Scepticism in Science is a good thing; in fact it is what scientific principles are built on, denialism masquerading as scepticism is not and the two should never be confused. For a scientific proposition to be adopted it needs testing by experts in that field, the more times it is tested the stronger and more accurate it becomes. Climate change science is such a case in point, in 1896 Svante Arrhenius linked global temperature to atmospheric CO2, and then in 1938 Guy Stewart Callendar reported that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 would raise the temperature by 2oC. These were scientific propositions put by specialists in their field based on observations, data and tests. 30 years later Manabe and Wetherald published a paper confirming Callendar’s findings. By the time the 1990 IPCC report was published the accuracy of climate change science was very high, with probability of accuracy being 96%. To decide to believe the view that climate change is not occurring and is some sort of scientific conspiracy is backing a rank outsider at 96 to 4 against, yet our media continue to do just that. Friends are telling me they have seen so much media contradicting climate change science that they now question its validity.
Australia’s foremost climate change denialist is Professor Plimer, whose professional field is geology. Professor Plimer has been primary author of two peer-reviewed papers since 1994, both in his chosen field, the mining sector. He also holds three directorships with mining companies, facts which may explain his pro-mining stance (ABC 2009). His latest book ‘Heaven and Earth’ (Plimer 2009) was reviewed by Professor Michael Ashley (University of New South Wales, department of Physics), who declared it a conspiracy theory and at one point stating “It is hard to understate the depth of scientific ignorance that the inclusion of this information demonstrates” (Ashley 2009). Al Gore said it’s hard to get someone to believe in something when their salary relies on them not believing in it, how true. Investigations of many USA denialist websites lead to mother sites set up by the same institutions and to people who told us smoking was not bad for one’s health. Being able to present a cogent argument may get one media exposure but it adds nothing to the scientific understanding of a subject if those arguments are not tested and peer-reviewed by experts in the field.
Still not convinced? Listen to the News and ask yourself if the climate is changing. There are reports of freezing temperatures in northern Europe and North America, weather colder than previously recorded, while at the same time we hear of devastating floods across the world’s tropical zones. Ask the people in Emerald, FNQ if the climate is changing. How do the long odds of 96 to 4 stack up for those people who have lost everything?
There is some confusion regarding the difference between climate and weather. The following analogy helps me understand. Last year I went to the Pilbara to work, the temperature was 40˚C, 25˚C hotter than here in Fremantle. I was hot and uncomfortable but at the end of the day I cooled down and felt fine, that is the analogy for weather. On the flight home I caught a chest infection and ran a temperature of 39.5˚, 2.5˚ higher than normal, I felt very unwell, this relates to climate change. We can cope with swings in ambient temperature of 15+˚C reasonably well, but when our core temperature changes a mere 2.5˚C we are in big trouble, the same goes for our planet.
Ultimately people can believe what they wish, but decisions that affect our lives should be made in light of the available information. Given the overwhelming strength of evidence that global warming is causing climate change, policy makers have a public obligation to exercise responsible and ethical decision-making on related matters. Advocating a ‘do nothing’ approach to global warming in their civic endeavours is contrary to expert scientific advice, in doing so such a person carries a moral responsibility for any adverse consequence of that decision. A risk analysis matrix on this issue demonstrates that the risk of not acting to address climate change is Extreme as the likelihood is almost certain and the consequences severe, while alternatively, should the science be flawed and measures are taken to address global warming needlessly, the matrix places the risk at Low, as the likelihood is rare and consequences minor.
If someone appeared on the television stating you do not need insurance because your home will not be broken into this year would you call your insurer and cancel your policy? If someone said there was a 4% chance you could drive down the road with your eyes closed and not have an accident would you drive blindfolded? Of course not, apply this same rational logic to climate change as you do to the rest of your life, your children deserve it.
Published in Fremantle Herald 5-2-2011