Muriel Newman in New York

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

Former ACT MP Muriel Newman, who now runs her New Zealand Centre for Political Research, was on the Leighton Smith show on Newstalk ZB last Thursday talking about her impending trip to a climate change denial conference run by right-wing thinktank the Heartland Institute. In her chat with Smith, Newman advocated the usual anti-climate change argument that the world is actually cooling. Then she name-dropped, noting that people such as David Bellamy do not agree with the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consensus that global warming is happening. Finally, she added that a cold winter in the Northern Hemisphere proved that global warming was clearly a nonsense.

Not so. Check the New York Times article out today, which mentions the Heartland Institute conference:

According to a host of climate experts, including some who question the extent and risks of global warming, it is mostly good old-fashioned weather, along with a cold kick from the tropical Pacific Ocean, which is in its La Niña phase for a few more months, a year after it was in the opposite warm El Niño pattern.If anything else is afoot — like some cooling related to sunspot cycles or slow shifts in ocean and atmospheric patterns that can influence temperatures — an array of scientists who have staked out differing positions on the overall threat from global warming agree that there is no way to pinpoint whether such a new force is at work. Many scientists also say that the cool spell in no way undermines the enormous body of evidence pointing to a warming world with disrupted weather patterns, less ice and rising seas should heat-trapping greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and forests continue to accumulate in the air.“The current downturn is not very unusual,” said Carl Mears, a scientist at Remote Sensing Systems, a private research group in Santa Rosa, Calif., that has been using satellite data to track global temperature and whose findings have been held out as reliable by a variety of climate experts. He pointed to similar drops in 1988, 1991-92, and 1998, but with a long-term warming trend clear nonetheless.

What is ACT’s policy on global warming? Under its “Smart Green” policy, released last year, it believes that “Climate change is a justifiable concern. By the same token, we need to recognise the significant scientific uncertainties that still exist.” This is fairly non-committal, but green issues, whatever the persuasion, are never going to be a vote-winner for ACT. Climate change believers will go elsewhere, while committed deniers are still few and far between, partly because it’s hard to deny climate change “competently” without having a decent grasp of the scientific complexities involved. In short, even if the natural position for ACT is to deny climate change, there are few votes in it, especially compared with more digestible issues such as law and order.

By the way, Muriel Newman is not a scientist, but holds a PhD in Mathematics Education* from Rutgers University in the United States.

*3/3/08 @ 7pm: in the original post I said Newman had a doctorate in Mathematics, but have since been alerted by a reader that she actually has a PhD in Mathematics Education, see

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