Tuesday, March 19, 2013

FOIA, Government-Funded Climate Science and Hole-Digging

Here’s a benefit FOIA probably didn’t imagine. Skeptical networks. For anyone who doesn’t know, Jennifer Marohasy has published one of the longest-running skeptical blogs in the world, and she’s one of the few other women on the front lines. I don’t know why we hadn’t spent a long time on the phone before. I’m delighted that we are in much better contact…
– Jo

Guest Post By Jennifer Marohasy

FOIA is a recognised shorthand for Freedom of Information Act. Legislation by this name has existed in the USA since 1966, Australia since 1982 and the UK legislation was introduced in 2000. It was climate scientists at the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, conspiring to evade the UK FOIA that probably inspired Climategate, with Mr FOIA, as the “hacker” calls himself, releasing over 220,000 documents and emails beginning in November 2009. In a recent email he explained: “The circus was about to arrive in Copenhagen. Later on it could be too late.”
By providing public access to emails and documents from leading climate scientists, Mr FOIA exposed how tricks, adjustments, and corrections, were routinely applied to climate data to support the propaganda of the largely government-funded global warming industry.
I recently scrutinized documents from a successful FOI request by John Abbot to the Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, DCCEE. As far as I can make out from the documents the entire Australian Climate Change Science Program can be likened to what Mr FOIA describes as “a massive hole-digging-and-filling-up endeavor” for which the climate scientists are generously remunerated by the Australian taxpayer. Let me explain in more detail:
Modern history suggests that democracy aligns, and progresses, with the expansion of civil liberties including access by the ordinary citizen to government information. But in the Climategate emails, it is clear that leading UK climate scientists held the FOIA in contempt, considering it a waste of time and recommending that data and information be deleted rather than released. The problem extends beyond the CRU to western democracies more generally where ballooning bureaucracies are increasingly reluctant to share information with their public. Yet without meaningful public oversight of public expenditure there is reason to fear that government bureaucracies will become self-serving and oppressive which is the antithesis of the egalitarian democratic ideal.
“It appeared that there were significant accounting discrepancies suggesting the overpayment of CSIRO and BOM of about $10 million.”
In Australia, for example, public expenditure on global warming has continued to increase, but there is no evidence that there has been any corresponding improvement in climate science, for example, through improved seasonal rainfall forecasts.
In March 2010, John Abbot – a PhD scientist who is also a qualified solicitor – made a Freedom of Information request to the DCCEE asking for documents concerning the Australian Climate Change Science Program, ACCSP, including how monies were allocated between specific projects and the outcomes from these projects. The request was initially denied, claiming various exemptions as detailed in recent peer reviewed articles in Environmental Law and Management [1] and Public Law Review [2].
Following a protracted appeal process through the Information Commissioner that included scrutiny of the manner of application of the public interest test and bogus claims of intellectual property rights, the original decision was reversed and the documents were eventually released.
These documents detailed funding for 160 government climate scientists, almost all of these employed by the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology, BOM. It appeared that there were significant accounting discrepancies suggesting the overpayment of CSIRO and BOM of about $10 million. The DCCEE has declined to comment on the discrepancy, in particular the provision of funding for salaries apparently far in excess of what could be reasonably justified and supplementary to core agency funding.
Professor Abbot’s FOI request was made at a time when there was much public discussion and debate about the merits of the newly-elected Australian federal government introducing significant economic reform by way of a wide ranging carbon tax to address issues of anthropogenic global warming. The BOM and CSIRO were cited in support of government policy developed by the DCCEE and underpinned by the assumption that the Millennium drought (2001-2009) was linked to climate change.
The BoM and the CSIRO had directed much of their research efforts towards understanding rainfall patterns and generating rainfall projections by using General Circulation Models, GCMs. These are the same models that are relied on to provide evidence for global warming associated with greenhouse gas emissions. The models require very large capital expenditures for supercomputers (tens of millions of dollars) and are also very expensive to run to perform calculations. A reasonable question from a public interest perspective is therefore – do these models perform well at forecasting rainfall? After investing millions of dollars, has this actually improved rainfall forecasts in a practical way? There is no evidence, however, in any of the documents released under FOIA that the DCCEE has any interest in the real world application of this climate research.
Jennifer Marohasy is a biologist and blogger. She has also recently made comment on FOIA and proposed Australian media reform here: http://jennifermarohasy.com/2013/03/media-rules-prohibit-dissent/
[1] Abbot J. & Marohasy J., 2012. Accessing information under Australian freedom of information legislation: a case study involving climate change. Environmental Law and Management, Volume 24, Issue 3, pages 114-118.
[2] Abbot J. & Marohasy J. , 2013. Barriers to accessing environmental information under Australian Freedom of Information, Public Law Review, Volume 24, pages 10-16.

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