Doomed Planet

False notes and the Suzuki Method

A slick salesman always tells customers what they want to hear. David Suzuki, jet-setting campaigner against carbon emissions, is a very good salesman – and, sadly, the Fairfax press is the sort of wood duck every peddler of shoddy goods dreams will step wide-eyed and open-mouthed into his showroom.

Unfortunately, especially for Fairfax’s circulation managers and shareholders, the media company’s legions of environment writers and Gaia-loving editors then retail to a much larger audience the sort of industrial-grade fertiliser that is Suzuki’s stock in trade, as The Age has done this morning.

In Australia yet again to sound the warmist klaxon, Suzuki blames Tony Abbott – Surprise! Surprise! – for speeding the coming climate catastrophe. Since this meshes nicely with the convictions of a news organisation that long ago abandoned straight-bat reporting for partisanship and advocacy, the frequent flyer has been granted open slather to float as many furphies as can be squeezed into 735 words of sucker-ready bilge.

If Fairfax retained even a shred of journalistic integrity, Suzuki’s screed would have been fact-checked, spiked and his submission returned with editors comments, just to let him know that a pronounced sense of moral superiority doesn’t grant permission to make stuff up – or leave inconvenient stuff out.

Here is what that annotated response might have looked like. Suzuki’s column is reproduced in the bold chunks below.

I used to think some cataclysmic, climate-related event would shock the world into taking the steps needed to preserve the future of the human species.

Dave, this is a bit inconsistent with what you’ve said elsewhere about overpopulation being the greatest threat to mankind, like in this video. Either we’re doomed because we’re breeding  like rabbits, or we’re stuffed as a species because climate change is going to stop us reproducing. You can’t have it both ways, mate. Actually, you can’t have THREE ways, because I also see you’ve said that overpopulation isn’t the problem at all, its “overconsumption”. Make up your mind, will you!

But after seeing what’s happened this past decade…

But, Dave, even your beloved IPCC now admits there has been no warming for 17 years

…I’m no longer sure any event or set of circumstances will be enough to jolt governments into action. (The 2008 bank-induced economic meltdown spurred politicians to spend hundreds of billions just to get the defective economy back up and running again!)

Not a valid comparison, Dave. A run on lots of banks means  obvious, tangible evidence — people in long lines trying to retrieve their money before an imminent economic collapse, a la the Great Depression. Fact is, we are yet to see “some cataclysmic, climate-related event” that conveys the same urgency which galvanised the financial markets during the Asian Meltdown in 1998 and the GFC ten years later. Banking and climate make for a false comparison — and any writer who tries to tap that analogy is going to look stupid, shifty or both.

Just look at Canada.

In British Columbia, where I live, a warming climate has allowed insects the size of grains of rice to destroy $65 billion worth of pine trees in just a bit over a decade. For millennia the mountain pine beetle, a native of Canada, has been kept in check by our winter temperatures which reach minus 35 degrees for several days.

Geez, Dave, you’re a bugger for cherry-picking! You want us to publish the claim that climate change is killing lodgepole pines, but you’ve admitted elsewhere that poor forestry practices, monocultures and the suppression of fire, not just warmer weather, created an overabundance of the older trees those beetles love to eat, hence the population explosion. You can’t just leave out inconvenient facts, otherwise our readers would be misled.

Not anymore. The British Columbia Ministry of Forests says that, thanks to global warming, we have not had one of these widespread weather events in the British Columbia interior since the winter of 1995-96.

Yeah, you’re right. It does say that, but shouldn’t you also mention this bit from the same report? Again, it has got to do with fire and monoculture. I added some emphasis so you won’t miss the bits you keep overlooking

“…During the last century, British Columbia’s fire suppression program protected billions of young pine trees from wildfire, allowing them to grow to maturity far faster than the rate of their commercial harvest and natural mortality.

Prior to this sort of effective fire suppression, approximately 400 million cubic metres of mature pine was estimated to be growing in the Interior. When the current epidemic started, the Interior was estimated to hold approximately 1.34 billion cubic metres of mature pine suitable for breeding mountain pine beetle.”

With no more killing freezes…

Dave, you’re probably good mates with Tim Flannery, so you might want to have a word with him about the folly of making oracular predictions. In between  celebrity endorsements of ‘green’ products, Climate Commissioner Flannery ($180K a year, plus perks) swore our recent 13-year drought would never end. But it did, just like the Federation Dought ended, and now the dams are full and Tim F. looks like a prize goose. If you Canucks haven’t had a really cold winter for 17 years, it doesn’t mean you’ll never again have a really cold winter.

….pine beetle numbers have exploded, destroying 710 million cubic metres of commercially valuable pine timber. That’s more than half of all such pine in the province. As the climate warms, the beetles have been blown over the Rocky Mountains where pine trees of the boreal forest extend across Canada.

If pine beetles have destroyed 710 million cubic metres out of the 1.34 billion cubic metres of standing timber when the infestations took off, and if the original volume was only 400 million cubic metres, then simple mathematics says your forests still have 630 million cubic metres left. That’s 230 million cubic feet more than when the fire suppression regime commenced and replaced the natural order of things. That’s 230 million cubic feet more than when the fire-suppression regime commenced and replaced the natural order of things.

And anyway, according to Scientific American, the plague is running out of steam, with the last two years seeing dramatic decreases in infestations. As the US Forest Service’s deputy chief of research puts it, “We expect the beetle population numbers to drop dramatically over time.” Dave, if you want to be a climate-change authority, you just have to keep up with the literature!

This unprecedented event is unlike anything recorded in North American history, but it’s not been enough to galvanise our government to get serious about acting on climate change.

Unprecedented? What about the  blight that killed all the North American chestnuts in just a few decades, starting around the turn of the last century?

I’m at a loss to understand why.

Let me say this as a crusty, old-school editor: You’re at a loss to understand a lot of things, pal

But if the melting polar ice cap, and the devastation wrought by hurricanes Katrina and Sandy was not enough to force governments into serious action, I guess I can hardly expect a little mountain pine beetle to do it.

The Arctic isn’t doing too bad, ice-wise, just lately, and Antarctic ice cover is growing.

From what I can see, it’s a similar story in Australia. Half the coral on the Great Barrier Reef has disappeared in the past 27 years and its size could halve again in the next decade with degradation of the environment and the increasing frequency of cyclones.

If that’s what you “see in Australia” then you really should have a closer look. Yes, one body of grant-funded opinion reckoned half the reef has gone. But others aren’t so sure.

Bushfires in Australia are getting more severe and more frequent. I see in Sydney you have already had your first fires barely a week into spring. And what has your new government done in response? As soon as Mr Abbott won power, he promised to wind back Australia’s recent efforts to combat global warming.

Well, you’re right, sort of. We did have big fires back here in February, 2009, but while they were horrific they weren’t at all unusual, because the bush tends to go up in flames at the drop of a hat. For example, here’s the big-fire record for just one state – Victoria: 1851, 1865, 1898, 1905, 1906, 1912, 1914, 1919, 1926, 1932, 1939, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1952, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1983, 1985, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006-07, and 2009.

His promise to scrap the carbon tax, a tax which had been a timid step in the right direction, to close down your green energy bank and to reduce the rebates for buying solar panels, all send a terrible signal to your entrepreneurs and to the community.

Dave, this habit you’ve got of asserting without providing any evidence doesn’t belong in a respectable newspaper (standards at the ABC are much, much lower, so you could try flogging this article over there. The Drum, for example, will publish just about anything). If you want to cite the Carbon Tax as a tool for lowering the global thermostat, you’ll need to explain how. Good luck with that, because no one else has been able to show a worthwhile impact on climate.

And all of it is being done in the name of saving the economy.

But for more than 20 years the insurance industry has been telling us we have all been paying more for changes in the climate. Why aren’t we listening to the insurers, the hardest business heads of all?

Read up on our Black Saturday fires in 2009. The insurance bill was huge, but the fires actually burned only a relatively small area. Trouble was, that area was full of homes and, more important, accumulated fuel that green councils wouldn’t let the locals burn off. That’s why the insurance payouts were astronomical – because people were encouraged to live on top of what turned out to be their  funeral pyres.

I would have thought Australia would be leading the world in developing a new economy because climate change is going to devastate Australia.

There you go again. Assertion! Asertion! Assertion! What about Evidence! Evidence! Evidence!

Instead, mining magnates are manipulating the debate in Australia just like they are doing elsewhere. Like the tobacco industry before them, they have known for years that climate change is happening and that burning fossil fuels is at the heart of it. But to maximise their profits they have continued to sow misunderstanding and confusion, funding the sceptics to perpetrate the myth that global warming is junk science.

If it’s not junk science, Dave, you’re not doing anything with this screed to prove otherwise. Indeed, with all this stuff about mining magnates under the bed and cigarette companies and brown-bagged cash for deniers, what you’re actually doing is laying out the case for the wider availability of potent psycho-therapeutic drugs. If you want to advance your cause, this isn’t the way to go. It’s different in the circles in which you fly, but how many normal people really want to be seen keeping company with the terminally paranoid?

They should be ignored because there is no confusion in the scientific community about what’s happening to our planet and what the future holds unless we change the way we live.

A carbon tax is just one small step to encourage companies and individuals to reduce dumping rubbish into the atmosphere.

Don’t Australians pay to put their junk into landfill?

The consequences of dumping our junk in the atmosphere are far greater than leaving garbage in the streets so why don’t we limit it by making people pay to dump it?

False analogy. Is there a store in Canada where you buy this stuff, or does it just sort of fester in your suitcase between international flights?

It’s the most basic lesson of economics. Anyone who understands and cares about the environment and economics will know ditching the carbon tax is not only crazy, it is absolutely suicidal.

Lack of local knowledge here, Dave.

For the past six years in Australia, “the most basic lesson of economics” has been that dud predictions, flawed science, personal attacks, and grandiose self-promotion will do nothing to diminish a professional warmist’s bank account.

But, late to the ball again, you probably haven’t realised just how thoroughly all that is now about to change.

Dave, enjoy your one-man show on the ABC’s Q&A next Monday. The audience will be stacked with Greens, as usual, and there will be no one on the other side of Tony Jones to present a counter point of view, so you should have a great night. Chances are they won’t depict you having sex with a dog, because you are the sort of person they revere at the ABC, not like those nasty conservative columnists who, if haven’t been spotted hanging around the kennel, can be Photoshopped when there is a spare moment and a surplus of adolescent bile.

Just don’t count on a return ABC engagement because there is a robust body of opinion that reckons the climate at the national broadcaster needs to change quite dramatically – and as our new PM and his communications minister will learn very quickly, there’s going to be a rising, raging tide of disquiet if it doesn’t.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online

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