Time to accept that soon, the climate science deniers will be in charge

ANYONE who places any stock in safeguarding the current and future climate (and for that matter anyone who doesn’t) should prepare themselves for the risk that very soon, climate science deniers, contrarians and sceptics will be running the show.

All the polls suggest that a Liberal-led coalition will sweep to power at next year’s Federal election. Current Liberal leader Tony Abbott, if we care to remember, once described climate change as “crap“.

Views shared among Abbott’s parliamentary coalition ranks are that climate science is a “leftist fad” and a “work of fiction”.

The Liberal-National Party’s new Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and his environment minister Andrew Powell have both said they’re unable to accept the evidence of human-caused climate change, going against the scientific findings of the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology and every major science academy on the planet.

Instead the Newmans and Abbotts of this world would rather stake the future of their constituents, our economies, our food supplies and our coastlines on the ideologically-blinkered pseudo-science of narrow vested interests and free market fundamentalists.

The latest snapshot on this inglorious race to the bottom came last week during the Queensland LNP state conference with a motion proposed by the Noosa LNP member Richard Pearson.

Pearson’s motion called on the state’s education minister John-Paul Langbroek to “remove environmental propaganda material, in particular post-normal science about ‘climate change’, from the curriculum and as adjunct material at exam time”. The motion was passed with party members overwhelmingly in favour.

LNP state representative Glen Elmes recently thanked Pearson in parliament for helping him win his Noosa seat at the state election earlier this year (perhaps those visits to Noosa by fake experts Christopher Monckton and Professor Bob Carter have rubbed off on the Sunshine Coast community).

As reported on Brisbane Times, Pearson said: “Few people understand that the so called science of climate change is really what can be defined as ‘post-normal’ science,” before apparently arguing that climate change went beyond traditional understanding of science based on experimentation and falsifiable theories.

To Pearson and others, the experiments of John Tyndall in 1859 which established the warming properties of what we now know to be greenhouse gases just didn’t happen. Not in existence either, are the reams of scientific papers over many decades which have attempted but failed to falsify the “theory” that burning fossil fuels is causing the world’s average temperature to rise, the oceans to become more acidic, the sea levels to rise and the ice at the poles to melt.

Also not in existence is last week’s study by almost 400 scientists (they’re everywhere) which showed that greenhouse gas emissions were increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events.

So far, Premier Newman has clarified that while Pearson’s motion has been passed by the party, this doesn’t mean it will be adopted by the parliamentary group which he leads.

“We will always do the right thing by Queenslanders ahead of the LNP”, he said, forgetting that just a few weeks ago he told Queenslanders the state was actually “in the coal business”.

Regardless, reaction to the motion has been damning. Anna-Maria Arabia, the chief executive of Science & Technology Australia, which represents almost 70,000 scientists and technology experts in Australia, described it as “extremely harmful”.

The secretary of the Queensland Teachers’ Union Kevin Bates told The Australian that it was important schools taught children to have an “open mind” (but presumably not so open that your brain falls out). “Our greatest concern is that this is a government that is going to interfere in the education process,” he said.

One blogging research scientist wrote that the motion was “preparing our children for future ridicule“.

Helping in this process is the Institute for Public Affairs, which has been sending out a discredited book on climate change to Australian schools. The book How To Get Expelled From School, written by Professor Ian Plimer, a member of the board of two of Gina Rinehart’s mining companies, was launched by former Prime Minister John Howard.

At the launch, Professor Plimer said “one of the aims of this book is to maintain the rage, because we have an election coming”.  Clearly, Professor Plimer sees his book as a political tool.

While consistently claiming that school children are being brainwashed by climate change “propoganda”, those who push this line rarely (if ever) produce any actual evidence. Pearson didn’t define what he meant by “propoganda” or “post normal science”.

Plimer’s genuine piece of propaganda was described by the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, which analysed his book, as “misleading” and based on “inaccurate or selective interpretation of the science”.

It should not be forgotten that Tony Abbott isn’t afraid of pushing his own misinformed climate dogma on young schoolkids when given the chance.

In 2010, he told a class of five and six year olds in Adelaide: “OK, so the climate has changed over the eons and we know from history, at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth the climate was considerably warmer than it is now.”

Nobody should be surprised that conservative politicians are unable to accept climate change science. A survey of political representatives at local, state and federal level carried out in late 2009 found that acceptance of climate change science was divided along political lines.

The University of Queensland survey found only about one third of Liberal/National politicians accepted the world was warming because of human activity. This compared to nine out of ten Labor politicians and practically all Greens.

Then there’s the “conservative white male effect” discovered by scientists (yes, them again) in the US linking the described demographic to the denial of human-caused climate change.

The Australian conservative political movement’s lurch towards the denial of human-caused climate science is like a mirror-image of the same enlightenment-crushing ideas of many US Republicans.

None of the recent candidates for the Republican presidential nomination (excusing possibly  John Huntsman) were able to publicly back climate change science, with some reverting to scepticism after previously accepting the issue.

Also in common with the US, is the existence of Tea Party-style “grassroots” activism in Australia helped along by free market think tanks that claim regulating greenhouse gas emissions is an attack on our freedom.

But rather than have an honest debate about a policy response to a real world risk, they sink to trying to discredit climate science while telling the public that carbon dioxide from burning coal is just “food for plants”.

Earlier this week the climate sceptic organisation the Galileo Movement, founded by two retired Noosa (!) businessmen, tweeted a link to a document written by Viv Forbes claiming coal was not dirty and CO2 was plant food. No mention anywhere in the document that Forbes is a director of Stanmore Coal.

Galileo’s patron is Sydney radio host Alan Jones, who recently told a crowd that climate science was “witchcraft” and a “hoax”.

Our descent into the deluded world of pseudo-science occupied by astrology, creationism, crystal healing and homeopathy is almost complete. It’s a place where progress dies and business-as-usual thrives.

UPDATE: This blog has been reposted on Brisbane Times…. and also on DeSmogBlog with a couple of additions.. and on ClimateProgress too.. oh, and it’s now on Independent Australia and also RenewEconomy.

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Premier Newman Can Do Climate Science Denial

JUST in case anyone was in any doubt, Queensland Premier Campbell Newman reminded Australia earlier this week that his state was most certainly “in the coal business” and that protecting the Great Barrier Reef wouldn’t come before fossil fuel exports.

But as well as being “in the coal business”, it appears that Premier Newman and his environment minister Andrew Powell are taking their first steps into the business of climate science denial.

Minister Powell repeated a statement he had made to ABC’s Radio National that he was not convinced that humans were having an impact on climate change, a position which immediately puts him at odds with every national scientific academy in the world, the advice from his own chief scientist and the position of the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the United Nations.

While Minister Powell made a point of saying that the environment should be protected (what else could the environment minister say, after all) his boss, Premier Campbell Newman, decided his minister’s view on climate change was “refreshing“. I’d choose a different word.

As reported in the Brisbane Times, Mr Powell said his views were “fairly consistent across a certain percentage of the population” as if this was a valid excuse.

Fortunately in this case, the general public are not the ones studying the complex nature of positive feedbacks in the climate system or taking meticulous observations of global temperatures to find we’ve just had the warmest decade since records began as levels of heat in the atmosphere and oceans continues to climb.

The Premier’s “scepticism” comes down to ignorance of the scientific process and entirely unrealistic expectations of the climate science community. Take these quotes as exhibits.

I mean, the sea level rise predictions have changed constantly over the last 15 years… we don’t know what the impacts are precisely. We don’t. The scientists don’t…. But in terms of what the precise impacts will be of climate change, anybody who says they know is having a lend of you, and it’s about time people started to tell the truth… We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here, the scientists don’t know and there’s a lot of scientists arguing about the actual precise impacts.

Newman’s statements might seem reasonable to the majority of Queenslanders disengaged from the climate change issue, but they show an abject failure to understand how climate change science works.

Take the Premier’s mention of sea level rise. Of course the projections have changed in the last 15 years, because the issue of sea level rise isn’t yet a closed book. Few scientific endeavours ever are. Sea level rise projections in the last IPCC report came from research which took place around 2005. Depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, global sea level would be between 18 and 59 cm higher by the end of this century than it was in 2000, but the report had a very important caveat.

The projections do not include uncertainties in climate-carbon cycle feedbacks nor the full effects of changes in ice sheet flow, therefore the upper values of the ranges are not to be considered upper bounds for sea level rise. They include a contribution from increased Greenland and Antarctic ice flow at the rates observed for 1993-2003, but this could increase or decrease in the future.

In other words, there was still lots of work to be done to give policy makers and planners a better idea of what to expect. And there was still uncertainties that could push the sea level to much higher levels. Today, as the research effort has continued, even the most conservative climate scientists talk of sea level rises of a metre or more.

The Queensland Government’s own Office of Climate Change, which Premier Newman is in the process of closing, outlined the impact of sea level rise on the state in it’s “Climate Change in Queensland” report two years ago. A half metre rise in sea level would likely increase the chances of extreme events such as flooding from occuring once every 100 years to several times a year. As a former mayor of Brisbane, which experience devastating floods a little over a year ago, you might think the Premier may have taken some interest.

Being the complex system that our world’s climate is, the estimates of how high temperatures will go, how high sea levels will rise, how rainfall will change or how many extreme heatwaves and super-cyclones we might get, always come with an uncertainty range. Anyone who has ever read a peer-reviewed climate science paper knows this.

Hinting that we should be waiting until we’re 100 per cent sure what will happen before we take firm action, is a bit like saying you’re happy to drive your car at double the speed limits because no-one can say for sure that you’ll definitely crash. And while everyone has heard the stories of a grandparent who smoked 50 cigarettes a day and lived until they were 90, most people acknowledge that smoking massively increases your chances of dying of cancer.

Perhaps the Premier’s statements are instead an attempt to offset his own cognitive dissonance – the sick feeling that you get inside when you try and hold two conflicting positions simultaneously.

Because if the Premier does believe, as he also said, that “we’re using non-renewable resources and we need to change our ways” then how can he also proudly declare that Queensland is “in the coal business” while dismissing a UNESCO report criticising the coal and gas export infrastructure being built alongside the Great Barrier Reef, risking its World Heritage status?

In 2009 while then Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman – known as Can Do Campbell – was busily pushing his green credentials, the Labor opposition accused him of being a “climate change sceptic” without providing much evidence.

After all, his council had a “Plan for Action on Climate Change and Energy” and a “Climate Change and Energy Taskforce”. Newman was determined to make Brisbane Australia’s most sustainable city, said the United Nations Environment Programme, by running low-emissions buses, planting trees, having a bike share program and buying renewable energy.

The then Lord Mayor even launched the Green Heart City Smart scheme, with its ubiquitous “I [green heart] Brisbane” catchphrase and branding.

It seems now though, that Mr Newman’s heart is conflicted with coal and climate science denial.

Pic: Flickr/dale.n

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