I’ve seen a few things in the news over the past week about climate change (CC), or more accurately, not all about CC but inevitably raising it as an issue. I’m so sick of it. I don’t know why people act all surprised when they hear about the effects of CC on the world around them. Although perhaps my perspective is a bit skewed given that I worked in the arena of CC and human health for a little while, and the stuff I assume as common knowledge is, well, not common at all.
The first thing that got me thinking was a well-written opinion piece by Marius Benson. He wrote about science, and how through various mechanisms, it is being eroded from scientific evaluation to something that is opinion or ‘just one way’ to view the world. It was more than that, and I apologise for paraphrasing so superficially. But he used CC as an example of how peoples’ opinions and beliefs can overshadow the actual growing body of scientific evidence and empirical research. I scrolled down and had a look at the comments. Predictable, and very disappointing. It ultimately doesn’t matter if ‘we’ (ie. humans) are responsible for CC, the cold (hot?) hard fact is that the world climate is changing faster than species can adapt, and we’re all screwed. The thing I hate most is when people turn CC into a political debate. I understand that if things are to happen to mitigate the effects of CC, it has to come from legislation, but politics is so murky. Politicians say all kinds of things to sway the public opinion, and it’s really irritating when they do this because the public believe them. No wonder Marius was bemoaning the fact that science has been blindsided by opinion.
Then, I saw an article in the Canberra Times presenting information on predictions of reduced snow fall in the Australian Alps by 2050, due to increased temperatures. Holy freakin’ obvious, Batman! Climate projections for Australia are covered fairly comprehensively on the website http://climatechangeinaustralia.com.au/, based on the extremely conservative models produced by the IPCC. I don’t have a problem with effects of CC being reported, but it was the incredulous tone of the article that got me all riled up.
Projections are given relative to the period 1980-1999 (referred to as the 1990 baseline for convenience). The projections give an estimate of the average climate around 2030, 2050 and 2070, taking into account consistency among climate models. Individual years will show variation from this average. The 50th percentile (the mid-point of the spread of model results) provides a best estimate result. The 10th and 90th percentiles (lowest 10% and highest 10% of the spread of model results) provide a range of uncertainty. Emissions scenarios are from the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios. Low emissions is the B1 scenario, medium is A1B and high is A1FI. (figure and explanation from http://climatechangeinaustralia.com.au/nattemp1.php)
Finally, in the news over the past couple of weeks is the story that the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is running out of water. They’re surrounded by the stuff, but in terms of potable water, they are entirely reliant on rainfall, as they are shallow atolls and islands with no dams, rivers or streams. They’ve been in drought for about 6 months, and they are literally running out of water. It appears that this is caused by the La Nina weather pattern over the Pacific, which has been forecast to return this summer. In my mind, if it is not already effects of CC, it is a great dress-rehearsal for when the climate does actually shift and weather patterns become more extreme. So why can’t we help Tuvalu and the other low-lying Pacific Island nations that are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels and altered weather patterns? They’re certainly going to need it within 10-30 years. In an interesting twist, the Pacific Conference of Churches (of all the possible institutions!!) has called on governments in the region to address the issue of resettlement of CC refugees (see Alistair Macrae’s piece). And, predictably, there are numerous comments on the piece that indicate that the authors either don’t ‘believe’ in CC, or try to turn it into a political issue, when it should really be a humanitarian one.
It’s easy for the science of CC to be drowned out by louder voices politicking to appease people who don’t fully understand the issue. But it is also the responsibility of the scientists working in this field to ensure that their results are communicated in the most effective, clear way. The reality of a changed world is scary, but we should be paying attention to the growing body of research on potential adaptation and mitigation strategies that come from a greater understanding of the projected effects of CC.