'He’s cherry picking with intent': Here’s what the climate scientist Andrew Bolt keeps quoting would like you to know

In his latest column, Andrew Bolt draws on quotes from climate scientist Professor Andy Pitman to argue that global warming is actually a good thing. Professor Pitman says that Bolt is “cherry picking with intent”.

Climate sceptic Andrew Bolt has declared that global warming is "overall, a good thing" for the planet, in a column published in the Herald Sun on Monday.

Bolt's argument, which suggested that rising CO2 emissions have fuelled plant growth and helped to create "a greener planet", relied on a number of quotes from climate scientist Professor Andy Pitman, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at UNSW.

However, Professor Pitman told The Feed that the quotes Bolt selected were incomplete and misleading, misrepresenting his point of view.

"He's cherry picking with intent," Professor Pitman said, adding that he believed "he's actively and consciously misrepresenting the science."

This is not the first time Bolt has quoted Professor Pitman to support arguments downplaying or dismissing the negative consequences of climate change. In the interest of setting the record straight, we fact-checked this latest round of claims.

Did Professor Andy Pitman claim that there is no link between climate change and drought?

In Monday's column, Bolt claims that in 2019, Professor Pitman said that "as far as the climate scientists know there is no link between climate change and drought".

It's correct that Pitman uttered these words at a talk in June 2019. However, Pitman also issued a clarification after that talk, to express that he meant to say "no direct link", not "no link".

That clarification is publicly available, and has been shared widely. In September 2019, the ARC Centre of Excellence published a lengthy briefing note explaining the indirect link between climate change and drought in more detail, and in October 2019 ABC Media Watch dedicated a segment to fact-checking the issue.

Professor Pitman told The Feed, Bolt is "choosing to keep quoting statements that have been corrected in the public domain".

In October 2019, Bolt published a column acknowledging that he had seen the Media Watch segment, but chose to disregard it based on a single powerpoint slide from one of Pitman's lectures, which did not explicitly mention an "indirect link" between climate change and drought (it did, however, mention a link between rainfall and drought, and it's widely accepted by climate scientists that rainfall patterns are influenced by climate change).

"It's not a direct link, it's a complex and nuanced thing, but there is a link." Professor Pitman told The Feed today.

Where is Bolt getting the idea that global warming is creating a "greening planet"?

In his column, Bolt also suggested that Professor Pitman recently "let slip a fact that sceptics like me have tried for years to point out".

He then quoted from an interview with Pitman published in Crikey this month, where Pitman explains how bushfires are linked to climate change.

Crikey summarised Pitman's explanation as follows: "High carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, in some places, leads to 'greening', meaning more vegetation — like leaves, branches and even trees — growing above the soil. When you are hit with a drought, the vegetation become stressed and drops to the ground or dries out, becoming fuel for fires."

Bolt uses this and a similar quote from climate sceptic physicist Freeman Dyson (who is not a climate scientist) to suggest that "global warming is greening the planet and that this is, overall, a good thing".

"A greener planet. Bigger crops. Fewer cyclones, too. Is this really something we want to stop?", he asks.

Unfortunately, as Professor Pitman explained today, it's not quite the full story.

"The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessed this, and found that currently, areas of greening outnumber areas of browning, but it's a trend we don't expect to continue," he said.

A 2019 IPCC report projected that several regions will see browning instead of greening going forward, as the climate warms. That same report also listed many of the other negative consequences of climate change, which are occurring alongside any greening.

"I'd like to draw attention to the extreme heat and heatwaves that are killing people, the low rainfall, the sea level rise," Professor Pitman said.

"Even if it were true that CO2 was fuelling a long term greening trend, heat and heatwaves kill. The farmers are not seeing a benefit."