Saturday, August 23, 2014

Open Letter: Respect climate science expertise, Maurice Newman

Dear Mr Maurice Newman AC,

As the head of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Business Advisory Council and a person advising the Prime Minister on business related matters I expect you to give factual, informed and considered advice. It is particularly important that you take the time, effort and responsibility to respect expertise, particularly scientific expertise, and educate yourself on areas outside of your own business and management focus that impinge on government decisions that effect the management of Australia's economy and environment and international relationships.

I would expect that on matters of science and climate change you would seek the advice and collaborate with Australia's chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, and the premier scientific organisations active in this research including the CSIRO, BOM, and the Australian Academy of Science.

Of course you have a right to your personal opinions, but not to proffer them as factual advice to Government when they are clearly inaccurate or misleading according to the people of expertise working in these specialist areas.

Your recent opinions published in the The Australian newspaper ('We’re ill-prepared if the iceman cometh' 14 August 2014) are contrary to the findings of every major scientific and meteorological body on the planet, and ignore the reality that the long term trend is that the Earth is getting hotter, with a more active hydrological cycle causing more extreme weather events.

Why should the Australian public have confidence in your role if you display such little regard for scientific fact and the expertise offered by our scientists, including by Australia's chief scientist?

I understand that the Climate Council's Professor Tim Flannery has offered an opportunity for the Business Advisory Council to be briefed by a group of our nation's top scientists on climate change and business risk. I urge you to take this opportunity.

To assist you, I suggest you watch Professor Michael Raupach in his speech he delivered during National Science Week at the Australian Academy of Science on Tuesday 19 August 2014. Dr Raupach is Executive Director of the Climate Change Institute, Australian National University and has led a highly respected and exemplary career in climate research with the CSIRO. He is regarded as one of Australia's leading experts on climate change.

The speech contains a brief overview of climate science and some of Australia's important contributions to this science. It is as good as any place to start for accurate scientific information on climate change. Grab a cuppa tea or coffee and sit down and watch it for an hour. Is that too much to ask?



If you cannot accommodate and incorporate the expert advice from specialists, such as from Australian climate scientists, in your business advice to government, then I expect you to step down from your position as there is a serious conflict of interest between scientific factual information and the national interest with your personally held views.

Sincerely

John Englart



Background


On 14th August Tony Abbott's chief business advisor Maurice Newman articulated in an opinion piece (paywall) published in the Australian newspaper that Australia was ill prepared for global cooling due to widespread "warming propaganda".

Businessman and former coal industry executive Ian Dunlop responded in a scathing attack on the Government's business advisors in an op-ed piece in the Sydney Morning Herald:
"Denial within government is absolute. But the Prime Minister's appointment of four well-respected and experienced businessmen to fill highly influential advisory positions, which have a bearing on our response to global warming, is the most dangerous governance failure seen in this country for decades. Newman himself was appointed chairman of the Prime Minister's business advisory committee. Dick Warburton was appointed chairman of the renewable energy target review. David Murray was appointed chairman of the financial services review. Tony Shepherd was appointed chairman of the National Commission for Audit.

"All four share some common characteristics. They would all claim, as a result of their business experience, to be experts in risk management from varying perspectives. They are also outright, and very public, deniers that the world faces any risk from human-induced global warming. Global warming is an unprecedented risk management challenge, for the survival of much of humanity is at stake. History demonstrates that science has continually underestimated both the speed and extent of the warming; an underestimation that poses major risks for Australia. A new risk management approach is required that identifies the quantum and the timing of emission reductions needed, far beyond anything being contemplated officially, and then maps out the path to achieve them. Current policies, in comparison, are based on supposedly "politically realistic" solutions, shorthand for doing nothing. But, as Winston Churchill put it: "It is not good enough to do our best, sometimes we have to do what is necessary."

Australia's chief scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, in a rebuke, told Newman he should stick to his area of expertise in economics rather than peddle nonfactual scientific narratives:

“If you want to put up alternative theories you have to find some kind of credible evidence to support them … if you can’t do that you tend to resort to name-calling, calling global warming things like a religion or a cult or some kind of conspiracy,” Chubb told the Guardian.

"I try to speak where I have knowledge. Almost everyone with knowledge would say Mr Newman’s comments are at odds with what they know, but people with no scientific knowledge persist in the view that they can find three or four papers from the hundreds and hundreds of papers on the subject and then dismiss the overwhelming bulk of evidence … it is a silly response to a very important issue.”

Guardian journalist Graham Readfearn has fact checked Maurice Newman's article and found it has serious factual errors and misrepresents scientific research that he quoted.

ALP and Greens respond


Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt called for Maurice Newman to be dumped as head of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council, calling his views as deranged and an embarrassment for the government.

"Maurice Newman's latest statements are channelling the flat earth commentary of a lunatic fringe. They are almost deranged and an embarrassment to the government. Tony Abbott needs to repudiate these views and dump Mr Newman from his business advisory council. Someone with these flat-earth views has no place helping set policy for twenty-first century Australia." Bandt said in a statement.

Shadow Minister for the Environment Mark Butler also weighed in with a statement on his blog:
Tony Abbott’s man is pitting himself against 97 per cent of the world’s scientists who all agree the world is warming. With 156 weather records broken in just 90 days last summer, Maurice Newman says measures to tackle climate change are like “primitive civilisations offering up sacrifices to appease the gods". And he continues his attack on renewable energy, claiming that clean energy like wind and solar will drive out dirty coal power and that is the problem! These kinds of comments would be laughable if he didn’t have the Prime Minister’s ear. It would be a huge joke if he wasn’t the Prime Minister’s right-hand man. As it is, it’s terrifying that Maurice Newman continues to advise the Prime Minister at the same time as he campaigns against clean energy for Australians, and peddles myths unsupported by any credible scientist in the world.

Tim Flannery calls statement a serious dereliction of duty


In response Professor Tim Flannery, chair of the Climate Council, said he was keen for Newman to meet him and other scientists to gain factual information, and urged citizens to write to Maurice Newman.

“I’d be happy to meet with him to explain the facts, we’ve made the offer and we await with baited breath. But there are deeper issues to this. Maurice Newman is a business adviser to the prime minister; you’d expect him to be representing the interests of the business community. But what he’s saying fundamentally misrepresents the interests of business, which faces a huge risk, along with the rest of us, from climate change. He’s using his position for a personal crusade in what, I think, is a serious dereliction of duty.” Flannery told the Guardian.



The Climate Council reported on their facebook page that a week after Maurice Newman's opinion article was published more than 500 people had emailed or written to the Business Advisory Council urging Newman to meet the nation's top climate scientists.

Last word from a climate scientist


We'll leave the last word to a climate scientist. Dr Michael Raupach had one question at the end of his talk on tuesday evening at the Australian Academy of Sciences, which related to the poverty of the public discourse on climate change. Here is the question and response:

Questioner: I am wondering how we can include politicians in these narratives because it seems to me they - current federal politicians from both sides - are not understanding and don't have a clue about earth systems, science and the limits to growth that we are experiencing. Their narrative is all 'growth, growth, growth' and no understanding of the limits of the physical world.

Raupach: Couldn't agree more. The events of the last week or so where we had a prominent businessman announcing the coming of the next ice age I think reflect the poverty of the public discourse and in fact that this can even be taken seriously. This is flat earth stuff. This has no relationship with empirical objective science whatever. It is cherry picking about one per cent of the information, taking it completely out of context. It is equivalent to deleting 19 words in 20 out of a book and reading the remaining 5 and drawing some conclusion from them. It's nonsense.

I think our opportunity, our challenge is through whatever means we have to broaden that conversation and my admiration goes to all those who are doing that in the public debate. I think Tim Flannery has made enormous contributions to doing that. Bob Brown has made enormous contributions. We could mention a number of others. But in every case what they are doing is thinking not only about questions of how we should face the next challenge on the timescale of the next week or month but how should we face much, much longer and deeper challenges, and then framing our responses to these shorter term challenges in that longer term picture.

I think we all have the opportunity to participate in that conversation even if it is ringing up local members and urging them to take up a broader view, because you can understand the pressures they are under on both sides of politics within their own frames - people don't see outside that. The critical thing is to open those windows.


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