Australia's renewables adviser scrapes the bottom of the climate denialist barrel

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Dick Warburton cites a long-debunked petition to argue climate scientists are split on the causes of global warming.

IF you look down there at the bottom of the barrel and see the deep gouge marks in the oak, you might find a trace of DNA left by the scraping fingers of Dick Warburton.

That's the place where Warburton found his "evidence" that the world's scientists are split on whether or not climate change is being caused by humans.

The evidence in question is known as the Oregon Petition - one of the feeblest factoids in the climate science denial hymnbook that's cited almost as often as it has been debunked.

Warburton, a boardroom veteran, has been picked by the Tony Abbott-led Australian Government to head a review into the country's target to generate 20 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Warburton's refusal to accept the basics of the science of human-caused climate change is not news, but in an interview on the ABC over the weekend, he was challenged to back up this pseudo-scepticism.

When host Richard Aedy pointed out that at least 95 per cent of the published science on climate change agreed that global warming was mostly caused by humans, Warburton went barrel scraping.

I'm not saying the science is wrong, I'm saying there are two different sides of the story. Science is not consensus. Science is fact.

There are at least 30,000 people who signed a petition on this, saying the opposite to what the climate change people do.

So what is this petition that Warburton hangs his argument on?

The Oregon Petition

The Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (what do you mean you've never heard of it…) published the first version of the petition in 1998. It stated:

The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.

The petition was made available to any United States university graduate to sign (there are millions of them) and was first released with 17,000 signatures in 1998 and was released again in 2008 with a further 14,000 signatures.

At one time, the petition included names such as Dr Geri Halliwell (the ginger one out of the Spice Girls apparently had a sideline in climate science), Michael J. Fox (well, he did travel through time) and a couple of characters from the 70s and 80s TV series M*A*S*H (Hawkeye saw right through the science).

Organisers later spotted the mischief-makers, but what about the rest?

When Skeptical Science analysed the signatories, they found the petition represented only about 0.3 per cent of all US "science" graduates.

The petition was offered to anyone in the United States who had completed degree in a list of categories loosely lumped together as "science".

Forestry managers and veterinarians could sign, as could engineers and doctors.

Once those people with no studied expertise in areas of climate were removed, the number fell to just 0.1 per cent of US graduates – and this was being generous. Skeptical Science found there were likely only 39 people classed as climatologists who signed.

The survey was originally sent out with a manuscript in a format almost identical to those published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

Whether this was a deliberate attempt to deceive or not, the National Academies of Science Council issued a statement clarifying "the manuscript has nothing to do with the National Academy of Sciences".

As I wrote on DeSmogBlog, the second version of the petition also came with a letter from a 96-year-old Dr Frederick Seitz, who had been a NAS president in the 1960s before going on to work on tobacco industry-sponsored "research" into the health effects of smoking.

Seitz, who died in 2008, was also a co-founder of the conservative "think tank" the George C. Marshall Institute, which banked its first cheques from oil giant Exxon the same year Seitz signed the letter to go with the first petition.

The institute has a long history of either denying or underplaying the implications of the science of climate change.

In short, the Oregon Petition has about as much credibility as… well… the Oregon Petition. Warburton's use of it, in my view, is an embarrassment.

But Warburton is only the latest in a string of climate science denialists installed into key positions by Australia's Abbott Government.

The chairman of the Prime Minister's new Business Advisory Council, Maurice Newman, says climate change science is just a cover for "vested interests" and has accused US President Barack Obama of being a "champion of discredited research".  He also claims climate change science is a "delusion".

Appointed to head a review into Australia's $5 trillion financial services sector is David Murray, who told the ABC in October that climate scientists lacked integrity. The Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society described Murray's statement as a  "serious slur" and asked for an apology, which they did not get.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott claims in public that he accepts that humans are having an impact on the climate, but publicly denies the science linking human-caused climate change to bushfires and droughts.

Since winning power, the Abbott Government has decided not to appoint a science minister, not to send a minister to the last round of United Nations climate talks, to scrap funding for the Climate Commission, push for the break-up of the Climate Change Authority and scrap legislation that puts a price on greenhouse gas emissions.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has asked world leaders to bring "bold pledges" to a climate summit to be held in New York in September.

Presuming he decides to turn up, the summit may give Tony Abbott a chance to catch up with his old friend Nick Minchin, who was recently appointed to the influential post of Australia's Consul-General in the Big Apple.

Minchin thinks human-caused climate change is a scare story.

In June 2011 during his final Parliamentary speech after 18 years as a Senator, Minchin mused in jest that he was "contemplating the foundation of an organisation called 'The Friends of Carbon Dioxide'".

Tony Abbott looks to be forming the "Friends of Carbon Dioxide" all by himself.

SOURCE: The Guardian, February 24th 2014: