Fox News staff ordered to cast doubt on climate science

Given all the debunking we have done here on CS of the biased reporting on climate change and coral reef health coming from another Murdoch-owned rag, AKA The Australian, e.g., see here, here, here, and here, this isn’t surprising.  And people continue to say that the publics misperceptions about climate change is due to the poor communications skills of scientists.  BS. No matter how media savvy you are, a biased anti-science global news outlet is an overwhelmingly tough opponent.

from Media Matters:

December 15, 2010 8:08 am ET by Ben Dimiero

In the midst of global climate change talks last December, a top Fox News official sent an email questioning the “veracity of climate change data” and ordering the network’s journalists to “refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.”

The directive, sent by Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon, was issued less than 15 minutes after Fox correspondent Wendell Goler accurately reported on-air that the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization announced that 2000-2009 was “on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.”

This latest revelation comes after Media Matters uncovered an email sent by Sammon to Fox journalists at the peak of the health care reform debate, ordering them to avoid using the term “public option” and instead use variations of “government option.” That email echoed advice from a prominent Republican pollster on how to help turn public opinion against health care reform.

Sources familiar with the situation in Fox’s Washington bureau have expressed concern about Sammon using his position to “slant” Fox’s supposedly neutral news coverage to the right.

Sammon’s orders for Fox journalists to cast doubt on climate science came amid the network’s relentless promotion of the fabricated “Climategate” scandal, which revolved around misrepresentations of emails sent to and from climate scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.

At the time of Sammon’s directive, it was clear the “scandal” did not undermine the scientific basis for global warming and that the emails were being grossly distorted by conservative media and politicians. Scientists, independent fact-checkers, and several investigations have since confirmed that the CRU emails do not undermine the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is warming the planet.

Contrary to Sammon’s email, the increase in global temperatures over the last half-century is an established fact. As the National Climatic Data Center explains, the warming trend “is apparent in all of the independent methods of calculating global temperature change” and “is also confirmed by other independent observations.”

*     *     *

On the December 8 edition of Happening Now, one of Fox News’ daytime straight news shows, Fox White House correspondent Wendell Goler delivered a live report from Copenhagen and was asked by host Jon Scott about “U.N. scientists issuing a new report today saying this decade is on track to be the warmest on record.”

Goler accurately reported that, indeed, 2000-2009 was “expected to turn out to be the warmest decade on record,” following a “trend that has scientists concerned because 2000-2009 [was] warmer than the 1990s, which were warmer than the 1980s.” Goler went on to explain that “ironically 2009 was a cooler than average year in the U.S. and Canada,” which, he said, was “politically troubling because Americans are among the most skeptical about global warming.”

When Scott brought up the “Climategate” emails, Goler explained that although people had raised questions about the CRU data, “the data also comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and from NASA. And scientists say the data of course across all three sources is pretty consistent.”

Read the whole story here on Media Matters

Come to the NCSE “Our Changing Oceans” conference in DC!

The National Council For Science and the Environment runs a big conference every year in Washington DC.  This years theme is “Our Changing Oceans” and it is shaping up to be one of the most important ocean conservation conferences ever.

Some of the major speakers include:

Dr. Carl Safina, President, Blue Ocean Institute

Steve Murawski, Director of Scientific Programs and Chief Science Advisor, NOAA Fisheries

Hon. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator, NOAA

Dr. Sylvia Earle, Explorer-in-residence, National Geographic; Founder, Mission Blue; Chairman & CEO, Sylvia Earle Alliance

Jean-Michel Cousteau, Ocean Futures Society

John Podesta, President and CEO, Center for American Progress; Member, Joint Ocean Commission Leadership Council

Nancy Sutley, Chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality

John Holdren, Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (Invited); Co-Chairs, National Ocean Council

Ove and I organized a session on climate change impacts on the oceans.

See the full conference overview here and a list of conference sessions here.

Ocean SOS

A nice op-ed in yesterdays LA Times by Tony Haymet and Andrew Dickson who are professors at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, in La Jolla:

The oceans’ SOS

The planet’s great communal resource provides protein sources and oxygen and is used for transportation, recreation and inspiration. It’s time to put it at the center of the climate change discussion.

The ocean is our global heat reservoir and one of two major carbon dioxide sinks. If you agree that humans are trapping heat and carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere — and 53 years of rigorous observations at Scripps and other research institutions show that we are — then the ocean must be at the very center of the climate discussion. But it rarely is.

Consider Cancun: The negotiation text presented at the outset of the climate conference contained exactly one passing reference to the oceans, submerged in a Mariana Trench of footnotes.

Our stubborn addiction to burning coal, oil and natural gas is changing not only the composition of the atmosphere but the composition of the ocean as well. The carbon dioxide those fuels pour into the air inexorably dissolves into the oceans, causing a process known as ocean acidification. The oceans have absorbed 30% of the carbon dioxide that humans have ever produced, and they continue to absorb more each year.

This force-feeding has changed ocean chemistry. As carbon dioxide is added to the ocean, it increases the amounts of dissolved hydrogen-carbonate ions and hydrogen ions (and hence acidity) but decreases the amount of carbonate ions. By the end of the century, acidity will probably double from today’s levels, unless we stop pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The increasingly scarce carbonate ions are the very ones marine invertebrates combine with calcium ions to make their shells. Ocean acidification has been likened to an accelerated case of osteoporosis that afflicts creatures such as massive coral reefs and pteropods — tiny snails that are a key food of commercially important fish. There is also evidence that increasing acidity disrupts the juvenile development of a variety of marine organisms, including clownfish and krill. Marine organisms are wonderfully suited to adapt to changes in seawater chemistry, but never before in history have they been asked to do this so quickly.

Marine scientists in various countries, including China, Germany and the United States, are engaged in a variety of national research programs focusing on the important biological impacts of ocean acidification. We need to document which fisheries, coral reefs and marine ecosystems will be affected first, and how long they might take to recover (if at all). That takes time, but don’t be fooled by the pat response: “We need more research first.” We know enough to act now.

Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a memorandum encouraging coastal states to start developing assessment methods for evaluating marine waters based on ocean acidification. But assessment is not enough.

Nor should we think we can rely on innovation and geo-engineering to stop acidification. Some have suggested sunshades for the Earth, but that will neither repair the oceans’ chemistry nor reverse the changes that have occurred thus far, let alone protect against our continuing release of carbon dioxide. Another suggested antidote — deliberately modifying the oceans’ microbial cycles of carbon and oxygen so as to interrupt acidification and allow us to continue our current fossil fuel addiction — would be an act of hubris and desperation. We have a clear and attainable alternative: making electricity without releasing carbon dioxide.

Our oceans serve as the primary source of protein for a billion people. We use them for transport, recreation, vacation and inspiration. Microbes in the oceans make 50% of the oxygen we breathe, as well as omega-3 fatty acids that make their way into our food and help us stay healthy. Their waves and winds may soon help us create clean energy. And yet we load them full of trash, tolerate catastrophic oil spills and ignore the impact on them of climate change and carbon dioxide waste.

It is time we paid respect to this great communal resource and stopped using it as a dump. It’s time we put oceans front and center in the political climate debate. And it’s past time we stopped pouring carbon dioxide into our air and seas.

The real climate change challenge.

Ian DunlopABC Unleashed, by IAN DUNLOP

Greg Combet’s speech to the ANU Crawford School Forum on November 30, 2010 encapsulates everything that is wrong with climate change policy in Australia.

The rhetoric is all there – acceptance of the science, intergenerational equity, the need for decisive action and an early carbon price and so on.

The problem is the total misalignment between policy and the real implications of the science, as government and opposition, and indeed the global climate cognoscenti now assembled in Cancun, continue to avoid the major issue; which is that the climate challenge is far greater, and the required response far more urgent, than they are prepared to admit.

Despite two decades of negotiation, virtually nothing has been done to address escalating global carbon emissions – Australia’s actual emissions continue to rise rapidly. As a result, our options to take a graduated response to emissions reduction have largely disappeared, which is already costing the Australian community dearly.

The scientific framework on which current global and national policy is based is almost a decade old. In the interim, scientific understanding and the empirical evidence have progressed markedly, to the point where it is clear we have completely underestimated the task ahead. The gulf between science and policy continues to widen; in short, we are trying to solve the wrong problem with the wrong policies, and until this is honestly acknowledged, realistic policy and solutions will not be forthcoming.

On the balance of probabilities, if catastrophic outcomes are to be avoided, the world must reduce atmospheric carbon concentrations back toward pre-industrial levels, requiring emission reductions close to 50 per cent by 2020, almost complete de-carbonisation by 2050, and continuing efforts to draw down legacy carbon from the atmosphere. To have a reasonable chance of remaining below the “official” target of a maximum 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase, the world can only emit carbon for another 20 years at current rates, allowing barely a third of existing fossil-fuel reserves to be consumed. If the temperature target has to be less than 2C, which is now likely, the budget is considerably lower. Australia’s budget, on a fair basis as one of the world’s highest per capita emitters, would be totally used up in around five years.

In this context, current political thinking on an emission reduction of 5 per cent by 2020, possibly 25 per cent if the rest of the world behave themselves, is laughable; it is high time we faced up to reality and stopped playing political games.

Quite apart from the risks to which we are exposed, Australia is rapidly falling behind other countries in the race to develop a low-carbon economy. It is no longer a question of losing competitiveness because we are taking action, but rather because we are not.

Having crossed the threshold of publicly acknowledging that climate change is a serious threat, leaders now have additional fiduciary responsibilities: politically to honestly inform the community of the full extent of the challenge, corporately to fully inform shareholders of the risks, and the opportunities. Absent such honesty, the consultative arrangements put in place by the Gillard Government are futile and “policy certainty” for both business and community will be misleading and extremely dangerous.

The same applies to NGO advocacy groups. In the lead-up to Copenhagen most opted to work “in the government tent”, finessing a minimalist reform agenda, rather than insist on meaningful reform, on the basis that it is better to get something started and then modify it, than nothing at all. Notwithstanding the history of major reform in Australia that, once implemented, it takes at least a decade to make significant change – a decade we no longer have. Despite the abject failure of that strategy, they are doing it again. The recent release of the Southern Cross Climate Coalition’s “Stronger, Fairer, Healthier” paper continues to avoid the real issue, in the process letting the politicians off the hook. If the Climate Institute, ACF, ACOSS and the ACTU genuinely do have their members interests at heart, they should stop trying to anticipate what might be politically possible, set out the real challenge and lobby for realistic solutions. Let others worry about the politics – we can no longer afford “lowest common denominator” attitudes.

Political, community and business leaders, along with key advisers such as Ross Garnaut and the Productivity Commission must now urgently undertake a comprehensive re-calibration of both the climate challenge itself based on the latest science, and of our policy response. It should focus far more on the opportunities of moving, at emergency speed, to a low-carbon economy rather than preoccupation with the problems of moving away from a high-carbon “business-as-usual”. And instead of obsession with a carbon price as a “great big new tax”, recognise that it is, in reality, the removal of a “great big old subsidy”, a subsidy which is rapidly destroying the planet.

The continual emphasis on the economy as the main game, with climate change grudgingly considered as an optional extra, ignores the fact that unless we address climate change fast, the economy will be in tatters err long.

Government ministers should stop bleating about the Greens being the sole reason emissions trading is not already up and running. The CPRS was appalling policy which ignored all sensible advice on policy design and would have imposed an enormous cost on the economy for minimal reduction in emissions. The Greens did us a great favour in killing it. What is now required is a meaningful, increasing, carbon price of at least $35 per ton initially, leading into a clean emissions trading system with no compensation for polluters and the revenue generated being recycled to the community to offset cost increases, and to encourage low-carbon innovation.

Climate change is not just another policy item on the normal agenda, it is a transformative issue which has life-and-death consequences. This is not a time to follow Bismarck’s advice that“politics is the art of the possible”, as Combet suggested. Quite the reverse; we need leaders who can see that what was politically impossible will shortly become politically inevitable.

Ian Dunlop is a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Development and a contributing author to their latest book, More Than Luck: Ideas Australia needs now. Ian is Chairman of Safe Climate Australia and chaired the Australian Greenhouse Office Experts Group on Emissions Trading from 1998-2000.

Cancun climate talks reach ‘historic deal’

Protesters make hope sign at CancunBy North America correspondent Lisa Millar, wires

After an all-night session of the UN climate talks in Cancun, countries have reached a deal that commits all major economies to greenhouse gas cuts.

For the first time the pledges by developing and developed nations to cut pollution have been brought under a UN agreement, despite vigorous opposition from Bolivia.

A multi-billion dollar Green Climate Fund was established for poorer countries to deal with climate change and progress was made on deforestation and clean energy technology.

It also reaffirms a goal of raising an annual $100 billion in aid for poor countries by 2020.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet says it is now up to Australia to introduce a carbon price as soon as possible.

“We have a responsibility internationally. You can’t come to an international forum and participate in important agreements like this, the Cancun agreement, and then not go home and do our best to meet our emission reduction obligations,” he said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation executive director, Don Henry, has described the agreement as a historic step forward.

“We have a significant agreement here in Cancun, it includes over 80 countries taking on board pollution targets, including the US and China, which is good. We are also seeing a major fund to help poorer nations deal with climate change,” he said.

Mexican foreign minister Patricia Espinosa banged down her gavel on the deal despite objections by Bolivia, which said the plan demanded too little of developed nations in cutting greenhouse gases.

Bolivia said approval of the package violated a need for consensus.

“I urge you to reconsider,” Bolivian delegate Pablo Solon told Ms Espinosa.

After repeated anti-capitalist speeches by Mr Solon, Ms Espinosa retorted that Bolivia’s objections would be noted in a final report but could not derail a deal by 190 nations.

The plan was unlocked after delegates simply put off until 2011 a dispute between rich and poor nations over the future of the UN’s Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto obliges almost 40 developed nations to cut emissions until 2012.

The deal does not include a commitment to extend Kyoto beyond 2012, when its first period expires, but it would prevent a collapse of climate change negotiations and allow for some modest advances on protecting the environment.

– ABC/wires

A single coal mine that will add 1 ppm CO2 to the atmosphere

Amidst the rubble of international and Australian climate change policies a remarkable expansion of the Australian resources sector continues.

A new mega-mine, the Carmichael Coal Mine, is now proposed in Queensland, Australia, by a subsidiary of the Indian-based Adani Group. It will produce around 60 million tonnes of thermal coal for 150 years.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the mine is estimated to have an indicated and inferred resource of 7.8 billion tonnes of thermal coal.

No details of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the mine have yet been published but a very rough calculation of the total GHGs that will be produced by the mining and burning of the coal from it can be done using the formulas and figures set out in the Australian Government’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (Measurement) Determination 2008.

Based on this methodology the mining and burning of coal from the Carmichael Coal Mine will produce around 20 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) over the 150 year life of the mine. This figure is a rough estimate only and there are significant uncertainties that cannot be resolved without detailed information on the coal resource and mining methods (which the proponent has yet to provide).

In the absence of more detailed calculation of the GHG emissions being supplied by the proponent, the figure of around 20 gigatonnes of CO2 from the mining and burning of the coal at least gives a rough estimate of the total GHG emissions from the mine. These emissions are truly enormous on a national and global scale. They are equivalent to around 36 years of direct emissions from the whole of Australia based on current levels of emissions of around 550 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per year (excluding LULUCF).

The emission of 20 billion tonnes of CO2 from the mining and burning of coal from the Carmichael Coal Mine alone will add around 1 ppm to atmospheric CO2 levels based on current levels of global emissions of around 32 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalents/yr and corresponding annual rises in atmospheric CO2 of 1.6 ppm/yr.
The fact that the coal from the mine will be produced over 150 years means little for the atmosphere given the fact that the CO2 released by the burning of coal will continue to affect the atmosphere for “300 years, plus 25% that lasts forever” (Archer 2005).

Despite the enormity of the greenhouse gas emissions involved the mine is certain to be approved by the Australian Government and the State Government in Queensland.

The Australian Government’s commitments to prevent dangerous climate change while at the same time allowing massive expansion of coal mines is, as John Podesa put it, like “trying to ride two horses galloping in opposite directions.”

This coal mine brings Elizabeth Kolbert’s closing lines in Field Notes from a Catastrophe to mind:

“It may seem impossible to imagine that that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.”

In Cancun, everyone’s talking about Blue Carbon

The term Blue Carbon seems to be gaining traction outside of the world of science and environmental economics. Or – at the very least – its gaining traction in Cancun.

Numerous groups have strategically launched new reports regarding the capture, conservation, and capitalization of carbon on our coasts. Just in time for the climate menagerie in Mexico: COP16.

World Bank, ICUN, the Nicholas Institute at Duke University, and a new Blue Climate Coalition are laying material on the table — and the web. You can access the new Blue Carbon policy brief from Duke and read about the Blue Climate Coalition here. The World Bank  and IUCN put our their own report on building mitigation and adaptation for carbon-rich coasts. If  you were able to read Dan Laffoly’s  (IUCN) eloquent New York Times Op-Ed last January, this report provides some great follow-up and  substance.

The World Bank, together with IUCN and ESA PWA, announces the release of a brief for decision-makers entitled, “Capturing and Conserving Natural Coastal Carbon – Building mitigation, advancing adaptation.” This information brief highlights the crucial importance of carbon sequestered in coastal wetlands and submerged vegetated habitats like seagrass beds for climate change mitigation.

Coastal wetlands, such as mangroves, tidal flats and salt marshes, along with seagrass beds sequester large amounts of carbon within their plants and especially in the soil. However, degradation of these habitats–as a result of drainage, conversion and reclamation–can result in substantial and ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases.

However, these natural carbon sinks and the emissions resulting from their degradation and loss remain largely unaccounted for within the UNFCCC. Restoring degraded wetlands–in particular deltas which are subsiding as a result of natural geomorphology, human disturbance to the hydrological cycle, and sea level rise–can reverse the loss of these sinks and reverse the release of GHGs to the atmosphere. Protecting these natural carbon stores in the first place prevents the rapid loss of carbon that immediately follows disturbance, as well and preserving has substantial co-benefits for adaptation to climate change in terms of reducing the physical vulnerability of shorelines and increasing the social and economic resilience of coastal communities through positive impacts on livelihoods and food security.

Recognizing the role and value of coastal wetlands and seagrass beds under the Climate Convention will contribute to a global approach to natural carbon management.

The brief is based on the findings of a larger report by Crooks et al, which will be presented at a side event at the UNFCCC COP-16 in Cancun on Wednesday, December 1, 11:30—1:00pm, Cancun Messe, Jaguar. This side-event, organized by Conservation International and IUCN, is entitled ‘Blue Carbon: Valuing CO2 Mitigation by Coastal Marine Systems. Sequestration of Carbon Along Our Coasts: Are We Missing Major Sinks and Sources?’.

Climate change sceptic Bob Carter continues to ply his trade

Here’s a piece in the the Guardian by Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Bob Ward was interviewed by Robyn Williams on The Science Show earlier this year, which was also covered by Deltoid.


Like many deniers of man-made global warming, Prof Carter’s views may say more about his politics than scientific evidence

Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation is this afternoon hosting a public lecture from Prof Bob Carter on “An alternative view of climate hazard – a basis for policy?”.

Carter, a geologist at James Cook University, is one of the world’s most prominent voices of climate change denial and one of the very few who has published his views in academic journals. Two years ago, he had a paper called “Knock knock: where is the evidence for dangerous human-caused global warming?” published in Economic Analysis and Policy, the official journal of the Queensland branch of the Economic Society of Australia.

Carter’s paper contains a stunning array of errors, the most serious of which I itemised in an analysis for the same journal. Some of the inaccuracies are laughable. For instance, Carter cites a palaeotemperature reconstruction as evidence that the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the late 20th century, even though it only provides temperature data up to 1935. Elsewhere he suggests wrongly that atmospheric carbon dioxide only produces a small warming effect, basing his assertion solely on erroneous calculations posted on a website about “Plant Fossils of West Virginia”. And he attributes the warming in the late 20th century to solar activity, but refers to a paper that used inaccurate data about sunspot activity, and which when corrected show no correlation with the recent global average temperature record.

I concluded that Carter’s paper was “possibly the most inaccurate and misleading article about climate change that has ever been published by a journal”. In his response, rather than explaining or justifying the many flaws in his paper, Carter merely stated that the issues I raised were “weary ones, and have been put to bed by qualified, independent scientists many times”.

However, Carter did at least admit that a quotation that he claimed to have taken from a book by Sir John Houghton, the former chair of the science working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was never said: “Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen.” This “quote” was first used by a columnist in a rightwing Australian newspaper four years ago, and has been repeated by self-proclaimed climate change “sceptics” many times since. But in February, Sir John wrote to the Observer to point out: “The quote from me is without foundation. I have never said it or written it.”

However, even in acknowledging the mistake, Carter has still not been able to come completely clean. His grudging erratum in the journal claimed that the quotation he “had in mind to reflect Dr Houghton’s views, but failed to identify accurately” was from an article in the Sunday Telegraph in September 1995: “If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.”

Carter’s new book, Climate: The Counter Consensus, continues to propagate the mythical quotation, in a Prefatory Essay apparently written in March 2010 by the publisher Tom Stacey. It states that Sir John “had purportedly been overheard passing the word around, ‘Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen’, and were he to have uttered those words (for he has energetically denied it) they were surely listened to assiduously”.

Apart from inserting the disputed quote, Stacey has added some other interesting features to Carter’s book which might catch out the unwary reader. The inside front cover claims that Carter “dispassionately assesses whether politicians and campaigners are right to believe the dire warnings of the global warming lobby”, but the inside back cover neglects to list among his affiliations a role as “senior policy adviser” at the Institute of Public Affairs, an Australian free market lobby group which promotes “the free flow of capital” and “a limited and efficient government“.

Carter will no doubt continue to be feted by climate change sceptics because of his academic credentials, but as with many of the other voices of denial, it appears that his views may say more about his politics than the scientific evidence.