Herald gives de Freitas platform to smear climate science

Climate change denier and Auckland University geographer Chris de Freitas seems to have fast access to the dialogue pages of the NZ Herald. His latest effort this week is a long ramble ostensibly around the possibility of an El Niño this year, but at its centre contains a nasty slur on the honesty of climate scientists. He confuses, presumably deliberately, predictions of a weather event in the short term with the longer term predictions of climate change.

The short term prediction relates to the possibility of an El Niño event this year. He claims NIWA’s reported 50% chance of an El Niño is not a prediction at all, but more akin to tossing a coin. This observation doesn’t stand up. NIWA doesn’t say every year that there’s a 50% chance of an El Niño. They were drawing attention to current developments which point in the direction of an El Niño.

Nevertheless de Freitas presumably sees his observation as a useful build-up to his planned attack. His next step is to comment on how incredibly complex climate systems are, and to quote no less an authority than Albert Einstein who said of the weather that prediction for even a few days ahead is impossible. Incidentally I’ve never seen a climate scientist claiming to predict the weather next week. But in de Freitas’ mind this leads to a climax:

The problem is complicated by the fact that the public usually fear the worst, and fear sells. So, if the period for which the prediction is made is beyond the end of the climate scientist’s lifetime, such as with long-term predictions of human-caused climate change, or “global warming”, any scary prediction will attract attention and hopefully also research funds or job promotion.

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Something (early) for the weekend: grim forecast for oceans and the roots of denial

Something of a miscellany today, coupled with an open thread, to keep you going during a brief pause in posting. First up: a study published this week in PLOS Biology looks at changes in ocean chemistry, temperature and primary productivity over the next century under two emissions scenarios, and finds that no corner of the ocean escapes untouched. From Science Daily:

“When you look at the world ocean, there are few places that will be free of changes; most will suffer the simultaneous effects of warming, acidification, and reductions in oxygen and productivity,” said lead author Camilo Mora, assistant professor at the Department of Geography in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. “The consequences of these co-occurring changes are massive — everything from species survival, to abundance, to range size, to body size, to species richness, to ecosystem functioning are affected by changes in ocean biogeochemistry.”

It’s been a productive few weeks for Mora: he was lead author on a recent study1 published in Nature that estimated when climate in different parts of the world would move beyond anything experienced in the last 150 years — have a play with this interactive map to find out when your part of the world will move into the unknown. See also Climate Central, Science Daily, and a huge amount of press coverage.

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  1. Full text, free! []

Hypocrisy at the NZ Herald: de Freitas given platform for more climate lies

When the NZ Climate Science Coalition lost its court case against the New Zealand temperature record last year, the NZ Herald — the newspaper of record for NZ’s largest city — ran an editorial pointing out the stupidity of the climate cranks tactics. It went on to criticise the views of Auckland University’s Chris de Freitas — a man with a long history of distorting the facts about climate science — expressed in an opinion piece on the judgement published in their own paper. Two years ago the Herald also broke the news that de Freitas was teaching climate denial to first year university students.

You might think that those experiences would have left the paper a little wary about giving de Freitas a platform in its pages, but it appears that the newspaper is a slow learner. This morning, the Herald carried another opinion piece by de Freitas under the headline Science proves alarmist global warming claims nothing but hot air, a response of sorts to an opinion piece by Jim Salinger that appeared in Friday’s paper. Here’s the opening sentence:

Several aspects of Jim Salinger’s op-ed “Climate hurtling towards a hothouse Earth” (Herald 24/5/13) are quite misleading.

Unfortunately for the reputation of the Herald, de Freitas goes on to be more than “quite misleading”: he tells a remarkable number of straightforward lies about our understanding of climate change. It appears that the newspaper believes it’s acceptable to print lies when they masquerade under the flag of opinion.

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Climate of complacency #2: de Freitas lies to TV3

Imagine my shock when I discovered today that Chris de Freitas — the Auckland University academic who hit the news a couple of years ago when it was found that he was teaching climate denial to first year students, but who has a 20 year history of advocating for inaction on climate change — had made headlines by telling lies to a TV news operation. The headline: Kiwi scientist: Climate change not to blame for heatwaves. For a while it was top story on the TV3 News web site. Here’s how the story opens:

A New Zealand scientist has denied popular claims the recent Australian heatwave and other extreme weather events around the world are linked to global warming.

Here’s where de Freitas plays fast and loose with the facts:

The Australian government’s Climate Commission released a report last week stating: “climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse”.

But associate professor of climate and environment science Chris de Freitas, from the University of Auckland, says this is not the case.

“There is no evidence to suggest that,” he says. “It’s really [just] hype.”

There’s the lie. De Freitas states without qualification that there’s “no evidence”. And yet the Australian Climate Commission’s report on the subject, prepared by three scientists with a great deal more experience and scientific mana than junior geographer de Freitas, states:

Climate change has contributed to making the current extreme heat conditions and bushfires worse.

The report provides a long list of peer-reviewed scientific studies to support its conclusions. But de Freitas keeps on digging a hole for himself:

Dr Freitas says the earth actually hasn’t warmed for at least a decade, and scientists do not know enough about climate change to tell if carbon dioxide emissions could cause large or damaging changes.

“There’s no evidence to suggest that what we’re doing is creating dangerous change.”

Tell it to the firefighters, Chris. Tell it to the people of Dunalley. Tell it to the Australian people suffering as climate change comes home to roost.

There are several questions that have to be asked about this “news” item. Why did TV3 go to de Freitas for a story in the first place? Was de Freitas touting his contrarian lies to the media, or were his friends at the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, where he rejoices in the role of “science adviser”, pushing his views to news operations running short-staffed during the summer break?

Auckland University, which allows de Freitas to teach rubbish to its students under the guise of academic freedom, has to ask itself if it can really stand behind an employee who so egregiously lies in public. Academic freedom should be cherished, but allowing de Freitas’s nonsense to go unchallenged devalues the very notion, and diminishes the university’s hard won reputation as a centre of academic excellence.

NZ Herald’s turn to offer propaganda as opinion – De Freitas’ links to cranks hidden from readers

The new “compactNZ Herald has taken a downmarket tabloid approach to informing its readers by running an opinion piece about the recent courtroom defeat for NZ’s climate cranks by prominent climate sceptic and Auckland University geographer Chris de Freitas, without explaining de Freitas’ long history of association with the cranks he’s defending. In the article, de Freitas overstates the uncertainties associated with temperature records, even going so far as to imply that the warming trend over the last hundred years might be “indistinguishable from zero”1. He also overplays the importance of temperature series to policy-makers — a line straight out of crank litigant Barry Brill’s playbook, and self-evident nonsense.

Despite this transparent partiality, the opinion editors at the Herald credit him like this:

Chris de Freitas is an associate professor in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland.

But, as the Herald opinion team well know, de Freitas is much, much more than a mere associate professor in the School of Environment. He has a track record of activism against action on climate change that stretches back two decades. Here, for the poor misled readers of the new Herald‘s opinion pages is a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to de Freitas’ long history of climate denial activism.

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  1. “Temperature trends detected are small, usually just a few tenths of one degree Celsius over 100 years, a rate that is exceeded by the data’s standard error. Statistically this means the trend is indistinguishable from zero.” []