John Carey: the hot air of climate deniers

Carbon dioxide was identified before Captain James Cook made the first map of the east coast of Australia. How much the gas contributes to the Greenhouse Effect was discovered when Ned Kelly was a boy.

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AND the first rough calculation of how much the temperature of the earth would change if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased, or fell, was done before Federation.

So the basics of the science of climate change are truly venerable. Now, more than a century after Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius published the last finding mentioned above, we know even more about the biggest and baddest greenhouse gas of them all.

Science is like that. It plods along, year after year, relentlessly adding to our accumulation of reliable knowledge and subtracting anything found to be faulty. The scientific method is, dare I say, humanity’s best idea ever.

Why raise this subject now? And here?

Because it’s exactly 25 years since I first mentioned in this magazine the connection between cars, carbon dioxide, and global warming. It was a paragraph or two in a cover feature story involving Bathurst, Brock and Bond, a pair of fast Fords, and a couple of quick Commodores.

It seemed obvious to me back then that humanity, being the smartest species on the planet, would take one look at what science was saying and take action.

But I’ve waited patiently for a quarter of a century and, when it comes to cars… nothing. In that time no effective, let alone visionary, policy moves have been made by our elected leaders. Even as the pile of evidence that we humans are changing Earth’s climate has grown steadily higher, and other nations have reacted to the danger with varying degrees of vigour, the prospect of Australia ever joining in the effort seems remote.

What a victory for the enemies of reason, those shouty zealots who have influenced the tone and shape of the Climate Change debate in Australia for so long.

They’ve never been too concerned about logical consistency. Their starting position was simple: global warming isn’t happening. When that started to look silly, it moved to ‘global warming is happening, but humans aren’t doing it, and in any case it will be very costly to do things a different way than we’re doing now. And by the way, don’t those wind turbines look awful or make you ill or cut rare parrots in half?’

Throughout, they’ve sought to discredit science. “Climate change is a conspiracy dreamed up by thousands of insanely greedy and utterly unethical scientists to gain funding”, is one example I’ve heard first-hand. And you’ll all have heard the one about it being a conspiracy dreamed up by Chinese scientists, presumably on orders from Beijing, to bring about the ruin of the US economy.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” wrote Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientists of all time. It’s the same for today’s climate scientists. Their work rests on solid foundations laid centuries ago, by forgotten greats like Joseph Black, John Tyndall, and Svante Arrhenius.

But Australia seems instead to prefer the view of climate change you get when perched on the shoulders of anti-science pygmies. So sad.

 

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