No more climate distractions

July 27, 2007 at 2:47 pm | Posted in America, Australia, Britain, Climate action, Climate change, Climate science, Hawaii, Media reports, New Zealand, TGGWS, UK, US | Leave a comment

istockphoto sun

The idea that natural variability in solar activity is the primary cause of current climate change change has never stood up to the scrutiny of the scientific peer-review process.

Image: iStockphoto

Aloha!

Local Hawai’ians hear our British and Californian accents and ask if our family is from Australia or New Zealand 😉

Our cab driver talks about increased radiation scorching Honolulu through the ozone hole with a passion against those rays that never gets expressed in flood-beset Britain.

Met Office rainfall figures 1 May through 22 July 2007

U.S. news reports ignore the humanitarian crisis unfolding due to floods in Britain, or treat the heavy rain in England rather like annual monsoon rains in arid regions—where it’s no big surprise to communities when a few unlucky folk need airlifting to safety, and the rains are seen as bringing welcome relief from week after week of hot, dry air. The fact that recent extreme downpours are, according to the Met Office, record-breaking rainfall figures and are not our typical rash of isolated incidents but concurrently cover a large swathe of England seems to be lost in the flood interpretations airing Stateside.

Such examples highlight for me the local ‘weathery’ nature of our global climate concerns. Appreciation of the concept of climate change tends to be, by and large, dependent on our personal experiences, and these are necessarily localised, seasonal and framed in terms of the weather events and impacts we remember. In casual conversation, we want to talk about long-term trends for climate change, but may end up chatting instead about immediate weather events. I often think that a wider awareness of the differences between weather and climate would help indeed. However, in most off-the-cuff remarks, as long as people are committed to pressing for policy, lifestyle and attitude changes in order to combat climate change I suppose the details can be left to experts, as long as we listen to climate scientists’ recommendations.

So, while aware of the flood troubles in England, I have chosen to post one well-considered editorial this week by a climate scientist from Australia, for a variation on regional emphasis on this world problem.

Opinion

No more climate distractions

27 July 2007

by Joëlle Gergis for Cosmos Online

It’s time to move beyond squabbles over science as espoused by The Great Global Warming Swindle documentary, and move on to tackling the government policies needed to address climate change.

FROM BEYOND THE UNINTELLIGIBLE diatribe, came a voice of reason: “Rome is burning and we are fiddling around trying to make sense of it all”.

It was the final comment from the Australian TV network ABC’s studio audience following the 12 July screening of the deeply flawed British documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle. Finally, here was someone who cared less about the fine details of the science, and more about the government policies needed to address climate change. His comment cut to the core of this often baffling debate.

Squabbling within the scientific community is a fact of life –it is the hallmark of rigorous science. But it begs the question: is it really necessary that every cabbie in downtown Dunedoo is up on the latest in earth simulation models before we act on climate change?

While it is great that there is increased public awareness about the serious threats posed by global warming, we should leave the technical debates to the experts. While some people may argue this is elitist or paternalistic, to others it is purely common sense.

Overwhelming evidence

When a medical expert diagnoses us with a disease, do we distrust them and then proceed to attempt to decipher the intricacies of human physiology? We must remember it has taken climatologists years – if not decades –to understand the complexity of the nature and causes of climate change. Discussing specialist detail in the public domain is likely to make people feel that it’s all ‘too hard’ or ‘beyond them’. The result? People switch off.

Martin Durkin’s The Great Global Warming Swindle premiered on the U.K.’s Channel 4 in March to a torrent of criticism from the scientific community. The film audaciously tried to argue against the overwhelming body of scientific evidence, which indicates 20th century global warming is largely due to increases in greenhouse gases from human activity. It is the consensus view contained in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2007 assessment report developed by 2,500 scientists from 120 countries – one of the most heavily reviewed reports in history.

The central tenet of the documentary – that natural variability caused by solar and volcanic activity is the primary cause of changes to global temperatures – has never stood up to the scrutiny of the scientific peer-review process. There is little, if any, relationship between the solar cycle and global temperatures. Being generous, solar variations account for 5 per cent of the observed warming of the globe since the dawn of the industrial era. Similarly, CO2 emissions from volcanoes are less than 2 per cent of the annual CO2 emissions generated by human fossil fuel use.

Misleading and misguided

By giving a consensus opinion and an extremely radical point of view equal weighting, an illusion of controversy about the science is created when in reality there is none.

Shouldn’t we trust that our scientists are kept in check by the professional peer-review process, rather than a documentary filmmaker notorious for claiming that breast implants improve women’s health? It’s a spectacular example of a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing.

At best, this film is a misleading and misguided polemic. At worst, it is a blatant propaganda piece based on pseudoscience. The Great Global Warming Swindle misrepresents the current state of knowledge in climate science in order to confuse public opinion, distracting us from the real issue of seriously debating risk management in our increasingly warming world. The main take home message of the IPCC reports is that the technology needed to prevent serious warming is here with us today. What we do right now will determine whether the warming we face is small or big. That choice is ours.

In these early years of the 21st century, we’re looking at a renewable energy revolution that’s as huge as the one that took us from the days of horse-drawn carriages and gas lamps, to the era of cars and incandescent light globes. According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, the amount of solar energy that hits Australia in one summer day alone is equivalent to 50 per cent of the energy the whole world uses in six months. Yet despite this enormous potential, less than 5 per cent of Australia’s total energy consumption comes from renewable resources like solar power.

Resistant to change

Currently, the Australian government’s stance on climate change is fixated on negativity and a resistance to change. They select economic modeling that exaggerates the loss of competitiveness of traditional fossil fuels, creating a sense of paralysis. In reality, moving towards a low-carbon economy represents the greatest business opportunity we have ever seen. It has the potential to create enormous economic opportunities and help us to achieve environmental sustainability.

Meanwhile, CO2 concentrations, global temperatures and sea level rise are already near or above the ‘worst case scenarios’ projections of the IPCC. Timing is therefore crucial for both for the planet and business opportunities. There is no longer time to indulge distractions by manipulative, junk science documentaries based on faulty scientific analysis advancing a ‘business as usual’ political agenda. Denial and inaction are no longer justifiable. The real science of climate change is out there.

Joëlle Gergis is a climate scientist and freelance writer currently based in Melbourne, Australia. Her places of work have included the University of New South Wales in Sydney and the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

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