It's not enough to bash in heads, you have to bash in minds

Why all this debate over climate change?

From Climate ArkIs climate change a terrible threat or a beat-up? A bang or a whimper? Perhaps it’s something in between – an issue that humanity must face, but not yet.

The media abound with evidence to support any of these views. Yet perusing that same media makes one thing clear: climate change is difficult for people to evaluate dispassionately because it entails deep political and industrial implications and because it arises from the core processes of our civilisation’s success.

This means that, as we seek to address this problem, winners and losers will be created. The stakes are high, and this has led to a proliferation of misleading stories as special interest groups argue their case

At most recent count, a dozen major reports on climate change have been altered, suppressed or dismissed by the White House, including a 10-year, peer-reviewed study by the Intergovern-mental Panel on Climate Change commissioned by George Bush snr, and studies by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. In 2002 the White House released the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual report with the section dealing with climate change deleted.

I guess it’s not surprising that money talks louder than science, sure is a shame though; the world would be much better off if science had a louder voice.

The US President, George Bush, has said he wants “more certainty” before he acts on climate change; yet science is about hypotheses, not truths, and no one can absolutely know the future.

What ever happened to the precautionary principle? You know the principle of making sure you err on the side of caution. Even if there is some uncertainty in predicting the future climate, if the predictions are right the costs of inaction are so much higher than the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that all countries should sign Kyoto, and work together to implement a post Kyoto climate treaty that will be effective in reducing greenhouse gas emission.

The US and Australia have both decided against signing any treaty that has fixed absolute caps on greenhouse gas emissions, due to estimates on costs made by special interest groups, which stand to loose if caps are placed on their emissions, but we can learn from experience

The economist Eban Goodstein has done a detailed analysis of past projections of regulatory costs as they relate to a variety of industries. Goodstein demonstrated that in every case, when compared with the actual costs paid, the estimates were grossly inflated. His examples range from asbestos to vinyl, and in all instances but one the cost estimates of regulatory change were at least double the actual cost paid, while in some cases estimates were even more exaggerated. This inflation of estimated costs holds regardless of whether industry itself or an independent assessor did the work, which suggests a systematic source of errors.

Who should I trust scientists from various universities, or an industry lobby group?

The Global Climate Coalition, an industry lobby group founded in 1989 by 50 oil, gas, coal, car and chemical corporations. During the 11 years of its existence it gave $US60 million in political donations, and spent millions more on propaganda. The coalition’s stated purpose was to “cast doubt on the theory of global warming”. It spread misinformation and doubt wherever it could, and among its more effective scare tactics was the claim that addressing climate change could add 50 US cents per gallon to the price of petrol in the US. Its greatest success, however, was the role it played in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit’s failure to adopt strong measures to protect all humans from the danger of climate change.

There is hope for the future however:

We cannot wait for the problem to be solved for us. The most important thing to realise is that we can all make a difference and help combat climate change at almost no cost to our lifestyle. And in this, climate change is very different from other environmental issues such as biodiversity loss or the ozone hole.

The best evidence indicates that we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70 per cent by 2050. If you own a four-wheel-drive and replace it with a hybrid-fuel vehicle or a smaller standard-fuel car, you can achieve a cut of that magnitude in a day rather than half a century. If your electricity company offers a green option, for the cost of a daily cup of coffee, you will be able to make equally large cuts in your household emissions. And if you vote for a politician who has a deep commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, you might change the world. If you alone can achieve so much, so, too, can every individual and, in time, industry and government on Earth.

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