Professor of Mining Geology, University of Adelaide
Born in: Plimer gew up in Pymble, NSW
Foes: Bob Brown | Tim Flannery
Home Town: Adelaide
Ian Plimer is one of the most imperious purveyors of climate scepticism in the world. He's a prize-winning academic and bestselling author, meaning he's got the cultural capital and turn of phrase needed to put forward a compelling case.
Plimer's way with words (human-induced global warming is a "scam"; environmentalists are "warmists" spreading "eco-guilt") has helped him carve out influence in media and political circles. All of this despite howls of objection from the many climate scientists who maintain his books are riddled with errors.
"Ian is getting a lot of attention in the media because in journalism it's a standard approach to show balance," explains University of Melbourne climatologist David Karoly (a staunch Plimer critic), adding that it helps his profile to be a controversialist.
"It is not news to say that the world is warming or that warming is occurring due to greenhouse gasses ... it is easier to get news coverage if you say: 'no it isn't'."
By all rights, Plimer probably shouldn't have the influence he does. He's not a climate scientist, having earned his academic qualifications in mining geology; a career he first pursued in the red earth of Broken Hill.
Critics also say he propagates myths and that he's hopelessly conflicted, with connections to big polluting industries hoping to delay action on climate change (he's a director of three mining companies).
But as the saying goes: perception is everything. Along with collaborators like Bob Carter and UK counterpart Christopher Monckton, Plimer has somehow managed to foster a sense of doubt in an area where there is 97% scientific agreement. Whether they're right or wrong, they've managed to help slow down action on climate change.
"Ian has most certainly been a major influence in changing the public perception of the global warming issue both in Australia and overseas," Carter tells The Power Index, adding that it is Plimer's "indefatigable energy in the pursuit of sound science" which has given him his influence.
Regardless of how he's done it, it's won him friends in high places. Opposition leader Tony Abbott has cited Plimer's best-selling tome Heaven and Earth, saying he thought it to be a "well-argued book refuting most of the claims of the climate catastrophists".
John Howard is another big fan. The former prime minister was on hand last month to launch Plimer's follow-up How To Get Expelled From School at the Sydney Mining Club, declaring "the science is never in and it ought never to be in".
But while How To Get Expelled may bring a fresh wave of controversy, it's Heaven and Earth which brought Plimer his fame. The book (which initially struggled to find a publisher) has been manna from heaven for sceptics looking to claw back the consensus on climate change. His charge? Human-induced global warming is made up, a myth.
"Trying to deal with these misrepresentations is somewhat like trying to argue with creationists," Plimer wrote in the book. "Who misquote, concoct evidence, quote out of context, ignore contrary evidence, and create evidence ex nihilo."
It's a claim which has been thrown back at Plimer by countless scientists who have sought to disprove his work since its publication. As Guardian environment journalist and Plimer sparring partner George Monbiot put it: "Seldom has a book been more cleanly murdered by scientists than Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth."
IPCC lead author David Karoly, whose own review said Heaven and Earth deserved to sit in the science fiction section of any library that "wastes its funds buying it", describes Plimer's books this way:
"They are not scientific or scientifically-based. They do not follow the normal guidelines of science, where you seek to correct known errors," he tells The Power Index. "Ian does not bother to do that, therefore he is not a scientist."
Despite all this, Plimer is still a force to be reckoned with. And it's mainly because of the company he keeps. Privately-funded sceptic research groups like the right-wing Institute of Public Affairs give his views much-needed publicity.
He's also become a pin-up boy for conservative columnists like Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine still trying to bring down the carbon tax. And shockjocks like Alan Jones just love to interview him.
"If anyone wants to criticise me on the science, then I will argue with them," Plimer tells The Power Index during a half-hour phone discussion. "If people want to bitterly and viciously criticise me for not following their political ideology then it's water off a duck's back."
Perhaps echoing his time underground, Plimer isn't that hung up on manners. The Power Index finds the silver-haired sultan of scepticism to be brash and uncompromising, but also erudite with a set of rounded vowels that suggest a decent education. And like his vociferous supporters, Plimer prides himself on being a contrarian:
"You should be able to take any position in a debate. Whether that is a position that you faithfully hold is irrelevant," he says.
"It's not a case of belief or not, it's an intellectual exercise. If you're called upon to bat, you should be able to bat. If you're called upon to bowl, you should be able to bowl."
Plimer's cricket analogy gives hints of the real targets of his ideas: the public. By taking on climate scientists, he's standing up for the "average punters"; the "real people" who don't have power to convince politicians and the media themselves.
"He's a story teller. He's uncompromising with a degree of anti-intellectualism which seems to speak to a certain demographic, but falls flat with others," offers environmental journalist Graham Readfearn.
To emphasise that appeal, Plimer often uses a blokey and combative tone in media interviews and speaks with the rhetoric of a folk hero.
It's an awkward mix for someone who has a PhD, enjoys classical music ("I haven't been to see an opera since last Tuesday night when I went to La Traviata in Covent Garden in London") and confesses to being able to walk the corridors of power.
He even nominates another lover of the arts, ex-PM Paul Keating, as an impressive thinker. Still, the boy from Sydney's upper north shore wants The Power Index to be clear who he would rather share a beer with:
"I meet a great diversity of people, from miners in pubs to presidents of countries ... [but] I've never lost my links with the punter," he says.
"These people, they might not have a university education, they might not have a title, but they're not fools."
To prove his point, Plimer urges The Power Index to call the front bar of the Junction Hotel in Broken Hill (he drinks James Squire Amber Ale: "they order it in for me") to ask the "miners and truck drivers and train drivers" what they think of him.
After dialing the phone number, the bar erupts into debate at the mention Plimer's name -- yet no one wants to talk. It's a nice allegory for how polarising a figure he's become.
"There are many people that hate me with an absolute passion. There are many people that love me with passion," says Plimer about his influence on public debate.
"I think I have that ability to divide hate and love. There's no one in the middle ground."