Bureau of Meteorology: under pressure to toe the Coalition line on climate change?

by | Aug 7, 2020 | Energy & Environment

While the UK’s Met Office is out there educating the public, BoM is remarkably coy about any public discussion of climate change. Questions have also been asked whether its senior leadership is too close to the gas industry. Sandi Keane investigates.

Since the days of the Howard government, effective action on climate change has been held hostage by the big polluters’ stranglehold on policy.

Last week’s leaked report from the National Covid-19 Coordination Commission Manufacturing Taskforce comes as no surprise from a commission stacked with executives from the gas and mining lobbies. Its recommendations are a bonanza for the fossil fuel industry and a chilling harbinger of the nightmare to come if, courtesy of the taxpayer, Big Gas is unleashed across our prime farmland.

Covert-19: Government stacks Covid Commission with oil and gas mates, cosy deals follow

During Australia’s catastrophic bushfires, there was little surprise when Scott Morrison continually batted away questions about whether climate change was a factor in the bushfires. The following was a typical response in answer to such questions:

“My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families.”

Pressure to toe Coalition party line?

​But are supposedly independent, government-funded organisations also coming under pressure to toe the government line?

After receiving tip-offs from former Bureau of Meteorology employees, Michael West Media conducted further investigation and found some disturbing evidence of the BoM suppressing the role of climate change.

BoM reports to the Minister of Environment (who rejected the call for an independent “green cop” to monitor the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act) and the Minister for Agriculture and Water.

According to one of our sources – who wishes to remain anonymous – forecasters were regularly told “not to attribute individual events to climate change”.

“It’s just a convenient tagline that we can’t attribute climate change to any one weather or seasonal event,” according to another source who explained further: “It has now expired. Scientists within can use methods to credibly attribute events … I witnessed climate change censorship and suppression many, many times. From the pre-fire season briefings to the aftermath assessments, climate change discussion was being suppressed in all public dialogue from federal and state government, including the Bureau… If the science is alarming then the public need to be alarmed as that is the point of having an ‘apolitical, unbiased scientific agency with utmost integrity’ or so we would all hope.”

A spokesperson for the Bureau of Meteorology said BoM communicates regularly to the community about Australia’s changing climate. “Attributing individual events to climate change is the subject of ongoing research by many organisations, including the Bureau of Meteorology.”

Furthermore, “the 2018 State of the Climate report produced by the Bureau and CSIRO clearly links increasing bushfire risk to changes in Australia’s changing and inherently variable climate”.

Failure to educate public on climate change

In BoM’s November 2019 video “bushfires and exceptional heat: what’s driving our weather right now?,” it runs for a full five minutes without once referencing “climate change”.

By comparison, the UK’s Met Office also answers to government, but its scientists warn constantly about the danger of “climate change”, especially as a driver of the weather. In its article headed “Effects of Climate Change”, aspects of weather such as heat waves, heavy rain and tropical storms are all “linked to climate change”.

Graph show effects of climate change

Graph from The Met Office’s article Effects of Climate Change

The Met Office’s video “Our climate is changing” also features on its Facebook page.

In the Met Office’s January report on causes of extreme fire weather in Australia, it says: “Ongoing climate change is projected to increase fire weather in Australia and elsewhere.” By contrast, BoM’s Special Climate Statements 72 and 73 from December 2019 and March 2020 mentioned several climate drivers but “climate change” was conspicuously absent.

Again, in a year that saw the warmest month and warmest day on record, BoM’s Climate Report 2019, “climate change” received few mentions. This, despite four million hectares burnt by bushfires, record-breaking heatwaves with both January 2019 Australia’s warmest month and December 18 the warmest day ever recorded.

Graph of BoM's 2019 Climate Report

At the March 2 Senate Estimates hearing, Dr Andrew Johnson, BoM’s chief executive, was questioned about climate change and its impact on bushfires. While climate change got a guernsey it was played down, yet Labor’s senator Marielle Smith was persistent (cf. p26)

Senator MARIELLE SMITH: “I appreciate there are multiple factors, but how much of a factor was climate change in contributing to the severity of the bushfires?”

Dr JOHNSON: “I wouldn’t want to speculate on that. I’m not sure it’s even possible to apportion components. All I would say is that those terrible fires were the result of many factors coming together simultaneously, one of which was very dry and hot conditions, and on the particular days on which those fires occurred, very windy conditions. As you know, there are a range of other things, including land use, terrain, the source of ignition and so on, that contribute to the fires occurring and how they behave.”

And later, on the role of emissions, Johnson responded: “That’s a matter of speculation. It’s not within the purview of the bureau to be predicting emissions scenarios.”

Compare that statement with UK’s Met Office: “The level of climate change we will see depends on how quickly we cut emissions of dangerous greenhouse gases. Even if we were to stop all emissions today, we would not prevent some changes. However, the sooner we cut emissions, the smaller the changes will be.”

BoM’s links to the CSG industry

A check on who is in charge at the Bureau of Meteorology reveals strong links to the coal seam gas industry.

Photo of Dr Andrew Johnson

Dr Andrew Johnson

CEO and director of meteorology Dr Andrew Johnson and chief customer officer Dr Peter Stone both held executive posts at CSIRO, which was a partner with Big Gas in the joint research venture the Gas Industry Social and Economic Research Alliance (GISERA).

According to his LinkedIn page, Dr Johnson was also chairman of IESC (the Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas and Large Coal Mining Development) from 2012 to 2017.

He joined the bureau of Meteorology in 2016 while still at IESC.

The bureau’s CCO Dr Stone was deputy chief Ecosystem Sciences at CSIRO, from 2009-2013. Dr Stone established GISERA in 2011 and directed it until 2013 before joining BoM in 2017.

GISERA’s report “fails pub test”

GISERA recently conducted research into the impact of hydraulic fracking in Queensland’s Surat Basin to address “community concerns about the potential environmental impacts”. Its March 2020 report found “little to no impacts” from fracking on “air quality, soils, groundwater and waterways”.

The response from scientists last month was swingeing. Professor Ian Lowe accused the report of “failing the pub test” because just six gas wells out of the 19,000 across the state were tested.

Professor Penny Sackett, Australia’s former chief scientist, was scathing about the choice of sites:

“The report was essentially conducted on behalf of the gas industry, funded primarily by the gas industry, with sites chosen by the gas industry.”

Dr Peter Stone

In a 2015 interview with SBS about the effects of coal seam gas, GISERA’s former founder and director, Dr Stone (now BoM’s CCO), spoke about “low” risk of water contamination. More on his links to CSG can be found on the Australian Government Transparency Portal.

Climate change censorship versus public interest

While BoM correctly focuses on factors that contributed to our catastrophic bushfires, such as record-breaking temperatures, floods and droughts, is it failing to serve the public interest by not clearly identifying climate change as a contributing factor? As the Met Office reported from World Weather Attribution last month, Siberia’s heatwave and wildfires were attributed to climate change:

“The recent prolonged Siberia heat from January to June 2020 would have been almost impossible without the influence of human-caused climate change, according to a rapid attribution analysis by a team of leading climate scientists.”

And here in Australia, the July 30 Black Summer report from Australia’s Climate Council also attributed our catastrophic bushfires to climate change:

“Australia’s Black Summer fires over 2019 and 2020 were unprecedented in scale and levels of destruction — and they were fuelled by climate change.”

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Kyoto Credits: as Australia cooks, the Coalition cooks the books

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sandi Keane

Sandi Keane

Sandi is MW's managing editor. She was formerly editor at Independent Australia and before that ran a highly successful business which landed her on the front cover of Personal Investment magazine. Sandi has conducted corporate investigations, principally into the CSG and media sectors. Her investigation into the anti-wind lobby and Waubra Foundation was used to support Labor’s Clean Energy Bill, thus, making it into Hansard. One of Sandi's investigations into the CSG industry saw Santos forced to pull its TV advertising. Sandi holds a Masters degree in Journalism from the University of Melbourne. For story ideas, contributions, syndications and production issues, please email Sandi at [email protected] You can follow Sandi on Twitter @jarrapin.

27 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I don’t like the way that the BOM site has to have advertising on it. Doesn’t it make to embarrassed to be an Australian that a premiere government science organization has commercial rubbish all over its website?

    • Avatar

      I have never seen any advertising. Could you do a screenshot?

      • Avatar

        Interesting, a few months ago they certainly had commercial ads, and I wrote in and complained. Since then I’ve been looking at their site every day but I have magical powers which enable me to look at websites lost ignoring ads, so I was assuming that it has continued. However looking carefully I see they’re now advertising only their own stuff which is good. However this is not to say that the ads won’t return.

      • Avatar

        I just checked with a former employee. He said BoM did have ads for a while. I didn’t see them because I’d turned all ads off. Apparently, they were very controversial and had been there for a few years now. They may still be there. The basic justification was that it was an additional income stream in the face of ongoing budget cuts.

      • Avatar

        Until a few days ago there were still ads on Weatherzone (on my phone) but nothing today. How interesting!

      • Avatar

        Hiya Poppe! If you see any, could you take a photo and post them on the comments?

  2. Avatar

    Sure they’ve been nobbled. Just like RBA, AWM, NAA, ABS, ASIC, AEC, CSIRO, and how many others.

    The Departments Of State were all tranquillised long ago. It took the triumphant march of the AbbTurMor Government to corrupt the Acronym Agencies.

  3. Avatar

    Your use of “big polluters” is a highly emotive term, and newsflash: CO2 is not pollution; it is a necessary part of the carbon cycle, essential for plant growth. It is hard to take the rest of this article seriously as news after that. Seems more like a left-wing propaganda opinion piece to any reasonable reader.

    • Avatar

      newsflash: CO₂ is a greenhouse gas. Opaque to heat. Absorbs heat and re-radiates it in all directions. Too much CO₂ derived from fossil carbon is pollution and businesses that emit lots of it are polluters. Nothing emotive about that at all. Nothing left wing about any of this — unless the truth is left wing, of course.

    • Avatar

      “Big polluters” ≠ emotive term. It’s a factual description!

      • Avatar

        CO2 is a greenhouse gas but not a particularly strong one: it’s warming effect is proportional to the log of its concentration, not linear. That means 400ppm has twice the warming effect of 20ppm. Look up Beer’s Law.
        CO2 levels were at 4000 ppm in the Triassic period 100 million years ago and life thrived in that environment. Unfortunately the carbon locked up in Coal, oil and gas had starved the world of CO2. Releasing that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere does far more good than harm. To any unprejudiced person the facts should be obvious: that the non-climatic effects of carbon dioxide as a sustainer of wildlife and crop plants are enormously beneficial, that the possibly harmful climatic effects of carbon dioxide have been greatly exaggerated, and that the benefits clearly outweigh the possible damage. CO2 is good for the environment, therefore not a pollutant.
        The fact that people who insist that CO2 plant food is a pollutant tend to come overwhelmingly from the Left Wing of politics does make this Left Wing propaganda. More correctly it is a tenet of faith for the Left: to question their hypothesis is blasphemy: that’s why my rational fact-based statement is met by fact-free slogans: “the truth is left wing”, “It’s a factual description!”
        Climate Change Alarmism is not Science – it is a Religion. Read these, and question your indoctrination.
        http://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2015/10/benefits1.pdf
        https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2013/Deserts-greening-from-rising-CO2

        Note that I don’t dispute that the climate is changing as the last Ice Age comes to an end: in as little as 10-20,000 years the sea level will rise by up to 10 metres: we will either build dykes to keep the sea out, or we will move inland. Even with the loss of low-lying coastal land, the arable land of the planet will increase, with higher crop yields due to the CO2 fertilisation effect, the greening of deserts and longer growing seasons due to warming of sub-polar areas. Nothing to panic about: the future will be better than the past.

      • Avatar

        The dark side of the force is strong here Luke.

      • Avatar

        So…your Religion is Jedi? Nice, but Science Fiction is not Science either.

      • Avatar

        Al, these are just denier talking points that have been rehashed for twenty years. The strategy here by those who tell others what to think is to confuse people using the tactic of throwing out lots of sciency sounding phrases that ‘appear’ to have some basis. However, by the idea is to just confuse the conversation because anyone digging into what you say will spend an inordinate amount of time and effort to find that what you say is not true.

        So stop it, AGW is dangerous.

      • Avatar

        Sums it up Jeremy. Just Tweeted your comment out.

      • Avatar

        Nowhere near as dangerous as the efforts to stop it by demonising Coal, Gas and Oil, while having no viable alternative: Wind and Solar are intermittent and unreliable, and the only other base load power alternative is Nuclear which the Left won’t even consider. What you call “Denier talking points” are scientific facts from the CSIRO and Freeman Dyson, whereas you just spout slogans. Don’t pretend to respect science if you prefer slogans to data and reason: your language is that of politics or Religion, not science.

      • Avatar

        It’s 2020 now – please leave the 19th century before commenting further.

      • Avatar

        Al, Sooo many talking points!

        Wind and solar are not, ‘unreliable’ e.g. as soon as the dawn comes up solar PV starts operating and ‘intermittent’ is the wrong term from an engineering perspective. You have also neglected to mention other renewables such as hydro, biomass, hot rocks and marine. Then there is storage involving batteries, super capacitors, mechanical methods or energy carriers such water, hydrogen or, say, ammonia.

        As an engineer I’m not demonising coal, etc except we just cannot use them due to their role in man made global warming and their effect on the environment (e.g. the Hunter Valley ‘moonscape’).

        Its no good throwing in names such as the CSIRO and Freeman Dyson, bless his late heart, as that is just the disreputable argument from authority. Even if you responded with actual quotes from any CSIRO document or even Dyson’s views on modelling I will just go and get the context to demonstrate how they don’t provide you with any so called ‘evidence’.

        And don’t come back to me with, “go-and-look-it-up-yourself” schtick.

        Now nuclear power. Well, you are right, I do tend to the left but I think modern nuclear power is quite good, where water is available but the right wing in Australia will never bring in nuclear power. You see nuclear power requires commitment and investment in the community lasting at least two generations, more likely three and that goes against two outlooks in Australia: the 18th century extractive economic mentality that runs Australia and politicians being servants to the community. The first cannot deal with the commitment nuclear power requires and the second goes against the outlook of LNP politicians who believe they tell people what to do rather than the other way around.

        Nuclear power in Australia….nope, it will never fly in Australia, while we have the mindset on the right. All they do is go around mouthing ‘nuclear power’ because they think saying words like that makes them manly.

      • Avatar

        You make some good points, but intermittent is an accurate description of Wind and Solar: you can’t rely on either on a windless night. My house has a 3.8KW Solar array, which has been a big disappointment: it only produces anything like the the rated power for about 4 hours around noon in summer. I don’t think anyone is prepared for the avalanche of Solar panels into land-fill when they start to fail – Chinese manufactured panels will fail in less than 15 years. I agree with you about Hydro, but tell me any river in Australia that Greens will support you damming.
        I did not tell you to “look it up for yourself”: I gave you the links:
        CO2 fertilisation effect: https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2013/Deserts-greening-from-rising-CO2 great news about the benefit to the environment of releasing naturally sequestered Carbon.
        CO2 Benefits – a peer reviewed study: http://www.thegwpf.org/content/uploads/2015/10/benefits1.pdf If you can’t be bothered reading all the research, at least read Freeman Dyson’s foreword, which is brilliant.
        I’m not a Climate Change Denier: I agree that the sea level will rise by nearly 10 metres as the Earth warms, but it has already done most of its rising already: 20,000 years ago Sydney Harbour was a valley, not a harbour. This rise is a consequence of the last Ice Age slowly ending. AGW may have accelerated the trend, but it was always going to happen anyway. We can cope with sea level rises, but I don’t think society would survive de-carbonising our economy, unless we replace it with Nuclear. There’s nothing else that would give us the base load power to maintain the electricity grid after we shut down Coal and Gas power stations.
        Batteries? What is the efficiency of the best Tesla Li-ion battery today? How many would you need to power the grid for even 24 hours? What would that cost, and what damage would be done to the environment by the battery production, and the vast arrays of Solar and wind power to recharge them?
        I recommend we keep burning fossil fuels until Hydrogen Fusion power comes on line: we probably only have 25 years to wait for viable fusion reactors. In the meantime we can celebrate the environmental benefits of unlocking carbon so it can feed plants once again!

  4. Avatar

    The advantage for the UK Met is not that UK politics is any less craven or dishonest, rather that the UK has only a very small coal industry.

    The Liberal Party is also very careful in making appointments to government jobs. Prerequisites are agreement with the Party talking points, Party membership an advantage. “The role of the public service is to implement Liberal Party policy”. With apologies to Scott.

    • Avatar

      Exactly. I was there doing post-grad studies when Thatcher closed the coal mines. She was the first world leader to warn of the threat of climate change – or global warming as it was called then. That was in the early 80s, nearly 40 years ago. Will Tweet out your comment Alan!

  5. Avatar

    MIT Technology Review — ‘Yes you can blame climate change for extreme weather’

    “You can’t attribute any specific weather event to climate change.” For years, that was the party line among meteorologists and climate scientists; while they were alarmed by global warming, they were also sensitive to the bafflingly complex and multicausal origins of events like hurricanes and droughts. But thanks to improved climate simulations, accumulating weather data, and more powerful computers, it’s now possible to model worlds with and without the greenhouse gases we’ve added to the atmosphere over the past 150 years. And that lets researchers conclude that specific weather events, such as the devastating bushfires in Australia, were—within certain upper and lower bounds—more likely and more damaging thanks to global temperature increases. For the March/April 2020 issue, Technology Review senior energy editor James Temple surveyed the work of a number of groups doing this work, including World Weather Attribution, co-led by University of Oxford professor Friederike Otto.
    https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/03/25/950331/blame-climate-change-weather-attribution/

  6. Avatar

    No-one ever describes climate change in precise terms > WHY
    Far to much emotion in this and no accurate reporting of facts good and bad

  7. Avatar

    Well, that may be so but as a farmer whose family have farmed in Victoria since the 1850’s we have watched dry, wet, hot, cold cycles come and go. But will the BOM acknowledge/ research climate cycles, no. So we have a grievance too which pushes us into the sceptic camp as it all seems connived depending on who holds the funding bucket!

  8. Avatar

    The BOM’s self censorship is an interesting example of the myths we tell ourselves, chiefly that we are a courageous, straight talking, nation that calls out BS. This is far from the reality and we let self interested groups and individuals reign over us.

    Couldn’t a case be put forward to challenge Stone’s roll on the basis of conflict of interest? You wouldn’t even need to ‘prove’ climate change all you need to do is to show that Stone has been associated with vested interests who have sought to consistently and intentionally interfere with issues surrounding AGW and does this association render his involvement problematic.

  9. Avatar

    A greens spokesperson with no access to the Google is writing what appear to be parody piece.
    And if you think a solar panel and walking to work will decrease bushfires then the propaganda has obviously worked.

    “In BoM’s November 2019 video “bushfires and exceptional heat: what’s driving our weather right now?,” it runs for a full five minutes without once referencing “climate change”.”

    Yes, because the term is meaningless.
    Climate change doesn’t mean Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.
    What your trying to say is climate influenced by humans.
    Imagine knowing that for years the Bureau of meteorology has been adjusting and fudging data sets/smoothing data/deleting weather stations and vanishing hot days, shown repeatedly by Jennifer Marohasy.
    And it was all done to actually support the coalitions policies..wow..
    I mean the coalition is saying CAGW is crap, but they are secretly supporting the Bureau to promote the CAGW line.
    Anyway, in the real world, their should be bushfire trends right, you can’t just pick and choose locations..

    The National Center for Biotechnology Information
    Global trends in wildfire and its impacts: perceptions versus realities in a changing world 2016
    “…perceptions both in the media and scientific papers of increasing fire occurrence, severity and resulting losses. However, important exceptions aside, the quantitative evidence available does not support these perceived overall trends. Instead, global area burned appears to have overall declined over past decades, and there is increasing evidence that there is less fire in the global landscape today than centuries ago….”

    https://www.drroyspencer.com/2020/01/are-australia-bushfires-worsening-from-human-caused-climate-change/

    https://cliscep.com/2020/01/08/australian-bushfires-assessing-the-role-of-climate-change/

    • Avatar

      Ah, I see you have bought into the-BOM-fiddles-temp-records meme.

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