A brief history of Al Gore’s climate missions to Australia


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Al Gore has been visiting Australia this week – partly because he has a new film to promote, but also because he and Australian climate policy have had a surprisingly long entanglement. Given that this year is likely to be a bloody one as far as climate policy goes, don’t be surprised if he’s back again before 2017 is out.

Gore has a long and honourable record on climate change, although ironically his weakest period on climate coincided with the peak of his political power, as US Vice President.

As he says in his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, he was first alerted to climate change by Roger Revelle, who can justly be called the (American) father of climate science. On becoming a Congressman, Gore was part of the move by Democrats to sustain momentum on climate policy that had stalled with the arrival of Ronald Reagan as President.

Gore organised Congressional hearings in 1981, and 1982 (NASA climatologist James Hansen’s first congressional testimony).

Even back then, the familiar political narrative around climate change had already formed, as journalism academic David Sachsman recalls:

The CBS Evening News for March 25, 1982, included a two minute and 50 second story by David Culhane on the greenhouse effect. Chemist Melvin Calvin raised the threat of global warming, Representative Al Gore called for further research, and James Kane of the Energy Department said there was no need for haste.

This report from the following year tells a similar tale, noting the political difficulty of solving the climate problem:

A youthful Gore in 1983.

By the time of the seminal Villach conference of October 1985, Gore was a Senator, and helped to organise the first Senate hearings since 1979. Gore’s colleague, Republican Senator David Durenberger remarked that “grappling with this problem [of climate change] is going to be just about as easy as nailing Jello to the wall”.

The following year, as Joshua Howe notes in his excellent book on the politics and science of climate change, Behind the Curve (2014), the then Senator Joe Biden introduced an initiative mandating that the president commission an executive-level task force to devise a strategy for responding to global warming – a strategy the president was meant to deliver to Congress within one year.

Gore scored another political victory on May 8, 1989, when Hansen testified that George H. W. Bush’s administration had ordered him to change the conclusions in written testimony regarding the seriousness of global warming

From Vice President to movie star

However, as Vice President to Bill Clinton, Gore disappointed environmentalists. An energy tax was defeated by industry lobbyists in 1993, and the Clinton administration (perhaps wisely) opted not to try and pass the Kyoto Protocol through a defiant Senate.

After leaving the West Wing he embraced Hollywood, where his budding movie career attracted derision in some quarters, despite the hefty policy achievements earlier in Gore’s career.

Besides an Inconvenient Truth (see here for an account of its impact in Australia), Gore “starred” in another movie, the 1990 philosophy-based talkie Mindwalk, starring Sam Waterston as Senator Jack Edwards, a thinly veiled version of Gore.

Former Australian industry minister Ian Macfarlane certainly considered Gore more entertainer than policymaker when speculating on his reasons for visiting in 2006:

Well, Al Gore’s here to sell tickets to a movie, and no one can begrudge him that. It’s just entertainment, and really that’s all it is.

Gore and Australia

Gore has been on these shores many times. During his May 2003 visit Gore urged the then Prime Minister John Howard to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. He met with the then New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, and also with former Liberal leader and current climate hawk John Hewson. He spoke at an event co-hosted by the Business Council of Australia to advocate sustainable development.

After a controversial visit in 2005, Gore visited twice in 2006. As Joan Staples notes in her PhD, he teamed up with the Australian Conservation Foundation to launch his Climate Project:

Having reached out to the wider NGO sector, to doctors, unions, and the corporate sector, this initiative then moved ACF’s efforts towards influencing individual citizens. Gore’s organisation aimed to harness the power of mass mobilisation by expanding the message of his film An Inconvenient Truth.

Gore returned in 2007 and spoke at a A$1,000-a-plate event on the Sustainability and Cleantech Investment Market, with Carr introducing him while clutching a copy of Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance.

He had his share of Australian critics too. On a frosty morning in July 2009 Gore’s launch speech of the Safe Climate Australia initiative attracted around 30 members of the newly formed Climate Sceptics Party, who handed out leaflets and wore t-shirts bearing their slogan: “Carbon Really Ain’t Pollution – CRAP”.

Gore also offered an opinion on Kevin Rudd’s proposed climate legislation:

It’s not what I would have written, I would have written it as a stronger bill, but I’m realistic about what can be accomplished in the political system as it is.

Gore seems to have (wisely) eschewed direct involvement during the tumultuous Julia Gillard years, but pitched in in October 2013 when the new Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to link bushfires with climate change.

The Palmer moment

Perhaps the most bizarre, rub-my-eyes-did-that-just-happen moment came in June 2014, when Gore stood alongside Clive Palmer in a deal to save some of Gillard’s carbon policy package from Tony Abbott’s axe.

In July 2015, with the Paris climate conference approaching, Gore visited on a whistlestop tour that included meetings with senior business figures (BHP, National Australia Bank, Qantas, and Victorian state government ministers) to try and build momentum ahead of the crucial summit.

Looking into the crystal ball

Despite his Nobel Prize shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, not everyone is a fan, with Canadian journalism academic Chris Russill arguing that Gore’s approach “narrows our understanding of climate change discourse”.

And just because some climate sceptics think he’s a very naughty boy – and can change the weather by his mere presence – that doesn’t mean he’s the messiah.

Ultimately, we all need to find new and better ways of exerting more sustained pressure, not only on policymakers but also other institutions and norm-makers in our society, to change the trajectory we’re currently on.

The ConversationGore will keep banging on about climate change. He will turn up to give speeches, and will be both praised and derided. What matters is not what he does the same, but what we all do differently.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A brief history of fossil-fuelled climate denial


John Cook, The University of Queensland

The fossil fuel industry has spent many millions of dollars on confusing the public about climate change. But the role of vested interests in climate science denial is only half the picture.

Interest in this topic has spiked with the latest revelation regarding coalmining company Peabody Energy. After Peabody filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, documentation became available revealing the scope of Peabody’s funding to third parties. The list of funding recipients includes trade associations, lobby groups and climate-contrarian scientists.

This latest revelation is significant because in recent years, fossil fuel companies have become more careful to cover their tracks. An analysis by Robert Brulle found that from 2003 to 2010, organisations promoting climate misinformation received more than US$900 million of corporate funding per year.

However, Brulle found that from 2008, open funding dropped while funding through untraceable donor networks such as Donors Trust (otherwise known as the “dark money ATM”) increased. This allowed corporations to fund climate science denial while hiding their support.

The decrease in open funding of climate misinformation coincided with efforts to draw public attention to the corporate funding of climate science denial. A prominent example is Bob Ward, formerly of the UK Royal Society, who in 2006 challenged Exxon-Mobil to stop funding denialist organisations.

John Cook interviews Bob Ward at COP21, Paris.

The veils of secrecy have been temporarily lifted by the Peabody bankruptcy proceedings, revealing the extent of the company’s third-party payments, some of which went to fund climate misinformation. However, this is not the first revelation of fossil fuel funding of climate misinformation – nor is it the first case involving Peabody.

In 2015, Ben Stewart of Greenpeace posed as a consultant to fossil fuel companies and approached prominent climate denialists, offering to pay for reports promoting the benefits of fossil fuels. The denialists readily agreed to write fossil-fuel-friendly reports while hiding the funding source. One disclosed that he had been paid by Peabody to write contrarian research. He had also appeared as an expert witness and written newspaper op-eds.

John Cook interviews Ben Stewart, Greenpeace at COP21, Paris.

The bigger picture of fossil-fuelled denial

Peabody’s funding of climate change information and misinformation is one episode in a much larger history of fossil-fuel-funded misinformation. An analysis of more than 40,000 texts by contrarian sources found that organisations who received corporate funding published more climate misinformation, a trend that increased over time.

The following figure shows the use of the claim that “CO₂ is good” (a favourite argument of Peabody Energy) has increased dramatically among corporate-funded sources compared with unfunded ones.

Prevalence of denialist claim from corporate funded and non-funded sources.
Farrell (2015)

In 1991, Western Fuels Association combined with other groups representing fossil fuel interests to produce a series of misinformation campaigns. This included a video promoting the positive benefits of carbon dioxide, with hundreds of free copies sent to journalists and university libraries. The goal of the campaign was to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact)”, attempting to portray the impression of an active scientific debate about human-caused global warming.

ExxonSecrets.org has been tracking fossil-fuel-funded misinformation campaigns for more than two decades – documenting more than A$30 million of funding from Exxon alone to denialist think tanks from 1998 to 2014.

Exxon’s funding of climate science denial over this period is particularly egregious considering that it knew full well the risks from human-caused climate change. David Sassoon, founder of Pulitzer Prize-winning news organisation Inside Climate News led an investigation into Exxon’s internal research, discovering that its own scientists had warned the company of the harmful impacts of fossil fuel burning as long ago as the 1970s.

John Cook interviews David Sassoon from Inside Climate News.

Even Inside Climate News’s revelation of industry’s knowledge of the harmful effects of climate change before engaging in misinformation campaigns has precedence. In 2009, an internal report for the Global Climate Coalition, a group representing fossil fuel industry interests, was leaked to the press.

It showed that the coalition’s own scientific experts had advised it in 1995 that “[t]he scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO₂ on climate is well established and cannot be denied”. Nevertheless, the organisation proceeded to deny climate science and promote the benefits of fossil fuel emissions.

Ideology: the other half of an “unholy alliance”

However, to focus solely on industry’s role in climate science denial misses half the picture. The other significant player is political ideology. At an individual level, numerous surveys (such as here, here and and here) have found that political ideology is the biggest predictor of climate science denial.

People who fear the solutions to climate change, such as increased regulation of industry, are more likely to deny that there is a problem in the first place – what psychologists call “motivated disbelief”.

Consequently, groups promoting political ideology that opposes market regulation have been prolific sources of misinformation about climate change. This productivity has been enabled by the many millions of dollars flowing from the fossil fuel industry. Naomi Oreskes, co-author of Merchants of Doubt, refers to this partnership between vested interests and ideological groups as an “unholy alliance”.

Reducing the influence

To reduce the influence of climate science denial, we need to understand it. This requires awareness of both the role of political ideology and the support that ideological groups have received from vested interests.

Without this understanding, it’s possible to make potentially inaccurate accusations such as climate denial being purely motivated by money, or that it is intentionally deceptive. Psychological research tells us that ideologically driven confirmation bias (misinformation) is almost indistinguishable from intentional deception (disinformation).

Video from free online course Making Sense of Climate Science Denial (launches August 9).

The fossil fuel industry has played a hugely damaging role in promoting misinformation about climate change. But without the broader picture including the role of political ideology, one can build an incomplete picture of climate science denial, leading to potentially counterproductive responses.

The Conversation

John Cook, Climate Communication Research Fellow, Global Change Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

500 years of drought and flood: trees and corals reveal Australia’s climate history


Patrick Baker, University of Melbourne; Chris Turney, UNSW Australia, and Jonathan Palmer, UNSW Australia

Australia is the land of drought and flooding rains, and in a recent paper we’ve shown that’s been the case for more than 500 years. As part of our Australia and New Zealand Drought Atlas we’ve published the most detailed record of drought and wet periods (or “pluvials”) since 1500.

The data reveal that despite the severity of the Millennium Drought, the five worst single years of drought happened before 1900. But 2011 was the wettest year in our 513-year record.

The dominant theme of Australia’s drought history is variability. We may get one year of extremely wet conditions (for example in 2011) or we might get six years of extremely dry conditions (such as 2003-2009).

North Queensland may be flooded out while Victoria suffers with drought. Or in extreme circumstances, the entire eastern half of Australia might be bone dry.

Even as people change the climate by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, variability will continue to play a large role in Australia’s climate. This year one of the strongest El Niños on record is kicking into high gear in the tropical Pacific, driving global temperatures higher still.

To tease out these complex patterns we need to look deep into the past.

It’s in the trees (and coral)

The existing drought records are relatively short and geographically patchy. Measurements from weather stations rarely extend beyond the early 1900s and informal historical records from diaries and ships logs — some of which go back to the first days of European settlement in Australia — are relatively uncommon and limited to a few sites. This has limited our understanding of drought variability to what has been directly observed over the past 120 years.

To extend the drought record beyond 1900, we used 177 tree ring and coral records from Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia to reconstruct summer (spanning December to February) drought conditions in New Zealand and most of Australia.

Trees and corals are sensitive to their environments. For example, trees grow less in dry years and more in wet years. We carefully examined, dated, and measured each growth ring in thousands of trees and then compared the patterns of growth to an index of drought variability, the Palmer Drought Severity Index.

One of the researchers (Kathy Allen) retrieving a tree core from a king billy pine in Tasmania.
Patrick Baker, Author provided

This index takes into account air temperature, rainfall, and soil water-holding capacity to give an indication of the water status of the environment. However, the data only extend back to 1900. By using the statistical relationship between drought and our tree rings and coral, we can translate the growth patterns into data going back hundreds of years.

What we found was a remarkably rich and complex history of wet and dry conditions, particularly across eastern Australia.

A slice of coral from the Great Barrier Reef, photographed under UV light. The lines show periods when sediment from flood plumes affect coastal reefs.
Eric Matson, Australian Institute of Marine Science, Author provided

A history of drought

Over the past five centuries we found extreme droughts similar to the recent Millennium Drought, but we also discovered wet periods that lasted decades.

We found short droughts of brutal intensity that blanketed all of eastern Australia, while other droughts of similar intensity were confined to small pockets across the continent.

The atlas also provides new geographical context for early historical droughts. For example, diaries from early settlers near Sydney documented a crippling drought in 1791-92. Our data demonstrate that this was one of the worst drought years in the past 500 years with extraordinarily dry conditions that stretched from Cape York to eastern Tasmania. The early colony was fortunate to survive.

1792 was one of the worst drought years Australia has experienced since 1500.
Patrick Baker, Author provided

An obvious question is how do our modern droughts and floods stack up against earlier events? Of the five most extreme single years of drought in the past 500 years (when averaged across all of eastern Australia), not one occurred after 1900.

In contrast, two of the five wettest years in our data took place after 1950 (2011 was the wettest year in the 513-year record). The 1700s were particularly dry with three of the five worst drought years, but also notably had the most prolonged wet period (1730-60).

In eastern Australia, wet and dry conditions cycle back and forth over several decades, driven by the oceans around us.

When we compared the data to a recently developed index of changing atmospheric pressure called the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), we found remarkable consistency between the two. The IPO tells us when we have unexpectedly warmer or cooler sea surface temps and air pressures. The IPO also interacts with El Nino and La Nina to make them stronger or weaker.

When the IPO was positive, eastern Australia experienced drought conditions for several decades; when it was negative, eastern Australia experienced pervasive wet conditions. From 1999-2012 we were in a negative phase of the IPO; now it appears we have just entered a strongly positive phase.

You may have noticed that the Millennium Drought happened in a negative IPO phase. Our data show that there is a strong relationship between the phases of the IPO and drought – until around 1976. After that the relationship gets weaker. Why is a question for further research, but one possibility is human-caused climate change.

This new data will help us understand what drives these swings between drought and floods, and help us predict what might happen in the future.

The Conversation

Patrick Baker, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Silviculture and Forest Ecology, University of Melbourne; Chris Turney, ARC Laureate Fellow and Professor of Earth Sciences and Climate Change, UNSW Australia, and Jonathan Palmer, Research Fellow, Climate Change Research Centre, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bulahdelah


Kevin's Daily Photo, Video, Quote or Link

So I was right about my day when I spoke of it yesterday. Not a lot going on today, so today’s post will be more about yesterday. I hope that makes perfect sense to everyone – it sounded even worse with the original way I was going to write it (I was trying to be clever, so went for simplicity in the end).

Bombah Point Ferry

The Punt at Bombah Point On the Punt

On the Punt

To get to Bulahdelah from Hole in the Wall, you need to go via Bombah Point and the ferry service there. I guess you could also call it a punt. Many people still call it that. Anyhow, as the pictures show, it doesn’t cover a great distance. How much is the charge for this journey – at the moment it’s $5.00 AU. Seems a little excessive for something that’s over in less than 5 minutes. Still, there is a…

View original post 394 more words

Earth Hour 2012: Tonight


The link below is to an article on Earth Hour 2012, which is being held tonight. The article below includes a history of the event, which is now a global movement for ‘change.’ However, just how much change is brought about by Earth Hour is still a matter of debate. There seems to be more of an emphasis on going beyond the hour this time round, which is a far better way of drawing awareness to the need of green energy for the future and the major issue of climate change that is facing the planet. If the event is to is bring lasting change, we need to move beyond the hour as just a fun thing to do and actually bring about change to the way we live our lives the world over. There is a long way to go, as can be seen with the great difficulty of reaching any useful agreements on CO2 emission reductions and the like. Hopefully awareness can bring about real change through this event.

For more visit:
http://www.kleenexmums.com.au/sustainability/earth-hour/the-hour-of-no-power/

Texas: Drought Kills 1/2 Bilion Trees


The drought that has been afflicting Texas has led to some incredible losses in the number of trees there. It is one of the worst droughts the state has ever faced in recorded history.

Read more at:
http://news.mongabay.com/2011/1221-hance_texas_trees.html