Climate Cover-Up

Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming

“This is a story of betrayal, a story of selfishness, greed, and irresponsibility on an epic scale.” That’s how James Hoggan opens his newly published book Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. Hoggan initially thought there was a fierce  scientific controversy about climate change. Sensibly he did a lot of reading, only to find to his surprise that there was no such controversy. How did the public confusion arise?  There was nothing accidental about it. As a public relations specialist, Hoggan observed with gathering horror a campaign at work.

“To a trained eye the unsavoury public relations tactics and techniques and the strategic media manipulation became obvious. The more I thought about it, the more deeply offended I became.”

DeSmogBlog was born to research the misinformation campaigns and share the information widely. This book pulls together some of that research in an organised narrative. Richard Littlemore has assisted Hoggan in the writing.

Climate scientists are sometimes blamed for not communicating their message clearly enough to the public. If they tried to match the efforts of the denial campaigners as detailed by Hoggan they wouldn’t have any time to do their science. Those who vociferously claim that anthropogenic global warming is still uncertain and doubtful certainly don’t spend time and money on any science. That is not what they are interested in. As far back as 1991 a group of coal-related organisations set out, in their own words, “to reposition global warming as a theory (not fact)” and “supply alternative facts to support the suggestion that global warming will be good.” This was the pattern of the work done in succeeding years by a variety of corporations and industry associations who devoted considerable financial resources to influence the public conversation. They used slogans and messages they had tested for effectiveness but not accuracy.  They hired scientists prepared to say in public things they could not get printed in the peer-reviewed scientific press. They took advantage of mainstream journalists’ interest in featuring contrarian and controversial science stories. They planned “grassroots” groups to give the  impression that they were not an industry-driven lobby. New Zealand’s Climate “Science” Coalition and the International Coalition it helped to found fit this purpose nicely.

Hoggan describes the work of many individuals and organisations who are available for spreading the doctrine of doubt. Conservative think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) have played a major part in the task in the new millenium. Their donors are well disguised, but in the case of CEI have certainly in the past included ExxonMobil and probably GM and Ford. Their advocacy, such as the infamous TV commercials portraying the benefits of carbon dioxide, obviously involves heavy expenditure.

Lists of scientists reportedly expressing dissent over anthropogenic global warming have become a staple of the denial crusade. Hoggan discusses some of these lists and comments:

“The beauty of this tactic as a method of keeping the debate alive is that none of these ‘scientists’ ever have to conduct any actual research or put their views forward to be tested in the scientific peer-review process. They don’t even have to be experts in a related field. And they certainly don’t have to win the argument. As long as groups of scientists are seen to be disagreeing, the public continues to assume that the science is uncertain.”

Apparent throughout Hoggan’s book is the lack of substance to the denial campaign. According to them, the Mann hockey stick is a “notorious intellectual swindle”. The impression is sedulously fostered that statistical investigation has shown the graph to be false. But Hoggan points out that the ideologists are uncurious about whether Mann’s work has been tested by other scientists or confirmed or falsified by the use of other methods or other proxy data sources. He dryly comments that the reason is that the other climate-reconstruction graphs published since Mann produce enough hockey sticks to outfit a whole team and then some.

A significant movement in the campaign in more recent times has been a change of emphasis from denial that anthropogenic warming is occurring to claims that there is no need to rush into measures to mitigate it. Bjorn Lomborg argues with apparent passion that he also cares about climate change, but that careful economic analysis shows that more pressing problems like AIDS, malnutrition, and the provision of fresh water to people in the developing world are more important matters and unfortunately don’t at this stage leave enough money for climate change mitigation. Frank Maisano specialises in media communication. He supplies thousands of reporters and important people in industry and politics with useful material on energy issues.  Underlying it though is a consistent argument that climate change, though real, is either impossible or too expensive to fix.

In his chapter on the manipulated media Hoggan acknowledges the complexity issue in relation to global warming. Indeed he extends a lot of understanding to reporters and editors.  They are under pressure and the science takes some understanding. The temptation to fall back on balance has been strong. However he notices that increasingly the balance model is being abandoned, and is insistent that it’s past time for people in the media to check their facts and start sharing them ethically and responsibly with the public.

Hoggard’s book is a thoughtful and sustained exposure of  a movement which has done great harm. I read it with close interest and shared his dismay. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how denial has had such a charmed run. His presentation is painstaking and reasonable. There’s nothing shrill about it, and his justifiable anger is relatively muted.  He urges his readers not to take him at face value but to do some checking of his material and satisfy themselves that it is reliable. Nevertheless the activity he describes is rightly characterised as betrayal, selfishness, greed and irresponsibility. The people who have launched the highly successful campaign of denial and delay are not attending to the work of a body of outstanding scientists although that work is of utmost import for human life. They have turned what should have been a public policy dialogue driven by science into a theatre for a cynical public relations exercise of the most dishonest kind. Instead of looking at the seriousness of the warnings they have sensed a threat to their business profitability and made that their motivating factor. They have spread a false complacency and the result has been a twenty year delay in addressing an issue of high urgency.

Hoggard thought at first that David Suzuki was a bit over the top when he wondered out loud whether there was a legal way of throwing Canada’s so-called leaders into jail for criminal action (or inaction) in relation to climate change. But then he recognised Suzuki was right, in the sense that it will indeed be a crime if we do not demand of our leaders that they start fixing this problem, beginning today.

“And the punishment will be visited on our children and on their children through a world that is unrecognisable, perhaps uninhabitable.”

Is Garth George capable of original thought?

According to the Rotorua Daily Post, Garth George is “a veteran newspaperman living semi-retired in Rotorua”. Garth sallies forth from time to time to lend the benefit of his wisdom on climate policy to the readers of the NZ Herald, and on Thursday Oct 8th offered the following comment on reports of tax fraud in the EU emissions trading scheme:

For those of us who have known for years that man-made carbon dioxide emissions have nothing to do with global warming, and who recognise that an unnecessary international carbon trading scheme would be wide open to abuse, this comes as no surprise.

He then presented a few points “courtesy of Australia’s Carbon Sense Coalition”, beginning with:

There is no global warming crisis. The world is just emerging from the Little Ice Age, so naturally temperatures will be above those of last century.

There follow 317 words (yes, I counted them) lifted directly from this document (pdf), published in January by Viv Forbes of the aforementioned Carbon “Sense” Coalition. No quotation marks. No indication that this is a direct lift. But of the 800 words in Garth’s column, 37.5% were written by Viv Forbes. I wonder if Garth is forwarding a share of his cheque? The same column, in a slightly different form was reprinted in Rotorua the next day.

A sorry tale of lazy journalism maybe, but also the start of a little saga…

Continue reading “Is Garth George capable of original thought?”

Fomenting unhappy mischief…

I usually stay out of the fray at NZ’s political blogs, but sometimes it’s impossible to resist a brief plunge into bracing waters. Yesterday, David Farrar at Kiwiblog posted approvingly about the impending launch of a movie called Not Evil, Just Wrong, apparently intended as a counter to Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Here’s Farrar:

The film compares the consequences of the ban on DDT, with the cost of trying to ban carbon emissions. They talk about how Al Gore would have you believe the sea level will rise by 20 feet in the near future, when in fact the IPCC say this would be over millennia.

Here’s Ed Darrell:

The film is both evil and wrong. Errors just in the trailer:

1: Claims that Al Gore said sea levels will rise catastrophically, “in the very near future.” Not in his movie, not in his writings or speeches. Not true. That’s a simple misstatement of what Gore said, and Gore had the science right.

[plus eight more]

It’s sad to see Farrar giving credence to the DDT ban myth — something that’s been shown to be the product of a US tobacco-funded attack on the WHO in the late ’90s. It’s even sadder to see his mischaracterisation of the climate problem:

And again I agree the long-term trend is for warming, but the hysteria over how it is urgent to have cut emissions by 40% by 2020 or the planet is doomed, is just that. In fact by 2020 the planet may still be in a cooling phase.

The “cooling phase” thing is based on something a German modeller didn’t say at a conference a few weeks ago. Climate Crock Of The Week provides the full context (you can hear what Latif actually said), and Joe Romm interviews the man to get the truth. The whole “cooling for 20 years” thing is a beat-up by cranks. And 40%? That’s an IPCC AR4 recommendation…

But Farrar’s misunderstanding runs deeper:

As we get better technology, and gradually transition to energy sources that produce fewer emissions, our carbon emissions will reduce. But 2020 is not some date of no return.

Sadly, we passed the point of no return a long time ago. We are now committed to considerable warming — our current emissions trajectory is pointing us at 4ºC by 2060 — and unless we take rapid steps to reduce global emissions, staying under the 2ºC “guardrail” is already looking unlikely. The longer we leave cutting emissions, the steeper the cuts we will eventually have to make (and the more expensive they will have to be) if we are stay within reasonable temperature bounds. Far from being a counsel of moderation, Farrar is allowing his misconceptions to mislead us into greater danger.

Farrar is of course a National party stalwart, credited by some with being the premiere spinmeister for the present government. If this post were just the ill-conceived ramblings of a right-wing blogger, designed as a dog whistle summons to the crazies who are his commentariat, then it would be worth ignoring. But Farrar’s site is NZ’s top ranking blog, and his thinking looks suspiciously like a reflection of what’s going on in the National caucus. It’s the fallacy of the false middle, based on placing yourself in the middle of a debate you deem to be polarised, but where only one side has the facts right. And that’s not the nutters in Kiwiblog’s comments calling for those who want action on climate change to be “hung, drawn and quartered”.

Take a giant step

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change, established to advise the British government on emissions targets and to report to Parliament on the progress being made towards achieving those targets, has just published its first annual report: Meeting Carbon Budgets – the need for a step change. It warns that the current rate of emissions reductions, running at about 1% per year, needs to be increased to 2% and perhaps 3% if the UK is to hit its relatively ambitious 34% emissions cut by 2020. Here’s how the Guardian reports it:

A green and pleasant land, with millions of electric cars powered from wind turbines and travelling between super-cosy homes and offices: that is the vision for Britain in 2020 set out today by the government’s climate watchdog.

That cleaner, greener country, playing its full part in averting disastrous global warming, is both possible and affordable, says the Climate Change Committee – but only if the government acts immediately to implement radical policies on energy efficiency and low carbon technologies, as well as dealing with the threat of the recession to carbon trading schemes.

The Times is more concerned with the suggestion that motoring taxes could be increased, but Richard Black at the BBC provides a good overview.

The report is well worth a read, not because the policy suggestions are directly relevant to NZ’s position (though encouraging household energy efficiency, electric vehicles and boosting renewables should be part of what we do), but because the Committee itself is a policy body that New Zealand sorely needs. Instead of arguing in parliamentary committee rooms about the existence of warming, this body takes the best scientific advice and applies it to determine credible policy objectives. That’s one reason why Britain’s current targets are amongst the most aggressive in the developed world. But the committee does much more: it reports on the progress being made, and establishes a “reporting to budget” process that would be familiar to anyone who has managed anything other than the smallest of businesses. And as this first report shows, if it looks like the budget forecasts are going to be missed, they are not afraid to recommend policy initiatives.

To me, that looks like a rational way to approach the issue. What a pity that instead NZ has leaders who are unwilling to lead, no effective mechanism for emissions reductions, and a government in thrall to big emitters. Climate policy needs to be made on the basis of rational analysis, not National’s paralysis.

[Taj Mahal]

Unreliable witness

NZETS.jpgDuring my appearance before the ETS Review committee earlier this month I was asked by committee chairperson Peter Dunne to comment on the evidence presented by the submitters who appeared immediately before me — McCabe Environmental Services, being one Bruce McCabe and Kathleen Ryan-McCabe. ACT member John Boscawen was clearly wondering how two sets of evidence could present such diametrically opposed interpretations of the basic facts.

The committee secretariat were kind enough to provide me with a recording of the McCabe’s oral evidence, as well as their written submission. My comments on the MEC submission were delivered to the committee on April 22nd, and are now available on the parliamentary web site here (direct link to PDF). The McCabe’s evidence is here. Not to put too fine a point on it, the MEC evidence is wrong in just about every material respect, choosing as they did to rely on Fred Singer’s Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change booklet as their primary source. You’ll find chapter and verse in my evidence, but I also took the opportunity to provide the committee with a quick list of arguments that signal the presence of cranks arguing for inaction:

  • Cooling since 1998, 2001, 2005, etc
  • There is no correlation between CO2 and temperature…
  • Climate models cannot forecast the future/are unvalidated…
  • Future warming from CO2 will be tiny/the greenhouse effect doesn’t work the way the IPCC thinks it does.
  • The hockey stick is broken.
  • The sun/sunspots/cosmic rays are the real cause.
  • “There is no consensus” or “The science is not settled”.
  • Any mention of Al Gore.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to see how Bob Carter’s evidence (given today) stacks up against that list…

[PS: At the recent European Geophysical Union meeting Fred Singer’ announced his NIPCC is not yet dead. Apparently there’s an 800 page report due this year. Must be costing Heartland a fortune…]