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Jan 16, 2013

What you won't read in The Australian on climate change

The Australian has backed down from its claim that sea rise is "not linked to warming" -- but to get the full story on the scientific paper at the heart of the controversy, read on ...

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The Australian has retreated from its claim that rising sea levels are “not linked to warming” faster than a melting glacier — but it’s still not telling the full story on a recently released scientific paper.

Yesterday, as hundreds of IPCC scientists met in Hobart, The Australian‘s environment editor Graham Lloyd claimed “the latest science on sea level rises has found no link to global warming”. The story cited a paper which ran in the Journal of Climate last year, co-authored by the CSIRO’s Dr John Church.

Church said that was inaccurate, and IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri said “sane and rational voices must respond to … this scepticism”.

The Australian‘s outright climate scepticism on this paper didn’t last long after Crikey published Church and Pachauri’s comments. The heading on The Oz online has switched from “Sea rise ‘not linked to warming’, says report” to “Sea level rise ‘linked to climate change’” (AAP copy).

Today, the national broadsheet has written three stories relating to the Journal of Climate paper — a news story, a feature and an editorial — seeking to portray its original story as the product of a dispute between the authors of the paper and criticising the ABC for using a technique favoured by The Oz itself: quoting non-scientists on climate (remember 80-year-old Wollongong local Kevin Court’s prominent views on sea level rise in 2009?). Today’s stories also delve deeper into the research paper’s contents.

Perhaps not deep enough. The stories paint the research paper as casting doubt on whether human-induced climate change is causing sea levels to rise. Here’s what is actually in the paper — and what you won’t read in The Australian.

The paper — Twentieth-century global-mean sea-level rise: is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? (lead author is JM Gregory) — is based on the observation that sea levels rose by more than might be expected in the 20th century, and that rise was linear (that is, the rate did not accelerate markedly as humans emitted more greenhouse gases).

The researchers found sea levels were rising largely due to glaciers melting and thermal expansion of the oceans (as water warms, it takes up more space and therefore sea levels rise). It is difficult to reconcile this conclusion with the one reached by Lloyd yesterday.

Sea level rise due to thermal expansion “shows a tendency for increasing rate as the magnitude of anthropogenic global climate change increases”, the paper said. It concluded the sea level rise was linear partly because of a difference in the number of volcanic eruptions between the early 20th century and the late 20th century, which had a greater impact on sea levels earlier on. This may have balanced out the increasing impact of human-induced warming, so that the overall rate was upwards and linear.

The paper found a key factor in sea level rise last century was glaciers melting, “consistent with a warming climate worldwide”. It suggested glacier melt may have contributed more to sea level rise in the early 20th century because low-altitude glaciers are the first to melt, and they contain more mass.

In any event, the paper found the linear trend in sea level rise has changed: “In the last two decades, the rate of [sea level rise] has been larger than the 20th-century time-mean, due to increased rates of thermal expansion, glacier mass loss, and ice discharge …”

The authors also explicitly state the paper is not aimed at “the detection and attribution of climate change”; it did not aim to attribute changes in the climate system to “the agents which forced those changes to occur (such as anthropogenic greenhouse gases …)”. Instead, it aimed at attributing sea level rises to oceans, land ice and water storage. So it was more about the mechanics of where the extra water is coming from, not why.

The Journal of Climate paper is one of many hundreds of scientific papers on climate change published each year. A common theme in recent years is that the impacts of climate change may be more severe, and happening more quickly, than previously predicted. Such papers do not tend to run prominently in The Australian.

Cathy Alexander —

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

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28 thoughts on “What you won’t read in The Australian on climate change

  1. rubiginosa

    We’ve seen this script before, of course, and we know how it plays out at The Australian. Remember when they shat all over Phil Watson’s paper? The disrespectful and disingenous treatment of the researchers’ own work and words continues apace.

    John Church is no stranger to The Australian’s treatment. He features in the infamous Kevin Court article,

    and has been attempting to explain sea-level rise to The Australian for a long time:

    Just as predictable are their post hoc rationalisations. Compare these paint-by-numbers editorials — The Age and The ABC are interchangable, as are the Royal Society and Met Office:
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/editorials/vig… (October 14, 2010)
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/editorials/vig… (January 16, 2013)

  2. Mike Flanagan

    Steve 777;
    I would like to add to your prognosis, and point out that industry, and in particular the Resources Industry, are already active in seeking relief via the public purse.
    We only have to drill a little deeper to realise that the persistent chant from the resources industry is about pressuring the public purse to support the escalation in costs of their necessary infrastructure.
    Much of this escalation in the cost of their infrastructure is the necessary re-engineering created by their own understanding of what to expect from the early onset of the dynamics of Climate Change, and its’ dramatic implications.
    Meanwhile they channel, through archaic and opaque accounting systems, vast amounts of funds to deny the public the facts about the truly horrendous implications if we continue their preferred option of ‘business as usual’.
    We only have to observe the numbers of their well funded clique of deniers lead by, PR, so called Think Tanks, Industry Bodies ,Associations, Consultants, Spin Doctors and registered political influence pedarlers together with dishonest academics and outright fraud to begin to understand their lack of ethics, understanding or responsibilities.
    This is all legitimised into tax deductible expenses to be employed to either provoke outright denial or acquiescence to their funders wishes, to slow the public’s reaction and deny them the facts. Much of their funding comes from the same corporates and suits who coolly fan the public’s knowledge into somnolent inaction
    The manner in which the public adopted PV in city areas is evidence that the public will readily and co-operatively adopt new ways of energising and galvanise themselves if they are given the facts.
    It is Industries’ Boards and Senior Management that lags and tries to obfuscate the necessary action to contain, mitigate and adapt to the forth coming maelstrom.
    The contradictions between their investment in the application of engineering principles (and principals) and their public statements together with their hidden financing of the contrariety is a stark example of their dishonest an unethical loads of codswallop they have been feeding the public and trying to influence our politicians with, over the last 20 years.
    Most of our corporate leaders and managers should hang their heads in shame, for they will be recognised for their inadequacies, and their abrogation of their responsibilities to the community, while focussing on their bottom lines
    And, I for one, am happy, but saddened to repeat, that they will be identified in the annals of history and they will be condemned for their both actions and their inaction.

  3. Peter Young

    Christopher i share your concerns im’ a green moderate centralist i have no problem with Nuclear, geo thermal, solar , i dont realy like wind its too variable to be useful for baseload power, but if we used the wind and hot air fromm the so called skeptic lobby ( code for paid Denialist lobby) might be a game changer!.

    The best option for Nuclear is thorium , also can’t be used for a nuclear weapons programme and the power plants are smaller and more efficient.

    There is also an Elephant in the room our current power grid needs replacing it was never designed to have as much power feedbacking into the grid as is happening.

    the governments tried to get people to go solar but they chose the wrong way feeding it back in to the grid and subsidising that option, then stand alone Solar power like i have.

    without grid upgrading there is potential for grid blowouts. unfortunately the pollies of all persuasions don’t want to deal with the grid needs upgrading they’d rather fund ponzi schemes like comomonwealth games etc. but it needs a serious bi partisan look at.

    and the other problem is the coal mining lobby are the biggest anti nuke lobyists in the business . because they don’t want to lose their political influence or monopoly on power generation..

    iam not anti coal mining we need it for steel. its time for Australia to change and prove its for real by gradualy phasing out our industrial revolution blinkered power generation policies .

    Its to easy for the bussines as usual approach plus there’s the donations factor .

    Also its easier to Scaremonger by the lunatics on either fringe of the debate then be honest about what needs fixing and to replace the current grid and power generation system i have no idea how much money or time it would take unfortunately not that it isn’t something worth doing for Australia as a nation.

    Also to do it would make you “unelectable”..

    iam an unafilliatated voter iam no member of any political party i would probably be disendorsed by every one for what i have posted if i was one that’s how stupid the politics are of the equation.

    the thing that gives me hope is the people are waking up to the business as usual approach campaign donations the follow the money trail.

    i think we have lost our opportunity but iam an optimist at heart but its a very cynical nation and world we live in.

    good posts every one.

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