Iain and I spent last weekend at the Skeptics Conference in Christchurch. As always, we enjoyed the varied programme and learnt another fact pertaining to the slave trade. African people carry a salt retaining gene, an adaptation to their environment. Slave traders would lick the cheeks of captured slaves. A salty cheek was an indicator that the person had the gene and would survive the rigours of the hot sea voyage to the American continent. Those “lucky” persons without the gene were sent back to their African shore. Consequently, because of this salt retention gene, black Americans today are very susceptible to the high levels of salt in today’s processed food. The film Amazing Grace deals with William Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish the slave trade.
After the Skeptics conference, we spent a convivial late afternoon with other Christchurch Humanists at Bill Sykes and Peggy Kelly’s home. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to meet Christchurch Humanists.
October monthly meeting: No meeting on Monday 1 October as we have the AGM on 14 October
Previous Wellington meeting: Mark Fletcher spoke of his experiences teaching high school students and his endeavours to encourage open minds in his students.
Radio Access: 11 am 783 kHz 21 October, 18 November, and 16 December. Radio Access have now developed their website to enable listeners to listen to programmes already recorded. If you have missed our Humanist Access spot, then, go to www.accessradio.org.nz .
Jim Dakin’s The Secular Trend : We have received copies of Jim Dakin’s last book, The Secular Trend, recently published by The New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists. The Secular Trend was first serialised in the New Zealand Humanist Magazine in eight parts beginning with issue 146 June 2000. Copies are on sale for $15.00 plus postage $4.50 and may be obtained by contacting us by phone, post, or e-mail.
NZ Humanist Trail: Joan McCracken and Jeff Hunt are keen to establish a Humanist Trail in NZ similar to the one in the United Kingdom. Visitors to NZ (and ourselves when holidaying) can visit places of interest in the history and development of Humanism. Joan and Jeff ask you to contact them if you have ideas and information to help create the Trail. [email protected] or write to the Humanist Society at the above address.
2007 AGM and Seminar Sunday 14 October
HSNZ Seminar – Topic: Climate Change: Global and New Zealand
A public talk about the important issue of global warming in a NZ context. This discussion is by climate scientist David Wratt who has participated at the recent assessment by the intergovernmental panel on Climate Change. He will look at how serious climate change is and at options for what we can do about it. Dr Wratt will also discuss the role of science in clarifying public misunderstanding and informing policy decisions.
Speaker: Dr David Wratt.
Dr David Wratt studied atmospheric Physics at Canterbury University. He joined the Met Service in 1976, and was Research Manager there from 1988 until 1992 when he joined NIWA as a principal scientist. His activities include climate change research and international climate change impact assessments. Dr Wratt convenes the Royal Society’s NZ Climate Committee.
AGM 10.30 am Turnbull House,
Amendments to the constitution will be necessary to conform to the requirements of the new Charities Commission. To retain charitable status, and tax deductibility for donations, the Society must have a charitable purpose. Charitable purpose includes the relief of poverty, advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community. The Commission advises that education “does not include propagandist or political activities”. Changes are therefore required to a number of clauses. New words are shown underlined.
The first is the replacement of the word propaganda in clause 2.4 and 2.6 with the word information and the addition of education.
The clauses will now read:
2.4 To stimulate by discussion, lectures, and information [propaganda], whether written, printed, or oral, interest in the above objects and to sponsor and conduct educational courses, studies, research and conferences for this purpose. &
2.6: To subsidise any newspaper, journal, magazine, periodical, book, lectures, educational courses, or information [propaganda], written printed or oral, primarily devoted to furthering the above objects.
Note: the word propaganda may mean no more than “Information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause” but the word has a dubious history and may mean the organised spreading of doctrine or dogma (that which is proclaimed without proof), true or false. Heinemann’s New Zealand dictionary defines propaganda as: “any opinions, principles, etc., especially biased or false ones, spread or publicized to persuade, change or reform”. The word propaganda has very negative connotations for many people because of its association with some political regimes, such as Nazi Germany, and its use in the HSNZ constitution has long been controversial. The word is modern Latin in origin and the first known usage was in the Congregation or College of the Propaganda, a committee of Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church founded in 1622 having care and oversight of foreign missions.
Secondly, to amend clause 2.8 to replace the words “of a political nature”. The clause will read:
2.8 To take action to promote public benefit, the relief of poverty, the promotion of Universal Human Rights and the human rights of all individuals, in accordance with Humanist objectives [of a political nature], provided that the Society shall have no allegiance to any political party’s policy as such or subsidise any political party.
Your thoughts or comments on the proposed amendments may be emailed to Iain Middleton [email protected] .
A reminder from last newsletter >>>> 2007 AGM and Seminar: Sunday 14 October. AGM 10.30 am Turnbull House,
HSNZ Seminar 1.30 pm Mezzanine Floor Wellington Central Library. Speaker: Dr David Wratt. Topic: What will we do about Global Warming? Dr David Wratt studied atmospheric Physics at Canterbury University. He joined the Met Service in 1976, and was Research Manager there from 1988 until 1992 when he joined NIWA as a principal scientist. His activities include climate change research and international climate change impact assessments. Dr Wratt convenes the Royal Society’s NZ Climate Committee.
The Great Global Warming Swindle
Writer and director Martin Durkin
BBC Channel 4 Program film
Review by Robert Bender
The Great Global Warming Swindle, screened by ABC TV on 12 July, was introduced by Tony Jones of Lateline, followed by a panel discussion of scientists and business people, and finished with a debate with a studio audience.
Its basic theme is that the scary scenario of climate change predicted to radically alter the Earth’s climate zones over the coming century is a pack of lies, foisted on the people by money-grubbing scientists wanting funding for their projects and by ex-socialists who have moved into pushing their anti-capitalist agenda in a new way since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.
It argues that any recent warming is part of long cycles of warming and cooling that are the nature of our constantly changing Earth, so there is nothing alarming or new in it, and it correlates strongly with changes in solar sunspot intensity and has nothing to do with anything humans are doing with fossil fuels, which are on too small a scale to have the huge impacts claimed by alarmists.
Some 15 to 20 scientists and a few non-scientists contribute to the presentation. One, Dr Tim Ball, Professor of Meteorology at Winnipeg University, criticizes the increasingly apocalyptic nature of climate-change predictions. Professor Fred Singer, presented as the founding director of the US satellite weather-observation system (in the early 1 960s), scorns the absurdity of the scenario that by 2100 the only inhabitable part of Earth will be Antarctica. This really is the scenario presented by James Lovelock in his recent book The Revenge of Gaia, and in Mark Lynas’s Six Degrees. By contrast, Professor Phillip Stott, a biogeographer at University of Arizona, discussing one of the main themes, the Little Ice Age (16th to early 19th century) and the preceding Medieval Warm Period (1250—1450), says the temperature at the peak of that period was warmer than now, and it was a period of great wealth, when there was intense building activity and creativity in Europe — the period when the great cathedrals were built (there being a surplus above the needs of the people available for such extravagances). So part of the argument is that warming is an improvement and not something to be scared of, but should be welcomed. Some doubt on this comforting picture came out in a post-film interview of the film-maker Martin Durkin, by Tony Jones. He said scientists had told him the temperature chart finished at 1990 and marked that point as NOW, thus leaving out what is known of the last 17 years, in which the temperature has risen well above what is known of the Medieval Warm Period.
Another of the arguments presented is that CO2 increases have never driven climate change in the past, and much of the film is devoted to demonstrating from ice core data going back hundreds of thousands of years that increases in CO2 come before temperature rises, not after, so temperature drives the gas and not the other way around. During the later panel debate Dr Peter Karoly explained that this is true, long cycles in the wobble of Earth’s axis cause warming, which releases gas from the oceans, which can hold more gas when cold than when warmed up. But, the released gas then reinforces the warming, so there is a positive feedback and the cause-and-effect relationship goes both ways. So, it is not as simple as the relationship presented in the film. Karoly went on to say that the increases in CO2 emissions over the past 50 years have been conclusively shown to derive from human activity in burning fuels and land-clearing. No doubt about it at all. The same pattern of CO2 reinforcing temperature rise will follow, as has been shown from the ice cores. There is no conflict.
One of the much-used arguments against the global warming scenarios is that from about 1940 to about 1970 the temperature records show the Earth cooled a fraction of a degree, although during this period, the WWII and the post-war commitment to full employment saw a continuous economic boom, a huge increase in industrial output, car ownership, and the spread of electrification and growth in electricity generation, mainly using coal. This cooling supposedly correlates well with sunspot activity cycles but not with the large increase in CO2 going on over those 30 years, as shown by a Danish Meteorology Institute study. Again, the data shown in the film’s chart stopped at 1985. Since then Earth temperature has risen sharply and sunspot activity has decreased, so the neat correlation from earlier decades now is absent.
There is much argument about the relative temperature changes on Earth’s surface, in the troposphere and the stratosphere. It is claimed that warming should be greater in the upper atmosphere but is actually greatest at the land and sea surface, contrary to the global warming models. This is supposedly shown by weather balloon and satellite data.
Professor Tim Ball scorns the idea that CO2 changes could possibly drive climate change, as CO2 is such a tiny proportion of Earth’s atmosphere — a mere 0.045%, with the amount claimed to be added from human activities far smaller than even that. As one commentator later said, a tiny injection of strychnine would still kill you, so the effect need not be in proportion to the quantity injected.
Nigel Calder, ex-editor of New Scientist and author of many popular science books, has much to say about the decline in integrity of Journalism in that sensationalized stories now sell well; irrespective of evidence, climate scenario stories are becoming increasingly hysterical just to sell papers. Calder recalls the 1970s when there was much anxiety about the potential for global cooling. He describes the shift by Margaret Thatcher in the UK away from coal and oil towards using nuclear power. She didn’t trust the Arabs, a damaging coal miners’ strike in the 1970s showed that coal had big problems as a reliable fuel, so she put a lot of government money into funding research that would show a connection between CO2 and global warming, to support her move away from relying on Britain’s plentiful coal reserves. Professor Lindzen of MIT (and the IPCC) has much to say on this, claiming the enormous increase in research funding of climate modelling has created a large industry with a vested interest in scaring politicians into continuing the funding.
One interesting contributor was Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greenpeace, and now a senior executive with a nuclear power lobby group (not mentioned in the film), claiming that by the late l980s many of the campaigns of anti-establishment groups had been successful, they had achieved what they wanted and needed new fields to develop new anti-establishment issues and campaigns, so many shifted into the climate debate and have made it into an anti-business, anti-economic development argument.
Attention is given to the melting of the polar ice and the glaciers, with the claim that satellite data show that what is happening is just normal seasonal expansion and contraction, and people have been influenced too much by dramatic films of big chunks of ice breaking off the snouts of glaciers, which happens every year. It is claimed that sea level changes predicted are unlikely even to be detectable for hundreds of years.
Professor Paul Reiter of Pasteur Institute (Paris) discusses the alarm about the predicted move into the temperate zone of supposedly tropical malaria, which as he says used to be common in Europe until improved public sanitation eradicated it. It is a disease of poor countries, not of the tropics. Reiter claims he was an early member of the IPCC and withdrew when he found that statements that there is no evidence of a connection between human activity and rising global temperature were removed from the early drafts of IPCC reports to ‘sex up’ the final version. Several people including Patrick Moore commented that the global warming prediction has become an orthodoxy much like a religion, and doubters are treated like heretics.
The film’s final claim is that the issue is being used to discourage and prevent economic development in the poorest countries, and is just a conspiracy by comfortable residents of the wealthiest countries against the desperately poor people of Africa, millions of whom live in unelectrified villages where children die of smoke inhalation from dung fires in unventilated huts, all of which could be prevented by developing Africa’s coal reserves.
It is an amazing set of claims, all of which are dismissed as distorted, dishonest and vicious by the vast majority of practising scientists. Two panellists from BP and the NSW Minerals Council said the power generation and mining industries have moved beyond the sceptics’ arguments and are now actively dealing with the risks to business and to the future of our economy posed by the convincing science.
At the end, Tony Jones opened up to questions from the audience. The first strident question came from a creationist claiming that many reports have shown a lot of Carbon-l4 in coal deposits (Carbon-l4 has a short half-life and becomes almost undetectable after about 100,000 years) so coal cannot be hundreds of millions of years old as the scientists claim. He was obviously not interested in dealing with the science, just in pushing a young-Earth creationist agenda. Tony Jones quickly by-passed him in the hope of getting questions from people living in the real world. Instead he got several obsessed with the evils of eugenics and wanting to vilify scientists like Julian Huxley who had an enthusiasm for eugenics in the 1 930s. Getting an audience to take climate change seriously is apparently a big challenge as some had entirely different agendas to pursue.
It was revealed during Jones’s interview with Durkin that the ‘documentary’ has been through several versions with significant errors being removed and one interviewee threatening legal action if his segment was not removed, as his views were totally distorted by editing. So, after all the controversy it was exposed as a shonky effort from a filmmaker with a history of producing dubious ‘documentaries’, using contributors who were either misled and distorted or who used discredited data and dishonest argument, all of which has been shown to be false by the scientific community. The politicisation of science is a dangerous process, as it becomes just another set of ‘opinions’ to spin into whatever the presenter and backers want to claim.
Robert Bender is an environmental activist, a Victorian Humanist, and former Council of Australian Humanist Societies Treasurer.
From Australian Humanist No 87 Spring 2007.
The Dirty Politics of Climate Change
By Clive Hamilton. Black Inc. Books, 2007. $29.95
Reviewer: Howard Hodgens
This book is an exposé of the fight by the government, the mining industry, and the media to remorselessly reject the scientific claims of climate change — and their reluctant conversion in the face of accumulating facts. With the unprecedented boom of Australian energy exports, this powerful trio of the ‘greenhouse mafia’ or the carbon lobby have fought tooth and nail against scientists, CSIRO, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the International Panel on Climate Change, and other environmental lobby groups.
The actions of the greenhouse mafia went on for ten years before being exposed by a Four Corners program in February 2006. Why didn’t the general media report on this ongoing scandal? Because they were complicit, up to their ears in debunking report after report, and generally denigrating the climate experts. In this, they were backed by the most powerful industry groups in Australia, which met in 2004 under the cynical title, the Light Emissions Technology Advisory Group. Notes from that meeting came to light in 2005 — in spite of the government’s attempt to maintain absolute confidentiality, as it was concerned at the perception that it was not doing enough to meet its greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
The ‘denialists’ of climate change, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Coal Association and the Australian Petrol and Exploration Association, helped fund front organisations paralleling the fight in America against smoking. These groups used their influence on Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, The Australian, and various right-wing think-tanks who were predicting the apocalypse if the mild targets set in Kyoto came to pass. More serious was the infiltration of the bureaucracy by lobbyists who assisted the ministries in formulating policy satisfactory to the fossil-fuel, aluminium and power generating lobbies, and rewarding public servants with promotion if they followed the government line. As one member of the greenhouse mafia put it ‘we know more about energy policy than the Government does.’ The Chief Scientist, Dr Robin Batterham, was a case in point, becoming an advocate for geo-sequestration, a still untested technology, whilst still on the payroll of Rio Tinto.
Australia has the highest emissions of greenhouse gases per capita in the world, but our government has continued to deny its responsibility because it wants to protect its industrial backers. With the release of the Stern report in the UK and Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth there has been something of a modification of their long-stated position. The persisting drought and devastating summer bushfires also brought policy complacency into doubt.
The government preferred to argue that it was the responsibility of individuals to reduce their pollution, in an attempt to shift the blame from the biggest polluters — power generators, agriculture, and transport. Its other tactic was to use big polluting countries like China and India as scapegoats for Australia’s lack of action. The big quandary for foreign observers is, since Australia has repudiated the Kyoto Protocol why does it want to keep a seat at the table? The theory is that Australia can interfere with its customers’ involvement in Kyoto. Australia is the world’s greatest exporter of coal, and China, not yet a major customer for Australian coal, represents an irresistible lure, particularly as 80% of our exports of steaming coal go to countries that have emission reductions under the Kyoto protocol. The Howard government’s claim that Kyoto is flawed because China does not have obligations under that protocol is deeply cynical, because the last thing it wants is for China to join the rest of the world in reducing emissions.
If the opposition can capitalise on the prospect of investment in new energy-saving technologies, like solar, wind, and geothermal, rather than nuclear, so creating new jobs, it may just be enough to turn round the country’s reputation.
From Australian Humanist No. 87 Spring 2007
It is now 100 years since the colony of New Zealand took a step toward independence and became a Dominion on 26 September 1907. To mark Dominion Day and for those who know of the late Winifred Emma May, an English admirer of New Zealand, we have a little real Patience Strong by Patience Strong. :-)
THE COMPANY OF NATIONS
A group of islands, loved and lovely, first a colony –
Strung out like a necklace flung across the southern seas –
Now a beautiful Dominion, God’s own gift to us –
A jewel in the Israel crown, a pearl most marvellous
Rich in churches, farms and cities; pastures, cattle, sheep –
where this people British-bred their ancient laws may keep.
First of Britain’s family to come to Britain’s aid –
In two great world-wide wars – the memory shall not fade –
From the Mother heart that beats in London’s sanctuary.
Across the world we hail New Zealand – one of our company.