When asses go to law

In a bizarre twist to the tale of New Zealand’s climate sceptics and their strange obsession with the minutiae of the history of temperature measurement in New Zealand, it now emerges that they have lodged papers with the High Court [Stuff & NZ Herald, via NZPA], seeking to have the court rule that the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) should:

  • set aside NIWA’s decisions to rely upon its Seven Station Series (7SS) and Eleven Station Series (11SS), and to find the current NZTR [NZ temperature record] to be invalid
  • to prevent NIWA from using the current NZTR (or information originally derived from it) for the purpose of advice to any governmental authority or to the public
  • to require NIWA to produce a full and accurate NZTR [text from their press release]

The mind boggles. Just what is an “invalid temperature record”, and how on earth is a judge expected to rule on that? Given that NIWA has received funding to do a thorough re-working of the long-term temperature history of NZ, mainly as a result of the earlier kerfuffle, why are the cranks so keen to go to court now? Science is not done in law courts. Then there are questions to be asked about the organisation and funding of this legal effort, as well as questions about possible abuse of process and waste of taxpayer funds…


The genesis of this story goes back to November last year, when Richard Treadgold and the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition trumpeted the release of a “study” that showed (in Treadgold’s words):

We have discovered that the warming in New Zealand over the past 156 years was indeed man-made, but it had nothing to do with emissions of CO2 – it was created by man-made adjustments of the temperature. It’s a disgrace.

It was a shonky study, as I showed conclusively at the time, in what has proved to be the most widely-read Hot Topic post to date. NIWA’s response was to develop a new temperature series, using data from places where adjustments had either never been required or were very minor, and it demonstrated that warming was unequivocal — if anything slightly greater than in the original “seven station” series. Since then, Treadgold and the C”S”C have — with their friends in the far-right ACT Partytried to turn the affair into a scandal, with no success. This latest legal ploy is a transparent attempt to get some more mileage out of what should, by all sensible measures, be the deadest of dead horses.

The case is being brought not by the NZ Climate Science Coalition or Climate Conversation Group, but by a newly-incorporated charitable trust, the New Zealand Climate Science Education Trust. The trustees are NZ CSC stalwarts Terry Dunleavy and Bryan Leyland, together with relative newcomer Doug Edmeades. An application for charitable status was made at the end of July and it was granted on August 10th. The Deed of Trust can be read at the Ministry of Economic Development’s Societies and Trusts Online site: search for “2539286 – NEW ZEALAND CLIMATE SCIENCE EDUCATION TRUST”. The stated aims of the trust (section four of the trust deed) look innocuous enough, but include a standard “do what you like” clause: 4.2.8: Such other activities and enterprises to further the charitable purposes of the Trust as the Trustees may decide. The documents sent to the press over the weekend can be read, in lightly edited form, at Treadgold’s blog.

It’s clear that Dunleavy, Leyland and Edmeades have some questions to answer. Their “charitable trust” was registered on August 10th, and within days they had lodged their legal action with the court. Was the trust formed specifically to bring the action? I understand that using a trust to bring a legal action provides some protection for the litigants if they lose their case and find costs awarded against them. But if that is the real reason for the trust’s existence, then surely it cannot be regarded as a charitable trust? Whatever the law may say — and I am sure that Dunleavy and co will have had legal advice (C”S”C chairman Barry Brill is a retired lawyer) — it cannot be morally or ethically acceptable for them to hide behind or misuse a charitable trust in this way. It also demonstrates rather nicely that they have no confidence that their case will succeed…

There are also questions to be asked about the funding of this legal effort to discredit NIWA and its scientists. Legal advice isn’t cheap, especially when seeking to bring a case before the High Court. The NZ C”S”C has always been rather coy about its funding, maintaining that it’s just a group of interested individuals who volunteer their efforts. Nevertheless, it has strong links with the US think tanks organising and funding campaigns against action to reduce carbon emissions, and has developed close ties with the Rodney Hide’s ACT Party — one of whose most generous supporters is climate sceptic and multi-millionaire Alan Gibbs. Of course, the NZ C”S”C might just have had a sausage sizzle outside a North Shore New World, and a bit of a whip round their membership, but on Radio NZ National’s Morning Report this morning [at 8:13am] Bryan Leyland admitted that Gibbs was “one of our friends”.

The question of funding is particularly important, because any reasonably objective assessment of their statement of claim shows it to be highly unlikely to succeed. The summary attached to the NZ C”S”C press release is pretty tedious, but it’s worth taking a look at the second paragraph:

The official NZ Temperature Record (NZTR) […] the historical base for most Government policy and judicial decisions relating to climate change, wholly relies upon a “Seven-station series” (7SS), adopted in 1999.

You don’t to need to read any further, to be honest, because this is sufficient to establish the statement of claim as nonsense. As I’ve said before, the NZ temperature record is interesting, fascinating even for those of a meteorological or climatological bent, but there is no such thing as an “official” temperature record that has formed any sort of “historical base for most government policy and judicial decisions relating to climate change”. No NZ government of any flavour has ever relied on NIWA’s temperature series for anything much, certainly not used it as the basis for any policy. NZ government policy in this area depends far more on the international scientific and diplomatic context than it does on the temperature in Hokitika in 1890.

So if the case is pretty much certain to fail, why go to the expense of bringing it in the first place? It’s a waste of good money, surely? Dunleavy et al, and their mysterious backers, clearly disagree — and the reason’s obvious. This is not about science, or improving the NZ temperature record, it’s about attention seeking. Having failed to get the government to delay the introduction of the ETS at the beginning of July, the C”S”C and its “friends” are getting desperate. Like spoilt children, they’re pouting and screaming and throwing toys out of the pram.

The results of this hissy fit are predictable. My guess is that the court will refuse to consider the case — which will give the CSC another excuse for a loud public whinge. Questions in Parliament by Hide and Boscawen? A racing certainty, I reckon. But much judicial time and public money will have been wasted in the process, and the NZ temperature record will continue to show what it always has and always will do — significant warming over the last 100 years. Meanwhile the world will continue to warm

Gluckman: climate denial undermines all science

NZ PM John Key’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, tackled denialism head on in a lecture at Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute of Policy Studies last night. Titled Integrity in Science: Implications from and for the Climate Change Debate [pdfof full text], it’s an interesting and worthwhile overview of the issue from someone steeped in the science. Gluckman’s thesis is that the tactics of those who deny climate change — for whatever reason (he defines three) — are undermining all science:

…in an electronically connected world the tactics of those who reject the consensus, whatever their motives, can undermine confidence in the entire science system. In a world that is increasingly dependent on science in many domains, I cannot regard it as helpful to actively promote distrust and suspicion of the scientific process for political ends.


Gluckman begins by discussing the nature of science and true scepticism, then moves on to define the climate debate thus:

At the heart of the climate change issue are three questions:

  • What is the rate of change in global temperature and what will be its local effects?
  • What is the level of certainty about these predictions and the assumptions made in reaching these predictions?
  • What is the nature of response that the world community must make?

The bulk of climate science and indeed the IPCC consensus approach has been an effort to deal with the first two questions.

Finding answers to the third question is the hard bit, because that’s where what science tells us feeds into policy decisions, and special interests and ideologies come into play. Gluckman defines three groups opposed to action on climate change:

…a small group of scientists who sustain a contrary view for a variety of reasons, some scientific and some not, those who have a vested interest in promoting denial and those who for a variety of reasons, largely philosophical, will reject the evidence.

One philosophy he considers in some more detail:

In particular, many with a libertarian ideology do not accept that the state should control how they live their lives, particularly when the actions required will not impact for a generation or so. The economic libertarian believes growth is paramount and if there is a problem then technology will eventually solve it. There seems to be some irony in accepting that science may solve a problem but that it cannot correctly identify the problem.

That might ruffle a few feathers. I suspect a pop-gun broadside will be on its way from Barry Brill in the near future. In reality, Gluckman is being rather cautious. I find it a little disappointing (if entirely understandable, given his position) that he doesn’t go on to describe how these groups have become intertwined, to the extent that climate denial is now almost a required position for anyone with strong right wing views. It’s also clear that the melange has been encouraged, planned and funded through a clever campaign by special interests. Gluckman notes the parallel with tobacco denial, but doesn’t draw the obvious conclusion: that the tactics and tools for delaying action were first developed there, and then transferred on to climate and other issues. If he hasn’t already got a copy of Merchants of Doubt or Climate Cover-Up, perhaps we should club together to send him copies…

The media plays an important part in all this, and Gluckman is pretty direct about the responsibility they carry:

The issue here that concerns me is that of how to communicate complex science. The public has a right to understand these issues and in the end they determine how society will respond. However without responsible media it is not clear how this can be achieved. Publishers, editors and journalists all have a role in ensuring quality in the information exchange.

He underlines his point by quoting from a recent essay and book review (pdf) by Philip Kitcher in Science (which is well worth a read in its own right):

“It is an absurd fantasy to believe that citizens who have scant backgrounds in the pertinent field can make responsible decisions about complex technical matters on the basis of a few five minute exchanges amongst more or less articulate speakers…”

He goes on a few sentences later to say:

“Those covering the questions in the media, have the duty to convey the results so that citizens can cast their votes as an enlightened expression of freedom, justifiably aimed at the outcomes for which they hope. Staging a brief disagreement between speakers with supposedly equal credentials, especially when it is not disclosed that one of them is answering to the economic aspirations of a very small segment of society, is a cynical abnegation of that duty“.

Clearly, communicating science in those circumstances is a difficult task, and Gluckman notes how difficult and frustrating that can be for working scientists. Naomi Oreskes (reported in a Revkin tweet) goes further:

Scientists and academic institutions need to expand definition of what their “real work” is: “The work is not done, in my opinion, until it’s communicated in a way that citizens understand.”

It’s just as difficult and frustrating for communicators who aren’t working scientists, forever playing whack-a-mole with arguments and ideas that have been repeatedly debunked, dealing every day with the deluge of denialist propaganda. And I can’t help but have sympathy for the under-resourced and hard-pressed non-specialist journalists who have to deal with the issue in New Zealand’s media. The easy option may sometimes be the only feasible option.

Gluckman’s key point, however, is that the encouragement of confusion and mistrust of climate science has wider implications:

There is a growing concern among those of us who have some role in marrying science and policy that the way the debate is being framed is undermining confidence in the science system.

I would put it more strongly. The tactics being used to delay and undermine action climate change are quite deliberately poisoning the interface between science and policy-making. It has become almost standard corporate practise to deny, delay and defer action. Policy-makers are left in an invidious position — especially when those corporates and their shareholders play a significant role in funding politicians and parties. John Key’s appointment of Gluckman was a step in the direction of a solution. One can only hope that the PM is following his advice.

Bum notes from the Brill building (and a question for the minister)

The new chairman of the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, Barry Brill OBE, is certainly not shy about parading his point of view to the world at large. Brill, a lawyer and former junior minister in the 1975-81 “Think Big” Muldoon government, has attempted to argue with John Key’s science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, and last weekend followed in the oversize footsteps of Bob Carter by popping up at denier-friendly Aussie “journal of ideas” Quadrant Online with a lengthy rant on the “Crisis in New Zealand climatology”. Crisis? What crisis? It appears he means the ACT Party beat-up of the shonky analysis by Richard Treadgold and un-named “researchers” at the Climate “Science” Coalition. Brill seems blissfully unaware of the real controversy surrounding this affair, but his article — and its appearance at places such as Watts Up With That— gives me another chance to demonstrate that this whole affair is nothing more than a politically-inspired attempt to undermine action on climate change.


Underpinning this manufactured controversy is one big lie: that the New Zealand temperature record has been important in determining government policy on climate change, and has somehow been influential on a global scale. Here’s Brill:

For nearly 15 years, the 20th-century warming trend of 0.92°C derived from the NSS [NIWA’s “seven station series”] has been at the centre of NIWA official advice to all tiers of New Zealand Government – Central, Regional and Local. It informs the NIWA climate model. It is used in sworn expert testimony in Environment Court hearings. Its dramatic graph graces the front page of NIWA’s printed brochures and its website.

Internationally, the NSS 0.92°C trend is a foundation stone for the Australia-New Zealand Chapter in the IPCC’s Third and Fourth Assessment Reports. In 1994, it was submitted to HadleyCRUT, so as to influence the vast expanses of the South Pacific in the calculation of globally-averaged temperatures.

At the centre of advice to government? A foundation stone for the IPCC? Brill is channelling Treadgold, but doing us the favour of being explicit. He wants us to think that the NZ temperature record is really, really important. The bad news for Brill? It isn’t, and never has been. The New Zealand record is interesting, certainly, but has only ever been a tiny part of the global evidence that has persuaded governments around the world to enact policies designed to address climate change. The truth is that even if the NZ record showed cooling (which it doesn’t), the case for taking action wouldn’t change one iota. However, Brill wants us to believe that warming in New Zealand isn’t real:

First, we know what New Zealand’s average temperature was in 1867. The predecessor of the Royal Society of New Zealand (The New Zealand Institute) made a formal minute in 1868 of:

“Tables, which form the most reliable data for judging of the Climate of New Zealand, are extracted from the Reports of the Inspector of Meteorological Stations, for 1867”.

The mean annual temperature was 55.6F – the equivalent of 13.1C. Now consider this extract from NIWA’s “Climate Summary for 2005”: The national average temperature of 13.1°C made 2005 the fourth warmest year nationally since reliable records commenced in the 1860s.

No change whatever in 138 years! In fact, if 2005 was warmer than most 21st century years, New Zealand has obviously experienced some cooling during the past century or so.

Oh really? Brill is here lifting “work” from none other than Bryan Leyland, which I dealt with in this post in January last year. But for the purposes of further showing Brill to be wrong, take a look at the cover of this book:


This is the cover of a 2005 book from Canterbury University Press. The top sketch was painted by Julius von Haast in 1864, and shows the Cameron Glacier in the Arrowsmith Range in Canterbury. The photograph underneath shows the same scene in 2004. The glacier has retreated more than two kilometres. A lot of ice has vanished. I wonder how that happened? Fairies, perhaps? Or oofle dust? Here’s a photograph of the Cameron taken a few months ago. Still retreating, it would seem. As Jim Salinger noted in his PhD thesis, when commenting on a paper by Jim Hessell which purported to show little warming in NZ since 1930:

However, almost universal occurrence and synchroneity of the warming at 66 out of 70 sites associated with years of profound glacial retreat cannot be explained simply by instrumental or observer error.

We can be confident that New Zealand has warmed not just because the temperature record shows that to be the case, but because the country has lost a huge amount of ice over the same period. The ice melt is confirmation that the process Jim followed when adjusting station records for moves and changes was yielding results that pointed in the right direction.

Brill moves on to thank his supporters:

Piecing together the provenance of the New Zealand historical temperature record has been no easy task. Much of the detail is set out in the Climate Conversation blog. It has involved a myriad of investigative methods but the most productive has been the placement of nearly 50 Parliamentary Questions for Written Answer, for which credit must go to John Boscawen MP. The New Zealand mainstream media, all highly partisan on climate change matters, have evinced little interest in the scandal to date.

Fifty questions to Parliament, about a shonky analysis being given a politically-inspired beat-up? That sounds like an outrageous waste of tax payer funds to me. I wonder which MP will have the nous to ask Wayne Mapp, the minister responsible for NIWA, how much time and money the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research has had to expend on answering those 50 questions. Because that’s the legacy of Treadgold, Brill and the ineducable Boscawen — a spectacular waste of time and money.

There’s the real scandal. NIWA and its scientists have been subjected to baseless attacks and smears, and the organisation’s limited resources have been diverted to feed nothing more than the monstrous egos of New Zealand’s climate cranks, who are happily slinging mud as part of an extreme right wing political campaign to persuade the government to drop the ETS. Brill’s fact-challenged rant only demonstrates that he’s the latest in a long line of people prepared to spout nonsense in pursuit of inaction.

[The Animals, doing an appropriate Brill Building song (Mann/Weil)]