Exclusive: Andy Pitman says ‘misspoken’ statement has been used by Alan Jones, Chris Kenny and Andrew Bolt to dismiss links between climate change and drought
A leading Australian climate scientist has said his views have been misrepresented by conservative media commentators, who have used a “misspoken” statement to dismiss the links between climate change and drought.
Prof Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales, has told Guardian Australia there are clear links between human-caused climate change and drought, but these links are indirect.
A statement Pitman made to an event in June has been used repeatedly in recent weeks by Sky News commentators, including Alan Jones, Chris Kenny and Andrew Bolt, to undermine the impacts of climate change on drought, despite Pitman’s centre issuing a clarification weeks earlier. In some cases similar comments were also made in the commentators’ News Corp columns.
In a June event at the University of New South Wales, Pitman told an audience there was “no link between climate change and drought”.
He told Guardian Australia: “I misspoke – I missed a word in my statement and that’s my fault. I should have said no ‘direct’ link.
“I’m confident in the statement that there is no direct link between climate change and drought. I’m equally certain that for some regions there’s an indirect effect of human-induced climate change on drought because of the change in rainfall patterns.”
He said increases in temperatures caused by human activity would also make the impacts of drought worse.
He said: “Background warming does mean that when you get a drought, the system is more stressed than it otherwise would be.”
He said, for example, that farmers would need to get more water to livestock under higher temperatures.
Pitman said he had declined invitations to be interviewed on Sky because he felt he would be unable to communicate nuances on their programs “in such a way that their listeners won’t be misled”.
“But I have not been contacted by Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt,” he said. “I’m not holding my breath waiting for them to correct the record.”
Sky News presenters have used the statement to attack government ministers, including the water minister, David Littleproud, for refusing to rule out the role of climate change on droughts.
On The Bolt report, host Andrew Bolt said: “Even one of our most committed climate scientists, Professor Andy Pitman, admits there is no link between global warming and drought.”
In an interview with shadow agriculture minister Joel Fitzgibbon, Sky host Chris Kenny played audio of Pitman’s statement, before adding: “If that’s what the science says then politicians who link the current disasters to climate change are being opportunistic and misleading.”
Asked if he felt his views were being misrepresented, Pitman said: “Absolutely, yes. But it’s understandable from my statement that some people misunderstood what I was saying.
“People want black and white, but drought is not simple. I understand that the reporting of science is always complex and it’s hopelessly naive to think all the media wants to report the facts without fear or favour. So no, I’m not surprised [at the reaction].”
Pitman’s misspoken statement was the subject of a segment on ABC’s Media Watch program, prompting a furious public exchange between host Paul Barry and Bolt.
According to the Bureau of Meteorology’s most recent State of the Climate report, the “drying in recent decades across southern Australia is the most sustained large-scale change in rainfall since national records began in 1900”.
Areas around the north of the Murray-Darling Basin have also experienced record low rainfall, the bureau has said.
Pitman said he “couldn’t answer” a question on whether the current drought gripping large areas of south-east Australia had been influenced by climate change.
“But the fact that I can’t establish something does not make it true or false, it just means I can’t establish it.”
He also said there were “limits to our knowledge” on what would happen to drought over the coming decades in Australia.
But Pitman said there were clear links between human-induced climate change and a rise in heatwaves, in frequency of extreme heat, on changes in rainfall, on ocean acidification and sea level rise.
“The average temperatures are increasing, the maximums are increasing, the lowest temperatures are increasing,” Pitman said. “We know lots of stuff, and all of that is enough to ask for deep cuts in emissions.”
Pitman pointed to research showing that, between 2000 and 2014, for every cold temperature record being set in Australia, 12 heat records were being broken.
“Being able to attribute a particular drought to climate change should not have any implications for the deep cuts to emissions that are necessary to avoid dangerous climate change.”
Original Article: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/oct/25/climate-scientist-says-sky-news-commentators-misrepresented-his-views-on-drought