Stop Climate Change


Ian Plimer


If we humans want to stop climate change, then we have a huge task ahead of us.


We need to stop continents moving, stop the shape of the sea floor changing, stop pulling apart the ocean floors, stop building mountains, stop volcanoes belching out greenhouse gases and dust, stop hot flushes of gas rising from the Earth's core, stop earthquakes, stop comets breaking up in the upper atmosphere, stop the changes in the Earth's orbit, stop the cycles of solar changes and stop radiation hitting Earth from deep space. Our generation did not discover climate change, the Earth's climate has always changed.


If we Australians stopped burning fossil fuels, this would make not one iota of difference to the global climate. The forces of Nature are far greater than the motor car. Previous climate changes have been cyclical and sudden. Previous changes have been in the order of decades and temperature changes have been far greater than recent temperature changes. Because of lags resulting from the large volume of seawater and ice, any sea level rise or changes in the ice sheets result from events that took place hundreds to thousands of years earlier.


Over time, humans have endured great climate changes. Periods of cold climate, especially combined with decreased sunspot activity, volcanicity and pandemics, have greatly depopulated the Earth. Humans and other organisms have thrived in times of warm climate. We humans live on ice sheets, on mountains, at the tropics, at sea level and in deserts. We are adaptable.


If we moved from Hobart to Darwin, the average temperature rise would be 18 degrees Celsius yet this warmth does not seem to be lethal for Darwinians. Both animals and plants constantly migrate to adapt to climate change.


The main greenhouse gas is water vapour. Without water vapour, planet Earth would enjoy an average temperature of a balmy minus 18 degrees Celsius. Other greenhouse gases are trace gases, including carbon dioxide. Only 0.117% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is of human origin and carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is plant food. The addition of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere has been taking place for 4,600 million years. It is still taking place. Balancing the books on where carbon dioxide comes from and where it goes is hopelessly inadequate showing how little we know about how big natural systems on planet Earth work.


The climate change cacophony demonstrates that the community knows little about how our dynamic evolving planet works. A little bit of basic geology would be a good start. An understanding of the processes of science would be another good start. Science is married to evidence that derives from observation, calculation, measurement and experiment. Scientists argue about the validity of this evidence and whether the evidence is in accord with everything else that has been validated. Science then tries to explain the evidence with a theory. Theories are refuted with new thinking and new evidence. Science is evolutionary, self-adjusting, anarchistic and bows to no authority. Science has no moral, political or religious view about anything.


The current President of the Royal Society told us that the science on human-induced global warming is settled. A previous President of the Royal Society also used his authority, this time to inform us that it is impossible for heavier than air machines to fly!


Science is not about consensus or belief, these words are those of politics and religion. Science is a celebration of uncertainty. Scepticism and criticism are valued and information from all different disciplines is integrated in an attempt to understand the world around us. Because the current theory on human-induced climate change is not in accord with validated geology and astronomy, then the theory must be rejected. However, the idea that wealthy western humans change global climate is an attractive ascientific idealistic political idea and this idea is currently promoted with great missionary zeal.


The tail has wagged the dog and squeaky wheels and a sensationalist media have forced both major political parties, against their better judgment, to make political comments about climate change. These comments have nothing to do with science. They are pragmatic political survival.


What is interesting is that the squeaky wheels are in affluent western countries that have lost the religious structure to society. Climate change has become the new dogmatic religion and woe betide heretics, sinners and the wealthy. We are all now to pay papal carbon indulgences to the Archbishops of climate change (on the condition that such payments only hurt a little).


My concerns are that the great gains made in the Renaissance regarding logic, argument, challenges to authority, rationality, the use of evidence and an understanding of the world around us have been lost in the space of a decade. This was an incredible politically driven social change. The word sceptic is now a pejorative word and criticism, questioning and the integration of a broad spectrum of science is either dismissed or regarded as evil. There is no climate change debate, only dangerous dogma, the constriction of thinking processes and a negative view of the future.


Any future great environmental problems can only be solved by science and if the weapons of science are removed, then we place society at risk. Children now have a negative view of the future rather than equipping themselves with the tools to make the Earth a better place. We are now starting to reap the rewards of dumbing down science education. The real message from the politics of climate change is that science education in Australia is in a woeful state. Society is again in one of its great backward swings.


The only good news is that those who have only known the good times are reminded to be frugal with energy and resources and not to throw waste into our waterways and atmosphere. But we knew this anyway, didn't we?


Ian Plimer is the Professor of Mining Geology at The University of Adelaide and Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at The University of Melbourne.