“Climategate: The lion that squeaked” – Clive Hamilton

Clive Hamilton

ABC News, April 1st: by Clive Hamilton

It was the “final nail in the coffin” of global warming science, declared James Delingpole of London’s Daily Telegraph, the moment you should start dumping shares in renewable energy companies.

Lord Monckton announced that it proved beyond doubt “the abject corruption of climate science”.

“The reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished”, thundered Lord Lawson and in the United States Senator James Inhofe went so far as to recommend that all those involved should be chased down for criminal prosecution.

Our own Lord of Blog Andrew Bolt declared it “a scandal that is one of the greatest in modern science”, an outrage in which leading scientists were guilty of “conspiracy, collusion in exaggerating warming data, possibly illegal destruction of embarrassing information, organised resistance to disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more”.

Across the globe, denialists were cock-a-hoop. At last, the leaking of emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia had vindicated everything they believed, even the conspiracy theories about which they were a little embarrassed.

Except that the leaked emails that sent the denial industry into a heart-stopping frenzy have turned out to be the mouse that squeaked. That roar we heard was generated in the denialist echo chamber.

Today the Science and Technology Committee of the British House of Commons brought down its report into “Climategate”. What did it find?

1. There was nothing untoward behind the “trick” used to “hide the decline” in the temperature record. The phrases were colloquial terms without any sinister implications. The Committee found that the “evidence patently fails to support” the claim that these words reveal a conspiracy to hide evidence that does not fit with global warming, and that CRU Director Professor Phil Jones has “no case to answer”.

2. The results and conclusions of CRU research have been independently verified by other methodologies and other sources of data. The Unit’s analyses “have been repeated and the conclusions have been verified”.

3. There is no evidence to suggest that Professor Jones was trying to subvert the peer review process.

4. While 95 per cent of the CRU data have been publicly available for years and some of the remainder is subject to confidentiality agreements with overseas organisations, the report did find that CRU scientists had refused to hand over their data to climate “sceptics” and the University may have breached the Freedom of Information Act.

Despite this finding, the Committee wrote that it “can sympathise with Professor Jones, who must have found it frustrating to handle requests for data that he knew—or perceived—were motivated by a desire simply to undermine his work.”

The University of East Anglia had submitted that in “July 2009 UEA received an unprecedented, and frankly administratively overwhelming, deluge of FOIA requests related to CRU”, which helps to explain why the Committee noted a “culture at CRU of resisting disclosure of information to climate change sceptics”.

The Committee blamed the failure to release data on the relevant officers at the University who should have stepped in to over-rule the scientists. “We believe that the focus on CRU and Professor Phil Jones, Director of CRU, in particular, has largely been misplaced”, concluded the Committee, and recommended Jones be reinstated.

So, no conspiracy, no collusion, no manipulation of data, no corruption of the peer-review process, no scandal; just an understandable reluctance to hand over data to dishonest people with a history of misrepresenting it.

Squibs don’t get much damper than “Climategate”. The most worrying aspect of the drama was the way in which most of the media ditched any attempt at assessing the claims and became caught up in the frenzy, when a couple of hours spent reading the emails and talking to one of two of those involved would have made the conclusions of the House of Commons inquiry entirely predictable.

Clive Hamilton is an Australian author and public intellectual.

Introducing… Bathynomus giganteus (yes, you can eat it)

Here’s an interesting one. A commentor on Reddit posted the above photos (titled ‘My god, it’s a monster‘) along with the following text:

“I work for a Sub-sea Survey Company, recently this beast came up attached to one of our ROVs. It measures a wee bit over 2.5 feet head to tail, and we expect it latched onto the ROV at roughly 8500ft depth. Unfortunately, the e-mail that these pictures were attached to came from a contractor, and the ship he was operating from (and therefore location) is unknown, so I can’t tell you what part of the Earth this beast was living.

What is this, Reddit? Is it edible?”

Turns out the ROV managed to capture a giant isopod, Bathynomus giganteus. Fortunately, these creatures live between upto 2000 metres deep, and tend to hang out between 365 and 730metres (i.e. not commonly encountered in our realm). From the entire Wikipedia article, this is definitely my favourite line:

When a significant source of food is encountered (in captivity), giant isopods gorge themselves to the point of compromising their locomotive ability.

So, can you eat it? Apparently (according to Wikipedia), they are definitely edible:

…in northern Taiwan and other areas, they are common at seaside restaurants, served boiled and bisected with a clean lateral slice. The white meat, similar to crab or lobster in texture, is then easily removed. The species are noted for resemblance to the common woodlouse or pill bug, to which they are related. The few specimens caught in the Americas with baited traps are sometimes seen in public aquaria.

Looks weird? No more bizarre than the Brisbane local delicacy, Moreton Bay bugs.

Tobacco and climate change: no difference.

Many scientists are perplexed why we have lost the so-called ‘media war on science’ given that the evidence of climate change and its human origin is so extensive and considered unambiguous within the best scientific circles. Have a listen to this fascinating session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the peak US scientific association which also produces science magazine):


The four speakers recorded by Robyn Williams at the ABC Science Show give fascinating perspective on why this has happened despite the fact that the science behind climate change is so solid.  Four major points emerge from their analysis:

1. Climate change is diffusing away from the scientific community and into general society.

“Conservative think-tanks, obviously with corporate support that we’ll hear about, have greatly amplified the work of contrarian scientists. They’ve recently been joined by conservative media, Limbaugh, Fox, conservative politicians, Inhofe, most Republicans these days with the exception of Lindsey Graham, and especially the blogosphere in waging an all-out war in climate change science. We can add undermining climate change policy to the policy impacts that we started out with of conservative think-tanks” (Riley Dunlap).

2. Scientists need to be more sceptical about those new studies coming out saying ‘well, it’s not so bad’.

“For the mass media we’re in time for a new era of coverage. If you decide to cover the ideological think-tanks at all after the American Enterprise Institute has already announced publicly that they’ll pay $10,000 for any scientist who will write something that says ‘hey, it isn’t so bad, this is why I’m sceptical’, if you want to cover them at all, what is worth covering is the tactics that these right-wing think-tanks are using. If you really want to report the conflict like a good journalist: ‘On the one hand this, on the other hand that’, the true other side, the scientifically credible other side on global warming issues is not that it’s not happening but that either it’s as bad as the IPCC says or else it’s worse.” (William Freudenburg)

3. There is a considerable gap between scientific knowledge and public perception.

I think we know that one reason for sure is that the balanced framework that so many journalists rely on unduly weighs outlier views. So we’ve talked about that a lot already, but it seems to me there is an important point for this audience which is how scientists think about the problem. Actually most scientists, it seems to me, don’t spend most of their time really worrying about the balance framework in the media, what they worry about more, or what they invoke if you ask them why the public are confused, is what we historians and sociologists would call the deficit model. That is to say, we tend to assume that the public are confused because they have a deficit of scientific knowledge, education and cognitive skills. That is to say that they’re scientifically illiterate.

So if the problem is a deficit, then the remedy for it is a surfeit. (Naomi Oreskes)

4. There’s no such thing as a good scientist who isn’t a sceptic.

I changed my opinion in 1970 from cooling to warming, published it first, it’s one of my proudest moments in science because we found, as the evidence accumulated, that there were a number of reasons, it’s all explained in chapter one of “Science as a Contact Sport”, and I still have to hear things from those famous climate professors, the ones that publish all the papers in the referee journals, professors Limbaugh and Will, you know, about how… ‘Oh Schneider, he’s just an environmentalist for all temperatures’, it’s a great line! (Stephen Schneider)

Marine pollution in SE Asia

The SE Asian region that spans from Vietnam to Myanmar contains 34% of the worlds coral reefs, possibly a third of the worlds mangroves and vast areas of seagrass. But this region also contains a rapidly burgeoning human population that is creating an ever worsening marine pollution problem. Last week saw the publication of a review about the region and its current marine pollution status by researchers at National University Singapore. This broad review is a stark reminder of the problems facing the marine environment of the region before it even considers the impacts of climate change.

Here is the abstract from the journal Biodiversity Conservation:

Pollutants, originating from both land and sea, are responsible for significant lethal and sub-lethal effects on marine life. Pollution impacts all trophic levels, from primary producers to apex predators, and thus interferes with the structure of marine communities and consequently ecosystem functioning. Here we review the effects of sediments, eutrophication, toxics and marine litter. All are presently major concerns in Southeast Asia (SE Asia) and there is little indication that the situation is improving. Approximately 70% of SE Asias human population lives in coastal areas and intensive farming and aquaculture, rapid urbanization and industrialisation, greater shipping traffic and fishing effort, as well as widespread deforestation and nearshore development, are contributing towards the pollution problem. As SE Asia encompasses approximately 34% of the worlds reefs and between a quarter and a third of the worlds mangroves, as well as the global biodiversity triangle formed by the Malay Peninsular, the Philippines, and New Guinea, the need to reduce the impacts of marine pollution in this region is all the more critical.

The discussion on the problem of marine litter takes me back to an incident in Sulawesi Indonesia where school kids doing a beach clean thought that the litter was normal and started clearing up all the organic debris instead of the rubbish. Where do you start? It also reminded me about hermit crabs in the Wakatobi happily using coke bottles as a home:

Koch Industries: Secretly funding the climate denial machine

This recent report by Greenpeace on Koch Industries makes for damning reading:

Most Americans have never heard of Koch Industries, one of the largest private corporations in the country, because it has no Koch-branded consumer products, sells no shares on the stock market and has few of the disclosure requirements of a public company. Although Koch intentionally stays out of the public eye, it is now playing a quiet but dominant role in a high-profile national policy debate on global warming. Koch Industries has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition.

This private, out-of-sight corporation is now a partner to ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and other donors that support organiza- tions and front-groups opposing progressive clean energy and climate policy. In fact, Koch has out-spent ExxonMobil in funding these groups in recent years. From 2005 to 2008, ExxonMobil spent $8.9 million while the Koch Industries- controlled foundations contributed $24.9 million in funding to organizations of the ‘climate denial machine’.

The company’s tight knit network of lobbyists, former executives and organizations has created a forceful stream of misinformation that Koch-funded entities produce and disseminate. This campaign propaganda is then replicated, repackaged and echoed many times throughout the Koch-funded web of political front groups and think tanks. On repeated occasions documented below, organizations funded by Koch foundations have led the assault on climate science and scientists, “green jobs,” renewable energy and climate policy progress (click here to see more of Koch’s web of dirty money and influence).

Chinese coal carrier runs around on the GBR

A chinese coal carrier has run around on the GBR.  The irony is palpable.

UPDATE: The ship was carrying about 65,000 tonnes of coal and 950 tonnes of oil (via Courier Mail).

From the AP via the NYT:

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — A coal-carrying ship that ran aground and was leaking oil on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was in danger of breaking apart, officials said Sunday.

The Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng 1 ran aground late Saturday on Douglas Shoals, a favorite pristine haunt for recreational fishing east of the Great Keppel Island tourist resort. The shoals are in a protected part of the reef where shipping is restricted by environmental law off the coast of Queensland state in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Authorities fear an oil spill will damage the world’s largest coral reef off northeast Australia, listed as a World Heritage site for its environmental value.

The ship hit the reef at full speed, nine miles (15 kilometers) outside the shipping lane, State Premier Anna Bligh said.

A police boat was standing by to remove the 23 crew if the ship broke apart and an evacuation was necessary, she said.

Patches of oil were seen near the stricken ship early Sunday, but Maritime Safety Queensland reported no major loss from the 1,000 tons (950 metric tons) of oil on board.

”We are now very worried we might see further oil discharged from this ship,” Bligh told reporters.

Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said the vessel was badly damaged on its port side.

”At one stage last night, we thought the ship was close to breaking up,” he told reporters. ”We are still very concerned about the ship.”

”It is in danger of actually breaking a number of its main structures and breaking into a number of parts,” he added.

A salvage contract had been signed but the operation would be difficult and assessing the damage to the ship could take a week, Quirk said.

Bligh said she feared the salvage operation could spill more oil, which could reach the mainland coast within two days.

Local emergency crews were on standby to clean any oil that reached mainland beaches, she said.

Aircraft on Sunday began spraying a chemicals on the oil patches to disperse it, she said.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said authorities had been working through the night to determine what risks the ship posed to the environment.

”The government is very conscious of the importance of the Great Barrier Reef environment and ensuring that impacts on its ecology are effectively managed,” Garrett said in a statement.

The 755 foot (230 meter) bulk carrier was carrying about 72,000 U.S. tons (65,000 metric tons) of coal to China and ran aground within hours of leaving the Queensland port of Gladstone.

Conservationists have expressed outrage that bulk carriers can travel through the reef without a marine pilot with local expertise.

”The state government is being blinded by royalties and their shortsightedness will go down in history as killing the reef,” said Larissa Waters, spokeswoman for the Queensland Greens environmentally focused political party.

Bligh said the question of when ships should require a marine pilot on the reef was under review because of the increase in freight traffic that will flow from new gas and coal export contracts to China.

She said a separate inquiry would determine how the ship came to stray from its shipping lane.

Quirk said state authorities were seeking information about the effect the coal could have on the reef environment if the ship broke up before its cargo can be salvaged.