Monday 2nd May 2011
There is overwhelming evidence for human-made global warming.
Globally, 2010 was a very hot year. The World Meteorological Organization found the entire world had the warmest six months, the warmest year, and the warmest decade on record. In Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology has found each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the preceding decade.
Seventeen nations reached new temperature highs last year. Pakistan hit 129°F (54°C) – a new record for all of Asia; and Moscow, never having reached temperatures of 100°F (38°C) before, surpassed that temperature with regular monotony during its summer.
This unparalleled heat had devastating consequences: Pakistan had the worst flooding in its history and Russia’s grain harvests were wiped out.
In Australia we had the devastating floods in Queensland and at the same time bush fires in several states.
Are these events evidence that we are beginning to feel the economic and environmental costs of inaction on climate change?
The conclusions are emphatic from one respected report to another on climate change: there is overwhelming evidence for human-made global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a United Nations organisation – stated in its landmark 2007 report that global warming is ‘unequivocal’ and that ‘most of the observed increase in globally-averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas concentrations’.
This followed the landmark report on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern in 2006, which was underpinned by the clarity of the scientific position.
Australian scientists concur with these conclusions.
Professor Kurt Lambeck, the former President of the Australian Academy of Science, said it is important to stress that considerable progress has been made in understanding climate change and why it occurs.
‘The role of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is qualitatively well understood. It is known that increasing the atmospheric concentration of CO2 leads to higher mean global surface temperatures. It is known that CO2 has increased very substantially during the last century to the highest levels seen in the last 800,000 years,’ he said.
‘It is also beyond serious question that some CO2 from human activities remains in the atmosphere for a very long time, as is the message that unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, an upward trend in global temperature will continue.’
Despite the broad consensus in scientific circles on the causes and consequences of climate change, political and media debate is bogged down by point scoring, which assumes there is doubt about the science.
The frustration among scientists with this impasse is beginning to emerge.
‘The peer-reviewed verdict is in. Action on climate change is too important to be derailed by naysayers and Luddites,’ Anna-Maria Arabia, chief executive of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS), told The Age (FASTS represents 60,000 working scientists).
‘While politicians debate the ins and outs of the proposed carbon tax, FASTS calls on all sides of politics to put peer-reviewed science ahead of cheap, political arguments.’
This intervention came on the heels of the resignation of the country’s Chief Scientist Dr Penny Sackett, who told a Senate committee: ‘This is an enormously important time in history, probably unlike any before it. Science is not the complete answer … but it does tell us the possible consequences.’
Sackett said the scientific message on climate change was consistent across all scientific disciplines throughout the world.
‘This is a message that I have great concern is not reaching the general populace,’ she said.
While public discussion on climate change is non-partisan and in support of the science in most European countries, the US shares Australia’s muddied political debate.
In an open letter delivered to Congress last year, 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, among them 11 Nobel laureates, urged recognition of the overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change and condemned the ‘political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular … typically driven by special interests or dogma’.