Global Warming: Let's Leave it to the Climate Scientists not the Climate Fundamentalists
Back in the 1925 in the town of Dayton, Tennessee, a young science teacher named John Scopes was charged with the offence of teaching the theory of evolution in a secondary school. In doing so he had committed an offence against a law enacted by the creationists who controlled the Tennessee legislature.
The subsequent prosecution, popularly known as the "Scopes Monkey Trial", highlighted the clash between scientific inquiry and religious dogma. The case was a demonstration of how otherwise intelligent people can become quite irrational when they are confronted with evidence that challenges their beliefs and prejudices.
The trial was a national sensation as two of America's leading lawyers, Clarence Darrow for the defence and William Jennings Bryan for the State, went head to head in a case where the real adversaries were blind faith and evidence based scientific inquiry. The Christian stance of course was more along the lines of the "Word of God" versus an "unproven hypothesis"as Jennings asserted for the prosecution.
While Bryan won a technical victory for the creationists and Scopes received a $100 fine, science was the winner in the sweltering heat of that Tennessee court room. The absurdity of trying to resist scientific inquiry and scepticism in the name of blind faith was exposed for what it really was - blind ignorance.
Today, an overwhelming majority of Australians accept that Darwin was pretty much on the money when he described the process of natural selection in his seminal work, "The Ascent of Man". Today, in Australia at least, religious fundamentalism is very much on the periphery.
I cannot help thinking however, that there is a large dose of political and climate fundamentalism being peddled by those who still argue the case against climate and weather being induced by human activities. Tony Abbott was trying to tap this conservative reaction when he infamously declared that "climate change is crap". The head in the sand response of those who peddle and soak up this simplistic approach reminds me of those creationists that Clarence Darrow and John Scopes were battling in dust bowl era Tennessee.
I think there are a number of reasons for this climate change fundamentalism. Some people just can't bring themselves to accept that our collective reliance on carbon fuels must change - it's just too big a step, so they would rather just wish the problem away, deny its existence or just ignore it. Egged on by opportunistic politicians, they show their unwillingness to accept that if the future inhabitants of this planet are going to survive then we must take concerted and dramatic action.
The action we need to take includes putting a price on carbon through an Emissions Trading Scheme. This is something the world's leaders, including President Obama in his recent State of the Union Address, are starting to recognise. Putting a price on carbon will cause some pain but surely it's worth it, for the sake of the generations who will follow. The magnitude of our collective failure if we nothing is hard to imagine. What will our grandchildren say about us if we do nothing? This week the CSIRO's senior research scientist, Dr Penny Whetton, predicted that average temperatures will rise by 5 degrees Celsius by 2070. A child born today will be just 57 in 2070.
I suspect that there is also an ingrained resistance by some people, who see themselves as "rugged individualists", to accept that dealing with climate change requires collective action. It just goes against the grain.
Others seek refuge in the idea that tinkering at the edges will stop the problem. These are the people to whom Abbott is appealing when he talks about his so called "direct action" plan. I don't disagree with the need for a multifaceted approach to the problem and Labor could probably be doing more to support wind farms, tree planting and other measures.
However, I am fully prepared to put my faith in the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and accept that a price on carbon is central to getting on top of a problem which could otherwise wipe humans off the planet in the foreseeable future.
Another group fall into the "how can we do anything about it, we're too small to make any difference" subset. These people are constantly fed this line by Liberal politicians and it becomes a convenient excuse to do nothing. It ignores however, the fact that other countries are doing something about it and the fact that Australia is both a major polluter on a per capita basis and a major loser when it comes to the impact of climate change. In that regard it is worth reflecting on this last summer of extreme weather patterns.
Anyone wondering whether our crazy weather this summer is just a statistical blip will be interested to read the findings of the Australian Climate Commission this week. They have just published a report entitled "The Angry Summer" and it's bound to get the climate change fundamentalists heading for their pulpits. The report looks at the list of extreme weather records set in recent months and concludes that there is a one in 500 chance of these extreme records being set by natural variations in the weather.
Nationwide, the average temperature for this summer was the hottest on record. Sydney and Hobart recorded their highest ever temperatures - 45.8 and 41.8 degrees respectively. The extreme weather events - floods, fires, droughts we experienced are all part of the climate change story. Perth, for example, is not experiencing the same wet weather it once enjoyed.
When I was growing up, we were taught that Perth has a Mediterranean climate - hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters. Not so any more, according to Dr Whetton. Speaking to the "West Australian" newspaper last week she said, "There's been quite a significant drying and that's exactly what the science says should occur with increased gases in our atmosphere." In other words, there is now a clear link between the extreme weather we are experiencing and the change to our climate as a result of greenhouse gases.
So, this is my shout - let's accept the latest thinking by climate scientists and not go around second guessing, vilifying and contradicting them. If we all wake up one day and find that the scientists have changed their minds then great - but sadly, I'm almost certain that's not going to happen. So, let's get behind them and listen to their advice. There's no room for climate fundamentalism in this debate - the stakes are just too high.
Let's take a leaf out of the book of John Scopes, the young science teacher in Dayton Tennessee, who dared to stand up for science against blind faith. Just as we look back on his experience and shake our heads in wonder and incredulity, let's hope future generations are here to do the same thing about the current debate. It's within our power to make this a period in our history when good sense, backed by science, prevailed over ignorance, short term political expediency and self-interest.