclear fuel, it is extremely dangerous.

  • 23
    Flower
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    @ John: “Thousands of independent (not for sale) climate scientists refute the dodgy science and crooked data dished up by the warmists.”

    That’s a load of old cobblers John . Show us the “thousands” of climate scientists on your list who actively publish in peer reviewed journals on climate change. If you are referring to the Oregon Petition it is clear that you were too apathetic to open some of the links where you would have discovered that the climate mafia have included authors who agree with the tenets of anthropogenic climate change. And signatories from those who claim a degree in medicine, veterinary science etc does not qualify them as climate scientists.

    Further, there are very few reputable climate scientists on the list. Among the most prominent few are industry and tobacco shills and creationists who feed from the teat of the fossil fuel industry but fail to declare their interests. Why is that?

  • 24
    thisllub
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    @flower;
    Plimer isn’t a climate change sceptic, rather he believes that it is happening outside our sphere of influence.
    On this he shouldn’t be verballed.
    Consider that the Aborigines walked to Tasmania up to about 10000 years ago, long before man made carbon emissions.
    Climate change towards a warmer environment has been happening for a long time.
    The science on warming is in but the science on any effect a change in our behaviour might have is up there with casting chicken entrails.
    What we should be spending our money on is developing contingencies.

  • 25
    andrew
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Is Bolt a holocaust sceptic too?

    If not then why? His job is to make stupid remarks after all.

  • 26
    wayne robinson
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Thisslu,

    Ian Plimer isn’t a skeptic, he is a denier. Most people who disagree that AGW is happening I call ‘doubters’. But Plimer prides himself on being a scientist and as such is obliged to scientific accuracy. His book ‘Heaven and Earth’ is just a mess of grossly inaccurate science (I know, I was unfortunate enough to have read it).

    Agreed, climate has changed many times in the past, for different reasons. But we are now performing an uncontrolled experiment of burning tens of millions of years of stored carbon fuel in decades, without being clear of the results.

    You might be right that the Bass Strait didn’t exist over 10,000 years ago, so the Aborigines got to Tasmania without getting their feet wet. On the other hand, they could have used similar boats to the ones they used to get to Australia in the first place, and then lost the technology, because they no longer needed it (similar to the way that they lost the ability to start fire, preferring to carry embers from one camp to the next, which is actually sensible - when you’ve walked long distances during the day you don’t want to have to wait for someone to start a camp fire).

  • 27
    John
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    Hell of a lot of warmists in today!

  • 28
    David Reid
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    I think the problem may be related to climate change stories being broadly classified as political or scientific. On scientific articles journalists seek to report the science and don’t need counter-arguments from unqualified people. Where articles are political though the deniers get their voice into the story as an alternative political viewpoint. Perhaps Margaret could ask some of her students to analyse this.

  • 29
    Frank Campbell
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    At this time in human history, climate change is about everything, and everything is about climate change.”

    The sheer intimidatory power of climate millenarianism is evident in this piece. If Margaret Simons, one of the most rational , thoughtful members of the progressive commentariat, is tied to the fundamentalist position she outlines here, we on the Left are in deep shit.
    This is why the Right, as ugly and discredited as it is in Australia, will win. Remember that the Crikey tossariat predicted Liberal schism after Abbott’s narrow victory. They predicted the apotheosis of the Greens. Some said the Libs were finished. Civilised urbane Liberals (code for Turnbull) would defect. I said the opposite. No need to be Nostradamus- you just had to be outside the bell-jar of the cult.

    Gillard is in an impossible position: she has gambled on a “carbon tax”- a burden on corporations, the working class and the poor. The only way to make it palatable (easy to predict- just took a few weeks to fess up) is to use the tax as a vote bribe. Which subverts its purpose.

    What is the purpose of the tax? It cannot affect climate one whit. It will not affect decisions of other states. It is most unlikely to drive investment in renewables R and D. The price advantage of coal and gas is so great that the tax would have to be far larger to have any effect. But most damningly, the neglect of renewables R and D for decades means there is no substitute anyway. Pumping billions into domestic solar and wind is just another attack by the middle class on the poor, egged on by carpet-baggers.

    The Right is taking advantage of this policy fiasco. Many people will hold their noses and vote for Abbott precisely because “climate change is about everything, and everything is about climate change.”

    The irony is that fervent belief is guaranteed to kill “climate action” of any kind for a decade. You’ll be left with Abbott’s Algae and the rest of the bag of mixed lollies the Right calls policy.

    The critical error in Simons’ position is not climate “belief” vs “denial” or “agnosticsm” getting some “balance” in the media (we don’t need yet more sterile “debates about the science”- just look at crippled Crikey)- it’s that climate policy is subjected to fundamentalism from both sides of the cult. The tribal split determines which set of policies is taken for granted.

    The failure of progressives- and journalism- to critically assess the shambolic implementation, social, economic and “climate” implications of ALP policies in 2009-10 reflects tribal myopia. Did we see anyone criticise the billion dollars handed to the middle class in solar subsidies? To produce just 0.1% of power?

    Green/ALP climate policies are catastrophically stupid. Abbott’s are an incoherent mess.

    There’s no need to mention ‘the science’ at all.

    Now, what was that about “balance” Margaret?

  • 30
    Frank Campbell
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    Here’s question, Margaret.

    Let’s suppose a friend you really respect and admire, say a media professional, confesses to you that he/she has lapsed: they’ve suddenly become a Denialist. Not only that, but they’re going public. Outing themselves.

    Assume they do just that. And garner a degree of instant notoriety.

    What would you do?

  • 31
    Frank Campbell
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    After you’ve answered my question, I’ll tell you what Hazel Rowley did.

  • 32
    wayne robinson
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    John,

    The reason why there are a lot of ‘warmists’ in today, because we are actually in the majority. It’s only when the ‘freeze brains’ manage to start a fear campaign by exaggerating the cost of mitigation, that the majority opinion veers to the other side.

  • 33
    danr
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi John

    Re : “Hell of a lot of warmists in today!”

    Don’t believe everything you read here.

    Thisllub, RoXX, yourself and I seem to have common ground.

    A quote above refers to “thousands” of climate scientists” who consensivise about AGW but what this person wont admit is that many of them in the US especially have been trained in the University facultys of Climate Science. The course work involves little in basic science past year 12 level in Australian schools and then moves on the Environmental studies etc which assume AGW to be proven, established science.

    That very few Australian journalists have the scientific erudition to see through the IPCC AGW CO2 construct is really sad and disheartening for the future of science and an indictment of journalism standards world wide.

    And so we get alarmist comments like:
    “But we are now performing an uncontrolled experiment of burning tens of millions of years of stored carbon fuel in decades, without being clear of the results.”
    which no journalist seems capable of examining.

    The fact is that combustion engineers like myself can easily quantify this “stored fuel” combustion and put it in an engineering context which makes claims of AGW look like monstrous fabrications.

    The scientific truth has been very well hidden by lots of quasi scientific froth and bubble.

    As is always the case the answer to why is found in the old adage: “Look for the Money”.

  • 34
    danr
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    In using the term “Civilised urbane Liberals” are you referring to the person who wanted a tax on CO2.

    Is this the same person who used to manage the Australian branch of one of the worlds largest Carbon Trading Banks.

    Was there perhaps another reason for proposing the tax than simple reduction of CO2?

  • 35
    Flower
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    “On this he shouldn’t be verballed.” I don’t see anyone verballing Plimer, Thisllub. Plimer categorically states that climate change is not anthropogenic so that is quoting Plimer, not verballing him.

    Plimer claims that climate scientists are “pompous and arrogant and are treating people as stupid.” And talk of carbon pollution is nonsense since, he asserts, if the atmosphere were being polluted we would all be in the dark because “carbon is black”.

    Right - Plimer appears oblivious to the fact that black carbon is a result specifically of incomplete combustion. Black carbon is a major contributor to global warming. Further he is clearly is unaware of the gigantic, irrefutably anthropogenic “brown” clouds of particulates and soot that hover over Asia which are dimming the lights in major cities and which have the potential to play havoc with ecosystems. And if memory serves me correctly the size of the Asian brown cloud expands to some 10,000 square miles.

    One does not need a science background to understand that Plimer has flogged his book under false pretences.

    Such notables as Professors Karoly, Ashley, Lambeck, Enting, Bindoff, Wooruffe, Lowe et al and Drs Ayers, Pearman et al have debunked Plimer’s nonsense. Further informed citizens understand that fossil fuel emissions are causing a disturbance in chemical equilibrium of the carbonate buffer. A

    I have read that when carbon dioxide concentrations increase or decrease, causing the equilibrium to be disturbed, a life threatening situation can occur. Check out extinctions and you will discover that carbon perturbations were occurring in the majority of these events though they occurred slowly over thousands/millions of years. And recoveries to the biosphere took some 5 -10 million years.

    However, there is no other explanation for the rapid and unprecedented escalation of CO2 occurring now and over just a few decades too except that the escalation is a direct result of human activity. And could someone please get through to Plimer and tell him that humans now emit >100 times more CO2 than all the volcanoes on the planet?

    And what self-respecting scientist would risk his credibility (or his career) by supporting the lobotomized Plimer, a lead miner and director of several mining companies - the inconvenient facts he endeavours to obscure? Hmmm……perhaps it’s the lead?

    And despite repeated requests, no-one has yet referred me to one publishing climate scientist with credentials in the appropriate disciplines - anywhere on the planet, who has critiqued Plimer’s Heaven and ‘Mirth,’ favourably.

    Come on DANR - enough of the waffle - show us ya money.

  • 36
    wayne robinson
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    DANR,

    And what are your qualifications as a combustion engineer to pontificate about greenhouse gases?

    I agree that one should ‘look for the money’. That’s why I’m impressed that all the national science associations have issued position papers accepting AGW. There are none denying it and very few such as the American Association of Petroleum Engineers issuing neutral statements.

    So it’s not just climate scientists seeking funding.

    Research funds are limited. Scientists regard funding of other scientists’ research as being theft from them. When President Obama liberalized federal funding of embryonic stem research, his government was taken to court by two scientists working on adult stem cells who complained that it would make their gaining funding more difficult.

    Frank,

    Catastrophic climate change is going to be more of a hazard to the poor than the middle classes being made to pay more to fill up their large 4-wheel drives and power their large plasma screen televisions in their air-conditioned home cinemas.

  • 37
    danr
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve gotta put my hand up for your challenge;

    And despite repeated requests, no-one has yet referred me to one publishing climate scientist with credentials in the appropriate disciplines - anywhere on the planet, who has critiqued Plimer’s Heaven and ‘Mirth,’ favorably.”

    Well Ive read it and as a scientist I think it is fantastic.

    Another of your statements : “there is no other explanation for the rapid and unprecedented escalation of CO2 occurring now”

    On this all I can say is ; if you don’t go looking then you aren’t going to find. Not a very scientific approach, but then what else would we expect.

  • 38
    danr
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Hi wayne.

    And what are your qualifications as a combustion engineer”

    More than adequate and no doubt way ahead of yours.

  • 39
    Frank Campbell
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    Wayne: “The reason why there are a lot of ‘warmists’ in today, because we are actually in the majority. It’s only when the ‘freeze brains’ manage to start a fear campaign by exaggerating the cost of mitigation, that the majority opinion veers to the other side.”

    As always with Believers, patronising the public. 18 months ago on Crikey there were hardly any Denialists or even sceptics. Just one or two. Now there are many. (No doubt Crikey editorial is aware of this- but don’t seem to draw any inferences, other than perhaps to muse that there are lot of dickheads around thse days…)

    The polls since 2006 tell the story. It’s wearing off. Of course all sort of nutcases and rightwing ferals are galvanised by climate millenarianism- it’s a stick with which to beat their opponents- the Greens, the ALP and Greg Huntish Liberals. Creeps like Alan Jones can’t believe their luck: a declining cult now enforced by a desperately unpopular tax…

    The climate cult is the worst enemy of climate action. Firstly, fanaticism guarantees political defeat. Secondly, cult policies will not mitigate climate. In fact these policies will undermine/displace potentially useful action.

    Wayne also goes: “Catastrophic climate change is going to be more of a hazard to the poor than the middle classes being made to pay more to fill up their large 4-wheel drives and power their large plasma screen televisions in their air-conditioned home cinemas.”

    Again, Armageddon trumps everything. This is why progressive politics is sinking.

  • 40
    wayne robinson
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    DANR,

    Grrrrrh …. I wasn’t doubting your expertise as a combustion engineer, I was doubting your expertise as a climate scientist.

    I see that you have subsequently promoted yourself to being a climate scientist who thinks Ian Plimer’s book is fantastic. Well, what are your qualifications meeting the other part of the challenge, please provide links to your publications in climate science and list your qualifications.

    Which parts of Ian Plimer’s book do you think are fantastic. The part about the Sun having a solid iron core? Or the Sun being a pulsar star? Or the part about life thriving 250 million years ago with a CO2 level of 2000 ppmv (that was actually the time of the end of Permian mass extinction, the mother of all mass extinctions, probably due to the Siberian trap super volcanos, accounting for the CO2 levels)? Those are only the errors I remember off the top of my head. When I read it, I was amazed that he made so many errors, virtually one a page. I had a suspicion that it was actually a ‘Poe’ and that he was going to soon reveal the hoax …

  • 41
    syzygium
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I think the comments section makes Simon’s point exactly - any time you even mention Climate Change you get a crop of denialists who poke their head up and say, “No! Wrong! I know better!” So, as she points out, if you’re a publicly funded institution, what are you to do.

    Denialists, I mean, open-minded truth-judging sceptics, what’s the real agenda here, honestly? Do you not want to admit that Greenies are right? Can you not believe that progress has its limits? Perhaps the thought that humanity can influence something as big as the atmosphere scares you? Or is it religious? Just don’t pretend it’s a scientific debate. Your evidence that this is a massive fraud is far, far more scanty than the evidence for AGW. Please, some of us have children who need to live in this world. Give it up.

    Please.

  • 42
    wayne robinson
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Syzygium,

    Well, I don’t have any children and I’m at such an age that I doubt I’ll be around to experience catastrophic climate change, so for me mitigation is all pain (I don’t think it will be as expensive as the deniers claim though) and very little gain. Still the same, I will be cheesed off if the human species goes into a serious steep decline toward the end of the century or earlier.

  • 43
    thisllub
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    @Flower.

    Sorry but you have to understand that Plimer doesn’t deny climate change.
    Far from it.
    However he does question the science that can’t separate the CO2 theory (which can only explain the last 5% of the current warming cycle) from as yet unknown factors.
    As a scientist, I see scepticism about AGW as absolutely necessary.
    Again, the evidence for GW is as good as the evidence for evolution i.e. undeniable.
    However, the science related to CO2 is still very much an immature hypothesis.
    Despite this we have a few choices.

    #1 The ostrich approach.
    Until we can no longer deny it, ignore the problem (Liberal).
    #2 The panic approach.
    Believe that all carbon emissions are evil and implement ridiculous legislation that we can’t predict the outcomes of. Introduce penalties that may harm economic activity without any direction towards economic sustainability (Labor).
    #3 The contingency approiach.
    Move our society to renewable energy as quickly as economically feasible. Stabilise population. Encourage development in areas least likely to be affected by increase in average global temperature.

    Why is it that the parties find the sensible approach (#3) abhorrent.
    Given the choice I am certain the majority would favour it.

  • 44
    klewso
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    If we continue to listen to these “conservative-government-pimping parrots and shock-jocks” (like Jones, Hardgrave, Sattler, Bolt, Ackerman et al, all selling “the joys of their coal-ition”) with their “selectivity” of “fact”, deliberately cultivating ignorance (for mischief and galvanising voters), we’ll find ourselves back to the future knee deep in horse shit - plus the sort they generate!
    Just because someone says something you want to hear - doesn’t necessaily mean they intend to do what you want done. That’s practical “Of course I’ll still love you in the morning” stuff.

  • 45
    wayne robinson
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    Thisllub,

    No, Ian Plimer does deny climate change. He just thinks that it’s all part of natural cycles and that we will soon be going into a serious cooling phase in spite of whatever the CO2 level is at the time.

    Tim Flannery and James Hansen, to name 2 scientists, agree with your plan #3, decarbonise the economy as quickly as economically feasible, stabilize population and adapt to the effects of the inevitable climate changes we can’t avoid.

    If we need to build 50 billion dollars of wind/solar/geothermal or whatever energy plants, then we do over many years, and in later years with more experience and research we’ll get better designs.

    The trouble with the government’s approach is that it doesn’t even do #3 let alone #2. It might lead to a little energy conservation, it might make renewable energy a little more price competitive, but it is a start at any rate.

  • 46
    Flower
    Posted Monday, 21 March 2011 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Wow - A combustion engineer and a ‘scientist’ too DANR? My we plebs are in esteemed company this evening. So when can you introduce us to our first briefing on the science of climate change (via Heaven and Mirth, naturally?)

    And in which of the major fuel and energy divisions are you employed as a “scientist?” Oil, gas, coal or nuclear? Or do you know stuff about everything?

    And surely a gentleman of such high rank wouldn’t be quibbling about a couple of hundred bucks a year he would need to contribute towards cranking up a carbon tax to mitigate the carnage the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries have inflicted on the only inhabitable planet in the universe? And mostly for a couple of hundred years with impunity too.

    Coincidentally my comedian brother keeps telling me he’s a combustion engineer until I gently remind him that he’s actually a pretty good looking grease monkey.

    Aw - not another scientist THISLLUB. So what do you “science” in? Obviously not ambient and tropospheric industrial pollution because the first thing you would know is that regulation by persuasion for forty years, has been an abysmal failure. The second thing is that you can deny A/climate change all you like but you cannot deny the irrufutable evidence that many of the fossil fuel chemicals that burn to CO2 are carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic. Just ask our resident combustion scientist, DANR.

    So that’s what you are promoting with your “contingency plan?” BAU? Delay, delay, delay? Well anyone who advocates for more delay in mitigating FF killer chemicals that are dumping in air, on soil, crops, water and on one’s dinner plate, causing hundreds of thousands of morbidities and mortalities around the planet every year, should be lined up and shot at dawn for crimes against humanity - climate change or no climate change!

  • 47
    Captain Planet
    Posted Tuesday, 22 March 2011 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Thisslub,

    Hmmmm another “scientist” eh. Hope you’re not a combustion engineer as well.

    You really want to have your cake and eat it too, don’t you?

    #3 The contingency approiach. Move our society to renewable energy as quickly as economically feasible.”

    Having rejected an ETS, acknowledged by economists worldwide as the most economically feasible mechanism for moving our society to renewable energy as quickly as possible, how exactly do you propose to achieve this?

    As for the red herring about population, nice try. It is true that population growth needs to be dealt with for a whole raft of environmental and practical reasons, but do not attempt to conflate involuntary draconian population control with action to reduce greenhouse emissions.

    As for “Encourage development in areas least likely to be affected by increase in average global temperature.” Good luck with that. I’m sure the mass transnational migration of humans across sovereign borders will be accepted with equanimity and compassion in the same manner as Australia treats people attempting to move here to escape intolerable living conditions.

  • 48
    Captain Planet
    Posted Tuesday, 22 March 2011 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    @ FLOWER,

    combustion engineer and a scientist too…..

    SNAP!

    Great minds…..

  • 49
    Flower
    Posted Tuesday, 22 March 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Touche Captain Planet.

  • 50
    David Hand
    Posted Tuesday, 22 March 2011 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Hey, Frank Campbell,
    Thank you for your thoughful and depressing commentary from the left. As a member of the
    Liberal Party and a believer in AGW, I am also very disappointed about the quality of the debate that has gone on.

    In my view, one major contribution to the dire level of the debate has been the language and rhetoric of the global warming lobby almost from the start. It is an unfortunate myth that all the nutters and axe-grinders are denialists. There are quite a few lunatic ramblings, masquerading as scientific truth, put out by the AGW lobby that have frankly given oxygen to the denialist cause.

    Like the boy who cried wolf too often, there seems to have been a group think view that we must shock, scare and frighten a complacent population into action and that accuracy and truth aren’t really necessary because the end will justify the means. The problem here is that the hyperbolic commentary has had so many things wrong in it that it is almost impossible to distinguish the true science from lunatic fringe polemics. The climate change lobby has handed sceptics and denialists compelling issues on a plate by making so many ill-considered and stupid claims.

    This confusion is what makes the message so hard to communicate.

    For example, last week, Criky published a piece from a climate activist blogger under the headline “Communicating the science honestly” that climate change will reduce the world’s population to 1 billion before 2100. Now, consider for a moment, the enormity of an outcome like that. Then consider the scientific veracity of that message. If it has serious scientific expert support, I would expect the world governments to be taking far more direct action than they are. Because they are not, I doubt that it has serious scientific support. It smells like bullshit and less bullshit like that might make the scientific message easier to get out.

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