Alan Shore is making a complaint to ACMA about Andrew Bolt’s July 10 editorial on the Bolt report and is seeking feedback on the draft below. His original complaint to Network Ten is here and their response is here.
The text that follows is by Alan Shore.
It is contended that Mr Andrew Bolt’s opening editorial comment aired during the Sunday July 10, 2011 broadcast of The Bolt Report breached clause 4.3.1 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice.
Specifically, Mr Bolt’s statement that “for at least a decade the planet has not warmed even though emissions have soared”. This claim was accompanied by a graph of UAH Lower Troposphere Mean Temperature data from 1995 to 2011 (inclusive) titled “Where’s the Warming”. A least squares trend analysis of the data Mr Bolt referred to revealed a warming trend over the period of 0.13Â°C per decade or 1.3Â°C per century. In my original complaint I also limited the period to January 2000 to December 2010 or “at least a decade” and found a warming trend of 0.17Â°C per decade or 1.7Â°C per century. However, to be fairer to Mr Bolt if we limit the period to January 2001 to December 2010 we find a warming trend of 0.09Â°C per decade or 0.9Â°C per century.
The network’s response to the above point was to draw attention to the fact that the “graph depicted temperature changes both higher and lower than the average temperature for 1981-2010, of no more than 0.7 degrees Celsius, for the time frame referred to in the broadcast.” It is difficult to deduce the relevance of this response as it fails to address the specific point I raised in my complaint. That is, Mr Bolt’s public statement that “for at least a decade the planet has not warmed…” cannot be substantiated by reference to Mr Bolt’s preferred data set. Again, I submit that Mr Bolt’s editorial failed to “broadcast factual material accurately” and is, therefore, in breach of Clause 4.3.1 of the Code. It should also be noted that the annual temperature anomaly for any given year or series of years being higher or lower than the average tells us very little about Climate Change. Instead, we need to understand the rate of change in the temperature anomaly over climatologically relevant periods, usually 20 to 30 years or more. I find it difficult to accept that Mr Bolt does not understand this very important point, given his many years studying the science and I suggest that the network’s response to this point is more than a little disingenuous.
The second point of my complaint referred to the factual inaccuracy of Mr Bolt’s claim that “the flooding rains we were told would never fall again have returned”. As noted in the original complaint I have personally made Mr Bolt aware of a number of scientific studies, including IPCC Assessment and Special Reports dating back to at least 1997 which project that “(e)nhanced groundwater recharge and dam-filling events were expected from more frequent high-rainfall events…”
According to the Network’s response “Mr Bolt’s commentary…is based on several statements, including comments that…Professor Tim Flannery made during an interview broadcast on Landline on the ABC in February 2007. This includes Professor Flannery’s comment, “So even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that’s a real worry for the people in the bush.” Professor Flannery’s full response is as follows:
PROFESSOR TIM FLANNERY: We’re already seeing the initial impacts and they include a decline in the winter rainfall zone across southern Australia, which is clearly an impact of climate change, but also a decrease in run-off. Although we’re getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that’s translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That’s because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture. So even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that’s a real worry for the people in the bush. If that trend continues then I think we’re going to have serious problems, particularly for irrigation.
Nowhere in the above quote does Professor Flannery claim that “the flooding rains…would never fall again…” I assert that it is particularly dishonest to suggest that Professor Flannery’s comments about observed declines in winter rainfall leading to even greater observed declines in run-off are equivalent to the claim that “the flooding rains… would never fall again…”
My third point concerned Mr Bolt’s misrepresentation of the results of a Victorian Department of Primary Industries Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment (FACE) study. While Mr Bolt’s statement that the study found “about a 20% increase in yield because of elevated CO2” was factually correct he neglected to mention that the study also found elevated CO2 contributed to a decrease in crop quality, lower protein levels, and an increase in soil nitrogen uptake which could impact on cropping costs. In Mr Bolt’s commentary he clearly states that “the more carbon dioxide we put in (wheat’s) air the better it grows”. However, plant growth is more than just a function of yield. In relation to the Victorian DPI study, crop quality and cost were also important factors and the negative findings on these measures were deliberately ignored by Mr Bolt.
As the Network’s response noted, “news and current affairs programs are not required to present all factual material available to them, however if the omission of some factual material means that the factual material presented is not presented accurately, that would amount to a breach of the Code.” I contend that Mr Bolt’s failure to present the relevant findings relating to reduced protein levels and higher nitrogen uptake left the viewer with the incorrect impression that elevated atmospheric CO2 was an overall benefit for wheat cropping when in fact the study found significant negative side effects. It is clear from the Victorian DPI FACE study and others like it that climate change impacts such as higher average temperatures and lower average rainfall may in fact reduce any growth benefit from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. By Network Ten’s own measure Mr Bolt has clearly breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice.
I stand by my original submission that Mr Bolt did not broadcast factual material accurately or represent view points fairly. I maintain that Mr Bolt misrepresented the science and both misinformed and misled his audience. I again respectfully request that Mr Bolt publicly acknowledge his erroneous statements and clearly and unambiguously correct the record at the earliest possible convenience.
I wish to submit a complaint in relation to the factual accuracy of Mr Andrew Bolt’s opening editorial during The Bolt Report broadcast on Network Ten July 10, 2011. It is my contention that Mr Bolt’s commentary breached the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice. Specifically clause 4.3.1 which states:
In broadcasting news and current affairs programs, licensees:
must broadcast factual material accurately and represent viewpoints fairly, having regard to the circumstances at the time of preparing and broadcasting the program;
The details of my complaint are as follows:
1) Andrew Bolt stated that “for at least a decade the planet has not warmed even though emissions have soared”. This claim was accompanied by a graph of UAH Lower Troposphere Mean Temperature data from 1995 to 2011 (inclusive) titled “Where’s the Warming”.
As can be seen here (woodfortrees) the slope of the least squares line (trend) is 0.013 degrees per year or 0.13 degrees per decade or 1.3 degrees per century for the period 1995 to 2011. If the period is limited from January 2000 to December 2010 or “at least a decade” as per the text of the commentary, the trend is 0.017 degrees per year or 0.17 degrees per decade or 1.7 degrees per century. By any measure the statement “the planet has not warmed” cannot be substantiated by reference to Mr Bolt’s preferred data set.
2) Andrew Bolt claimed “the flooding rains we were told would never fall again have returned”. That statement is also factually wrong. As I have personally pointed out to Mr Bolt on a number of occasions, neither the IPCC nor any respected climate scientist has projected that flooding rains “would never fall again”.
As highlighted in section 11.1.1 of IPCC Fourth Assessment Report Working Group II the Third Assessment Report noted:
Increased frequency of high-intensity rainfall, which is likely to increase flood damage.
According to TAR 12.1:
The region’s climate is strongly influenced by the surrounding oceans. Key climatic features include tropical cyclones and monsoons in northern Australia; migratory mid-latitude storm systems in the south, including New Zealand; and the ENSO phenomenon, which causes floods and prolonged droughts, especially in eastern Australia.
To summarize the rainfall results, drier conditions are anticipated for most of Australia over the 21st century. However, consistent with conclusions in WGI, an increase in heavy rainfall also is projected, even in regions with small decreases in mean rainfall. This is a result of a shift in the frequency distribution of daily rainfall toward fewer light and moderate events and more heavy events. This could lead to more droughts and more floods.
As far back as the 1997 IPCC Special Report on Regional Impacts of Climate Change it was noted:
Water Supply and Hydrology: Possible overall reduction in runoff, with changes in soil moisture and runoff varying considerably from place to place but reaching as much as Â±20%, was suggested for parts of Australia by 2030. Sharpened competition was expected among water users, with the large Murray-Darling Basin river system facing strong constraints. Enhanced groundwater recharge and dam-filling events were expected from more frequent high-rainfall events, which also were expected to increase flooding, landslides, and erosion.
From The Australian Climate Group (2004) Climate change – Solutions for Australia (Co-author Professor David Karoly)
Small global temperature increases of only a degree or two can cause big changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events: heatwaves, storms with stronger winds and hail, intense rainfall and flooding, extreme bushfire conditions more often. The effect is amplified again in terms of damage to our buildings and infrastructure, because they have usually been designed to deal with historical weather patterns. We are also observing a widening gap between insured and economic losses. This difference in losses will ultimately have to be paid by the taxpayer.
The report goes on:
Flood damage shows a similar pattern. Extreme flood events, by their nature, occur more rarely and are more costly than moderate events…Climate change will bring more frequent floods and a greater cost to the community because when rain does fall, it will be more intense.
3) Andrew Bolt quoted a Victorian Department of Primary Industries FACE study that found “about a 20% increase in yield because of elevated CO2”. The following was excluded from the quote:
…the caveat there is that you can see increases in yield, but you also have to have sufficient water and nitrogen still to grow the crop and considering changes in climate, if this area of Australia, for example, has decreases in rainfall then we may not see the responses to be quite that dramatic in the future…
Andrew also neglected to inform his audience that in addition to increased yield the study also found a decrease in plant quality due to lower protein levels and an increase in soil nitrogen uptake which could have negative impacts on fertiliser costs. According to the transcript Andrew quoted from:
Now, other results that are important to the agricultural industry is that we see a decrease in the plant nitrogen content. Now, nitrogen is a fertiliser, it’s what causes the green part of the plants to be green and that’s important:what happens is that translates into less nitrogen in the grain, which is less protein. So that interacts directly with quality issues and the wheat industry would be quite interested in understanding that. So, the nitrogen content, the protein content goes down and we’re seeing that very consistently. However, what’s interesting is that the total nitrogen extracted from the soil increases and that’s because there’s more biomass. So it’s just pulling a lot more nitrogen and that has potential impacts to future farming in terms of fertiliser requirements.
Andrew Bolt failed to represent all the evidence fairly, instead he cherry-picked the data that suited his argument and ignored that data which did not. This is not honest commentary nor is it honest scepticism.
It appears to me that Mr Bolt has not broadcast factual material accurately or represented view points fairly. I contend that Mr Bolt has misrepresented the science and has both misinformed and misled his audience. I respectfully request that Mr Bolt publicly acknowledge his erroneous statements and clearly and unambiguously correct the record at the earliest possible convenience. It would be preferable if Mr Bolt acknowledged his mistake with the same prominence and in the same format, namely on The Bolt Report, without deflection or obfuscation.