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Carbon Brief Staff

Carbon Brief Staff

25.05.2011 | 3:00pm
ScienceClimate science communicated; job done? Maybe not.
SCIENCE | May 25. 2011. 15:00
Climate science communicated; job done? Maybe not.

“Another week”, writes Joe Romm, of the influential American blog Climate Progress, “another group of leading scientists pleading with humanity to stop the self-destruction of modern human civilization as we know it ASAP.”

Romm is referring to the release of a new report by the Australian Climate Commission, entitled “The Critical Decade”. The Commission was set up to

“inform Australia’s approach to addressing climate change and help build the consensus required to move to a competitive, low pollution Australian economy.”

This aim is fairly anodyne-sounding – but the reality is anything but. Climate change in Australia is big politics. Last week MPs from the opposition Liberal party slated their ex-leader Malcolm Turnbull for speaking out against his party’s position on climate change. Turnbull was turfed out of the leadership for supporting a carbon tax back in 2009.

The current opposition leader Tony Abbott hovers uncomfortably between total rejection of the science of climate change and reluctant acknowledgement. Meanwhile Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard last week accused Abbott of mounting a “hysterical fear campaign” against a proposed carbon tax. She continues to fight for its survival, despite falling polls and a powerful coal lobby.

The Australian Climate Commission is an expert body consisting of amongst others of  scientists, economists and climate science communication experts, advised by a panel of nine climate scientists. Its report states unequivocally that climate science

“is being attacked in the media by many with no credentials in the fieldâ?¦. By contrast to the noisy, confusing ‘debate’ in the media, within the climate research community our understanding of the climate system continues to advance strongly.”

The key messages of the report include that:

“There is no doubt that the climate is changing. The evidence is overwhelming and clear.”


“A very large body of observations, experiments, analyses, and physical theory points to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – with carbon dioxide being the most important – as the primary cause of the observed warming.”


“This is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change our children and grandchildren experience.”

It is not that surprising that this report has resonance in the USA, as the parallels are inescapable. Republicans in the USA have been falling over themselves in recent months to reverse any previous support for action on climate change. In April Republicans in the House of Representatives voted down an amendment to a bill that admitted the reality of climate change.

Republican presidential candidates who have supported action on climate change have been attacked by conservatives – so much so that one blog was moved to ask: “Is climate sanity the kiss of death for Republican presidential candidates?”

Into this context a couple of weeks ago fell a report by the National Resource Council, “America’s Climate Choices”- actually a series of studies requested by Congress in 2009. The Council consists of scientists, engineers, economists, business leaders, an ex-governor, a former congressman, and other policy experts – and its brief was to “ensure that climate decisions are informed by the best possible scientific knowledge, analysis, and advice, both now and in the future”. 

The reports key findings include:

“Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment. These risks indicate a pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare for adapting to its impacts.”

and that

“The risks of continuing “business as usual” are greater than the risks associated with strong efforts to limit and adapt to climate change. Policy changes can potentially be reversed or scaled back if needed, whereas many adverse changes in the climate system would be difficult or impossible to “undo.””

Many calls have been made over the last recent months for scientists to communicate the science of climate change more effectively. The situation in the USA and in Australia, however, indicates that it is also important for politicians to listen.

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