Senator Steve Fielding, while denying that he is a climate sceptic, appears to have retreated to first principles on climate change, demanding proof from the government of atmospheric warming and the role of carbon emissions in climate change.
Fielding met yesterday with Penny Wong, Chief Scientist Penny Sackett and ANU professor Will Steffen. Fielding took to the meeting four climate sceptics — David Evans, Stewart Franks, Bob Carter and William Kininmonth — and prepared a briefing note outlining claims that the planet was cooling or that carbon emissions were unrelated to climate change.
Evans, Stewart, Carter and Kininmonth represent the cream of local climate denialism. Carter and Evans, who makes much of his former role at the Australian Greenhouse Office, have no relevant climate science qualifications. Carter, a geologist, is on record as calling the process of scientific peer review “over-stressed”, and that whether or not research had been funded by fossil fuel industries was “irrelevant”.
Franks has argued that water vapour “could potentially swamp the relatively small role of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere” and that the Stern Report was “entirely unjustifiable” and “a grossly uncertain economic analysis on top of extremely dubious climate forecasts”. Franks has also, ironically, been critical of “the worst type of scientist that has involved themselves in the question of climate change… the concerned outsider — someone with a scientific background entirely unrelated to climate change”, which sums up his two colleagues Evans and Carter perfectly.
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Fielding’s primary objection appears to rely on the repeatedly-discredited claim that global temperatures are falling based on a reliance on 1998 temperatures as a base, when the long-term trend from 1900 to date shows a disconcertingly rapid rise despite occasional spikes and peaks.
Senator Fielding isn’t misleading when he denies being a sceptic. While prone to arguing himself into peculiar positions, in fact he’s one of the more open-minded senators and occasionally will change his vote when convinced by the arguments of other senators mid-debate. What he has done, however, is given a bunch of cranks and contrarians the same status as peer-reviewed science and well-established consensus, and demanded certainty when nature provides no such thing.
He has also misunderstood the views of the sceptics he armed himself with for his meeting with Wong: climate sceptics will never be convinced by facts or reasoning, because their scepticism has little to do with evidence and everything to do with their own ideologies or with their readiness to accept funding to support an industry line. Denialists will always find a way to dispute even the most obvious facts.
Regardless of its disconnection from the real world, outright denialism is undoubtedly experiencing a mini-boom in Australia, even as scepticism overseas takes the more muted form of suggesting developing countries need to act before developed countries do so. Western Australian Liberal senator Michaelia Cash dissented from the conclusions of the Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy tabled yesterday to declare that she didn’t believe that the balance of evidence supported anthropogenic global warming, although she takes Rupert Murdoch’s position that “the planet should be given the benefit of the doubt” provided it doesn’t cost Australians anything (which is, economically, a contradictory position).
In the end, though Fielding’s vote, convinced by the arguments of sceptics or informed scientists, won’t matter particularly. The success or otherwise of the Government’s legislation now rests in the hands of the Liberals and the tacticians in the Prime Minister’s Office.