Science and the fight against mainstream media bias

I came across this piece of journalism today by the now deceased journalist Warren T Brookes, describing the hysteria and hype behing ‘global warming’, directly attacking politician Al Gore and climate scientist James Hansen (click through for a higher resolution).

So what’s so surprising about this particular piece of journalism? Believe it or not, this was written and published back in 1989. For a little perspective, here’s a graph from Wood for Trees showing temperature anomaly data from 1850 – 2010…

… and the green line is the linear trend since the the newspaper piece was published (1989 – 2010). Vindication for Gore and Hansen? In retrospect yes,  but by which time, the damage is already done. In decades following 1989, the media have done a great job in slurring climate change science. The solution?  Andrew Weaver (from the University of Victoria in Canada) is suing the National Post newspaper for defamation following a series of accusatory articles:

University of Victoria Professor Andrew Weaver, the Canada Research Chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis, launched a lawsuit today in BC Supreme Court against three writers at the National Post (and the newspaper as a whole), over a series of unjustified libels based on grossly irresponsible falsehoods that have gone viral on the Internet.

In a statement released at the same time the suit was filed, Dr. Weaver said, “I asked The National Post to do the right thing – to retract a number of recent articles that attributed to me statements I never made, accused me of things I never did, and attacked me for views I never held. To my absolute astonishment, the newspaper refused.”

Dr. Weaver’s statement of claim not only asks for a Court injunction requiring The National Post to remove all of the false allegations from its Internet websites, but also seeks an unprecedented Court order requiring the newspaper to assist Dr. Weaver in removing the defamatory National Post articles from the many other Internet sites where they have been re-posted.

“If I sit back and do nothing to clear my name, these libels will stay on the Internet forever. They’ll poison the factual record, misleading people who are looking for reliable scientific information about global warming,” said Weaver.

The suit names Financial Post Editor Terence Corcoran, columnist Peter Foster, reporter Kevin Libin and National Post publisher Gordon Fisher, as well as several still-unidentified editors and copy editors. It seeks general, aggravated damages, special and exemplary damages and legal costs in relation to articles by Foster on December 9, 2009 (“Weaver’s Web”), Corcoran on December 10, 2009 (“Weaver’s Web II”) and January 27, 2010 (“Climate Agency going up in flames”), and Libin on February 2, 2010 (“So much for pure science”).

Hat tip to Deltoid. Will be watching this one closely…

Australia has suffered hellish wildfires and withering drought—and is asking for more through its massive coal exports.

By Guy Pearse

(Sierra Club May/June 2010)

Drought revealed the skeletons of trees once covered by Lake Hume, a massive manmade reservoir bordering the states of New South Wales and Victoria.

If what Australia is experiencing is not global warming, it’s something that looks just like it.

The driest inhabited continent has just endured its warmest decade on record and its worst drought in history. It’s finally started raining again, but not before the 10-year “Big Dry” cost a quarter of all farm jobs. Most state capitals are turning to desalinating seawater, and severe water restrictions will remain a fact of city life. Water your garden in the middle of the day in Brisbane and you risk a AUS$200 fine; wash your car with potable city water in Melbourne and you’ll pay more than twice that. Drought is just the start of Australia’s torments, which also include floods, cyclones, and dust storms.

Hundred-year weather events seem to happen all the time now. Few openly link climate change to the 173 deaths in the Black Saturday bushfires of early 2009, but they are a horrible taste of what’s coming. Firefighters point to longer and more intense fire seasons, and scientists warn of a doubling or even trebling of extreme fire-weather days. In the wake of Black Saturday, a new level was added to the nation’s fire-danger rating system: catastrophic.

Australia is feeling the effects of climate change–and fueling them as well. It’s by far the world’s leading coal exporter, shipping out 290 million tons of coal a year from 120 inland mines, out of sight and out of mind for most Australians. The four companies that dominate the global coal trade–BHP Billiton, Xstrata, Anglo, and Rio Tinto–all have corporate offices in eastern Australia, as well as their largest coal-export investments. The coal rush down under also has lured the world’s two largest coal-mining companies, the U.S.-based Peabody and the China-based Shenhua. The government plans to let exports double in the next 10 years; by 2020, Australia will ship out as much carbon dioxide through coal as Saudi Arabia does today through oil.
Last year’s extreme weather events in Australia were capped by a mammoth dust storm that engulfed half of New South Wales and shrouded Sydney (above) in red dust.

Not long ago the Australian economy was said to ride on the sheep’s back. Now coal exports outnumber wool exports by 600 tons to 1, and most believe the economy rides a coal train. Coal is Australia’s biggest export, the centerpiece of a natural-resources sector partly credited with shielding the country from the global recession. Eighty percent of Australian coal is burned offshore–mainly in power plants and steel mills in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, but increasingly in China and India too. These coal-importing countries are the addicts, with booming economies based on the polluting fuel. Australia is their enabler.

Australians unwilling to see the irony of the situation sometimes have it forced on them. In 2007, cyclonic winds washed a coal tanker up on an iconic surf beach in New South Wales. Greenpeace seized the moment, projecting the words COAL CAUSES CLIMATE CHAOS onto the beleaguered ship’s hull. In Queensland a 500-year flood in 2008 submerged large open-pit coal mines, contaminating the Fitzroy River.

As striking as those images were, and as shocking as it is to most Australians to learn that coral bleaching will likely destroy the Great Barrier Reef within their lifetime, only a small handful of activists connect the coal-export industry with the climate change Australia is feeling. There is no Aussie counterpart, for example, to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal movement. Not one coal-fired power plant here has been closed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. On the contrary, previously decommissioned 1960s-era plants are being refurbished, and the coal industry flourishes with bipartisan political support.

That includes the Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, which has enthusiastically backed the doubling of Australia’s coal exports. Coal, Rudd has declared, is “the backbone of regional Australia.” The emissions-trading scheme he proposes is cloaked in the rhetoric of low-carbon economic transformation, but guarantees the future primacy of coal. No matter what reduction target Australia eventually accepts, its most-coal-dependent industries will get, on average, more than 80 percent of their emission permits for free, with no overall cap on their emissions or share of permits.
Much of the opposition to coal comes from farmers fearful of encroaching open pit coal mines like this one (below) in central Queensland.

The government openly acknowledges that emissions from these sectors will increase, and modeling released by the federal treasury suggests that even with Rudd’s “Carbon Pollution Reduction” scheme, actual emissions in 2020 will be higher than today’s. And conveniently, the 80 percent of Australian coal burned overseas is excluded from Australia’s emission targets.

Australia is attempting to reconcile its spiraling industrial emissions with its emissions-reduction commitments by buying cheap international carbon credits on a grand scale. It’s also seeking a change in international greenhouse-gas accounting rules so it can offload rapidly increasing carbon emissions from wildfires and drought as “natural disturbances.” And it wants credit for the huge amount of carbon that can potentially be sequestered in its soil, which may let the country avoid industrial emission cuts for another decade.

Ironically, the rest of the world views Rudd as an ecofriendly politician who ratified the Kyoto Protocol, championed an ambitious global climate agreement, and vowed to set a national target of lowering greenhouse emissions by up to 25 percent by 2020. Barack Obama said Rudd was doing “a terrific job,” and Al Gore twice toured with him, heaping praise and recording a video for the prime minister’s Web site. Gore did distance himself from Rudd’s polluter-friendly emissions-trading scheme (“not what I would have written”), but the overall impression has been a glowing endorsement of the Australian government.

Rudd, at least, acknowledges that global warming is a problem. The other side of Australian politics is thoroughly controlled by climate skeptics. When “moderate” elements of the conservative opposition negotiated concessions from Rudd to make the proposed emissions-trading scheme even more polluter friendly, conservatives changed their leader rather than see it enacted. Their new leader, Tony Abbott, calls the scientific case for human-made global warming “absolute crap.”

The most conspicuous resistance to the Australian coal rush comes from farmers. It’s not that they link coal and climate change to the devastating drought (although scientists expect irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin, the most significant agricultural area, to be gone by 2100). Rather, coal mining and coal-bed methane extraction directly threaten the country’s 6 percent of arable land. In particular, farmers fear the mining could damage the headwaters and aquifers feeding into the Murray-Darling river system. The battle pits two of the country’s most potent lobbying forces against each other.

Rosemary Nankivell is one of hundreds of farmers whose outlook has been turned upside down. Since 1920, her family has farmed 5,000 acres of some of Australia’s best land, in the Liverpool Plains region of northwest New South Wales. Now she sees the devastation that coal mining has inflicted on farms in the neighboring Hunter Valley unfolding on her own doorstep: “We’re seeing the same divide-and-conquer strategy used to buy up farms, and we’re hearing the same hollow rhetoric about mining and farming coexisting peacefully and about mining not harming the rivers and groundwater. In truth, these companies don’t care about the devastation they leave behind.”

The farmers have attracted influential backing. The conservative National Party’s senate leader, Barnaby Joyce, for example, says, “There are certain peculiar areas in Australia where the quality of the land is so exceptional that you should not be compromising that for coal.” Yet Joyce is also a prominent greenhouse-gas skeptic and a supporter of coal mining; in 2006 he suggested that Australia should mine coal in Antarctica before others get to it.

A few well-connected farming communities may prevail in preserving their land, but it will scarcely dent Australia’s booming coal industry. Most transactions involve drought-weary farmers who can feel the climate changing, whether or not they blame human activity. As Nankivell puts it, “If someone is offered a million dollars for 500 acres of marginal country, they’re quietly taking the money.”

Perhaps as a subtle hint to would-be sellers, BHP Billiton, Xstrata, and others are sponsoring a “drought recovery concert” by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. “BHP Billiton brings soothing Symphony to drought-stricken farmers,” croons the press release. As greenhouse gases slowly broil Australia’s parched farms, the band plays on.

ON THE WEB See more photos from award-winning photographer Michael Hall.

Guy Pearse is a research fellow at the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute.

Where’s the Apology From the Right for Lying About ‘Climategate’?

The year is 1954, and the “science” that has been exposed as a “sham” by conservatives is the link between smoking and lung cancer. Welcome to Tobaccogate, as Fox News would call it. The conservatives are championing professor Clarence Cook Little, who says he has discovered insurmountable flaws in the use of statistics and clinical data by “anti-tobacco” (and quasi-commie) scientists. The press reports the “controversy,” usually without mentioning that Cook Little is being paid by the tobacco industry. A relieved nation lights up–and so, over the next few decades, millions of them die.

Sounds familiar?

It is happening again. The tide of global warming denial is now rising as fast as global sea levels–and with as much credibility as Cook Little. Look at the deniers’ greatest moment, Climategate, hailed by them as “the final nail in the coffin” of “the theory of global warming.” A patient study by the British House of Commons has pored over every e-mail from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and interviewed everyone involved. Its findings? The “evidence patently fails to support” the idea of a fraud; the scientists have “no case to answer”; and all their findings “have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified” by other scientists. That’s British for “it was a crock.”

Head over to The Examiner to read the rest of the article. It’s hard not to ridicule the integrity of Monckton (who is not only a celebrity denier, but also claims that he can cure HIV).

How the Sea Snake Got Its Stripes

Sea snakes evolved from highly venomous land snakes that returned to their ocean beginnings around 5 million years ago. Apparently, the familiar black and white patterns of these snakes not only work well in terrestrial camouflage (think zebra stripes), but it can also influence its susceptibility to algal fouling, which can reduce swimming speed by up to 20 percent. Here’s how:

“The fact that sea snakes have made the transition from terrestrial to aquatic life, makes them the perfect model to study evolution because we can compare traits between land snakes and sea snakes and hence identify selective forces unique to those habitats,” he said.

“The shift from land to water brought with it a new set of challenges, and sea snakes evolved unique physical traits which enabled them to survive in the aquatic environment — a paddle-shaped tail for swimming, valves to close their nostrils and large lungs to provide oxygen while under water.

“Another consistent attribute of sea snakes involves coloration: most are banded rather than unicoloured, blotched or striped. Fouling by algae has also been reported in several groups of sea snakes, and we wondered if maybe a snake’s colour could influence its susceptibility to this.”
“Once we knew there was a relationship between a snake’s colour and the amount of algal fouling, the next step was to determine if a snake’s dark colour was the actual cause of the higher algal levels,” Professor Shine said.

To do this, the researchers suspended plastic snake models — in black, white and black-and-white — in mid water and scored the amount of algal colonisation over the subsequent days. The results showed that colour directly affects the amount of algal growth, with black surfaces attracting the most algae, followed by black-and-white, and white the least.

“The spores of some marine algae settle out preferentially onto dark-coloured objects, which probably explains why the darker snakes hosted higher algal cover,” he said.

The finding raises the crucial question: if snake colour influences rates of algal accumulation, what are the consequences of such accumulation?

“The most obvious such consequence is increased drag and things became really interesting when we tested to see if algal cover affected a snake’s swimming speed. Our locomotor trials revealed a 20 percent reduction in swimming speeds in snakes covered with a heavy coating of algae.”

Via ScienceDaily

Climategate: Russian secret service blamed for hack

With the climategate ‘scandal’ over and done with, it seems like we’ll never figure out who was responsible for the email hack at CRU. Oh wait, it was Russian secret service. Intrigued? Read the article below… oddly enough, published by the usually pretty reputable New Scientist and quoting Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the IPCC vice chairman:

The Russian secret service has been accused of masterminding the theft of the confidential data from one of the world’s leading centres of climate change research. The charge comes as news emerges that hacked climate scientists have received death threats.

Since over 1000 emails were hacked from a server at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, it’s been hard not to play climate change Cluedo: who committed the crime?

Rumours on the identity of the perpetrator now appear to be firming up, according to the Independent’s Shaun Walker.

According to Walker, a senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has voiced suspicions that the hack job was not the handy work of a lone amateur but that of a “highly sophisticated, politically motivated operation.”

“It’s a carefully made selection of emails and documents that’s not random,” Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, IPCC vice chairman, told the paper. “This is 13 years of data, and it’s not a job of amateurs.”

Anonymous “others” in the IPCC have gone further, pinning the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Russian secret services, aka the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), reports Walker.

The leaked emails are now threatening to overshadow climate change talks that have started in Copenhagen: last week, Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator warned the world that they would have a “huge impact” on any treaty that is drawn up.

But isn’t it crazy to suggest that Russian agents want to prevent the world from tackling climate change? Perhaps not, speculates Walker.

For a start, the hacked data apparently surfaced on the server of a Russian internet security company based in the Siberian city of Tomsk, where the FSB has an office. And the FSB, argues Walker, is notorious for grooming hackers and launching cyber attacks.

What’s more, by keeping the Arctic Circumpolar Seas ice-free all year round, climate change will unlock Russia’s enormous and lucrative reserves of fossil fuel. The suggestion is that Russia will welcome this effect of global warming.

So: Russia not only had the capacity to carry out the hacking job, it also has a motive, as nations rich in fossil fuels will be penalised by any post-Kyoto agreement that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, suggests Walker.

That said, the case is far from closed. Even if Russian hackers are to blame, who is to say that they weren’t in the pay of another party? How’s that for a new conspiracy theory? (Link to full text)

Second CRU enquiry clears researchers of any wrong-doing

Link to the Oxborough report here. The highlights are surprisingly honest:

We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it. Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups their internal procedures were rather informal.


We cannot help remarking that it is very surprising that research in an area that depends so heavily on statistical methods has not been carried out in close collaboration with professional statisticians.

The final word:

We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the Climatic Research Unit and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it.

So remind me again: where is the report as to who orchestrated this hack in the first place?

Hottest March and hottest Jan-Feb-March on record: “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous”

Climate Progress calls it (thanks to Phil M):

It was the hottest March in both satellite records (UAH and RSS), and tied for the hottest March on record in the NASA dataset.  It was the hottest (or tied for hottest) January through March in all three records.

The record temperatures we’re seeing now are especially impressive because we’ve been in “the deepest solar minimum in nearly a century.” It now appears to be over. It’s just hard to stop the march of anthropogenic global warming, well, other than by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that is.

NASA’s prediction from last month is standing up:  “It is nearly certain that a new record 12-month global temperature will be set in 2010.″ Actually, NASA made that prediction back in January 2009:

Given our expectation of the next El Niño beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance.”

Of course, there never was any global cooling — see Must-read AP story: Statisticians reject global cooling; Caldeira — “To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous.” Indeed, the overwhelming  majority of the warming went right where scientists had predicted — into the oceans (see “How we know global warming is happening”):

“If Kevin Rudd is sincere about taking ‘any threat to the Great Barrier Reef fundamentally seriously’ he should perhaps be looking more closely at the cargo on the ship”

Here’s a great article by the ABC News quoting David Wachenfeld (the Chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) that places the recent ship grounding on the Great Barrier Reef in perspective:

Oil not the main threat from the coal ship (ABC News, 6th April)

“From my point of view as Prime Minister of Australia, there is no greater natural asset for Australia than the Great Barrier Reef,” said Kevin Rudd today after he flew over the reef to survey the damage caused by a Chinese coal ship that ran aground.

“I take any threat to the Great Barrier Reef fundamentally seriously,” he said.

David Wachenfeld, chief scientist at the Great Barrier Marine Park Authority says while he fears for the fate of the oil in the ships tanks, he is far more concerned about the impact of climate change on the reef than a lost Chinese coal ship.

“There is no doubt that climate change is the greatest long term threat to the reef.”

Oil spills are considered far less of a threat both because they are less likely, and their damage is localised if it does occur.

“Climate change is not a localised impact,” says Wachenfeld. “Unlike an oil spill, it doesn’t happen in one place; it happens everywhere. So the issue is scale. That’s what brings climate change to the top of the list. It’s simply the scale of the impact.”

There is an irony that the cargo the stranded ship is carrying is coal. Even if the ship lost its entire supply of oil, the environmental catastrophe would still be less than the impact of the world’s continued burning of fossil fuels.

So if Kevin Rudd is sincere about taking “any threat to the Great Barrier Reef fundamentally seriously” he should perhaps be looking more closely at the cargo on the ship, than its route or the hole in its fuel tank.

Valuable words. Hat tip to Chris McGrath for pointing out the article.

Climate change skeptics ‘lack scientific credibility’

The skeptics who frequently deny the reality of climate change in the world’s media lack all scientific credibility, charge three eminent Australian researchers who have just been listed among the world’s 20 most influential scientists in the field of climate change.

Marine researchers Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor Terry Hughes and Professor John Pandolfi were ranked in the world’s top 20 by the international science citation analysts Thomson Reuters and ScienceWatch, for the decade 1999-2009. All three are coral reef researchers, members of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS).

However, they warn, many self-proclaimed climate skeptics have never conducted any authentic climate research nor had it peer-reviewed by the world scientific community and published in respected journals.

The three researchers are urging the Australian and international media to be far more cautious in accepting views about climate change put by people whose work has not been subject to rigorous scientific scrutiny and peer-review – and to question the motives behind it.

Professors Hoegh-Guldberg, Hughes and Pandolfi (ranked 3, 7 and 17 in the world respectively) have published extensively in the world scientific literature, in particular on the impacts of climate change on the world’s coral reefs, fish and ocean ecosystems, and on the appropriate management responses to human-related climate change.

Collectively, their research papers on climate change have been cited by over 5000 other scientific publications, giving their work a powerful influence over the thinking of other researchers globally, who then cited it in their own peer-reviewed reports.

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute at The University of Queensland, is a co-author of the world’s most cited paper on climate change, the 2002 Nature report, “Ecological responses to recent climate change” (G.R. Walther et al., Nature 416: 389-95, 2002), which has now been cited about 1,100 times.

The US National Center for Atmospheric Research is ranked as the world’s most cited institution. Its most cited paper – the 2003 Science report, “Climate change, human impacts and the resilience of coral reefs“ – was co-authored by an international team including Professors Hughes, Hoegh-Guldberg and Pandolfi (T.P. Hughes et al., Science 302: 1503-1504, 2003)

“There are no climate skeptics among the coral reef science and management community, because we have seen first-hand the damage caused to reefs in response to the global warming that has already occurred. The evidence for man-made climate change is unequivocal,” says CoECRS director, Professor Hughes

“Our focus now is to move beyond the gloom, doom and denial, and look for practical solutions that will limit the damage from climate change.”

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said: “The evidence emerging from both ocean and atmospheric science makes it increasingly clear that humanity is going to have to get atmospheric CO2 levels back down to 350 parts per million or less, if we are to avoid major impacts on the planet and everything that lives on it.

“It is good that Australian science is playing a significant role in this global awakening – and Australians generally can support their science by demanding greater urgency and more action from their governments and political parties.”

CoECRS principal researcher Professor Pandolfi from The University of Queensland, said: “We are entering a new era in the history of environmental change on our planet: dramatic changes in climate coupled with massive degradation from overexploitation and pollution continue to threaten the foundations of many ecosystems.

“By showing that these linked threats are unprecedented in the Earth’s long history, we are drawing a line in the sand for immediate and substantial action to promote the rehabilitation and recovery of ecosystem goods and services.”