Paul Collins, Catholic writer


Climate Change and Australia’s Weather on Steroids

11 February 2013
First published in Eureka Street, 3 February 2013

These men are not models but a real cardinal and archbishop

Amid all the dross that characterises the ABC during summer holidays, I accidently heard an interview in which something of consequence was actually said. On RN’s Summer Breakfast John Doyle was interviewing Foreign Minister Bob Carr who was attending the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. Carr said that what struck him most at Davos was the consensus about global warming with even Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund saying it is ‘the biggest economic problem for this century.’

Carr went on to say: ‘The time we’ve wasted in Australia accommodating climate change denial is quite striking and contrary to the way the rest of the world is veering on this issue.’ He added that ‘The Economist Magazine referred to climate change as “Mankind’s craziest experiment”’ saying that the world will face ‘a crippling financial burden’ as we adjust to something we have ‘inflicted on ourselves via a colossal addiction to fossil fuels.’ Coming from Australia where climate change denial ‘fills the air’ Carr said he found it significant that world leaders see climate change as the world’s most important concern ‘even above the slow world economy.’

Doyle challenged him with the fact that we’re the world’s largest coal exporter. Seamlessly changing tack and now sounding more like Resources Minister Martin Fergusson, Carr said Australia is ‘pricing carbon’ and is leading a global push for ‘a comprehensive network of agreements’ on global warming.

Carr is too intelligent not to see the monumental inconsistency in government policy between exporting coal, a massive polluter when burned, and calls for action on global warming. But Carr is right that we have indulged ‘denialism’. Perhaps it’s because, as T.S Eliot says in Burnt Norton, we ‘cannot bear too much reality.’

While sceptics have said little about recent heatwaves in Australia, January and February’s extremely heavy snow storms in North America, Europe and even in Jerusalem have them in a lather denouncing the global warming scientific consensus claiming that cold winters prove climate change theories are wrong while ignoring the fact that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the US. They claim it’s all part of a natural variation in weather patterns and cite differences between the medieval warm period (MWP) and the little ice age (LIA).

What this argument misses is that climate change is all about averages. Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe says ‘Climate is the average condition, weather is what we get.’ And the overwhelming evidence is that the average global temperature is rising. In Australia each decade since 1910 has been warmer than the last decade, and that most of that warming has occurred since 1970. Australian daily average temperatures have increased by 0.9°c and overnight temperatures by 1.1°c since 1910. The US average temperature has risen 2° over the last fifty years.

In the middle of the early-January heat wave one commentator said Australian weather seemed to be ‘on steroids’. We see this in the increasing number of extreme weather events that are occurring globally. The snowstorms and blizzards of the northern hemisphere and heat waves of Australia as well as floods in Queensland are all symptoms of long-term climate change with the planet warming.

On the question of weather over the last 1000 or more years: sceptics claim we are now simply in another warming period like the MWP. The MWP lasted from about 750 to after 1200, followed by the LIA which lasted from the mid-fourteenth to the early-nineteenth century. Scientific evidence indicates that from about 800 to 900 the Northern Hemisphere experienced the warmest period in the last 2000 years, with the exception of 1990 to 2012. This was followed by a slight cooling between 900 and 950, which was succeeded by a general warming until about 1100. Temperatures then slowly fell toward the advent of the LIA in about 1400. Weather is never constant and the period 750-950 also saw at least eight incidents of extremely severe winters. The average increase in temperature in the MWP was not much more than 0.2° to 0.3°c whereas we’re facing an increase of 1°c over the last 100 years.

Its good to know that at least one federal minister actually understands these issues even if he’s not going to do anything about coal exports.

Care to comment? .