Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Letter to SMH/The Age editors on McLean’s Op-ed

with 5 comments

Readers of the Australian press over the holiday period would have seen the spray from Maurice Newman the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council in The Australian on December 31 where he claimed Australia’s climate policies were being driven by scientific delusion. That was followed by an article by David Karoly in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald on January 1 correcting Newman’s take on the science. Then on January 3, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald printed a response to Karoly and Newman from John McLean. Following is a letter I have sent to the editors of both papers.

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to express my great disappointment at The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s decision to publish John McLean’s opinion piece Lack of accountability clouds the climate change debate on Friday January 3. After the recent statement by SMH letters editors Julie Lewis and Marc McEvoy that (October 13, 2013) “climate change deniers or skeptics are free to express opinions and political views on our page but not to misrepresent facts”, we in the scientific community were hopeful this would be the case. Alas, it is not.

The catalyst for John McLean’s article was an opinion piece by Maurice Newman in The Australian on December 31 where he claimed Australian climate policies were being driven by scientific delusion and that when necessary, the IPCC resorts to dishonesty and deceit. This was reported as news by Graham Lloyd in the same edition, using Newman’s position as the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council.

This is News Limited’s modus operandi on spreading disinformation on climate change – promote a public figure misrepresenting fact as opinion, then report it as news. This phenomenon of publicly-expressed doubt in climate science is largely confined to the English-speaking world and has been promoted by a coalition of the willing incorporating business interests, politically conservative think tanks and culture warriors. The remainder of the conventional media, including Fairfax and the ABC, have been complicit in this process over several years. Controversies over climate science are clearly politically and culturally motivated and should be treated as such.

Professor David Karoly responded to Newman’s charges of scientific deceit in The Age and SMH on January 1 and McLean’s piece is a follow up on that. Except it isn’t. It is a rehash of an article published on Quadrant Online on March 12, 2013 that makes a number of incorrect claims about the role and charter of the IPCC. These claims amount to straightforward factual misrepresentation. They include:

  • The IPCC has no mandate to examine causes of climate change other than human influences.
    • This is incorrect. Understanding the scientific basis of the risk of human-induced climate change involves examining all drivers of climate. Consequently, the IPCC has chapters on palaeoclimate, stretching well before pre-industrial times, and comprehensively assesses natural influences on climate past and present.
  • Claims are based on the output of climate models that the IPCC admits are seriously flawed.
    • This is incorrect. The examination of models is open and transparent and as such they are assessed to provide acceptable conclusions for a wide range of phenomena (global temperature and rainfall change) and not on others (ice sheet dynamics, tornado behaviour).
  • Climategate – a clique of scientists sought to control the material cited in these reports.
    • Indeed they did. They discussed how to keep pseudoscience out of the reports; inappropriately, as it happened – the suggestion for censorship coming from one inexperienced author only. This was later admitted to and apologised for by that person. Subsequent enquiries showed that the proper protocols were maintained in the development of the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report. Indeed, another Climategate email exchange that I was involved in showed exactly how this process is run but such normal exchanges have not been reported widely because they show how these matters are routinely discussed and negotiated.
  • The Summaries for Policymakers become a political instrument because they are written by a select group of authors, then negotiated by government representatives.
    • This is untrue. The negotiations are to increase the policy relevance of such documents but all statements are traceable within the reports and supported by original research findings. Both governments and scientists support these findings as science and not politics. Stephen Schneider describes in his book Climate Change as a Contact Sport how in 2007, for the first time ever in a plenary negotiation, I drew widespread applause defending science from political manipulation (scientific vandalism was the term used). That applause came from both government representatives and scientists.
  • At its inaugural meeting in 1992 the UNFCCC declared that anthropogenic emissions of CO2 were causing significant and dangerous climate change.
    • They did not. The centrepiece of the UNFCCC treaty is the avoidance of dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
  • It was the IPCC’s role to determine if this was correct. The IPCC hasn’t produced credible evidence to support the above claim.
    • The IPCC has never declared that that anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are causing significant and dangerous climate change. They do say it is possible and produce widespread evidence to support that claim.
  • The UNFCCC deceit continues … falsely implying that the IPCC’s investigative scope extends are beyond its mandate.
    • Except that McLean’s initial claim is false – the IPCC investigates climate change in all its forms in order to assess the risk of human-induced climate change. This false claim invalidates all subsequent claims that McLean makes.

The claim that a political institution cannot set up a scientific investigative body is risible. If that was the case, no government could govern and no assessment aiming to inform policy could ever be trusted.

The thought that an article such as this, even an opinion piece, can be published in a newspaper that claims to be independent. Always. Is deeply disappointing.

Yours Sincerely,

Roger Jones



5 Responses

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  1. The coal and unconventional gas industries are expanding massively in Australia. They are driving dangerous climate change and harming our health.

    The tobacco industry was similarly successfully and very cynically making millions and millions of dollars from having locked entire populations in an addiction to tobacco decade after decade during the secound half of the 1900s.
    The tobacco industry’s strategy was simple: spread doubt.

    It took 40 years to get out of the tight grip of the tobacco industry’s lobbists. Climate scientists are telling us we certainly don’t have 40 years to get you out of the fossil fuel addiction. We don’t even have four years. We should be have been busy transitioning to renewable energy sources ever since the CO2-levels in the atmosphere approached the level of 350 parts per million. Now we are over 400.

    The fossil fuel industry and its allies in parliaments and media houses use the exact same strategy: spread doubt.

    Is it so difficult to see through this game – and get on with what we need to do?

    Here’s a little new year’s fairytale about The Solution:

    Mik Aidt

    January 6, 2014 at 8:12 pm

  2. Well said Roger

    Here is my threadbare attempt sent to The Age but not published. The long one they did publish said it more effectively anyway.


    John McLean author of the article ‘Lack of accountability clouding the climate change debate’ (Age 3/1/14) mistrusts the UN IPCC and its conclusions. He asserts undue political influence, ‘flawed’ computer models and the corrupt collusion of climate scientists. He denies that there is credible evidence linking IPCC claims of ‘significant and dangerous climate change’ with ‘anthropogenic emissions of CO2’.

    The ‘bio’ following his article suggests that he is:

    1. The author of three peer reviewed papers on climate.
    2. An expert reviewer for the latest IPCC Report.
    3. A climate data analyst.

    A brief search online suggests that the truth is more modest. His own homepage describes him as ‘Computer consultant and occasional travel photographer’ with ‘an amateur interest in global warming’ but lists no formal qualifications. He seems never to have submitted a thesis for a research degree at any institution in Australia in any discipline.

    His many climate change ‘denialist’ texts are mostly self-published or published by online ‘opinion’ sites. His two credibly peer-reviewed, published papers have been comprehensively refuted by a combination of the world’s leading climate scientists and by subsequent temperature measurement. He has no formal association with the IPCC.

    Without relevant qualifications and comprehensively discredited by the world’s credible informed climate scientists, his opinions on the IPCC and global warming predictions are worthless. The inconvenient truth is that the atmospheric warming predictions of the IPCC reports over a couple of decades have been far closer to empirical measured reality than the fantasies of climate change deniers like McLean. By spreading McLean’s conspiracy theories the Age grants them unjustified credibility and misleads its readers.


    Interesting piece by Alex White (Guardian blog Southern Crossroads) on the ethics of publishing such swill. The comments are generally very depressing.

    Douglas Evans

    January 7, 2014 at 1:46 pm

  3. Thanks. My take on the matter is that it’s best to concentrate on the material rather than the author’s credentials, but the point made by you and Alex White that publishing this rubbish gives the material a false veneer of credibility is certainly true.

    I find it interesting how many of those on denial cite their role as IPCC ‘expert’ reviewer, while at the same time claiming the IPCC process is broken.

    Roger Jones

    January 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm

  4. […] issues, thank you, and to make you smile check out this post on 2013 climate change champions and this late contender for the list. You may also want to check out Bob Douglas’ article in the  Age calling for […]

  5. Nice one, Roger. As far back as 2007, David Biello (Scientific American editor for energy and environment) pointed out that government reviewers have ensured that all IPCC reports have under-stated the threat posed by anthropogenic climate disruption. Therefore, the only important thing that people should note from the IPCC’s original charter is that, far from being a tool of government to install a new world order, it was neutered at birth.

    Martin Lack

    January 15, 2014 at 8:20 pm

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