The Australian's continued support of climate change denialism

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Global warming will fundamentally change the habitability of Earth (image by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures).

A recent article in The Australian on climate change has many errors and misrepresentations, writes Steve Bishop

THE AUSTRALIAN continues to publish rubbish about global warming.

This is despite the fact that its then-editor, Chris Mitchell, said eight years ago: "for several years the paper has accepted man-made climate change as fact".

But last week, the paper gave columnist Michael Asten more than 400 square centimetres, for an article of well over 900 words, to argue there are massive divisions about the science.

To be fair, he probably did not write the headline:

Global climate has warmed, but scientists divided on why that is so.’

But he did allege there is doubt about the 'relative contribution of natural variations and anthropogenic [man-made]' causes to climate change.

There’s no doubt at all in the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

It states categorically:

 ‘Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels.’

Asten alleges:

‘…most Australians do not appreciate the level of doubt about IPCC science in the science community.’

Any doubt in the scientific community comes from a minute but vocal minority in the same way there are still scientists and “experts” who speak out against action to stop smoking.

As an example, the climate change-denying Heartland Institute says on its website:

‘There are many reasons to be skeptical about what professional anti-smoking advocates say. They personally profit by exaggerating the health threats of smoking and winning passage of higher taxes and bans on smoking in public places.’

The level of doubt cited by Asten could also be compared with the small number of anti-vaxxers who, despite all the evidence of the efficacy and safety of vaccinations, have convinced the Italian Government to drop mandatory vaccinations for children entering school.

And on the topic of doubters and minorities, there are even the members of the Flat Earth Society.

But there is no doubt among nearly 200 of the world’s scientific organisations. They all hold the view that climate change has been caused by human activity.

So why would Asten suggest most Australians have such doubts?

And why does The Australian continue to publish articles designed to raise doubts about anthropogenic climate change and the urgent need to tackle it when it does not provide similar support for tobacco lobbyists and flat-earthers?

It panders to the ridiculous right of the Liberal Party, typified by Tony Abbott and to the companies with a financial stake in climate change denial who donate to the Institute of Public Affairs.

The best example Asten provides to sow such doubt is a 2014 report from the American Meteorological Society (AMS). Asten claims only 52% of respondents believed warming to be ‘mostly human in origin’.

The figure of 52% was first used by climate change denier James Taylor in 2013, who used a leaked copy of the draft 2014 report to write:

Barely half of American Meteorological Society meteorologists believe global warming is occurring and humans are the primary cause, a newly released study reveals.’

This was viewed as such a misrepresentation by the report’s authors that they responded angrily:

‘We found that more than 9 out of 10 climate science experts (93%) who publish mostly on climate change, and the same proportion (93%) of climate experts who publish mostly on other topics, were convinced that humans have contributed to global warming.’

Former AMS president Dr J. Marshall Shepherd wrote for Forbes in March 2016 that, ‘with such a [mischaracterised] response, the AMS felt that a new survey was needed.’

Despite only 37% of the respondents of the new survey considering themselves experts in climate science, it found:

‘Two thirds (67%) of the 4,004 respondents said the main cause of climate change was human activity. A further 14% believed the change was caused more or less equally by human activity and natural events.’

Yet Asten ignored the response to the 2014 survey and the results of the 2016 survey.

Asten’s article goes on to include a scare campaign about the cost to taxpayers of contributing to the Green Climate Fund created by the United Nations to help developing countries deal with climate change. 

It says this:

‘…the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has a goal for its Green Climate Fund to spend $100 billion U.S. annually from 2020, with Australia having been “assessed” as responsible for 4.25% of this cost … If we accept this obligation from the UNFCCC, we are saddling our children and grandchildren with an obligation for $60bn AUD across a decade.’

My research suggests the figure of 4.25% came not from the fund or the UN, but from a working paper published in September by the World Resources Institute, suggesting an improved structure for the fund and a formula for guaranteed funding from developed countries.

But this process was not adopted at the Fund’s October meeting. Instead, a process of approaching donors for fresh contributions was agreed at the Bahrain meeting. Observers said a pledging conference could take place next autumn.

So it would appear there is no “obligation” of any sort at the moment and certainly not to pay $60 billion.

Yet a sub-heading which appeared in the print edition of the story reads:

‘Before we spend billions as part of the Paris accord, let’s consider the alternatives.’

Perhaps Asten was swayed by a headline over a story by The Australian’s Environment Editor Graham Lloyd in September, which read: ‘Global Green Climate Fund demands $400m, fast’.

But along with not developing a plan to cut emissions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia will not contribute any more money to the fund.

Asten then introduces Garth Partridge as a former CSIRO chief scientist, director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Oceans Studies (IASOS) and a fellow of Australian Academy of Science, for the purposes of highlighting that he was chastised by the Academy’s president for alleging an Academy booklet on climate change understated scientific uncertainties.

Paltridge was never chief CSIRO scientist and he retired as IASOS director 16 years ago. Perhaps Asten should have introduced him as a contrarian who is listed as an expert adviser of the Galileo Movement.

This organisation has ex-One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts as project leader and Alan Jones as patron. Its panel of experts also includes Ian Plimer and Viscount Monckton.

It alleges an ‘Australian corruption of climate science’.

Asten suggests that the cost of the Paris Agreement leads to ‘the potential loss of jobs’ and puts ‘thousands of jobs at stake’.

In fact, research by Ernst and Young and the Climate Council has found:

‘Job losses in coal-fired electricity generation are more than compensated for by increased employment in the renewable energy sector.’

Asten says it is troubling that the work of Nicola Scafetta is not part of the IPCC Report because it forecasts

future global warming to be about half of that used by the IPCC in its demands for urgent action to avoid climate disaster.’

However, in 2009 it was reported that Scarfetta was

 ‘…refusing to provide the software he used to other climate researchers attempting to replicate his results.’

A recent examination of Scarfetta’s work by DeSmog suggests that is still the case. Is it any wonder his work is not part of the IPCC report?

Asten is credited by The Australian as being ‘a retired professor of geophysics and adjunct senior fellow at Monash University'.

Asten’s CV includes a list of 187 publications related to geology — including mining, oil and coal exploration. The list includes only four publications related to climate change. Two relate to estimates of the climate sensitivity from fossils. One alleges that climate science is not being taught objectively in schools and he’s written a non-academic article saying there is a debate about climate science.

None of the four were peer-reviewed. Which is hardly a surprise.

The Australian was at it again on Saturday with an article by Judith Sloan in which she quoted Richard Lindzen as 'a leading figure in climate science' in order to make 'an important point'.

But Lindzen is a contrarian who angered climate scientists by writing to President Trump, urging him to withdraw from the UN Climate Convention.

Since 2013, Lindzen has received $25,000 a year from the Cato Institute, founded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, and $30,000 from Peabody Coal for testimony in legal proceedings.

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