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How Bob Carter cost me a career - and made me a better person

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In 2006 I must have been a part of the target market for Al Gore's monster money-spinner "An Inconvenient Truth".

I was comfortably enjoying the fruits of a reasonably successful corporate career, transitioning to what consultants call a 'portfolio lifestyle' with a few board directorships.   I had time on my hands and even now I can remember seeing ads and articles for Gore's horrifying story of calamity everywhere.

I couldn't get to the Boondall Cinemas in Brisbane quickly enough.  On my way out I walked through a throng of school kids playing Space Invaders and pinball machines.   Gore's movie moved me so much I remember looking at the kids thinking "you poor buggers, we've stuffed the earth up and you are doomed".   Gore must have been right, he was the Vice President of the USA and he had a PowerPoint Chart so big he needed a cherry-picker to get to the top of his graph.   Remember the graph?   The CO2 graph that proved everything?

I was working with a lot of very very smart people at the University of Queensland as the Chairman of the Business School's advisory board.  The business school was quite entrepreneurial and responded like a flash to demand for skilled leaders the world needed if we were to tackle global warming.   I spoke at conferences to promote the University's carbon accounting finance courses and the like - and I put my heart into it as a true believer.

That is until I spoke with Bob.   Bob changed my life.   He was the person who opened my eyes to the way facts can be manipulated.   More than anyone else, Bob demonstrated the quiet truth about our susceptibility to power and big lies repeated often.

By January 2007 I'd been given the privilege of presenting a one-hour nightly radio show on Brisbane's talk-back station Radio 4BC.   Within months that grew to a 3 hour show during the 3 to 6PM Drive Time.   One of my first guests was Bob.

I thought it would make good radio to hear "Mr Full Bottle On The Inconvenient Truth"  slaughter the eccentric old salmon swimming upstream.   I lasted about 30 seconds before the wily bugger had me on the canvas with his first knock-out punch.

I'd made the error of asking Bob for his opinion after my perfect opening monologue.   Bob said, "I don't have an opinion.   I am a scientist.   I don't deal in opinion.  I deal in facts.   Observable, proven facts.  I deal with the scientific method,  making observations, doing experiments and arriving at conclusions.   Your starting point seems to be an unproven hypothesis based on computer projections.  Do you have any facts to back up your claims about global warming?"

It got worse for me from that point on.

Bob changed me in a fundamental way.   He was courageous in a way I'd not experienced at close quarters.  About 6 months after my first Road to Damascus encounter with Bob, I flew to Townsville, home to Bob's Alma Mater James Cook University for the Festival of Chamber Music.   Bob had been the head of the University's School of Earth Sciences and was granted something of a laureate professorship in his semi-retirement.   I'd travelled with Queensland's Governor Dame Quentin Bryce and my parter was the editor of Limelight magazine, the sponsor of the Festival.   I remember the small talk at a cocktail party coming to a crashing halt when I was introduced to a professor from James Cook.  I said, "Oh you must be very proud of Professor Carter, he's making quite a name for himself on global warming."   I felt the colour rise up my neck - but imagine the reservoirs of courage Bob must have had to walk the corridors of stares and whispers.

Bob was undeservedly treated like a pariah.  I never saw or heard anyone successfully challenge Bob on questions of fact, nor on the product of his application of the scientific method.   But he wasn't trendy.   He wasn't fashionable.   And in academia in Australia in the time of global warming, he was sure-fire poison for any university's government funding tree.

Bob gave me the model that helped as I searched my soul for the courage to speak when it's costly.   Soon after Bob opened my eyes to the facts on the anthropogenic global warming theory I was invited to interview the then Vice Chancellor of the University of Queensland Professor Paul Greenfield AO on 4BC's prime time radio show in Brisbane.   Rudd was PM and global warming was the golden-egg layer for universities in search of funding.   I was invited to become the former chairman of the UQ business school board quite soon after that friendship-testing and very public conversation.

Bob copped that crap everywhere.   He got it from both sides of politics, Turnbull, Wong, Rudd.  He was perfect curmudgeonly fodder for the Twitter generation, the depth of whose analysis is limited to 140 characters.  We are much, much better for Bob's persistence in the face of all that.

I can't recall where I first heard Clifford Stoll's quote, but it seems apt in reflecting on Bob's legacy.

Data is not information.

Information is not knowledge.

Knowledge is not understanding.

Understanding is not wisdom.

The late Professor Bob Carter was a wise man.  Thank you for your service to science - and much, much more.

Vale Bob.

PS - Bob could you get one of the Angels to drop down and take the football that's lodged in my throat after putting your photo up on this page?   You will be very sorely missed old mate.  I'll have a few in your honour.