It may seem like the weather is out of control. Temperature records are being shattered from Australia to Alaska, but that is just an illusion, according to the latest claim by those who don’t want action on climate change. What was once a fringe conspiracy theory is getting a boost from a member of Australia’s governing party who could easily be elected to parliament next month.
Australia's most recent summer shocked a lot of people. The Bureau of Meteorology reported it was “The warmest summer on record for mean, maximum, and minimum temperatures.” It was also among the 10 driest summers since records began, which, coming after an unusually dry winter and spring, has locked much of the country in a devastating drought. Polls are showing environmental issues, particularly climate change, are much more important in the public's minds than even three years ago.
That's inconvenient for a government running for re-election as the highest greenhouse gas emitter per capita in the developed world, and whose last act before the election started was to approve an enormous coal mine.
Opponents of climate action responded that it has been much hotter, not just in the distant past but in the 19th century. This year just looks hot, they say, because the weather bureau is scrubbing the data to take out all the hottest recordings to "fit in with the global warming agenda". The idea has been circulated on blogs and opinion pieces for a while. Influential Australian “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs called for a royal commission into the Bureau as one of the 15 policies it wanted the government to adopt if re-elected.
A month ago Gerard Rennick, third on the governing Liberal National Party's Senate ticket for Queensland, shared an article making these claims to Facebook. “Rewriting weather records to fit in with the global warming agenda! Our public servants are out of control,” he wrote. Previously, the ABC reported Rennick wrote: “The Bureau of Meteorology should not be fudging records to perpetuate global warming hysteria."
Rennick, whose spot on the ticket would have got him into parliament in recent elections, is referring to the fact that the Bureau refuses to rely on data from improperly set up weather stations, prior to standardization of facilities across the country. Some of these took readings in the Sun, rather than shade, or were placed next to heat-reflecting walls.
The Bureau, like every equivalent body in the world, makes adjustments to temperature records when weather stations have to move to new locations, which may be at different altitudes or distances from the coast. The critics are accusing employees of fraud when they make allowances for stations that were once in hotter locations, but are happy to accept adjustments for those that moved from cooler sites. But facts, apparently, aren't for everyone.