As someone with more than a passing interest in Geography I’ve long been aware of the complexities involved in making firm statements about planetary processes. I often challenge my students with the inevitability that even the best science is about approximation because there are no theories that explain everything. In my own life time, for example, we’ve gone from knowing very little about about ‘Continental Drift’ to an increasingly dynamic understanding of the processes of plate tectonics, we’ve mapped the human genome and we’ve come to understand that small increases in CO2 and other Green House gases bring about an Enhanced Green House Effect that has implications for planetary climate change.
My reading of the emails stolen from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia reveals a certain candour amongst the scientists involved. It is very much a case of catching a glimpse of the way a group of colleagues were attempting to reconcile data drawn from a variety of different settings, using a variety of different tools, and integrate them into a coherent theory. It wasn’t a perfect process and as a sub text, typical of academia, there were the customary unsavoury criticisms of colleagues and academic rivals. Clearly being a scientist doesn’t automatically confer a capacity to selflessly love one’s fellow beings.
Troubled as I am by the academic jealousy I’m far more troubled by the timing of this breach of the CRU and by the character of the political beings who’ve been so vocal about it. So it was with some interest that I encountered this fascinating article The SwiftHack (ClimateGate) Scandal: What You Need to Know. The article makes the following points:
- The scientific consensus on climate change remains strong.
- The impacts of catastrophic climate change continue to rear their ugly head.
- Hacking into private computer files is illegal.
- All of the emails were taken out of context.
- The story is being pushed by far-right conspiracy theorists.
- Scientists are human beings and they talk frankly amongst themselves.
Clearly this hack of a research organisation is an interestingly timed diversion.
Perhaps a more productive approach to this subject for those of us in Australia is to look at some of the known impacts of climate change. A useful place to start in analysing the implications of climate change is to start with the vulnerability of our own coastal zones in the face of climate change and sea level rise. This is a concern throughout Australia. A recent CSIRO report Mapping Climate Change Vulnerability in the Sydney Coastal Councils Region outlines the risk of storm damage to low lying parts of Sydney. There are some useful Fact Sheets in the report. I found Fact Sheet 3 most helpful. Another good example of coastal vulnerability can be seen at Narrabeen. It’s also worth looking at some of the animations based on real tidal conditions at Narrabeen. There are similar sites in the USA and in Europe
In Australia Local Government and the Real Estate, Tourism and Insurance industries have a cause for concern about the security of coastal and near coastal zones. Consequently, there is an increasing interest in coastal morphology, for very legitimate and sound business reasons. Of course climate change skeptics and deniers frequently argue that scientists, and I guess coastal morphologists are included, merely pursue funds and research grants.
Everyone knows that sea level has risen and fallen through Geological history. The Aboriginal peoples were able to successfully adapt when it rose a staggering 150 metres over the past 8000 years. Of course they didn’t invest so much capital in coastal developments and they were quite mobile compared with more recent settlers.
It’s not surprising that under these circumstances Australia’s Federal Government would conduct the Inquiry into climate change and environmental impacts on coastal communities. Although I’ve glanced at it I haven’t read thoroughly yet but I will shortly because, and I must confess this, as a Geographer, I’m a student of coastal morphology. Having made this admission, I can assure you that I’ve only accepted limited amounts of money in employing this skill and that this was from the previous Federal government. The results of this work are freely available for anyone to view and assess.
A considerable effort, and no doubt expense, has gone into climate change models. Merely because there’s an expense and governments use tax payers money to fund this, doesn’t confer any lack of ethical standards on the process. It shouldn’t be necessary to dwell on this except for the fact that in discussions about Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) some of the more extreme commentators claim that it’s all just a hoax. One the other hand research bodies such as the Hadley Centre in the UK it part of the UK Meteorological Office and it has some interesting things to say about anthropogenic carbon dioxide generation and about climate change and climate modelling. The UK Met itself also has a very interesting site.
Recently the Hadley Centre in association with the Science Museum, unveiled a climate map showing the impact of a 4°C global temperature rise. It’s interactive and well worth a look. Click on all the tags at the bottom to deselect everything and then add them one at a time, for the best effect. It makes more sense this way.
Globally scientific research continues, particularly in Europe where ENSEMBLES, a five year climate change research project involving 66 partners across Europe, has been established. It’s led by the Met Office, and funded by the European Commission. It has been studying the likely effects of climate change across Europe as a whole. Some of its material is very sobering. One finding seems to indicate that if global mean temperature increase is to be kept below 2 °C, implied emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere at the end of the century will need to fall close to zero.
National Geographic offers this confronting photo essay about the impacts of climate change.
As a footnote, have a look at just how far the Meren and Carstenz glaciers in Irian Jaya have retreated since 1850