Hear, hear… it’s great that Professor
Lovelock has raised the alarm with respect to global climate change. With such fiery statements, he’s likely to
attract quite a bit of much-needed attention to the issue. In his attempt to highlight the potential
looming disaster, however, it’s fair to question whether or not his image of
the planet’s future perhaps overstates the risks we face.
Can one identify a robust picture of climate
change amidst the common polarised rhetoric of climate alarmism and climate
It’s true that the climate is changing and
that humans are contributing. In fact, to
date, no-one has been able to quantitatively explain the observed changes in
the global climate over the past century without accounting for human emissions
of greenhouse gases. 2005 was the
warmest (or second warmest) year on record according to NASA, with the last ten
years (with the exception of 1996) the warmest years recorded in the
instrumental record globally.
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Furthermore, it is also true that we have
already “locked in” significant additional climate changes. The
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected future global warming
of 1.4-5.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Though these projections span a broad range,
it’s increasingly clear that such climate change will have consequences. When one considers that the Great Barrier
Reef is likely to experience significant bleaching from a warming of just 1.0 degree Celsius,
it becomes clear that some degree of adverse effects are unavoidable.
From the current knowledge in climate
change research, overall, the global ecosystem and the biodiversity it
supports, is likely to be significantly degraded by climate change as this 21st
century unfolds – that could mean a loss of species both locally and globally,
and the goods and services these species provide. Further, ensuring access to water for
commercial, residential, and agricultural use will grow increasingly problematic,
in part due to growing demand.
coastlines will be gradually redrawn from rising sea levels, which, given the
mass migration of people to the coast, should give us pause. Undoubtedly, some populations and
communities, whether farmers in Australia’s
marginal areas or farmers already struggling in Sub-Saharan Africa, will lose
out in a changing climate.
Although we must keep these risks in mind,
the question we must ask is whether Lovelock’s expressed pessimism about the
planet’s future paints an accurate picture.
Is the news really all doom and gloom?
Yes, the Earth and human civilisation at
the end of the 21st
century will look quite different than it does
now – the population is growing and technology is rapidly changing, but is
this really big news? We have yet to tackle many of the global
environmental, social, and economic challenges with which we must
contend. But the end of civilisation? A planet that is
largely uninhabitable? Such apocalyptic
prophesies don’t match with the future climate change and impacts that
scientific community is currently projecting, or with how past human
civilisations have coped with past climate changes. Humans are a highly
adaptable species, and
history demonstrates the potential for humans to successfully identify
and respond appropriately.
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The writers are independent Australian scientists, with
research experience in climate modelling, environmental assessment and science