Tag Archives: climate change science

2013 among top 10 warmest years: a civilisational response is urgently required

WarmingCan you see a pause in the warming of the planet?

The World Meteorological Organisation have just released the following press release:

The year 2013 was among the top ten warmest years since modern records began in 1850, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). It tied with 2007 as the sixth warmest year, with a global land and ocean surface temperature that was 0.50°C (0.90°F) above the 1961–1990 average and 0.03°C (0.05°F) higher than the most recent 2001–2010 decadal average. 

Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century. The warmest years on record are 2010 and 2005, with global temperatures about 0.55 °C above the long-term average, followed by 1998, which also had an exceptionally strong El Niño event.

At this point many commentators, scientists and bloggers will say “Well look at that. We told you the planet is warming.” Of course those that deny climate change will mutter about conspiracies, the “pause in warming” and such nonsense.

But let us move well beyond that conversation, cherry picking of facts and the finger-pointing that takes place every time a press release such as this comes out.

When I look at this graph I see a planetary and civilisational emergency. I see a looming catastrophe if we don’t begin advanced planning.

What I see is the urgent need to examine how we adapt to a changed climate.

Many hard decisions are before us.

Time to consider our options.

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How we lost 20 years on climate change action (reprint)

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.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Polling of 13,500 people show most believe climate change is happening; USA remains the “sceptics” heartland

An interesting poll via the Telegraph:

An online poll of 13,500 adults in 13 countries found that most people believe that climate change is happening. 

The figures ranged from 98 percent in Mexico and Hong Kong and 97 percent in Indonesia to 80 percent in Belgium and 72 percent in the United States.

Rising average temperatures, drought and extreme rainfall were the phenomena that people most cited.

However countries had a much more variable opinion over whether whether it is mankind causing global warming. 

Asked whether human activity was mainly responsible for climate change, 94 percent of citizens in Hong Kong agreed, followed by 93 percent in Indonesia, 92 percent in Mexico and 87 percent in Germany.

The United States remains the “heartland” of climate scepticism: this may lend support to the idea that denial is a product of right-wing popularism. Thus it is strongest where the culture war is being waged and think tanks, conservative politicians and fundamentalist Christians are most actively opposed to the science and regulatory efforts:

Dissent was strongest in the United States, where 58 percent agreed with the question, in Britain (65 percent) and Japan (78 percent).

The survey was carried out from July 5 to August 6 by the opinion poll group Ipsos for the insurance firm Axa.

It was conducted in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States.

The results come as the climate change debate becomes more important to the US election. 

Campaign groups are threatening to target the vulnerable congressional seats of Republicans who dismiss the dangers of climate change. 

In the UK, trust in climate change science was damaged by the theft of emails from the University of East Anglia or so-called ‘climategate’. Sceptics claimed that the emails showed scientists were willing to exaggerate global warming – although later inquiries found the science remained sound.

In Japan global warming has been dismissed as nuclear industry propaganda. 

In comparison, developing countries, that are more likely to be hit by extreme weather events, are more likely to believe mankind is responsible for climate change.

The countries with strongest public support are those most likely to suffer the worst impacts.

Makes sense does it not?

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