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Phoney scientists spice up the global warming debate

By Sam van Rood - posted Saturday, 15 July 2000

In the debate on global warming, a few Australian interest groups have taken to tactics that have been dismissed on the international stage for some years. Most recently, Barry Maley has attacked the veracity of the climate science of global warming, claiming that the scientific underpinning of the world's effort to reduce greenhouse pollution is fatally flawed. The arguments he uses are flawed and outdated.

Firstly, so called "scientists' petition" from the US challenging the validity of climate change science has been thoroughly discredited. The petition is full of fake non-scientists such as Dr Jerri Halliwell, better known as Ginger Spice. A selection of other signatories include "Perry S. Mason" (the fictitious lawyer), "Michael J. Fox" (the actor), "John C. Grisham" (the lawyer-author). One particular gem was Drs "Frank Burns" "Honeycutt" and "Pierce", the trio from M*A*S*H who, having finished their careers on television, have apparently moved into the important field of global warming.

Further, the "scientific article" on global warming that begins the petition is, in fact, an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal in December 1997. That's all it is: an opinion, and the opinion of non-climate scientists to boot. A literature search for the authors' names does not turn up a single publication in any area pertinent to global warming. The article is also laid out to look like a National Academy of Science document - right down to the typeface. The National Academy of Science in the US has disavowed any connection with the article and petition.


Secondly, Barry Maley discusses the discrepancy between surface data and satellite data on temperature rises, arguing that the temperature isn't really rising at all. Human records of surface and atmospheric temperature indicate a rise in temperature that is increasing in rate and is almost impossible to explain through natural fluctuation alone. Reliable records of surface temperature exist starting in the mid-to-late 19th century and the six warmest years of the global record have all occurred since 1990, and are, in descending order, 1998, 1997, 1995, 1990, 1991, and 1994. According to the World Meteorological Organisation the 1990s were the hottest decade in the past thousand years.

There is no credible dispute that global temperatures are rising. In January this year, a US National Research Council (NRC) panel found that surface air temperature increases are "undoubtedly real," and that the Earth’s surface temperature has risen by 0.7 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century. The NRC report specifically addressed discrepancies between surface data and satellite data from the low-to-mid troposphere. After examining the satellite v surface issue, the NRC report concludes that the surface data over the past century and a half are valid signals of warming. Further, at the recent Australian Senate Inquiry on Global Warming, Professor Zillman, Director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, specifically addressed the scientific evidence of global warming.

Prof. Zillman testified firstly that that the evidence of global warming over the past century is stronger than the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in 1995. Secondly, he pointed out that earlier discrepancies between satellite measurements and surface measurements have been debated and resolved.

It must be acknowledged there is some uncertainty in the global warming debate. It is certain that human-made greenhouse pollution is warming the planet. What is uncertain is how much warming there will be, and exactly how much damage will be done. The Australian government's scientific organisation, the CSIRO, predicts that in Australia there will increased flooding, increased droughts, the spread of disease, more intense cyclones, and the potential death of the Great Barrier Reef.

If your ship is sailing on course to hit an iceberg, just because you may not be sure of how far away the iceberg is no excuse not to change course to get out the way. The prudent tactic is to get out of way of danger as soon as possible. The scale of the potential damage to the environment and our economy is so huge, sensible people know we must cut greenhouse pollution to push our economy off its crash-course with global warming. The best news is that we can cut greenhouse pollution while creating jobs and creating a thriving economy.

Bill Clinton recently said:


"The largest obstacle [to preventing climate change] is the continued clinging of people in wealthy countries and developing countries to a big idea that is no longer true - the idea that the only way a country can become wealthy and remain wealthy is to have the patterns of energy use that brought us the Industrial Age. In other words, if you're not burning more oil and coal this year than you were last year, you're not getting richer; you're not creating more jobs; you're not lifting more children out of poverty. That is no longer true.

We now know that technologies that permit breathtaking advances in energy conservation, and the use of alternative forms of energy, make it possible to grow the economy faster while healing the environment, and that, thank God, it is no longer necessary to burn up the atmosphere to create economic opportunity."

Other countries have discovered that cutting greenhouse pollution is good for the economy. Germany employs over 25,000 people manufacturing and servicing wind turbines for domestic use and export. Denmark exports US $1 billion worth of turbines each year and wind is the fastest-growing energy generation source in the world. The big multinationals know this too and are investing in their renewable energy divisions - Shell predicts that by 2050, 50 per cent of the world’s energy will come from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Other big companies are leading the charge to cut greenhouse pollution. Dupont has one of the most ambitious goals of any company, going far beyond that of Kyoto. It has already cut its 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent and plans to reduce them by a total of 65 per cent by 2010, rendering hollow the claim that lowering carbon emissions to meet the Kyoto goal is not possible.

Australia needs to shed its dirty old polluting economy for the emerging new clean green and efficient economies of the 21st Century. It is now possible to protect the environment while at the same time creating jobs and generating a thriving economy.

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About the Author

Sam van Rood is the Sustainable Cities and Industries Campaign Coordinator at the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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