Australia's place in the global web of climate denial
by Graham Readfearn, The Drum, ABC Australia, June 29, 2011
Climate sceptics, deniers, contrarians – call them what you like – are engaged in a fight for column inches, radio waves, TV talk-time and community sentiment.
In Australia, the issue has turned decidedly unsavoury, with climate scientists revealing inboxes chock-full of hate and Government advisors being slurred as Nazis.
But as a memo from US Republican communications guru Frank Luntz revealed in 2003, the most important aspect of climate change denial is not to throw hate, but to sow doubt.
Doubt is the product of the climate change denial industry – an industry which is tightly knit, well resourced and globally linked.
Hot on the heels of climate sceptic Lord Christopher Monckton's visit, part-funded by the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies and supported by mining billionaire Gina Rinehart, will be Václav Klaus.
The president of the Czech Republic, a long-time denier of the evidence of climate change, is being flown to Australia to talk about the "mass delusion" of climate change.
Then, once president Klaus has done his bit for the cause, in comes yet another denier of the risks associated with human-caused climate change – Lord Lawson.
This conveyor belt of climate denial is no unhappy coincidence. Australia is an important hub in a long-standing global assault on climate science coordinated by a network of think tanks and front groups, many with links to fossil fuel and mining companies.
Earlier this week in The Age newspaper, Professor Bob Carter, an adjunct (unpaid) research fellow at James Cook University in Queensland, wrote one of his many columns questioning global warming.
Despite the fact that the World Meteorological Organisation has declared the decade just gone to be the warmest on record, Professor Carter claimed the world had gone through a "slight cooling."
Writing in The Age today, John Cook, founder of the blog Skeptical Science, explains the methods Professor Carter uses to confuse readers, such as employing half-truths, cherry-picking data and conveniently ignoring other multiple lines of evidence.
Earlier this month in The Conversation, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, searched the leading science journals for peer-reviewed papers on climate change written by Professor Carter and other sceptics, and found only one.
The paper had claimed that natural variation in the climate could account for most of the observed global warming, but when a group of genuine climate change researchers examined the paper they found it seriously flawed. The conclusions made in the paper, wrote a group of eminent scientists in a response in the same journal, were "not supported by their analysis or any physical theory."
In other words, Professor Carter and his co-authors had come to a conclusion which even their own analysis had failed to support. With this being Professor Carter's only foray into the peer-reviewed literature, it is odd that he should be held up as a climate expert.
Yet he is touted as an expert, regularly, and not just here but in the United States and the UK by numerous organisations that deny the risks or even the very existence of human-caused climate change.
As well as being the sole science advisor to Australia's Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), Professor Carter is also listed as an advisor at the US-based Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI) where Lord Christopher Monckton is the chief policy advisor.
The SPPI emerged from another [faux] think tank – the Centre for Science and Public Policy (CSPP) – which Greenpeace has discovered was launched with a grant from oil giant Exxon. Robert Ferguson, the SPPI president, was the executive director for CSPP and Lord Monckton an advisor.
Professor Carter is also the chief science advisor to the Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), where again he teams up with Lord Monckton , who is a policy advisor.
Australian Viv Forbes is also an ICSC advisor, as well as being an advisor to the Australian Climate Science Coalition and chairman of his own Carbon Sense Coalition. The Carbon Sense Coalition also includes former cat palmist Ken Ring amongst its advisors.
When long-serving coal-industry director Mr Forbes isn't advising to organisations spreading misinformation on climate science, he is serving as a director at coal export business Stanmore Coal.
On Friday, Professor Carter will be in Washington with a swag of contrarians as a keynote speaker at a conference dedicated to climate denial – mis-titled the Sixth International Conference on Climate Change.
The conferences, which started in 2008, have been organised and sponsored by the Heartland Institute – a free-market [faux] think tank which has been heavily funded by fossil fuel companies including Exxon, the oil and gas billionaires the Koch brothers and the oil and banking family the Scaifes.
Professor Carter was also a key speaker at the first conference in New York, the second also held in New York, the third in Washington, the fourth in Chicago and the fifth in Sydney.
These have included Alan Moran, a researcher at the Institute of Public Affairs, Professor Ian Plimer, a geologist and mining entrepreneur and South Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. Lord Monckton has also spoken at two of the conferences.
Alongside Heartland, Australia-based groups have given sponsorship. The IPA has sponsored three conferences and the Lavoisier Group, Carbon Sense Coalition and the Australian Libertarian Society (ALS) have each sponsored twice.
The ALS treasurer is Tim Andrews, who in 2009 spent a year in the US with the Koch Associate Program – set up by the same Koch brothers which have helped fund climate denial and the "grassroots" [astroturf] Tea Party movement in the US.
A series of Greenpeace USA reports have claimed that the companies, foundations and trusts of Charles and David Koch, of the oil and gas company Koch Industries, have plowed more than $US55 million into think tanks and groups which challenge human-caused climate change.
The Lavoisier Group, which was founded by Hugh Morgan, former head of Western Mining Corporation, is an organisation devoted to climate denial. Mr Morgan is currently a member of the Liberal-led Coalition's business group advising on its climate policy.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, another free-market US [faux] think tank receiving funding from Exxon, co-ordinates the Cooler Heads Coalition, which includes the Lavoisier Group among its members.
In Australia, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of climate denial has been the IPA which is not required to reveal its funders. Lavoisier founder Mr Morgan is a former director of the IPA and his son William is currently on the board.
In its latest attempt to confuse the public on climate change, the IPA will bring Czech Republic president Václav Klaus to Australia late next month.
President Klaus gives away some subtle clues to his long-held position on climate change in the titles of his talks.
Perth gets "Threats to freedom in the 21st century"; Sydney gets "Climate change the dangerous faith"; Melbourne enjoys "The mass delusion of climate change"; and Brisbanites get to hear "Climate change a new ideology."
After president Klaus flies out with his measured analysis still ringing in the ears, Australians will then be treated to climate sceptic Lord Lawson, president of the London-based Global Warming Policy Foundation – yet another think tank devoted to confusing the public about climate change.
Presumably Lord Lawson will not be too concerned at missing president Klaus' talk, given that last October he gave the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) annual lecture in Cambridge.
GWPF also has friends in Australia. Professors Plimer and Carter are both on its "academic advisory council."
The IPA also brought Lord Lawson to Australia in 2007 (Lord Monckton's sister is Rosa Monckton, who is married to Dominic Lawson – Lord Lawson's eldest son). This time, the debate, to be held in Sydney in about five weeks time, is being organised by The Spectator magazine and its editor Tom Switzer, a long-time researcher at the IPA.
With all of this noise being generated in the coming weeks over climate change, Australians could be forgiven for thinking there is a genuine debate over the causes of rising global temperatures, melting ice-sheets, retreating Arctic ice, acidifying oceans, rising sea-levels or the many other direct consequences of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
No doubt there is a debate and no doubt, either, that it is being manufactured.
Graham Readfearn is a freelance journalist and writer covering the environment and sustainability.