The Australian newspaper ran with a typical sensationalist headline this morning, titled “Report undercuts Kevin Rudd’s Great Barrier Reef wipeout“. The journalist in question might sound familiar – he is the same same journalist who penned the deliberately misleading “How the reef became blue again” article (see here for our response at Climate Shifts: “Why the Great Barrier Reef isn’t magically blue again“). So continues The Australian’s ongoing war against science, creating contention and deliberately clouding issues to sell newspapers. “Report undercuts Kevin Rudd’s Great Barrier Reef wipeout” – sorry Jamie, there is no undercutting here.
KEVIN Rudd’s insistence that the Great Barrier Reef could be “destroyed beyond recognition” by global warming grates with new science suggesting it will again escape temperature-related coral bleaching.
One of the main issues in the article is that there is no ‘new science’ to be reported. Hugh and his team at the Australian Institute of Marine Science have been surveying these reefs annually since the early 1990’s. The ‘spin’ here is completely misleading, as there is no ‘new science’ or even a report to base the article on! The article continues:
Going head-to-head with Tony Abbott for the first time since he became Opposition Leader, Mr Rudd said the reef would be destroyed if global temperatures increased by 4C.
“I noticed the other day, by the way, that the Leader of the Opposition said that, if the worst-case scenario put out by scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change were to come to pass and we were to see global temperature increases of the order of 4 degrees centigrade, it did not represent any big moral challenge for the future,” Mr Rudd said. “Can I say that, if we saw temperature increases like that, as far as the Barrier Reef is concerned, frankly, it would be destroyed beyond recognition.”
Mr Rudd’s warning reflects the findings of the 2007 report of the IPCC that is under intensifying fire for exaggerating the threat to Himalayan glaciers and the Amazon rainforest. The IPCC predicted the reef would be subject to annual bleaching by 2030 if climate change continued unchecked, destroying much of its coral cover.
But after scouring 14 sites at the vulnerable southern end of the GBR last month, the team from Townsville-based AIMS found only a only a handful of “slightly stressed reefs”.
It seems to me that Kevin Rudd has managed to hit the nail squarely on the head, only for The Australian to then get it completely wrong. It appears that the article has managed to mix up the AIMS projections for this summers coral bleaching outlook with the long-term projections of coral bleaching in the region (30-50 year outlook). The ‘handful’ of slightly stressed reefs doesn’t negate the findings of the IPCC or Rudd’s claims that the reef will be destroyed if global temperatures increased by 4C. As Hugh rightly points out,
Dr Sweatman said a deep monsoonal trough, reinforced by tropical cyclones Olga and Neville, had averted “doldrums” conditions associated with coral bleaching on the reef.
Which is exactly what happened in 2006. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the GBR region experienced its eighth warmest year on record in 2009, and the warming trend is unmistakable.
Finally, the article strives to convince the general public that as scientists, we “fear” that mass bleaching events will become more frequent due to global warming, and our ‘fears’ have been substantially allayed. Although it makes for great sensational journalism, this simply isn’t the issue – this isn’t a “fear” but a scientific fact. Next time, let’s stick to fact over fearmongering and keep the science objective.