Durkin down under

by John Quiggin on July 12, 2007

Under intense pressure from the rightwing commentariat (several members of which have been appointed to its board by the Howard government) the Australian Broadcasting Corporation presented a shortened version of Martin Durkin’s The Great Global Warming Swindle last night. Our local climate science delusionists looked forward to this event with keen anticipation, but they were in for a nasty shock.

The film was followed by an interview with Durkin, undertaken by ABC reporter Tony Jones, which resembled one of those exposes of dodgy used car salesman that are staples of current affairs. Jones had plenty of background research on Durkin’s previous outings, the tobacco and oil links of his sources like Singer and Seitz, and interviews with climate scientists pointing out yet more errors. Durkin looked pretty stunned, but ended insisting that his film had no flaws.

After this came a panel discussion and first up was pundit Michael Duffy who had pushed the Durkin film hard. Asked straight out whether he still endorsed it, Duffy could do no better than complain that Jones should have been similarly tough on Sir Nicholas Stern (a pretty amazing piece of equivalence, but no matter). Another leading delusionist, Bob Carter, who had called the film “honest” and “accurate” was even more equivocal, launching into a postmodernist analogy about creationism. After that, the real scientist on the panel took even more of Durkin’s claims to pieces.

Then the studio audience was called in. Duffy and Carter had been getting plenty of cheers, and the questions revealed why. The local LaRouchites* had turned out in force, with incomprehensible rants about Kepler and similar. By comparison with them, even the lunar right Lavoisier Group, represented on the panel by Ray Evans, looked sane.

After that came the late-night current affairs program Lateline. One omission from the version shown in Australia was the interview with MIT oceanographer Carl Wunsch, who complained of misrepresentation. In the interview with Jones, Durkin compounded the offence by suggesting that Wunsch had backed out under pressure. The interview with Wunsch gave him time to explain how drastically he had been misrepresented.

There was some criticism of the ABC for airing the film at all, but the outcome was a big win for Voltaire, and for science.

Here’s a few more links

  • I think LaRouche used to accuse the RCP of being Bushite narcoterrorists, but obviously all has been forgiven.

{ 31 comments }

1

terence 07.13.07 at 12:49 am

John,

The ABC’s sever is down. I think you’ve Slashdotted them.

2

terence 07.13.07 at 12:49 am

sever = server – sigh

3

Shelby 07.13.07 at 1:14 am

It’s a pity it took so much pressure to get the film aired — plainly there’s substantial public interest in seeing whether there is scientific controversy over global warming, and if so what forms it takes. I haven’t seen Swindle so have no opinion on it, but if it makes as good a case as any for its position, it should be both broadcast and critiqued.

It’d be nice if some of the arguments on the other side got more mainstream scrutiny and tough questioning similar to what John describes here.

4

Henry 07.13.07 at 1:23 am

It’d be nice if some of the arguments on the other side got more mainstream scrutiny and tough questioning similar to what John describes here.

They did – and they survived it. That’s how ideas become part of the scientific consensus.

5

Neil 07.13.07 at 1:48 am

Science is not best debated in public forums like TV shows or opinion pages. That’s what we have scientists for.

6

SG 07.13.07 at 3:00 am

plainly there’s substantial public interest in seeing whether there is scientific controversy

plainly? The pressure came from the ABC board, a bunch of conservative pundits appointed by an increasingly unpopular prime minister, in a country where pretty much everyone accepts the truth of global warming. I`m not sure that there was “plainly” any interest in this documentary outside the rarified atmosphere of the stupid right.

7

Shelby 07.13.07 at 4:15 am

So, despite all the noise about how this is the biggest issue facing the world, despite the success of Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, despite endless hype about the Kyoto Protocols, you’re convinced that no-one really cares?

I think there’s considerable public interest, not least because of all the proposals to significantly change a lot of people’s daily lives in response to global warming. And I never said public interest in Swindle, rather in the state of the science — re-read my comment above.

Regarding the arguments advanced by Swindle’s critics, and by those whom it criticizes, I don’t see them receive nearly the rigor of questioning that flows in the other direction. I also don’t think the science is yet so clear-cut that they should get off this lightly.

Science is not best debated in public forums like TV shows or opinion pages. That’s what we have scientists for.

Oh yes, don’t worry your pretty little heads — the scientists will work it all out and tell you what to do. And their inherent nobility will ensure they reach the best conclusions possible.

More realistically, science should absolutely be debated in public forums. Otherwise nobody will understand or trust it. Moreover, there are a lot of people with personal/commercial/political agendas on all sides of the global warming issue, all spinning away in their own service. We need to be able to sort through their competing claims. Even if it can be proven 95%+ certain that global warming is driven purely by human activity, and 90% of it is due to greenhouse gas emissions, that doesn’t tell us how fast climate change is likely to happen, or where, or with what side effects, etc. The science is very uncertain on all of these issues, because they’re so complex.

Because the science has such significant public-policy implications, the public needs to be involved throughout the discussions of what is going on, why, and what should be done about it. Shutting out the public — or only feeding it pre-chewed pablum — is a recipe for disaster: poor policies and/or fierce resistance.

I believe global warming is happening, and that human activity is a significant component of it. I believe a lot of study and immediate action are both required. I believe that economic growth and the development of new technologies and methodologies are the most promising ways to ultimately counter global warming. I’m not convinced to a certainty of any of this. But I do know for damn sure that mocking the very idea that your position can be criticized, is immensely counterproductive. THAT is why it is crucial to publicly debate these issues, even if it means taking weak opponents a bit too seriously.

8

snuh 07.13.07 at 5:58 am

Oh yes, don’t worry your pretty little heads—the scientists will work it all out and tell you what to do. And their inherent nobility will ensure they reach the best conclusions possible.

poll after poll in australia has shown the public have already made up their mind: they accept the truth of human-induced climate change. the thing they’re worrying their “pretty little heads” about is why our government won’t do more about it.

anyway, i just don’t see the compelling public interest in having the national broadcaster air this silly documentary. just because an issue is of major public interest does not mean it’s the duty of a broadcaster to air some random yahoo’s uninformed, objectively incorrect views about it.

9

Nix 07.13.07 at 6:54 am

On top of that, `inherent nobility’ has nothing to do with it. It’s more that a scientist who can prove a major accepted theory wrong is pretty much set for life… of course you’d better be right: claiming loudly that a major theory is wrong when it isn’t is not a good move. (See HIV denial…)

10

Tom Fuller 07.13.07 at 6:59 am

IIRC, when it was shown here in the UK, much the same happened. However, one specific part of the film that discussed the timing of past global warming events vis a vis the timing of carbon dioxide increases (where the climate warmed up to 800 years before carbon release began) got about two days of coverage in the media (at about the level of gee, that’s curious) and then disappeared without being resolved. Nobody denied that the timing was curious. Nobody explained it in terms of climate change. Nobody refuted it. Or perhaps all this happened in media that I don’t get exposed to–can someone enlighten me?

11

derek 07.13.07 at 7:25 am

tom fuller, it’s rather simple really. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is one of the things that can increase global temperature, but it’s not the only thing that can. It’s just the only thing that is, in our current situation.

Now, in past situations, one of two things can have happened: either a small CO2 rise causes a small temperature rise that causes a larger CO2 release, in a feedback cycle; or something other than CO2 causes a small temperature rise that causes a larger CO2 release, in the same sort of feedback cycle.

In either case, the large temperature rise is caused by the CO2 release even though the CO2 release lags the temperature rise. It’s entirely reasonable for such a thing to happen in cases of positive feedback, and those who claim otherwise—that it’s some sort of disproof, or evidence that the causality is backwards—are being either ignorant of dynamics, or dishonest.

Finally, I just want to repeat something that bears repeating, because it’s always obscured by the deniers. The physical properties of CO2 with respect to solar and infrared radiation, that cause the greenhouse effect, are not a guess based on climate records. They’re a known physical property measured in laboratories. It would be a puzzle for climatologists to explain the curious phenomenon of increased CO2 not causing a temperature increase, if that were to happen.

12

John Quiggin 07.13.07 at 8:24 am

Derek is right. The positive feedback was well explained by David Karoly, the real climate scientist on the ABC panel. As Tom said, this was one point without a good public refutation (though I think it was covered on realclimate.org).

13

Stuart 07.13.07 at 9:00 am

Most recent bit realclimate did on the CO2 lag in historical records:

the-lag-between-temp-and-co2

14

Tony 07.13.07 at 9:10 am

The ABC Q&A session was highly entertaining. You know that the sceptics have nothing left once they start attracting Larouche types. And what was all that bit about eugenics?

15

alphie 07.13.07 at 10:37 am

Venus –

Atmosphere: 96.5% Carbon dioxide

Average surface temperature: 862 degrees Fahrenheit

Think Bush’s war advisor provided us with a…warning?

16

Salad In 07.13.07 at 11:22 am

You forgot to mention the piquant bit of news that Tony Jones held no postmortem following Gore’s polemic. One must ask ‘why not’.

17

John Quiggin 07.13.07 at 11:45 am

Just guessing here, salad in, but the fact that the ABC has not aired An Inconvenient Truth might be part of the explanation.

18

vavatch 07.13.07 at 1:44 pm

Can you please stop labeling your opponents “deniers”? It is extremely distasteful and arrogant, and leads me to think that you completely lack any sort of open mind and that you have a fanatical agenda of some sort. Painting sceptics of your claims as denialist lunatics just means I should be very wary of listening to anything you have to say.

19

dave heasman 07.13.07 at 1:53 pm

“Painting sceptics of your claims as denialist lunatics…”

They’re not denialist lunatics and they weren’t charactereised as such.
They were the best polemicists that money could buy.

20

Salad In 07.13.07 at 1:56 pm

That’s true John. However, Howard and Rudd haven’t made any movies which were screened on the ABC but that doesn’t stop Tony from asking ex-politicians to sit in judgement on certain political issues. Why doesn’t big Tony form a panel of experts and seek their opinions on Gore’s polemic? It’s been in the market place long enough for opinions to be formed.

21

bi 07.13.07 at 3:09 pm

In related news, the “Gore buys carbon offsets from his own company” story which has been bouncing around in right-wing echo chambers… turns out to be bogus.

But should we be surprised that these right-wing talking heads obviously have no respect for facts and fact-checking?

22

Tony 07.13.07 at 3:51 pm

vavatch — I beg to differ. Having debated these “sceptics” countless times in blog threads, one thing I’ve learned is that many of them steadfastly don’t listen to reason, even while protesting that sound science is their only guide. Most tellingly, their credulity in linking to the same denialist sites (ClimateAudit, junkscience.com, TCS, AEI, etc.) and the ease with they tar leading scientists such as James Hansen with having ulterior motives, is the textbook example of denial.

Go to denialism blog, my friends!

23

Tony 07.13.07 at 3:52 pm

bi — Thanks for that link. I suspected as much, but debunking these myths takes so much time.

24

Stuart 07.13.07 at 3:52 pm

Can you please stop labeling your opponents “deniers”? It is extremely distasteful and arrogant, and leads me to think that you completely lack any sort of open mind and that you have a fanatical agenda of some sort. Painting sceptics of your claims as denialist lunatics just means I should be very wary of listening to anything you have to say.

Denialists and sceptics both exist within the global warming debate – sceptics will at least be given respect in general (at least on the better sites where discussion takes place), denialists shouldn’t be, as they are normally talking nonscience, or at best things that have been repeatedly debunked or disproved and easy explanations are available all over the web (and in scientific, replicable, studies).

Basically it is the difference between people who doubt the cost/benefits of the manned space programmes (sceptics) and people that think the moon landings were faked (denialists). Do you think that NASA should show respect to those claiming the moon landings were faked when their only evidence is just evidence of their own lack of knowledge of physics?

25

Shelby 07.13.07 at 4:08 pm

Stuart,

Unfortunately people slinging around the word “denialist” are not always as precise as they could be and end up including sceptics. I’m afraid your analogy is misleading, for two reasons. First, the science underlying global warming claims is in no way as strong as that underlying “we went to the moon” claims. Second, “we went to the moon” is a single, discrete claim. “Global warming” is both a specific phenomenon and a host of related claims — it’s caused by people, it’s driven by CO2, jet planes cause X amount of it, it will/won’t derail the Gulf Stream, it will drown/parch/bake region Y, etc.

It may be fair (though I think counterproductive) to label people who outright deny the existence of global warming with a label derived from the Holocaust; extending that label to people who are unconvinced, or who dispute specific sub-claims related to global warming, is disingenuous and needlessly insulting, and shows the name-caller’s close-mindedness.

26

Marc 07.13.07 at 4:25 pm

The scientific argument on climate change is basically over, and it is now simply a matter of degree. I am no longer willing to be respectful of denialists because they have the same scientific status as creationists. The people for whom this label is appropriate repeat discredited arguments, lie, and mislead. I respect scientific debates – I’m a scientist, after all – but when people inject deliberate distortions and falsehoods into the mix they are no longer worth engaging.

Here is a good example: the role of the Sun in climate change. We know that changes in the Sun could induce changes in climate, and we know that changes in the orbit of the Earth are responsible for things like ice ages. We’ve been monitoring the Sun for 30 years now, and it hasn’t done anything interesting over the past three decades. Other phenomena – changes in UV flux, cosmic rays, etc. – are in decline during the same period where the Earth is getting warmer. And yet we will see denialists claiming that the Sun is responsible for any temperature changes because Mars/Triton/Pluto/whatever is getting warmer. Mentioning the latter without acknowledging the former is a mark of either ignorance or dishonesty. (The ‘planet warming’ evidence is a mixture of thin evidence and other causes, if you’re interested). We see people making false claims about the climate record; false accusations of fraud against scientists whose only crime is a result that they don’t like; and the list goes on and on and on.

After enough time, you can fairly conclude that you’re dealing with people who really are in the business of denial rather than in the business of being a skeptic.

27

bi 07.13.07 at 6:01 pm

Tony: Just Google it. :)

Marc: Right on. The denialists have been repeatedly peddling their obvious crapola over and over again — “I’m wrong, but I’m still right!” The “Gore buys carbon offsets from his own company” story is just another case in point. The word “denialist” is therefore an accurate, unbiased label for them.

28

jet 07.13.07 at 7:01 pm

Bah, no one even realizes how fast technology is moving to allow us to make a profit controlling global warming, because they’re caught up debating if the Earth will swallow NYC (as Al Gore would have us believe), or it is all a conspiracy by the US-haters liberals as most on the right would have us believe. Wind power is already cheaper than natural gas fired power plants. Coupled with sodium-sulfur batteries, wind power can completely replace natural gas plants for just slightly over a gas plant’s cost. Does anyone believe that in 10 more years, these costs won’t continue to plummet as they already have (1981 $.31KwH 2007 $.06Kwh) making them cost effective enough that greedy corporations will be all over them?

So in 50 years, it is a pretty safe bet that coal plants won’t be cost effective and on their 10-20 year life-cycles will just be phased out. And since coal is the only major contributor of CO2 worth crying about, we can continue to burn all the petroleum in our giant silly tonca toys that we want. Or at least global warming won’t be a reason for controlling oil use.

Nu-cu-ler is also a pretty good option where the wind doesn’t blow.

29

bi 07.13.07 at 7:03 pm

“I’m wrong, but I’m still right! I’m wrong, but I’m still right! I’m wrong, but I’m still right! I’m wrong, but I’m still right! I’m wrong, but I’m still right!”

Again and again and again…

30

stuart 07.13.07 at 10:14 pm

It may be fair (though I think counterproductive) to label people who outright deny the existence of global warming with a label derived from the Holocaust; extending that label to people who are unconvinced, or who dispute specific sub-claims related to global warming, is disingenuous and needlessly insulting, and shows the name-caller’s close-mindedness.

People that are unconvinced of what? That seems like an entirely spurious addition to your argument. Are you trying to include people that don’t know even the basics of the subject and then try to discuss it online, then I have no more interest in avoiding insulting them either, as its not like the internet is an information desert on this subject.

The part about people who dispute specific sub-claims is exactly what I meant by sceptics, there are plenty of areas that need further research and modelling. It depends on the claim of course, when people start talking about Mars as some sort of barometer for whether the Sun is heating up or putting out more cosmic rays, then personally I feel free to insult them. If you want to discuss the modelling of the effects of cloud cover and how that might influence the temperature in 50 years time by +-0.2 degree or so, or the future estimated melt rates of Greenland/WAIS and therefore the estimated sea levels in a couple of decades time then fair enough, as those areas need work and will likely inform policy at a later date. The uncertainties are small enough not to know that we are warming the world, by a noticeable amount, sea levels are going to rise, and people are going to be effected.

There is no doubt given current knowledge that we should at least be funding CO2 reductions – anything that is long term economically beneficial on its own terms for now, but also non-CO2 increasing energy source research should be being funded by all the industrialised nations far more.

For example the US subsidies what is a risky industry given this science (Oil) for in the region of $20-55 billion (ignoring any possibility that the Iraq war might count as a subsidy to the industry) and Coal was granted a $9 billion subsidy in 2005 in excess of the others it gets. These are mature industries that should be funding themselves, especially given the possible climate change externalities that they aren’t paying for yet. All forms of renewable energy get less than a billion, or maybe 2-3% of the funding just the oil part of the CO2 producing energy companies get. Not smart government spending given the likely challenges we have ahead. The EU isn’t much better btw, but it has been improving in recent years at least, the US has been getting worse as the evidence gets more compelling.

31

John Quiggin 07.14.07 at 1:54 am

As indicate above, I’m happy to use “delusionist”, so as to avoid any unfair connotations of “denialist”. But it’s clear that Durkin and most of his guests are in the business of selling delusions (there were a few, like Paul Reiter, with legitimate gripes about particular aspects of the IPCC process, rather than an ideological/financial agenda, but definitely the minority).

Moreover, there are plenty of willing buyers, for whom these delusions represent what they would like to be true.

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