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Apr 4, 2014

A tough sell: can these spinners change your mind on climate change?

Australians just aren't convinced on climate change. So we commissioned some spinners -- who are not necessarily greenies themselves -- to sell the message on global warming.

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The United Nations’ science body released a major report on climate change this week. But do you think it changed one single Australian’s mind?

You know the kind of report it is and what’s in it without reading it. Climate change is real and largely caused by people, it’s more serious than we thought, cue melting ice caps/rising sea levels/droughts/etc. Predictably, in Australia, Fairfax and the ABC gave the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report extensive coverage while it was largely ignored by News Corporation papers. So people who already think climate change is real had their views reinforced, and people who don’t didn’t hear about it.

There have been many such reports this century — from the IPCC (in 2001, 2007, 20014), universities, economists, NGOs, governments (green papers, white papers). Perhaps too many; Australians don’t seem to be listening.

Less than 50% of Australians think human-induced climate change is happening, according to extensive survey work by CSIRO. That number has dropped slightly in the last four years despite mounting scientific evidence to the contrary. This was the result when the CSIRO interviewed 5200 people last year:

The CSIRO found Australians were more concerned about household rubbish than climate change. And to every activist or expert who talks about “climate mitigation,” here’s a news flash: 81% of Australians have no idea what that means.

So there’s a disconnect between the experts and the public. People are not listening. We decided to try an experiment: ask professional communicators who are not necessarily environmentally minded how they would sell climate change to a sceptical public …

Tom Russell, senior copywriter with Clemenger BBDO who has worked on campaigns for Fox Sports:

Russell, who doesn’t think climate change is harming the planet to the extent people claim, says the IPPCC report is unlikely to make a difference. “I think people look at the paper and they’re not reading the climate change story because they feel like they’ve heard it before … you’ve either picked your side or you’re not interested any more.”

Climate change is over-exposed, and that’s part of the reason people are tuning out, Russell says. He cautions against getting bogged down in a “fact for fact” debate because it bores people. And he cautions against apocalyptic rhetoric; “shock tactic after shock tactic after shock tactic doesn’t work”. Russell doesn’t think this kind of message helps (it’s from the ABC on the IPCC report):

Rather, Russell would run climate campaigns that think outside the square and are less earnest, like this well-known campaign against speeding:

How else would this ad man sell climate change? First, reframe the debate. “You need to hit reset.” Find a poster person for the issue, a “middle man”, someone the public can trust, not necessarily left-leaning. Labor has not been consistent, and Russell doesn’t think Tim Flannery is quite right.

Stop running campaigns that tell sceptics “you are wrong or an idiot” because that makes people defensive. Stop lambasting deniers and treating global warming like a religion. Start making the case in plain English and in a more measured way. “You’ve get to get more local, more personal, more targeted and get people talking about it again,” Russell said. Focus on how climate change affects “me and my children”.

Surveys show men and older people are less likely to think climate change is real. Russell says it’s difficult to directly change their minds, so advocates should arm younger people with the tools to convince their families, friends and colleagues, a tactic he describes as “softly softly”. Similarly, advocates on climate should cut their own emissions, as this lends credibility. When people rail against climate sceptics then fly to New York for a week’s holiday or drive to work every day, they may fail to convince others.

Russell is somewhat sceptical on climate change but says he has no problem with a government cutting CO2 emissions because that won’t hurt anyone. But he says go about it in a sensible way that doesn’t demonise those with doubts.

Tony O’Leary, former communications adviser to John Howard and Tony Abbott:

O’Leary says climate change became caught up in paying higher taxes, via Labor’s carbon price, and that turned people off the whole issue. “I think that people find it hard to make the connection between tackling the issue and paying higher taxes,” he told Crikey. “There’s a disconnect … nobody likes paying higher tax.”

The veteran Liberal press officer, now retired, says those trying to communicate on climate change had been “a bit unclear” in the past but are improving. “They have got to deliver the message in a balanced way, to convince people. I think they’re on that path now. But they haven’t always been on that path.”

O’Leary says Labor has conflated concern about climate change with support for its carbon tax, alienating people who wanted to tackle the issue but were not convinced on the tax. He points out that Adelaide had at least 12 days over 40 degrees this summer, “but you go and convince them that the carbon tax is the solution”.

Toby Ralph, former PR agent for the Liberals, tobacco companies and the nuclear waste industry:

“Did someone outsource climate change PR to the press team at Malaysian Airways? It’s been chronically mismanaged,” Ralph told Crikey. “It’s become a ridiculous argument that you believe or reject like religion, with gleeful fear-mongering and panic on one side and exasperated eye-rolling on the other.”

Ralph criticises climate advocates for dire warnings about extinction, bushfires and rainstorms. “But psychology 101 should make it obvious that cognitive dissonance will kick in, so alarmists effectively talk stridently to themselves and fail to persuade others. Persuasion isn’t about facts, scare campaigns and hectoring, it’s about conversations and carrying people with you.”

So what should advocates do? They should seek out the middle ground, Ralph says. “They need to look through the eyes of the unpersuaded, get humble, get moderate and get relevant if they want to get results. They need to open, genuine conversation and debate rather than argument. They need to appear slightly uncertain rather than saying the science is settled.” Ralph says Rupert Murdoch captured this when he said he didn’t know what the truth was but was inclined to give the planet the benefit of the doubt.

*Next week: experts who are more environmentally minded. If you’re a master in communications or political strategy with a view on how to sell climate change, get in touch.

Cathy Alexander —

Cathy Alexander

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

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98 thoughts on “A tough sell: can these spinners change your mind on climate change?

  1. Tyger Tyger

    “They need to appear slightly uncertain rather than saying the science is settled.”

    Whaaaa? Even though the science IS settled?! Despite what you choose to “believe”. What’s lacking is the selling of the science.

    Where are the charismatic, articulate and measured climate scientists (there must be one or two out there!) willing to give up a few years of research time to get out in the community and explain the facts in a way that can be understood and digested by lay people? Who among them is even challenging the ludicrous notion that “belief” has anything to do with science? EXPLAIN!

    Where’s the leadership, co-ordination and funding from concerned, well-resourced organisations and individuals needed to mount a sustained education and publicity campaign? Why are there so few climate scientists writing to newspapers and participating in online discussions (with us plebs; not just between themselves) and taking on the deniers? Every denialist letter published in the papers should be met with a deluge of responses from those in the know. If they don’t get published, the scientists should band together and buy full page ads refuting the endless stream of hogwash we’re served up and protesting against the bias of the media. If the papers won’t run them that will almost certainly be an even bigger story. Want some funding to get that started? Try crowd funding. I’ve got $250 right here in my hand you can have right now; all you need to do is ask. ENGAGE!

    Why do scientists have this holier-than-thou attitude that won’t allow them to debate prominent deniers because it gives the latter credibility they don’t deserve? (Heads up, guys, these people already have great dollops of largely unchallenged credibility with significant sections of the community; your silence won’t change that.) Play them at their own game, because right now, it’s the winning game. TAKE ‘EM ON FFS!


    (And Rupert Murdoch captured the “uncertainty” about the science?! And doesn’t know what the truth is despite all the resources he has to hand? Yea, right. That would have to be Rupert Murdoch the avuncular, bit-dippy tweetaholic, not Rupert Murdoch the savvy, calculating media mogul, whose position as evidenced in his papers and on Fox News is crystal clear: deny, deny, deny. Rupert Murdoch has done more than any other individual on the planet to entrench this chimera of “uncertainty”.)

  2. Tyger Tyger

    “You have heard about the temperature “pause”, right? It’s pretty commonly accepted now.”

    I have, Tamas. I’ve heard all the denialist garbage in all its increasingly sophisticated, well-resourced forms. Pity for you it’s not as commonly accepted as you pretend.
    Leaving aside the risibility of suggesting the hottest 10 years on record occurring in the last 16 tallies with your claim there has been no warming in that period, there is no pause. The rate of atmospheric warming has SLOWED, NOT PAUSED, in the last decade and a half, but it’s nothing to be smug about.
    Firstly, it’s not statistically significant. Climate scientists require a minimum 30 years to establish trends. Secondly, much of the extra heat that has been trapped in recent years has gone to warming the oceans, in particular significant warming at far greater depths than previously detected. The impacts of this and whether it will continue thus, aren’t fully understood, although it’s known that warmer waters are less able to absorb CO2, so long term it can hardly be good news. Thirdly, if you ever bothered to look at a graph of global average temperatures over the last 150-odd years (the extent of reliable records) you’d see it’s not a straight line, thus warming could be said to have “paused” on a dozen previous occasions in that time. Again, none of these “pauses” was statistically significant.
    If you want to reduce “noise” in stastical analysis, extend the data sample. Do so with temperature data and the trend is apparent. On the other hand, if you want to misinform, obfuscate and deny, cherry pick.

  3. Scott Grant

    I just came across this piece today: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/02/14/277058739/1-in-4-americans-think-the-sun-goes-around-the-earth-survey-says

    Another in the continuing series of “Americans are stupid”, except you would probably find similar results in Australia.

    Yes, I agree with the thrust of this article. Facts and science are not going to cut it. It needs the professionals who know how to sell an idea in a way that connects with the gut.

    I find it difficult to avoid being “alarmist” because I find the truth truly alarming. But there is little I can do about it if the majority don’t want to listen.

  4. David Hand

    From article 1 on the google search you have suggested, we get this. “The IPCC attributes the recent slowing of surface temperatures to a combination of external and internal climate factors. For example, solar activity has been relatively low and volcanic activity has been relatively high, causing less solar energy to reach the Earth’s surface.”

    Now I accept that the article is attempting to debunk the significance of surface temperatures as opposed to ocean etc, but you cannot escape the fact that the IPCC is attempting to explain an unpredicted pause in surface temperature rises.

    I want to emphasise that I accept the view that AGW is real. What I think has really done the damage regarding action on climate change is not the colourful characters on the sceptic side that the ABC and Crikey love mocking but the religious cult among climate activists to whom no new data, no examination of what is essentially uncertainty due to the failure of models relied on in the past, is acceptable.

    We are hectored into abandoning ocean front property, put wind turbines up everywhere, pay $23 a tonne in penalty charges for power, suffer public transport, be bullied into turning the lights off for an hour as a public statement of our belief in the cult, all by a bunch of people whose predictions are consistently wrong.

    Their language changes monthly. It used to be global warming. Then climate change. Suddenly is was extreme weather events. Pity about all those hurricanes Queensland endured this summer. Oh… dang.. Err maybe there’ll be one next week to save all our embarrassment and we can go on Lateline and tell Emma that the latest drop of rain in Queensland is yet more proof of the coming apocalypse.

  5. Tyger Tyger

    David Hand @32, you’re nitpicking when you say the science isn’t settled. Science, unlike theology, ideology and the like, never speaks in absolute terms, rather probability, is open to new information and works on the basis of “thesis, antithesis, hypothesis”. Thus science will never claim with certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow, nevertheless the scientific probability of its not doing so is so minute as to be negligible. It is science and the scientific method’s greatest strength that it operates so.
    In the case of AGW, the accumulated evidence and the way predictions made by climate scientists for over 50 years have been borne out clearly confirm that, while it may not be as “certain” as the sun rising in the morning, the probability that the observed warming trend is anthropogenic is overwhelming.

    On Flannery, I suggest you take the time to read the linked article I posted @7, rather than repeating the slanders of Bolt, the IPA, et. al. as if they had even a shred of credibility. (And you sit in judgement on science and scientists! You might want to find some better allies.)
    Furthermore, adducing evidence of extreme weather events such as the 15 year “drought of the millennium” and its subsequent breaking by two and a half years of biblical rain as if this somehow excoriates Flannery and supports your nothing-to-see-here “argument” is probably not the best path to go down.

    Peer review? In what sense have the IPCC “bastardised” the term? Idiotic.

    Finally, what has the Chairman of the IPCC being a mechanical engineer have to do with anything? Libraries are run by “mere” librarians. Does it follow they contain nothing of value? I imagine the man’s an excellent administrator and need be nothing more. It’s hilarious how people who make that point, unless they are themselves climate scientists, which you clearly are not, don’t immediately exclude themselves from the debate. Hoist with your own petard.

  6. Michael Jones

    This article is about obstructing action on climate change while pretending to do the opposite.

    It presents myths about selling the issue, that are actually designed to sabotage efforts to sell it.

    Idiotic fake advice like ‘appear uncertain’ and ‘don’t mention that it will destroy the world’ are actually intended to cripple efforts to alert the public to the threat of climate change.

    In addition, their attacks on the ‘strategy’ serve as cover for the vicious attacks that have been made by the other side of this conflict.

    The myth is that people aren’t supporting action because the people calling for action have not persuaded them. (There’s also a bunch of fake language about how climate action advocates have been too aggressive, too critical, and other bare faced lies to that effect).

    The reality is that people aren’t supporting action because
    a vicious campaign of misinformation, threats, censorship and exactly this kind of myth-making, has been waged against the public by not only the conservative Murdoch press, but others who should know better, such as the abc, and it seems, crikey, who buy into these self-sabotaging myths and allow conservatives and denialists to control the discussion.

    If you ask a bunch of conservatives, of course they will give you ‘good advice’ about how best to lose to them in this debate. If you ask a bunch of spin doctors, of course they will promote their deliberately dysfunctional approach to dealing with serious issues. The last thing spin doctors want is anyone talking about facts or evidence!

    I mean for crying out loud, one of them worked for the tobacco industry, which invented the denialist and ‘fake debate’ tactics that climate change deniers have used to such success.

    If you want good advice on how to sell climate change, do the OPPOSITE to what is advised here. The purpose of this propaganda is to pull people AWAY from effective strategies that have never actually been put into action (despite popular myths to the contrary).

  7. David Hand

    Hey Tyger,
    Thanks for agreeing with me that the science of global warming isn’t settled. I’m glad you understand the scientific method. Please cite one, merely one example of the scientific method being applied by anyone in the production of any part of any IPCC report. Just one will do mate.

    You will find that the science backing climate change is statistics. High temperatures this century are statistically significant. They are not random and something is causing them. I, and probably you, believe that carbon put into the atmosphere by humans since the industrial revolution began has probably caused it. But that’s as far as you can go. Your contention that “the science is settled” exposes you and the climate cult to ridicule when predictions are proven wrong. Like Flannery’s sad piece in the New Scientist on 16 June 2007.

    So I don’t need News Ltd to tell me. I get it from the man himself. The link is “sciencearchive.org.au/nova/newscientist/105ns_001.htm” You can read the man himself. And weep. See how he deftly published it in the “new scientist”? Must be true then, eh?

    Peer review.
    If the IPCC adopts peer review in the way scientific journals do, how did the World Wildlife Fund report predicting the Himalayan glaciers melting in 30 years get published in the 2005 edition? It caused huge embarrassment. What I think the IPCC does is send drafts of its report to people who have registered for them to read it and comment. Then they call it “peer reviewed” This is not how scientific journals do it. Someone tell me I’m wrong.

    The chairman’s qualifications is just a smart-arsed poke at believers who suggest that scepticism is unscientific because this climate change stuff is published by scientists, when it’s not.

    In my view, the most effective way of the scientific community to get the story out about the risks humanity faces with global warming is to sack the activists and fundamentalists, do not be concerned about the uncertainty, trust the public with raw data, don’t be afraid to change position when new data emerges and stop treating us all like children.

  8. Tyger Tyger

    David Hand@38, the article is not trying to “debunk” anything; it’s explaining the science. If you say you accept the view that AGW is real – and for argument’s sake I’ll take your word for that -you’ll hopefully know the fundamental reason why: the near-200 year old theory, long since confirmed, that certain atmospheric gases – CO2, CH4, N2O, water vapour, ozone, etc. – allow heat in the form of white light from the sun to pass through, yet absorb and re-emit lower energy infrared heat escaping from the Earth. It’s why the Earth, with its atmosphere rich in these gases, has a 30 deg. higher global average temperature than the atmosphere-free Moon, despite their being the same mean distance from the Sun. It’s why Venus, the apparent victim of a runaway greenhouse effect, with its 96.5% CO2 atmosphere, is by far the hottest planet in the solar system despite being much further from the Sun than Mercury, which again, has no atmosphere. In the words of the article you’ve just cited:

    “… it all boils down to physics and conservation of energy. We continue to increase the greenhouse effect by burning more and more fossil fuels. The extra energy trapped in the Earth’s climate system by that increased greenhouse effect can’t just disappear, it has to go somewhere.”

    Your claim about no new data being acceptable is preposterous. The IPCC’s latest report emphasises that there has been a doubling of evidence since the 4th AR and that this has only served to reinforce their conclusions that AGW is real, happening now and that we must act to reduce GHG emissions immediately or face climate disaster. How on earth does that constitute a “religious cult”? And what evidence would you prefer climate activists consider “acceptable”, if not the overwhelming SCIENTIFIC evidence?

    You DON’T pay $23 a tonne in penalty charges for power. The big polluters do and you are compensated for the resultant increase in energy prices. The Abbott government want to remove the tax yet keep the compensation. So much for “budget responsibility”. (BTW, keep your ocean-front property by all means, though I’d recommend you look into what the insurance industry thinks of AGW or it might come back to bite you.)

    And you do yourself no favours uttering ill-informed inanities such as “Pity about all those hurricanes (sic) Queensland endured this summer. Oh… dang.. “, etc.
    Do some research. Then you might learn things like:

    “Global warming may mean fewer cyclones in far north Queensland but they could get stronger, scientists say at a national climate change conference in Cairns.
    One study from the CSIRO predicts that rising temperatures could halve the frequency of tropical cyclones.”



  9. Tyger Tyger

    I think it’s the latter, nullifidian@47. Check out his blog – http://tamascalderwood.com
    There’s some funny stuff in there. My favourite is a copy of comments he made in Crikey and the responses to them headed, “ex Labor MP Steve Gibbons can’t explain why we need the carbon tax” (Posted Oct. 11 2013) in which his “arguments” are torn to shreds by a number of people who know what they’re talking about. The best bit is his response in the comments upon being told warming in the oceans has increased:

    “Oh, ok Richard: An atmospheric gas is heating up the deep oceans before it’s heating up the atmosphere. This was unpredicted and remains unexplained.”

    So, just another denier utterly convinced by ideology, yet who doesn’t understand even the first principle of AGW – the greenhouse effect – or know that far from being “unpredicted” and “unexplained”, the warming of the oceans is routinely cited as the reason for more than half of the observed rise in sea level due to thermal expansion. And he proudly posts this stuff! Ya gotta laugh.

  10. Tyger Tyger

    They’re not saying any such thing, Tamas@53! Just as on your blog, you make and reproduce comments that outright contradict your obsessive wrong-headedness and show just how ignorant you are of the facts.

    “In addition to robust multi-decadal warming, global mean surface temperature exhibits substantial decadal and interannual variability.”

    Note the “IN ADDITION TO ROBUST MULTI-DECADAL WARMING…” and the “SUBSTANTIAL DECADAL AND INTERANNUAL VARIABILITY…” Do you even begin to understand the difference between AGW/climate CHANGE and climate VARIABILITY? The effects of solar cycles, volcanic activity, the ENSO cycle and so on? How these factors can affect the balance between surface and ocean warming, or, in the case of volcanic activity, block sunlight from reaching the Earth? After all, it was the denialist community who, in years gone by, told us climate was so complex we’d never be sure what’s going on. Now you’ve no time for complexity?

    “Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends.”

    Which is precisely what is meant by “noise” in statistical analysis and why you need to look at a larger data set to establish long-term trends. You sneer at people elsewhere in these posts for not understanding “simple mathematics” – perhaps simplistic would have been more apt – yet you can’t get your head around the basics of statistical analysis.

    While engaged in the act of cherry-picking a paragraph from this report – rather badly for your purposes (Hint: when cherry-picking, don’t serve ’em up complete with the branch) – you seem to have missed the conclusions. Given they’re boxed and in big, bold colourful type I’m not sure how you managed that, but I’ll help you out by reprinting the ones relevant to your “argument”:




    Somehow, to you, that reads, “They are saying the world has warmed, but not for the past 15 years.” You have no idea.

  11. Tyger Tyger

    The following from an interview with World Bank head Jim Yong Kim in The Guardian, 4/4/14, while not specifically related to “selling” AGW and speaking more generally of the “climate change community”, does underline what I’ve been saying about the lack of leadership from climate scientists:

    ‘Jim Yong Kim said it was possible to cap the rise in global temperatures at 2C but that so far there had been a failure to replicate the “unbelievable” success of the 15-year-long coalition of activists and scientists to develop a treatment for HIV.
    The bank’s president – a doctor active in the campaign to develop drugs to treat HIV – said he had asked the climate change community: “Do we have a plan that’s as good as the plan we had for HIV?” The answer, unfortunately, was no.
    “Is there enough basic science research going into renewable energy? Not even close. Are there ways of taking discoveries made in universities and quickly moving them into industry? No. Are there ways of testing those innovations? Are there people thinking about scaling [up] those innovations?”
    Interviewed ahead of next week’s biannual World Bank meeting, Kim added: “They [the climate change community] kept saying, ‘What do you mean a plan?’ I said a plan that’s equal to the challenge. A plan that will convince anyone who asks us that we’re really serious about climate change, and that we have a plan that can actually keep us at less than 2C warming. We still don’t have one.”‘


  12. David Hand

    Hey Tyger,
    Thank you for providing the link to that ABC story. It contains a refreshing dose of adult level uncertainty. The opening statement says,

    “Global warming may mean fewer cyclones in far north Queensland but they could get stronger, scientists say”. Note the words “may” and “could”. These are words you never hear the activists say.

    My point about the absence of a tropical cyclone this year was not that it proves global warming wrong or actually about the climate change debate. It merely pointed out that we were saved from a shrill true believer going on the ABC and blaming the Abbott government for causing it by trying to repeal the mining tax because “the science is settled”.

    Mate, you are challenging my comments by arguing for the case of global warming when I am not actually arguing a sceptic case. What I am arguing is the abject failure of the scientific and political community to make the case and I believe it is the religious fundamentalism that has captured the warmist side that is responsible. Your original comment where you hotly maintained how the science is settled is a good example of what I’m saying.

    While you hold that view, you cannot examine objectively awkward new facts that challenge absolute dogma spruiked by the cult. Examples in this thread are the pause in surface temperature rises that even the IPCC acknowledges. How can we learn what has caused it when climate cultists run screaming from the room shouting that the science is settled?

    Then there’s Flannery’s awful prediction of eternal drought in 2007.

    If the scientific community cannot discuss these issues, that simply cannot expect the public to tke them seriously.

  13. Tyger Tyger

    @David again, not sure how I missed your post @48, but there you have it. You seem pretty sure about how peer-review works at the IPCC, but as usual you’ve got it wrong. The following extracts are from an IPCC “Procedures” document titled “The Preparation of IPCC Reports”:

    “The authors will work on the basis of peer reviewed and internationally available literature, including manuscripts that can be made available for IPCC review and selected non-peer reviewed literature. Source, quality and validity of non-peer reviewed literature, such as private sector information need to be critically assessed by the authors and copies will have to be made available to reviewers who request them. Disparate views for which there is significant scientific or technical support should be clearly identified in IPCC reports, together with relevant arguments. Expert meetings and workshops may be used to support the preparation of a report.”

    “Review is an essential element of preparing IPCC reports and is governed by three principles. First, IPCC reports should represent the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic findings and be as comprehensive as possible. Secondly, a wide circulation process should aim to involve as many experts as possible from all regions of the world. Thirdly, the review process should be objective, open and transparent.
    Review generally takes place in three stages:
    1. Expert review of the first draft of the report
    2. Government/expert review of the second draft of the report and the draft Summary for Policymakers
    3. Government review of the revised draft.”


    Note the government involvement in the process. Unless you’re prepared to make the sort of stretch climate deniers used to rely on (before they got sophisticated and adopted the, “I’m not a climate change denier, but…” strategy) and claim their’s some sort of massive conspiracy between the entire climate science community and just about every national government on the planet, I’d say your claims look a mite ridiculous.

    BTW, I entered that “link” you provided re Flannery and got squat. But I’ll attempt to hunt the article down and get back to you.

  14. Tyger Tyger

    Ok, David@48. Found it! Had to subscribe to New Scientist but hey, it’s a good mag. – lots of climate science! – and the online subscription is very reasonably priced. Oh, and I still believe you’ve twisted and misrepresented what Flannery said, which begins:

    “OVER the past 50 years southern Australia has lost about 20 per cent of its rainfall, and one cause is almost certainly global warming. Similar losses have been experienced in eastern Australia, and although the science is less certain it is probable that global warming is behind these losses too. But by far the most dangerous trend is the decline in the flow of Australian rivers: it has fallen by around 70 per cent in recent decades, so dams no longer fill even when it does rain. Growing evidence suggests that hotter soils, caused directly by global warming, have increased evaporation and transpiration and that the change is permanent. I BELIEVE THE FIRST THING AUSTRALIANS NEED TO DO IS TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT “THE DROUGHT” – WHICH IS TRANSIENT – AND START TALKING ABOUT THE NEW CLIMATE.” (my emphasis)

    He goes on to advocate a new energy economy, not just to cut emissions but also to save water; a more efficient irrigation system; the drought-proofing of cities through the use of water tanks on the basis that the decline in river flows is three times that in rainfall; and the building of desalination plants powered by renewables. All eminently sensible stuff I’d have thought.
    The fact that an extreme weather event like the 2010-11 floods, following the extreme weather event that was the 15 year “millenium drought” did see the dams fill again, hardly changes the thrust of his argument, given he’s talking about an ongoing process which began over 50 years ago.
    Perhaps he should have added – even if only to keep the cherry pickers at bay – that dams will of course fill in cases of flood, or perhaps he credits his readers with enough intelligence to figure that out for themselves. In any case it wouldn’t change the overarching point he’s making, which is that THE CLIMATE, as distinct from THE WEATHER, which always varies within the climatic parameters and always will, is changing irrevocably. Saying we should be concerned about and adapting to a decline of 70% in the flow of rivers IN RECENT DECADES by doing things like building desalination plants is hardly invalidated by two years of flooding in twenty.
    The way you interpret it is precisely what’s meant by “cherry picking”. You seize on the tiniest thing to support your “argument”, magnify it and ignore the rest. You also did it @48 in the case of the Himalayan glacier mistake in the 4th IPCC AR. Thousands of well-funded deniers trawl through a 2,800 page report and find one mistake – to which the IPCC has freely admitted – and for you that’s it, the whole thing is rubbish. Why don’t you apply the same standards to your own utterances, like, “What I think the IPCC does…” in relation to peer review? (@48) WHAT YOU THINK!?! That’s unsubstantiated nonsense, but in your strange world it’s perfectly ok for you to throw hand grenades, while your opponent farting out of turn trashes their entire argument.

    “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5

    (And yes, before you latch on to that and ignore everything else I’ve said, I remain an atheist. Doesn’t stop me valuing The Bible for the great work of literature it is.)

  15. David Hand

    I’m a glutton for punishment!

    Thanks for reproducing part of Flannery’s sad piece from 2007. By expressing a strong view that the dry years up to 2007 are “the new climate”, Flannery was pushing policy makers to enact policy on the basis of indefinite drought.

    As a result of this, we have hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in mothballed desalinisation plants that we are all paying for in our water charges. Thanks, Tim.

    The most egregious change in policy due to Flannery et al spruiking of eternal drought was the awful decision to redefine the operating protocols of the Wivenhoe dam. The dam was built after Brisbane flooded in 1974 with the express purpose of protecting Brisbane from future flood events.

    By the time the climate cult had had its effect on policy, the Wivenhoe operating protocols were changed to include water supply for Brisbane. At the time of Flannery’s sad piece, the dam was very low. Now to protect against flood, you need the dam to be empty but to ensure water supply, you need the dams full. So the engineers, thanks to “scientifically proven” influence from the climate druids, had to work with opposing objectives.

    Guess which protocol the dam was being managed under when Brisbane flooded?

    SMH 11 Mar 2012: “Releases from Wivenhoe Dam raised water levels in the Brisbane River by up to 10 metres during January’s flood, a panel of independent hydrologists has found.

    The hydrology report, commissioned by the Insurance Council of Australia and published yesterday, ruled the Brisbane flood to be a “dam release flood”.

    Flood events in lower Lockyer Creek, in the lower Bremer River and in the lower Brisbane River were dwarfed by the subsequent water level rise associated with releases from Wivenhoe Dam

    It named the release of water from Wivenhoe Dam as being the “principal immediate cause” of the riverine flood, as rain ceased about 6pm on January 11, more than 24 hours before the Brisbane River peaked overnight on January 12-13.”

    This is what I’m talking about regarding science not settled. I’m not saying that the world is not warming. I’m not saying that no action is necessary. I’m saying that when a climate cultist goes on TV and says that we have about 10 minutes left to dismantle our civilisation or we will all become extinct, the public has reason to be sceptical. It’s all very well to lament that “casting doubt on scientific evidence is easier to do in a few sentences” But that’s why Flannery’s overstatements are so damaging. Doubt is actually cast by apocalyptic predictions being spectacularly wrong.

    And that’s not unscientific. Or denialist. Or unsubstantiated nonsense.

  16. rhwombat

    Cathy (& Sophie). The personal tone is a product of the overt and covert linkage of climate denialism with one side of the commercial/political axis in the Anglophone world. Look at the identity and standing of the denialist partisans both cited and commenting: intellectual prostitutes who twist science and personally attack scientists (see Mann, Hanson, Flannery et al) for the benefit of their corporate master’s profit and influence.

    The evil here is wholly asymmetric, with the well organised and funded Denial Industry using the tools and strategies developed for the tobacco, nuclear and arms industries: straight denial, biased reporting (like The Australian and Fox News), false equivalence (ibid), smear (like “Brown’s Bitch” and the location of Tim Flannery’s house as promulgated by Hadley), trolling (like Hand & Calderwood), promotion of rabble rousing demagogues (like Monckton, Jones-the-Parrot & his army of the incontinent) and the carefully seeded poison of pseudo-independent ‘think tank’ propaganda agencies (like the IPA and CIS). The tactic that really rankles is the constant projection: the Climate Change Industry (like the equally pernicious Public Health Industry that BK keeps banging on about) consists of a pitiful few green/left scientific dinosaurs who conspire delude the honest consumer with manufactured guilt while waltzing between conferences on gigantic tax-payer funded salaries topped up with enormous research grants aimed at decrying the minimal profit of the fossil fuel industry profits and the insignificant pittances paid to the honest information brokers of the PR industry.This is not only bullshit, the purveyors know it is bullshit, and are now being given an opportunity to pretend that the anti-bullshitters just aren’t trying hard enough to counter the bullshit. The only option left is to call the bullshitters at every opportunity – and that is what Tyger has done. There is no valid counter-argument to climate change, there are only self interested profiteers, professional liars and their deluded dupes trying to deny responsibility.

  17. Andrew Dolt

    David Hand, unfortunately apocalyptic predictions are very likely to be spectacularly right. But rich old billionaires won’t feel the pain, so it’s all ok if you are one. http://blogs.law.widener.edu/climate/2014/04/05/crimes-against-humanitythe-genocidal-campaign-of-the-climate-change-contrarians/
    And Sophie Benjamin, the tone of the debate is always going to be heated because
    a) some of your commenters are well aware of the planetary disaster being created by humanity for itself, and are understandably upset about it, and
    b) the rest of your commenters are highly emotionally invested in not realising how wrong they are about it, both because it’s very upsetting in itself (see (a) above) but also because they don’t want to notice the egg on their faces.

  18. Tyger Tyger

    Forgive my cynicism, David@79, in not putting my trust in a report commissioned by the ICA, which clearly has a vested interest in finding precisely what it did.
    To begin with, Wivenhoe dam was planned in the early 1970s as BOTH a flood mitigation and water storage dam.

    The Queensland Flood Commission report (link below) contains this, from the Manual of Operational Procedures for Flood Mitigation at Wivenhoe and Somerset Dams:

    “The preface also makes clear the primary objectives of the procedures. They are, in order of importance, to:
    – Ensure the structural safety of the dams
    – Provide optimum protection of urbanised areas from inundation
    – Minimise disruption to rural life in the valleys of the Brisbane and Stanley Rivers
    – Retain the storage at Full Supply Level at the conclusion of the Flood Event
    – Minimise impacts to riparian flora and fauna during the drain down phase of the Flood Event.”

    Furthermore, far from the engineers operating under some Green/Left – in Queensland! – protocols determined by an editorial Tim Flannery wrote for The New Scientist, the Commission found that the engineers did not operate according to the manual full stop:

    “On 8 January, Mr Ayre [Senior Flood Operations Engineer] made no conscious change to the strategy in which the dam had been operating when he took over his shift: strategy W1. He did contemplate the possibility of a strategy change over the following days: to strategy W2. There was no change of strategy between his shift and the engineers’ conference, when the fact that the flood event was increasing in seriousness was discussed. The prospect of higher flows from the Lockyer and Bremer was recognised, as was the possibility of reducing releases from Wivenhoe to contain the flows. It was then acknowledged that the dam operations were on the cusp between W1 and W2 (not W3). That night, though, at about 7.00 pm, it was recognised that the release rate from Wivenhoe would have to be elevated. No actual strategy change was documented; at best, it can be said that the actions taken were consistent with strategy W3. It follows that Wivenhoe Dam was operated in breach of the manual from 8.00 am on 8 January 2011 until the evening of 9 January 2011.”

    The Commission went so far as to make the following recommendation:

    “16.1 The Crime and Misconduct Commission should investigate whether the conduct of Mr Tibaldi [Flood Operations Engineer], Mr Ayre and Mr Malone [Flood Operations Engineer] relating to:
    • preparation of documents surrounding the January 2011 flood event, including the 17 January 2011 brief to the Minister, the 2 March 2011 flood event report, and statements provided to the Commission
    • oral testimony given to the Commission
    evidences offence/s against the Criminal Code, and/or official misconduct under the Crime and Misconduct Act 2001 committed by any, or all, of them.”

    Despite the above, modelling done for the Commission on the effects of the strategy implemented found that:

    “…in light of the information available at the time, that, allowing for the limits of the strategies in the Wivenhoe manual, the flood engineers achieved close to the best possible flood mitigation result for the January 2011 flood event.”

    Nowhere in the report is there a single mention of any of what you have said about the dam levels maintained prior to the flooding event. I’m guessing Sth East Queeensland’s demand for water has increased somewhat since the 1970s given it’s been the fastest growing area of Australia for much of that time; that may have something to do with it.
    Nor does the report mention any “…egregious change in policy due to Flannery et al spruiking of eternal drought.”


    BTW, my reference to “unsubstantiated nonsense” was in relation to what you said about the IPCC’s peer review process, nothing to do with this issue. Further evidence of a bit of a pattern at work in the way you frame your responses, don’t you think?

  19. Tyger Tyger

    David@85: “The fact I pointed out remains unassailably true. At the time of flood event in 2012 the dam was full and it was spilling water at its maximum rate at the height of the flood event.”

    “The Wivenhoe Dam when full to the top of the wall has a storage capacity of 2.6 million megalitres (ML)… This is divided into two sections. There is a water storage compartment of 1.15 million ML… On top of that sits a flood mitigation compartment of 1.45 million ML.
    By convention the dam is deemed 100% full when the level is 1.15 million ML. At 2.6 million ML it is therefore 225% full. You will hear that these compartments are split 40:60. The simple application of a calculator will tell you that should be 44:56.
    At 225% full the dam wall is threatened, so the managers try to keep the levels below 200%, at which time the sluice gates are ineffective and they have to open a series of valves which leads to an uncontrolled release. DURING THE LATEST EVENT THE LEVEL PEAKED AT 191%, I think,* which is as close as they’d want to go for orderly operation. At that point they were pretty much obliged to release an amount equivalent to what was coming in. Hence we had a flood but we would have had a flood anyway, because the Wivenhoe only controls 40% of the Brisbane River catchment. There was plenty coming down the Lockyer Creek, which joins the Brisbane about 5km below the Wivenhoe wall, and the Bremer River, which enters further down via Ipswich.” (my emphasis)


    “Unassailably true”, eh? And they were never at any time “…spilling water at its maximum rate…” Have a look at the Commission report @83 and you’ll see that they never reached the highest rate – W4 – and that there was some contention as to whether the rate they were operating at was W2 or W3.

    As for the “dam-caused flood”:

    “According [to] the managing authority, SEQ Water Grid Manager, the Wivenhoe dam was designed to reduce the level of a 1974-sized flood by 2 m. Given this flood’s peak of 4.46 m (1 m less than 1974), without the dam, the river would have risen much higher, inundating many more areas.”


    * In fact it was 190%. I checked. Please note the word “peaked”. Oh, and thanks for conceding I have the time to do the research and you don’t.

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