Matt's Letter to Quadrant, July 2007
Mailed in June, this letter is published in the July-August issue of Quadrant magazine. Sir,

In your June editorial, you say that "the public discussion of global warming in all its aspects is frequently affected by the espousal of its reality and urgency by so many people who have no real understanding of the issues". This is due to a lack of understanding among journalists and politicians, and their concerted efforts to hold a uniform message. They are supported by such scientists as Monash University’s Dr Neville Nicholls, who aim to bully the public into acquiescence.

In early April, The Sydney Morning Herald launched a new section in its Tuesday edition, called ‘Eco’. At the same time, the broadsheet’s Earth Hour initiative happened. The Sunday night TV news coverage of the event saw Ten, Seven, SBS and the ABC giving air time to pictures and numbers. Actor Cate Blanchett was shown several times saying it was a "potent symbol". Even Al Jazeera’s English-language station covered it, as did the BBC.

Rival The Sunday Telegraph only gave it half of page 2 and led with a negative headline: 'Symbolic gesture a turn-off'. Since then, however, Rupert Murdoch has capitulated to the carbon-emissions lobby, announcing he will use his global media network to support it.

The climate debate really took off in the last quarter of 2006 as TV coverage of the continuing drought saturated the airwaves. Images of John Howard kicking dust in the bush presaged something big. Symptomatic of the resulting hysteria was Kevin Rudd saying that being a climate sceptic was analogous to believing the world was flat. I called the Labor Party in early May to complain. I spoke with a staffer who said he would get back to me and did not.

Nick Galvin, editor of ‘Eco’, said he was "not aware" of bias at the paper and that "balance is a matter of judgment". If writing a story about evolution, he said, he "would not feel compelled" to give equal weight to the views of creationists.

Since these types of comparisons are commonplace, I believe that things have gotten out of hand. A new approach by climate sceptics is necessary.

We suffered the snarls of the ABC’s drive-time callers recently when the national broadcaster screened The Great Global Warming Swindle. Brief research indeed reveals a rather unusual bunch of people behind the documentary. The Citizens Electoral Council of Australia's (CECA) anti-climate change web page displays distinctly odd notions. One holds that climate change fear is "a hoax being stoked up by British interests paying Al Gore".

But there's more (and it's even odder): "In the name of saving the planet, an international fascist movement has been created with the intention of reducing the world's population on a scale greater than even Hitler dared dream." I spoke with some CECA members on a Sydney street corner, and decided they are misguided enthusiasts. Their involvement does not help rational sceptics.

Equally bad for us is the universal view held by science journalists that carbon emissions cause global warming. The Australian’s Leigh Dayton told me the issue has "moved on" from debate about the reality of global warming to "a more complex discussion" about its pace and ramifications.

Dayton attended April’s 5th World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne and said that overseas journalists were "quite surprised" by the Howard government’s position (at the time, not now).

This language is even more damaging to sceptics than the irrational rants of the CECA, as it suggests we are being merely obstructionist and fuddy-duddy. But how to compete with Cate Blanchett? Or Clover Moore, seen in New York addressing the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit?

My opinion is held as a result of my readings in history. For a couple of years earlier this decade I read a lot of British history, especially the period from about 1550 to around 1850. I also read about the late middle ages. It led me to realise that climate change is a constant state of affairs for our planet.

Viticulture was possible in the British Isles when Chaucer was alive. Later, in the late Renaissance, the Thames would freeze solid every winter, and the people of London would conduct fairs on the ice.

From Associate Professor John Pryor, a history academic at Sydney University, I recently learned of Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie’s Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate Since the Year 1000 which I am looking forward to reading.