Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel has warned that the planet is “losing the battle” against climate change, after it emerged that Earth had warmed to “dangerous” levels in February 2016.
On Saturday, NASA reported that Earth’s average surface temperature was 1.35 degrees (Celsius) warmer than the 1951-1980 baseline used by the agency.
“You wouldn’t want to dismiss it. There is genuine reason for concern,” Dr Finkel said on the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night.
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“They’ve determined it’s gone up in 2015 … by the largest annual increase since recording began 50 years ago.
“What we are doing with solar, wind, changing practices, behavioural practices and things like that, we’re not winning the battle.”
Marine biologist and television host Emma Johnston said that it was vital climate scientists were not cut at the CSIRO as the climate change threat grew.
“They’re [climate scientists] crucial to farming, crucial to fishing, crucial to industry,” Professor Johnston said. “They’re actually of massive national interest.
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) March 14, 2016
“If we want to be able to make predictions that are important to the national interest, we need sustained funding of very fine scale measurements in modelling.”
Professor Johnston said water around the Great Barrier Reef was being warmed to such an extreme level that the reef and its organisms were suffering.
“If the water stays hot for long enough, they die and don’t recover from that,” she said.
The latest warming levels meant the planet is now two degrees Celsius above the “normal” mark – the point where climate change becomes “dangerous” to inhabitants.
The planet is currently warmer than usual thanks to El Nino, however the recent temperature report from NASA went far beyond the hottest El Ninos recorded.
‘The new era of astronomy’
The show began by discussing the recent detection of gravitational waves on Earth by scientists from Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).
“The discovery meant that instead of using light waves to examine the cosmos, scientists could now use gravitational waves,” physicist and string theorist Brian Greene said.
“This is one of the biggest discoveries of the last 100 years. Albert Einstein in 1916 predicted that there should be ripples in the fabric of space, it comes right out of his famous general theory of relativity. He didn’t think we’d ever detect these waves.”
Dr Finkel agreed: “We have a whole new way of looking at the universe. We can now feel the space ripples. It’s like the analogy I made we have been standing on the top of a cliff for our entire lives blindfolded and listening to the surf and now we have.
“It is like we’ve been given a new sense. We can detect things like coalescing black holes that we have never been able to see before,” he said.
Famed theoretical physicist Albert Einstein had hypothesised that gravitational waves existed as an outgrowth of his seminal theory of relativity. It was the last of his theories to be proven correct, given the LIGO discovery.
‘No industry is safe from AI’
Speaking about the recent triumph of a Google artificial intelligence computer over a legendary South Korean board game player, molecular biologist and science communicator Upulie Divisekera said humans had the power to “create the AI we want to see”.
“What kind of economy, society do you want in the future? It is the ethics of how that AI is constructed is critical,” she said.
“That’s up to social scientists as well to do that.
“We can talk all we like about the automation of jobs but there are a lot of jobs that can’t be automated and most of those are menial jobs as well.”
Dr Finkel said no industry is safe from AI, but he argued that jobs would actually be created by the technology.
Astrophysicist and dark matter expert Tamara Davis questioned how much the biological status quo of humans would be changed by AI.
“Just replace pieces of you and then eventually you upload your brain into a silicon version and there is no biology left and at what point along that transition do you go from being human to not human?,” she asked.