Australian climate scientists have hit back at their former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, describing his speech to a London think tank as being laced with distortions, falsehoods, misrepresentations, and misdirection.
Abbott told the contrarian Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) that rising carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning could be “beneficial” and compared acceptance of human-caused climate change to religion.
The foundation, which claims to be bi-partisan but has accepted funding from many conservative figures, had declined requests from several specialist climate change media outlets to hear the Abbott lecture, claiming the speech “was not a media event.”
Dr. Benjamin Henley, a University of Melbourne scientist specializing in ancient climate change and climate models, who read the transcript, said: “It is precarious territory for a politician to enter the scientific boxing ring, with only a bible of conspiracy theories and misconstrued talking points in hand. His speech is full of falsehoods, miscomprehension, and basic untruths.”
Abbott lost the leadership of the conservative Liberal Party and, with it, the Prime Ministership, in September 2015 to the country’s current leader, Malcolm Turnbull.
Abbott’s public position on climate science has flip-flopped over the years. He once described the science as “absolute crap” but during office, claimed to accept the basic facts and said he took the issue seriously.
But he has also denied any link between rising temperatures and Australia’s bushfires, going against decades of research.
Abbott's 'Misleading' Claims
Professor Steven Sherwood of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales refuted Abbott’s claim that climate models were wrong:
“In fact models are nearly dead-on in predicting overall global warming so far. They don’t predict every detail, but were never expected to.”
At one point, Abbott said that because he had seen historical photographs of Manly Beach near Sydney, he thought reports of dangerous sea level rise “from climate alarmists” might be wrong.
Sherwood said of all the false claims, this was Abbott’s “funniest.”
“A few photographs of the beach taken from his neighbourhood are a more accurate record of global sea-level than the global network of tide gauges and satellite altimeters! In a way, that says it all.”
Professor Andrew Pitman, director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, said many of Abbott’s claims were misleading or irrelevant.
Abbott claimed that because the climate had changed in the ancient past before humans, this meant that current changes could also be natural.
Pitman said: “This is misleading. The fact that climate changed in the past due to cause ‘A’ does not mean it can only change through cause ‘A.'
“The fact is that it is changing now due to increasing CO2 on very rapid time scales. When climate changed in the past more slowly, it still caused mass extinctions. Not a happy thought!”
Pitman said Abbott’s suggestion that rising CO2 levels were helping plant growth was also misleading.
He said while in some cases in controlled greenhouse environments “you seem to get bigger plants” with raised CO2 levels, “the nutrients in the plant decline.”
“So you do not actually get more food,” said Pitman, “you just get a bigger plant, so it’s a myth that higher CO2 helps lift yields, in the sense that those yields reflect food.”
Abbott spent time in his lecture attempting to undermine the scientific method on climate change, saying people who claimed the science was “settled” were part of the “thought police.”
Henley added: “By implication, Abbott superstitiously questions the foundations of science, and in doing so, he questions the same scientific method which discovered wifi and penicillin, and proved the earth was not flat.”
Australia and the Global Warming Policy Foundation
Abbott is the third Australian to have delivered the GWPF’s annual lecture.
In 2013, another former Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, delivered the annual lecture, declaring himself an “agnostic on global warming.”
In 2011, the then-Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, produced a speech packed with red-herrings and cherry-picked talking points. Climate scientists described Pell’s speech as “dreadful,” “utter rubbish,” and “flawed.” Pell was an early mentor to Abbott.
Australian-born hedge fund billionaire Michael Hintze was reportedly in the audience at Abbott’s lecture. Hintze, a major financial backer of the Conservative Party in the UK, was reportedly one of GWPF’s earliest financial backers.