Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not looking good for the Murray-Darling (Part 3)

Here is another story on the environmental problems facing the Murray-Darling river. It is not sounding good at all. Battery acid levels ?? Say what !

Murray River 'cancer' creeps northward

Pia Akerman

The Australian

August 30, 2008


THE "cancer" of the Murray -- acid sulphate soils -- has spread to the river system's northern catchments in Queensland where up to 200 sites are under investigation by scientists.


The Murray-Darling Basin Commission ordered the investigation in southern Queensland amid mounting evidence that wetlands and rivers in the north of the system were succumbing to the poisoning that threatened to overwhelm the Murray's lower lakes in South Australia.


Pockets of acidification are also emerging in northern Victoria and along the Murray River in southwestern NSW.


Acid sulphate soils can occur when river and lake beds are exposed to the air as water levels fall, triggering a toxic chemical reaction.


As more than 12,000 wetlands are potentially at risk in Queensland alone, scientists have had to prioritise, targeting about 200 of the most ecologically significant sites and those close to water supplies.


Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water's senior soil scientist Andrew Biggs is leading the investigation. He said the study had found areas of very acidic groundwater, but no site had yet deteriorated to the state of the lower Murray, where the lower lakes near the mouth of the river remain at acute risk of acidification, despite good winter rain.


"Think battery acid and seawater mixed together, and that's what we have in some parts of southern inland Queensland," Mr Biggs said.


"We think the potential for developing acid is throughout the whole landscape. There's nothing to tell us otherwise, and we have lots of evidence to tell us it is already happening.


"In many of those areas, they are in close proximity to major watercourses, major rivers, important wetlands and so on, so we are quite concerned."


Earlier this year The Weekend Australian exposed the toxic conditions at Bottle Bend in NSW, where pH levels equivalent to car battery sulphuric acid have been recorded.


A report handed to the ministers in May warned that unprecedented low water levels in the lower lakes were exposing acid sulphate soils that could destroy the lakes by October unless urgent action was taken.


Debate continues to rage in South Australia over whether the barrages holding back the sea at the Murray mouth should be opened to allow salt water into the lakes, or if hope should be held out for fresh water from upstream.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Yes, psychologists are starting to go green here in Australia.

The latest edition of InPsych (the Australian Psychological Society news magazine) has a special edition on "Psychology's response to climate change".
Available here
If you are interested, the "Australian Psychology Society response to the climate change challenge" by Dr Susie Burke MAPS is available here
There is also an article called "Environmental psychology: An endangered species?" by Associate Professor Joseph Reser FAPS

New CO2 emissions treaty is imminent

By Geoffrey Lean,

Environment Editor

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Climate negotiators have made unexpected headway towards a new international treaty to combat global warming, easing a logjam that has held up progress for years.

Representatives of rich and poor nations, meeting at a conference in Accra, Ghana, are nearing consensus on a way to control emissions of greenhouse gases from rapidly developing countries such as China and India, under a treaty which will take effect afterthe Kyoto protocol expires in 2012.

The US has refused to join any arrangement that does not also tackle these emissions, but the rapidly industrialising countries have refused to accept the overall reduction targets that would be imposed on the rich nations which have been responsible for most of the pollution to date.

But now agreement is beginning to coalesce around a plan that would instead oblige developing nations to set targets for specific, highly polluting industries such as cement, steel, and aluminium.

"Something quiet but dramatic is happening", says David Doniger, of the Natural Resources Defence Council. "People are now talking about the same idea in the same language."

It is good to see Google putting some serious cash into geothermal.

Google puts $10m into new geothermal technology

Speaking about geothermal, Dan Reicher (Google's head of climate and energy initiatives) said "It's 24-7, it's potentially developable all over the country, all over the world, and for all that we really do think it could be the 'killer app' of the energy world,".

$6.25 million, will help finance EGS company AltaRock Energy Inc of Sausalito, California.

$4 million of Google's money will go to Potter Drilling Inc, a Redwood City, California company which has a hard rock drilling technology.

Google's previous clean technology investments include $20 million for two solar thermal companies - eSolar Inc and BrightSource Energy Inc, and $10 million to high-altitude wind company Makani Power Inec.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Not Looking Good for the Murray-Darling (Part 2)

Here is another story on the problems facing the Murray-Darling River.

Murray protesters demand water

Pia Akerman
The Australian
August 11, 2008

THOUSANDS of protesters gathered at the mouth of the Murray River at Goolwa yesterday, demanding the urgent release of water in upstream states to save the stricken lower lakes.

The rally was the latest action in a mounting campaign against assertions by the state and federal governments that there is not enough water that could be released upstream to make a difference for the lakes.

Issuing a call for at least 250gigalitres of water to be released for the lower Murray, Alexandrina Council chief executive John Coombe said there was more than 5000GL available in the upstream storages.

"We need help to save our communities and businesses, and above all else, we want water to save our river and environment," Mr Coombe said. "All we want is our political leaders to have the fortitude, the will, to release some of it to save the lower lakes."

The crowd of about 5000 people lined around the Goolwa foreshore and on the Hindmarsh Island bridge, booed mentions of federal Water Minister Penny Wong, who is a South Australian senator, and Premier Mike Rann, neither of whom attended.

Alexandrina Mayor Kym McHugh called on Kevin Rudd to declare a state of emergency, saying the release of upstream water was critical to prevent aneconomic and environmental disaster in the area.

University of Adelaide ecologist David Paton warned that even 350GL would not be enough to save the lakes and the internationally recognised Coorong wetlands. "All it will do is buy a little bit of time before the same problem recurs," he said.

Over-allocation of water throughout the river system was the fundamental issue.

"The recent (Council of Australian Governments) agreement did not aim to fix it quickly -- it simply put off the decisions until 2018," he said. "Ultimately what has to be provided is an environmental flow, an allocation of water that is available for the environment every year, not just in dire straits."

Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert have become increasingly saline in recent years.
The receding shoreline has exposed mudflats, which risk turning acidic unless they are covered with water.

The South Australian Government has committed $30 million to site preparation for a new weir across the Murray, which would wall off the lakes from the river, allowing barrages currently separating the lakes from the sea to be opened, flooding them with saltwater.

Holding up a dead tortoise, its shell encrusted with the castings of saltwater bristle worms, Mr Coombe said the freshwater tortoises were a symbol of the struggle to keep the lakes alive.

"This is what we're fighting for," he said.

"This is what our political leaders would want us to accept."


Thursday, August 07, 2008

2nd Annual Climate Change Conference 2008

I was lucky enough to attend this event (and even get paid for it - thanks Glen Frost).

For those that did miss it, here is a link to all the presentations.

Opening keynote:
The challenges and opportunities of climate change for Australia
Blair ComleyDeputy Secretary, Department of Climate Change
View the Presentation Slides

Transition to a low carbon economy and the impact of Kyoto for national policy
Adrian MaceyClimate Change Ambassador, MFAT, New Zealand Government
View the Presentation Slides Listen to the Presentation

Transition to sustainability; the required response
Dr Graeme Pearman MONASH
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Meeting the GHG reduction targets
Ian Higgins Senior Advisor, Impact Employee Communications
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What does the Bali Mandate mean for Australia?
Erwin JacksonResearch & Policy Director, The Climate Institute
View the Presentation Slides Listen to the Presentation

Responding to the challenge of residential energy demand: Blacktown City Solar Program
Maree ZammitManager Sustainable Development
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The transition to a low carbon economy: strategic implications for Australian business
Andrew Petersen Partner, PWC
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Issues for ASX listed companies
Bill Hartnett Managing Director Asia Pacific, Innovest Strategic Value Advisors and authors of the Global Carbon Disclosure Project
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Understanding climate risk & the impact on legislation and legal action: State and National perspectives
Jeff Smith CEO, Environmental Defenders Office
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Understanding climate risk & the impact on legislation and legal action: State and National perspectives
Duncan McGregor Partner & National Climate Change Leader, Minter Ellison
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Initiatives of The Climate Group
View the Presentation Slides Listen to the Presentation

FIJI Water's Path to Sustainable Growth
Barbara Chung Fiji Water
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Climate change adaptation strategies for infrastructure and transportation sectors
Ken HicksonCEO, ABC Carbon & Governor WWF Australia
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Climate change; impact assessment and policy issues for infrastructure, energy and transport
Scott Losee Principal Engineer for Environment, Maunsell
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Brand sustainability: international and domestic case studies on green trends and consumer behaviour
Heather RoseChairman, Green Team Australia
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Climate Change and Responsible Investing – a fund managers perspective
Amanda McCluskey Colonial First State
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Transparency and Stakeholder Engagement
Barbara ChungFiji Water
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Smarter, Greener, Together: A High Bandwidth Low-carbon Future
Dr Turlough GuerinGroup Manager Environment, Telstra
View the Presentation Slides Listen to the Presentation

From understanding to action: campaigns that make an impact
Dr Tony Wilkins Group Manager, Environment & Climate Change, News Ltd
Listen to the Presentation

From understanding to action: campaigns that make an impact
Stephen Browning Group Manager, Corporate Communications, News Ltd
View the Presentation Slides Listen to the Presentation

Changing public perceptions & making sense of climate change: what works and why?
John Tate Lord Mayor, Newcastle City Council, creators of Climate Cam
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Changing public perceptions & making sense of climate change: what works and why?
Tony Maher General President, CFMEU (& Al Gore Ambassador)
View the Presentation Slides Listen to the Presentation

And a BIG thanks to Glen Frost for organising the conference !!

Carbon Planet in the news

I met one of the founders of Carbon Planet (Dave Sag) when I was at the 2nd Annual Climate Change Conference 2008 recently in Sydney.

Dave also told a fantastic story about the time that the Summer Nats ("tits" and "burnouts" or "the bogan festival" as I think he called it) organizers rang him needing to make their event greenhouse friendly. LOL !

Anyway here is the story from The Age by Phillip Hopkins . . . (and a good plug for Carbon Planet too!)

Phillip Hopkins
The Age
August 8, 2008

DAVE Sag has been called many names, but it does not worry him.

He is doing what he loves — running a ground-breaking business in the new world of greenhouse emissions trading.

Mr Sag is a founder and now executive director of Australian company Carbon Planet.
The company helps businesses measure, save and manage carbon emissions and organises carbon offsets.

The name may sound like something out of a greenhouse marketing manual, but Carbon Planet has done the "hard yards". The Federal Government's Department of Climate Change this year certified the company's operations and services "greenhouse friendly". "It's an expensive, complicated and difficult process to get qualifications," Mr Sag said.

Carbon Planet also complies with many international standards and protocols and is one of the few Australian participants on the Chicago Climate Exchange.

"The exchange is growing in strength, and we've been involved in it for some time," he said.
The unlisted public company has about 40 shareholders, and was founded in 2000 by Mr Sag and Ross Williams, a computer science PhD. Mr Sag's background is in IT and software. The two men are still on the board, along with executive chairman Jim Johnson.

At the time the company was set up, a lot of groups were trying their hand in the new, evolving carbon-trade world. "Some were former hippies, or well-meaning tree growers and environmentalists," Mr Sag said. "There were no scientists, engineers or mathematicians."

From the start, Carbon Planet set itself the task of getting that expertise. "There was a lot of noise, negative publicity about offsets, but we wanted to back our claims with good engineering," he said. "We now employ serious scientists and economists. We employ more engineers than most consultancies."

Carbon Planet has about 60 employees, with offices in Melbourne and the other Australian capitals, London and Vancouver. Some employees are also shareholders.

The company has four key areas of operation:

■A greenhouse auditing, energy reduction and carbon management service.
■Education for the corporate sector.
■Scientific analysis and consultancy to create carbon credits from valid projects.
■ A community-focused range of carbon emissions management and reduction services.

Mr Sag places an emphasis on credibility.

"Many are emerging with no qualifications and not many standards," he said.
"Transparency is such an issue. It separates us from the cowboys."

Carbon Planet must file half-yearly reports with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. "It's more comfortable for big organisations who deal with us," Mr Sag said.

"We are more accountable than a private company. It forces us to be on top of our game."
Mr Sag believes in man-made climate change, but thinks the carbon economy has gone beyond that issue.

"The carbon economy has its own legs," he said. "There are fears about peak oil, resource depletion and an understanding we live in a finite world.

"We know we have to be more efficient and eventually move away from fossil fuels. It's a form of future planning."

To telecomute or not ??

Here is a story from about some research that shows that telecommuting may be bad for the environment.

Telecommuting is bad for the environment
Klaus Kneale

Sure, your daily commute to the office is hurting the environment. But so is your telecommute.

High gas prices are making many more people consider working from home. The idea is to save some money on gas and as an added benefit to be kinder to the environment. But in fact, telecommuting is often worse for the planet than driving to work each and every day.

First and foremost, telecommuters often drive just as much as those who work in an office. The commute between home and work accounts for only 20% of all car travel, and telecommuters often drive into work a couple of times a week anyway. Plus, there are those extra trips to have lunch with friends, run errands or just get out of the house. It often comes down to cabin fever.

"Some people just can't [telecommute]; they get too lonely," says Jack Aiello, a Rutgers University professor who studied IBM's telecommuting program in the late 1990s.

And it's not just driving that's bad. Home workers have to equip and power their own offices, often duplicating electronic equipment like printers that are shared in an office. The manufacturing process for computers and electronics is a particularly nasty and ungreen business.

Arpad Horvath, an engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has estimated that telecommuting lowers a number of emissions, particularly carbon dioxide.

However, the extra electricity used by dedicated home offices and electronics meant that telecommuters produced more nitrous oxide and methane. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nitrous oxide is almost 300 times worse for the environment over 100 years than carbon dioxide. Methane is 25 times worse.

In another study, Patricia Mokhtarian of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, found that better telecommunications (the foundation of telecommuting) caused more travel rather than less.

Not looking good for the Murray-Darling

Here is a rather worrying story from the Australian about the failing health of the Murray-Darling !

Hope dries with water in Murray's lower lakes
Jamie Walker and Pia Akerman
The Australian
August 08, 2008

WITH publicly controlled water reserves in the Murray-Darling plunging to a new low, the despondency of communities on the dying lower lakes deepened yesterday as river managers warned there was no chance of transferring water within the basin.

Meagre flows down the Murray have exposed mudflats near its mouth. Picture: Brett Hartwig

As this dramatic photograph of the Murray mouth and adjoining lakes shows, drought and over-pumping of the river water have wrought more destruction in the past three years than anyone could have imagined.

The fresh water on the right side of the barrage - which for more than 60 years has separated it from the salt water of the Coorong and, beyond the silt-ridden Murray mouth, the Southern Ocean - used to be a massive series of lakes.

In recent years, however, the meagre flows down the Murray have dramatically shrunk the lakes, exposing wide swaths of mudflats, and increasing salinity and the risk of acidification.

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission revealed yesterday that public dams and other reservoirs were barely one-fifth full, when they would normally be between half and two-thirds of capacity. Worse still for struggling farmers and townsfolk at the bottom of the river, the agency dashed any hope of an emergency injection of water from upstream.

"Given the current level of storage, it's not feasible to refill the lakes by transferring water from other parts of the basin without any significant rain," the commission's acting chief executive, Les Roberts, said yesterday.

"As little as 20 per cent of any water released in the north of the basin would reach the lower lakes in South Australia, meaning that four or five times the water needed at the lakes would have to be released from that far upstream."

To the dismay of locals, this will make more likely the controversial option of flooding the lower lakes with seawater and walling them off from the river with a new weir at Wellington, where the Murray meets the lakes about 35km from the existing barrages.

The South Australian Government has committed $30 million to site preparation for the project, and is negotiating to obtain land from fourth-generation farmer Jamie Withers, 37, who is torn by the prospect of the weir across the river. "It would completely change the way we operate," he told The Australian.

For others, it is already too late. Neil Shillabeer, 61, walked away from three generations of family history when he gave up the struggle and sold his farm near Narrung, a spit of land between Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert. "It's a cancer that will work its way upriver," Mr Shillabeer said of the lakes' plight.

Clem Mason, 58, is clinging on at his mixed farm on nearby Poltalloch Peninsula. He can't irrigate and the grain crop that used to go to market to plump up his income is now reserved for his dairy herd.

"What we have down here is not a drought on the land ... it is a drought on the lakes," he said. "The water is simply not coming down."

Not only has the mouth of the river visibly narrowed since 2005, but the once-brimming expanses of Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert have given way to lengthening mudflats, which threaten to turn acidic. The river mouth would be choked off entirely without constant dredging.

The grim comparison between what the lower lakes were just three years ago and their near-disastrous state today was underlined by data released to The Australian by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. In July 2005, Lake Alexandrina contained 1600 gigalitres of water. Now, it holds just 940Gl.

Adjoining Lake Albert, at 100Gl, is down from 280Gl three years ago. The Coorong wetlands, opening onto the Southern Ocean, have tipped into crisis as the lakes dropped below sea level behind a series of barrages constructed in the 1930s. Currently, the level of Lake Albert is 0.3 of a metre below sealevel and requires water piped from Lake Alexandrina, which is at -0.4m.

Scientists fear that increasingly exposed soil beds will become acidic if the lakes fall to 1m below sealevel. SA Water Security Minister Karlene Maywald says this could happen by the middle of the next year if inflows to the river do not improve, forcing the state Government to start preparations to build the new weir upstream at Wellington.

The $120 million-plus project would allow the lakes to be flooded with seawater, protecting them from sulphate acid poisoning but ruining existing freshwater ecologies.

"Every river needs a delta, a wetland," Mr Mason said yesterday. "This is the wetland for the whole Murray River and they are going to cut it off. They are very responsible for their actions, and they are going to be remembered for them."

When full, the lower lakes hold a combined 2200Gl. But their extensive surface area and shallow depth means they lose up to 950Gl annually in evaporation and seepage.

The MDBC estimates that up to 1250Gl would be required to fill the lakes and maintain levels for a year. However, only 350Gl was forecast to flow into them in 2008-09.,25197,24146233-2702,00.html

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Tipping point ???

I watched this show on the ABC the other night called "Tipping point" - about the artic melting and whether we had reached tipping point yet.

It was a 4 Corners special reportand well worth watching!

Anyway, I found the link to the story about the show and an online free video link at

Tipping Point
Reporter: Marian Wilkinson
Broadcast: 04/08/2008

While Australians argue about when or whether to confront global warming, the top of the globe is melting away.

The Arctic sea ice – sprawled across an area roughly the size of Australia - is in retreat. Scientists now fear that in less than 25 years from now, for the first time in human existence, there will be no sea ice in the North Pole in parts of the summer.

These scientists are scrambling to model and measure the pace of the melt and to comprehend the enormity of the consequences – not just for the immediate ecosystem of polar bears and plankton, but for the world’s weather and its ability to feed itself.

At the same time governments and corporations scramble to be first at the table for a new resources feast of oil, gas and minerals. It’s being dubbed a "Cold Rush" as retreating sea ice opens new opportunities and faster, cheaper shipping routes.

Four Corners journeys to the Arctic Circle to explore how the melt is challenging human understanding of global warming. The Four Corners team* joins scientists on board a Canadian icebreaker, Louis S St Laurent, as they scout for icebergs, bears and evidence of a changing seascape. Across the scientific community there is a quest for answers: How fast is the melt happening? Is it stoppable? What may be lost? What riches will be unlocked? How much global warming is caused by people and how much by nature?

The Louis S St Laurent is bound for the legendary Northwest Passage where early explorers, among them a Tasmanian governor, strove vainly and often tragically to find a short cut shipping route across the top of the world.

Last September climate scientists were stunned when the waters of the Northwest Passage became virtually ice-free for the first time on record. No one knows if that will happen again this northern summer, but the broad trend is less and less sea ice…

Increasingly urgent predictions of an ice-free Arctic Ocean alarm veteran scientists on the icebreaker like Robie Macdonald. After more than 30 years working in the Arctic he almost takes it personally. "Not only do I see the change happening but it’s like they’re moving the goalposts towards me," he says. "The Arctic Ocean has not been seasonally clear of ice for a couple of million years at least, maybe longer, so this is very extraordinary."

But vanishing sea ice is only part of what worries Macdonald’s colleagues. Their gravest fears are landbound – that the melting of glaciers, the ice sheet covering Greenland and the permafrost that, so far, has safely locked millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases under frozen ground, may be accelerating and unstoppable. That is when the planet may approach "Tipping Point" – an Arctic journey on Four Corners at 8.30 pm Monday August 4, on ABC1.

Video available free online at:

Saturday, August 02, 2008

More Australians are going solar

Here is a story on the growing uptake of solar power in Australia. While this is good news, a national feed in tariff is still required to really drive the industry. The economic incentive of being paid to provide solar power for others (by feeding it into the grid) would help to convince more Australians to make the switch to renewable energy.
August 02, 2008

GOVERNMENT figures on the solar panel rebate take-up show the solar industry is moving from strength to strength, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) said today.Environment Minister Peter Garrett said today an average of 522 applications have been lodged weekly since the Federal Budget announcement of the $8000 rebate.

"The rebate scheme, particularly in the last two years, has allowed the industry to build capacity and capability. "

However the industry is now ready to transition to a nationally consistent gross feed in tariff.

This policy will deliver the long-term certainty needed for investment and jobs growth.'' Mr Jackson said the figures demonstrated that the Australian solar PV industry continued to move from strength to strength.


Friday, August 01, 2008

The climate change smokescreen

August 2, 2008

Global warming scepticism is being manipulated by tactics reminiscient of an earlier campaign of denial, writes David McKnight.

When the tobacco industry was feeling the heat from scientists who showed smoking caused cancer, it took decisive action, engaging in a decades-long public relations campaign to undermine the medical research and discredit the scientists.

The aim was not to prove tobacco harmless but to cast doubt on the science. In the space provided by doubt, billions of dollars in sales could continue. Delay and doubt were crucial products of its PR campaign.

In May, the multibillion-dollar oil giant Exxon Mobil acknowledged it had been doing something similar. It said it would cease funding nine groups that had fuelled a global campaign to deny climate change.

Exxon's decision came after a shareholder revolt by members of the Rockefeller family and big superannuation funds to get the company to take climate change more seriously. Exxon (once Standard Oil) was founded by John D. Rockefeller.

Brad Miller, chairman of the US House of Representatives oversight committee on science and technology, last year said Exxon's support for sceptics "appears to be an effort to distort public discussion". The funding of an array of think tanks and institutes which house climate sceptics and deniers also worried Britain's premier scientific body, the Royal Society. It found that in 2005, Exxon distributed nearly $3 million to 39 groups which "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change". Its protests helped force Exxon's recent retreat.

The chief scientist at New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Dr Jim Salinger, knows all about misrepresentation. Two months ago, an Exxon-funded group, the Heartland Institute, said his work undermined the theory that burning carbon was a cause of global warming.

The Heartland Institute - essentially a free-market lobby group - emphasises "the climate is always changing". It is a theme common to many climate change deniers who talk about a so-called Little Ice Age (1300-1900) and Medieval Warm Period (800-1200). Salinger's research studied variation in climate, so it was enrolled in the denial campaign.

Climate variations were normal, Salinger said, but this did not weaken conclusions about the dangers of burning oil and coal. "Global warming is real," he said, and demanded reference to his work be removed. The institute refused. The Heartland Institute received almost $800,000 from Exxon, according to Greenpeace research based on Exxon's corporate donation disclosures.

Another regular of the PR campaign is the Oregon Petition, which urges US rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and claims there is "no convincing scientific evidence" for global warming. It has been cited by climate sceptics such as the Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt among others. It is said to be signed by 31,000 graduates most of whom appear to have nothing to do with climate science.

The petition originated in 1998 with Frederick Seitz, a 1960s president of the US National Academy of Sciences (and a 1970s tobacco consultant) and was accompanied by a purported review of the science co-published by the George C Marshall Institute. This institute received at least $715,000 from Exxon Mobil over the past 10 years.

Claims about the world cooling, not warming, are common in the world of deniers. The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, referred to this possibility recently. In his book Heat, George Monbiot gives the example of the TV presenter and botanist, David Bellamy, who is also a climate sceptic. He told the New Scientist in 2005 that most glaciers in the world were growing, not shrinking. He said his evidence came from the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Switzerland, a reputable body. When Monbiot checked the service, they said Bellamy's claim was "complete bullshit". The world's glaciers are retreating.

When pressed, Bellamy pointed to a website,, which claims we are heading for a new ice age. Last week, it published an article that stated that last month, the American Physical Society had "reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming". This is stunning. Global warming is all about physics and the society is the premier body of US physicists. A check with its website showed the opposite. Prominent was a press release reaffirming that the evidence for global warming was "incontrovertible". Once again, a sceptic website was simply lying.

In Australia, the main body trying to undermine the science of global warming is the Lavoisier Group. It maintains a website with links to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (more than $2 million from Exxon), the Science and Environmental Policy Project ($20,000) and the Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide (at least $100,000). The Competitive Enterprise Institute returns the compliment to Lavoisier in its publication, which praised the group for its work in defeating the Kyoto protocol. Lavoisier, it said, "provides the principal intellectual and organisational opposition in Australia to Kyoto". Its sources of funding are not public.

The Lavoisier group is certainly influential in the Federal Opposition. During the Howard years, a senior figure in the group told Guy Pearse, author of High & Dry, a study of climate policy in Australia, there was "an understanding in cabinet that all the science is crap".

The Lavoisier board includes former mining executives Ray Evans and Ian Webber, the latter a former chief executive of Mitsubishi, and Harold Clough, whose companies include a provider of services to the oil and gas industries. Its president is the former Labor finance minister Peter Walsh.

There are at least three other reasons the oil companies' PR campaign has had success for climate change deniers. First, the implications of the science are frightening. Shifting to renewable energy will be costly and disruptive. Second, doubt is an easy product to sell. Climate denial tells us what we all secretly want to hear. Third, science is portrayed as political orthodoxy rather than objective knowledge, a curiously postmodern argument.

The tide slowly turned on tobacco denial and the science finally was accepted. Some people still choose to smoke and some pay a price for it.

But climate is different. There are no "smoke-free areas" on the planet. Climate denial may turn out to be the world's most deadly PR campaign.

David McKnight is an associate professor at the University of NSW. He researches media, including public relations, and is the author of Beyond Right And Left: New Politics And The Culture Wars.