January 06, 2005 | Graham

Sharks in the Tsunami

I’ve avoided writing about the Indian Ocean Tsunami so far. Mostly out of respect. Respect for those who died. Respect for their relatives who grieve. Respect for the existential pitilessness of nature. Time for analysis and comment comes, but not immediately.
Others have not been so respectful, and as the water recedes it becomes time to prod and poke again as the shysters and exploiters start to ply their trades.
First (and mildest) mention goes to the Federal Government. This press release boasts about the “$1 billion” we are contributing to reconstruction in Indonesia. In fact, the contribution is much less than this. There is $500 million of aid (a large proportion of which may well be spent with Australian firms), and there is $500 million of soft loans. The correct way of calculatiing the total is not to add the two figures together, but to take the first $500 million and add to it the interest foregone on the second $500 million.
Presumably the $1 billion figure was picked as a public relations ploy in line with the “law of large round numbers”, but why not stick with the truth? Our contribution without the fiddling is still outstanding.
Second mention goes to Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. It is inevitable that advocates will be hooking their own bandwagons onto the Tsunami – it’s all that people want to talk about at the moment. Peter McMahon and Peter Sellick have both used it to write about greenhouse and religion respectively. The executive director of Greenpeace UK told The Independent “No one can ignore the relentless increase in extreme weather events and so-called natural disasters, which in reality are no more natural than a plastic Christmas tree,” while Friends of the Earth Director Tony Juniper was quoted as saying “Here again are yet more events in the real world that are consistent with climate change predictions.”
But the “most shameless panhandling” award goes to the Nigerian email scam fraudsters. Consider the following gem from “Mr. Ram-Kisha Narayan”, a Sri-Lankan caught up in the tragedy who has already clubbed together with the half of his village still living to aquire access to the Internet and a dutch bank account so he could send emails to millions around the world asking for philanthropy!

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am Mr. Ram-Kisha Narayan from KALUTARA province in SRI LANKA. I am a Fisher Man, Married with four Children. I lost my Wife, Three Children, my House and my Fisher Boat which is a means of our livelihood and survival. More than half of my village has been washed away by Flood-Waters caused by Tsunami Quake and have caused unimaginable lost of lifes and properties.
I am writing with deep sorrow and heart pain appealing for Financial Assistance from you, on behalf of myself, my only surviving child and many of the Victims. We know individualy, it will take many years if at all to overcome this tragedy, but coming together as a group will be much easier. So we, group of Fishers in Kalutara Village came together as Co-operative union to fight a common cause.
We the people of Kalutara province and the Nation of Sri Lanka are very grateful for the support received so far from People of goodwill all over the world, but for the magnitude of the destructions of infrastructures, lost of livelihood and the amount of affected Victims, that is why we as group are asking for more assistance. The fund reased will be used most importanly to buy Fisher Boat(s) or repair some of our damaged Boats to be able to return to nomal life and also to master Our future.
Please Channel Your Donations to:
Name: K, Alodewou (Tsunami)
Acc. Nr.: 9257901
Bank: Postbank,Groningen Netherland
Thank you and may God bless you. We need your support and your prayers.
Yours Sincerely,
Ram-Kisha Narayan.

Posted by Graham at 1:49 pm | Comments (19) |


  1. I’m sure our collective backs are stinging from patting ourselves on the back for all our good will and philanthropy shown in response to the disaster. In unison we can all turn our red raw backs on the GAM as the TNI hew down a few more. Aren’t we all good?

    Comment by evan — January 7, 2005 @ 2:33 pm

  2. Hasn’t the Aust govt offered 500 mill up front and 500 mill in interest free loans over 40 years. And yet you say that this is less than 1 billion because the loans are only at a cost to australia as the forgone interest. Even if the cash rate for internation loans is half my mortgage payment (7%) even with simple interest its more than $500 million worth (500,000,000 * 0.035 * 40 = 700,000,000). So if the government was simply looking for a good round number as large as possible for public relations perhaps they should use 1.2 Billion.

    Comment by Todd — January 7, 2005 @ 3:39 pm

  3. Todd,
    If the calculation came out to $1.2 billion you can be sure that they would use it. The loans are interest free for 40 years, but repayable starting in 10 years time, making your calculation wrong.
    The Australian 10 year bond rate is 5.43%, so we should use that rather than half your mortgage rate. When I put that into my spreadsheet it tells me that the real cost of the benefit is $330,385,300. So, the government gets a $170,000,000 boost. The $170,000,000 is made up of the foregone interest on the total for the first ten years, then the outstanding principal for the next 30.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 7, 2005 @ 6:06 pm

  4. Er, whoever wrote this opinion piece, it might be advisable to not mislead your readers. Juniper and Tindale were commenting on ‘the astonishing storms of the past year’ – not the tsunami, as anyone who reads the actual article could see. Here it is:
    Crikey, why do writers bullshit when they’re trying to make a perfectly valid point? I guess that’s why they’re writers for crap online papers that no-one reads. He ho, the big break might come some time.

    Comment by ben — January 8, 2005 @ 1:17 am

  5. Malarkey,
    Thanks for the link and the abuse. Anyone who takes the trouble to look at the link will see that the Independent has published an article attempting to link the Tsunami and Global Warming and that both these gentlemen are quoted in there. It’s possible that Juniper is talking about only the climate, but Tindale can’t get off the hook so easily. He’s talking about the weather, and then he’s talking about “so-called natural disasters” – if they aren’t the weather what are they?
    I’ve also come across another example of people making a direct link between the Tsunami and global waming from New Matilda, by Jack Shmit. You can see his article here http://www.safecom.org.au/envirogees.htm

    Comment by Graham Young — January 8, 2005 @ 5:09 am

  6. Graham
    Excuse the abuse – apologies, just frustrated to see slack journalism. Fact is Tindale was talking about what the writer of the piece called ‘losses caused by natural disasters, most of them climate-related and headed by hurricanes in America and typhoons in Japan.’ That was the context. Cripes alive, anyone can see that, can’t they? If Tindale was refering to the tsunami her would have, you know, refered to the tsunami. Any journalist would have made more of a Greenpeace chief saying the disaster in Asia was partly man-made, but such a sentence does not appear in the copy. Maybe other greenies did say something like that, but Tindale didn’t, and that’s why your piece is misleading.
    The thing is, been the sad twat I am, I phoned up his office and did what responsible commentators do. I asked them. They said he gave the damn quote BEFORE xmas. (His switchboard number is 0044 205 865 8100). Now, if you think he has extra-sensory powers to predict seismic ativity and exploit it for scare-mongering reasons, fine. But I’m sure you don’t. Thing is, you dropped the ball mate. You got it wrong.
    The Independent might have ‘published an article attempting to link global warming and the tsunami with both gentlemen quoted in there’, but what’s your point? I read an article yesterday claiming the tsunami could break the UN that quoted Kofi Annan – doesn’t mean he thinks the tsunami will break the UN (unless he actually SAYS that, which he doesn’t). Point is, campaigners don’t write the articles, journalists do. The article was called ‘2004: The year of living dangerously’. The headline was not ‘Tsunami was man-made’, not ‘Greenies are batshit crazy sharks.’It was an end of year summing up of natural disasters that tried to become more newsy by refering briefly to the Asian disaster. It had 6 lines near the top talking about the tsunami that were dropped into an article that was written before xmas. You’re a journalist, surely you can see that. Take another look at the piece.
    All the best.

    Comment by Ben — January 8, 2005 @ 10:12 pm

  7. Malarkey,
    Graham, i love most of your posts bud, but i sorta have to side with Malarkey.
    Your looking for boogey men under the bed with the blame everything on the Greens (they are nazis according to brandis and communists according to anderson – i’m mean really what are they?). I’m pretty sick of the Global Warming scare campaign by the greens as well, but of course if you look hard enough for something you can find it, even if it ain’t there. That applies both to the Global Warming doomsdayers as well as the Conservative Greenie Bashers 🙂
    I was visiting the Bunya mountains a few weekends ago, and a couple of farmers were bashing the greens for spreading weeds through the national park? Perhaps its a fire hazard – quick burn that rainforest. hmmmm. get a bigger 4wd and throw your cigarette butt out the window just to spite those pesky greens.

    Comment by alphacoward — January 9, 2005 @ 7:05 pm

  8. Graham,
    I think the email scam-mongers who are taking advantage of the tsunami tragedy pale in comparison with these charming fundamentalists in Kansas: http://www.godhatesfags.com
    Pretty hair raising stuff – especially if you are Swedish.

    Comment by David — January 11, 2005 @ 2:17 pm

  9. Graham
    The Cato Institute have apparently now pulled their PR accusing Tindale and Juniper after they accepted the quotes were given before xmas. I must say I didn’t realise that you’re piece was just culled from Cato or the WSJ article that appeared subsequently. I guess you can’t trust these batshit crazy wingnut neo-cons – but then we knew that after Iraq. Didn’t we Graham?

    Comment by ben — January 11, 2005 @ 9:24 pm

  10. Ben,
    I’ve been on holidays. Yes, I relied on the Cato press release in the first place and read the rest coloured by that (although I think you err in suggesting Cato were in favour of the Iraq adventure – you’ll find they are more or less isolationist). Haven’t seen their press release. As far as Tindale is concerned, if he was referring to hurricanes etc. in the previous year as being “so-called natural disasters” then he is guilty as charged, I just picked the wrong crime!
    As far as I am aware there is no scientifically justifiable evidence linking the storms we have been having with greenhouse. In fact, I understand (and I’ll try and check the reference when I get back from holidays) that last year was not the worst for storms that we have had, at least from an insurance point of view, and that one of the reasons for the high cost in recent hurricanes etc. has been because more affluent societies own more goods that can be damaged in storms.
    The jury is well and truly out on what changes greenhouse will cause, apart from increased temperatures, and no modelling has proved to be in any way predictive.
    So, with so many greens fear-mongering about the consequences you might appreciate why I was prepared to read the Independent article the way that the Independent obviously wanted me to read it.
    BTW, the fact that I am sceptical about the greenhouse claims makes me more likely, rather tha less, to publish articles from those points of view in On Line Opinion.
    Oh, and for AlphaCoward, you’ll see my views on Brandis and the Green Nazi conspiracy theory here http://nationalforum.com.au/the_domain/archives/ambit_gambit/000034.html
    Back to the beach now to catch a few of those waves.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 12, 2005 @ 10:09 am

  11. Dear Graham,
    regarding your editorial of 6 January on the Asian tsunami, accusing Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE) of exploiting the tsunami.
    You relied on comments about climate change and extreme weather events by Greenpeace UK’s Stephen Tindale in The Independent and attacked both Greenpeace and FoE, who were also quoted in paper, for linking the tsunami to climate change.
    In fact we did no such thing.
    The Independent approached both Greenpeace and FoE for comment on climate change and extreme weather events on 23 December, four days before the tsunami. Comment was provided that same day.
    As soon as Mr Tindale heard news of the tsunami on 26 December he rang The Independent’s news desk and the journalist who wrote the story and left messages asking that his quotes not be used as they could be mistaken as referring to the tsunami, which in fact they did not.
    Unfortunately, the next day, the paper used the quotes in an article which had had some sentences about the tsunami added to the beginning.
    So that the record is absolutely clear, Greenpeace has never said that the tsunami was caused by climate change.
    Danny Kennedy
    Campaigns Manager
    Greenpeace Australia Pacific

    Comment by Greenpeace comment — January 12, 2005 @ 12:21 pm

  12. Danny,
    I think it’s now pretty clear that Greenpeaces didn’t claim that the Tsunami had anything to do with climate change, and I’ve admitted that, but not reading things properly is something we are all prone to do. For example, my blog post is not an editorial as you state. On Line Opinion does not have editorials because we don’t tell our readers how to think. My opinion is just one of many.
    The proper target of my post should have been the Independent who quite clearly were trying to forge a tendentious link between the two.
    I’m also interested that Greenpeace would make the claim that the storms of last year had something to do with greenhouse. Where is the evidence for that?
    I should add that I’m not a greenhouse sceptic, just sceptical of claims linking particular things, apart from a general and reasonably mild increase in world temperature, to greenhouse emissions.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 13, 2005 @ 12:08 pm

  13. Oh Graham, that was classic bait and switch. Love your work, trying to change the subject from your mistake. Look, the word you were looking for in your response to Danny’s email was ‘sorry.’ Try it. Go on, it’s easy. ‘Sor-ry’.
    As for Tindale’s claims that extreme weather events in 2004 were linked to global warming (like I say, love your work, trying to get off the subject of your libel) institutions as diverse as Swiss Re, the world’s second biggest insurer, to the state government of Hawaii say global warming is leading to more storms. It’s not just the greenies. Take Sir David King, the UK Government’s Chief Scientist and top advisor to Tony Blair, who said in a speech on 14th October in relation to extreme weather:
    “So looking at these extreme events we have a difficult issue because we’ve always had extreme events. So how do we analyse them? This is the analysis produced recently in Nature of that extreme summer in central Europe compared with every previous summer for 150 years… You can immediately see by any account this was an extreme event. Now, mathematically we can see that it’s about five standard deviations away, and that makes it a highly improbable event, like a one in 4,000 year event… And you’ll see that that summer 2003 is clearly an extreme event even on the smooth curve running through the black line. It’s an extreme event. But if we had no global warning we’d have been on the green curve here and you can see that an extreme event like that would possibly have taken us up to about the red line, so that the extreme event would have brought us to what is currently an average summer. So we can really indicate from this that that extreme summer roughly half of it can be attributable to the fact that we’re on this upward moving curve which is the global warming effect. So we are seeing extreme events which are attributable to global warming, at least in part, and these are having quite devastating effects.”
    Or from the US press:
    ‘However, 2004 saw a monthly record for rain shattered as the remnants of Hurricanes Frances and Ivan roared through the region… Four major hurricanes slammed into Florida in six weeks in 2004, something not seen in the United States since 1886. (Rob) Young, a hurricane expert, said computer models predict that if global warming is occurring, with it will come more hurricanes and other violent weather.’
    But anyway, that’s not the issue. You accused Tindale and Juniper of something they didn’t.
    Go on, try it.

    Comment by ben — January 14, 2005 @ 3:17 am

  14. Ben,
    Sorry. Does that keep you happy and allow us to discuss the outrageous claims that are made in your post? The fact is that the base line for observations is too short for anyone to be able to make the claims in your quotes. That is one of the reasons why the models employed by greenhouse scientists have failed to have any predictive power. We simply don’t know enough to be able to make predictions.
    And even if that weren’t so, the mere fact that something might be a rare occurrence does not link it to greenhouse gas emissions.
    Happy to debate the science when I’m not on holidays, but most of the predictions are bogus, even if they do come from scientists with reputations.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 14, 2005 @ 10:37 am

  15. Ben,
    I would be interested in the data (actual, not modelled) and/or scientific references (as opposed to newspaper headlines) that show a link between the approximate 0.6C temperature increase over the last 150 years and evidence for more extreme weather events. Could you post them please?
    In the interim I would have to agree with Graham that Tindale is as irresponsible to link human induced global warming to “”the dramatic increase in insurance claims resulting from hurricanes, droughts, floods and other early impacts of climate change” (Tindale and Juniper, letter to editor, The Independent)as he would have been to link human induced global warming to the tsunami.
    …as was Bob Carr recently, see http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=2867.

    Comment by Jennifer — January 14, 2005 @ 11:47 am

  16. Jennifer & Graham
    Jenn, in looking for data that suggests the rise in temperatures already experienced is responsible for extreme weather evets, I refer you to the words of Sir David King posted below. Graham, you seem retucent to address your libel. You accused Tindale and Juniper of trying to exploit the deaths of 150,000 people for political reasons. That’s heavy. You gonna say sorry or what?
    I mean, as things stand, you could be accused of, I dunno, exploiting the deaths of 150,000 for political reasons.
    The word is ‘sorry’. If that catches in your throat, try these international variations:
    Regrette, desole, lamentamos, entschuldigung…
    They all work.

    Comment by ben — January 14, 2005 @ 8:16 pm

  17. Ben,
    Words can be just so cheap. Evidence takes a bit more effort. So I prefer evidence/data when I want to know what is really happening – when I am considering an important issue.
    For example at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/pastdec.shtml
    you will see some official data showing numbers of hurricanes per year for the US. And it seems that more hurricanes hit the USofA during the period 1940-1949 than of late. In fact, based on this data, it could be argued that hurricane strikes are on the decline.

    Comment by Jennifer — January 15, 2005 @ 12:20 am

  18. Dear Graham
    Thank you for your kind offer to us to submit an essay to OLO on the link between climate change and storms, which we will take up shortly. In the meantime, I wish to respond to two key points of yours in this debate.
    You asked “Where is the evidence that the storms of last year had something to do with greenhouse?”
    Climate science has consistently predicted an increase in both the severity and frequency of extreme weather events.
    The CSIRO says “Most climate models indicate that in many places global warming is likely to increase the frequency and duration of extreme events such as heavy rains, droughts and floods.”
    In the UK, Mr Tindale’s home, scientists have found that the number of winter storms has doubled in the last 50 years and that during the 1990s there were 34 months of extreme hot weather, compared to a previous average of just 12 months per decade.
    A climate scientist who co-authored a report for the EU called Impacts of Europe’s Changing Climate found: “Heavy rainfall patterns are changing. We are moving towards more intense rainfall. Drier summers are being punctuated by particularly intense incidents.”
    Here in Australia, scientists have determined that greenhouse emissions made the current drought more severe than it otherwise would have been.
    A recent study in Nature found that greenhouse emissions at least doubled the risk of the 2003 heatwave in Europe occurring. According to the Red Cross the heatwave caused at least 22,000 deaths.
    You also wrote that “the jury is well and truly out on what changes greenhouse will cause, apart from increased temperatures”. This is simply untrue.
    Numerous scientific studies have highlighted a wide range of impacts from climate change. Just one, Climate Change – An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts released by the Australian Government in December 2003, listed the following potential impacts in Australia:
    – An increase in potential evaporation and heatwaves;
    – Fewer frosts;
    – An increase in the severity of droughts;
    – An increase in the intensity of heavy rain events in most regions;
    – Sea level rise;
    – Less secure water supplies;
    – More frequent coral bleaching events, leading to increasing death of corals;
    – A greater frequency of extreme events such as floods, fires and high winds;
    – Loss of some freshwater ecosystems, such as Kakadu;
    – Reduced natural snow cover of between 39-96% by 2070; and
    – Enhanced spread of some disease vectors, increasing the potential for outbreaks of diseases such as Dengue fever and Ross River virus.
    The science shows that climate change is here and now and already having serious impacts. These impacts are projected to worsen significantly without meaningful action to tackle climate change.
    As many scientists have pointed out, including Australia’s own Chief Scientist Dr Robin Batterham, what is required are 50-75% reductions in greenhouse pollution by 2050, with the latest research pointing at the higher figure.
    Greenpeace welcomes debate based on the best available science.
    As the science shows, we are running out of time to act.
    Danny Kennedy
    Campaigns Manager
    Greenpeace Australia Pacific

    Comment by Greenpeace comment — January 19, 2005 @ 12:15 pm

  19. Tim,
    I think we should hold fire and do this properly on the main site. If you can send the article in we will publish as soon as possible and then find someone to argue the other side. That may not be all that difficult. If you click on this link http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/author_others/index.html#000318 you will find that Chris Landsea, who is responsible for writing the IPCC reports re: hurricane activity in the Atlantic has resigned from this position. His reason is that Dr Trenberth, the lead author, gave a press conference where he made comments that there was an increase in hurricane activity because of global warming.
    In fact, the IPCC reports say the opposite, and according to Dr Landsea, there is no current evidence to the contrary, and even the most recent credible models – he cites the one used by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory – show that by 2080 there may be a 5% increase in intensity, and he believes even this may be overstated.
    The link makes interesting reading and suggests that the IPCC is acting politically rather than scientifically.
    It also supports the position that I have stated.
    But why don’t we put the debate up in the main journal, and get someone to argue the contrary point who has a little more expertise than I do?

    Comment by Graham Young — January 19, 2005 @ 10:18 pm

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