Spot the recycled denial VI – Chris Kenny

In this series, I aim to teach you to recognise the recycled denialism that is rife in the public arena these days.

I don’t refute this nonsense by constructing a new argument each time which, point-by-point, shows why their claims are not supported by the evidence. This is pointless, since the majority of non-greenhouse theorists (‘pseudo-sceptics’) blithely ignore any such counterpoints and simply repeat the same arguments elsewhere. Instead I rebut by hyperlinking to some of the wealth of explanatory material out there on the world wide web. For reasons of general accessibility, the articles l link to are predominantly pitched for a lay audience – but they are consistent in linking to the peer-reviewed primary scientific literature (sometimes I’ll link straight to the journal papers). I focus primarily on the science content of the piece, except where non-science arguments are clearly false and demand correction.


Chris Kenny is a former journalist and senior adviser to state and federal Liberal governments who writes a regular Opinion column for my local News Corp. paper, the Adelaide Advertiser. He also often guest hosts a radio talkback show on FIVEaa and is now a senior reporter on Channel 9’s A Current Affair. Over the past 3 months alone he’s written 3 articles attacking the science behind global warming (sea levels are not rising, CO2 is good, it hasn’t warmed since 1998, etc.). A man on a mission.

In the past, blogger Ian Musgrave has done a good job of debunking Chris’ nonsense in his ‘The Advertiser’s War on Science‘ series. But now it’s time for me to once again take up the ‘Spot the Recycled Denial‘ cudgels to tackle Chris’ New Years Eve 2008 rant, entitled ‘As the planet cools, check the science ‘.

First, here’s a snippet of this Op Ed:

APART from the global financial crisis, the main issue this year has been global warming. Or, rather, the fear of global warming.

Inconveniently for global-warming alarmists, global average temperatures have, for 10 years running, fallen short of those recorded in 1998.

Still, there has been plenty of action. The Federal Government has outlined its planned carbon tax scheme, the U.S. has elected a President promising to tackle carbon emissions and diplomats have agonised unsuccessfully over a truly international scheme.

All this action suggests the remedy is running ahead of the detailed diagnosis. The raw temperature figures allow room for significant scientific interpretation.

The consensus view is that the past decade has still been historically warm and the trend is up, so it’s just a matter of time before the 1998 records are topped. Dissenters say we are seeing the end of a warming phase and we may be entering a cooler period.

We all know the climate changes constantly. The critical question is whether carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are significantly affecting climate patterns.

The full article can be read here

As per the revised format of this series, rather than reproducing the article in full and hyperlinking the refuted claims, I’ll simply list them below with two or three random relevant links (of the huge number now available to the serious internet investigator!) to the scientific information or direct debunking. It will be up to you to look at the original article and pinpoint these recycled arguments:

1. Global warming stopped in 1998.

[Short response: A recycled argument based on cherry picking a strong El Nino year. Not based on any statistical analysis of the temperature time series, which shows ongoing warming, especially when the ENSO signal is removed. Ignores ocean heat content accumulation, which is the key measure of global warming.]

More information:

2. We may be entering a cooling period.

[Short response: Presumably he means if the sun gets stuck in its current sunspot low. Yet a simple calculation will show that less than 10 years of greenhouse gas forcing offset the difference between the peak and trough of the solar cycle, so this is not possible without widespread and sustained vulcanism – is he predicting this? A bold prognosticator indeed.]

More information:

3. Climate is always changing.

[Short response: Climate changes because it is forced to — it doesn’t change because it suddenly ‘decides to’, and it doesn’t just flip-flop randomly. It has to be pushed in one direction (warming) or another (cooling) by positive forcing or feedbacks (e.g. brighter sun, addition of greenhouse gases, lower albedo) or negative forcing/feedbacks (e.g. dimmer sun, drawdown of greenhouse gases, increased atmospheric dust, greater ice cover, increased volcanic activity).]

More information:

4. Australia’s emissions are minuscule compared to other polluting nations, so we shouldn’t take action until they do.

[Short response: Australia’s emissions are about 1.5% of the global total, but we ship about about another 2-3% worth of coal. Our per capita emissions are amoung the highest of any country, so our individual responsibility is far greater than the world average — the average Australian would have to reduce their emission by half just to be equivalent to the average European — and much further again to get down to an average Chinese or Indian.]

More information:

5. We ain’t deniers!

[Short response: Yes, you are.]

6. David Bellamy and Phil Chapman are credible.

[Short response: No, they’re not.]

7. There’s no proof! Prove it! (from retired CSIRO scientist [a coal geologist] Dr Guy LeBlanc Smith)

[Short response: If you want proof, do pure mathematics. Otherwise, seek hypotheses that are repeatedly consistent with evidence. As cce succinctly says:

Eventually, after listening to all of this evidence and reasoning, a skeptic will demand that you prove it to them. In order to “prove” that humanity is heating up the atmosphere, we’d have to create an experiment with two or more models. This would involve constructing a new planet, identical in every way to the Earth except with no human influence. Then we’d speed up time so we can observe any differences between the two planets. Obviously, we can’t do that. We are instead running the experiment on our only working model: our home, the earth.

So when skeptics demand proof, first of all they don’t understand the scientific definition of the word, and secondly, they are asking the impossible. No amount of evidence will change their opinion if they require an experiment that is impossible to construct.”]

More information:

8. Uncertainties mean we should wait before taking action.

[Short response: Climate scientists are as sure as it is scientifically possible to be [see point 7 above] that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change, and that this will result in damaging impacts which will increase in magnitude as emissions continue and temperatures continue to rise. Detailed economic modelling has clearly shown that the cost of inaction greatly outweighs the cost of action, even when impact-related uncertainties are incorporated into these analyses.]

More information:

9. Sceptics and ‘sceptical research’ are suppressed.

[Short response: All scientists, in every field, play by a common set of’ ‘rules’. This involves having their work (scientific papers) scrutinised for quality, reliability and repeatability by a set of independent (usually confidential) experts — this is known as blind peer review. Nothing is or can be ‘suppressed’ by some conspiratorial coterie; but only work of reasonable quality and veracity tends to get through the peer review filter and be published in reputable journals. Indeed, as any practicing (actively publishing) scientist will tell you, science does not and cannot work by collusion. The IPCC is a UN review body with scientists nominated by each participating country; it conducts no primary research because its job is to summarise the already peer-reviewed scientific literature.]

More information:

10. The supposed consensus among scientists is a sham, 650 scientists have disputed anthropogenic global warming.

[Short response: Climate warming due to human activity is mainstream science involving a huge number of research disciplines; consensus does not mean that every single scientist agrees with man-made climate change, but that the vast majority does agree; this is reflected in the peer-reviewed literature, for which surveys have found >99% of the primary scientific literature explicitly or implicitly endorse this view; former Science editor Donald Kennedy said: “Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic is rare in science“]

More information:


To his credit, Chris does say “Finally, we do need to give the planet the benefit of the doubt, so improved energy efficiency and some other measures are indisputably sensible. But at the same time, we must continue the serious research and debate.”

No arguments there about energy efficiency or ongoing serious research, but I wonder what ‘debate’ he is referring to? If it is the multitude of scientific debates about climate feedbacks, sensitivity, tipping elements, relative impacts of climate change on natural systems, etc. then I do agree. But if recycled points such as ‘Is the Earth cooling’ is what he means, then he’s asking to shadowbox with strawmen.

Strangely, Chis also recommends the Gristmill Skeptics website in the links at the end of his article. I wonder if he read it?

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

23 replies on “Spot the recycled denial VI – Chris Kenny”

Chris Kenny is not a scientist working in the field of climate change and so he does not know whether anthropogenic greenhouse gasses will tip the planet into the collapse of well being in coming decades and centuries or not.

I am no scientist working in this field either so I rely on the peer reviewed science of the IPCC and the specialists that work in particular fields of impacts, and updates by climate scientists on assumptions and models.

When the geoscience expert Dr Guy LeBlanc Smith can provide enough scientific argument to change the IPCC collective assessment so that it is cooling we should be worried about I will accept the new consensus but not before.

David Bellamy and Phil Chapman are not climate change scientists working in the field of climate change and so I don’t know why Chris Kenny would mention them in justification of his argument. It just makes him look like he has little skill in assessing the quality of information sources.

The bit I really dont like about Chris Kenny’s style are the subtle word tricks such as “We all know the climate changes constantly”. Well yes of course, no one is arguing that fact, but the way that this language is used is to undermine the serious issues associated with anthropogenic climate change. Whether one believes the IPCC or not, the risk is about 2.5 to 6.5 degrees of additional climate change caused by humans with current fossil fuel intensive behaviour by the end of this century, dwarfing natural cycles, and with continuing consequences for thousands to tens of thousands of years. Do we all know what life would be like in Southern Australia with say at an additional 4.5 degrees, let alone an additional 6.5 degrees of global warming? Does Chris Kenny think that we can adapt to such temperatures?

John Howard used the “We all know” phrase with Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. This is the language of trying to stifle legitimate debate.

The community does welcome rather than shun serious debate but Chris Kenny’s selective use of statistics and labelling of others means that he cannot participate in such a debate unless he learns more about evidence, logic, reading trends, interpreting uncertainty and drops his ‘global warming alarmist’ name calling of many that are experts in the field of climate change science.

As for his three points, Barry covers them in his approach not to get caught up in taking on recycled deniers. I have a slightly different take:

· First, the question of whether the world is flat or round is far from settled.

· Second, if C02 is a problem, why not confirm this with the tragedy of the commons logic.

· Finally, lets have a third point that is random gibberish about token efficiencies that readers all agree with so that the author appears to be balanced after undermining the science and urgency to address the risks.



Steve, please keep on topic. The deleted post was totally disconnected from the topic of this blog entry. I appreciate your forceful passion for sustainability, and you are welcome to post your ideas in the comments of relevant threads here, but please
ensure you do so in areas that are somewhat relevant to your topic.

I would not wish to ban you from posting at this blog like has occurred to you at numerous other sites, but I’ll equally not have this blog used as a conduit for opinions that are irrelevant to the topic at hand. That is called SPAM, straight and simple.


That is utterly hilarious that he cites Coby’s excellent work. Clearly he merely glanced at the title and perhaps the index which can look like a Denier screed if you’re not paying attention.

Feedback on new format:
A much more efficient use of your time and one I will probably copy ;-), but it would help a lot if the fables (eg “1. Global warming stopped in 1998.”) stood out more, particularly with so many links the section separations are lost.

I would suggest bold or even Heading 3 so it is clearer.

[Good advice Mike — done]


Dear Barry,

Your posting above is clear. My comments are not intended to arouse anyone’s ire. Sorry that has happened. I will reform my posts in accord with your recommendations.

Thanks for all you are doing to protect biodiversity from massive extirpation, the environment from irreversible degradation, the Earth from wanton dissipation of its resources and the family of humanity from reckless endangerment by the unbridled overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human species in these early years of Century XXI.




I urge working scientists to write with objections and corrections to every mainstream media article that presents misinformation on climate science. Fill their mail bags with them! I realise this may not be part of the job description but given the world changing seriousness of this issue, attempts to mislead the public need to bring a strong and consistent response from credible professionals, preferably with the letterheads of relevant faculties and institutions so that it’s clear that such objections are much more than an individual expressing an unfounded opinion.

There’s expert testimony and there are people shouting from the back after the verdict is handed down. The public at large needs to be made more aware of the difference and the mainstream media are the conduit most people get their information from.



a) We need our scientists to do science, and if they sometimes choose to take up the cudgels, I’m glad … but

b) The rest of us need to help out as we can, because there’s just too much of this stuff. I’d guess that if Barry tried to chase down every one, he’d get ~zero research done.

c) In any case, when you write in response to an article, you are being *reactive*. I’d claim that it is better to take a longer-term view and be *proactive*, as in What to do about poor science reporting.

Most of the dumb junk doesn’t need a climate researcher.

Coral growth declining.
At least some respected media are willing to report the science. You still get some pseude-skeptics commenting on the story but most are being given short shrift by the commentators.
I will post these on Bolt’s blog – just to stir them up – but of course they won’t be convinced. A similar article I posted drew only one response though -“we don’t believe anything the ABC reports”!!


It’s a pity there is no effective policing of the MEAA journalism
code of ethics. I spent some months going through the process
with the Press Council last year and was profoundly unimpressed and that
was over a much simpler issue than Kenny’s article — which is
very carefully written.

Kenny doesn’t ever say “Global warming stopped in 1998” and
when he voices profound stupidities like “the temperature is [now] falling
precipitously” he is careful to quote somebody. You can’t slam a journalist
for quoting somebody and there is always an idiot they can find to
quote when they want to say something which they know will get them into
trouble if they just say it straight out. Quoting people is similar
to a trick lawyers
use when they want to do something illegal in court, they say “on instruction”
which is code for “my client told me to do this, otherwise I wouldn’t do
it because … “. Usually because it breaches some law or procedural guideline.

You can tell the really dodgy parts of Kenny’s story because they
are in quotes.


@ Geoff

“You can’t slam a journalist for quoting somebody”

No, but you can slam them for who they choose to quote and the context in which they provide it. As you note, Kenny knows perfectly well that he is being dodgy, and the failure to provide appropriate context betrays advocacy journalism trying to pretend it is objective.

Advocacy is fine when it is acknowledged and up front, but even then it should be rational if you are making any pretense of informing and educating.


Kenny’s piece is classic wedge polemics.There is little point in arguing with these denialists/sceptics as they are not interested in evidence based on good science nor even in logic, note them then ignore them. I think we expend far too much energy responding to their agenda of BAS.

I think for 2009 we need to push hard on the positives of energy efficiencies, cleaner air, a more secure future using renewables and every other obvious counterpoint you can think of. IOW-cheaper,cleaner,healthier,a real future. Your average bod knows their being lied to give them an honest postive message to live with.


Q for Barry:

Is there a good current post/source (post IPCC AR4, I’ve read the relevant WG II sections) on Australia flora/fauna movement/range/growing season indicators?

In N. America, people who can easily manage to ignore physics and statistics, and think that AGW is wrong if they can find a badly-sited surface station …

sometimes have little answer when one points out that animals and plants don’t read thermometers or NASA or Hadley or satellite results, and yet are moving poleward or uphill, and unfortunately, weeds and insects are amongst the most mobile.

Among the more striking to people in North America are:
– the pine bark beetles now ravaging British Columbia, and expected to kill all the lodgpoles in Colorado. One might argue that the latter is due in part to bad forest management, but it’s hard to argue that for BC, which has <5M people, mostly in the Southwest, in an area substantially bigger than Texas.
– recent growth of West Nile virus in Canada
– Sugar maple range (in New England) shrinking Northward.

Is there a good corresponding set for Australia? I.e., I’ve read WG II’s Chapter 11, but the question is: are there specific examples that resonate with people there?


John @12, alas there is little direct data or published analyses on biological responses to climate change for Australia, although a large amount of archived monitoring data covering the last 20-30 years that is now being trawled by many groups (my students/postdocs included). This is likely to reveal similar biological signals to those quantified in the Northern Hemisphere.

When the Rosenzweig meta-analysis came out last year, I made the following comment to AusSMC which pretty much summarises the current state of play:

The new Nature by Rosenzwieg, Karoly and co-authors is a statistical integration and summary of the scientific literature on observed changes to physical and biological systems on Earth. In its broad approach and the data sets examined, it uses similar methods to that taken in the Working Group II report of the IPCC 4th Assessment report. But for those people who want the main facts without needing to wade through the many hundred pages of the official IPCC WGII report, this paper is a good summary of the main impacts and adaptation for climate change. As such, it is a must read.

There are a couple of really interesting results. One is that the evidence for change in the expected direction if climate change was having an effect – that is, changes in physical (ice sheets, stream flow, coastal erosion etc.) and biological systems (timing of breeding events, shifting species ranges, population declines etc.) – is overwhelming. Around 90% of all reasonably long-term observations show changes consistent with global warming and associated effects. There is always considerable natural variability in response of individual species, physical process and so on. Therefore, this level of concordance is really quite remarkable, and all the more so when we consider that there has been only ~0.75C of temperature change so far, yet the expectation for this century is four to nine times that amount. So these changes are only a minor portent of what is likely to come, especially if we continue on our carbon profligate pathway.

The other interesting point is that Australia is only sparsely represented. There are very few long-term datasets from Australia or New Zealand. In biological systems, for instance, there are 22 studies from Australia and a staggering 28 thousand from Europe (there are also relatively few from Asia, Africa and South America). Clearly Australia, as a science-savvy nation, needs to foster a broad-based system of biophysical monitoring, including the establishment of a large number of long-term monitoring sites and a stronger emphasis on providing resources to database and analyse our existing records (which are currently warehoused but hardly used or referenced for any evidence-based decision making). This is a great challenge for Australia, if we are to predict future climate change impacts with any degree of confidence and be in a reasonable position to build resilience into natural and human systems. Let’s hope future government Budgets and funding initiatives pursue this urgent imperative with the required gusto. We’ve no time to waste.

Other scientists made similar comments on AusSMC on the dearth of Southern Hemisphere biol response data. See:


re: #13 barry

Thanks. I wasn’t seeing much for Oz, but I didn’t know if that was caused by not looking hard enough, or if there just weren’t many studies. I found that U of Toronto researchers are now concerned about kudzu on the march North. In the US, kudzu is sometime called “the plant that ate the South”, i.e., a good example of a really bad idea of an introduced species brought on purpose.

That reminded me of Oz’s own cane toads.


J.M., I think when it comes to editors’ mailbags, the suitably qualified would (should) get taken more seriously than someone like myself who has no relevant qualifications or holds no relevant position. It may seem onerous to people who are already busy, and it may not take deep study to see the flaws in denialist inspired nonsense but consistent and persistent rebuttals by the qualified looks necessary. Or else such letters and opinions will be passed over and dismissed, especially if a bigger proportion of letters appear to be in support of climate change denial.

We need people speaking from knowledge and expertise to begin to shift that big portion of the public who take denialist arguments at face value.


There is a new, flabergastedly bad denialist piece in The Australian today [it’s so bad, it’s almost as if The Australian editors are now taking the mickey out of the denialists by letting them expose their intellectual genitals in such a gross and vulgar display of ignorance].

Which gives me a chance to make an offer (since I’m enaged with another blog post) – does a BNC reader wish to have a go at this one, following the format of the previous few ‘Spot the Recycled Denial’ pieces? If so, please do, and send it on to me (bwbrook at Provided it fits the format and is properly done, I’ll happily publish it as a guest post.


Although the article by Jon Jenkins is disturbingly bad journalism, I must say the balance of people writing in support of it is even more disturbing.
Australia seems to have more anti climate change people than other countries?
I realise our science education is pretty bad but this is getting ridiculous!
I’ve had to reply to Chris a few times in the ‘Tiser and can’t work out why the editors of the Advertiser let him dig himself into holes with false statements? Don’t they have a duty of care to their staff? Is it too difficult to take him aside and just make sure he has his facts right before publishing? There’s having an opinion and then there is simply being wrong. By now I would have thought Chris could at least be responding to the grayer areas of climate science rather than denying reality?


I’m petrified of global warming.
Earlier this year I survived a day that maxed at 45.7C. Unfortunately many of my pets did not. I lost all of my indoor fish, several chickens, a couple of aviary birds and 99% of the worms in my worm farm.
If the planet warms 3 or 4 degrees days like that will become quite common which is, to me, rather frightening.
I’m really tired of flat-earthers like Kenny keeping a dead debate alive.


Thanks Marcel for pointing out, from personal experience, the ramifications of increasing temperatures on our lives.
We should all be very afraid of catastrophic GW/CC. Unfortunately there are some people, with limited intelligence and imagination, who obviously do not have any comprehension of the magnitude of the problem. Those who seek to delay action by disingenuous, pseudo scepticism of the science should, and indeed may, be held responsible.


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