One of the most strident opponents against the theory of human-derived climate change is John McLean. He has written pieces for the online journal Quadrant and is supported in his thinking by many other prominent climate change sceptics who write influential opinion pieces in Australia’s broadsheet newspapers. An article was written recently by McLean about the Climate Change Conference held in Melbourne in June 2012 and hosted by two eminent scientists and Climate Change Commissioners, Professors Tim Flannery and Will Steffen. The title of the article “Doomed Planet” highlights the affective and loaded language that is used within the article in order for McLean to emphasise his opinion that the people supporting action on climate change are biased, fundamentalist thinkers who are dogmatic against any alternative view.
Mclean uses Christian fundamentalist imagery to imply that the conference was a small meeting of a group of fanatics. He begins his opinion piece with a quote from Vaclav Klaus explicitly asserting that environmentalists wish to control the way in which we should live our lives. This leads the initial claim in his first paragraph calling the conference a ‘travelling salvation show’ and a ‘revivalist meeting’. The Climate Change Conference was attended by 600 delegates from business, agriculture and science. The meeting was coordinated by the CSIRO and the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility. Farmers were particularly interested because many have seen in the last decades the significant impact of climate change upon their farms and wished to learn how that they could adapt to it. Therefore, contrary to McLean’s claim, it does not seem to have been a meeting of religious zealots.
A report into climate change denial recognises five strategies that sceptics use to denigrate the large scientific body of research that supports the theory of human-derived climate change. The first is the claim of conspiracy, where the scientific peer-review process is seen as a tool to suppress dissenting views. McLean believes that this is what happened at the conference. He asserts that the audience was ‘largely of the faithful’ and observed that a young man in the audience who, although having his hand raised ‘for the entire question time’, was ignored. He fails to state whether there were others who also were not chosen, as often happens in question times at meetings, or if he discovered whether the question the young man wished to ask was pertinent to McLean’s argument.
The second strategy that sceptics use is fake experts. McLean has become quite renowned for his views upon climate change. He is cited by journalists, by politicians in the US Senate and some websites state that he is a climate data analyst based in Melbourne . However, McLean is not a scientist but a computer consultant and part-time photographer who has been interested in studying climate matters since 2003 and has written online reviews of CSIRO and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. This strategy was used by the tobacco industry in the 1970s to counter growing evidence that linked smoking to lung cancer.
The use of false experts is also accompanied by the denigration of established experts and researchers. McLean does throughout his article in his claims that climate change experts are religious zealots peddling ‘snake oil and hyperbole’, that their research is similar to ‘myths worthy of religion’, referring to the professors as Brother Will and Brother Tim. McLean states that the only proof that the global temperatures are warming rapidly is ‘an assemblage of the output of a collection of climate models’. This infers that the science that links human activity to climate change is not done by thousands of researchers working across the globe but by a few computer programs that output data that is put together in a spurious way. It also infers that the process of scientific peer-review is based upon belief and opinion rather than empirical evidence.
Other tactics used in the denial of science are selective use of isolated research to challenge a dominant consensus and the demand for impossible expectations. McLean writes in his article about the use of figures in the conference that he states misrepresent the commissioners’ case. A graph of annual heat content, that shows growing elevated temperatures of the upper ocean since the 1960s, is dismissed by McLean. Stating that modelling cannot be accurate, McLean makes the unsubstantiated claim that ‘there’s been no warming for the last 12 to 13 years despite the increase of CO2’. McLean asserts that ‘Brother Tim’s climate religion doesn’t have a gap but a chasm’ and that ‘observational data refutes their claim’. This does not correspond to the observations of many farmers, or the most recent scientific study enacted to address climate sceptics concerns, which corroborates even further the reports by the IPCC.
The main strategy of McLean’s article is to characterize the Climate Change Commission as a religious cult. In doing this, McLean creates the logical fallacies of ad hominem and straw-person arguments. McLean’s ad hominem attack on Professor Flannery alludes to the Professor being financially involved with the government in some corrupt way, when he states: ‘Brother Tim’s…benefitted from government largesse’. The allegation of a conflict of interest against Professor Flannery rejects the fact that the issue of climate change is something that is being addressed globally and does not rely upon the beliefs of a single person. Most major governments are listening to their scientists’ reports and are actively engaged in trying to combat the problem. McLean’s straw-person fallacy states that ‘religion and state are supposed to be separate’, however science is not religion and scientists are not religious leaders. McLean’s argument also begs the question: What is the motivation for the majority of scientists across the globe to engage in the selling of climate ‘snake oil’? Moreover his antagonistic, ad hominem article leaves another question begging: What is the motivation for McLean’s interest in the issue since 2003 and who helps in funding his analysis?
- 1. McLean, J. 2012, “Doomed Planet”,in Quadrant Online, August 3, 2012. Viewed: http://www.quadrant.org.au/blogs/doomed-planet/2012/07/praise-be-the-climate-commission-in-melbourne on 28 July 2012
- 2. Barbour, L. 2012, “Climate Change Conference Underway in Melbourne”, in ABC Rural, 27 June 2012. Viewed: http://www.abc.net.au/rural/news/content/201206/s3533895.htm on 29 July 2012
- 3. Pethica, J. et al.2010, Climate Change: A summary of the science, The Royal Society September 2010. Viewed: http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/policy/publications/2010/4294972962.pdf on 25 July 2012
- 4. McKee, M. 2009, “Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?”, in European Journal of Public Health, Vol. 19, No.1, pp.2-4. Viewed: http://eurpub.oxfordjournals.org/content/19/1/2.full.pdf on 28 July 2012
- 5. McLean, J. (n.d.), “John McLean”, in Online Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate, 2012. Viewed: http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/author.asp?id=3754 on 28 July 2012
- 6. McLean, J. (n.d.), Home page of John McLean. Viewed: http://mclean.ch/ on 28 July 2012
- 7. Hickman, L. 2012, “Climate change study forces sceptical scientists to change minds”, in The Guardian, 29 July 2012. Viewed: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jul/29/climate-change-sceptics-change-mind?intcmp=239 on 29 July 2012
 McLean, J. 2012, “Doomed Planet”,in Quadrant Online, August 3, 2012.
 Barbour, L. 2012, “Climate Change Conference Underway in Melbourne”, in ABC Rural, 27 June 2012.
 Pethica, J et al. 2010.
 McKee, M. 2009, “Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond?”, in European Journal of Public Health, Vol. 19, No.1, pp.2-4.
 McLean, J. (n.d.), “John McLean”, in Online Opinion: Australia’s e-journal of social and political debate, 2012.
 McLean, J. (n.d.), Home page of John McLean.
 McKee, 2009
 Hickman, L. 2012, “Climate change study forces sceptical scientists to change minds”, in The Guardian, 29 July 2012.