Mark Lawson is a journalist at the Australian Financial Review noted for his climate scepticism and frequent posts on any climate change thread on The Conversation. Indeed, he is the frequent target of criticism by other posters for making basic errors of fact.
I have no quibbles with the article but the main surprise is that anyone seriously thought that an enforceable, global system for limiting emissions could be put in place in the foreseeable future. The immense difficulties were apparent before the Copenhagen conference in late 2009. Activists are only now reluctantly acknowledging this reality.
Getting the US to agree to anything nationally is simply impossible for the reasons the author sets out. Even the well-supported multi-state programs are largely tokens. As for the Chinese, there is big talk but mostly it’s all just hot air. A pilot program for emissions trading in a few cities doesn’t even apply to power stations.
Basically forget it. Come back in a few decades.
Yes – let’s just “basically forget it”.
Indeed, let’s do nothing at all.
Let’s be like Mark and throw our hands in the air and say, “To hell with you humanity, I can’t be ars*d!”
I’m certainly not underestimating the challenges climate change presents – it is truly a problem from hell.
Indeed, there is a real possibility it is beyond humanity’s collective efforts to respond adequately.
However there is a difference between articulating the complexity and scope of the problem and giving up.
Mark employs what I call the “Maginot Line Defence”: it is not so much an argument but the psychological process of moving from denial and/or indifference to defeatism:
Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Climate change is not real! > Maybe it is real? > Oh cr*p it is real! > It seems like a hard problem… hmmmm > We should all give up!
The Maginot Line, for those who don’t know, was a line of fortifications built by the French between the First and Second World War to protect themselves from another feared German invasion.
When war broke out again, the Germans simply – and quite literally – drove around it.
This led the dispirited French armies to collapse in confusion. France fell in a matter of weeks, and the rest they say was history.
At the time the French army was regarded as the most effective fighting force in the world, however the French national psyche had been badly mauled during WW1. Millions had died in the trenches.
Those losses haunted the French in the decades following the Armistice of 1918.
And so, the idea of fighting another such bloodbath was intolerable to many of the French populace.
So they built a wall and hid behind it, feeling safe behind the imagined security it offered.
The rise of Hitler, new developments in military technology and the innovative combined land-air tactics of Blitzkrieg (not a term the German’s used themselves by the way) was a reality many people did not want to face and refused to even see.
Hence the inflexible, supposedly invulnerable, wall of defence built to shelter them from a threat without having to directly confront it.
Those who employ the Maginot Line Defence in the climate debate are doing likewise, but at the individual level – primarily to protect themselves from the uncomfortable thoughts about the future (something akin to terror management theory) or having to address thorny questions about justice and lifestyle change:
“Climate change real? That’s a change not worth thinking about!”
For many, the response is to hide behind a reflective – and reflexive – wall of indifference in order to avoid disquieting feelings.
But reality can only be kept at bay for so long: eventually it circumnavigates even the most artful defences.
It is then people can resort to defeatism:
“Climate change!” you now hear many sceptics and defeatist cry “…even it if was real, way too hard to solve! What are going to do about it?”
The solution they offer:
“Forgot about it – give up! Come back in a few decades!”
Perhaps these people won’t ever personally know someone forced to relocate due to rising seas, floods or collapsing regional economies in drought-impacted areas.
They may regard these as other people’s problems.
Do not they not have the right to ignore the suffering of others and prohibit such trivia punctuating their consciousness?
Of course they do: there is not – nor should there be – any compulsion for them to do so.
The garden of our soul is for us alone to tend.
But should we only consider our own well-being and short-term needs?
Is that an ethical way to move through the world?
Denial is not so much the refusal to accept scientific facts, but a failure to employ the moral imagination.
Those who employ their moral imagination have the capacity to imagine different futures and the suffering (or flourishing) of others; to pay attention to the pull of their individual conscience; and to acknowledge the impact they have as they move through the world.
Sometime last night while many of us slept, humanity past a milestone.
The concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million – the highest concentration of CO2 in millions of years. The last time CO2 was at this level was roughly 3 million years during the mid-Pliocene. At that point the plant was at least 3-3 degrees warmer and sea levels 25 meters higher.
Reports coming in:
From the ABC – “Global greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached an ominous milestone that is unprecedented in human history. The world’s longest measure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million (PPM) for the first time in three million years…”
Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. (“Reasonable,” in this case, means four chances in five, or somewhat worse odds than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.)
This idea of a global “carbon budget” emerged about a decade ago, as scientists began to calculate how much oil, coal and gas could still safely be burned. Since we’ve increased the Earth’s temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, we’re currently less than halfway to the target. But, in fact, computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we’re already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target.
I’ve booked my tickets.
Other videos for those viewers requesting something more substantial: Bill McKibben and Alex Epstein square off on fossil fuels — do they make the planet a worse place to live or a better place to live?” (November 8 2012 debate)
James E. Hansen, the climate scientist who issued the clearest warning of the 20th century about the dangers of global warming, will retire from NASA this week, giving himself more freedom to pursue political and legal efforts to limit greenhouse gases.
His departure, after a 46-year career at the space agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in Manhattan, will deprive federally sponsored climate research of its best-known public figure.
At the same time, retirement will allow Dr. Hansen to press his cause in court. He plans to take a more active role in lawsuits challenging the federal and state governments over their failure to limit emissions, for instance, as well as in fighting the development in Canada of a particularly dirty form of oil extracted from tar sands.
“As a government employee, you can’t testify against the government,” he said in an interview.
Dr. Hansen had already become an activist in recent years, taking vacation time from NASA to appear at climate protests and allowing himself to be arrested or cited a half-dozen times.
But those activities, going well beyond the usual role of government scientists, had raised eyebrows at NASA headquarters in Washington. “It was becoming clear that there were people in NASA who would be much happier if the ‘sideshow’ would exit,” Dr. Hansen said in an e-mail.
At 72, he said, he feels a moral obligation to step up his activism in his remaining years.
Hansen is frequently the target of sceptics in their attempts to destroy the reputation of scientists: he’d have to be a close second to Al Gore in their pantheon of cartoon villains.
I’ll be writing a longer post on this, however I will say this: Hansen is this generations Carl Sagan.
For some time people have bemoaned the fact we don’t have science communicator to rival Sagan. I beg to differ. For decades, Hansen has been outspoken in his attempts to alert humanity to the risk climate change poses. He has done so in talks, books, interviews and on the internet in the midst of what is perhaps one of the most difficult public debates of the last 50 years.
Of course, such claims are completely divorced from reality. Two recent studies and Australia’s experience over summer offer conclusive proof the planet is warming, and that we’re living in a changed climate.
The elusive nature of the post-2004 upper ocean warming has exposed uncertainties in the ocean’s role in the Earth’s energy budget and transient climate sensitivity. Here we present the time evolution of the global ocean heat content for 1958 through 2009 from a new observational-based reanalysis of the ocean. Volcanic eruptions and El Niño events are identified as sharp cooling events punctuating a long-term ocean warming trend, while heating continues during the recent upper-ocean-warming hiatus, but the heat is absorbed in the deeper ocean. In the last decade, about 30% of the warming has occurred below 700 m, contributing significantly to an acceleration of the warming trend. The warming below 700 m remains even when the Argo observing system is withdrawn although the trends are reduced. Sensitivity experiments illustrate that surface wind variability is largely responsible for the changing ocean heat vertical distribution.
Put simply, global warming has been accelerating: 90% of global warming has been going into the oceans, heating them considerably.
The oceans are warming at an alarming rate; temperature records are being smashed not just in Australia, but across the world; the present warming trend is unlike anything we’ve seen in thousands of years.
Of course, the denial machine has gone into overdrive ever more desperate attempts to cast doubt on the science.
Thus we’re left with a stark choice; accept the science, or believe the entire scientific community is lying.
Marcott et.al. do not merely replicate Mann’s work, but extend the time-frame to cover the previous 11,000 years:
Surface temperature reconstructions of the past 1500 years suggest that recent warming is unprecedented in that time. Here we provide a broader perspective by reconstructing regional and global temperature anomalies for the past 11,300 years from 73 globally distributed records. Early Holocene (10,000 to 5000 years ago) warmth is followed by ~0.7°C cooling through the middle to late Holocene (<5000 years ago), culminating in the coolest temperatures of the Holocene during the Little Ice Age, about 200 years ago. This cooling is largely associated with ~2°C change in the North Atlantic. Current global temperatures of the past decade have not yet exceeded peak interglacial values but are warmer than during ~75% of the Holocene temperature history. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
To put into perspective, before the founding of the first cities.
Our civilisation has existed in “the sweetest of sweet spots” – a time of relatively stable climatic conditions.
In the last 10,000 years we have seen the emergence of agriculture, the establishment of great cities, the founding of great civilisations and the invention of writing.
None of this would have been possible without a benign and forgiving climate.
What is different about the past century and a half is the speed of those changes: note the spike in temperature anomalies for what is essentially the period of industrialisation (1850 ff).
The climate has always changed: no self-respecting scientist or climatologist has ever denied this. Temperature records are but one proxy of this change – the multiple lines of evidence for climate change are overwhelming.
Note also the last sentence in that abstract: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change model projections for 2100 exceed the full distribution of Holocene temperature under all plausible greenhouse gas emission scenarios.
To translate: all the models point to a future that is warmer than anything we’ve seen for the last 10,000 years.
The guys from BoM nailed it – its clear, concise and accessible. It deserves to be widely read. They spell out exactly how the present conditions are abnormal and unlike anything else we have experienced.
I strongly urge you to not only read this, but forward it via social media and personal contacts. Yes – email friends – email family – email anyone you think has the vaguest interest in the current heat wave.
At this very moment fires are burning in my home state of Victoria in regions I know very well. Fires are burning across the country. More temperature records are going to fall today.
Climate change is here - all of us are currently experiencing events predicted by scientists decades ago. The more the average Australian understands the connection between burning fossil fuels and the heat they are suffering, the greater the potential to build a critical mass of people advocating change.
It is time to be more than mere Cassandra’s, forecasting doom – its time raise awareness and call for action.
All too often people ask themselves what they can do: well it can start here.
Tell people: help foster a greater understanding. The mainstream media will continue to remain silent or confuse the public – but it is possible to work around them and build awareness. Social media gives us the tools to tell the story the Murdoch press seem incapable of doing.
If you all you do is communicate this piece to one person today, you’ve made a difference.
Australia has started 2013 with a record-breaking heat wave that has lasted more than two weeks across many parts of the country. Temperatures have regularly gone above 48°C, with the highest recorded maximum of 49.6°C at Moomba in South Australia. The extreme conditions have been associated with a delayed onset of the Australian monsoon, and slow moving weather systems over the continent.
Australia has always experienced heat waves, and they are a normal part of most summers. However, the current event affecting much of inland Australia has definitely not been typical.
The most significant thing about the recent heat has been its coverage across the continent, and its persistence.
It is very unusual to have such widespread extreme temperatures — and have them persist for so long. On those two metrics alone, spatial extent and duration, the last two weeks surpasses the only previous analogue in the historical record (since 1910) – a two-week country-wide hot spell during the summer of 1972-1973.
A good measure of the spatial extent of the heat is the Australian-averaged maximum daily temperature. This is the average of the highest daily temperature of the air just above the surface of the Australian continent, including Tasmania. The national average is calculated using a three-dimensional interpolation (including topography) of over 700 observing sites each day.
On Monday and Tuesday last week (January 7 and 8) that temperature rose to over 40°C. Monday’s temperature of 40.33°C set a new record, beating the previous highest Australian daily maximum of 40.17°C set in 1972. Tuesday’s temperature came in as the 3rd highest on record at 40.11°C.
The accompanying map of temperatures shows just how much of the country experienced extremely high temperatures, with over 70% of the continent recording temperatures in excess of 42°C.
Highest daily maximum temperature during the first two weeks of January. Australian Bureau of Meteorology
And it’s not like these sorts of days occur that often. The records set last week sit between two and three standard deviations above the long-term January mean of 35°C.
Perhaps more unusually, the Australian mean temperature (representing the average of the daytime maximum and night-time minimum) set record high values on both days at 32.22 (January 7) and 32.32°C (January 8), that were well above the previous high of 31.86°C, set in 1972.
However, it is really the duration of this extreme heat wave that makes it so unusual, and so significant in terms of impacts.
While some towns in Australia are famous for their extended runs of hot temperatures, the limited geographical nature of those events distinguish them from this January’s heat wave. Multiple days of extreme heat covering most of the continent are both rare, and isolated.
It is not that common for the Australian-average temperature to exceed 39°C for even two days in a row. A run of three days above 39°C has occurred on only three occasions, and a run of four days just once, in 1972.
The current heat wave has seen a sequence of Australian temperatures above 39°C of seven days, and above 38°C of 11 days straight.
The sequence of Australian mean temperature has been just as impressive. As things currently stand, the first two weeks of January 2013 now hold the records for the hottest Australian day on record, the hottest two-day period on record, the hottest three-day period, the hottest four-day period and, well, every sequential-days record stretching from one to 14 days for daily mean temperatures.
The number of records that have tumbled for individual sites are now too numerous to catalogue here, and the Bureau of Meteorology has prepared a Special Climate Statement with a detailed analysis the temperature records broken. The list of records is limited to just those stations with at least 30 years of records.
So, does all this have something to do with climate change?
To put it in context, we need to look at the influence of background changes in the climate system.
The planet is warming, and so is Australia
Planet Earth is warming up. Climate scientists use a range of different indicators to track global warming. These include ocean heat content, sea surface temperatures, sea level, temperatures in the lower and middle troposphere, and the rate of melting glaciers and ice sheets.
The surface of the earth, as measured by global mean temperature, has warmed by about one degree Celsius during the past hundred years, and the decade from 2001 to 2010 has been the warmest we have recorded.
This warming has been strongly attributed to increasing greenhouse gases from human activities. While there are a number of influences on the climate system, such as changing solar radiation and changing atmospheric aerosols, it is very clear that warming has been dominated by increased carbon dioxide levels.
The globe doesn’t warm uniformly everywhere, due mostly to natural regional variations in climate. In Australia, land temperatures and the temperatures of the surrounding oceans have warmed by approximately 1°C since 1910, fairly close to the global trends.
A warmer planet means a warmer atmosphere for all our weather and climate
As the climate system warms due to increasing greenhouse gases, more energy is retained in the lower atmosphere. That extra energy influences all our weather and climate.
In essence, every weather system and ocean current operates in a climate system that is now, on average, a degree warmer than a century ago.
In this way, the impact of global warming is clearly observed in a distribution shift of daily weather, as well as shifts in monthly and seasonal climate, to higher temperatures. As is now communicated by many climate scientists, the warming planet is loading the climate dice in favour of warmer conditions.
So, while the “cause” of an individual weather event, including heat waves, is always proximally linked to antecedent weather conditions — it is possible to determine the influence of climate change on the frequency of occurrence of such an event. This is expressed by the increased likelihood that these extreme events will occur in comparison with the past, or in comparison with climate modelling scenarios of an unchanging climate.
Even further, the antecedent weather conditions in the January heat wave have themselves displayed the influence of a warming world.
The lead-in climate conditions for this event were four months of very warm temperatures across Australia. September to December 2012 was the warmest such period on record (since 1910) for daily maximum temperatures.
During November, a precursor of the January heat wave affected many parts of the country for a prolonged period. It set the highest spring temperature on record for Victoria (and NSW fell just short of its record; it couldn’t beat the extreme heat that occurred in 2009). In this context, the recent heat wave is little more than an extension of a record hot four months for Australia, made worse because it is mid-summer.
We’re seeing more record-breaking heat events than cold events
A relatively small change in the average temperature can easily double the frequency of extreme heat events. Australia has warmed steadily since the 1940s, and the probability of extreme heat has now increased almost five-fold compared with 50 years ago.
Within the past decade, the number of extreme heat records in Australia has outnumbered extreme cold records by almost 3:1 for daytime maximum temperatures and 5:1 for night-time minimum temperature.
The duration of heat waves has increased in some parts, especially in the northern half of the continent. Put another way, the frequency of abnormally hot days (above the 90th percentile) has increased by 30% and the frequency of hot nights (above the 90th percentile) has increased by 50%.
It is worth noting the summer just gone in the US was the warmest on record, with extreme heat records broken at a rate never previously seen before. Studies here and overseas are now showing that many of the recent extreme summer heat events around the world — such as the European heat wave of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010, and US heat waves during 2011 and 2012 — would have been very, very unlikely without the influence of global warming.
Global warming is not only warming summer but also broadening the summer-like period of the year, creating the perfect set-up for record extreme heat.
Of great concern in Australia is the substantial increasing trend in severe fire weather — weather conducive to the spread and intensification of bushfires and grass fires — in about half of the monitoring sites studied around the country, with a concentrated increase in the southeast of the continent. The fire season is now longer, reducing the time for preparation such as fuel reduction.
Again this is not surprising, and has been predicted in advance — the combined impact of warming and cool season drying is increasing the fire danger in a region already highly fire prone.
We expect extreme warm weather events will occur more often
Future warming of the climate due to greenhouse gas emissions will very likely lead to further increases in the frequency of unusually hot days and nights and continued declines in unusually cold days and nights.
These changes will result in weather events which are increasingly beyond our prior experiences.
And it’s not just temperature extremes. Climate model projections indicate that the frequency of many different types of extreme weather will change as the planet warms.
The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. Neil Plummer does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. Blair Trewin does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. David Jones does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. Karl Braganza does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
The Bureau of Meteorology provides Australians with environmental intelligence for their safety, sustainability, well-being and prosperity. Our weather, climate and water services include observations, alerts, warnings and forecasts for extreme events. Rob Smalley does not consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
It’s been a scorcher. With the mercury soaring to 42.3 C in Sydney last week and the city in meltdown, the papers screamed, “This is climate change. It is here. It is real.” Even the taxpayer funded Climate Commission could not hide their excitement declaring, “it was hotter than before” and that “climate change” was responsible for the “unprecedented” extreme heat Sydneysiders were experiencing.
And with the satellites unable to detect any global warming for the last 16 years, and the IPCC computer modelled predictions failing to come to fruition, Labor Government ministers were quick to exploit the situation to claim the “extreme heat” was evidence of why the Carbon Tax was needed to “do the right thing by our children”. Yet they failed to detail how, when, or by how much (even to the nearest 0.0001 °C) that the Carbon Tax would change the temperature.
But I wonder if any of these people actually knew that Sydney’s so-called ‘record hot day’ on Tuesday 8th Jan this year, that had them screaming “Global Warming”, was actually COOLER than the weather experienced by the convicts of the First Fleet in Sydney way back in the summer of 1790/91?
The indomitable Tamino spells out every thing that is wrong with Kelly’s arguments. However anyone with an once of logic or reason can see how deeply flawed his article his.
In short, Kelly cites a doubtful and unverified temperature records from Sydney from the 1790s.
Yes – this single data point from a period in which the techniques of data collection were at best crude is cited as proof there is no global warming. Sydney may have been really hot for a single day over 200 years ago?
How about an entire continent blanketed in a record breaking heat wave these past weeks?
Think upon Kelly’s words readers. Marvel at the fact that this man is an elected official and there is a very real risk he could make decisions that effect you and me and the future of our nation.
I do not merely cringe, I shudder with fear that there are men such as these.
Craig Kelly: ”You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
Nor is Kelly alone as his party, the Liberal National Party, is a veritable ship of fools. In case readers need to be reminded look upon the folly of the LNP and weep – yes weep – for the future of our nation:
There is a very real chance that later this year the LNP will gain government. Think upon that and what that means for climate change policy, mitigation or adaptation initiatives.
All of us – every Australian – has felt the effect of this incredible heat wave and fires. Whole towns have been destroyed.
Our island nation was at one point covered by a “dome of heat” – and it’s not over. We have potentially many more months of such conditions which bring the attendant risk of even more heat waves and catastrophic fires.
Kelly, an elected member of Parliament, whose responsibility should be to protect the future of this nation and help mitigate risk advocates ignorance.
Dangerous ignorance: a willed, deceitful and shameful ignorance.
Contrast Kelley’s words to the work of thousands of fire fighters and support services.
Contrast Kelly’s words to the suffering of those who have lost homes and property.
Contrast Kelly’s words to the reality of bitter ashes and fire.
Does it not make you wish to storm Parliament house and shake its foundations to the ground? To cast out the fools who are putting our future at risk?
Let me spell out it in no uncertain terms: the Liberal National Party is a danger to our future. It is a danger to your children’s future. A party that does not merely deny reality, but in the face of the what is clear and present danger elects to ignore the risks does not deserve to govern.
You may not like the present Gillard government. You may not agree with the policies of the Greens. You may be disappointed in the lack of resolve and lack of action by all our politicians. But the alternative? It is the Party of Abbot, Kelly and Bernardi: the party of denial.
What does it matter you ask?
A few words scribbled by an ignorant and second rate political player, whose name and deeds barely 1 in 1000 Australians are familiar with? Irrelevant, of passing interest – one more skirmish in the decades long climate debate?
Look around you.
This heat; these fires; this trauma.
And contrast Kelly’s words.
Can we assign blame for these exceptional extremes? Do we have the moral right to do so? Who may we ask is to blame?
The answer is surprisingly simple: complacent and ignorant politicians such as Kelly; the think tanks with their carefully crafted and marketed lies; Murdoch’s media empire.
Open the window or step outside and experience what it means to live on the front lines of climate change; turn to the media and gaze upon a blackened and scorched nation. Listen to the cries from the heart of the fires victims.
And know this is the handiwork of the deniers: Hell’s advocates.
Australia is a land of extremes. As global temperature rises, very hot days are becoming more frequent and heatwaves are becoming more prolonged across many parts of Australia.
The heatwave affecting Australia in late December and early January brought extreme heat to most of the Australian continent over a sustained period. Temperatures above 40°C and 45°C were unprecedented in their extent across the continent, breaking new records for Australian averaged maximum temperatures. The heat was also unprecedented in its duration.
They note the climate change connection:
Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change has increased the risk of more intense heatwaves and extreme hot days, as well as exacerbated bushfire conditions. Climate change is making extreme hot days, heatwaves and bushfire weather worse.
The increase in extreme weather in Australia illustrates an important way that greenhouse gases are forcing a shift in climate that is very costly. This highlights the need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The report also highlights the other risks associated with this kind of heat wave:
Heatwaves in recent years around Australia have resulted in increased hospital admissions for kidney disease, acute renal failure and heart attacks, and in death (Climate Commission, 2011). During the severe heatwaves in southeastern Australia in 2009, Melbourne sweltered through three consecutive days at or above 43°C in late January. There were 980 deaths during his period—374 more than the estimated 606 that would have occurred on average for that time of year, or an estimated increase of 62% (DHS, 2009). Most of the increase was among people aged 75 or older (DHS, 2009).
It is a well produced and very accessible report – I’d go so far as to say its a great document to give to that friend, colleague or acquaintance who isn’t clear on the connection between climate change and extreme weather events.
I have to applaud the Commission for creating this document and helping the general public understand the implications of climate change.
A terrific article from The Conversation which sums up my own thoughts by Maria Taylor, Australian National University
Scientists have warned about the “greenhouse effect” for years. Now it is no longer a scientific nightmare; it has arrived.
Lines from Al Gore’s famous movie? No.
The Sydney Morning Herald published these words in mid-1988. The article detailed record-breaking heat and drought in North America and elsewhere, linking these weather effects with predictions for global warming and climate change (then called the greenhouse effect).
A review of the Fairfax mainstream and business press of the late 1980s and early 1990s found hundreds of articles focused on the risks posed by the greenhouse effect on topics as diverse as biodiversity and holidaying in the Maldives.
These articles all readily ascribed the cause of the greenhouse effect to industrial societies burning fossil fuels.
The science hasn’t changed, but the public story changed dramatically
I recently completed a study of climate change communication in Australia 1987-2001. I reviewed an extensive public record of news reports, government documents, early popular science books and interviews regarding the greenhouse effect.
I found there has not been a one-way road from lesser to better public knowledge of climate change science and available response in Australia in the last two decades. In fact the opposite has been the case and this is directly linked to the public narrative and framing.
The evidence shows that scientific findings – as documented by the IPCC starting in 1990 – remained basically consistent in their description of cause, risk and the need to respond throughout the 1990s.
However, communication from Australian policy makers and the media changed dramatically during the same period –– from expressing good understanding and a will to take action, to a confused and conflicted debate with clear correlations to the national response.
Almost no-one remembers the high point of good understanding that occurred in October 1990. That was when the Federal Government under Bob Hawke established an interim emission reduction target for the nation to lower greenhouse gas emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2005.
Detailed state and national response plans were established. They canvassed every strategy known today, from efficiency measures and renewable energy to a carbon tax and emissions trading scheme.
But these plans were destined to wither under national competition policy that deregulated the national energy sector to focus on sales and profits rather than “demand management”.
When our values changed, so did the climate change story
The record shows a pivotal change occurred in social values and beliefs that set the public agenda from the mid-1990s on. Politicians and the press gallery, rather than scientists, more and more determined the daily narrative of what was “real”.
Guiding these values were:
the narrowed economic options of Australia’s destiny as a resource quarry
beliefs in the potential for a greenhouse gas techno-fix (such as clean coal)
beliefs in the fundamental divide between the monetary economy and the natural environment, with the latter framed as a cost.
Underlying are beliefs that humans are exceptional and outside the ecological laws governing other species. Such beliefs are widely held in western Christianity and therefore easy to target with coded language.
In the 1990s we added a panoply of beliefs about markets and their ultimate efficiency (so we could not make industry more efficient), embedded in neo-liberal, economic rationalist teachings.
Disciplinary beliefs also played a role. A notable group has been geologists, many of whom were taught that only on-ground measurement and evidence – not future modelling – is valid. This helped explain the enduring sceptic fervour that has confused the public.
Also influential was the impact of scientists communicating degrees of “scientific uncertainty” in the public arena. This is a concept that lay audiences frequently interpret as “don’t know”, and which greatly aided those who don’t want action.
The frames of climate change: from risk management, to too risky
Climate change up to the early 1990s was framed by politicians of both major parties as risk management for everyone. They focussed on Australia being an ethical global citizen responsible to future generations. Responses were framed as “win-win” for the environment and for new jobs. This reflected international response at the time.
After 1991, Paul Keating – and later John Howard – were preoccupied with the economy. Climate change action went on the back burner in the bureaucracy, eventually completing the transition to “can’t do” under Howard.
The reframed narrative became that Australia is exceptional: if climate change science is real, Australia should commit to minimal response because our economy relies on cheap energy and coal exports and we are not about to change.
Politicians became adept during this period at framing these messages with warm emotional values of nation and family –– evoking “us” against the “them” of greenies, Europeans, and the United Nations. These were portrayed as elites and outsiders trying to rob us of our jobs and businesses.
Understanding the coded language of the changed narrative, how it was done, is a lot about how people take up information, and that is another story that emerged from my study.
While the science findings have stayed consistent since at least 1990, politicians and the media re-framed their communication, and that radically changed public knowledge about climate change and the will to respond. Thanks to this change, Australia has lost 20 years of potential action on emission reduction.
Maria Taylor does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.