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.

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