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Clearing up the climate debate

While the debate rages, the planet is changing. AAP

The majority of the world’s climate scientists agree: climate change is real, we are causing it and it’s happening right now. Despite the scientific consensus, Australia is still deeply divided about what we should do and whether we should do anything at all. We’ve asked some of Australia’s leading academics and researchers to look at the science supporting climate change and the efforts to discredit it.

An open letter from Australia’s science community asserts that climate change is happening, but vested interests and the media are distorting the facts.

The overwhelming scientific evidence tells us that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes. Climate change is real, we are causing it, and it is happening right now. Like it or not, humanity is facing a problem that is unparalleled in its scale and complexity. Understandable economic insecurity and fear of radical change have been exploited by ideologues and vested interests to whip up ill-informed, populist rage, and climate scientists have become the punching bag of shock jocks and tabloid scribes. Aided by a pervasive media culture that often considers peer-reviewed scientific evidence to be in need of “balance” by internet bloggers, this has enabled so-called “sceptics” to find a captive audience while largely escaping scrutiny. Read more.

Bureau of Meteorology scientist Karl Braganza explains why we know the climate is changing, and what’s causing it.

By choosing a range of indicators, by averaging over decades rather than years, and by looking at the pattern of change through the entire climate system, scientists are able to clearly discern the fingerprint of human-induced change. The climate of Earth is now a closely monitored thing; from instruments in space, in the deep ocean, in the atmosphere and across the surface of both land and sea. It’s now practically certain that increasing greenhouse gases have already warmed the climate system. That continued rapid increases in greenhouse gases will cause rapid future warming is irrefutable. Read more.

CSIRO’s James Risbey explains why it’s not “alarmist” to describe the threat of climate change to the public and how the climate system will respond to half measures.

Climate science doesn’t tell us what to do. It doesn’t tell us whether to have a carbon price or where it should be set. Those decisions ultimately involve a range of normative and deliberative issues which are beyond the scope of climatology. Climatology can tell us, however, what is likely to happen if we don’t act, or if we don’t act with sufficient speed to keep total emissions within specific carbon allocations… Pointing out that we are close to one of the largest tipping points imaginable in the climate system is well within the remit of science. It’s not alarmist to describe the threat accurately; it’s alarming if the political and social culture can’t absorb this. Read More.

Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute and Professor of Geology Mike Sandiford explores the staggering ways we influence the shape of the globe.

Aren’t we too puny to rival the great forces of nature that shape our planet? Certainly some prominent Australian geologists sceptical of our ability to impact our climate have said as much. But the facts show that we are fundamentally impacting planet Earth in unprecedented ways, and we’ve known about it for a century… We are a geological agent of unprecedented power. Faced with that stark reality now, it would be folly at best to maintain the fiction that we are too puny to impact the planet – at worst, it is just plain reckless. Whether we like it or not, for better or for worse, we are already engineering our planet. Read more.

Director of the Global Change Institute, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg submits some climate “sceptics” to peer-review and finds them wanting.

I used the Web of Science to see if Carter, Evans, Franks and Kininmonth were legitimate experts in the areas that they claiming superior knowledge in with respect to the Climate Commission’s report… The number of peer-reviewed papers that adequately expose the ideas of Carter and co-authors to the scientific peer-review system on the climate change issue is 0, 0, 0 and 0. We are left, then, with the observation that the Climate Commission’s report, peer-reviewed and assessed by scientists with appropriate expertise, is being challenged by four individuals who refer to websites and blogs and who have not had their core claims about climate change tested in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Read more.

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky holds “sceptics” accountable for their subversion of the peer review process.

Science is inherently sceptical, and peer-review is the instrument by which scientific scepticism is pursued. Circumventing or subverting that process does not do justice to the public’s need for scientific accountability. At a time when Greenland is losing around 9,000 tonnes of ice every second — all of which contributes to sea level rises – it is time to hold accountable those who invert common standards of science, decency, and ethics in pursuit of their agenda to delay action on climate change. Read more.

Dr Michael Brown exposes the tactics used by purveyors of “non-science” to attack climate change research.

Those denying the science of climate change present arguments that appear scientific, with measurements, theories, statistics and jargon. But many of those denying anthropogenic climate change are not truly doing science. Science tries to provide the simplest explanation for a wealth of measurements in the natural world. Non-science, on the other hand, cherry-picks evidence … Purveyors of non-science charge that thousands of scientists are ignorant of basic science. This would be shocking, if it were not patently false. Read more.

Professor Ross Garnaut explains why Australia’s action on climate change policy is important.

Australians who don’t want any action on climate change make the point that we account for only a very small proportion—just under 1.5% of total global emissions—so that what we do has little direct effect on the global total. This is a true but trivial point. And, while the United Kingdom’s share of global emissions is not much larger than ours—about 1.7%, despite it having three times our population—it hasn’t occurred to a British prime minister from Margaret Thatcher onwards that Britain’s efforts are unimportant. And nor are they. The influence of British ideas has been considerable. But the view that Australia doesn’t matter is common enough in Australia for us to have to answer the question: is ours truly a country that doesn’t count? Read more.

Professors Stephan Lewandowsky and Michael Ashley step into the twilight zone of climate change scepticism: where the sun is made of iron and the royals are out to get you.

According to a recent (not peer-reviewed) book by Bob Carter, who has an unpaid Adjunct position at James Cook University, it is “simply professional suicide for a scientist to put a questioning head above the parapet” when faced with opposition from “the BBC, commercial television, all major newspapers, the Royal Society, the Chief Scientist, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, David Attenborough, countless haloed-image organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and even Prince Charles himself.” Just imagine the devastating rebuttal of climate change that Bob Carter could submit for peer-review if he wasn’t being oppressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prince Charles. But seriously, why doesn’t Carter, or any of the deniers, simply write a coherent outline of their best arguments against the expert consensus and publish it in the peer-reviewed literature? Why don’t they turn up to the relevant scientific conferences and give a talk on their theories? The answer is simple: they don’t have any arguments that have any scientific merit. Read more.

Associate Professor John Abraham puts Christopher Monckton’s climate claims to the test.

Mr. Monckton artfully mixes self-deprecation and humour among slides laden with graphs and scientific images that seem convincing to his audience. I wondered, what does Mr. Monckton know that 97% of the world’s leading climate scientists don’t? Is he some Galileo shouting truth from the rooftops? I had to find out. Last year, I performed a little investigation. I actually read the articles that Mr. Monckton used as evidence against the concerns of climate change. What I discovered was astonishing. None of the articles I read supported the claims or inferences that Mr. Monckton was promoting. Just to be sure, I began to write to the authors of the papers. Of the 16 authors I wrote to, all of them agreed with me: Mr. Monckton had misrepresented or misunderstood their work. Read more.

Professor Ian Enting takes a look at the front groups and published texts of Australia’s climate sceptics.

Many of us, including most of the authors of this series, have engaged with the arguments of self-styled “sceptics”. We’ve looked at not just the blogs, but also the information from organised groups, the few published scientific papers and the books in which these their claims are presented in detail … Any self-styled “sceptic” who claims to have a genuine case should do what normal scientists do and dissociate themselves from those who practise fabrication and misrepresentation … The reality is that the most prominent pseudo-sceptical scientists are doing the opposite: gathering together to provide apparent respectability to front organisations that are designed to spread confusion. Read more.

Professor David Karoly goes down the rabbit hole of Bob Carter’s climate theories.

Let’s enter a different world: the “Carter reality”. In that world, it is OK to select any evidence that supports your ideas and ignore all other evidence. In that world, geologists like Carter “hold the key to delineating climate history,” … In the real world, this is not true. The Geological Society of Australia, the Geological Society of America, the Geological Society of London and the American Geophysical Union have all recognised the reality of human-caused climate change and called for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. In the Carter reality, “there has been no net warming between 1958 and 2005.” Of course, in the real world, there is no basis for this statement from scientific analysis of observational data. The decade of the 2000s was warmer than the 1990s, which was warmer than the 1980s, which was warmer than the 1970s, which was warmer than the 1960s. Read more.

A closing statement from our authors puts the blame at the feet of the media for reporting a “debate” that doesn’t exist.

One might be tempted to forgive the media’s inappropriate inclusion of unfounded contrarian opinions, given that its function is to stimulate broad debate in which, ideally, even exotic opinions are given a voice. But the media by and large do not report the opinions of 9/11 “truthers” who think that the attacks were an “inside job” of the Bush administration. The media also do not report the opinion of people who believe that Prince Phillip runs the world’s drug trade… The very fact that society is wracked by a phony debate where there is none in the scientific literature provides strong evidence that the Australian media has tragically and thoroughly failed the Australian public. This is same public in whose interest climate science is being conducted at our world-renowned public institutions. Read more.

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