Cranking it out: NZ papers conned by denier media strategy

My inbox in the last month has filled with emails about denier articles in leading New Zealand newspapers. It’s been a veritable crank central across the country. They include the ridiculous opinion piece by Jim Hopkins in the Herald late last year, a similar feature by Bryan Leyland  published in both the DomPost and The Press, then, last week, a piece by Chris de Freitas in the Herald, arguing that desertification in Africa isn’t caused by climate change.

Did Leyland and de Freitas, both leading lights in the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, take advantage of newspapers’ lack of feature material over the holiday break and provide some copy to fill the gap?

An insight to the strategy behind our newspapers’ fairly regular publication of our local deniers can be gained from reading a document I came across recently: the Canadian-based International Climate Science [denial] Coalition’s (ICSC) media strategy, originally posted on the front page of its website last year (pdf here).

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Jim Hopkins: vapid, vacuous, pretty vacant

There’s a terrible tyranny in being a columnist for a national newspaper, required to produce entertaining and informative copy every week. It’s a hard job, having an opinion and expressing it cogently. Some writers struggle and succeed, others strive and fail dismally. The NZ Herald — the newspaper of record for NZ’s biggest city — has a couple of fine examples of the latter: old curmudgeon Garth George, who meets the difficulties inherent in his job by ripping off other people’s copy, and red-spectacled “funny man” Jim Hopkins, who has never allowed the facts to get in the way of a good rant.

And what a diatribe he gave us last Friday! Global warming’s gone away, Jim reckons:

There has been a trickle of terror but, by and large, the whole calamitous narrative is a goneburger.


The conclusion’s inescapable. Either we (literally) cooked our goose a long time ago or global warming’s always been more chimera than catastrophe. Quids in, it’s the latter. This is a crisis of faith, not a crisis of fact.


We just don’t need to worry about it any more. That’s all. The prediction holds. Global warming has disappeared.

Yes that’s right, because the media isn’t giving global warming the same prominence as a few years ago, the problem must be over. Thank the Lord for that sir. And what a shame that Hopkins’ is talking — not to put too fine a point on it — complete bollocks. Here’s why:

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Lazy old Garth

Some things you can rely on: death, taxes and Garth George. Yes, that wondrous old curmudgeon has published another piece that owes a heavy debt to the work of another. In the Otago Daily Times a couple of weeks ago he devoted an entire column to an espousal of a climate sceptic rant by Professor William Happer, recently published at a US right wing Christian web site. Let us not be too distracted by the fact that Happer’s opus is nonsense — that is what we expect of the wilder fringes of climate denial — but let’s look at the treatment Garth gives it: three short introductory sentences, then:

Prof Happer’s dissertation on greenhouse gasses and global warming runs to some 4500 words.

Here are some highlights.

His introduction is 153 words out of the 851 in the column (a mere 18%). The remainder is a thinly paraphrased or directly quoted lift from Happer’s article. Garth’s serial plagiarism of the work of others would be funny if it wasn’t being paid for by respected newspapers. We know that Garth is a fool, because we can read what he writes about climate change. But he is also making fools of some of the leading newspapers in this country. Who is the more foolish: the plagiarist or the people who pay him?

Garth goes off the deep end

Another week, another load of tripe from Garth George in the Herald. He emerges from his sulphurous lair stirred by stories of volcanoes in Iceland to lend his weight to calls for the suspension of the Emissions Trading Scheme. He makes so many egregious errors that he not only makes himself look foolish, but also calls into question the editorial standards of the Herald. Opinion is opinion (and Garth is entitled to his) but facts are facts, and the nation’s leading newspaper should not allow him to simply invent his own.

Let’s take a closer look…


Here’s his opening error:

…more and more evidence is available that gases such as carbon dioxide and methane have absolutely no effect on global temperatures.

What evidence would that be, one wonders, because Garth provides no clue. I haven’t heard of any major revisions in basic physics that would allow greenhouse gases not to warm the planet. I suspect Garth is just making stuff up, interviewing his typewriter (which, for all I know, may be about to win a Nobel prize for rewriting quantum physics).

I suspect that the eruption of Mt Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland shot more gases into the atmosphere in five minutes than New Zealand would in five years.

No need for suspicion. The figures are available, and even Garth could have Googled an answer to his rhetorical question. Leo Hickman at the Guardian has done the digging: Eyjafjallajökull has been emitting somewhere in the range of 150-300,000 tonnes of CO2 per day. New Zealand, on the other hand, emitted 74.7 million tonnes of CO2e in 2008 according to the latest MfE report. Garth could have argued that Eyjafjallajökull’s peak daily emissions were about the same as New Zealand’s, but they were also being more than offset by the cancellation of so many long distance flights.

The increasing scepticism over global warming throughout the world is not surprising after the shocking sub-zero weather which created chaos all over Britain, throughout Europe and in the United States in the depth of their winter.

It was the fourth warmest winter since records began.

There is increasing scepticism here, too, after one of the coldest winters in decades, which started early and finished late, afflicted much of New Zealand.

Wrong. New Zealand’s winter started early, and was quite cold, but it also ended early and August was the warmest in the record.

But the deception continues among the global warming scaremongers.

The chutzpah is breathtaking. A Biblical phrase about logs and eyes springs to mind.

Climate has been in a constant state of flux since God created the heavens and the land and the sea and placed the sun and the moon in their orbits.

When was that, Garth?

And I am persuaded absolutely that it is the sun, not the harmless, essential trace gas carbon dioxide, that drives climate change. So our emissions trading scheme will not just be a colossal waste of time and effort but an unaffordable waste of money.

Garth’s absolute certainty is ridiculously unpersuasive, based as it is on shoddy research and made-up “facts”. The Herald, if it wishes to retain any vestige of credibility in its opinion section, should apologise for foisting such ignorant and ill-informed ramblings on its readers.

A visitor from La-la Land: Garth George gets it wrong (again)

I suppose it was inevitable that the feeding frenzy about various “gates” in the British press would attract the attention of the wise old man of Rotorua, Garth George. In today’s Herald he emerges from his sulphurous lair to add his muted sqeak to the hubbub. It’s not much different to his last few columns on the subject, though the borrowing of material is perhaps a little less obvious. He cites his source (a horrendously bad piece by Jonathan Leake in the Sunday Times) and does a proper re-write rather than just quote the whole thing verbatim. But he adds some flourishes of his own:

Their concern – as it is with the data provided by our own National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) – is about the thousands of weather stations around the world which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site. This, of course, is the charge that has long been levelled at Niwa by a significant section of New Zealand’s scientific community.

Rubbish, Garth. What “significant section” would that be? The NZ CSC and Richard Treadgold’s anonymous team of “scientists”? Perhaps you counted that noted environmental scientist Rodney Hide. De Freitas and De Lange? Fringe figures of no great academic standing. You just made it up, didn’t you? Interviewed your typewriter and polled your patio pot plants, to lend false weight to a ridiculous smear campaign.

The rest of Garth’s piece repeats the main points of Leake’s article (handily debunked at Deltoid: keep an eye out for Tim’s Leakegate posts), but as he opened with some failed predictions from 1957, he closes with a prediction of his own:

So, just as Dr Kaplan’s predictions came to nought, so I believe will the scaremongering global warming predictions of today’s climate doomsayers. Perhaps 53 years from now someone will find an ancient copy of the Herald and laugh at the climate change paranoia which afflicted the world in 2010.

Of two things we can be sure: he will not be around to hear the laughter, and it will be Garth George they will be laughing at — if they’re not shedding tears of rage.