Star witness

homer.jpgThe Environment Court is currently hearing the appeal against consents granted for Meridian Energy‘s Project Hayes windfarm in Central Otago — and has been forced to sit through some evidential nonsense from climate cranks. Auckland property developer Roch Sullivan joined the appeal last year, and announced that he intended to bring some leading climate cranks to give evidence. Last Friday it was Chris de Freitas’ turn and he did our plucky little NZ cranks collective proud, as the Otago Daily Times reports under the headline “Professor denies greenhouse effect“:

Prof de Freitas, of the University of Auckland, said there was no evidence to suggest carbon dioxide was the major driver of climate change. “Climate is not responding to greenhouse gases in the way we thought it might. If increasing carbon dioxide is in fact increasing climate change, its impact is smaller than natural variation. People are being misled by people making money out of this,” Prof de Freitas said.

He said mild warming of the climate was beneficial, especially in a country such as New Zealand, which had a prominent agricultural industry.

“One could argue that carbon dioxide is quite beneficial. There may be benefits of wind farming that I may not be aware of, but there is no data to show benefits in terms of mitigating potential dangerous changes in climate by offsetting carbon dioxide,” he said.

No evidence to suggest carbon dioxide was the major driver of climate change? I think the good professor is somewhat understating the case — at the very least, being economical with the truth. How a respected academic can ignore 150 years worth of physics and four successive IPPC reports is a matter that might be of interest to psychologists (perhaps even his head of department), but it gets better.

Prof de Freitas admitted there was debate about climate change, when questioned during cross-examination by Central Otago District Council lawyer Graeme Todd. “The debate centres on causes. There is a possibility climate change could be impacted by human beings, but it is not a significant impact,” he said.

In response to a question by commissioner Alex Sutherland, Prof de Freitas said the jury was out on climate change, and preemptive action could be dangerous. “There’s no basis for alarm. We might be shooting ourselves in the foot if we act on what turns out to be a bubble-less pot,” he said.

The jury is still out, not on the reality of climate change, but on whether so misrepresenting the evidence amounts to a contempt of court. The duties of an expert witness before the Environment Court include:

5.2 Duty to the Court

5.2.1 An expert witness has an overriding duty to assist the Court impartially on relevant matters within the expert’s area of expertise.

5.2.2 An expert witness is not an advocate for the party who engages the witness.

Since de Freitas’ areas of expertise include tourism, climate in caves, and suitable clothing for Canadian winters, it appears he is somewhat overstating his expertise in daring to advise the court in those terms. I do hope the judge is lenient, for his sake. Or perhaps de Freitas simply wishes to be acknowledged as an inexpert witness…

[Neko Case]

26 thoughts on “Star witness”

  1. A crank ?
    Don’t think so.
    Hysteria a la Al Gore about climate change / global warming is becoming farcical.
    The general public are placing it a long way down their list of concerns.
    de Freitas displays real courage and common sense in standing up to bullies such as yourselves.
    Good on him !

  2. Oh boo hoo… good on you, good one for trying.

    I like the quote on your blog “Why this blog? …because the greens and others say the science of “global warming” is settled….”

    You mean the real climate scientist, the ones who get published?

  3. Ayrdale: So I’m a bully for pointing out that de Freitas is misrepresenting the evidence? What next? Will you be taking a collection to support liars in general? Or are climate cranks a special case?

  4. Gareth, Roy Spencer has this to say…(I’m sure you’ve heard of him)…
    You might recall that after Dr. Joanne Simpson retired from NASA she ( admitted to a long-held skepticism regarding the role of mankind in global warming.

    And who can forget NASA’s Administrator, Michael Griffin, admitting that he was skeptical of the urgency of the global warming problem? After the outrage that ensued, I suspect he wishes he had never brought it up.

    And now my old boss when I was at NASA (as well as James Hansen’s old boss), John Theon, has stated very clearly that he doesn’t believe global warming is manmade…and adding “climate models are useless” for good measure. Even I wouldn’t go quite that far, since I use simple ones in my published research….

    Chris de Freitas is consistent with the above, and a long time sceptic, joining the growing numbers of sceptics.
    Not cranks, reputable people, scientists with credibility and courage.

  5. Sorry, you may not realise who Roy Spencer is. Jonno (above) particularly. Brief autobiographical note follows…

    Roy W. Spencer received his Ph.D. in meteorology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1981. Before becoming a Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 2001, he was a Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where he and Dr. John Christy received NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for their global temperature monitoring work with satellites. Dr. Spencer’s work with NASA continues as the U.S. Science Team leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite. He has provided congressional testimony several times on the subject of global warming.

    Dr. Spencer’s research has been entirely supported by U.S. government agencies: NASA, NOAA, and DOE. He has never been asked by any oil company to perform any kind of service. Not even Exxon-Mobil.

    Dr. Spencer’s first popular book on global warming, Climate Confusion (Encounter Books), is now available at and

  6. Oh, Spencer is well-known.
    Note that he is a member of the Heartland Institute, an entity that supports (and has been funded by) companies whose business plans depends totally on addicting children to substances that will end up killing many of them via lingering deaths. I’m, not quite sure how he reconciles this with his supposedly-Christian faith. Are you right with him, also, Ayredale? Heartland is always looking for people.

  7. Ayrdale we know who Spencer is, he’s that guy who appeared in such crank titles as “The Great Global Warming Swindle”. His scientific work and rebuttals are linked on the RealClimate Wiki.

    If I remember correctly his point on GGWS was that models test the assumptions that are built into them and are therefore only as good as them. Of course this is the sort of useless statement you could use to say that F=mv² is wrong because it’s just a model that represents reality. So in essence, to take issue with a scientific model because it is a model is like saying you don’t believe in the Scientific method. ie, you have to say which part of the model is flawed and why. If the argument is cohesive enough you might not even have to come up with a replacement based on some empirical research.

    It’s funny, you do get to know the cranks after a little while because they keep coming back with the same tired old arguments that are just as false now as the first time they were rebutted. Oh wait you’re one of them! You say you have researched papers … where are they or should I just check the RC Wiki? What name do you publish them under? Which journal?

  8. I’m afraid Ayrdale that we have looked at their papers, postings and posturing, and we see the same thing over and over and again. There’s nothing new in crank science, only a desire to find something- anything – that might mean we should do nothing about carbon emissions. There are plenty of sites where common crank arguments are debunked: see my blogroll for many examples.

    Some of it is undoubtedly down to politics – cf Heartland and the persistent “it’s all a green socialist takeover” thing that echoes round crank circles, and there are some who are willfully contrarian or curmudegeonly for the sake of it.

    Very few cranks publish in peer-reviewed journals, because the “science” they espouse doesn’t cut the mustard. Spencer does, and has made his life’s work finding a mechanism that will limit warming. He claims (loudly, outside scientific circles) that he has found such a negative feedback, but to date no one else has been able to replicate his findings.

    Theon may have been your boss, but he wasn’t Hansen’s, and has changed his tune since retiring from NASA. Griffin was a political appointee, made by the Bush administration. His views are hardly a surprise – but they’re not rooted in science. de Freitas seems to be willing to mislead environment court judges about the true state of climate science. That doesn’t make him brave, it makes him foolhardy.

  9. The Environment Court is not involved in determining the truth or otherwise of climate change. The RMA asks the Court to consider effects on the environment, including effects of “low probability but high potential impact.” For eg, is there a possibility that low level radiation from cell towers might give people cancer? (see Shirley Primary School v Telecom – the case contains an excellent discussion of how the court approaches risk assessment).

    Climate change is certainly of high probability and high potential impact. Even skeptics would have to accept moderate probability and high impact. Even if you could argue low probability and high impact, the Environment Court would still be obliged to take the possible effects seriously. Hence the question from the commissioner – do you accept that there is a debate about causes of global warming?

    To be useful, a climate skeptic witness would have to convincingly argue, hand on heart, that the current state of the science is that there is little debate on causes, and there is a low probability of climate change happening and even if it happens, several metres of sea level rise isnt such a big deal. Tough ask.

  10. …to be useful a climate sceptic witness only has to convince anyone, in the wider court of public opinion that there is a debate, and the science of the issue is not settled. Contrary to what zealots with political/financial axes to grind, like Al Gore, tell us.
    We otherwise have to accept the greens asinine “precautionary principle”.

  11. Ayrdale, I spend a lot of my time reading about the work of the host of scientists whose investigations contribute to the science of climate change. I find evidence of lots of debate between scientists, lots of recognition of uncertainties, lots of caution in reaching conclusions. But no difference of opinion as to the reality and seriousness of anthropogenic global warming. Not from those actively engaged in the science. You represent a few sideline voices. Moreover you confidently deny a real and present danger and work to prevent society from addressing it. That’s some responsibility.

  12. Ayrdale: showing that “the science is not settled” means nothing. As bennion points out above, the court considers the balance of evidence and the balance of risk. A reasonable assessment of both indicates a need for action, and that’s why governments around the world are working to address the issue.

    Governments act on incomplete information all the time. Running economic or social policy does not depend on having perfect data. The same applies to climate change. The balance of evidence is clear enough for action.

    To persuade governments otherwise, climate sceptics are going to have to show powerful reasons why climate change is not a clear and present danger. Saying “we don’t know enough” doesn’t cut it.

    As for the “asinine” precautionary principle… Ever bought insurance?

  13. A real and present danger ?

    “There is no clear evidence that global warming is an imminent danger to the world, says Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

    If the danger is not imminent, ie, if we have been hoodwinked by propagandists like Al Gore into believing that it is, why should we not calmly and coolly keep investigating the many unknowns and not be panicked into severe measures that will hurt us ?

    It hardly needs saying that our emmissions make a negligible contribution to greenhouse gases, and it hardly needs saying (again) that the science is definitely not settled about what those emmissions do…

    As for “insurance” ……”It’s also worth re-stating at this point that fear is to the insurance industry what oil is to Exxon.”
    The problem for the greens is, the fear is abating…

  14. Did you bother reading beyond the headline?

    The report[AR4] recommended large drops in carbon emissions after 2015 to contain the changes, but governments should reconsider whether even those targets go far enough, Pachauri said.

    Pachauri was advocating more action, sooner!

    There’s no hoodwinking by propagandists going on. I recommend you read the report prepared by the organisation Pachauri heads — particularly the Working Group 2 report on impacts. You might find it an eye opener.

    CO2 levels in the atmosphere have risen by over 100 ppm in the last 150 years, and that is certainly (ie, indisputably) down to human activity. That’s not remotely “controversial”, except to a few nutters.

    We understand the radiative effects of CO2 in the atmosphere in great detail. If we didn’t understand the way absorption spectra worked, things like heat-seeking missiles wouldn’t work. They do. It’s a simple sum: more CO2, more heat retained at the earth’s surface. It’s possible to argue about how much warming, and how soon — and climate sciencists do, all the time, as they tease out more and more details of the workings of the climate system, but further warming is inevitable. All we can do is restrict the amount of change by reducing emissions.

    I insure my farm against fire. I don’t expect to get a fire, but I know that one is possible through no fault of my own. A large fire could wipe out a major chunk of my assets and income-generating crops and buildings. It’s a modest cost, gladly paid. Taking action to restrict future damage is no more difficult to justify. The costs of action are relatively modest, and the risks being addressed large enough to make those costs worthwhile.

    Meanwhile, the propagandists who urge inaction carry a heavy burden, as Bryan pointed out. If I’m wrong (and that means if the current body of scientific understanding is somehow shown to be wrong) we’ll have spent some money decarbonising the energy system. If we follow your advice and do nothing, and you turn out to be wrong, the damages we suffer will be greatly increased.

    In other words, as I’ve said repeatedly on this site and in my book, the politics of this issue are in the responses we choose to make — not in the definition of the problem. By denying the existence or seriousness of the issue, you deny yourself a seat at that table. Your loss.

  15. …we’ll have spent some money decarbonising our energy system…!!

    A fantasy pure and simple. Tell that to the developing nations of the world. Then duck.

    If there is no clear evidence that global warming poses an imminent danger” it is very difficult to see the need for “more action, sooner”…although obviously as a self sustaining bureaucracy the IPCC needs to keep the panic button down. The populace though is generally unimpressed.

    How many years without warming does it take to prove AGW wrong?

  16. China and India will be on board with emissions reductions just as soon as the new administration in the US shows it’s being serious on emissions cuts.

    How many years without warming does it take to prove AGW wrong?

    Given that warming continues, longer than you may think. If there’s no new record global high temp by 2018 (barring volcanoes) then we’ll have got something badly wrong. But I reckon we’ll see a new global record the next time there’s an El Niño – 2010 perhaps?

    But again, you dodge the central point. If you want to persuade the world to do nothing, you need extraordinary proof, because the balance of evidence is not on your side.

  17. Ayrdale, the present danger I referred to is that which is already in the pipeline but not yet fully apparent. The feedbacks from the level of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere are still working their way through the system – melting sea ice, for example, giving rise to less reflectivity, or melting tundra releasing carbon dioxide previously held in the frozen ground. It’s a complex interplay, but there is no doubting its direction. It seems likely that we are already set for 2 degrees centigrade warming. If we wait until all this is evident before starting mitigating actions we’ll be in deep trouble.

  18. In closing, the elephant in the room has been spotted by the UK Labour MP, Tom Harris.

    Harris writes…”for some (probably a minority)… environmentalists the fight against global warming has another aim: the defeat of capitalism, of economic growth, of prosperity.
    Which is why I find their arguments so nauseating. It must be lovely to be a high-profile journalist whose own income is high and reasonably secure…and it must be so easy to offer to sacrifice the jobs and the livelihoods of millions of working people for the good of the environment.
    But unless we can find a way of saving the planet without sacrificing prosperity – here and in developing countries – then the fight is already lost…”

    “The fight is already lost”…fear, overstatement and outright lies characterise the whole green movement, and corrupt their professed environmentalsim, masking their “nauseating” arguments.

    Gareth you are no scientist, neither am I, but I am not trying to distort the facts in favour of an ideology. I suspect Gareth, that you are.

  19. Ayrdale, at #17:

    It hardly needs saying that our emmissions make a negligible contribution to greenhouse gases, and it hardly needs saying (again) that the science is definitely not settled about what those emmissions do…

    Ayrdale at #24:

    Gareth you are no scientist, neither am I, but I am not trying to distort the facts in favour of an ideology. I suspect Gareth, that you are.

    Since “your facts” are entirely wrong, I think you need to reconsider that suspicion. I report the science as I see it, and take a great deal of care to get my commentary as true to the source as I can. The politics I leave to the response. You may find that hard to credit, but as I said earlier, that’s your problem not mine.

  20. “for some (probably a minority)… environmentalists the fight against global warming has another aim: the defeat of capitalism, of economic growth, of prosperity.”

    There’s a slightly obscured false dichotomy in this argument. The implication is that you can either be for capitalism or for environmentalism, that there is no in between. Like all false dichotomies it is easy to rebutt. You just need to demonstrate the existence of an option which does not fit either of these categories.

    Such as, incorporating what are currently externalities (the cost of COâ‚‚ emission) into the capitalist framework (ie, Emissions Trading Schemes), and show that economic growth and prosperity is still possible. It doesn’t matter whether most people are motivated by that; the existence of the option is alone enough to undermine the fallacy.

Leave a Reply