Today I went back to school. No hard form to sit on, no screeching slate pencil. I had the privacy of my study and comfort of my office chair. The teacher was on my computer screen, unable to throw the chalk to wake me up. It was the first day of my new course, Climate Change (ClimChng), free by courtesy of Open2Study and the Open University, and presented by Professor Lesley Hughes of Macquarie University. Lesley is described as an ecologist in the Department of Biological Sciences, and says she has been researching the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems for over 20 years.
What drew my attention to the course was the award of a Eureka Prize to Lesley Hughes last week in recognition of her presentation of this very course. The Eureka awards are a very worthwhile initiative of the Australian Museum in Sydney to celebrate the achievements of young (and not-so-young) scientists.
The fifteen winners from a crowded field of finalists included:
- The production of the first Hendra virus vaccine.
- Water-yield efficiency in wheat farming.
- Slow pyrolysis technique to produce biochar.
- A $2 microscope lens from a droplet of plastic.
- Bioinformatics to process massive quantities of experimental data.
- The molecular clock & DNA mutation rates.
So where did Professor Hughes’ Australian Government Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research fit in? How scientific is her science? The summary description of her work explained that she “believes climate change is the most important social, environmental and economic challenge of our time. Simply doing research on the science and impacts of climate change is not enough for her; through communicating her work, Professor Hughes aims to reach the hearts and minds of the public and policy-makers to make a real difference.” Oh dear.
There was only one way to find out about the difference she has just been rewarded for making: join the 365 other people enrolled for her course. Interestingly, I found my fellow students came from everywhere – Broome, the USA, Norway, Pakistan and Ireland, although like me, most “students” seemed reluctant to reveal too much about themselves.
It was difficult to know who the course was aimed at, or the target age of students. Pretty soon, I found I had been awarded two badges – a Campervan and a Safari Tent — just for enrolling, and when I watched the first video I won a prized Treasure Hunt for Learning. Gee, this was going to be exciting! If I pass my first Quiz I unlock an Emerald; sharing advice in the forums wins a Peruvian Shaman, while a 100% assessment pass at the end earns me a very rare Aztec coin.
Maybe I have re-enrolled in Grade 3 by mistake.
Module 1 Climate Change: Why should we care? opened this morning with Lesley interviewing Tim Flannery (who else?) and this Dorothy Dixer:
Hughes: Tim, why have you devoted so much of your time to explaining climate change to the public?
Flannery (Not mentioning his honorarium from the Climate Council): When I became fully aware (in the late 90s) of what was happening to our climate, it was a distinct shock. All of a sudden people doing things like leaving their cars running on a hot day so they could keep the air conditioning on – I knew had consequences that were not going to be good.
So the paleontologist made the obvious correlation between air-conditioned cars and the end of the world! The tête a tête with Tim lasted seven minutes and thirty-one seconds, and then Hughs went on to explain why just a few degrees of warming can have such big and scary impacts. With some SCARY graphs. The big red band (almost vertical) was the ‘business as usual’ scenario, she explained, and ‘a rather frightening picture of temperatures in the future.’
Well, there’s a lot more SCARY STUFF in Module 1: Extreme water; extreme wind; extreme oceans; extreme plants (what, triffids?); and canaries in the coal mine (I thought coal was banned), adding up to another 42 minutes of video watching of Lesley Hughes – which is all I am supposed to take in this week.
But being a curious sort of chap I cheated a little and jumped forward to the Assessment page. Here’s the multiple choice question on the oceans:
Which is the primary cause of coral bleaching?”
- Ocean acidification
- Colder than average winter temperatures
- Warmer than average summer temperatures
- Rising sea levels
No mention there of Crown of Thorns starfish, which has done more damage than anything else to the Great Barrier Reef.
Module 2 – What’s happening and Why? is not supposed to start until next week, but I sneaked a look behind the bicycle sheds. “It’s getting hotter”; “The ice is melting”; “Water, water everywhere” will have everyone terrified. I fear for the mental health of the Bangladeshi and Kiribati students.
But wait! Module 3, beginning on September 29, is worse. “Can we Cope?” it asks. Topics including Health; Food, glorious food; Show me the Money: and War and Peace must be straight out of the IPCC Armageddon handbook. Well, Lesley was a lead author on the IPCC 4th and 5th Assessment Reports, and for three years a member of Australia’s Climate Commission. It figures.
Just when we are all trembling wrecks, Module 4 provides the means to redemption with these more helpful topics: Leave it in the ground; Can’t we just grow more trees?; Using the wind and the earth; and Home sweet home.
I dipped into Using the Sun (first mention of the sun) and found this from Lesley:
“The earth receives enough energy from the sun in a single hour to power all our activities for a whole year. We only need the space of about 0.3 percent of the land area to produce enough energy just from solar power.” She concludes with a question left hanging in the air: “So you may well be asking yourself: why would we produce energy using any other method?’
The answer to that question, Lesley, is quite simple: Ignoring for the moment the problem of how to convert the sun’s energy into forms that can power all our human needs, 0.3% of Australia’s land mass of 7,659,861 square kilometres would be 22,979.5 km2, To wrap your imagination around that figure, picture an unbroken, 10km-wide strip of solar panels following the coastal Princes Highway all the way from Melbourne to just north of Brisbane.
This sort of vague, wishful thinking characterises the “learning” experience of ClimChng on the Open University. It is based on the simple, unexplained “scientific” proposition that mankind is causing global warming through liberation of carbon, and that this is leading to climate change, rising sea levels, melting ice caps and temperature increases that threaten biodiversity and human health and life itself. The IPCC line, reinforced.
Here is Flannery, oblivious to his self-contradiction:
“Scientists are the greatest sceptics on the planet. They question everything, and I mean everything. Science is not a search for the truth. Science is a search to disprove things … when we talk about the earth actually warming – that’s an observation, we can all see that – it’s very clear. The theory that it’s linked to the greenhouse gases that humans produce has been tested and tested and tested over and over again. 97% of scientists would agree with that, that theory is correct, not worth testing any more.”
This “course” is not science, it is propaganda; assertions, exaggerations and untruths are dressed up in the false cloak of authority and certainty to frighten, brainwash and indoctrinate. It is childish. It certainly is not calculated to reach the hearts and minds of policy-makers, unless they are very weak-minded and needing a triple by-pass.
Geoffrey Luck was an ABC Journalist from 1950 until 1976.