Obviously Mohamed Nasheed doesn’t read Michael Duffy…

11 Nov

Mohamed Nasheed is the newly elected President of the Maldives.

THE Maldives will begin to divert a portion of the country’s billion-dollar annual tourist revenue into buying a new homeland – possibly in Australia – as an insurance policy against climate change that threatens to turn the 300,000 islanders into environmental refugees, the country’s first democratically elected president has said.

Mohamed Nasheed, who takes power officially today in the capital, Male, said the chain of 1200 islands and coral atolls dotted 800 kilometres from the tip of India is likely to disappear under the waves if the current pace of climate change continues to raise sea levels.

The United Nations forecasts that the seas are likely to rise by up to 59 centimetres by 2100 due to global warming. Most parts of the Maldives are just 1.5 metres above water. The President said even a "small rise" in sea levels would inundate large parts of the archipelago…. – Sydney Morning Herald.

Clearly he has decided, his small country having just survived the tsunami a few years back, that the issue is rather more than hypothetical, and that prudence dictates it should be taken seriously.

Not so the “skeptics” who had such an impact on the debate in the USA especially in recent years. Many of them have been only too sure that the issue is a figment of some mad greenies’ imaginations, or some kind of “socialist” plot – quotes because these words are often evacuated of any meaning at all in right-wing America.

Now I am no scientist, even less a climatologist, so my views on the subject are quite literally worthless. I am equally qualified to instruct you in Swahili, or on the mating habits of elephants… Trouble is, people like Michael Duffy are no better qualified than I am, though you would never suspect it. Even the late Michael Crichton, of Jurassic Park fame, who famously opposed what he saw as the “religion” of climate change, was not actually expert in the area. Now what you, I and Michael Duffy can do of course is sift what those who know more than we do say. We can take the trouble to find out where their information is coming from, and what authority it may be then said to have. In fact we must do that. Of course that may lead us to different conclusions, and that’s fair enough, so long as we have each done our sifting conscientiously.

What makes me suspicious of people like Michael Duffy, however, is that they tend to trot out the same debating points from the same rather narrow range of sources. A malicious person might see that as having the hallmarks of propaganda, in which case one must ask: in whose interests? In Michael Duffy’s case he just has an apparently congenital tic: if enough people say something he will then oppose it. He has an entire radio program based on this proposition. So he had another go on climate change in the Herald at the weekend, Miranda having got tired of it for the moment perhaps, though we can be confident she will recycle her clippings some time in the near future. She had her last go in October.

Today’s Herald carries a letter which puts Duffy back in his box.

The opinion piece by Michael Duffy contains multiple errors of fact and plenty of errors of interpretation ("Truly inconvenient truths about climate change being ignored", November 8-9).

The site was not founded by an environmental organisation but by nine scientists, including me, who were fed up with disinformation about climate science.

Our web server is hosted by Environmental Media Services, but it has never had any input into content, nor paid contributors. This information has been public since the founding of realclimate in December 2004.

Realclimate is not "alarmist". Posts frequently debunk overheated claims in the media as well as criticising disinformation efforts. Acknowledging that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and that its concentration is rising rapidly due to human activities may be alarming, but it is not alarmist.

Rajendra Pachauri’s assessment of the temperature record is in line with the assessment in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so it is unsurprising that he should repeat what the organisation he heads has concluded. Pachauri is discussing longer time scales than a year or 10 – over such short periods simple weather "noise" is responsible for temperature fluctuations that do not reflect underlying climate change. Duffy’s suggestion that a temperature drop in the past year is significant is equivalent to assuming that because one or two spring days are cooler than a week before, summer won’t occur.

A simple look at the budget for climate change research in the US (or globally) reveals that the vast majority of the funds go on satellite and in-situ observations, with only a tiny fraction devoted to the complex modelling efforts needed to understand climate.

Duffy’s claim that published research is biased towards sensationalism may be partly correct for a few high-profile journals (though this is not dominant, nor does it lead to bias towards any specific conclusion).

However, the correct response to this perceived problem is not to react in a whiplash fashion to every press release and media story, but to base policy and decisions on heavily peer-reviewed and sober assessment processes such as the IPCC or the National Academies reports.

Duffy clings to short-term irrelevancies that have not stood up to peer review, while at the same time arguing that such a short-term view of the science will be misleading.

So should judgments about science be based on assessments of decades of work that has survived multiple levels of scientific review, or on short-term fluctuations of a single columnist’s opinions? It can’t be both.

Gavin Schmidt Climate Scientist, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York

Not that I expect Duffy to recant.

And a couple of other points. 1) Rather than constantly say the same things over and over on this topic, about which I really do know very little, I have a box in the side bar that refers you to better information. 2) I don’t always attack right wing columnists: Gerard Henderson is actually very good today, in my opinion, on Australia and World War I.

And rather sane British conservative Chris Patten is on many issues a man after my own heart.

LORD CHRIS PATTEN: Well, the truth is… I don’t want to sound too French, but the only really existential question which the international community faces is global warming and climate change because it is, unless we do something about it, going to change our planet and make life for a lot of people a lot tougher in the future; make life different for all of us.  So we have to face up to the problem and there are things we can do about it and they’re not impossible. But at the heart of any agreement, there has to be a deal between the biggest emitters per head and the biggest emitters in total and that means to be frank, that China and America are bound to be in the middle of all this. Now what the Americans will have to accept and what Europeans and Australians, I think the new Australian Government, or not so new now, the Australian Government today would accept this. What developed countries have to accept is that we should move further faster than the emerging economies, as we did when we were dealing with ozone depletion, CFCs and halons, with the Montreal protocol, which was a successful deal on a smaller scale, admittedly. We’ve also got to accept that historic responsibility for the carbon dioxide which is up there already means that we have to do more in the developed countries first, and we have to accept that countries at different stages of economic development will inevitably make different sorts of contribution. But what’s important is to get everybody lined up to start to move, not necessarily at the same pace but in the same directions. I think it can be done…

TONY JONES: Well, particularly difficult in hard economic times. I mean, you were actually scathing of the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard for the way in which he treated this matter. His essential argument was Australia first; we’re not going to move until the others do, because that will put us at a competitive disadvantage. You described that as a disreputable argument?

LORD CHRIS PATTEN: Yeah, and it was disreputable, I think, for two reasons. First of all because that wasn’t the position that he or Australia had taken over the Montreal protocol on ozone depletion, which was essentially a problem for the Southern Hemisphere. And quite rightly Australia and others pressed the rest of the world to act on the precautionary principle in science. And to accept that China and India could move less rapidly in getting rid of the production of CFCs and halons in banning their use, they could move less rapidly than the rest of us. So, the principle… the principle behind what we should be doing now on climate change now was conceded then.

Secondly, I thought that there was a real danger in the early 2000s of Mr Howard and others giving some legitimatisation or credibility to the anti-science views, the anti-environment views, in my view, the immoral views pursued initially by the Bush Administration.

Someone should tell the ABC, from whose Lateline that comes, that it’s “halons” not “haylons”! I’ve corrected it.

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Posted by on November 11, 2008 in Australia, climate change, environment, media watch


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