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Climate Scientist Open Letter Wars

Aussie Science Community: “Climate Change is Real, We Are Causing It,” Media Botched Coverage

Aussie Ocean temps SOURCE: Governmeny of Australia Bureau of Meteorology

In February we covered a letter to the 112th Congress by a group of distinguished American scientists advocating for a depoliticization of the science of climate change. The most memorable passage of that letter might have been:

Political philosophy has a legitimate role in policy debates, but not in the underlying climate science. There are no Democratic or Republican carbon dioxide molecules; they are all invisible and they all trap heat.

On June 13 a larger group of Australian scientists one-upped that American letter by publishing their own open letter with even more uncharacteristically blunt statements of scientific fact. Besides direct calls for media accountability, the Australians are taking their letter one step further by following it up with a two-week series of statements titled “Clearing up the Climate Debate.” Each statement in the series explains a basic science concept that the media gets wrong again and again, such as: why we know the greenhouse effect is real, why we know humans are contributing to it, and the difference between peer review and rhetoric.

Below is the text of the initial letter (emphasis is ours). At the bottom you can find a list of all of the signatories and links to each of the daily statements. Now to be fair, not everyone on the list is a “climate scientist.” In July 2010 a group of 31,000 purported climate scientists was slammed for inflating its numbers with nonscientists in a similar short petition stating that there is “no convincing scientific evidence” for anthropogenic climate change.

But here’s the difference. That petition had only 39 actual climate scientists among its 31,000 signatories, and scarcely more than a quarter of the total had doctorates in any field at all. The signatories of the Australian letter by contrast at least seem to all hold professorships, and have published in the peer-reviewed literature. Some of them can even be found in the interactive climate science literature graphic we featured last week. And let’s also not forget that while a National Academies study found that 97 percent of climate experts agree that climate change is “very likely” caused by human activity, in the end science is–thankfully–not decided by majority vote.

Here’s the Australian letter from June 13:

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes.

Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now.

Like it or not, humanity is facing a problem that is unparalleled in its scale and complexity. The magnitude of the problem was given a chilling focus in the most recent report of the International Energy Agency, which their chief economist characterised as the “worst news on emissions.”

Limiting global warming to 2°C is now beginning to look like a nearly insurmountable challenge.

Like all great challenges, climate change has brought out the best and the worst in people.

A vast number of scientists, engineers, and visionary businessmen are boldly designing a future that is based on low-impact energy pathways and living within safe planetary boundaries; a future in which substantial health gains can be achieved by eliminating fossil-fuel pollution; and a future in which we strive to hand over a liveable planet to posterity.

At the other extreme, understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes.

Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny.

Australians have been exposed to a phony public debate which is not remotely reflected in the scientific literature and community of experts.

Beginning today, The Conversation will bring much-needed and long-overdue accountability to the climate “sceptics.”

For the next two weeks, our series of daily analyses will show how they can side-step the scientific literature and how they subvert normal peer review. They invariably ignore clear refutations of their arguments and continue to promote demonstrably false critiques.

We will show that “sceptics” often show little regard for truth and the critical procedures of the ethical conduct of science on which real skepticism is based.

The individuals who deny the balance of scientific evidence on climate change will impose a heavy future burden on Australians if their unsupported opinions are given undue credence.

The signatories below jointly authored this article, and some may also contribute to the forthcoming series of analyses.


Winthrop Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, Australian Professorial Fellow, UWA

Dr. Matthew Hipsey, Research Assistant Professor, School of Earth and Environment, Centre of Excellence for Ecohydrology, UWA

Dr Julie Trotter, Research Assistant Professor, School of Earth and Environment, UWA Oceans Institute, UWA

Winthrop Professor Malcolm McCulloch, F.R.S., Premier’s Research Fellow, UWA Oceans Institute, School of Earth and Environment, UWA

Professor Kevin Judd, School of Mathematics and Statistics, UWA

Dr Thomas Stemler, Assistant Professor, School of Mathematics and Statistics, UWA

Dr. Karl-Heinz Wyrwoll, Senior Lecturer, School of Earth and Environment, UWA

Dr. Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleoclimate scientist, School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Research School of Earth Science, Planetary Science Institute, ANU

Prof Michael Ashley, School of Physics, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof David Karoly, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

Prof John Abraham, Associate Professor, School of Engineering, University of St. Thomas

Prof Ian Enting, ARC Centre for Mathematics and Statistics of Complex Systems, University of Melbourne

Prof John Wiseman, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Ben Newell, School of Psychology, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Matthew England, co-Director, Climate Change Research Centre, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Dr Alex Sen Gupta Climate Change Research Centre,Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof. Mike Archer AM, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Steven Sherwood, co-Director, Climate Change Research Centre, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Dr. Katrin Meissner, ARC Future Fellow, Climate Change Research Centre, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Dr Jason Evans, ARC Australian Research Fellow, Climate Change Research Centre,Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Global Change Institute, UQ

Dr Andy Hogg, Fellow, Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU

Prof John Quiggin, School of Economics, School of Political Science & Intnl Studies, UQ

Prof Chris Turney FRSA FGS FRGS, Climate Change Research Centre and School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW

Dr Gab Abramowitz, Lecturer, Climate Change Research Centre,Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Andy Pitman, Climate Change Research Centre, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Barry Brook, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change, University of Adelaide

Prof Mike Sandiford, School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne

Dr Michael Box, Associate Professor, School of Physics, Faculty of Science, UNSW

Prof Corey Bradshaw, Director of Ecological Modelling, The Environment Institute, The University of Adelaide

Dr Paul Dargusch, School of Agriculture & Food Science, UQ

Prof Nigel Tapper, Professor Environmental Science, School of Geography and Environmental Science Monash University

Prof Jason Beringer, Associate Professor & Deputy Dean of Research, School of Geography & Environmental Science, Monash University

Prof Neville Nicholls, Professorial Fellow, School of Geography & Environmental Science, Monash University

Prof Dave Griggs, Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University

Prof Peter Sly, Medicine Faculty, School of Paediatrics & Child Health, UQ

Dr Pauline Grierson, Senior Lecturer, School of Plant Biology, Ecosystems Research Group, Director of West Australian Biogeochemistry Centre, UWA

Prof Jurg Keller, IWA Fellow, Advanced Water Management Centre, UQ

Prof Amanda Lynch, School of Geography & Environmental Science, Monash University

A/Prof Steve Siems, School of Mathematical Sciences, Monash University

Prof Justin Brookes, Director, Water Research Centre, The University of Adelaide

Prof Glenn Albrecht, Professor of Sustainability, Director: Institute for Sustainability and Technology Policy (ISTP), Murdoch University

Winthrop Professor Steven Smith, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, UWA

Dr Kerrie Unsworth, School of Business, UWA

Dr Pieter Poot, Assistant Professor in Plant Conservation Biology, School of Plant Biology, UWA

Adam McHugh, Lecturer, School of Engineering and Energy, Murdoch University

Dr Louise Bruce, Research Associate, School of Earth and Environment, UWA

Are you a scientist? Do you agree? If you’d like to add your name to the list, send an email to

This is the first part of our series Clearing up the Climate Debate. To read the other instalments, follow the links below:

This article is adapted from a Climate Progress post by Joe Romm.

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