Climate change: more action, less hysteria, please

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past couple of years, fearfully watching the passing shadows of the outside world, you’d be aware that there is a raging ‘debate’ about the reality of anthropogenic climate change. On one side are the scientists who claim that man’s activities on the planet are causing climate change, very much for the worse. On the other are those who claim that anthropogenic climate change is, at best, a scam and, at worst, a conspiracy of the United Nations to implement a world government (seriously).

In addition to the supportive comments on the many online articles, there have been significantly more ‘anti’ comments, ranging from “Ho hum, it’s just a scare campaign” to “If you say one more thing about I’m gonna eat your children and rape your dog.”* See, for example, the five part series written by Clive Hamilton for ABC’s The Drum (this link will take you to Mr Hamilton’s bio page. The relevant articles are dated 22 February 2010 to 26 February 2010).

What amazes me, in addition to the sheer nastiness of those in the denialist** camp, is that so many apparently average people are experts on climate science. If they are not experts themselves they claim to know someone who is or cite articles written by, ahem, ‘reliable’ sources such as journalists Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman, or non-scientists such as Lord Monckton. When those sources have bothered to base their tirades on factual information, they’ve often selectively cited (or misquoted) legitimate science papers. Sometimes the names of real scientists, such as Ian Plimer, pop up, but it’s notable that they are usually not climate scientists.***

While much of the science is still being debated amongst the pro camp, mostly over the details, the consensus of reputable scientists with qualifications in relevant fields is that anthropogenic climate change is real and we need to do something about it. However, there is also appears to be evidence to support the theory that a changing climate is part of the natural cycle of our 4.5 billion year old planet.

So who do we believe? Do we shrug and think there’s nothing we can do about it so why worry? Or do we try to minimise the damage (assuming it’s now too late to actually ‘fix’ the problem)?

I’m not an expert in any scientific field, but for me common sense alone says that both theories are probably correct: climate change not only occurs naturally (the ice ages came and went before homo sapiens walked the earth), but all the crap we pump into the air and oceans and the rate at which deforestation occurs will logically have an impact on the climate. How can it not? (The carbon dioxide, methane and other gases we emit have to go somewhere; they don’t just slip through an invisible release valve into space).

Stop the insults, stop the personal attacks, and focus on the issue. I think this is the perfect situation where the old saying ‘better safe than sorry’ should be applied. If the pro-climate change scientists are wrong, great! We can all relax a little bit, knowing that we’re not going to make ourselves extinct just yet, with the added bonus of knowing that we’ve cleaned up our act and improved our use of the planet’s resources. If the scientists are right, well we’ve at least done something positive to try and mitigate the effect rather than sitting around arguing and insulting one another.

What do we have to lose?

For those who say that radical change would be bad for the economy, well, yes, there’s bound to be some effect, even if only initially. But the simple response to that is: how will we have an economy if we’re trying to survive in a barely-habitable environment?

* This may not be an actual quote, but I am surprised that climate change denialists haven’t yet copied the terrorism-style campaigns of the anti-abortionists and religious fundamentalists.

** Denialists find that term offensive for some reason; they prefer to be called sceptics. But, as Michael Shermer wrote recently, there is a big difference between denialism and scepticism.

*** Plimer is a geologist. While the geological record may provide evidence of past climate change events I’m not convinced that geology has any predictive abilities.

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