Hyperbole erodes credibility
IN serious debates, nothing demolishes credibility as readily as inconsistency and exaggeration.
Many Australians, therefore, will find it baffling that six state governments are working off four different sets of figures for the sea-level rises they expect to be caused by climate change. The projected rises vary from 38cm in Western Australia to 80cm in Queensland and Victoria and 90cm in NSW, creating confusion for councils and developers. Fortunately, all fall far short of the 6m rises predicted by Environment Minister Peter Garrett and scientist Tim Flannery's doomsday scenario of 80m rises. But you don't have to be a climate change sceptic to realise they can't all be right.
On balance, it is prudent to give the planet the benefit of the doubt by putting a price on carbon, preferably through a market-based emissions trading scheme in concert with other industrialised nations. That does not preclude debate, however, on both the science and economics of climate change. Indeed, the hallmark of good scientific practice demands that assumptions be challenged and tested. Solid science also demands sound observation tempered with a degree of common sense. Empirical evidence deserves more weight than the apocalyptic forecasts of famine, epidemics, cyclones, mass migration and fresh water shortages envisaged by social economist Clive Hamilton in his dystopian tome Requiem for a Species.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the debate is the rise of green totalitarians, who have tried to silence those with different viewpoints. Their intolerance does not stop at the sceptics. Commentators such as Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg, who accept the theory of man-made climate change but believe mitigation is expensive and ultimately futile, arguing instead that resources would be better invested fighting disease and malnutrition, are also granted heretic status.
Nor is it reasonable, as some activists do, to attribute every drought, flood, storm, hot day and even unseasonal snowfall to man-made greenhouse emissions. After reporting on many a cyclone, drought and flood, the only firm conclusion we can draw from the weather is that there is plenty of it.
Senior scientists from Britain's Met Office Hadley Centre, Edinburgh University, Melbourne University and Victoria University in Canada are warning there is a 95 per cent chance that man is to blame for global warning. The group assessed more than 100 recent peer-reviewed scientific papers and it remains to be seen which of the lines drawn on computers by scientists and regional planners prove accurate. Who knows, they may be right. But after the Copenhagen shambles, IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri's alleged conflicts of interest and the fabricated propaganda of the University of East Anglia emails, proponents of climate change action need to rebuild credibility. Politicisation of science and inflated claims of certainty have badly damaged their case: it's time to put down the megaphone.