When One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts delivered his maiden speech to the Senate on September 13 of this year, he used the occasion to attack the science of climate change. In his speech, Roberts labelled climate change a “scam”, said it was prone to “hyperbolic predictions” and accused no less auspicious an organisation than the Bureau of Meteorology of manipulating climate data.

If Pauline Hanson is her party’s multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity expert, Malcolm Roberts entered Parliament as the self-proclaimed One Nation party climate change expert (with a background in coal mining).

The following exchanges unravel the ideological war between One Nation and its fiercest opponent: science.

One Nation says: On One Nation’s website the party alleges that climate change scientists, the United Nations and global governments including Australia are part of a mass environmental deception. Keep in mind, neither Hanson nor any other senator in One Nation is a qualified scientist.

“Climate change should not be about making money for a lot of people and giving scientists money. Lets [sic] know the facts and scientific evidence to make a well informed decision as to how best to look after our environment.”

“Paris’ main role was to endorse the climate sham. It gives Hunt and Turnbull a way to keep moving Australia under tighter UN control. This is despite there being no empirical evidence that carbon dioxide from humans affects climate.”

Science responds: According to NASA’s website, there is a global scientific consensus that humans have contributed to climate change phenomena like global warming. NASA’s scientists include Dr Carmen Boening, who has a PhD in physical oceanography and is a part of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, and Dr Michael Gunson, an atmospheric scientist with a PhD in chemistry.

“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

The CSIRO, Australia’s leading scientific research organisation, is responsible for inventing wi-fi and Aeroguard insect repellent. The CSIRO has been monitoring climate data and producing biennial reports since 2012. CSIRO research indicates last century global sea levels rose by 20cm. Global temperatures in this century have increased year upon year, with 2015 ranking the warmest year on record. The CSIRO says it’s getting hot in here:

“The Bureau of Meteorology’s Manager of Climate Monitoring, Dr Karl Braganza said Australia was already experiencing the effects of climate change with record-breaking heat now becoming commonplace across the country.”

And why?

“CSIRO Senior Scientist and leader of the NESP Earth Systems and Climate Change Hub, Dr Helen Cleugh said the [climate] changes were due to an increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, which act like a blanket by keeping heat in the Earth’s lower atmosphere.”

Science finds: A report released on Monday by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies based at James Cook University titled “Life and Death after Great Barrier Reef bleaching” found the highest recorded bleaching levels at the Great Barrier Reef:

“Scientists have confirmed the largest die-off of corals ever recorded on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.”

“The worst affected area, a 700 km swath of reefs in the northern region of the Great Barrier Reef has lost an average of 67% of its shallow-water corals in the past 8-9 months. Further south, over the vast central and southern regions of the Great Barrier Reef, the scientists were relieved to find a much lower death toll.”

As the figure above indicates, coral bleaching is most acute in the northern section of the reef. Scientists from the ARC forecast that it will take 10 to 15 years for coral in the northern region of the reef to regenerate.

The central and southern portions of the reef remain in relatively healthy condition.

In an attempt to create a political splash last week, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party held a party meeting at Great Keppel Island, in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef.

One Nation reacts: Hanson, having never attended university, put forth her opinion that the reef was in “pristine condition”, going so far as to deny global warming had a significant impact on coral bleaching.

As the ARC figure shows, the southern part of the reef has been largely unaffected by bleaching events, precisely the location Hanson and Roberts chose to visit.

Science weighs in: An investigation by The Guardian earlier this year cited that warmer water temperatures due to global warming was responsible for coral bleaching. Scientists assert the levels of coral bleaching were made 175 times more likely by human carbon emissions.

One Nation deflects: One Nation seems to have found an ally in Alan Jones, who last month revealed he was the public face behind the government’s Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef Initiative. The initiative states that its aim is to promote more positive coverage of the reef in line with preservation efforts. However Jones characterised the organisation as challenging climate “Armaggedonists” and responding to those painting the Australian government as “environmental vandals”.

Pauline Hanson and her party, like Jones, prefer discussions of tourism and industry to scientific debates. While on Great Keppel Island, more than 1000 kilometres away from the site of the highest levels of coral bleaching ever recorded, Hanson reiterated her party’s position on climate:

“When we have these agendas that are actually destroying our tourism industry and businesses … we need to ask the questions, and we want answers.”

One Nation says: On November 7, Malcolm Roberts, a former coal mine manager who has worked in the coal industry since 1977, released his report titled “On Climate, CSIRO Lacks Empirical Proof. Roberts repeated Hanson’s position that the Great Barrier Reef has not been adversely affected by global warming or extreme weather events:

“Green politicians, activists and nongovernment organisations tell us our Great Barrier Reef is dying yet scientific researchers and tour boat operators who live on the reef confirm that it’s thriving. What is threatened is the reef’s tourist industry as international tourists are scared away from visiting an imagined dead reef fabricated by emotional campaigns. Why?”

“Formerly as federal Environment Minister, Greg Hunt reported to the UN on the state of our Great Barrier Reef. That undermined Australian sovereignty and governance. We have no responsibility to report to the UN. Australia’s governing document is our constitution.”

Roberts’ report levels wider criticism at the CSIRO, which, he says, “contradict science and history”. Roberts disputes the CSIRO’s assertion that humans have contributed to an increase in CO2 emissions and calls for an independent inquiry into CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation have a longstanding call for a royal commission into the “corruption of climate science”.

Science responds: Two weeks ago, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Gavin Schmidt, an Oxford graduate in mathematics who was recognised as an author of a climate change report that won the joint award of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote a letter to Malcolm Roberts. In the letter, Schmidt brings attention to a number of Roberts’ “misconceptions”.

“You appear to hold a number of misconceptions which I am happy to clarify at this time. Firstly, in the graphs you show the data is quite clearly (and correctly) labelled as originating from GHCN. For your information, GHCN stands for the Global Historical Climatology Network and is a project of the NOAA National Centre for Environmental Information.”

“You appear to be mistaken as the effect of homogeneity adjustments (from whatever source) on Arctic temperatures.”

Schmidt refers Roberts to graphs pertaining to global surface temperature history and homogenised temperature calculations in the Arctic, which Roberts had previously rejected.

Peter Fray

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