Climate change sceptics deserve some credit.
Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, they and their small band of highly-paid intellectuals have managed to persuade a vast swathe of Australians that global warming is a left-wing conspiracy.
Turning a lot of nerdy scientists into politically ferocious agitators is quite an achievement, so hats off to them.
But it looks as though the sceptics are losing the battle. According to a Lowy Institute poll released on Tuesday, Australians are increasingly taking global warming seriously … again.
The poll found 90 per cent of Australians believe global warming is a concern, 50 per cent believe it is “a serious and pressing problem” that requires action regardless of the cost, and 63 per cent believe we should take significant steps now to reduce our carbon emissions.
So well fought, sceptics. You had a good run. You argued with passion and aplomb. But now it’s time to face the facts.
Two sobering facts
First fact: 97 per cent of climate scientists agree global warming is real and it’s “extremely likely” that it is caused by human activity. That’s according to NASA (yes, that’s the NASA of “Houston, we have a problem” fame. Hardly a raving communist organisation). That means we have the power to slow down the warming.
Second fact: we don’t know how bad its effects will be, but the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts with “high confidence” that they will include:
• alteration of ecosystems
• disruption of food production and water supply
• damage to infrastructure and settlements
• morbidity and mortality
• consequences for mental health and human well-being
You can see a much more detailed list of the threats on pp.12-13 of this document. It makes for some sobering reading.
Even if it doesn’t turn out as bad as they predict, we still need to assess the likelihood that it will with a clear head. And it’s hard to keep a clear head when the sceptics are beating their drums and blowing their trumpets as loudly as they can.
Linking climate change to the left
According to Dr Roger Jones of the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies, sceptics have lumped climate change action together with that bugbear of the libertarian right, ‘big government’, which itself is supposedly a step away from outright Soviet-style communism.
Dr Jones cites global media mogul Rupert Murdoch as a prime example of this kind of climate sceptic.
“[Murdoch] has swallowed the pill big time that everything is up to the efforts of the individual, and that collective action by governments and by international organisations like the United Nations is big government and top down management.”
While it’s true that meaningful climate change mitigation requires government action, to say this will inevitably lead to communism is a massive overstatement.
“If you look at the practicalities of the system, a lot of the transformation in energy at the moment is ongoing because of innovation and new technology. Some of that is coming from [private enterprise] in places like Silicon Valley in the US. And you’ve also got top-down rule operating in China.”
In other words, green alternatives to fossil fuels are politically agnostic. It’s specific industries, not capitalism itself, that is endangered by climate change action.
Lisa Alexander, associate professor at the University of New South Wales, told The New Daily that the outlook is far from bright.
“As far as the scientific community is concerned, I’d say it’s downbeat. There’s always some optimism because you need optimism to carry on.”
But on the whole, she said the outlook is “slightly depressing”.
Professor Alexander’s field of expertise is extreme weather events. She does not deal in policy, and certainly not in the politics of climate change. Her work is necessarily devoid of ideology, and her pessimism should therefore be cause for concern among capitalists, socialists, libertarians, communists, democrats, anarchists, monarchists and fascists alike.
But if we carry on ignoring the warnings of scientists like Professor Alexander, then we’re all just nihilists.