ABC chair Newman out of line on climate change

ABC chair Maurice Newman, who is not a climate scientist or even any kind of scientist at all, is pleased to hear more non-scientists talking about climate science. I reckon that apart from being a tool he’s way out of line.

He clearly has no clue about how the ABC, as the national broadcaster, should be helping the public understand this complex issue. And by speaking directly to staff about how they should be covering a specific highly-political issue he’s undermining the role of managing director Mark Scott.

Yesterday Newman (pictured) told ABC staff that the scientific consensus on climate change and anthropogenic global warming was “conventional wisdom” and “group think”.

Judging by the ABC News report, Newman’s speech was riddled with contradictions. He contrasts “wisdom and consensus” with “other points of view”, as if he does understand that there are those with actual knowledge of the field, versus those who just have an opinion.

But later…

“I’m not a scientist and I’m like anybody else in the public, I have to listen to all points of view and then make judgements when we’re asked to vote on particular policies.”

No, Newman, you don’t listen to “all points of view”. You only listen to those who know what they’re talking about.

If I need medical advice, I might seek a second opinion from another doctor, maybe a specialist. But I don’t seek out the views of a kitchenhand, a hairdresser and an architect. For “balance”.

Similarly, if I’m after an understanding of climate science, I ask climate scientists. If I’m the national broadcaster, then I find a good science broadcaster who can turn the complex jargon into a clear narrative. That’s what broadcasters do, and maybe Robyn Williams or one of his colleagues is up for the job.

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing us globally. Even if you still “have an open mind” and are “waiting for proof either way” — and what would that proof have to look like, Mr Newman? — you owe it to Australians to present a clear, reasoned perspective. And that’s not about “balancing” properly-developed scientific knowledge with every swivel-eyed serial fabricator with a media profile.

You owe it to Australians to have the ABC weigh up the validity of these points of view and present the best consensus you can — not just dump an unsorted mess onto the public’s laps and expect them to sort it out.

Yes, the ABC and its staff should be free to say, in their own voices, that some opinions are wrong. They shouldn’t live in fear of being branded “biased” simply for applying rational analysis. That the ABC has become so cowed through endless political attacks is disturbing. As its Chair you should be encouraging greater boldness, not this enfeebled “balance through mindlessness”.

It is outrageous that you’re suggesting we waste more of the public’s time and money on these self-promoting fuckwits. Their little repertoire of cherry-picked factoids has been comprehensively debunked so many times already, and our climate scientists have better things to be doing with their time.

Even if you have doubts, the risk analysis is so simple even a merchant banker and “close personal friend of John Howard” could understand it. If you don’t get it in that 10-minute video, try the follow-up.

The risk of not acting on real climate change vastly outweighs the risk of having spent money on addressing climate change which then turns out to be false — because the worst that’ll happen is we end up with a safer, more efficient society anyway.

Or if an amateur video isn’t your thing, try today’s piece in The Drum, Climate debate: opinion vs evidence, where Stephan Lewandowsky explains why your notion of “balance” is just plain wrong.

And once you’ve done that, Mr Newman, butt out. Directing the ABC’s staff is the Managing Director’s job, not yours. Your job is to somehow move beyond the blatantly political nature of your appointment and ensure the proper corporate governance of the ABC. For all Australians, not just your old mates at the Australian Stock Exchange.

[Update 9.30am: I’ve just discovered that there were more of Maurice Newman’s comments on last night’s edition of PM.]

Tanzania hit by global warming

Crikey logo

Tanzania’s climate seems to be shifting dramatically. Reporting from a World Meteorological Organisation meeting, attended by meteorologists and climatologists representing 187 countries, freelance journalist Amanda Gearing writes in Crikey today:

More rainfall seasons have been failing since the 1980s, severely affecting food supplies of people who are mostly subsistence farmers on small farms.

“If (the short rains) fail it means their survival is threatened and this becomes worse when the second rain fails because it means the whole year is a total failure and we’ve had the government intervening more often to give food assistance to the people,” Tanzanian principal agro-meteorologist Deusdedit Kashasha said. “They produce on small farms which may not be enough for a year in a good season so if they don’t even have that small amount produced it becomes pretty dire.”

Australians are meant to know about drought. We’ll see soon enough, I guess.

[Update 26 May 2008: Quite a few commenters have decided to tear this article apart. Some are “the usual suspects”, sure, but others…]

And they still get a vote…

Global warming — no, I won’t cave into the Neo-Con’s re-branding of “climate change” — may be an important election issue. But, as with so many big issues, most voters wouldn’t have a clue.

Yesterday the Daily Telegraph asked people a multiple-choice question to see whether they knew what the Kyoto Protocol was. Nearly half got it right.

Respondents were asked to select a description of Kyoto from a set of multiple options: (a) A Korean car, (b) The treaty that ended WWII, (c) An agreement on carbon emissions and (d) A Japanese banquet dish.

Almost half of the people surveyed answered correctly… But close to half of those who answered correctly admitted guessing the response.

38% thought it was the treaty ending WWII.

I shouldn’t be surprised. Back when I was working for ABC Radio I did a vox pop the morning after a state cabinet re-shuffle, asking people to name any cabinet member, old or new. 80% didn’t know what a “cabinet” was, let alone any names.

Global Warming: analysing the risk

Frame grab from Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See

Yesterday Crikey reminded me about this video. I’d seen it before, but it’s worth seeing it again — particularly during the election campaign — and showing it to as many people as possible.

The message is simple. Perhaps we can never be 100% sure that global warming is primarily caused by human activity. However the risk of this being the case and us doing nothing about it far outweighs the risk of changing our behaviour and then finding out it wasn’t necessary.

Disconnected from Nature

Photpgraph of a bleak apartment building in Pelican Street, Surry Hills

I sometimes wonder whether the major cause of stress is the simple fact that us urban humans are too disconnected from Nature. We are mammals, after all. Like every other living thing on the planet, we must be connected to the natural rhythms of seasons and tides, storms and sunny days.

Last weekend we experienced a massive storm and I took a photo of a broken umbrella. Then over the subsequent days I started to notice how the world responded…

Continue reading “Disconnected from Nature”