Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Archive for June 2011

Conversations on The Conversation

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Just realised the last four posts were on threats. Not uplifting but I’ve been busy and have not written the posts I’ve been thinking about. This one will be different – or will it?

Earlier this week, The Conversation posted an open letter from climate researchers entitled Climate change is real: an open letter from the scientific community. I agree with the title of the letter and the conclusions but thought the language was a bit hyperbolic. Putting an English teacher’s hat on, isn’t it just a bit cute to describe recent findings on record annual emissions as “chilling”? And this:

Limiting global warming to 2°C is now beginning to look like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Something that causes warming is chilling and a target you want to avoid by not going over it is nearly insurmountable? Oh dear, perhaps we need the humanities more than we think.

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Written by Roger Jones

June 19, 2011 at 10:00 am

Beeby follow-up on threats

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Via Deltoid, Rosslyn Beeby has followed up in the Canberra Times on threats to climate scientists. As I reported here, a counterpoint article was quickly published in the Daily Telegraph maintaining that all the threats were old and that the claims were made to support the case for a climate price. This misinformation was spread on a number of blogs and resulted in an insulting (to scientists) press release from shadow science minister Sen Sophie Mirabella.

Beeby is quite clear the threats were recent, university security was beefed up in response to those threats and they follow a pattern of meda appearances by individuals or major climate science-related events. She details two particularly disgusting examples to quite innocuous pieces of science communication.

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Written by Roger Jones

June 18, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Posted in Denialism

More on threats

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I’ve been following the media treatment of abusive threats made to Australian climate scientists as reported in the Canberra Times on June 4. This story has been picked up by a range of blogs and media that follows environmental issues. Graham Readfearn has reproduced extracts from some of the emails received. The Conversation, an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the university and research sector (although federally funded) published an op-ed from Clive Hamilton and a news article on June 6. The latter included comment from Professor Margaret Sheil of the Australian Research Council referring to potential long-term effects on research in that new researchers may be put off. It also included details of threats received by Kevin Trenberth, Kiwi researcher who has been along-term resident of the USA. Based at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) he received 19 pages of abusive emails at around the time of the CRU email leaks and continues to receive abusive emails.

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Written by Roger Jones

June 11, 2011 at 11:15 am

Satire = death threats, ‘mk?

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On the weekend I wrote about death threats to Australian climate scientists as reported in the Canberra Times, saying:

On blogs maintained under the aegis of media organisations – News Limited, I’m looking at you – this violence is allowed to flourish, albeit in written form. And not as direct threats, which aren’t permitted, but obliquely threatening and thoroughly nasty. This, I believe, gives licence to certain individuals in that “closed room” to take the further step of making direct threats.

Tim Lambert at Deltoid reports it has only taken two days  for this to be confirmed by Tim Blair in the Daily Tele (I won’t link). Apparently, satire in the form of climate raps and Tony Martin’s alter ego Michael Munna’s boganising of climate denial is a call to arms:

Well, that’s not the message we got from their climate rap. “Perhaps,” replied reader George Rock, “they shouldn’t call people motherf … ers if they don’t want to fight.”

Yeah, right.  That’s ok. The death threats have been coming for several years because those making the threats knew that some time in the future, a few scientists were going to make a gangsta rap video, and Tony Martin was going to take the piss.

And the scaredy-cat scientists are frightened “out of their laboratories” by a few emails, according to Blair. As David Karoly said to the ABC on the weekend, research would continue despite the threats. Clive Hamilton spoke about the cyber bullying campaign over 15 months ago. It’s not the generally abusive ones that matter so much. It’s these:

“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?” the email reportedly says.

“Burn in hell. Or in the main street, when the Australian public finally lynches you.”

Yeah, right Tim Blair. Tit for tat. A few (thousand) scientists come up with a theory you and your mates don’t like and well, you can’t be responsible for the consequences, can you?

More comment: In addition to Deltoid, a strong post from Joe Romm and HoydenAboutTown.

Update: Clive Hamilton on The Conversation

Written by Roger Jones

June 6, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Denialism

climate of violence

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One of the main tasks in undertaking research on important scientific issues is communication. However, communicating climate carries a certain level of risk. Scientists in the public eye on occasion receive threatening mail and email, so if they are to communicate, have to accept this risk. These threats come from people who believe they are themselves threatened by the message, or by subsequent actions if that scientific message is taken to heart.

Recently, threats to Australian scientists have been escalating. Roslyn Beeby of the Canberra Times has spoken to about thirty scientists researching climate, bioversity and ecology around Australia. A serious pattern is evolving. Threats involve death threats, violent sexual imagery, threats to person, family and property. Security has been stepped up in ANU and other universities around the country. Scientists who carried out their research openly are withdrawing into anonymity. The worst are those to family, because the risk that an individual accepts when communicating publicly is one thing, having that risk transferred to loved ones is unacceptable.

Much of this is coming from the anonymity of the internet. Frequently changing sock puppets and proxy servers are being used to send emails that are difficult to track.

University of NSW senior psychology lecturer Jason Mazanov said the emails were indicative of a ”closed room” mentality where people have lost all sense of what is normal.

This mentality can be seen on unmoderated blogs where climate denial is openly voiced. It is aggressive, misogynistic and violent. On blogs maintained under the aegis of media organisations – News Limited, I’m looking at you – this violence is allowed to flourish, albeit in written form. And not as direct threats, which aren’t permitted, but obliquely threatening and thoroughly nasty. This, I believe, gives licence to certain individuals in that “closed room” to take the further step of making direct threats.

This isn’t unique to Australia. Many of the scientists named in the stolen CRU emails were threatened and continue to receive threats.

It is time for all the various advocates in the climate debate to say clearly and loudly that this type of behaviour is totally unacceptable. Ad homineum attacks from either side need to stop. All those attacks achieve is to say to those making the threats: their actions are fine because everyone else is doing it, too. The closed room is a strange and bizarre place.

It may also be possible to use some of the technology that Google and others are developing to track and curtail such threat-making, under magistrate’s orders of course.

Written by Roger Jones

June 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Australia, Denialism, Risk

Northern Victorian Flood Review Part III

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This is the third post covering the January 2011 floods in northern Victoria. Part I described how the floods unfolded and Part II described the hydrology of the Loddon catchment and how its history has affected flood behaviour. This final post covers the climatic influences on the floods. The floods themselves are discussed here, and affects on the family farm in Kerang are shown here.

Northern Victoria’s rainfall is influenced by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO; spring–summer), Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD; winter–spring) and Southern Annular Mode (SAM; winter). Correlations of northern Victorian rainfall with simple indices are -0.51 for SOI May–Jan, ‑0.48 and -0.45 for two IOD indices May–Jan, and -0.25 for SAM for winter rainfall.Recent research has linked exceptionally wet conditions in south-eastern Australia with the combination of La Niña and a negative Indian Ocean Dipole (-IOD) (Ummenhofer et al., 2009; Ummenhofer et al., 2011).

The -IOD is associated with exceptionally warm waters off north-western Australia resulting in ‘north-west’ cloud bands that bring flooding rains into northern Victoria. The recent extended drought in Victoria has been characterised by an absence of these weather patterns. While central and north-western Australia have become wetter, this rainfall source has been conspicuously absent from south-eastern Australia.

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Written by Roger Jones

June 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Garnaut Review 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Weird

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Actually, this is the title of a terrific Korean noodle western I saw a few weeks ago, but it seems a good title for the post.

Ross Garnaut released the final stage of his report yesterday (May 31st) and it has garnered a wide range of comment, some good, some bad, and some weird. There’s a little GB&W about the report itself, comments later in the post.

Altogether, the report contains few surprises. Many of the themes were developed in the 2008 report and were included in the early papers of this report. Some recommendations are:

  • Australia’s fair share: Australia is punching above its weight in emissions. Current rates of increase projected mean that the risk of Australia overshooting its Cancun pledge is real. More realistic sliding targets to 25% that a proportional to international action are required.
  • Governance: an independent scheme regulator, an independent committee to advise on targets, and an independent agency to advise on trade-exposed industries are recommended.
  • Carbon price: an initial price of $26 t C fixed for three years, then a 4% increase over time as reflected in Treasury modelling. The $26 t C price is consistent with carbon market and social cost of carbon levels currently being set in the EU and the US.
  • The science: beyond reasonable doubt, whereas last time it was on the balance of probabilities. Knowledge of risks is increasing and planetary-scale impacts this century are possible.
  • The electricity sector: transformation will be required, the sector is currently over-invested in infrastructure with rates of return exceeding risk but little detail is given.
  • Land, food and biodiversity: a range of recommendations are made to ensure that biosequestration gets the attention it deserves while food production is improved in efficiency and buffered against climate shocks.

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Written by Roger Jones

June 1, 2011 at 6:13 pm