It never ceases to amaze us how politicians (past and present) and other public figures have the arrogance to form their opinions without bothering to check out the facts or time to let even modest research get in the way of ideology.
In his opinion piece in the Sunday Herald (5 January), Rodney Hide reasoned that because the Australian Antarctic Expedition got stuck in sea ice that’s the final nail in the coffin for evidence of human-caused climate change. His case is so superficial as to be derisory, and of a depth we’re more used to from talkback radio hosts.
First the big picture: there is no doubt that the climate is warming, a fact that Hide questions, but hasn’t a skerrick of peer-reviewed proof to base that denial on. In addition 97% of climate scientists agree that this warming is caused by human activity. As with all science there is room for doubt, but the doubt is small and is decreasing over time. Given the size of the issue, we haven’t got time to wait for 100% certainty.
Lets quickly look at a few of the factoids Hide produces:
Temperature hasn’t risen since 1997 – climate is a long-term phenomenon. Carefully selected start and finish years can always show something different, but the long-term trend is of rising temperature. As mentioned, no trained scientists are questioning this, just Hide and the losers that took NIWA to court to question their results – and lost.
Antarctic sea ice is increasing – climate is complex and some of the changes are unexpected. We know Arctic sea ice is melting, the sea ice around the Antarctic Peninsula is disappearing and West Antarctica is losing 1 km3 of ice from land every 2 days. Yet the sea ice to our south is increasing, and there are a couple of reasons why this seemingly anomalous result might occur. We know the strong westerly winds that usually break up the sea ice are moving north as the climate warms, leaving more calm ocean for the sea ice to form on. The melted fresh water from land is also forming a layer on the ocean around Antarctica, which turns to ice more easily than salty water does.
Rodney’s brand of pseudo-science is being echoed by the Extreme Right around the world. Tony Abbott’s adviser Maurice Newman, who as head of the Australian Business Council is apparently qualified to comment without evidence on climate matters, says the IPCC is a giant fraud. Likewise Donald Trump says because the US is having a record snowfall (ironically an event predicted in the climate science literature as becoming more frequent as a consequence of the same atmospheric phenomenon that has accompanied the decline of Arctic sea ice) and like Hide, claims because there are climate scientists in Antarctica stuck in ice, it therefore follows that climate change has stopped. Forget the science behind the predicted change in climate oscillations, their spatial location and intensity, forget the observations on underlying global temperature trend and ocean temperature and acidity, these Right Wing science deniers are happy to reach conclusions based on flippant observations or really no observation at all – like religion it’s all about faith you know. It really is appallingly shallow. While reassuringly the cries are coming from further and further out on the Rightwing spectrum, that sheer lack of depth in thinking is astounding.
Sorry Rodney and Donald, but your musing doesn’t trump the bulk of scientific literature. If you bothered to get off your butts and do even a little bit of research you lazy buggers you’d know that soon enough.
The more interesting question is why the media give numpties like Hide and Trump airtime when they are so clearly just playing Dumbass? As mentioned, 97% of scientists who work in this area agree that man-made climate change is real. Yet in some supposed quest for ‘balance’ the media continues to give half the airtime to the 3% of scientists that disagree. The result is that climate change sceptics are getting far more column inches than they deserve. This only serves to bolster the egos of the uninformed like Hide that can’t be bothered to read the research for themselves. But is this also a commentary on the poor state of media?
As with the recent Bob Jones suicide article that had to be pulled, there certainly is a need for our media to exercise greater quality control if its own relevance isn’t to suffer. In the quest to maintain page views in a world where readers can now access world media instantly and are no longer trapped by journeymen local scribes, the chase for controversial positions has intensified, but more and more at the expense of facts and realism. More of our media should follow the lead of the BBC which, in order to protect its own reputation for quality, has moved towards depicting climate change stories in a way that reflects the scientific opinion. That means the 3% of qualified scientists who are sceptical get 3% of the attention. That’s called balance, and as a result Rodney would only be able to publish stuff he’s actually researched.