Chris hates Greenpeace

False balance time at the Herald. Last week they gave Greenpeace climate campaigner Susannah Bailey a chance to look at how certain sectors of the business community (Greenhouse Policy Coalition, Business Roundtable etc) are lobbying against current plans for an emissions trading scheme, this week they give NZ Climate “Science” Coalition science advisor Chris de Freitas space to express a different point of view. Bailey’s language was a deal more measured than de Freitas, who indulges in some vibrant green-bashing:

The fanatical name calling and personal attacks expose the strong ideological elements that drive global warming alarmist thinking. It’s as if the depth of passion is overcompensation for doubt and uncertainty. Why else would environmentalists squander so much effort trying to discredit individuals and organisations who disagree?

Warning: I’m about to squander some time trying to discredit de Freitas – whose grasp of the underlying science seems a little – how shall I put this – shaky for an associate professor in the School of Geography, Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Auckland.

If we ignore the ritual name-calling, the branding of those warning of the dangers of climate change as “alarmists”, we find that de Freitas attempts to offer some “facts” in support of his argument. Let’s parse them in detail:

Pronouncements from Greenpeace or the IPCC do not and cannot change the facts. No one doubts humans affect climate. The debate is whether the effects are “dangerous”.

Nice attempt there to establish equivalence between a campaigning environmental organisation and a major international review of current climate science.

There is no hard evidence that increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere put there by human activities are causing or will cause dangerous change to global climate.

Is that so? What is “hard” evidence? The IPCC says that the evidence for global warming is now unequivocal, and that substantial change is already being observed. How do we define impacts as being dangerous? When agricultural production in some African countries is reduced by 50% (the 2020s), or when the Asian megadeltas are affected by sea level rise?

The Earth’s surface has warmed slightly over the last 150 years, but research shows that floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes have not increased in frequency.

They may not have increased in numbers, but there is evidence of increased intensity – it has been observed for heavy rain, drought, and tropical cyclones.

The climate facts are well established and well recorded, but often ignored when it comes to global warming catastrophism:

* There have been four periods of global warming in the past 1500 years.

Now this is a mystery. Where do you get this from, Chris? Fred Singer pretends that global warming happens every 1500 years. But four episodes in the last millenium and a half? Did you just make that up?

* Data clearly show the Earth cooled during a recent 35-year period despite the continuing rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Oh dear. The associate professor is now pretending that carbon dioxide is the only driver of climate change. Lots of other factors affect the climate system, and during the slight cooling from the 1940s to 1970s, industrial pollution was counteracting warming.

* In recent times, global temperature has been steady since 1998, despite the continuing rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The “no warming since 1998” lie. It’s getting tedious pointing out that the underlying trend continues to be upwards.

* Average global sea level rise has shown no acceleration over the past 300 years.

Plain wrong. The IPCC says: “Global average sea level has risen since 1961 at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3]mm/yr and since 1993 at 3.1 [2.4 to 3.8]mm/yr.” (SPM, AR4 synthesis report). 3.1mm per year is at keast 50% more than 1.8mm per year. An acceleration in anyone’s book.

* And it is an uncontroversial fact that all climate models are unreliable, so their output is not evidence of anything.

Uncontroversial? That’s like Lawson asserting that everyone agrees that global warming isn’t happening at the moment. So on CdF’s word we’ll just dismiss all that inconvenient science. What a relief not having to argue about that.

Recent climate change is within natural variation, and although this in no way confirms that it is due to natural variation, climate history clearly demonstrates that natural variation can explain the moderate climate change we have seen up until 1998.

The current rate of warming (0.2ºC per decade) is unprecedented in at least the last few million years, and is about 20 times faster than the warming out of the last ice age – which was rapid in paleoclimate terms.

One could argue that we should take the observed net 0.6C warming trend over the past 100 years seriously, but by itself it looks rather benign, and may even be beneficial.

Wrong again. The warming over the 100 years to 2003 is given by the the IPCC as 0.74ºC. But it’s a small number, so we’ll don our Lomborgian/Lawsonian rose-tinted spectacles, ignore the entire IPCC Working Group 2 report, and claim that warming will be good for us all.
de Freitas has been relatively quiet as the NZ CSC’s “science advisor” – not much up on their web site, and only occasional forays into the press. If this Herald op-ed is the best he can do, perhaps that’s no surprise. I do hope the science he teaches is somewhat more accurate.

19 thoughts on “Chris hates Greenpeace”

  1. I attended a presentation by CdF at the NZ Marine Sciences Conference in September. Very unimpressive. He had something like an hour to convey his scientific objections, but squandered much of it slagging off at Al Gore. His scientific case seemed to consist of a few poor-quality graphs with superficial comments (“See, the satellites don’t show any warming”) and I found his early statement that cherry-picking is tantamount to lying deeply ironic in view of his selection, without any justification, of the period 1997-2007 for a graph of global temperature.

  2. It would be nice to see your rebuttal printed in the Herald. I hope you will try them. Not that de Freitas’ tired litany deserves the trouble you have taken, but Herald readers have been getting a fair dose of denialists of one sort or another recently. The Greenpeace article was fine but it would be good to see de Freitas picked apart as specifically as your comments here do.

  3. I believe I have previously related that a senior NZ academic once remarked to me that if I were to publish poor quality papers as some other NZ academics have done in the past then they – the senior NZ academic – would not be at all surprised if this were noticed by my institution and then reflected come promotion time.

  4. Naturally I have no *direct* knowledge of any particular individual. My comment was (of course) made in a general sense and inspired by your “shaky” comment.

    The practice of tenure ensures academic freedom from all types of interference and short of illegal acts there are few things that will cause ones tenure to be ended.

    However, in NZ institutions one is given to understand that promotion within a band is automatic but it requires words and deeds to be promoted “across the bar” and into another band. Folklore has it that if ones words and deeds are displeasing to administration or ones colleagues then it is reflected in a lack of promotion rather than in demotion.

    It is of course difficult to assess from the outside where an academic should be in the pecking order. Lack of vacancies at the top can hold someone back for many years. There are, after all, a limited number of chairs.

    Were I to speculate I would note that, in the case of universities with which I am familiar, it seems that predicted high flyers are given senior administrative roles and then those who have previously held such roles usually move up quickly. And in some cases there are surely interesting stories of administrative displeasure as to why this might not occur.

  5. Don’t forget de Freitas was the editor at “Climate Research” when it published the Soon & Baliunas 2003 article, which led to the resignation of half of the journal’s editorial board over its questionable peer review process.

    Also, can we have some proper ‘balance’ from our papers? The proper sceptic voice is not someone who signed the “Friends of the Earth” front group but a cautious climate scientist such William Connolley at Stoat, or James Annan, or Hans von Storch. Why does this need to be said?

  6. It is really sad that CfD keeps pushing the same old lies. I really feel sorry for the environmental science students that study at Auckland. How can they stand such a liar?

    What is worse is that the Herald allows CfD to write for them, and keep pushing these lies. It is not being fair and balanced; it is unethical for them to do so, just so they can sell more papers.

  7. Having just finished a physics degree, I have yet to encounter any lecturer who believes in global warming and the alleged ensuing catastrophe. All of them regard it as spurious at best. Global warming is about as real as international terrorism.

  8. I did not find this article edifying. I do not hate Greenpeace – indeed I really enjoy all the Greenpeace activists I chat with over the years. This said I have studied Greenpeace communications -as I have studied many other similar organisations – and I have concluded Greenpeace is one of our greatest obstacles to public comprehension of how our climate works and how the activities of humans impact on climate balances.

    The fundamental reason why Greenpeace is such an obstacle is that it lacks science. We see it in this article too where “warming” is confused with warming up and “climate change” is confused with a human-induced thermal build-up of the atmosphere. Greenpeace activists have explained to me that they have to use such terms if they are to communicate to the public because they need to use “concise catchy phrases” and “to speak in the language the public understands”. There is something hopeless in those explanations and they certainly do not evidence positive activism. The truth is non-science generates non-science.

    Analysis of some of the past NZ Climate Science Coalition* media releases indicate they often evidence a greater understanding of simple thermodynamics than found in Greenpeace releases. Arguably the NZ Climate Science Coalition is less of a risk to our children than Greenpeace.

    Note * Greenpeace is incorrect to call it the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition. I respect Greenpeace even if I do not think it very “green” and I question whether it promotes “peace”.

    May you know the joy and hope of science,

    Dave McArthur

  9. Steve: you must have studied somewhere remarkable.

    Dave: I wasn’t comparing the NZ CSC to Greenpeace, merely pointing out CdF’s diatribe against environmentalists, and his factual errors. I have to say, though, that the Greenpeace material I’ve seen shows a considerably better understanding of the science than anything issued by the NZ CSC.

  10. Dave, it’s been sometime since I visited the NZ CSC site so I was happy to hear that they were at last using some science in their media releases.
    You can only imagine my disappointment at being unable to find the media releases that you refer to, perhaps you could post a link to this good science?

  11. Chris de Freitas rocks!
    I am not an academic in the field at all, but one thing is certain: we (humans) have not been here long enough to know for sure.
    Chris knows very well what he is talking about. Time will prove him right!

  12. Quick Gisela,

    If you are in Dunedin you have 45 minutes to make it to my seminar to the Department of Statistics about some recent articles by Chris de Freitas (and other NZCSC members). Title: 110% confidence tricks: The misuse of statistics in the “debate” about climate change.

    St David lecture theatre 6. Today at 11

  13. Doug, you’ve got to give more notice than that! I’ve been knocking around campus since 11 with nothing much to do, I would have gone but now I can only catch the last 5 minutes…

  14. “The IPCC says …………………….”

    That about sums up your ‘science’.

    The IPCC is a political organization which, ulimately, had its roots in Mrs Thatcher’s wish to kick Arther Scargill where it hurts most.

  15. ” * There have been four periods of global warming in the past 1500 years.

    Now this is a mystery.”

    If that is still a mystery for you you have a problem indeed. Perhaps you should enquire a little further afield but I suppose, as a fungus farmer, being kept in the dark and being fed on BS appeals to you.

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