Environmentalism has become a new religion, with zealous crusaders pushing their cause. Often the facts are few and far between, while zeal for the cause becomes the main consideration. And often the science behind the green warriors is far from conclusive. There is so much hysteria, fear-mongering and bad science being promoted, that it gets hard to sift through competing claims.
This becomes all the more apparent when politicians speak out on the issue. Most politicians of course have no science background, so they can be out of their depth on these issues. Of course most of us do not have science backgrounds either, so we must rely on the expertise of others.
But I here want to focus on two politicians, one with a science background, and one without. Both are speaking out on the issue of climate change, but it seems one is more up to the task than the other.
Consider the recent green paper put out by Climate Minister Penny Wong. She happens to be the MP without any science qualifications (her academic degrees are in law). One scientist, Bob Carter, has taken Wong and her paper to task for its shoddy science.
He argues that she has managed to make no less than seven scientific errors in her opening sentence! That is “almost one error for every two words”. Here is the sentence in question: “Carbon pollution is causing climate change, resulting in higher temperatures, more droughts, rising sea levels and more extreme weather.”
Let’s look at just the first two errors. Says Carter: “First, the debate is not about carbon, but human carbon dioxide emissions and their potential effect on climate. It makes no more sense for Wong to talk about carbon in the atmosphere than it would for her to talk about hydrogen comprising most of Sydney’s water supply. Use of the term carbon in this way is, of course, a deliberate political gambit, derived from the green ecosalvationist vocabulary, and intended to convey a subliminal message about ‘dirty’ coal.”
Second, “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a naturally occurring, beneficial trace gas in the atmosphere. For the past few million years, the Earth has existed in a state of relative carbon dioxide starvation compared with earlier periods. There is no empirical evidence that levels double or even treble those of today will be harmful, climatically or otherwise. Indeed, a trebled level is roughly what commercial greenhouse tomato growers aim for to enhance growth. As a vital element in plant photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is the basis of the planetary food chain – literally the staff of life. Its increase in the atmosphere leads mainly to the greening of the planet. To label carbon dioxide a ‘pollutant’ is an abuse of language, logic and science.”
After detailing the remaining five errors, Carter concludes with these words: “Never has a policy document of such importance been released in Australia that is so profoundly out of touch with known facts of the real world. It is a matter for national alarm that the Government’s advisory channels should be clogged with the rent seekers, special pleaders and green activists who have so obviously misadvised Wong on the content of her green paper on climate change. Time for some due diligence, Minister.”
Now contrast Senator Wong with WA MP Dennis Jensen, who does happen to have a strong science background. Writing in today’s Australian, he warns that the “Climate mafia has us fooled”. He notes the almost religious nature of the greenies: “Vested interests have hijacked the climate debate, and taken Australia’s future hostage. The ransom they demand? Simple agreement or, at the very least, compliance. Voices of dissent face derision. Legitimate questions are met with ridicule.”
But he reminds us that “any detailed scrutiny of scientific data shows that the environment is quite stable. There are even suggestions the world’s temperature has decreased in recent years. Any real climate change in the past century has been at a glacial pace (that is, the speed of a glacier that is not melting because of the globe’s supposedly soaring temperatures). Far greater periods of environmental change have been recorded in history without any human intervention. The Ice Ages, anybody?”
One way to proceed is to consider nuclear power as part of our future energy mix: “The truth is that hundreds of nuclear reactors around the world have long been efficiently pumping out electricity, with no significant environmental impact. And more are coming on-stream all the time, using cleaner and more cost-effective models. Where is the incontrovertible evidence that nuclear power is a dangerous or unsafe option?”
And he notes the very real costs which every one of us will have to bear with an emissions trading scheme. “If all carbon in the stationary power sector were to have a $50-a-tonne price of carbon dioxide imposed (as is the case for the European price for CO2), it would mean a cost burden of $660 a year for every Australian, or more than $2500 per household, according to data I have received. These would not all be direct costs from the emissions-trading scheme, but also from higher prices of products that would flow through as a result of increased production costs. Those higher costs would make some businesses unviable, and they would have to close or move offshore. In short, emissions trading will have an enormous effect on every Australian. And glib assurances of compensation for some are no substitute for well thought-out, responsible policies.”
He concludes, “The history of mankind has been marked by repeated cautions against accepting populist claims as truth and is littered with the corpses (both real and metaphoric) of those who failed to heed the advice. And it continues. We laugh today at those who once believed the world to be flat, but see no irony in the widespread acceptance now of equally spurious claims made in the name of science, as in the climate debate. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do hope the issue can be subject to broad-ranging rational debate so that we do not fall as just another victim of history. The subject is too important for us not to ask questions.”
Indeed, the questions must be allowed. But in too many quarters, discussion and debate have been shut down, and those raising objections are treated as heretics. But the stakes are too high to stifle debate, and treat this as some religious crusade. That is why I and others will continue to allow the contrarian voices a hearing, since they are often not being heard in much of the mainstream media.