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September 21st 2009 print

Bob Carter

Think globally, destroy locally

As the temperature trend for ten years now has been one of cooling, since the unusually warm El Nino year of 1998, this requires a precautionary response to cooling rather than warming.

Giving Earth the benefit of the doubt

A common expression of human caution, often attributed to Rupert Murdoch, is that in matters of potentially dangerous human-caused global warming we should “give Earth the benefit of the doubt”.

Such a statement reveals profound misunderstanding of the real climatic risks faced by our societies, not least because it assumes that global warming is more dangerous, or more to be feared, than is global cooling. In reality, the converse is true.

Giving Earth the benefit of the doubt” is often further expressed as a desire to implement the “precautionary principle”. 

This sociological, and not scientific, construct was rejected as a policy tool by the prestigious UK House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology as long ago as 2006. 

They commented that

In our view, the terms “precautionary principle” and “precautionary approach” in isolation from …. clarification have been the subject of such confusion and different interpretations as to be devalued and of little practical help, particularly in public debate,

and added that

we can confirm our initial view that the term “precautionary principle” should not be used, and recommend that it cease to be included in policy guidance.

In any case, in order to take precautions, you have to know what you are taking them against. Some computer models (General Circulation Models; deterministic) project that the global temperature in ten years time will be warmer than today’s. Other computer models (statistical; based upon projection of past climate patterns) project that global temperature will be cooler ten years hence. The reality is, therefore, that no scientist can tell you with confidence whether the temperature in 2020, let alone 2100, will be warmer or cooler than today’s.

The only sensible precaution that you can take in such a situation is to plan for a continuation of the present climate trend, and recognize and plan also for reasonable bounds of future climate variability. As the temperature trend for ten years now has been one of cooling, since the unusually warm El Nino year of 1998, this requires a precautionary response to cooling rather than warming.

In either case, it is not soppy, feel-good precaution that is required to protect our citizens and environment, but hard-nosed and effective prudence.

The current commission of enquiry into the Victorian bushfires makes it quite plain that Australian governments’ preparation for, and response to, natural climatic disasters is inadequate. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons for this is that the self-same governments have been distracted by the hysterical fuss created by the Greens, and other similarly self-interested groups, about entirely hypothetical and yet-to-be-measured human-caused global warming?

It is certain that natural climate change will continue in the future as it has in the past – including warmings, coolings and step events. In face of this, it is clearly most prudent to adopt a climate policy of preparation for, and adaptation to, climate change as and when it occurs.

Adaptive planning for future climate events and change, then, should be tailored to provide responses to the known rates, magnitudes and risks of natural change. Once in place, these same plans will provide an adequate response to human-caused global warming or cooling should either emerge in measurable quantity at some future date.

Instead, the current Labor government remains hell-bent on introducing an unnecessary, expensive and ineffectual carbon dioxide taxation scheme, in the futile hope that the measures involved will have an effect on future climate.

It is no surprise, and a credit to our parliament, that the Senate has rejected this bill once, for the estimate of the first-up extra direct costs it will engender is about $3,000/family/yr. The “benefit” – get this! – is a theoretical reduction of temperature of no more than one-ten-thousandth of a degree in 2100.

Nonetheless, a tremendous danger remains that political wheeling-and-dealing will result in the emissions trading bill squeaking through the Senate on its planned reintroduction in November.

Why is it that the Liberal-National coalition partners cannot comprehend the disastrous economic and social impact that such a scheme is going to have on Australian society, and work together towards implementing a cost-effective climate adaptation policy that would truly be in the best interest of all Australians? If Barnaby Joyce can lead the way so effectively, why can’t his coalition partners follow?

If such a monstrously socially damaging and environmentally ineffectual measure as the government’s carbon dioxide taxation bill becomes law, it will stand for decades as an indictment of all the parliamentarians who voted for it.

In which event, be sure to remember their names, for nothing is more certain than that you are going to want to exercise retribution thereafter.

Bob Carter is a geologist who works on ancient climate change, and will be delivering a public information session on global warming and the ETS in Muswellbrook on September 22