No, Four Corners, Brown Brothers Is Not Moving To Tasmania

Written by:
1 May 2018
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When the ABC ran its Four Corners program on climate change some weeks back, it had as its theme farmers, small businesses, government planners and major corporations have stopped waiting for politicians to decide whether climate change is real. They’re acting now.

One of the more compelling examples provided was that well-known Australian wine producer Brown Brothers was moving part of its operations to Tasmania – to a cooler climate. That is what journalist Michael Brissenden said:

But that’s not all – the company has now also decided to move part of its operation to cooler country.

The inference was clear. It has become so hot on mainland Australia, due to catastrophic climate change, that this business was having to act in quite a dramatic way by relocating.

But company representative, Ross Brown, never actually said this. Correspondence has since established that it’s actually business as usual for Brown Brothers:

On camera, Brown did go on somewhat about how the grape harvests now are getting shorter and earlier because temperatures are rising.

It is well known that temperature is central to all aspects of viticulture (grape growing and harvest) and that records of changing harvest dates have long provided an indication of local climate change. For example, the number of days from 1 September for the wine harvest in Bordeaux, France, has long been an estimate of climate change in Western Europe. As the start date pushed into October from the late 1400s so Europe entered a period known as the Little Ice Age, which followed the Medieval Warm Period.  By 1850 – the beginning of the current warm cycle – the average dates of starting vintage were back in September.

There have always been cycles of warming, followed by cooling. For the ABC to really have a story about grape growing and climate change, Brissenden would need to establish the extent to which the current warming cycle is outside the realm of what might be expected from natural climate change.

But, consistent with the ABC’s misguided editorial policy natural climate change was not even mentioned in ‘Weather Alert’. Nor did Brissenden mention a new book on the fascinating subject of wine and climate – a book written by an expert with a focus on Australian wine. ‘Wine Terroir and Climate Change’ by John Gladstones (Wakefield Press 2015) concludes that viticulture in Australia is not threatened by global warming and that much of the computer modelling that underpins the hype is wrong.

Gladstones also notes that:

Of the estimated rise in recorded temperatures over the 20th century of 0.6 degree Celsius, about half is almost certainly spurious, caused by urban warming around thermometers and an increasing proportion of topographically warmer recording sites. The methods claimed to have removed these biases from the record have been seriously inadequate.

If Brissenden was really interested in temperature change in southeast Australia he could have even interviewed me. Scientific publishers Elsevier recently published a book chapter by me on exactly this topic. In ‘Southeast Australian maximum temperature trends, 1887-2013: an evidence-based reappraisal’ I conclude from a weighted mean of the five highest quality maximum temperature time series for southeast Australia, trends from 1887 show statistically significant cooling to 1950 of minus 1.5°C per century, followed by rapid warming of 1.9°C per century to 2013. Neither the cooling, nor the magnitude of the recent warming, can be explained by global warming theory.

Brissenden, considered by many to be one of the ABC’s most experienced, failed on so many counts with this story. He suggested that Brown Brothers are relocating at least part of their business to Tasmania because it is too hot in Victoria, which is untrue. He also failed to explain to the public that climate change can be natural, and for as long as humanity has been growing wine grapes harvest dates have changed. He also failed to provide balance by getting some expert perspective of the extent of recent climate change and its likely effect on wine growing.

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