In the last few days I've noticed some vehement views against the existence of human caused climate change in a couple of arms of News Ltd owned newspapers. The highlighted letter of the day in one of this week's issues of MX was David of Cronulla stating strongly that climate change was a lie, followed up by a couple of other letters saying "everyone knows that water from melted ice takes up no extra space" and "it's all part of a natural cycle". My answer to these two statements is:
- Whilst the melting of sea ice has little impact on sea levels, it's the melting ice that sits on top of land (such as the Antarctic and other glaciers) that can cause sea level rises. Furthermore, water has a lower albedo than ice, so reflects less sunlights back to space and further contributes to the heating. The differing density and temperature of fresh water compared with the salt water of the oceans can also impact ocean currents and climate (the El Nino cycle is related to ocean currents, for example).
- Our understanding is that natural cycles tend to take longer. The climate appears to be changing very rapidly.
It wasn't just the arguments which were disappointing, it was the vehemence with which they were written. Who is influencing these letter writers?
Maybe the Daily Telegraph? I was looking through today's paper and saw a big article by Assoc Prof Stewart Franks, a hydroclimatologist at Newcastle University. I was in a hurry and only skimmed the article, but Franks appeared to be arguing that the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and the UN Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change Report were political documents, not scientific documents and therefore were invalid. He's correct, they are policy documents based on scientific research, not scientific research in themselves. They are designed to summarise and interpret the outcomes of science research in a language suitable for non-scientists to act on.
Franks then goes on to complain that the climate change models are wrong because they focus on Carbon Dioxide levels and neglect water vapour, a powerful greenhouse gas. That's possibly a valid scientific point, but just because they don't include it doesn't mean that climate change is a myth. Presumably, higher temperatures from increased CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to increased evaporation, which means more water vapour in the atmosphere, compounding the greenhouse effect, unless greater cloud cover compensates for the warming (clouds have a high albedo).
I wonder if the Daily Telegraph creatively edited Franks' work to appear anti-climate change. I'm hoping that Franks' industry sponsored research (see his staff page) does not mean coal industry sponsored conclusions, seeing as Newcastle is a coal-mining area. As the industry is unspecified and I have not reviewed his work it would be unfair to jump to such conclusions.
Earth's climate is a very complex system and it is doubtful that we would ever be able to model it perfectly. But, just because the precise details cannot be calculated does not mean that broad trends cannot be deduced. The scientific consesus is that humans are causing climate change.
There will always be scientists who doubt any hypothesis and propose alternatives. This is a good thing, as hypotheses and theories exist to be tested to their fullest and that includes climate change. However, it seems that many in the media and the public take any dissenting voices to mean that the whole scientific issue is "under a cloud" and therefore we should not act until ever scientist agrees.
My argument is, "what is the cost of taking action to reduce emissions and to improve the quality of our natural environment as opposed to doing nothing?" Like it or not, eventually we will run out of fossil fuels, so eventually we will need to find alternatives. Fossil fuels also cause air pollution. I'm not looking forward to breathing Chinese air full of toxic compounds generated by burning coal and petroleum.
What about the economic cost of changing energy sources? What about the jobs in the fossil fuel and energy intensive industries? Well, what about the jobs and economic opportunities that come from developing alternatives? How many people really want to be coal miners (a dangerous job) compared with doing something else in life?
What about the social and economic cost if climate change does strike hard and heavy? I wonder if those who bluster in the newspapers against climate change will be happy for their countries to take in environmental refugees. I think not.
It's scary knowing that I have to start planning now for how climate change will affect my life and future.