Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out

Bullying, Lies and the Rise of Right-Wing Climate Denial


Bullying, Lies and the Rise of Right-Wing Climate Denial

More Info
									    Bullying, Lies and the Rise of Right-Wing Climate Denial
Clive Hamilton

This series of five articles appeared on the ABC The Drum website on 22-26 February 2010.

       Two years ago the Labor Party won a decisive election victory in part by riding a
       public mood demanding action on climate change after years of stonewalling.

       The new Government promised to spearhead world efforts to reduce greenhouse gas
       emissions. Today it’s on the run, retreating from a surge of militant anti-climate
       activism that believes climate science is a left-wing plot aimed at promoting elites,
       wrecking the economy and screwing the little man. What happened?

Part 1: Climate cyber-bullying
Australia’s most distinguished climate scientists have become the target of a new form of cyber-
bullying aimed at driving them out of the public debate.

In recent months, each time they enter the public debate through a newspaper article or radio
interview these scientists are immediately subjected to a torrent of aggressive, abusive and, at
times, threatening emails. Apart from the volume and viciousness of the emails, the campaign
has two features—it is mostly anonymous and it appears to be orchestrated.

The messages are typically peppered with insults. One scientist was called a


The emails frequently accuse the scientists of being frauds who manipulate their research in
order to receive funding, such as this one to Ben McNeil at the UNSW:

       It's so obvious you are an activist going along with the climate change lie to protect your
       very lucrative employment contract …

They often blame the recipients of being guilty of crimes, as in this one received by Professor
David Karoly at the University of Melbourne.

       It is probably not to extreme to suggest that your actions (deceitful) were so criminal to
       be compared with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. It is called treason and genocide.

       Oh, as a scientist, you have destroyed peoples trust in my profession.You are a criminal .
       Lest we forget.

Receiving emails like these is unsettling and at times disturbing, which of course is the point.
They become worrying when they cross the line to personal threats, such as these sent to
Professor Andy Pitman at the UNSW.

       There will be a day of facing the music for the Pitman type frauds..... Pitman you are a
       f**king fool!

And this one:

       If we see you continue, we will get extremely organised and precise against you.

When Pitman politely replied to the last, the response was more aggressive:

       F**k off mate, stop the personal attacks. Just do your science or you will end up
       collateral damage in the war, GET IT

All threats have to be taken seriously, and at times warrant calling in the police. The police are
able to trace anonymous emails to their sources and take action against those who send them.
The police are now advising those who received abusive and threatening emails to resist the
immediate urge to delete them and keep them in a separate folder for future reference.

Climate campaigners have also noticed a surge in the frequency and virulence of this new form
of cyber-bullying. The following was received by a young woman (who asked that her name not
be used).

       Did you want to offer your children to be brutally gang-raped and then horribly tortured
       before being reminded of their parents socialist beliefs and actions? …

       Burn in hell. Or in the main street, when the Australian public finally lynchs you.

Another campaigner opened her inbox to read this:

       F**k off!!!

       Or you will be chased down the street with burning stakes and hung from your f**king
       neck, until you are dead, dead, dead! …


Greens Senator Christine Milne told me that senators’ inboxes are bombarded every day by
climate deniers and extremists, so that now they are running at least 10 to one against those who
call for action on climate change. She describes it as a “well-organised campaign of strident,
offensive and insulting emails that go well beyond the bounds of the normal cut and thrust of

It was widely reported that in the days before the Liberal Party leadership challenge last
November, MPs were blitzed with emails from climate deniers.1 Some MPs were spooked into
voting for Tony Abbott,2 the only one of the three contenders who had repudiated climate
science. Australia’s alternative government is now led by climate deniers.

Journalists hit

Journalists too have become the victims of cyber-bullying. I have spoken to several, off the
record, who have told of torrents of abusive emails when they report on climate change,
including some sufficiently threatening for them to consult their supervisors and consider police

One was particularly disturbed at references to his wife. Another received the following from
someone who gave his name and identified himself as medical representative at major
pharmaceuticals company:

              you sad sack of s**t. It's ok to trash climate change skeptics yet, when the shoe is on the
              other foot, you become a vindictive, nasty piece of s**t not able to face the fact that
              you're wrong about climate change and you're reputation is now trash

Anonymous emails are usually more graphic.


Few those on the receiving end of this hatred doubt that the emails are being orchestrated. Scores
of abusive emails over a few hours are unlikely to be the product of a large number of
individuals spontaneously making the effort to track down an email address and pour forth their

While some individuals act alone, increasingly the attacks are arranged by one or more denialist
organisations. It’s fair to assume operatives in these organisations constantly monitor the media
and, when a story or interview they don’t like appears, send messages out to lists of supporters,
linking to the comments, providing the scientist’s email address and urging them to let him or
her know what they think.

One or two of the cyber-bullies have hinted at the level of organisation, with one following an
abusive rant with the comment: “Copies of my e-mails to you are also being passed out to a huge
network for future reference.”


Net rage and free speech

The purpose of this new form of cyber-bullying seems clear; it is to upset and intimidate the
targets, making them reluctant to participate further in the climate change debate or to change
what they say. While the internet is often held up as the instrument of free speech, it is often used
for the opposite purpose, to drive people out of the public debate.3

Unlike the letters pages of newspapers, on the internet anonymity is accepted and the gate-
keepers, where they exist, are more lax, so the normal constraints on social discourse do not
apply. On the internet, the demons of the human psyche find a play-ground.

If a group attempts to have a considered discussion about climate science on an open forum it is
very soon deluged with enraged attacks on climate science, sometimes linking for authority to
well-known denialist websites. Most scientists long ago stopped attempting to correct the mish-
mash of absurd misrepresentations and lies in web “discussions”.

Is the new campaign of cyber-bullying working? Receiving a large number of offensive emails
certainly wears most people down. Some scientists and journalists probably do change what they
say or withdraw from debate. Others have strategies for dealing with the abuse—never replying,
deleting without reading or swapping loony emails with colleagues, and cultivating a thick skin.

The effect of the cyber-bullying campaign on some scientists—including those I have
mentioned—is quite opposite to the intended one. The attempts at intimidation have only made
them more resolved to keep talking to the public about their research. Their courage under fire
stands in contrast to the cowardice of the anonymous emailers.

Tomorrow: Who is behind the cyber-bullying campaign?


Part2: Who is orchestrating the cyber-bullying?
              In the second of his five-part series4 on the state of climate denial in Australia, Clive
              Hamilton asks who is behind the campaign of cyber-bullying that has helped turn around
              the political debate in Australia.

The floods of offensive and threatening emails aimed at intimidating climate scientists have all
the signs of an orchestrated campaign by sceptics groups. The links are well-hidden because
mobilizing people to send abuse and threats is well outside the accepted bounds of democratic
participation; indeed, some of it is illegal. And an apparently spontaneous expression of citizen
concern carries more weight than an organised operation by a zealous group.

Without access to ISP logs, it is difficult to trace the emails to a source. However, it is clear that
hard-line denialists congregate electronically at a number of internet nodes where they engage in
mutual reinforcement of their opinions and stoke the rage that lies behind them.

Those who operate these sites retail the “information” that reinforces the assertions made by their
followers. They often post highly personal attacks on individuals who speak in favour of
mainstream science and measures to combat global warming, knowing from experience that they
will stimulate a stream of vituperation from their supporters.

The posts on these sites often provoke an outpouring of the most outlandish conspiracy theories
and vilification of individuals. There is no restraining influence and, in the middle of one of these
frenzies, it would be a brave sceptic who called for caution and moderation in the ideas
expressed or the language used.

In Australia, a handful of denialist websites stand out. They include the blog of Herald-Sun
commentator Andrew Bolt,5 Bolt’s stable mate Tim Blair at the Daily Telegraph,6 the website
operated by sceptic Joanne Nova7 (a pseudonym for Joanne Codling), and the community forum
site operated by the Queensland farmers’ organisation Agmates.8 Denialists also flock to the e-
journal Online Opinion.

On these sites discussion of the “global warming conspiracy” seamlessly segues into a hodge-
podge of right-wing populist grievances and causes, including defending rural property rights,
the martyrdom of farming hunger-striker Peter Spencer, the errors of the Club of Rome, blood on
the hands of Rachel Carson for causing DDT to be banned, the evils of Al Gore, the plan by the
United Nations to dominate the world, and the need to defend freedom and democracy from

these threats. Sceptics are explicitly or implicitly portrayed as freedom fighters battling attempts
by scheming elites to shore up their power or impose a world government.

Recently, this stew of paranoia has been given a boost by the media exposure granted to
Christopher Monckton in his recent Australian tour. Monckton propounded his extraordinary
theory9 about climate change being a conspiracy by communists—assisted by the Hitler Youth
and a craven scientific establishment—to seize power through a world government hidden in a
climate treaty. A few months ago a fantasist like Monckton would have attracted only eye-rolling
from news editors.

I am not suggesting that the individuals and organisations I have mentioned are responsible for
organising the cyber-bullying attacks on scientists and others. However, they do create an
environment that encourages them. The effect of these sites is three-fold.

              1. They supply the ammunition that confirms and elaborates on climate deniers’ beliefs.
              2. They provide a forum in which deniers can participate in a like-minded community
                 that reinforces their views.
              3. And they identify the individuals responsible for promoting climate lies, stimulating
                 participants to make direct contacts with “warmists”.

Andrew Bolt’s blog deserves special mention both because it has become the most popular
meeting place for deniers in Australia and because it is sponsored by a mainstream media outlet,
Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, a Murdoch tabloid.

Bolt specialises in posts of angry ridicule directed at climate scientists and any others who
publicly accept the science. Recent targets have included Ove Hoegh-Guldburg,10 Andy
Pitman,11 and the CSIRO as a whole.12

Bolt has admitted that his posts bad-mouthing climate scientists have incited his readers to send
abusive emails to them.13

Mainstreaming denial

It might be thought that vilification of climate scientists and others engaged in the climate debate
is confined to the nether-world of the Internet. In truth, the most influential source of
misrepresentation and ridicule resides in the “heritage media” in the form of the Murdoch


broadsheet, the Australian. I will consider its long-running war on science later, but here it is
important to draw attention to its role in identifying hate figures for deniers and fueling their

As an illustration of the newspaper’s tactic, at the Copenhagen conference in December an
Australian named Ian Fry, representing the Government of Tuvalu, made an impassioned
intervention from the plenary floor that captured the mood and made headlines around the world.
Fry is a shy man who has for many years devoted himself to representing the tiny island state for
minimal financial or reputational reward.

The day after his intervention the Australian published a story ridiculing his “tear-jerking
performance” and suggesting he is a self-seeking hypocrite because he lives a long way from the
sea.14 The story appeared on the front page alongside a photograph of Fry’s house.

At a time when climate campaigners were receiving grisly death threats, the editors of the
national daily decided to expose Ian Fry and his family to danger by publishing information
about where he lives that enabled people to work out his address.15 When challenged, the
journalist responsible for the story showed no understanding or remorse.

In 2005 the Australian used the same tactic on Indigenous leader Mick Dodson, publishing a
photo of his house under a headline claiming he lived comfortably in the suburbs while depriving
other Indigenous people of the opportunity to own a house. Dodson, already the subject of death
threats, said he feared for the safety of his family.16

The Australian’s grubby tactic was unwillingly revealed by one of its journalists, Caroline
Overington. During the last election campaign, a Labor candidate decided he did not want to be
interviewed and photographed, so she threatened to send a photographer around to stake out his
house. She sent the following text message:

              "Either you say yes to a photograph smiling and happy and out campaigning, or we stake
              you out at ... Bondi Junction, and get you looking like a cat caught in a trap, in your PJs.
              Your choice." 17


What drives denial?

What motivates the legion of climate deniers to send hate-mail? In recent years a great deal of
evidence has come to light linking fossil fuel corporations with organisations that promote
climate denial,18 but it would be a mistake to believe that the army of sceptical bloggers is in any
sense in the pay of, or directly influenced by, the fossil fuel lobby.

Climate denialism has been absorbed by an older and wider political movement, sometimes
called right-wing populism. Emanating from the United States, and defined more by what it fears
than by what it proposes, the movement’s enemies were helpfully listed in a 2004 TV ad
attacking Democrat Howard Dean, whose supporters were characterised as a:

              “tax hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New
              York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show”.19

Although the targets are adapted to Australian conditions, in both countries the movement is
driven by feelings of angry grievance. Those who identify with it see themselves as anti-liberal,
anti-elitist and anti-intellectual. They are resentful of their exclusion from the mainstream and at
the same time proud of their outsider status.

Since the mid-1990s, anti-climate forces associated with the US Republican Party and oil-funded
conservative think tanks have successfully linked acceptance of global warming and the need for
greenhouse policies with those groups despised by right-wing populism.

In more recent years, the denial movement has been joined by some hard-line conservative
Christian groups, including the notorious Catch the Fire Ministries and its witch-hunting pastor
Danny Nalliah.20 According to Paul Colgan,21 these groups were heavily involved in the
lobbying to have Tony Abbott elected as Liberal Party leader.

As this suggests, becoming a denialist does not follow from carefully weighing up the evidence
(that is, true scepticism) but from associating oneself with a cultural outlook, taking on an
identity defined in opposition to a caricature of those who support action on climate change. It is
the energy in this wider movement that has seen climate denialism morphing into a new form of
political extremism.

Some active climate deniers possess a distinct “mindset” comprised of a certain worldview,
including a narrative centered on secretive forces—variously encompassing elected leaders,
scientists, scientific organisations, environmental groups and the United Nations—that are using
climate science and climate policies as a cover to accumulate power with the objective of

creating a world government that overrides national sovereignty and deprives citizens of their

Those who hold to this worldview often feel marginalised and persecuted. It attracts the unstable
and fanatical as well as those with more legitimate political grievances. For political leaders so
inclined, the energy being mobilised by climate denial is a golden opportunity. Although it
remains necessary for these leaders to evince a concern for the environment, and even to pretend
to accept climate science, they can speak to the denialist minority using dog-whistling22
techniques to signal that they are really on their side.

This explains the decision by new Opposition leader Tony Abbott to meet Monckton when even
one of the country’s most conservative columnists wrote of the dangers of associating with his
extreme views.23 Although he had been forced to repudiate his pre-leadership claim that climate
science is “absolute crap”,24 in meeting Monckton Abbott sent the message that his real views
have not changed. Of course, he can respond to accusations of giving succour to denialism with
the dog-whistler’s device of “plausible deniability”—he is happy to hear all views.

A more subtle message was sent by Abbott earlier this month when he gloated25 over the recent
recall of the Toyota Prius; for him and others hostile to environmentalism, the tarnishing of a
green icon is a reason for celebration.

Tomorrow: The Exxon-funded think tanks that feed climate denial.


Part 3: Think tanks, oil money and black ops

In the third part of his series on the rise of climate denial, Clive Hamilton points to the role of
Big Carbon in funding think tanks to generate the junk science that feeds climate scepticism.

The army of denialist bloggers and cyber-bullies26 is sometimes accused of being the tool of
fossil fuel companies. Although there is certainly a concordance of interests, that is as far as the
relationship goes. The bloggers are motivated not by financial gain (indeed, their activities may
have a financial cost) but by political grievances and an anti-elite worldview at odds with the

Nevertheless, it is true that the raw material that feeds their anger is generated overwhelmingly
by a network of right-wing think tanks and websites in part funded by Big Carbon. These links,
which have been heavily documented,27 are close enough to provoke the Royal Society to take
the unprecedented step of writing to Exxon Mobil asking the company to desist from funding
anti-science groups.28

Yet the funding continues, often through foundations that in effect launder oil and coal money to
make it more difficult to trace to its sources.29 One of the more important conduits is the
Washington-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Atlas supports financially a network of
some 200 libertarian think tanks around the world, including (according to an investigation by
US magazine Mother Jones30) the Institute of Public Affairs and the Centre for Independent
Studies in Australia.

Atlas co-sponsored the Heartland Institute’s climate sceptic conference in Washington last June
attended by a number of prominent Australian sceptics.31 The Heartland Institute has received
funding from Exxon Mobil and earlier received funding from Philip Morris to campaign against
smoking restrictions.32 It has superseded Frontiers of Freedom and the Competitive Enterprise
Institute as the foremost US “think tank” working to discredit climate science and stop action on
climate change.

Black ops

The deployment of think tanks and sceptic websites to attack climate science has been a carefully
planned strategy that was developed in the United States in the mid-1990s. It was refined with

the advice of political consultant Frank Luntz who in 2002 urged the Republican Party to
undermine the credibility of climate science by commissioning “independent” experts to “make
the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate”. The strategy is comprehensively
exposed by former PR insider Jim Hoggan in his recent book Climate Cover-Up.33

The strategy’s use of operations that fall into the “grey area” of political campaigning—such as
the creation of fake citizens groups to advance the interests of fossil fuel companies—is well-
known34 and continuing.35 Only now is light being shone on a far more sinister campaign of
black operations.

The hacking into computers at the Climatic Research Centre at the University of East Anglia is
only part of a more extensive campaign of black ops organised by elements of the denial industry
in the run-up to the Copenhagen meeting. Others include break-ins to the offices of climate
scientists,36 an attempt to infiltrate the computer system at the Canadian Centre for Climate
Modelling and Analysis at the University of Victoria by two people posing as technicians,37 and
industrial espionage directed at US green groups.38

The think tanks

Although Australia does not have the proliferation of well-funded conservative think tanks that
have been so influential in US politics, local counterparts have served effectively as conduits for
the stream of anti-science pouring out of their kindred organisations in the United States. They
have also been instrumental in publicising and promoting the work of Australian sceptics such as
Ian Plimer and Bob Carter. There are three established think tanks and a new one emerging.

Lavoisier Group Perhaps better described as an advocacy group than a think tank, the Lavoisier
Group39 was founded in 1999 by Hugh Morgan, then CEO of Western Mining Corporation and a
former president of the Mining Industry Council, and his long-time political operative Ray
Evans.40 Its board consists mostly of mining industry figures. Evans has close links with the
Competitive Enterprise Institute, for some years the most active denialist think tank in the United


Evans, with Morgan’s backing, had created a string of organisations promoting conservative
causes, including the anti-union H.R Nicholls Society (with which the Lavoisier Group shares a
postal address) and the Samuel Griffiths Society, committed to defending states’ rights.

The Lavoisier Group brings together leading sceptics at its conferences, promotes sceptics’
books, and publishes material such as “Nine Lies About Global Warming”,41 penned by Evans
and parroted by sceptical columnists in the newspapers.42 A book edited by Evans was last year
launched by Senator Barnaby Joyce, now the shadow finance minister.

Institute of for Public Affairs The oldest think tank in Australia, and with close links to the
Liberal Party, the IPA took up the denialist cause early. The IPA is coy about its funding sources,
but is known to have received the bulk of its income from mining, resource and tobacco
companies.43 In addition to promoting the work of Australian sceptics like Ian Plimer,44 the IPA
has hosted international visitors such as Bjorn Lomborg and Mark Steyn, events attended by
Liberal Party heavyweights.

The IPA also sponsored the visit to Australia of President Putin’s former adviser Andrei
Illarianov who fulminated against “fraudulent science” and described the Kyoto Protocol as a
“death pact”, “an interstate Auschwitz”, “a sort of international Gosplan, a system to rival the
former Soviet Union’s”,45 an argument bizarre even in the world of climate denial, but
reasonable enough to be reproduced by the Australian.46

Centre for Independent Studies The CIS projects itself as a more moderate conservative think
tank, but has not been able to resist promoting climate scepticism. After struggling in its early
years, it was reprieved by a major funding boost from six mining companies, a rescue facilitated
by Hugh Morgan. Among its board members is Sir Rod Eddington, a senior business adviser to
the Labor Government.47 It has hosted a string of climate sceptics from overseas and Australia.

Brisbane Institute The Brisbane Institute has for some years been a middle-of-the-road think tank
but appears to have been taken over by climate sceptics. Some of its followers were shocked to
hear that the Institute would host the Brisbane leg of Christopher Monckton’s Australian tour.


Last year the Brisbane Institute hosted a public lecture by Dr Jay Lehr, Science Director of the
Heartland Institute. As we saw, the Heartland Institute is now the most active climate denialist
organisation in the United States. Lehr was presented by the Brisbane Institute as an
“internationally renowned” scientist, which is simply untrue; he has been heavily criticised for
distorting and misrepresenting climate science. He is better known for spending three months in
jail for defrauding the US Environmental Protection Authority in 1991.48

The Brisbane Institute is perfectly entitled to take the denialist road. The puzzle is why the
University of Queensland, the Institute’s primary sponsor, would support an organisation that
promotes anti-science. Paying for Monckton and Fehr to trash climate science in Brisbane does
not seem compatible with the University’s aim “to achieve internationally-acknowledged
excellence in all forms of research”.49

Several scientists from the University serve as authors or reviewers for the IPCC, a body
attacked as fraudulent by Monckton and Lehr. The University of Queensland appears
unconcerned about linking itself with climate denial. In 2008 it accepted a donation of $350,000
from a climate change sceptic, channeled through the IPA, who wanted it to be spent on funding
doctoral research on climate change.50 Of course, the University said there would be no strings

These think tanks are at the heart of the denial movement in this country. They provide funding
and organisational capacity, they convene conferences and private meetings, they commission
sceptical scientists to write papers, they publish and promote sceptical papers and books, they
supply “experts” to the media and they lobby at every opportunity.

Every sceptical scientist, no matter how independent he starts out, is sooner or later drawn into
the web formed by these think tanks. In Australia, Bob Carter is a favourite of the Heartland
Institute and the Lavoisier Group, Ian Plimer is an associate of the Institute for Public Affairs
and an adviser to Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation, 51 and William
Kinninmonth (the Australian sceptic with perhaps the strongest claims to being a climate
scientist) allowed his book to be launched by the Lavoisier Group.

The links of these sceptics to political organisations with strong ideological agendas stands in
sharp contrast to the vast assemblage of legitimate climate scientists who have no political
connections. Yet it is the latter who are accused of being politicised.

Backlash against the 60s


Despite their financial support from Big Carbon, it would be wrong to believe that the
conservative think tanks operate solely at the behest of the fossil fuel industries. Their objectives
are principally ideological and they would still be campaigning against climate science without
funding from Exxon Mobil and others; they would just be less effective. In the United States and
Australia, it is probably true that they have received more funding from right-wing foundations
with no links to Big Carbon than from oil and coal companies (although some, like the Scaife
Foundations, owe their wealth to oil).

So, in the end, their motives are political rather than commercial. The arms of the denialist war
on climate science—the bloggers and letter writers; the right wing columnists like Andrew Bolt,
Christopher Pearson and Miranda Devine; the Murdoch broadsheets; and the conservative think
tanks—are united by one factor, a hatred of environmentalism. Environmentalism is variously
seen to be the enemy of individual freedom, an ideology of smug elites, an attack on capitalism
and consumerism, and the vanguard of world government.

This antagonism towards the real or assumed ideas of environmentalism is spiced with a loathing
for “green culture” represented by the image of the long-haired tree-huggers who want to impose
their ascetic lifestyle on others.

Politically, climate denialism represents a backlash against the advances begun by the social
movements of the 1960s and their destabilisation of traditional social structures and beliefs,
including those of the right of humans to exploit the natural world, which helps explain why its
activists are overwhelmingly older. Raging against climate science fits perfectly with the
worldview, style and audience demographic of populist shock-jocks like Alan Jones,52
Australia’s answer to Rush Limbaugh.

To turn back the tide of denialism, perhaps the most significant step would be for those
conservative leaders who accept the science to speak out loudly and clearly about the need to
take action. It is in their hands to break down the belief that global warming is somehow a left-
wing cause.

Tomorrow: How to manufacture a scientific scandal.


Part 4: Manufacturing a scientific scandal

Clive Hamilton

Although sceptics have been gnawing away at the credibility of climate science for years, over
the last five months they have made enormous leaps owing to the hacking of emails from the
Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia and the discovery of a number of alleged
mistakes in the benchmark reports of the IPCC.

While the “revelations’ have been milked for all they are worth, and a lot more, the science
remains rock solid. If instead of cherry-picking two or three that lend themselves to spin, you
read the 1000 or so emails53 that were posted on a Russian server the picture that emerges is one
of an enormously dedicated group of men and women doing their best to carry out research of
the highest quality.

If there were a conspiracy among scientists to manipulate the truth, you would expect the
evidence to be there in spades in these private emails. But it’s not. Instead they show scientists
working their backsides off to do good science, with email exchanges stopping briefly on
Christmas Eve to be resumed on Boxing Day, with apologies to colleagues for taking time out to
have surgery or get married, all with a sub-text of worry about the implications of their work for
the future of humanity.

Rather than cover-ups, we read private emails from one scientist to Phil Jones, the CRU head
who has been forced to step down pending an inquiry, saying he has been watching the sceptics
blogs and, anticipating misrepresentation, says “this last aspect needs to be tackled more
candidly in AR4 than in the SOD, and we need to discuss how to do this”.54 Others show them
bending over backwards to be open.55

Before the leak of the CRU emails, one colleague emailed others in response to attacks by
sceptics on Phil Jones:

              “The sad thing here is that Phil Jones is one of the true gentlemen of our field. I have
              known Phil for most of my scientific career. He is the antithesis of the secretive, "data
              destroying" character the CEI and Michaels are trying to portray to the outside world.”56

And the emails reveal the enormous external pressure they were under. They show they were
constantly accused of being frauds and cheats; their work was twisted and misrepresented; and
they were bombarded with vexatious freedom of information requests orchestrated by


denialists.57 In short, they were caught up in a hot political debate that they did not really
understand or want to be part of, yet they were the target of savvy, secretive and ruthless
organisations ready to pounce on anything they said or wrote.

This is the real story exposed of “Climategate”. Instead, the scientists in question have seen their
professional reputations trashed in the world’s media for no cause, to the point where Phil Jones
has been on the verge of suicide. It has been the most egregious and unfounded attack on the
integrity of a profession we have ever seen.

Yet the science remains rock solid

Since the leaking of the CRU emails the press around the world have reported a series of
“mistakes” in the IPCC reports that have allowed the denial lobby to claim that the entire IPCC
process and the body of climate science should be junked. It turns out that almost all of the
mistakes are fabrications. How could this have happened?

The first, and only significant, error identified in the IPCC report is the claim that 80 per cent of
Himalayan glaciers are very likely to disappear by 2035. This was a serious mistake for a
scientific report that should not have got through the review process. But let’s be very clear
about its significance.

       •      The error occurred in Volume 2 of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), the volume on
              the impacts of climate change. Volume 1 reports and assesses the physical basis for
              climate science, including projections of warming. Chapter 4 contains an extensive
              discussion of glaciers, snow and ice. Projections for glaciers are also discussed in Chapter
              10.58 No one has challenged any of the statements in these chapters, prepared by teams
              including the world’s leading glaciologists, which carefully lay out what is known.

       •      The erroneous “2035” claim was nowhere highlighted by the IPCC. It appeared neither in
              the chapter summary,59 the report summary or the crucial Summary for Policymakers. In
              no sense was it a central claim of the IPCC report, as some newspapers have said.

       •      It was a glaring error that should have been picked up earlier, but it was so deeply buried
              in the report that denialists around the world, with all of their supposed scientific
              expertise, did not pick it up for two years. In fact, they did not pick it up at all; it was first
              pointed out Georg Kaser and others. Kaser is an eminent glacier expert who was a lead
              author of Chapter 4 in Volume 1.60


Although mistakes like this one should not occur, to suggest that it has any bearing on the
credibility of the science of AR4 is absurd. The more remarkable fact is that so few errors have
been identified in AR4, and none at all in the crucial Volume 1 which sets out the physical basis
for climate change. On page 493 of Volume 2, where the “2035” mistake occurs, I count 20
factual claims that are falsifiable. Multiply that by the 3,000 or so pages in AR4 and you can see
how utterly trivial that single mistake is.

But haven’t many more mistakes been found in AR4? No. The only other claimed error that has
any substance is the statement that “55% of its [the Netherlands] territory is below sea-level”.
This figure was supplied by the Dutch Government. It is slightly misleading because the correct
statement is that 55% per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding, although the Dutch
Ministry of Transport says that 60% of the country is below the high water level.61 The
confusion may have implications for the Netherlands’ dike planning but has no bearing whatever
on the science of climate change.

There are three additional “errors” in AR4 that have attracted press attention and sparked
denialist frenzies. They are analysed on the Realclimate website.62

       •      “Africagate” refers to the claim that AR4 overstated the potential decline in crop yields in
              Africa. The figures in AR4 have since been shown to be an accurate assessment.

       •      “Disastergate” is the allegation that the IPCC erroneously attributed some of the rising
              costs of disasters to climate change. In fact, the section in question is hedged around with
              caution and the expert whose work was said to be misused by the IPCC has declared that
              the IPCC has fairly represented his findings.

       •      “Amazongate”, a story that opened with the claim: “A startling report by the United
              Nations climate watchdog that global warming might wipe out 40% of the Amazon
              rainforest was based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little
              scientific expertise”.63 The story is plain wrong, with the expert on whose work the IPCC
              relied stating that the information is correct, although the referencing is incomplete.64

Apart from the fact that these three “gates” are beat-ups with no basis in their criticism of the
IPCC, they have one feature in common—the stories were all written by Jonathan Leake, science
and environment editor of The Sunday Times.


Leake has close links with deniers and in fact based these stories directly on wild and
unsubstantiated claims by sceptic bloggers, as uncovered by Tim Holmes.65 In the case of
Amazongate, Leake had been informed by another expert that, while the referencing was
inadequate, the claim in AR4 is correct and, if anything, an understatement. But Leake
disregarded this and quoted that same expert in his story to exactly the reverse effect, as if he
were a severe critic of the IPCC.

On the role of Leake I can do no better than quote Tim Holmes:

              While it is wholly unsurprising that the denial lobby should be attempting to push
              baseless and misleading stories to the press, what is surprising is the press’s willingness
              to swallow them. In this case, two experts in the relevant field told a Times journalist
              explicitly that, in spite of a minor referencing error, the IPCC had got its facts right.

              That journalist simply ignored them. Instead, he deliberately put out the opposite line –
              one fed to him by a prominent climate change denier – as fact. The implications are
              deeply disturbing, not only for our prospects of tackling climate change, but for basic
              standards of honesty and integrity in journalism.66

Leake’s stories have been reproduced in the other Murdoch broadsheets, The Australian and the
Wall Street Journal and of course have been amplified on Fox News, and are themselves now
being referred to as “Leakegate”.67

Bloggers and columnists, who attack climate science without ever opening an IPCC report or
speaking to a real climate scientists, imagine that the body of climate science is a house of cards,
and taking away one or two will cause it to collapse. In fact the scientific case for global
warming is like a mountain built up by adding one rock at a time over many years. Even if all of
the alleged errors were true it would amount to picking off a handful of rocks from the top of the
mountain, leaving the rest unchanged and unmoved.

Yet these alleged mistakes—non-existent or trivial—with no implications whatever for the
robustness of climate science have been deployed in a sophisticated campaign to blacken the
reputations of the scientists responsible for alerting us to the perils of global warming.

Perception versus reality

Unfortunately, the chorus of declarations that the climate scientists got it wrong has had no
impact on the earth’s climate. Indeed, those who study the climate itself rather than the bogus
debate in the newspapers and the blogosphere understand that climate science and popular


perceptions of climate science are diverging rapidly, not least because the news on the former is
getting worse.

Soon after AR4 appeared in early 2007, those familiar with the science began to say that as a
result of the consensus process and the natural caution of scientists, the Fourth Assessment
Report had seriously understated the risks from climate change, particularly in its selection of
scenarios and its estimates of likely sea-level rise.68

Rather than rehearse the evidence for these warnings, well known to those who follow the
science, let me make mention of a number of developments in climate science that have been
published or reported in the five months since the leaking of the Climategate emails. It is
evidence that warming is more alarming than previously thought yet which has been buried in
the avalanche of confected stories claiming that climate scientists have exaggerated.

       •      We have just had the warmest decade on record.69
       •      A new study concludes that an average warming of 3-4°C (which means 7-8°C on land),
              previously thought to be associated with carbon dioxide concentrations of 500-600 ppmv,
              is now believed to be associated with concentrations of only 360-420 ppmv, a range that
              covers the current concentration of 385 ppmv, rising at 2 ppmv per annum.70 If confirmed
              by further research, the implications of this are terrifying.
       •      While news reports allege glacial melting has been exaggerated, the best evidence is that
              the rate of disappearance of glaciers is accelerating. The University of Zurich’s World
              Glacier Monitoring Service reports that “new data continues the global trend in strong ice
              loss over the past few decades”.71
       •      The rate of flow into the sea of Greenland and Antarctic glaciers is accelerating, adding
              to sea-level rise.72 This augments the evidence that IPCC cautiousness led to significant
              underestimation of the likely extent of sea-level rise in the 21st century. The East
              Antarctic ice-sheet, previously believed to be stable, has now begun to melt on its coastal
              fringes.73 The West Antarctic ice-sheet continues its rapid melt.
       •      Sharply rising temperature in the Arctic have, over the last five years, caused a rapid
              increase in the amount of methane being emitted from melting permafrost.74 The limit of
              the Arctic permafrost has retreated northwards by 130 kilometres over the last 50 years in
              the James Bay region of Canada.75


I have tried to find some new studies that go the other way in the hope I can counterbalance this
bleak story, but have not succeeded.

Over the last five months, a vast gulf has opened up between the media-stoked perception that
the climate science has been exaggerated and the research-driven evidence that the true situation
is worse than we thought.

Just when we should be urging immediate and deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, the
public is being lulled into disbelief, scepticism and apathy by a sustained and politically driven
assault on the credibility of climate science. For this we will all pay dearly.

Tomorrow: Where are the defenders of science?

Part 5: Who’s defending science?

The sustained assault on climate science detailed in this series spread from the loonier corners of
the internet first into certain media outlets with an ideological axe to grind, and now into neutral
news outlets too lazy or lacking in confidence to carry out some basic checking before reporting
the same distortions.

There is no excuse for this as there are a number of websites with easy-to-read and up-to-date
deconstructions of the lies and misrepresentations peddled by sceptics, including Deltoid76 in
Australia and RealClimate77 in the United States.

But if in echoing denialist misrepresentations some journalists are naïve or too busy to check,
others are willing accomplices. For several years the Australian newspaper has been the leading
organ of climate denial in Australia.

The list of beat-ups is so long that blogger Tim Lambert keeps a catalogue of the Australian’s
war on science.78 It’s a kind of archive of journalistic misbehavior that could be used in courses
on media ethics. Let’s consider a couple of them.

Franklingate Earlier this month, the Australian decided it wanted to challenge Climate Change
Minister Penny Wong’s “alarming predictions” about the effect of sea-level rise on Australia’s
coasts. So to which authority did journalists Matthew Franklin and Lanai Vasek turn to repudiate
decades of scientific research?

There he was, featured in a huge photograph on the front page under the headline “Wong
wipeout doesn’t wash with locals”, a 53-year old bronzed bloke named Lee who said he’d been
swimming at Bondi for 30 years and “was adamant he had seen ‘no change’ to the coastline”. To
augment his careful observations, Lee engaged in some projections too, declaring that there’s
nothing suggesting sea-levels at Bondi will change in the future.

Brilliant; give him a job at Australia’s leading sea-level research outfit, the Antarctic Climate
CRC in Hobart. There he could go head-to-head with Dr John Church, the world’s leading
authority on sea-level rise. He chairs the World Climate Research Programme’s scientific
committee on sea-level rise, was awarded the 2006 CSIRO’s Medal for Research Achievement,
and in 2007 won the Eureka Prize for his work on the measurement of sea-level rise. Mere trifles
compared to Lee’s common sense.

Franklin and Vasek did not ask Church or any other authority on sea-level rise what their
research shows; instead, for “authority”, they quoted Bob Carter, one of Australia’s leading

climate sceptics—a favourite of the Heartland Institute79 and a founding member of the
Australian Environment Foundation,80 a front group set up by the Institute of Public Affairs and
whose board has included Leon Ashby, now president of the Climate Sceptics Party.

The Australian’s decision to pitch the opinion of a bloke with a tan against years of scientific
research is a deliberate strategy of pandering to ignorance, of fuelling wishful thinking at the
expense of science. As politics it’s clever; as journalism it’s risible.

Walkergate Jamie Walker writes beat-ups aimed at discrediting scientific claims that the Great
Barrier Reef is seriously threatened by global warming. In a story81 earlier this month (front page
again) Walker accurately reported research by the Australian Institute of Marine Science to the
effect that some reefs did not experience the expected bleaching last summer due to the influence
of storms.

This became the headline “Report undercuts PM's reef wipeout” because Walker made the
ludicrous leap from the absence of bleaching one year to a rosy future for the Reef into the
indefinite future. One data point became that basis for rejecting a catalogue of research linking
warming seas to coral damage.82

Walker has form for bagging marine scientists. Last year a story by him headed “Scientists
'crying wolf' over coral”83 was based on the opinion of Peter Ridd, a physicist who is listed84 as
the Science Coordinator for the Australian Environment Foundation front group.

Weissergate For years, the opinion pages of the Australian have been turned over to every
denialist who pops up anywhere around the world, with even the loopiest given free rein—
Monckton, Illarianov, Plimer, Carter, David Evans, Jon Jenkins, Christopher Booker, David
Bellamy, Brendan O’Neill, Frank Furedi and many more.

The last two, incidentally, are members85 of an anti-environmental Trotskyist splinter group
called the Revolutionary Communist Party, showing that, for opinion editor Rebecca Weisser, it
doesn’t matter whether you are left or right as long as you loathe environmentalism.

Mitchellgate The man who overseas this travesty of reporting is editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell.
Last year he was chuffed to receive86 the annual JN Pierce Award for Media Excellence for


coverage of climate change policy from … wait for it … the Australian Petroleum Production &
Exploration Association, the foremost lobby group for the oil and gas industries. APPEA lauded
Mitchell because his paper’s

              “in-depth coverage of a range of public policy issues affecting Australia's upstream oil
              and gas industry has been of a consistently high standard. The reporting has been
              thoughtful, balanced, analytical, well researched and a big effort was made to ensure that
              all facets of the issue were presented.

Astonishment robs me of words.

The Fox of print

Rupert Murdoch had a much-publicised change of heart in 2007—thought to be stimulated by his
son James—when he told his news editors that the planet should be given the benefit of the
doubt and News Ltd would go carbon-neutral. There are now rumours that Murdoch has recanted
and has rejoined the denialist camp.

Certainly that would be consistent with the virulent anti-science now being run by his media
outlets—including the triumvirate of broadsheets based in London, New York and Sydney—led
of course by Fox News. Murdoch’s son-in-law, Matthew Freud said he spoke for other family
members when he last month launched a breath-taking attack on Fox News. He said he is
“ashamed and sickened by [Fox boss] Roger Ailes’s horrendous and sustained disregard [for]
journalistic standards”.87

Despite its high-brow pretentions, is not the Australian—with the same commitment to an
ideological agenda, the same disregard for the separation of news and comment, and the same
stable of bumptious right-wing columnist—just the Fox News of print? No wonder the paper’s
last reporter with any credibility on climate change, Lenore Taylor, has finally jumped ship.

Right now on campuses across Australia, the Australian is engaged in an aggressive marketing
campaign to sign up university students, offering a year’s subscription for $20. It would be
comforting to believe that university students are capable of seeing through the distortions and
manipulation of news that defines the national broadsheet. But that is wishful thinking and to the
extent that the Australian’s discount sale succeeds we risk seeing a generation of graduates
whose understanding of climate science is grossly distorted by the newspaper’s unrelenting war
on science.


For years, scientific organisations have attempted to correct the Australian’s misrepresentation of
the science. So unresponsive is the newspaper that some, including the Bureau of Meteorology,
have just given up.88

Science’s defenders

The trashing of the reputation of climate science spills over into to the other sciences, so how has
the profession been fighting back? After all, once the fury dies down it is likely to be many years
before public trust in science can be rebuilt to previous levels. It would be a grave mistake for
scientific organisations to imagine that this will all blow over and the world will return to

One would expect that the employers and professional organisations of the scientists who are
daily attacked as frauds, cheats and political zealots would be in the public domain defending
them against these charges. But for the most part, they have been missing in action or engaged in
skirmishes far from the main action.

The CSIRO is nowhere to be seen. Instead it has put the lid on its climate scientists, barring89
them from presenting their work, preferring actively to promote the commercial interests of the
coal industry.90 The CSIRO’s new Chief Executive, Dr Megan Clark (who transferred across
from a senior executive position with BHP Billiton) should be out in public defending vigorously
the quality of the organisation’s climate research.

The Bureau of Meteorology, whose work has often been traduced, has tried to respond but seems
to have capitulated in the face of hopeless odds.

The Australian Academy of Science includes fellows whose work has been called fraudulent and
dishonest and who are the target of abuse and threats. Their treatment should be a matter of the
first concern not least because the esteem in which all science is held is under attack.

At bottom, scientists are not good at public relations, and most scientists would much rather bury
themselves in their labs than face a microphone. Once this did not matter, but in the face of a
sustained assault on their credibility by people who have an intimate knowledge of how to use
the media to manipulate the truth, their unworldliness is causing lasting damage. ■



To top