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Tony Abbott denies climate change and advocates carbon tax in the same breath

Posted on 7 June 2011 by John Cook

On Sunday, Megan Evans pointed me towards a 2009 interview with Australian opposition leader Tony Abbott. It's 13 minutes long but what grabbed my attention was an answer towards the end where Abbott throws out a few climate denier myths then seamlessly transitions into arguing that a carbon tax is the best way to put a price on carbon. Yesterday morning, I uploaded the one minute answer onto YouTube:

Later that day, Aussie climate scientist Matthew England passed the YouTube clip onto Tony Jones, host of the popular and influential ABC television show Q&A. And sure enough, last night, the clip was featured on Q&A. You can watch the whole episode here (the clip airs at around the 34 minute mark).

The clip began appearing in the media today. The Sydney Morning Herald led with Abbott dogged by old carbon comment (a Channel Ten clip is embedded on the SMH article). The Australian labelled it the Abbott Carbon Debacle. Abbott was forced to defend his words as were Abbott's fellow MPs George Brandis and Christopher Pyne. Channel Ten's 7pm Project covered it tonight.

The media focus was understandably on the fact that Abbott was advocating a carbon tax as the best form of putting a price on carbon, while he currently describes it as a "toxic tax". But I must confess (which should surprise noone here), I was quite interested in his climate denial myths. In just a few sentences, he managed to hit "the science isn't settled", "it's cooling", "it hasn't warmed since 1998" and "there's no correlation between CO2 and temperature". Now that's some concentrated myth making!

As a climate denier, Tony Abbott is most famous for his statement that climate science is "absolute crap". However, that's just the tip of the iceberg - he actually has a long history of denying climate change science. Skeptical Science have been steadily extending our database of climate myth quotes beyond just U.S. politicians and here is what we have so far from Tony Abbott.

Climate Myths from
Tony Abbott
(Liberal Party, Aus)
What the Science Says
"This is a government which is proposing to put at risk our manufacturing industry, to penalise struggling families, to make a tough situation worse for millions of households right around Australia. And for what? To make not a scrap of difference to the environment any time in the next 1000 years."
29 March 2011 (Source)
CO2 limits won't cool the planet, but they can make the difference between continued accelerating global warming to catastrophic levels vs. slowing and eventually stopping the warming at hopefully safe levels
"Whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven."
15 March 2011 (Source)

Through its impacts on the climate, CO2 presents a danger to public health and welfare, and thus qualifies as an air pollutant

"I don't think we can say that the science is settled here. "
14 March 2011 (Source)
That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.
"Climate change is a relatively new political issue, but it’s been happening since the earth’s beginning. The extinction of the dinosaurs is thought to have been associated with climate change. [unverified]"
9 March 2011 (Source)
Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing.
"The climate has changed over the eons and we know from history, at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth the climate was considerably warmer than it is now. [...] Climate change happens all the time and it is not man that drives those climate changes back in history. It is an open question how much the climate changes today and what role man plays."
8 May 2010 (Source)
Climate reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time; humans are now the dominant forcing.
"It was the so-called settled science of climate change, that I thought was to be described in language that I wouldn't use on a family program."
2 February 2010 (Source)
That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.
"These so-called nasty big polluters are the people that keep the lights on. I mean, let's not forget how essential these people are to the business of daily life."
2 February 2010 (Source)

A combination of renewables supplemented with natural gas can provide baseload power.

"If man-made CO2 was quite the villain that many of these people say it is, why hasn't there just been a steady increase starting in 1750, and moving in a linear way up the graph?"
19 November 2009 (Source)
There is long-term correlation between CO2 and global temperature; other effects are short-term.
"I am not setting myself up as the great expert here, but the Hadley Institute in Britain, which is apparently one of the most reputable of these measuring centres, according to press reports, has found that after heating up very significantly in the previous 25 years, there seems to have been a slight cooling, but at a high plateau I'll accept that."
19 November 2009 (Source)
The last decade 2000-2009 was the hottest on record.
"The fact that we have had if anything cooling global temperatures over the last decade, not withstanding continued dramatic increases of carbon dioxide emissions, suggests the role of CO2 is not nearly as clear as the climate catastrophists suggest."
29 July 2009 (Source)
There is long-term correlation between CO2 and global temperature; other effects are short-term.
"I think the climate change science is far from settled."
29 July 2009 (Source)
That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.
"The thesis that carbon dioxide is uniquely responsible for global warming has run up against a serious problem, and that is the fact that the climate has if anything been cooling slightly over the last decade, while there have been continued massive increases in carbon dioxide emissions."
27 July 2009 (Source)

Global temperature is still rising and 2010 was the hottest recorded.

"I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change. [...] I mean, I just think that the science is highly contentious, to say the least."
27 July 2009 (Source)
That human CO2 is causing global warming is known with high certainty & confirmed by observations.
"Another big problem with any Australian emissions reduction scheme is that it would not make a material difference to atmospheric carbon concentrations unless the big international polluters had similar schemes."
0 July 2009 (Source)

If every nation agrees to limit CO2 emissions, we can achieve significant cuts on a global scale.

"Even if global warming is as bad as the doomsayers claim, it’s better to respond correctly than to respond tomorrow. Man-made CO2 emission have been happening for centuries and I daresay the planet could cope if we respond intelligently in 2012 rather than foolishly in 2010."
19 December 2008 (Source)

A large amount of warming is delayed, and if we don’t act now we could pass tipping points

Note - this list is by no means comprehensive so feel free to post comments with links to other quotes from Abbott on climate change (you get extra kudos if you transcribe the actual quote from interviews, saving us some legwork).

UPDATE 9/6/2011: Matthew England sent a clarifying letter to The Australian which had reported that he'd uploaded the video to YouTube.

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Comments 1 to 28:

  1. Why do all those in denial (especially the politicians) regurgitate exactly the same fallacies and make unsubstatiated claims of not being convinced, especially when they are generally in no position to be able to come to a credible scientific judgement ? They seem to try to make themselves sound knowledgeable and convincing but only end up looking foolish - except to those who want to believe what is being expressed.
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  2. because one can always say "not enough evidence" and because he can eventually say "now it's enough" at any moment if politically convenient.
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  3. What strikes me about his taxation scheme is the complete futility of it. It is a common denier myth that at tax and dividend scheme as proposed by Hansen, and such as Australia may soon get a hybrid version of that it will be ineffective because the consumers will receive back all the extra money they pay in carbon tax, so there will be no net incentive to change behaviour. This is false in that the dividend it not tied to the effective carbon emissions of the consumers. By sourcing electricity from low carbon sources, or using it more efficiently, they can reduce the amount of carbon tax they pay while not reducing their dividend. That creates a clear incentive to reduce carbon emissions. In contrast to Hansen's scheme, however, Abbot proposes that at the end of each year you would be able to get "... a rebate of the tax you paid". (45 seconds in) In other words, your rebate would equal the carbon tax paid during the year. If you reduce your carbon emissions, and therefore the tax paid, you equally reduce your rebate. Consequently there is only minimal incentive to reduce your carbon emissions. The small remaining incentive is in the delay between paying the carbon tax and receiving your rebate, a period during which you are effectively paying the government a forced interest free loan. The effective Carbon tax on Abbot's scheme reduces effectively to the interest rate on the nominal tax rate, or typically about one twentieth of the nominal rate. The administrative costs would, however, be a function of the nominal rate, making this an incredibly burdensome and inefficient, not to mention ineffective tax. I must emphasise that none of these points are valid criticisms of genuine tax and dividend schemes in which the dividend paid is independent of carbon emissions.
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  4. Riccardo@2 they do indeed but... The... "not enough evidence" line is really starting to get nauseous, do Abbott and the rest of these individuals phone up their insurance companies demanding proof that their house is going to burn down or that their car is going to be involved in an accident before they will pay their insurance premiums?
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  5. To be fair to Abbott, who is otherwise clueless about climate change, *he* wasn't proposing a carbon tax in that clip. He was saying that *if* you accept AGW and the need to reduce CO2 emissions dramatically, a carbon tax is better than an emissions trading scheme. He says that immediately after the above clip ends. "Yesterday morning, I uploaded the one minute answer onto YouTube:" It wasn't one minute, he spoke for almost 30 more seconds answering the climate question. In reality, since he doesn't accept AGW as a problem, he's against the emissions trading *and* the carbon tax. Again, he's completely wrong on the science of climate change, but this clip is not evidence of him damning the science on one hand and then on the other hand calling for a carbon tax to reduce emissions when he doesn't think emissions are a problem anyway.
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  6. Hi, This is off-topic. But I hope you will be lenient and not delete this post. I have a suggestion. You have an extensive list, several actually, of climate myths and counter arguments. Possibly you could start a new list. This would contain facts about climate change which are supported by various, well known denialists. After all, not every denialist denies every single climate change fact. And I think that a denialist would be much more likely to believe something that Anthony Watts or Lord Monckton had said. The reason I'm making this suggestion is that I had a heated discussion with a colleague today after he mentioned the word "CO2 lie". Apparently, because C02 is heavier than air, it drops to the bottom and lies in a very thin layer just on top of the earth's crust and can therefore not contribute to global warming. Nothing I said convinced him. Then I asked him whose (counter) arguments he could trust. I didn't get a straight answer. But he did say that he would not trust any scientists paid by the state. Chancellor Angela Merkel (I'm from Germany) has corrupted them all. He is a fan of EIKE, a denialist research institute that has never published a peer reviewed paper. Sorry, for not keeping to your comments policy. I do hope you can help me. Wouldn't it be fun to trash an article at wattsupwiththat explaining why according to Lord Mockton they have completely lost it?
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  7. 6, Martin, I don't think that's a bad idea. I've recently done the same with the people who think that greenhouse gas theory violates the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Every paid denial climate scientist (Lindzen, Choi, Pielke Sr., Spencer, Curry, etc.) would strongly refute that idea. They'd lose their jobs and any semblance of respect that they have otherwise. As a side note, on the heavier than air thing, the physics argument is pretty straightforward and undeniable. The key to their problem is that the velocities of the molecules involved are ridiculously high. See this site, for example. This is very straightforward physics and math, but at room temperature, the average velocity of nitrogen (the most abundant molecule in the atmosphere) is computed to be 3,790 miles per hour! For Argon, a trace gas with an atomic weight of 40 (CO2, by contrast, has an atomic weight of 44), the speed is 850 mph. And that's average. Some are going much, much faster, some slower. In addition to this, the density of the atmosphere means that each molecule is undergoing thousands of collisions per second with other molecules moving just as fast. Add wind (macro scale transport effects) from thermal heating, Coriolis effects, and such, and... The upshot of this is that the gases mix very, very well. They have no chance in the universe of separating by density like a bottle of salad dressing, and to think that they would is childishly simplistic thinking. As a side note, you should point out that Argon is the third most common gas in the atmosphere (0.93%) after oxygen and nitrogen, and this has been measured by scientists. So if CO2 has to fall out, so must Argon. As a last resort, he should realize the implications of what he is saying. If all CO2 had to drop down to the surface, there is still enough of it to create a fairly thick layer (I haven't done the calculations to determine how thick). This would in fact suffocate every breathing creature on the face of the earth in minutes. So it's not possible: 1) The speed of individual molecules prevents it. 2) The large scale actions of weather in the atmosphere prevent it. 3) There are other molecules, as large or larger, that are clearly present and well mixed in the atmosphere. 4) If CO2 did fall to the bottom, we'd all be dead, or rather would have evolved into CO2 breathing creatures (intelligent plants) and would now instead be arguing about how to stop our own O2 production from destroying our highly evolved plant-based civilization.
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  8. Martin - I like the idea. The problem is that it would require quite a bit of work. But for example, none of the scientist "skeptics" (your Lindzens and Christys and such) dispute that the planet is warming, humans are causing atmospheric CO2 to increase, and this is contributing to the warming at least somewhat. So these most serious 'skeptics' would not support most of the climate myths in our database. They're mostly 'climate sensitivity is low' and 'it's internal variability' and that sort of thing.
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  9. The layering calculation is straight forward. Here is a quick and dirty version. You need to know the mass of the atmosphere and the number of moles in the atmosphere. The mass is easy: Take sea level pressure (about 1 g per cm2) and the area of the Earth (510x10^6 km2) to get 5.1x10^18 kg. (This compares with more formal calculations by Trenberth giving 5.148 x10^18 kg). Then assume an average molecular mass for the gases of 29 (about right for 78% N2, 21% O2 and 1% Ar). This gives total moles = 1.8 x10^20 moles. 390 ppm of CO2 (or any other gas) is then 7.0 x10^16 moles. Ideal gas laws tell us that at 10 deg C and sea level pressure 1 mole gas has a volume of 23.2 L Total volume of the gas = 1.6 x10^15 m3 For a surface area of 510 x10^6 km2 = 510 x10^12 m2 the thickness is thus 3.1 m. (For Ar it is 75 m, O2 = 1.7 km, N2 = 6.3 km. Adding these up we see that the whole atmosphere is equivalent to about 8 km at sea level pressure).
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  10. 9, Doug, I can't believe you bothered! Well, now I can't sleep tonight, because if the deniers are right and we're wrong, then all of the CO2 is going to sink down to the surface, and anyone who is less than 10 feet tall is going to suffocate. [Lucky for me I sleep on the second floor, but I'll still be afraid to go downstairs for a drink of water.]
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  11. Two of Abbott's best quotes are missing from this article. "Climate change is crap", and, "I'm not across the science". I'm still not sure why so many people accept the verdict of a man who admits he does not know what he is talking about.
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    Response: Find me a source and I'll add these to the quotes database.
  12. I would agree with Mr Abbott that it would be better to respond intelligently in 2012 than foolishly in 2010. He said that in 2008. What intelligent response is he advocating for 2012? Or is it now 'better to act intelligently in 2014 than foolishly in 2012'....
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  13. Martin @6, you may find the following graph of CO2 measurements by aircraft in the high troposphere (red circles) and the stratosphere (red dots): There is a slight reduction in CO2 levels in the stratosphere with respect to the troposphere which is due to CO2's greater mass than N2 or O2. You will also notice a higher CO2 measurement for the lowest of the ground stations (KZD at 412 meters). On the other hand, both the high troposphere and high stratosphere have a higher annual mean than do the higher altitude ground stations, primarily because they are minimally affected by the seasonal uptake of CO2 by Northern Hemisphere deciduous forests in the summer, and the release of that CO2 back to the atmosphere. (For a map showing the surface station locations and flight paths, click on the graph). Also of interest is this graph of CO2 concentrations at different altitudes at four different times of year: Again the CO2 concentration is near constant with altitude, with slight variations at each altitude depending on the pattern of winds, updrafts and downdrafts at each level. One pattern is particularly clear, however. In Spring and Summer it is clear that there is less CO2 at lower altitudes, while in Winter there is obviously more. This seasonal pattern is again because of uptake of CO2 by decidous forests in Spring and Summer, and release of CO2 by rotting leaves in those forests in Winter. It may help your colleague to see these graphs. Sometimes it helps people to move towards truth if their points are not just denied, (CO2 is relatively heavy, and that does affect its distribution) but put into perspective (that effect only makes a 2.5% difference in CO2 concentrations over the altitude of the atmosphere, and is easily swamped by the much larger seasonal variation due to deciduos forests). You might also ask why the organisation he relies on has not done their own experiments on CO2 and altitude, seeing as how it is not that hard an experiment. For the record, the Mauna Loa observatory is located at 3397 meters, and is well away from deciduous forests, though not free of their influence.
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  14. Tom Curtis I am not sure if you are an Australian, but you completely missed the whole point of this thread with your comments at #3. This is all about Tony Abbott's gross hypocrisy on the issue of a carbon tax. He is clearly advocating a carbon tax in 2009, for the sole reason that it was government policy (at the time) to adopt a cap and trade system. He was just saying no to anything and everything the government proposed. Now that the government is proposing a carbon tax, Abbott is acting like the hypocrite he is and opposing it, despite his earlier advocation for such a scheme. He is, once again, just automatically opposing everything the government says or does. He has zero credibility on this issue, and I cringe when I think that there is the very real possibility that he could become Prime Minister in just over two years.
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  15. Michael Hauber @12, Tony Abbot is now advocating that existing power plants be modified or replaced, or carbon abatement paid for at tax payer expense. As former Liberal Party leader, Malcolm Turnbull has calculated, even using very conservative assumptions about the costs involved, that would represent a cost of Billions of dollars a year to the budget. If the method is used to seriously mitigate CO2 emissions, the cost to the taxpayer will quickly rise to tens of billions annually. As also noted by Turnbull, the chief (indeed the only) advantage of such a system is that it is easy to stop. As it stands, Abbott refuses to identify how the billions required for his scheme will be raised. When a Cap and Trade scheme was on the political agenda, Abbott argued the virtues of a carbon tax. Now that a carbon tax is on the agenda, he argues the virtue of direct government action. Given that the policy is unfunded, my belief is that should Abbott gain power, a "budgetary crisis" will be found that necessitates shelving his policy for the forseeable future.
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  16. mandas @14, I am an Australian. As Tony Abbott is just one vote away from being Prime Minister, for me his demonstrated economic incompetence is, therefore, also an issue. As, however, to his comments, Robert Murphy @5 is perfectly correct. Abbot does not advocate a Carbon Tax on the clip. He does, however, claim that a Carbon Tax is the best method of "put[ting] a price on Carbon". That, given a Carbon Tax on the table, he will not even negotiate on the features of that tax does show that his earlier comments where a smoke screen, as IMO is his current policy (see my 15). But regardless of the intended take home message of John Cook, I believe the shallow analysis shown by Abbott in his suggested Carbon tax is a genuine issue. It shows that he is not only incompetent on the science, but incompetent on the policy as well, even where he to accept the science.
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  17. ....and of course Abbott's plans *assume* that the power industry won't just take the money, add it to their yearly profit results, & merrily go about their business. Have the Opposition given *any* indication of how they plan to ensure the Coal industry do the right thing with the money? Not that it will change the obscene cost of the scheme. Also, Tom, lets not forget that just a couple of years before this clip, he was wholeheartedly supporting Howard's Emissions Trading Scheme. Seems Abbott wants to have a bet each way.
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  18. Martin:
    Apparently, because C02 is heavier than air, it drops to the bottom and lies in a very thin layer just on top of the earth's crust and can therefore not contribute to global warming.
    Ask him why he's not dead. Offer to run an experiment with him in a locked and airtight room ...
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  19. The response given to Abbotts comment that "The climate has changed over the eons..." does not seem aproprtiate. Should it not be refuting the assertion that historical evidence shows the so-called “Roman Warm Period” was warmer than to-day?
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  20. Tom Curtis Thanks for your response. I agree with what you are saying about Abbott's economic incompetence. And yes, you are correct to refer to Murphy's comments about the context in which Abbott made the remarks. However, my point would be, that rather than excuse Abbott, the context actually makes him out to be more of a hypocrite and more of a denier. By placing his remarks in the context of - 'if you accept AGW and the need to reduce carbon emmissions, then a carbon tax is the best way of doing so' - then since Abbot claims (!!??) to now accept both AGW and the need to reduce carbon emissions, then he must also accept - by his own admission - that a carbon tax is the best way of doing so. This is clearly not the way he is now approaching this debate. What his real opinions on these matters are, one can only guess. I have no doubt that he is still an AGW denier, but what he will do once he gets into office (which scares the pants off me) is a mystery. Perhaps pragmatism and reality will take hold - one can only hope.
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  21. Stevo @11, I cannot find a clear wording as to what Tony Abbott said. It appears to have been, and has been reported as: "The science around climate change is total crap!", but also as: "Climate Change is Crap" It was said at a Liberal Party Meeting in Beaufort, Victoria in September of 2009. Reported by The Australian ( and the ABC ( Originally reported in the Pyrenees Advocate if anyone has back copies. In hosing down the story he has variously said:
    "I think that climate change is real and that man does make a contribution. There is an argument, first, as to how great that contribution is, and second, over what should be done about it."
    (December 2nd, 2009) and:
    " I think what I actually said was that the so-called settled science was a little aromatic. Now you don't have to accept the totality of the science to still think that there is a reasonable argument for taking sensible precautions against possible risk and that's what we're doing."
    In the same interview he said:
    "Well the, I know the intergovernmental panel's findings are now under very serious challenge. There are now a lot of question marks over it. Nevertheless these are serious scientists. And I think we've got to respect that position although..." "... although I don't think we have to take it as gospel truth, which I think has been part of the problem up 'til now."
    (Feb 2, 2010)
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  22. Sphaerica@7, dana@8, Doug@9 and Tom@13, Thank you all very much for your answers to my question. I wish I had thought of what Spaerica wrote. My own arguments were pathetic in comparison. I just said that wind and weather would mix everything just fine. I particularly like Tom’s graphs. But I think I will try Doug’s calculations because it is simple and direct. My colleague is no Dirk Nowitzky so I’m sure he couldn’t survive 3.1m of CO2. He has studied physics, so he shouldn’t have any problems following the arguments plus I’m not quoting a scientist who gets money from the state and (in his eyes) is therefore corrupt. I’m afraid that although he might just possibly concede this single point, I won’t be able to convert him from the dark side. He only accepts what EIKE publishes (the next little ice age will start in 10 to 30 years, etc.). But then Lord Mockton is listed on this “institutes” board, so what can you expect. Unfortunately my colleague’s English is not very good otherwise I would have simply directed him to this site.
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    [DB] The main skeptic arguments and the debunking thereof are available in multiple languages, including German.  If that helps, that is.

  23. Moderator #11. Here's the link to the Tony Abbott interview on ABC Lateline. My apologies for misquoting in my earlier posting. Abbott did not say the actual words, "I'm not across the science" but from the interview it is plainly the case that he is not. When asked if he had read the science or IPCC report he responded, "No, I don't claim to have immersed myself deeply in all of these documents. I'm a politician. I have to rely on briefings - I have to rely on what I pick up through the secondary sources". He then went on to quote Plimer and some cherry picked short term data and claimed that it was valid because the numbers came from the Hadley Centre.
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    Moderator Response: (DB) Fixed link.
  24. Sorry folks, for my ham fisted first attempt at posting a link in #23. I also lost the bit where I apologised for misquoting Abbott in #11. He did not use the words, "I am not across the science" but in the course of the interview it is quite clear he is not.
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  25. 22, Martin, Certainly if he's starting from the "CO2 is heavier than air" (probably the single most ignorant argument out there), then he probably has much too far to go to ever get anywhere. If I were you, once he understands and accepts, and sees how the solution can be resolved (i.e. through straightforward calculations of molecular velocities or meters of CO2), I would work on the general idea of "See how you were fooled? Really smart people have spent lifetimes on this, and all they get out of it is a $75K a year teaching position at a university." I know that's an appeal to authority, but quite honestly, that's no different from trusting a doctor or a dentist or a lawyer. If he won't buy that, well, you'll never step him through every single denial argument, if he's starting from the heavier than air nonsense.
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  26. Mod, Stevo just missed his ending quote in his href in post 23. If you could just fix it for him...
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  27. Stevo @23 & 24, The correct link is to a Lateline interview with Tony Jones on November 11, 2009. I notice that the same interview is the source of two quotes in the main article, but the link is dead in that article. Another myth Abbott trots out in that interview is the Roman Warm Period/ MWP grapes in England myth:
    "If you look at Roman times, grapes grew up against Hadrian's Wall - medieval times they grew crops in Greenland. In the 1700s they had ice fairs on the Thames. So the world has been significantly hotter, significantly colder than it is now. We've coped."
    I would not be too quick with the apology. I seem to remember Abbott explicitly saying that he was "not across on the science", although I cannot source the saying. I may be confusing the incident with when he said he was not across on the NBN on Q&A (I believe).
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  28. Tom Curtis @27, Thanks for bailing me out there, Tom. I'll keep searching for where he said,"I'm not across the science". The words stuck in my memory, just like they did with yours it seems. Now to find that link.......
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