Detecting where and when stress from rising sea temperatures is likely to impact coral reefs is an incredibly important piece of information. Potentially, it can be used to anticipate mass coral bleaching and mortality events, as well as monitor ongoing sub-chronic stress. NOAA has just launched its new look Coral Reef Watch website, which comes after 2 decades of providing timely information for coral reef managers. The new crisp look is worth a visit. Well done Mark Eakin, Tyler Christensen and the NOAA crew.
A very interesting episode of Media Watch screened tonight which threw a spotlight on the waves of climate skepticism that are the norm across Australian talk back radio.
Apart from recently chastising the Prime Minister for being 10 minutes late to a interview, 2GB radio host Alan Jones has also been busy drumming up support for a rally against the proposed carbon tax,set to happen at Parliament House this Wednesday (where you could choose to sport a hand made Pinnochio-style Julia Gillard mask courtesy of the Climate Skeptic Party. Check the legal disclaimer -they’ve got all their bases covered on inexpert advice).
A couple of interesting snippets – the first is the not-so surprising bias towards giving air time to reknowned climate skeptics over practicing climate scientists:
Let’s ask Chris Smith. He’s certainly got no time for the people the Prime Minister listens to …
“She said she knew who she’d rather have on her side, not Alan Jones, not Piers Akerman, not Andrew Bolt, but the CSIRO, The Australian Academy of Science, the Bureau of Meteorology, NASA, the National Atmospheric Administration, and every reputable climate change scientist in the world. Did you hear that?
There was no mention of leading Australian scientists who question climate change including Professor Ian Plimer, Professor Bob Carter and Dr David Evans, among others. What, none of them are reputable now?”
— 2GB Sydney, The Chris Smith Afternoon Show, 17th March, 2011
In fact, the bias was greater than I expected:
Not one orthodox climate scientist – not one – has been interviewed by any of the climate sceptics on Fairfax stations.
Despite the skewed viewpoints that are constantly being broadcast over the airwaves, we’ve all become so used to it that it seems pointless to consider anything different on talk back radio. Radio broadcasters do have to adhere to a code of practice, but interestingly, so far no-one has made any complaints:
As we’ve seen, there are requirements for accuracy and diversity of view in Code of Practice No 2. The problem is, the regulator won’t or can’t enforce the Code unless someone complains it’s being flouted. And, says ACMA…
“The ACMA does not have any current code 2.2 or 2.3 complaints or investigations into these programs on their coverage of global warming science…
— Response from ACMA, 18th March, 2011
Time to write some letters?
This piece by Clive Hamilton is worth a read. I recently had my own run-in with an individual who tried to get me sacked from the University of Queensland. My crime? Saying on ABC Stateline that the IPCC was a highly credible source of information on climate change. Where do these people come from?
Last month, Americans were shocked at the attempted murder of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of six bystanders. The local County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik captured the immediate assessment of many when he linked the attempted murder to the rise of violent anti-government rhetoric and imagery, observing, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.”
When asked if the Congresswoman had any enemies her father replied: “Yeah. The whole Tea Party”. Many, including Giffords herself, had had a premonition that the inflammatory language of radical right-wing activists would sooner or later find real expression.
The same hate-filled rhetoric that created the circumstances in which Gabrielle Giffords was gunned down also stokes ferocious attacks on climate scientists and environmentalists in the United States. Debunking climate science is official policy at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News; a leaked memo from management has instructed reporters to always cast doubt on data reporting global temperature increases.
A few months ago on this blog I reviewed the current alarming state of climate change denial pushed by big business interests, which scientists need to debate vigorously beyond uttering the evident truth that climate change is real. The Australian government, supported by the Greens and independent members, has “committed” itself to a carbon tax, or what Treasurer Wayne Swan now calls an interim price on carbon as a step towards a future emissions trading scheme. Scientists need to help support, explain and strengthen this initiative.
The proposal is good news but there is still a long way to go, with the opposition promising to fight “the great big tax on everything” all the way. The Coalition fails to mention that the proposed price on carbon will be combined with measures to support lower-income groups, small businesses, and renewable energy. Voters need to understand that structural change in the taxation and subsidy system is part and parcel of what must happen. Estimates of a $300 electricity price hike, petrol costs rising by 6.5 cents a litre, and $150 increases in the annual gas bill that have been canvassed by Coalition members such as Greg Hunt are premature when nothing has yet been decided on the carbon price, or the associated reforms. An extensive consultative process will follow, in which scientists have an evident role.
By Peter C. Frumhoff and Naomi Oreskes
Since Congress re-convened, it seems especially fashionable among the new leadership to voice doubt about the scientific evidence that heat-trapping gases are dangerously warming the planet. And at least one congressman says he will hold hearings into climate science, giving a platform both to mainstream scientists who have spent their professional lives studying the issue, and the relative minority of Ph.D.s in a variety of disciplines who claim climate change is nothing to worry about.
That seems reasonable enough at first blush. But rhetoric heard on the campaign trail in the fall and on Capitol Hill since then suggests that the aim might not be to have a serious conversation about the risks we face from unabated warming, or the opportunities for the U.S. to develop the technology necessary to solve the problem. Rather, the goal will be to continue a long-standing campaign to sow doubt about the science, and to tarnish the reputations of our nation’s leading climate scientists – in other words, to deny the problem rather than to solve it.
Casting doubt about mainstream scientific findings that upset powerful financial interests – from the health risks of tobacco to the reality and risks of global warming – is a tactic that has been used time and again to delay or avoid regulation. But those getting ready to use it this time should remember that it can backfire.
Congressional hearings can have a powerful impact on public perceptions of major scientific issues. In June 1988, for example, NASA climate scientist James Hansen brought the first evidence to the Senate that human activity was demonstrably warming the planet. His testimony galvanized public concern around global warming and, initially, motivated a constructive bipartisan response.
Vice President George H.W. Bush, who was then running for president, seized the moment by proposing to counter the “greenhouse effect with the White House effect.” As president, he took several steps toward this end and in 1992, signed the U.N Framework Convention on Climate Change, promising to avoid dangerous human-caused interference in the climate system.
Polls show that as late as 1997, Republicans and Democrats had virtually indistinguishable views on the science of global warming. But an aggressive campaign by the fossil fuel industry and conservative think tanks to cast doubt about the scientific evidence that human activity is warming the planet changed that. Today, public understanding of climate science reflects a deep division along partisan lines. Tea Party Republicans are particularly inclined to deny the reality of global warming, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll.
Public reaction to another prominent congressional hearing, however, suggests that doubt-mongering has its limits. In 1994, the chief executives of the nation’s seven largest tobacco companies appeared before a House committee hearing. For three decades, their industry had invested heavily in a campaign to mislead the public about the health risks of cigarettes. Then, in the spotlight of national television, and in the face of persistent educational efforts by public health scientists, the executives testified that they believed nicotine was not addictive, and that smoking did not cause cancer.
That claim was widely recognized as incredible. The tobacco industry executives had overreached. In sticking to their guns despite the robust scientific evidence, they laid the groundwork for public rebuke, rejection by long-standing congressional allies, federal prosecution under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) statutes, and, finally, to long-awaited and meaningful regulation.
The sister campaign by the fossil fuel industry and its political allies to sow doubt about climate science might be reaching a similar limit. The widespread evidence for human-caused climate change is becoming increasingly difficult to deny with a straight face.
Globally, the decade from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest on record; across the continental United States, record high temperatures outpaced record lows by more than two to one, a marked increase from previous decades. In 2010, wildfires driven by scorching summer heat in Russia and catastrophic flooding in Pakistan vividly called attention to the extreme weather that is increasing in a warming world. The year 2010 tied for the hottest year on record, and the34th year in a row that the global average temperatures topped the 20th-century average.
And there are signs that voters may be growing weary of industry-financed efforts to undermine climate science and policy. In California, the one state where climate policy was explicitly on the November ballot, voters – on a strikingly bipartisan basis – decisively rejected Proposition 23, the oil-industry-bankrolled initiative aimed at rolling back the state’s landmark carbon emissions-reduction law.
Those who are contemplating aggressive doubt-mongering on climate science to further delay or avoid regulation of global warming pollutants may be over-reaching. Like the tobacco industry executives, they may well be hastening the demise of their inherently deceitful strategy. And the American people deserve better. We deserve solutions.
Peter C. Frumhoff is the director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientist in Cambridge, Mass. He is an ecologist and a lead author of multiple Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. Naomi Oreskes is a professor of history and science studies and the Provost of Sixth College at the University of California, San Diego. She is co-author of “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.”