A chat with Abbott’s climate sceptic business adviser

Maurice Newman, outspoken climate sceptic and chair of the Coalition’s Business Advisory Council, is thoughtful and well-intentioned. But it would be great if he took the time to talk with those scientists he accuses of being in on a scam.

I’d just shut-down the computer and was about to rush off for the train when the phone rang. Reluctantly I picked it up, but I’m glad I did.

It was Maurice Newman, a luminary of the Australian business community. He was the former chair of the Australian Stock Exchange, former executive chairman of Deutsche Bank in Australia, former chair of the ABC, and nominated to be the chair of a future Abbott Government’s Business Advisory Council.

He’s also an outspoken doubter of global warming.

The most recent example of his views being an article published in The Australian a few days ago.  It suggests that a large number of climate scientists are deliberately misleading people in pursuit of a political agenda.

Newman was calling because he felt he’d been mischaracterised in an article in Climate Spectator.  Newman said he was genuinely “agnostic” about whether global warming was occurring back in 2010 when, as chair of the ABC, he accused the media of group-think on climate change

I found that incredibly hard to believe. Just a few years later in 2012 he was publicly accusing large numbers of climate scientists as being more like priests than honest scientists.

What followed was a long and exceedingly pleasant chat between two people with a genuine concern for the best interests of society as a whole. 

We both fervently disagree with each other. But not once did I consider that Newman’s motives were driven by his own bank account, or that he was some kind of fossil fuel stooge.

Newman’s experience at the Australian Stock Exchange (when it was a quasi-regulator), and also company stock analysis at Deutsche Bank, had taught him the importance of being sceptical. Working in these roles one would encounter senior businessmen in positions of considerable authority trying to deceive and hoodwink investors. 

To guard against such deceptive behaviour, Newman had learnt to never take it on authority that something is true. Instead you need to look at the underlying data.

I have to say I take a similar view when it comes to the world of business. Business is not about the pursuit of truth, it’s about the pursuit of money. Even where this might come at the expense of someone else’s gullibility.

So when a Russian hacker released emails that were claimed to show respected climate scientists had fabricated or manipulated data to indicate global warming, Newman’s sceptical eye was aroused.  For Newman the clincher is that he looks at the temperature data of the last 15 years and sees temperature rise has stalled, while CO2 levels have continued to rise. Surely this means global warming is bunk.

In addition he notes flaws in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report. He cites the statement that the Himalayan Glaciers would disappear by 2035; and dire claims about Brazil’s rainforests that were sourced from a publication produced by the green group WWF.

Where Newman is from – the financial world – mass delusions and deceptions driven by greed have occurred repeatedly. The dot com tech wreck bubble, the recent sub-prime mortgage meltdown, and further back, the 1929 Great Crash provide precedents where large numbers of people, all driven by a common financial interest, act in concert to perpetuate a mistaken belief. And a powerful few also deliberately cover up information that would reveal the belief to be mistaken, because it would bring them undone. 

Newman told me that subsequent to him making the speech to ABC journalists about group think, he was subject to vociferous abuse, some of it from scientists. Scientists shouldn’t be sending such abuse, he said, they should be objective. This just reinforced to him that there was something amiss.

Out of this conversation it was agreed that he’d write a piece for Climate Spectator, giving his point of view why global warming was a scam.

After seeing the incredible accusations contained within his article, and knowing that there were counter arguments backed by credible evidence, I felt it needed to be published with a counter perspective. 

Unfortunately Newman was unwilling to accept this, and so his article ran in The Australian instead.

I’ve elected to still publish the counter perspective by John Cook today, and I recommend you read both articles.

Newman is an intelligent and well-intentioned person.

But I do wish he’d make the effort to engage with some of the incredibly intelligent, hard working, earnest and underpaid scientists that are out in the field, undertaking the research that suggests humans are changing the climate. 

These are the people who brave the Antarctic and Arctic cold; the people who deal with mind-numbingly detailed streams of data and computer code; and the people collecting painstaking records of animal and plant distributions and behaviour, as some examples.

My request would be that he just listen to them, hear about how they do their job, and the effort they go to in controlling for bias and ensuring data accuracy. 

Then once he’s heard about how they do their job, ask them whether they think humans are changing the climate and why.

I’d also like him to ask them how much they get paid and what motivates them to do their job.

Then I’d like him to reflect on how this is different to the remuneration and motivations of staff who played a large part in the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

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