Mar 3, 2011

The Australian Academy of Science: explaining climate change

The Australian Academy of Science is strongly committed to enhancing public understanding of scientific issues and how these may impact on society and the planet. This includes climate science, writes Prof. Kurt Lambeck.

This is an extract from The Science of Climate Change — Questions and Answers, published by the Australian Academy of Science and distributed to members of parliament, every local government authority in Australia and every Australian high school, in August 2010. Crikey will be running a series of extracts across the week, including canvassing common myths.

To kick things off, an introduction by Kurt Lambeck, president, Australian Academy of Science May 2006 – May 2010:

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

64 thoughts on “The Australian Academy of Science: explaining climate change

  1. Frank Campbell

    “The uncertainties in the science do not affect such major conclusions but they will affect the precise timescales or magnitudes of the change and they will affect the global distribution of its impact.”

    Perhaps you should read the Royal Society’s recent warnings about climate “uncertainties” and “chaotic systems”, Kurt.

    From a policy viewpoint, “timescales” and “magnitudes” are critical. Yet projections range from slow and modest to Armageddon.

    Stripped of bureaucratic opacity, your conclusion is (presumably) that impacts are essentially unknown. So we must give observational science time to firm up these impacts. The corollary is that “climate” policy should minimise social/economic/environmental harm.

    So where does that leave the plethora of “climate” schemes recently dumped by Gillard? And isn’t a carbon tax premature?

  2. mattsui

    This report has been available (freely, it seems) for six months and we’ve never heard of it?
    Has a copy been sent to mr calderwood?

  3. Thomas Lewis

    So if we adopt a climate change tax, by how many degrees will the earth’s temperature lower?

  4. rossco

    Yes Frank, lets wait until we are absolutely certain that we are about to fall of the cliff before we take any action. Why take any notice of the science experts, after all that noted “expert” Tony Abbott has assured us that climate change is crap. Oh wait on, did he only say that or did he put in writing.

  5. Ian


    It is futile arguing with the likes of Frank and Thomas who it seems will do anything to throw doubt on the science and to oppose efforts to address the problem. I have to really wonder what motivates them to pursue this course of action. Are they being paid to actively engage in the way they do? Are they desperately poor and terrified that efforts to mitigate climate chaos could threaten their survival? Do they have some sort of fundamentalist faith that gets in the way of clear or rational thinking when their blind faith is called into question? Who knows? I certainly don’t think they will be providing truthful answers anytime soon.

    I am sick of all this crap spewed out by organizations like the Heartland Foundation, The Heritage Foundation and their disciples whose business it is to cast doubt on scientific finding that threaten the profits of their sponsors (the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel energy etc).

    For any person genuinely unsure or skeptical of the science, a bit of time spent reading the Academy’s report or listening to talks by climate scientists available on the internet should help them better grasp the problem. Of course many haven’t got the time or enough interest in the problem to motivate them to do the research. That’s fine so long as they don’t then make judgments based purely on their ignorance of the subject.

  6. D. John Hunwick

    The argument is not about taking action or not, it is about what action to take. In a situation of uncertainty the obvious acion to take is to reduce CO2 (greenhouse gas) emissions. Even if it turns out that the situatin is not as dire as I believe it is, such action is worth taking anyway as a form of insurance for future generations. A position that halted further construction of coal-fired power stations in Australia, with encouragement for equal new numbers of gas, wind and solar power stations, starting immediately would be eminently reasonable. One does not have to wait for more certainty in the present discussion to support such measure.

  7. Jim Reiher

    D. John Hunwick is right.

    When is it a bad idea to work for a cleaner less polluted world? When it costs the average Aussie about $300 more a year?

    Why risk the possibility of disaster when disaster is actually one of the real possibilities? Risk management evaluations would all say if the outcome is a catastrophy, then even if the chances of it happening are considered small, IT IS STILL WORTH PREPARING AGAINST IT.

    And here, the risk is huge and the chances of it happening are…. possible… not absolutely certain, but definitely a possibility. It IS therefore, worth working to prevent it. Just like a safety guard on a piece of equipment that might never rip your arm off. But better to be safe than picking up the pieces later.

  8. Rohan

    Frank, you don’t seem to understand that a fundamental aspect about climate projections is that they incorporate probability distribution i.e. “slow and modest” and “Armageddon” occupy the ends of the bell curve while the most likely outcome is halfway between these extremes.

    The centre of the bell curve doesn’t look like fun.

  9. Stevo the Working Twistie

    God this is getting tiring. Thomas Lewis @ Thursday, 3 March 2011 at 2:48 pm – adoption of a carbon tax in Australia will not reduce global temperatures by a fraction of bugger all in the short term. What it will do is help wean us off carbon-intensive technologies, and provide incentive for the development of cleaner technologies, so when the rest of the work finally wakes up Australia will be in a strong position to profit from our early adoption of those technologies. It’s called forward-thinking, and taking a leadership role. This train is already rolling – we just need to decide whether we travel up front with the engine, or down back in the baggage car.

  10. Scott Grant

    Following up on Rohan’s comment. One of the problems is that a professional scientist, doing their job properly, will emphasise the uncertainty and try to be conservative in their conclusions. Taking that as a starting point, many, many, people think: “Well maybe it’s not that bad.” “They’re probably exaggerating.” “Let’s be cautious until we know more.”

    The problem with this approach is that the projections are as likely to be underestimating the problem as overestimating. From what I have read, we have consistently been tracking along the armageddon side of the bell curve of statistical error. The more we learn, the more it seems that things are worse than previously predicted.

    We have been through this type of dispute before, of course, on issues such as tobacco smoking, acid rain, nuclear winter and ozone depletion. The book “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You” by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton is a good read, as is a more recent book “Merchants Of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

    Tobacco Industry: “We believe any proof developed should be presented fully and objectively to the public and that the public should then be allowed to make its own decisions based on the evidence.” The problem was that the “evidence” was part of an industry campaign designed to confuse. It was, in fact, a criminal conspiracy to commit fraud. In 2006 the industry was found guilty under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations), in part because it was proven that tobacco companies knew the dangers of smoking as early as 1953. (taken from “Merchants Of Doubt”).

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details