A Brief Overview of the Global Warming Controversy. Part 1.

For several years in the decade of the 2000s, relatively modest growth of sceptical expression about alleged man-made (or anthropogenic) global warming was discernible on the fringes of the mainstream media (msm) and, largely, outside the scientific establishment laboratories. In the years 2008 and 2009, leading up to the Copenhagen Climate Conference, scheduled for December 2009, there was a steady increase in expressions of disagreement over the validity of some of the findings and projections of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and opposition to the intense political and scientific campaigns to bring about strong and concerted international action to reduce alleged man-made global warming (especially by costly programmes for carbon trading: ETS (Emissions Trading System), CPRS (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme), or Cap and Trade Systems). This increase in sceptical research and opinion on Internet websites and in a few newspapers and magazines attracted a much wider educated audience. In November 2009, the catalyst which finally attracted major mainstream media attention and more general debate over the questions raised by the sceptics was the spectacular case of the hacked and leaked Climate data emails (in excess of one thousand) at East Anglia University in UK. This took place just a month before the much publicised and heavily politicised beginning of the mega-carbon-producing international Copenhagen Climate Conference on proposals to tax and limit carbon production.

In the four months since 1 November 2009, the earlier sceptical independent scientific research and ongoing questioning of the IPCC global warming orthodoxy as well as a cascade of further inconvenient revelations have taken up much of the time of the spin doctors of political parties, the scientific establishment and increasing numbers of the mainstream media, including some of those publications which had studiously snubbed or dismissed the sceptics’ articles and books. In the initial flurries, many of the responses by IPCC partisans bore the hallmarks of the spin usually employed by religious and political bureaucrats to dismiss any breath of criticism of their orthodoxies, tactics like sweeping dismissals of the messages as valueless and of the messengers (including the scientific ‘apostates’) as biased representatives of unfriendly organisations and corporations (especially the oil companies and “big business”). With crude epithets like “Global Warming deniers” (conveying unpleasant associations with the pejorative term ‘Holocaust deniers’), pro-establishment spokespersons, journalists and commentators (including a small band of dedicated Wikipedia spin merchants who have made themselves notorious with their obstructionism), as well as leading scientists and politicians have continued to try to discredit the sceptical messengers.

A short sample of the genre:
Al Gore (referring to the leaked emails):
“The naysayers are in a sunset phase with a spectacular climax just before they subside from view. This is a race between commonsense and unreality.” (The Times)

Gordon Brown, Prime Minister, UK, just before the Copenhagen Conference:
“With only days to go before Copenhagen we mustn’t be distracted by the behind-the-times, anti-science, flat-Earth climate sceptics. …We know the science. We know what we must do, We must now act and close the 5 billion-tonne gap. That will seal the deal.” (The Guardian, quoted in The Age, Melbourne, 6 February 2010)

Referring with great displeasure to The Australian’s enthusiastic welcome for Professor Ian Plimer’s now well-known book dealing with “The Missing Science” in Global Warming, Professor Robert Manne dismisses “the other camp” as “best described as pseudo-sceptics”. (The Australian, 25 April 2009)

In an article titled ‘Climate change deniers are anti-science and anti-reason — and they terrify me’, Hugo Rifkind, warns readers:
“It’s like your hairdresser diagnosing multiple sclerosis.” …
“Guys, … You’re actively going out and smashing up the fire engines. You’re terrifying us.” (The Spectator, 25 November 2009. The same magazine has also frequently published sceptical pieces on the topic.)

However, when the thousands of official carbon-producing attendees (114 from the Australian Government alone) jetted back round the world to their home bases in mid-December, they were accompanied not by media bouquets for their statesmanship but by headlines and comments on the virtual failure of the Copenhagen Conference. Many of the major politicians who had backed the IPCC 100% – notably the Prime Minister of Australia (Mr Kevin Rudd) and his Minister for Climate Change (Ms Penny Wong), who had both been visibly hyperactive in the Conference deliberations and negotiations – fell silent for the following month or more while the Internet and media debate on the “science” and some of the personalities occupied acres of print and gigabytes of Internet real estate.

Thousands of critical comments and judgements were offered in the blogosphere and in the print media.

“Kevin Rudd has pledged allegiance to the near-theological belief that climate change is ‘the greatest long-term threat to us all’. He has, moreover, single-handedly transformed Hillary Clinton’s ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ into a climate change demon, warning darkly that his opponents are ‘alive in every major country, including Australia, constitute a powerful global force for inaction, and… are particularly entrenched in a range of conservative parties around the world’. The Prime Minister concludes it is ‘time to remove any polite veneer from this debate’.” (John Bolton, The Spectator, 12 December 2009)

By 2 February 2010, The Australian (from the same Rupert Murdoch empire as The Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Sunday Times, and a strong and consistent supporter of sceptical commentators and researchers) included this paragraph in an editorial, in clear condemnation of the Australian government’s ongoing campaign for a CPRS, which had unexpectedly been weakened by recent developments, including the dénouement of the Conference:
“Six weeks after Copenhagen, the IPCC report has been devalued by revelations of flimsy evidence and dodgy reporting. Many parts of the report contain solid science but that is not the point. It is increasingly impossible for governments to unquestioningly construct policy on a report now so compromised. A fresh look at scientific data on climate change is needed before politicians can ask taxpayers to embark on schemes that could lead to trillions of dollars of lost wealth around the globe in coming decades.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Iain Martin commented: “The shift since Copenhagen is palpable. The global warming movement shows clear signs of melting.” (4 February 2010)

Even the Chairman of the Academic Advisory Council of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, David Henderson, felt the need to call for an open review and evolutionary policies in “climate science” and went on to list eight types of “unprofessional conduct within the process, [already] identified before the recent revelations” (like “Over-reliance on in-group peer review procedures that do not serve as a guarantee of quality and do not ensure due disclosure”, and “Failure to take due note of comments from dissenting critics who took part in the AR4’s preparation”). Henderson further acknowledged that “Comprehensive exposure of these flaws has come from a number of independent commentators”, singling out as “outstanding” the crucial contributions of Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick (on the “Hockey Stick” graph) from 2003 on. (The Australian, 16 February 2010)

The post-Copenhagen spate of new evidence and arguments from the growing chorus of sceptics (both scientists and non-scientists) on the Internet and in the media has produced a marked change in public opinion in many countries. The major points recently scored are those relating to the IPCC’s alarming forecast of the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers by 2035 (and the related question of careless fact-checking), and the revelations about and by the Chairman of the IPCC and joint Nobel Peace Prize winner (with Al Gore), Rajendra Pachauri. The latter’s initial truculent response to the Himalayan Glacier criticism (“Glaciergate”) included the phrase “voodoo science” directed at an Indian scientific expert’s damning report which brought about the eventual admission, by Chairman Pachauri himself (unblushing), that the IPCC acknowledged and apologised for the (serious) error. So far Pachauri has survived the clamour for his resignation or dismissal. (Rajendra, I am told, means King of the Elephants in Hindi.)

In spite of the damaging revelations and admissions and their widely increased circulation, after hunkering down for what they may have thought to be the worst of the storm in their cosy bunkers, some of the official political and scientific spokespersons, and their media partisans, have just begun to pop their heads up in order to lob revisionist spin like the following:

On 18 February 2010, Australian Climate Change Minister Penny Wong reiterated her strong defence of the IPCC Report, publicly accusing its “detractors” of “peddling misinformation” and of issuing “breathless scandalised claims, implying we have all been hoodwinked by climate scientists” (Pia Akerman, The Australian, 19 February 2010).

Under the title ‘Climate wars give Science bad name’, Luke Slattery reports the following statements from three leading spokespersons for the scientific community. (The Australian, 24 February 2010, Higher Education Supplement, p. 23)

Professor Peter Coaldrake, Chairman of Universities Australia is worried by the “tabloid decimation of science”.

Anna-Maria Arabia, Executive Director of the Federation of Australian Science and Technological Societies, complains that “unbalanced debates pitching peer-reviewed science against opinion, anecdotal evidence or the loud voice of cashed up lobby groups is not healthy.”

And Professor Ian Chubb, Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, grumbles about “populists” denigrating science and “people … purporting to comment on the science and all they’re doing is seeking to turn themselves into celebrities.” (Chubb named no names, but Professors Plimer, Carter and Paltridge are Australian scientists who have advanced the sceptical “cause” with books and articles on anthropogenic global warming.)

(See Part 2.)

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