The Australian viewpoint: it’s ugly

We have one major national newspaper, The Australian. Until recently, I’d afforded it a strong level of respect as a newspaper. It seems to offer more in-depth analysis of issues than other papers, like the Gold Coast tabloid. A while ago, I read with great dismay an article attacking climate change science… then another… and now this, in an editorial:

“Climate change is a new, inexact and contestable science, and the computer modelling on which all of the more alarming claims depend are only ever as good as the data fed in. As well as greenhouse emissions, that data should take account of other determinants of temperature, primarily the sun and the heat of the earth’s core. Current predictions for sea-level rises range from a few centimetres to catastrophic levels of several metres that would swamp coastal areas. Faced with such variations, it would be negligent not to examine first-hand observations, even when they contradict the results churned out by laboratory computers.” The Australian

New? The IPCC has been around for 2 decades, climate change science for at least two decades before that. Inexact? In fine detail, yes. Contestable? In fine detail, yes – which is exactly what climate scientists do for a living! How good is the data fed in to the computer models? Well, it’s certainly not just anecdote gleaned from an old man who goes to a beach regularly, because that’d be silly.

Oh, wait. If we read further, the Australian suggests it would be negligent not to report the recollections of an old man who’s visited the beach regularly and to use them to refute actual data on the subject (this was a front page article some weeks ago – basically, because an old man couldn’t recall seeing a change over the decades, the CSIRO is wrong about sea level rise. Yes, I’m serious.)

Current predictions of sea level vary because of a few things. One, there are different scenarios examined in climate change reports – it’s nice how they do that, with estimates of uncertainty and everything! Two, sea level rise won’t be constant everywhere, due to the effects of ocean currents, for example. Three, the IPCC systematically underestimates the effects of climate change to ensure it remains credible. Four, estimates of sea level rise are for different time-frames (eg, 2050 or 2100). So, yeah, you might see 50cm reported in one place and 100cm reported in another: that’s because they’re estimated for different areas over different times, or under different scenarios, not because researchers are pulling random numbers out of thin air!

Oh, and global warming modelling does take into account solar forcing and many other factors. If you hear someone tell you that ‘they’ don’t account for the sun in climate models, they’re either ignorant or lying to you.

The editorial was a response to a critical piece by John Quiggin about the current ‘war on science’ in the Australian media, which appeared in the Financial Review. Check out the link for his full article, and the debunking of the Australian’s arguments by Deltoid. So why would The Australian take this path? Waleed Aly said it well on Q & A this week:

“Let’s just all be honest. Most people in this room, unless there are climatologists among us, really have no idea about whether or not climate change is real. What’s happening, though, is that we make decisions about whether or not we are going to believe that it is real or not and usually we make those decisions on the basis of what we want the answer to be and that is why you find that at the moment on the conservative side of party politics around the world you are more like to find people who are climate sceptics or denialists because – because that side of politics has overwhelmingly bought into the idea of neo-liberalism and the idea that the free market should be our guiding philosophy. Not just the free market is a good thing, but it’s our guiding political philosophy. And when you buy that, climate change becomes very difficult to accommodate. So this becomes an ideological contest for people who are of that persuasion, because the minute they accept the reality of climate change, it destroys the idea that the market is our guiding philosophy, and so they are forced, essentially, to start from a position that says, well, we need to deny this, and then they will look around for data and scientists here and there and so on and nothing amuses me more than seeing bloggers and pundits and columnists and all sorts of – and broadcasters who are not scientists pretending to have scientific debates…”Waleed Aly

That sounds about right to me… and the Australian has lost my trust and respect as a newspaper. Oh well.

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Categories: environmentalism, Problems, Science | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “The Australian viewpoint: it’s ugly

  1. Sean

    Two points;
    Rupert Murdoch, owner of ‘The Australian’, announced several years ago that he was no longer a climate sceptic. Since then, his media outlets have waged an ever increasingly strident attack on climate science and climate scientists.Murdoch is the creator of the modern tabloid and just because ‘The Australian’ has to be folded in half and uses bigger words, it does not mean that the content is any more edifying.
    From the point of view of certain very conservative people, scientists should stick to discovering things to make a profit on instead of worrying the public with stuff like lead, mercury, asbestos, DDT, thalidomide, nicotine, CFC’s, organo-chlorines and a host of really good little earners that they can’t make money from anymore.

    • Yes, it’s a horribly hypocritical situation with the Murdoch media.

      There’s such a blatant, yet undiscussed, hypocrisy among many conservative commentators on climate change too. They deride the IPCC as a political organisation, and climate scientists for making recommendations on action and policy, then turn around and make armchair critiques of the science involved.

      I just got back from a community forum about climate change and action which can be taken about an individual level, which provided some great food for thought – I will definitely be using it for material on this blog in the future, but the key theme was being positive about the situation as much as possible in terms of actions, which I intend to try!

  2. M@

    As it so happens, I heard that the GC Bulletin is supposed to be re-vamped as of tomorrow (20th March 2010).

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