It’s climate denial all rightRichard Treadgold | May 29, 2013
I have just been referred to this savage attack on Chris de Freitas by student Lola Thompson published in Craccum last July (thanks, Andy). It’s a fact-free romp through the ad hominem glories of Real Climate and Hot Topic, commissions the scientific skills of the Herald’s Chris Baron [sic], adds some insipid remarks from Martin Manning and learns from Gareth Renowden that Lord Monckton “doesn’t have a single climate science qualification.” Of course, neither does Renowden — and de Freitas is a professor in “climate science” — but that doesn’t slow Renowden down. With breath-taking irony, Renowden has the gall to claim that de Freitas doesn’t mention the IPCC “or current climate information” in his lectures (which I know is untrue). But he doesn’t reveal that the IPCC reports omit current (inconvenient) climate studies and that the IPCC has never investigated whether DAGW might be falsified — they take it as a fact without looking. So Lola quickly and easily learns about climate “denial” and how to write (and craft it well, I must say) a poisonous polemic but finds it hard to learn the objective science of geography, poor thing. She does not know, and is maybe too young to know, that scientific scepticism is the single attribute most likely to keep a scientist at the top of his field for a very long time. However, she so much doesn’t like having to learn climate skepticism [sic] that she insists on misspelling it. Her article reveals plenty of climate denial, but not where she claims it to be. Where is her refutation of de Freitas’ course? Where, for heaven’s sake, is even her description of it? Where is the science?
Should we be paying to be taught climate denial? | Craccum Magazine.
By Lola Thompson · In Columns, Eco-Matters, Issue 01 2012
On July 3, 2012
Chris De Freitas is an Associate Professor at the University of Auckland employed by the School of Environment as a lecturer in Climatology.
I encountered De Freitas during the first semester last year when I took Geography of the Natural Environment (101), a compulsory course for all geography majors.
After the first few lectures taught by De Freitas I became increasingly concerned about what I was being taught. Prior to attending the class I was under the impression that the debate around climate change was no longer in questioned and anthropogenic climate change is now a scientific fact.
However, De Freitas presented the changing climate as a natural cycle, to which fossil fuels were not a contributor.
I found what I was learning incredibly alarming, as it went against all the information I had ever read about climate change. I began expressing my concerns to other students, who had previously taken courses taught by De Freitas and found I was not alone in my concerns.
I began asking questions to people I knew with knowledge in climate science and discovered De Freitas was a known public figure as a climate skeptic – or denier.
The more I learnt about De Freitas the more frustrated I became, but as his classes were optional I could not simply ‘drop it.’ As I looked around the lecture theater of at least 150 fellow students I started to think about how much students were paying to learn this sketchy science.
Geography 101 costs $717, with approximately 150 students enrolled but the course is taught with four components, climate being only one of these students are collectively paying $26,887.50 per semester to learn what has been proven to be cherry-picked science.
The last lecture of the series for me was the most concerning. I left almost convinced by De Freitas’ argument that climate change was a natural cycle.
Wanting to let other students know about my experience I passed my workbook on to the people I had spoken to earlier about De Freitas, and, with my permission, they passed this on to the New Zealand Herald’s Chris Baron, a senior feature writer with years of experience.
He wrote a story on De Freitas at the University of Auckland using my work book and interviews with students from the School of Public Health who were also outraged about the advice De Freitas had given them for an assignment – also along similar lines.
Victoria University’s Dr Martin Manning told the NZ Herald “I think Auckland University does have a bit of a problem with a course looking like it is taking one side of the story and a minority view of that. The right to have individual views is something that’s preserved because it is important – but there does become a point when you have to ask should you be teaching that?”
Hot-Topic.co.nz, a climate science blog, also looked closely at the de Freitas workbook. Editor Gareth Renowden went through the graphics and lectures in great detail and published a blog about them. He said:
“He uses old, out-dated resources, as well as misleading stuff concocted by Monckton and Spencer. As Barton’s Herald article confirms, at no point does he bring the IPCC or current climate information into his lectures.”
“[the workbook] includes material from sceptic blogs and US think tanks”.
It included a misleading graph prepared by Lord Christopher Monckton who is a mouthpiece for the climate denial industry. Monckton doesn’t have a single climate science qualification and, in 2010, stood for the right wing UK Independence Party.
Renowden wrote: “This is not a matter of ‘academic freedom’ — de Freitas is perfectly entitled to believe what he wants — but he should not be teaching foundation courses in climate that depend on the output of US lobby groups and far-right British politicians or are so far out of touch with the mainstream of the science he is purporting to present. “
“His students deserve to learn the subject as we best understand it, not just the painted pig that de Freitas dangles in front of them. In the meantime, the University of Auckland has a problem. What price academic excellence, when you have an associate professor determined to ignore that fine idea?”
I looked further into de Freitas and the more I found the more I became worried – and angry – about how my money (and that of other students) – was being spent.
De Freitas, Climate Research and the Hockey Stick
From1997 to 2003, de Freitas was an editor at a climate journal called “Climate Research”. John Mashey, who blogs at “deepclimate”, last year conducted a very thorough investigation into our lecturer’s behaviour when he was there.
During de Freitas’ time as an editor at “Climate Research,” half of his editorial workload involved publishing papers written by 14 different, well-known climate deniers with whom he had close ties.
One of those deniers was prominent climate sceptic Patrick Michaels. De Freitas published no less than seven papers by Michaels in this six-year period, accounting for half of Michaels’ peer reviewed papers.
Michaels is one of the more high profile of the world’s climate denier scientists, and is closely associated with a number of think tanks who have been running campaigns on climate denial, funded by the fossil fuel industry.
One of them is the Heartland Institute, a US think tank that runs annual climate denial conferences. A recent leak of internal Heartland Institute documents show that it has been planning to try to get the teaching of climate science out of primary schools in the US.
The most interesting thing about Mashey’s research is that none of de Freitas’s sceptic friends had been published in Climate Research before – or after – his tenure as an editor there.
The most famous piece he published was a study by Drs Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas that supposedly challenged the “hockey stick” temperature record of Penn State University’s Dr Michael Mann. This has been a central focus of climate skeptics and US Republicans who deny the climate science.
As a result of de Freitas publishing the Soon/Baliunas study, other editors at Climate Research protested – about the peer review process he’d conducted, and resigned at the way the situation was handled by the journal. De Freitas left Climate Research soon after.
It’s important to note here that since Mann’s original study, his “hockey stick” has been reconfirmed by at least 12 subsequent scientific papers, using a variety of statistical methods and combinations of proxy records, produced reconstructions broadly similar to that of Mann. Almost all of them supported the IPCC conclusion that the warmest decade in the 1000 year temperature was probably that at the end of the 20th Century. Indeed, that hottest decade is now 2000-2010. Yet none of this absolutely key data appears anywhere in de Freitas lectures.
More research has emerged showing that since 2002, Willie Soon, one of the authors of this disputed Climate Research study, has been funded only by fossil fuel companies and interests. The Hockey Stick study was funded, in part, by the American Petroleum Institute. Other funders include ExxonMobil, oil billionaires and funders of the Tea Party, the Koch brothers, and the US coal corporate, the Southern Company. He is also very closely associated with a number of think tanks running the anti-climate science campaign in the US.
Other work with think tanks
So I go on looking at de Freitas’s history. Next thing I find that in 2007 his name was on an “Amicus Brief” – a legal document submitted by yet another right wing US think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
The CEI submitted the scientist brief to the huge court case in the US Supreme Court where coal states and think tanks were suing the US Environmental Protection Agency to try to stop it listing the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, as a pollutant.
The CEI paper quoted De Freitas along with a bunch of other climate skeptics, including Patrick Michaels, Willie Soon, Sallie Baliunas and Roy Spencer (whose graph appears in the workbook). What did it say? Climate change isn’t happening, it isn’t a threat to public health… all the stuff that the deniers have been saying for years (and which have all been proven wrong).
The CEI has received more than $2 million from oil giant ExxonMobil.
Auckland University’s Environment Department underwent a review late last year. The results were due out last November, but appear to have been delayed. If you want a copy, email g.mcgregor [at] auckland.ac.nz [editor's note: This article was published in Craccum in July, 2012, and I don't know the status of the review. - RT].
This department prides itself on the quality of its teaching, ranking 34th in the world in environmental sciences, and 30th in geography. I’m not sure that teaching climate skepticism is something that will keep it there.
Further reading and references: