Angry Summer Down Under: Murdoch Paper Hosts Op-Ed that Attacks Scientists while Australia Sizzles

April 5, 2013 | 5:49 pm
Brenda Ekwurzel
Senior Climate Scientist, Director of Climate Science

INTRO NOTE: My colleague Melanie Fitzpatrick has just come back on board here at UCS. She’s a climate scientist who originally hails from Australia. She’s traveled the world doing scientific research on the climate, including in Antarctica. We’re very happy to have her back and she’ll have her own blog up soon. In the meantime, we wanted to share her thoughts on climate change in Australia and a disturbing op-ed recently published in The Australian.

Guest Blog: Angry Summer Down Under

Figure from the Critical Decade: Extreme Weather

Extreme weather events are influenced by climate change as shown schematically for Australia. Image source: Australia Climate Commission Report — The Critical Decade: Extreme Weather.

You know something really weird is happening when in a single season more than 123 records are broken. That was the news from my home country, Australia, last month. The Australian Climate Commission, a government-sponsored science group, released a report confirming that the country’s climate has changed dramatically and will change even more if heat-trapping emissions continue to pile up in our atmosphere. I can attest it was a blisteringly hot summer season – I was there experiencing days of extreme heat and seeing smoke from uncontrolled forest fires fill the skies. The oceans were warm in places where they shouldn’t be. There was an eerie sense that global warming is no longer something in the future for Australians – we’re already living with it “down under”.

Commentators are calling it “the Angry Summer.”  Temperature records were broken at more than 44 locations around the continent, and January was Australia’s hottest month ever. In my home town of Hobart, which typically enjoys a pleasant maritime summer climate, the mercury topped out just above 107 degrees F, almost 2 degrees F higher than the previous high record set in 1976. The bush fire danger categories now include a “catastrophic rating” for uncontrolled wildfires and two more color bands have been added to the nation’s extreme temperature maps, both compelling indicators of fundamental changes to the region’s weather patterns.

Murdoch Paper Hosts Op-Ed that Attacks Scientists while Australia Sizzles

That’s why I was incensed when I read the response to the recent report both from the political sphere and in the ideological press this week. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has pledged that if his party takes control of the Australian Parliament, they will do away with the Climate Commission. Well, such a move won’t stop climate change. It would just stop people from having an independent, authoritative, useful source of scientific information about the issue. Read, “censorship.”

The Australian, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, published an opinion piece from James Delingpole, a well-known columnist from the UK who makes a sport of misrepresenting climate science and attacking scientists. Delingpole criticized the head of the Climate Commission and suggested he be tried by a judge in a black cap, a vile reference to a type of trial traditionally reserved for passing the death sentence. Is this a return to the days of vilifying scientists for communicating important science to the public? I had hoped those days were over.

The Australian’s decision to publish this piece is immensely disturbing. Freedom of speech is important, but Delingpole’s views misinform readers and his call for scientists to be put on trial under penalty of death has no place in reasonable discourse about climate change science or policy. Murdoch’s press has a history of distorting the reality of climate change and attacking scientists, as UCS analysis has shown, but this piece was more extreme than any other I’ve read. It’s time to take the climate disruptions seriously and move on from these ugly attacks.


About the author

More from Brenda

Brenda Ekwurzel ensures that program analyses reflect robust and relevant climate science, and researches the influence of major carbon producers on rising global average temperatures and sea level. Dr. Ekwurzel is a co-author of the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) Volume II. She presents frequently to a range of audiences on climate science, educating the public on practical, achievable solutions for climate change.