Climate change ignorance unacceptable.

  • Andrew Trounson, Higher Education Supplement,
  • The Australian,
  • August 11, 2010 12:00AM
  • LABOR’S Science and Research Minister Kim Carr has hit out at anti-scientific opinion on climate change. He has warned that the scientific method was coming under public attack, undermining science and replacing it with irrationality.

    “In all fields we want to encourage debate, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept the earth is flat,” Senator Carr told the HES yesterday after launching Labor’s science policy, which includes a $21 million science literacy project.

    “We don’t have to accept every lunatic proposition that comes along as the basis of a legitimate view, which now seems to be increasingly present.”

    He took aim at what he called the increasingly rampant irrationality of some Coalition senators. “There is a fundamental change in attitude, and people are now prepared to argue positions that they wouldn’t have been prepared to a few years ago,” he said.

    Senator Carr announced the $21m program to promote science awareness in the community, including ongoing support for science prizes and events, as well as media training for scientists and cadetships for science journalists.

    But the program will be paid for by cuts in three existing research programs: Enterprise Connect, the Co-operative Research Centres and Collaborative Research Networks scheme.

    Australian Nobel prize-winning scientist Peter Doherty backed Senator Carr’s comments.

    He said the attacks on climate science made it easier for people to dismiss the threatening implications of climate science, and distracted the debate from focusing on solutions.

    “People are just rejecting the scientific conclusions and they are being helped in that by people who should know better,” Professor Doherty said.

    The Australian Academy of Science yesterday called for scientific advisers to be appointed to every government department.

    “Despite the emphasis given in recent years to the value of evidence-based policy by major political parties, new policy announcements and spending initiatives are rarely referenced with peer-reviewed research to substantiate the arguments,” the academy said.

    Julie Packard on our oceans

    Julie Packard, Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium

    Huffington Post: July 16, 2010 10:40 AM

    The oil blowout that’s fouled the Gulf of Mexico since April is many things: a human tragedy, an environmental disaster and a wake-up call.

    But it’s not the greatest crisis facing the oceans today. We’ll be dealing with the gushing oil and its aftermath for years, but we can’t be distracted from Ocean Enemy No. 1: the grave threat of accelerating global climate change caused by the carbon pollution that people produce.

    The list of victims of the oil gushing in the Gulf grows daily: sea turtles, whale sharks, seabirds and so many people whose lives and livelihoods depend on healthy seas. Their stories have deservedly found places in the daily headlines and people are responding.

    At the same time, other sobering news is flying under the radar. These are stories of new scientific research that underscores the urgency of addressing climate change.


    A recent research report published in the journal Science concludes that man-made greenhouse gases are driving irreversible and dramatic changes to the way the ocean functions at the most basic level, with potentially dire impacts for hundreds of millions of people across the planet.

    The article summarizes findings from dozens of peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems. Already, ocean warming, rising sea levels and acidification are changing ocean life as we know it at scales that range from altering the rate of larval fish development to increasing vast nutrient-poor regions known as ocean deserts.


    Co-author Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of the Global Change Institute in Australia warns that, “We are entering a period in which the very ocean services upon which humanity depends are undergoing massive change and in some cases beginning to fail. Further degradation will continue to create enormous challenges and costs for societies worldwide.”

    Perhaps most striking is the finding that the pace of these changes is expected to accelerate over time. For example, as the oceans warm, nutrient mixing that drives phytoplankton productivity is subsiding, in turn weakening the ocean’s huge role in absorbing excess CO2 from our atmosphere.

    Co-author Dr. John Bruno of the University of North Carolina (and a fellow blogger at Huffington Post), issued a blunt warning:

    What strikes me the most about the recent science coming out on this topic, is the degree to which we are modifying fundamental physical and biological processes by warming the oceans.And the big surprise, at least to me, is how quickly this is all happening. We are actually witnessing these changes before we predict or model them. This isn’t theoretical; this is a huge, real-world problem. Moreover, we, not just our children, will be paying the price if we don’t get a handle on this problem very soon.

    As expected, the authors also make the point that there are far fewer studies of climate change impacts on the oceans when compared to terrestrial ecosystem studies. How strange, but not surprising, that we haven’t made a larger commitment to understanding the largest ecosystems on our planet.

    Still, despite our terrestrial bias when it comes to research funding, our nation’s ocean scientists have accumulated an impressive amount of data on effects of climate change on our oceans, including many measurements like sea level and ocean pH that are not a matter of speculation: They can be measured with a simple instrument every day.

    For sure, we’ll be in for a lot of surprises in the future when it comes to climate change and its impact on our lives. There’s simply no way to model, predict or understand every detail; but, there’s plenty of evidence in our hands today, and there’s no excuse for inaction.

    Clearly, we have a lot of work to do — and little time to act. I’m an optimistic person by nature, and I’m encouraged by all of you who are raising your voices and demanding action from our leaders. Grassroots efforts such as writing letters, sending emails and making phone calls to your elected officials do matter and are among the most important ways we bring about change.

    Together, I’m confident we can address the challenges and make a difference – for our lives, for our children, and for the oceans.

    Fish evolve to tolerate colder temperature in just three years

    A stickleback may be a long way from a coral reef, but here’s an interesting paper showing one of the fastest evolutionary responses in a vertebrate.  The key here is that generation times are short (less than 6 months), unlike those in corals: From ScienceDaily:

    University of British Columbia researchers have observed one of the fastest evolutionary responses ever recorded in wild populations. In as little as three years, stickleback fish developed tolerance for water temperature 2.5 degrees Celsius lower than their ancestors.

    The study, published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, provides the some of the first experimental evidence that evolution may help populations survive effects of climate change.

    Measuring three to 10 centimetres, stickleback fish originated in the ocean but began populating freshwater lakes and streams following the last ice age. Over the past 10,000 years, marine and freshwater sticklebacks have evolved different physical and behavioural traits, making them ideal models for Darwin’s natural selection theory.

    “By testing the temperature tolerance of wild and lab-raised sticklebacks, we were able to determine that freshwater sticklebacks can tolerate lower temperatures than their marine counterparts,” says lead author Rowan Barrett from the UBC Department of Zoology. “This made sense from an evolutionary perspective because their ancestors were able to adapt to freshwater lakes, which typically reach colder temperatures than the ocean.”

    To learn how quickly this adaptation took place, Barrett and colleagues from Switzerland and Sweden “recreated history” by transplanting marine sticklebacks to freshwater ponds and found that in as little as three generations (or three years), they were able to tolerate the same minimum temperature as freshwater sticklebacks, 2.5 °C lower than their ancestral populations.

    “Scientific models have suggested that climate change could result in both a general, gradual increase of average temperatures and an increase in extreme temperatures,” says Barrett, who received his PhD last week.

    “Our study is the first to experimentally show that certain species in the wild could adapt to climate change very rapidly — in this case, colder water temperature. However, this rapid adaptation is not achieved without a cost. Only rare individuals that possess the ability to tolerate rapid changes in temperature survive, and the number of survivors may not be large enough to sustain the population. It is crucial that knowledge of evolutionary processes is incorporated into conservation and management policy.”