Monday, 9 June 2008

Australian (Anti-)Environment Foundation

In a recent article, I explored the link between organized tobacco's obfuscation of science, and the climate denial industry, based on facts reported by George Monbiot.

Today, The Australian features a letter from one Max Rheese of the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF), in effect claiming that global warming is a hoax.

I'm tired of arguing how global warming didn't end in 1998. Instead of going over that territory yet again, I decided to mosey over to the AEF's web site to see exactly what kind of organization they are. After all, with "environment" in their name, one would expect that they would at least occasionally run up against industry, even if they are coming at the matter from the right.


Here is a list of articles from their web site, with a brief commentary on each; you should of course check the originals:

  • Are environmentalists on the road to Damascus? On Line Opinion, 2 April 2008 – "it is now accepted by the head of the IPCC that whether global temperatures are benchmarked from 1998 or 2002, they have plateaued or fallen". True or false? The "facts" on which this is based are from an article by Christopher Pearson in The Australian which wait for it: quotes Jennifer Marohasy, another member of AEF as a source.
  • The Greens: illogical and treacherous, On Line Opinion, 12 May 2008 – the main thrust of the article is conveyed by this sentence: "The greens tell us that ethanol from maize, wheat or sugar, and biodiesel from palm oil is somehow more environmentally friendly than oil from oil wells." What's the reality? Do a search on "biofuels" and you will find, as you should expect from an evidence-based approach, an evolving position in which the Greens are moving away from supporting biofuels wholeheartedly to conditional support, taking into account what we now know of the risks of displacing food crops and replacing rain forest with palm oil plantations. Illogical and treacherous? What do you call attacking the Greens for a position that's way out of date?
  • Fighting for Red River Gums, The Land, 8 November 2007 – you fight for trees, it seems, by opposing increasing their protection through enlarging national parks. That wasn't so obvious. Under attack: Victorian Environmental Advisory Council (VEAC).
  • Red Gum Lock-up is not the Solution, The Age, 15 October 2007 – this time, it's the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) which is under fire for wanting to enlarge national parks.
  • Global warming zealots are stifling scientific debate, The Age, 12 July 2007 – ahead of the screening in Australia of The Great Global Warming Swindle, we are told that "If the conclusion that humans are changing climate by carbon dioxide emissions requires the omission of validated astronomical, palaeontologic and geological evidence, then the popular view of humans causing climate change is not science. We are seeing a revival of a form of zealous Western politics intertwined with poor theology, poor economics and poor logic." The Swindle movie relied on quotes out of context, manipulated data and a focus on the views of a discredited minority position. That, it seems, is perfectly sound.
  • The Great Great Barrier Reef Swindle, On Line Opinion, 19 July 2007 – the Great Barrier Reef will not only survive global warming but thrive. I suppose it takes a Marine Physicist to understand ecosystems properly. All those biologists clearly are ignorant, and corals around the world alleged to be dying of coral bleaching are probably actually dying back because global warming's too slow.
  • Climate recantation: IPCC models don't predict and are unscientific, Courier Mail June 28 2007 – This article quotes a few statements by an IPCC lead author, on a blog run by Nature in which he clarifies some aspects of what the IPCC reports. None of this is a mystery and is well known to scientists who read the research and IPCC reports. A few quotes are taken out of context and made to seem as if they destroy the entire basis of climate science. Read the original blog entry and decide for yourself. An example: "In fact there are no predictions by IPCC at all." This is no big deal. The IPCC (more accurately, the scientists whose work the IPCC summarizes) can't predict future greenhouse gas emissions because those are a factor of too many unknowns (economic growth, future technology, climate change mitigation policy). This is a problem with predicting future climate because emissions are an input to the model. So instead of predicting, they model a range of scenarios (low to high emissions, varying a number of inputs like population growth, carbon intensity of economic development and economic growth). Since they do not know how the economic and political side will play out, they can't say what the probability is of a given set of inputs. That the inputs are hard to predict doesn't mean you can't reasonably accurately model a scenario on the basis of "what if the emissions followed the following trend". If you don't understand why that is not predicting but is nonetheless useful, try again. If you still don't get it, see if they have a vacancy at the AEF. Or maybe The Australian. If desperate, try the Courier-Mail.
  • High price for load of hot air - climate change hysteria is costing us billions, Courier Mail June 18 2007 – more climate change denial.
  • GM: debate the science not the values, On Line Opinion, 4 June 2007 – "Anti GM groups have argued that the introduction of GM technology will have adverse effects on the environment without providing any evidence to substantiate their claims." I haven't done a comprehensive literature review on the subject but such evidence definitely exists. I am not making a value judgment on the quality of that evidence, just noting that the statement that there is no such evidence is manifestly false.
  • GM Canola or Nothing Soon, The Land, 26 April 2007 – pro-GM propaganda without any science, or consideration of environmental issues.
  • Green hypocrisy and environmental vandalism, On Line Opinion, March 2007 – opposition to legislation controlling land clearing (they may or may not have a point on this specific issue, but the irony here is that much of the legislation banning land clearing arose out of the Howard government's sleight of hand on Kyoto, where they had changes in land clearing in Australia scored as greenhouse gas reduction).
  • Integrity in the public debate - whose view? On Line Opinion, January 2007 – Two sentences sum it up: "Indeed the AEF has much stronger links with forestry and farming groups than it has with IPA." And: "AEF’s values, which are on the website for all to see, demand debate based on science and evidence not ideology." Consider their list of articles as evidence of a kind ...
  • An alternative perspective on land clearing, On Line Opinion, December 2006 – an earlier version of the "land clearing is good" article.
  • Fired-up forests have more impact than the loggers, The Age, November 2006 – logging is not so bad because major fires can be more destructive. Maybe, but this is a rather relativistic argument, isn't it? If you clearcut an old-growth forest, it's hard to see how a fire could be more destructive.
  • Integrity in the Public Debate - Whose View?" - Not Published by The Age, 2006 – This is a new one on me: you don't normally cite the place that didn't publish you. Good on The Age. In any case they managed to publish this later at On Line Opinion. Crybabies.
  • First Conference for New Environment Group, Border Watch, Mt Gambier, South Australia and The Daily Mercury, Mackay, Queensland, September 2006 – PR for AEF, nothing of real substance.
  • Not easy being green but we'll prosper, Herald-Sun, August 2006 – Two sentences again: "The green lobby has demanded and been given the mantle of environmental guardians and as a result have become rich and influential beyond their due." And: "Many of its members are pro-biotechnology, pro-nuclear power, pro-modern farming, pro-economic growth, pro-business and pro-environment." Guys, why did you pick industries that have no financial clout to back you when the traditional greenies have gone where the money is: the poor and the marginalized. Don't spend too much time wallowing in self-pity. You may drown.
  • Green group wants practical policies, The Land, August 2006 – One sentence: "A couple of years ago some farmers, foresters, fishers, university professors and others, got together in Ballarat to start a new environment group, the Australian Environment Foundation (AEF) – an environment group that believes in taking an evidence-based approach to issues." Guys, where's your evidence? Everything since this article has been bluster. Not a single paper listed on your site has appeared in an academic conference or journal, not even a third-rate one.
  • No More Excuses, The Courier Mail, August 2006 – proposal to get on with water alternatives, recycling, desalination. Other than that the article says nothing about environmental impacts (e.g. the arguments against desalination) at least it actually is about alternatives. Not just a beat-up on environmentalists.
  • Facts Catch the Loudmouths on the Hop, The Sydney Morning Herald, October 2005 – in favour of Kangaroo culls and eliminating feral invaders like cats. A fair start: whether you agree with culling or not, he knows what he's talking about.

There we have it. The vast majority of the articles (pretty much everything after the earliest two) are beat-ups on real environmental organizations, propaganda for climate change inactivism and defense of industry positions.

Despite the claim of being "evidence-based" there is no serious research behind any of the articles; taking words of others out of context is fair game, as is perpetuating myths like it stopped warming in 1998, and presenting opinion as fact.

After all this, that the AEF is accused of being a front for a conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) should come as no surprise. Their denial of this claim is not very convincing (see "Integrity in the public debate - whose view?" above). Sadly, Australia's national daily is unable to see this for what it is, and allows these people free publicity without warning the public.

As for global warming being a hoax: methinks it's the AEF that's the hoax.

No wonder so many people are still buying large cars and SUVs; what a pity for them that the only signal they are getting that they are doing the wrong thing is that they can't afford to refuel...

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