“I occupy the balanced middle of this debate”

homer.jpg Sunday morning laughs. Bob Carter, a particularly voluble member of the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, is in New Zealand doing a “lecture tour”. He’s addressing a number of Rotary groups around the North Island. But the slick PR machine* inside the C”S”C obtained a top TV gig for Prof Bob, and he was interviewed on Shine TV recently. I won’t embed the YouTube video here (I think a young Mick Jagger is better for the blog’s image), but I would like to draw your attention to the breathtaking chutzpah of the man as he defines the “climate debate”. At about 0:35s he says (roughly transcribed):

On the one hand you have what are called the deniers, the people that deny climate change happens at all. It’s a very small group, and I don’t know any who are really significant scientists. On the other hand you have the alarmists, who say that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, it’s our CO2 emissions that are the problem, and we need to do something about it. Now, both of these groups have shrill voices, and it’s fair to say that the press has dominantly picked up the alarmist shrill view. The great majority of scientists sit in the middle. I’m in New Zealand, as you know, giving a lecture tour, and I occupy the balanced middle of this debate.

Astonishing. He’s not so much attempting to shift the Overton window, as move it to the house next door. And he says it with such assurance. No doubt there will be an upswing in scepticism in Rotarian circles in the rural North Island. I’ll have to organise a tour of Probus groups to counter the great man’s efforts.

* That’s only half a joke. They’re very good at getting themselves noticed.

37 thoughts on ““I occupy the balanced middle of this debate””

  1. I attended a Bob Carter speaking gig at Northland Regional Council two weeks ago. Apparently it was organised on behalf of Farming New Zealand by Ian Walker, who is also a Regional Councilor in Northland. I was told the invitees were the members of regional and district councils, Muriel Newman and the press.

    Bob’s talk and powerpoint show was pretty slick and his controversial claims and graphs of carefully selected data were packaged as a scientific analysis of the IPCC position on climate change and this seemed convincing to most of the audience.

    When he presented the expected graph which showed that temperatures have been cooling for the last 10 years, I challenged that he has cherry picked his data – by starting from 1998 which is the hottest year on record. To my surprise he readily accepted my point and moved on to the next slide!

    The claims which I remember most vividly were:

    1. Increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations have caused increasing crop yields, and we should therefore welcome this raised level of CO2 in the atmosphere since it will help to feed the world. A good message for the farmers, but when I asked him for a reference to back up his claim he did not provide one.

    2. Responding to a question about taking a precautionary approach in the light of an uncertain relationship between CO2 and global temperature changes he encouraged people to go out and do everything they could to get more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere because (I think I remember rightly) he has evidence that we’re soon going to be in for a global cooling.

    3. The biggest groups lobbying governments across the globe are Greenpeace and the other green groups. These groups have successfully persuaded their governments to accept the politically motivated and biased recommendations of the IPCC.

    I’m very worried about the effect that this talk has had on influential (and sadly all too receptive) members of local government in Northland.

    At the end of your post you say that you might be willing to make a tour of counter-presentations. I would encourage you to do that and if you would be prepared to come and speak in Northland I’ll do what I can to help organise the event.

  2. Thanks Mick. It just reinforces my view that ignoring the cranks won’t make them go away. They want to influence public policy, and they’re giving it a damn good try.

    The truth will out, they say. It clearly needs a helping hand at the moment.

  3. Was this you Chris?

    I’ve been following up a very odd request. All very cloak and dagger and I’m damned if I can work out if it is legit (I’m 95% sure it is a hoax).

    You’ll recall that I mentioned CdF, his “dangerous” paper and some of his press releases that I had copies of.

    Well, yesterday someone asked me to send them copies. I’m not sure who it was b/c it was a disposable yahoo email address but at first I thought I had a good idea based on some of the comments the person made. The timestamp made me think it was offshore.

    Naturally I asked what they wanted them for.

    Turns out they *claimed* to have seen something I earlier wrote about going through those press releases and writing line by line commentary and said they wanted to do it themselves. But also said that if they did it under their own name the “proverbial would hit the rotating air circulation machine” (Their odd turn of phrase – anyone recognise it?) so they wanted to be anon.

    But the really odd bit is that I’m pretty damn sure I only ever mentioned that idea to CdF himself.

    So either I’m victim of a Don Brash email hack or CdF is spoofing me.

    Oh and that wasn’t the oddest and least plausible thing: They said they wanted to post the stuff here at hot-topic if Gareth was willing. That bit seems too far fetched to be believed but I sent the copies anyhow – not like they aren’t at any number of net archives.

    Gareth: have you been approached to host anything like that? I honestly don’t see the point. The subtleties of why CdF is wrong in most cases would be lost on most people and it would just look dicky to try.

    I couldn’t help myself though 8-), I did offer my assistance in writing. Haven’t heard back yet which even more convinces me it is some kind of wind up.

  4. Doug is easily wound up – [edited for politeness]. Also being a candidate for the McCully Funny Party also shows some form of delusion. Just shows the lower echelon of quality goes to the AGW teams, as you will be aware as well Gareth.

    [GR says: Peter, be civil, or you will be edited or deleted.]

  5. ha ha. Mystery solved.

    I just had a guilty knock at the door from one of the students confessing that they had tried to set me up.

    We are planning a retreat for the PhD students in our research group and in one of the brainstorming sessions (OK it was drinks at the staff club) we decided one of their greatest failings was an inability to critically assess papers. I mentioned the concept of going through a paper line by line and fact/concept checking and gave an example of a similar project I’d had in mind. (I got the idea when CdF suggested to me a while back that if I did that to his “dangerous” paper then he’d run what I wrote past his students).

    The students said they liked the idea and one of them took it a step further…

  6. The ICSC turned up some time last year, and at that time the personnel was pretty much identical to the NZ CSC, with a few names added. Terry Dunleavy, secretary of the NZ CSC was, if I recall correctly, secretary of the ICSC as well. Since then, they’ve added more names from the global sceptic community, and recently added Tom Harris, the Canadian PR man as director. Googling ICSC on here will get you few more references.

    Who’s funding them? I would guess it’s Heartland, but have no evidence.

  7. Mick:
    For “CO2 is great for plants”, that dates back to the Western Fuels Association (Wyoming + Montana cola)’s marketing campaign of the 1990s.

    See http://initforthegold.blogspot.com/2008/04/defense-of-kestenbaum.html
    my posts of April 18 & 19 about a great talk I just heard about that.

    If you haven’t seen “Liebig’s Law”, it’s worth looking up: any old farmboy (like me) learns that or its equivalent before they’re 10, i.e., growth is limited by whatever input is least available.

    If you have a greenhouse, and the plants are supplied with all the water, sun, and nutrients they can use, more CO2 will increase yields, up to a point. Contrary to the GreeningEarth movie excerpt I saw last week, no amount of Co2 will cause the Sahara desert to green up.

  8. no amount of Co2 will cause the Sahara desert to green up

    Unless, of course, it generates enough warming to send the West African monsoon into overdrive, and thus waters the sands…. 😉

  9. John:
    Thanks for that. I hadn’t heard of Liebig’s Law or the Wyoming + Montana Cola marketing stuff. Very useful.

    So in saying that increased CO2 level will help feed the world, Bob Carter has a point to the extent that there are crops which have all the nutrients they need, and the limiting factor for their growth is the scarcity of carbon dioxide. Right?

    So I’m guessing somebody’s done some research work to estimate to what extent this situation exists on the world’s farms, how sensitive these crop yields are to CO2 variation and maybe even how much this increasing CO2 sequestration is doing to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations?

    When I asked Bob for a reference for his claim that was what I was hoping for. Do you know if the work’s been done?

    Another quick point to Cindy:

    The flat earth stunt looks like it was a bundle of laughs. They make a good point about the extreme position occupied by the NZ CSC but I do wonder whether this sort of approach might backfire with a substantial proportion of the general public.

    Up in Whangarei I spend a lot of my time trying to promote the green agenda to the farming heartlands. In my opinion the flat Earther’s would have received a very rough ride – and maybe even a punch on the nose – from the audience at the meeting I went to. It would also have made it more difficult for me to make the interjections (questioning facts) that I made during the Bob Carter talk.

  10. Mick:
    I hear the flatearthers received a very mixed response… some people thought it hilarious, whilst the die-hards were furious. They kept it very light and humorous on purpose… making those who hadn’t heard Bob Carter’s rubbish start to question it from the start.

    I think there is a clear correlation between the flatearth lot and CSC, especially on the conspiracy theory. They both argue that all the world’s governments and scientific institutions are conspiring against them to hide the truth…

  11. Cindy:

    Sounds like UFOlogy too! I thought that the flat earth society was kind-of anti-science. By rejecting a very old, extremely important and largely uncontroversial scientific discovery they indicate a rejection of all modern science and their dislike for the influence science and engineering has had on the modern world. They hark back to a more romantic era before to the “age of reason”.

    If true, and I haven’t checked, this would leave quite a difference between Flat Earth and the NZ CSC – who are assembling all the “facts” that they can find to make a “rational”, “scientific” case against anthropogenic global warming. (I’ve added quotation marks because I question the NZ CSC’s facts, their science and the logic of their argument.)

    Anyway back to your response to the point I originally tried to make. I’m not surprised that the Flat Earther’s polarised the audience in Auckland. I expect the people who found them hilarious and those who became furious already knew where they stood: on opposite sides of the debate.

    The audience at the Whangarei meeting I attended I think included a number of people in a different group. They were pre-disposed to want to believe that Bob was right and the greenies were wrong, but they had not yet taken the time to rehearse the arguments. Auckland may not have people like that, but we’ve got lots of them up here!

    An appearance by the Flat Earthers in Whangarei would have allowed these people to tell their friends after the meeting that the world was now cooling (thanks to Bob) and (thanks to Flat Earth) that greenies were becoming desperate in their attempt to discredit the “solid science” that Bob presented.
    Any commotion caused by their certain expulsion from the event would also have made it easier for Bob to refuse interjections from the floor questioning the “facts” he presented during his talk – including an interjection in which he accepted my statement that his evidence to show the world was now cooling amounted to nothing more than cherry picked data.

  12. Mick

    sorry I don’t think I was clear.

    I have checked in with them again – and the flat earthers say they merely stood outside and gave people going into the meeting their letter, in a very humourous and friendly manner.

    They didn’t pay the $70 for the dinner and presentation (perhaps the Northland meeting was free – this one wasn’t).

    They were neither “ejected” or “rejected”.

    They didn’t take part in the discussion, but rather laid a little doubt at the door of the meeting, and had very friendly and mostly funny chats with people as they arrived.

    The only people furious were the CSC themselves (but they don’t have a sense of humour at the best of times). Everyone else took it in the good humour with which it was delivered.

    Your interventions inside the meeting in Northland were no doubt useful and interesting. But that shouldn’t rule out a different approach from the likes of the flat earthers should it?

    perhaps you should read the flat earth letter to the NZCSC …

    You say

    “By rejecting a very old, extremely important and largely uncontroversial scientific discovery they indicate a rejection of all modern science and their dislike for the influence science and engineering has had on the modern world.”

    This statement sounds pretty true for the sceptics, who reject the scientific discovery of global warming. They dislike the influence the IPCC has had on the modern world. They reject models, per se. They say there’s a conspiracy against them (just as the flat earthers did)…

    but overall, sometimes we needn’t be quite so literal? Surely there’s room for all sorts of people to say what they want, in the manner that they see fit, especially if it involves humour and poking gentle fun?

  13. Cindy:

    Yes the meeting in Whangarei was free.

    And yes of course it’s fine for people to put their point across in any way they want.

    I checked out flat earth letter to NZCSC. It is great! Especially the scientific diagrams.

    I guess I’ve been stuck with the erroneous idea that the flat earth society is anti-science. (A long time ago I had a girlfriend that got fed up with my boring engineering talk and considered joining the FES in protest.)

    I think it would be incorrect to characterise Bob Carter’s approach as anti-science. A more accurate description would be dodgy-science and I think the Flat Earth Society letter captures that really well.

    Just to split hairs (in Whangarei being so outnumbered most of the time you have to be really careful with your language) I wouldn’t personally use terms like “scientific discovery of global warming”. The IPCC doesn’t talk in these terms. Instead they say things like:

    “There is very high confidence that the global net average effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming with a radiative forcing of +1.6 [+0.6 to +2.4] W/m2”

    where “very high confidence” is a qualitative term which they define as “at least 9 out of 10 chance of being correct”.

  14. It would be neat if we could have an Exxon Secrets type map of Heartland’s involvement with all the sceptics, including the NZ ones.

    Note that I don’t think our lot are deliberately seeking HI funding in order to do their bidding – they’re not hired guns in that sense, just that there’s someone around with a fat chequebook who wants to do the same thing – fight the “alarmist” bandwagon. Climate scepticism is a broad church…

    Nevertheless, I do think that Heartland has a carefully planned campaign, and they use the likes of our NZ CSC to provide “cover” for that strategy.

  15. Heartland is central to the sceptic push – as we know from its organisation of the recent New York conference, and its funding of the NZ and Australian lot going to Bali.

    it’s a leading light in the “Cooler Heads Coalition” which is run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (the CEI got the most amount of money from Exxon – until public pressure forced the company to drop them in 06). that map’s here:

    There’s a good updated factsheet about them on the ExxonSecrets wiki here:

    but you’re right, Gareth, Exxonsecrets needs to be updated to put all these kiwi guys in – watch this space 😉

    Note: Walt Bucholtz, their “government relations advisor” was the man at Exxon who made all the funding decisions. So a very close and cozy relationship there.

  16. IN one year the NZ Environmental Defense Society received over $200,000 from Government much of which was to subsidise their conference on climate change.
    So are all their members in the ay of government?
    Seems like a very close and cozy relationship here.

    So yes, add all our names to the Exxon list if you don ‘t mind walking in the gutter.

  17. Don’t be so precious, Owen. You seek to influence public policy in NZ, and the Heartland Institute is happy to provide funds (and write letters) to support your position. The relationship between the two is a matter of legitimate public interest.

  18. Cindy, Gareth, you both have a lot to learn about integrity.

    Cindy, how much money did Greenpeace receive last year and can you direct me to a website showing its financial statement and to its corporate contributors. I want to know where Greenpeace gets its money from, how much it receives with its tax-free status and whether the large corporate donors include the kinds of organisations that you disparage.

    I am aware, for example, that Exxon-Mobil has provided over $10 million to Stanford University, where alarmist Stephen Schneider works, for climate related research. I am also aware that Exxon-Mobil donates to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, an organisation that also receives substantial funding from the US government to research human influences on climate.

    Gareth, do you seriously believe that governments don’t fund organisations that are likely to produce reports or articles that support government policy?

  19. A few of questions:

    Is this the same Cindy who hopes that Augie Auer and Owen McShane will rot in hell? If so, does that make her an Eco-nasty?

    Have the AGW alarmists replaced the pejorative “denier” with “flat earther” as the insult du jour? Are any of you capable of holding a proper discussion or debate without name-calling or insult?

  20. John/Owen.

    Greenpeace, you’ll be sad to hear, has a policy of independence. This means that the organisation refuses to take money from both corporations and governments, in order to maintain that independence and to avoid the accusations of “being in the pocket” of anybody.

    Greenpeace does not lend its logo to companies to use in their promotions. All money comes from individuals – in NZ that’s 40,000 regular people who give money on a regular basis. Sorry to disappoint.

    re: Exxon funding GCEP. Funny you should mention that – Exxon’s got into trouble over this funding because it uses this money as a way of greenwashing itself – which is presumably the spin you have picked up too?
    see here

    re: Stephen Schneider. Firstly, he works at Stanford but not for GCEP. Secondly, he regularly publishes PEER REVIEWED CLIMATE SCIENCE – that mystical process which appears to elude most climate sceptic scientists.

    He has some very interesting comments on the issue of sceptics (he calls them contrarians) … even mentions our very own Chris de Freitas on his website.

    he has done quite a lot of thinking, too, about media’s reporting of climate science which is well worth a read:

    Jack (presumably the Rear Admiral himself of CSC fame?): interesting quote – can you give me a source?

    finally, just for you CSC people seeing as how you’re focussing on this site, I just want to remind you of a very interesting quote by your friend and colleague Terry Dunleavy:

    “Bluegreens call on New Zealanders to join British environmentalists who are boycotting Mobil’s sister company Esso. This uses market forces to tell Mobil we won’t stand for the emissions which cause the global warming which looms as a climatic threat to the country we enjoy living in, and which is so dependent on primary produce for our prosperity.”

    good on ya Terry – at least you were a force for good in the National Party at some stage.

  21. This site continues to display the paucity of intelligence and decency that has characterized it for quite a while.

    This rules of this blog seems to be
    (a) never debate the data and science of any argument

    (b) always go for the ad hominem attack because its easer than proving a point

    (c) always emphasize a dubious funding source (which actually suggests that the people responsible for the postings on this blogs judge others by what they would do in the same circumstances – take the money and lie)

    (d) criticize the presentations and statements of others but use the old “appeal to authority” approach because you have no ideas of your own and no evidence. (If you think you are smart enough to select material from other people then surely you are smart enough to have written numerous scientific papers on the subject and be able to quote the relevant data.)

    In other words this blog has turned into a flophouse for both the true believers, that a category 6 storm wouldn’t shift, and the lazy parasites who can only cite the work of others.

    In other words you lot are no longer relevant.

  22. John:”This rules of this blog seems to be…(b) always go for the ad hominem attack because its easer than proving a point”

    “This site continues to display the paucity of intelligence and decency that has characterized it for quite a while.”

    “this blog has turned into a flophouse for both the true believers, that a category 6 storm wouldn’t shift, and the lazy parasites who can only cite the work of others.”

    Good to see you don’t use ad hominem attacks yourself John. Yeah right.

    John: “(d) criticize the presentations and statements of others but use the old “appeal to authority” approach because you have no ideas of your own and no evidence. (If you think you are smart enough to select material from other people then surely you are smart enough to have written numerous scientific papers on the subject and be able to quote the relevant data.)”

    What, like you John? I’m certainly interested in reading your own “numerous scientific papers on the subject”

  23. John,

    By your words shall we know you.

    Until you turned up, we were managing very well without intemperate comments.

    On the other hand, when we examine your “papers”, we find nothing peer reviewed. (Note for others: John is probably John McLean, the “noted” Aussie crank).

  24. Jack: “Have the AGW alarmists replaced the pejorative “denier” with “flat earther”…”

    Not sure, but I see you’re persisting with the pejorative “AGW alarmist”. This sort of inconsistency and blindness to one’s own cognitive biases is an ubiquitous feature of ‘sceptics’ across the media.

    On the one hand, sceptics take great pride in their independence of mind and refusal to bow to the majority; on the other, they insist that theirs is in fact the majority view, and they have surveys to prove it.

    Sceptics warn us that ‘the science isn’t settled’, and express grave doubts about the worth of pro-AGW studies. In the next breadth, they cite a single study that conclusively ‘refutes’ the entire AGW thesis.

    Sceptics warn against the ‘alarmism’ of global warming projections, but then engage in their own form of alarmism, predicting that efforts to combat global warming will result in economic meltdown, a return to the Dark Ages and the imposition of communist thought control.

    Sceptics make great play of the hubris of AGW theory, yet delight in casting themselves as latter-day Galileos, preening and strutting their way across the media and demanding to be burned at the stake.

    These sorts of inconsistencies and contradictions lead me to believe that most of the vocal AGW sceptics are in it for the politics. What they most dislike about AGW is that – barring some type of ‘spontaneous’ voluntary action — mitigation and adaptation will require governmental action for decades to come.

  25. You can believe what you like Brendan – and continue to be wrong.

    I’m in the debate for the love of science and humanity. I doubt that you are in it for either of these reasons.

    “Alarmist” is not a pejorative. It’s an accurate description of those who attempt to continually raise the alarm because of their fear of man-made global warming.

  26. Nice analysis Brendan.

    Incidentally, I thought the ‘denier’ name came about because the skeptics disowned them (as in http://www.skeptics.org.nz and the like).

    More seriously – name calling achieves nothing except wasting valuable lines of blog space (although it does provide some entertainment). Best way to deal with it is just accept it (embrace it even) and move on – this applies to both sides.

    And if there is a ‘balanced middle’ I don’t expect to find it anywhere near Bob Carter.


  27. Jack: “Alarmist” is not a pejorative.”

    Yes it is. Why else would you use it? But leaving aside the word games, I’m claiming that global warming sceptics engage in their own form of alarmism; that is, they raise undue fears about the economic and political implications of actions proposed to combat global warming.

    Do they do this? Judge for yourself from this representative selection:

    “So-called “global warming” is just the latest scam that Time and other left-wingers hope will fool the public long enough to smuggle in socialism, which is their real goal.”

    “We seem to be on a one way track to totalitarianism fueled by ethanol and carbon policies.”

    “Once all this green nonsense has run its course, we will have witnessed a disaster the likes of Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward.”

    “Most of the Lamocrats and Republicrats who have jumped on this AGW bandwagon have done it for the purposes of advancing socialism and communism.”

    “There will be powercuts, loss of services, imposition of rationing, decline in standards of living, impoverishment, food shortages, medical crises and worse.”

    “…by inflicting on it a carbon trading regime guaranteed to plunge us back into the dark ages.”

    “Implementing Kyoto would precipitate an economic disaster.”

    Reads like alarmism to me.

  28. Andrew H: “Nice analysis Brendan.”


    “Incidentally, I thought the ‘denier’ name came about because the skeptics disowned them (as in http://www.skeptics.org.nz and the like).”

    Not sure, but they can’t be too happy about the appropriation (or perhaps misappropriation) of their point of difference.

    “More seriously – name calling achieves nothing except wasting valuable lines of blog space…”

    True, although there’s a bit of power in the name. My policy in web debates is tit for tat – do right by me and I’ll play fair, otherwise all bets are off.

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