Perhaps the least interesting aspect of the High Court hearing which started today — the NZ Climate “Science Education” Trust (NZCSET) versus the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), before Justice Venning — is the ostensible casus belli, the construction of a long term temperature record for New Zealand. The law does not concern itself with trifles, and the minutiae of the techniques used to homogenise temperature records to account for site moves and instrument changes is nothing if not trifling with respect to the climatological big picture. New Zealand and the world have warmed significantly over the last 150 years, of that there is no doubt, and no amount of legal action will make warming go away and New Zealand’s glaciers recover the mass they’ve lost.
Nor has the the long term New Zealand temperature record been important to the formulation of government policy on climate change. That has relied on international diplomacy, the workings of the United Nations and the international consensus on the science of climate, all leavened with a healthy dose of local politics. The NZ temperature record played no part in either the design of the emissions trading scheme or its watering down.
So if this case is not about temperature records and their relevance to government policy, what is it about? We need to consider a few key questions.
- Who is bringing the action?
- Who is paying the lawyers?
- Who wins, and who loses?
The answers are bad news for the taxpayers and citizens of New Zealand — and perhaps the world.
The legal action is being brought by the NZ Climate Science Education Trust, described by the NZ Herald as “a branch of the NZ Climate Science Coalition”. The trust was formed at the same time as the case was announced ((In fact, the NZ CSET wasn’t properly registered until after a statement of claim was lodged with the High Court.)), and appears to have been created solely to protect its trustees from bearing the costs of a failed legal action. In the nearly two years since it was formed, the NZ CSET does not appear to have been granted charitable status, and has made no discernible efforts to act as an “educational trust”. All it has done is pursue this legal action against NIWA and its climate scientists.
The Heartland-funded NZ Climate “Science” Coalition is chaired by Barry Brill, a retired lawyer and former National party politician. Since he assumed the chairman’s role, the Coalition has discovered an enthusiasm for legal action. It’s an approach to climate affairs that Brill hopes to export to the rest of the world. Describing the genesis of the NIWA case at the Heartland Institute’s sixth climate sceptic networking event, held in Washington last year, Brill said “We are going to need to do this all round the world.” ((At 6 minutes into this video of his introduction to a Bob Carter keynote. Surprise, surprise: Carter is supporting the NZ CSET case with “expert” evidence, despite being a geologist rather than a meteorologist or statistician.))
So who has been funding this action? It’s reasonable to assume that Brill, as the prime mover in the case, has been providing his services to the NZ CSET free of charge, but now that there is a hearing in the High Court, and Queen’s Counsel are presenting the evidence to the judge, there will be unavoidable, and probably substantial expenses to be met. Is it possible, perhaps, that Alan Gibbs, the millionaire sceptic ((Gibbs has been closely involved with NZ C”S”C spin-off, the International Climate Science Coalition.)) backer of the ACT party, is helping out his friends? A peek at the accounts of the NZ CSET would be rather interesting…
There is, however, a significant asymmetry in the way the case is being funded. NIWA, as a crown research institute, has no option but to take the issue seriously. Since Richard Treadgold first launched his shonky assault on the NZ temperature record, NIWA scientists have worked hard to explain their methods. Taxpayer funds were allocated to a reconstruction of a long term NZ temperature record ((Which turned out to be pretty much the same as the earlier work has suggested.)). Despite all that, Brill and his pals formed the NZ CSET and launched their legal action. Since then, NIWA scientists have had to spend time preparing for the court case. All of this has taken place at a time when the government is cutting expenditure, and funding for the CRIs has been under pressure. Instead of getting on with doing science, NIWA staff have been diverted to preparing for this court appearance. It’s been a gross distortion of their scientific agenda and a considerable waste of their time — all brought about because a retired lawyer and his chums with weird ideas about climate science decided to try a bit of legal grandstanding.
Whoever wins or loses this case, the only real losers will be the NZ taxpayer. Should Justice Venning find for NIWA, then NIWA might seek an order to recover their legal costs in defending the action. At that point, it’s highly likely that the NZ CSET would be found to have no assets. Brill and his boys would lose, but face no financial consequences.
Win or lose, an outrageous abuse of process will have taken place, at enormous cost to the taxpayer. No discernible purpose will have been served. No warming averted, no disaster avoided, just the massaging of the bloated egos of a few climate cranks with influential friends.