Mt Cooroora — It truly is an amazing place to climb in the early hours. Not easy, but stunning with the scenery it presents.
Greg Hardwick - writer and designer
Mt Cooroora — It truly is an amazing place to climb in the early hours. Not easy, but stunning with the scenery it presents.
As the rain tumbles down I find myself comforted by a fire and the blankets nearby. Everything outside looks fresh again, water drips off leaves, the creeks flow, the dam is full. Time for a well-earned rest from the world.
The trees surrounding the house stand like sentinels and as a friend said recently, “they’re like tall slender guardians”, providing a sense of protection, ever present, swaying or standing tall and still. Today is a day to curl up, forget tomorrow and stare into the burning logs in the fireplace. While doing so I sit and read aloud the words of American writer and poet, Max Ehrmann. So appropriate on a day like this.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence…
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy…
Read Desiderata, here.
Living on our property has always been a relaxing experience. The rainforest, the seasonal creek and the wildlife all add to a tranquil experience. We’re often visited by native wildlife. Majestic and curious Eastern Grey Kangaroos, shy Swamp Wallabies, bandicoots, even a visit into the lounge room on a wet and rainy day by an echidna, all add to the experience of living in the Australian bush.
For the last 10 years I’ve heard the bellows of koalas. I’ve rushed out at night with a head torch only to come back disappointed by never laying eyes on these wonderful creatures within our property. They are hard to spot. Being active at night means we sleep while they are moving around. Of a day they sleep and often high up in the canopy, nestled between branches and out of view from the ground. The bellowing noise they make almost sounds like a pig – a rather magical pig that somehow has managed to climb a tree!
This morning was different though. After hearing a bellow, loud and clearly very close I wandered along one of the bush tracks I’ve created and there on a tree was a koala. Finally I can confirm we have not one, but at least two koalas. I looked at them for a while, marked the trees they were in so that I had a recording and location of the species of tree, and of course grabbed the camera. Before too long I realised that was enough perving and it was time to leave them alone.
I’ve often felt a great sense of responsibility by being the custodian of a tiny section of Australian bushland, but after seeing these two koalas it really does raise the idea of responsibility to a new level – to live carefully and gently and preserve what we have.
Forests are more than the trees we can see. They are home to our native wildlife and that means living with that in mind whenever we think of grabbing the chainsaw or letting the dog go for a run through the bush. After seeing many local domestic dogs wandering through our bushland I just hope everyone can keep in mind that we share this place with some truly fascinating native wildlife and it’s up to all of us to to act responsibly.
As the rain continues to fall here in southern Queensland on a dark and bleak looking Sunday morning I thought it appropriate to read the latest climate reports.
The CSIRO report State of the Climate – 2012 shows climate change is continuing and “the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere in 2011 was 390 parts per million – higher than at any time for the past 800,000 years”.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) Annual Climate Summary 2011 shows Australia had its “first cooler-than-average year since 2001”, although globally 2011 was the “warmest La Nina year on record”.
The cooler than average year can be explained, according to BOM’s summary, by “heavy rainfall at the start and end of the year and frequent southerly wind flow in the first half of the year”. Below average temperatures were “mostly confined to northern Australia” whilst “southern Australia was warmer than average”.
One popular idea is that solar activity is the reason for much of the earth’s climate change. However, according to Skeptical Science “in the last 35 years of global warming, sun and climate have been going in opposite directions”.
“Neither direct nor indirect solar influences can explain a significant amount of the global warming over the past century, and certainly not over the past 30 years.
“As Ray Pierrehumbert said about solar warming,’That’s a coffin with so many nails in it already that the hard part is finding a place to hammer in a new one’.”
During the early morning hours I often walk on lonely dirt trails that surround my property. It’s calming, provides some much-needed exercise and allows for plenty of time to think and ponder. Most of the time I carry my IPod and listen to various science podcasts. It’s my way of relaxing, using the time to learn a little and catch up on what’s being discussed around the world.
I almost mentally switch off these days when I hear discussions on the debate over climate change. It’s a little too depressing to listen to the constant erosion of the truth and the ridiculous debates that spring up from agenda-driven media outlets. It was depressing enough to dare turn the television on one Sunday afternoon only to witness Andrew Bolt sitting there expressing his ‘expert’ opinion on climate science.
‘Climate alarmist’ is the term now given to anyone who prefers evidence-based research within the expert scientific community. An alarmist is now anyone who prefers to lean towards a cautious approach. Cautious and conservative, is now translated as ‘alarmist and panic-monger’.
Climate experts across the globe have as much consensus, if not more so, on climate change, as other experts do when it comes to gravity, relativity and evolution. So wouldn’t it be rather smart if you weren’t an expert to perhaps take their advice? Wouldn’t it be cautious and wise to defer to the experts and not to opinionated journalists, a lone English aristocrat or the myriad bloggers who reign supreme on the wide and wonderful Internet?
Well, apparently not. And what hope has climate science got of penetrating the hard exteriors of many-a-sceptic when in many American states, the theory of evolution is considered ‘just an idea’ and must be taught alongside creationism.
The word ‘theory’ when used in science is unfortunately misunderstood and is often translated by the average reader as just an idea. A surprising amount of times I’ve heard, “yes, but evolution is just a theory”.
It doesn’t matter that scientific theories are much more than ideas. They are perhaps better described as Dr. Steven Novella from the podcast The Skeptics Guide to the Universe did when he explained scientific theories are “unifying ideas that explain many different phenomena”.
It doesn’t really matter what the real meaning of the word ‘theory’ is, just as it doesn’t matter how much proof there is of real and pending climate change. What matters is people’s perception.
And when someone’s perception means they contest the theory of evolution and even offer up their own evidence-free ideas, where does that leave us when we need greater public consensus on climate change to make any real changes to our current collective behaviour?
Well firstly it may leave Charles Darwin, whose 203rd birthday passed in mid-February, turning in his grave. Or perhaps if the old man was still with us he might be not so surprised to see his theory still under attack.
In an interview on January 21 of this year with the The Skeptics Guide to the Universe podcast, Eugenie Scott, an American physical anthropologist and executive director of the US National Center for Science Education said that her organisation has noticed “over the last couple of years, teachers are being ‘pushed back’ for teaching not just evolution, but also climate science.
She went on to say there is a clear disconnect between the scientific community and the public with both the topics of evolution and climate science.
Interestingly enough, the National Center for Science Education was about to appoint to its board of directors Dr Peter Gleick, when he leaked the now infamous documents on the inside workings of the conservative US think tank The Heartland Institute. He has since apologised for the way he went about obtaining the information (by his own admission — pretending to be someone else) and has consequently declined an offer to be on the board.
Perhaps it’s a shame; after all he obtained information which many believe should be publicly available such as how millions of dollars have been spent on funding projects that were “designed to create uncertainty about climate science in schools, newspapers, on television and the internet” according to an article published recently in the Brisbane Times.
When so much money is being allegedly thrown at anyone willing to attack climate science, is there any wonder that public opinion is slowly moving away from what the scientific experts tell us.
When there is a consensus within any field of science, firstly it’s rare and almost non-existent, but importantly it is based upon evidence, facts and a debate that is governed by a shared level of education on the topic. It’s neither helpful nor sane if you have someone from outside that field, enter the discussion with little of no understanding of the topic and then adamantly express their personal views whilst saying ‘look you have your views, I have mine and it now appears we have a 50/50 split’.
This might sound ridiculous, but it is not too far from the truth when it comes to climate change and the wider public debate. Science must now understand it has entered a world where their community is no longer isolated from the public domain. Access to information is now easier than ever before and so too is the ease in which information can be published.
We appear to have millions of dollars being spent, just as the big tobacco companies did, on spreading doubt and confusion amongst the public. When two topics (climate science and evolution) that unite the scientific community in a rare form of consensus are so widely being eroded and in some cases being removed from the classroom, we are in real trouble.
Note: This story was originally written for publication in the March/April 2012 print edition of Eco News.
Last Sunday I was relaxing at home when a neighbour dropped in for coffee. Our discussions usually cover a broad range of subjects and this time we ventured from politics, tsunamis, nuclear power and finally to our topic de jour — climate change.
I’m sure you would agree that good discussions are stimulating, perhaps even as stimulating as caffeine. And this time, we changed topics as many times as we took large sips from our coffee mugs. And then all of a sudden, my neighbour said something that made me sit back in my seat.
“I’m not sure if using solar power is the best thing we can do to alleviate climate change.
“I’m not even sure the science is all that accurate,” he said with a great look of certainty.
I rapidly reminded him that I’ve lived off the grid with solar power for the past seven years. It works well too. I’m not saying it’s the single solution to climate change, but it certainly makes sense in a sunny country with rising electricity prices. I haven’t seen an electricity bill for many years now.
The recent years of rain and cloudy summers means I have to monitor the system more, it also means I have to burn through the odd 20 litre can of petrol to power the back-up generator. Petrol prices rise so I’m careful about my energy use. Living with solar power is really no different to living with tank water. You know you have a limit so you adjust your usage accordingly.
There are no power lines on my property, no clearing was needed to run overhead or underground cables to my house and my lights remain on even when the rest of the street is suffering a summer blackout. Virtually every hour of every day is a ‘switch your lights off earth hour moment’.
What’s more, I told him, I really do think there is a benefit to not being yet another consumer contributing to the burning of coal to power the massive generators housed conveniently out of sight, and miles away. I was about to say that 97 per cent of climate scientists have shown … and then I could see his attention drift off. I’d lost him and there was no point trying to convince him any further. We both awkwardly took a hurried sip of coffee.
So where does my neighbour get his information to help him form his opinion? How many people think the same as he does? The media, and quite a few, as it turns out.
Balanced reporting is the mantra of the journalist. Provide both sides of the argument. Keep the balance and let the reader decide.
“Mainstream media has often sought to provide balance between people who base their views on the mainstream science and people who don’t – if you like, between scientific authority, and unscientific opinion. That is a very strange sort of balance.
“It is a balance of numbers of words and not a balance of scientific authority,” he wrote.
ABC’s head of policy for news, Alan Sunderland was reported in an article written by Margaret Simons for Crikey as saying if the majority of credible evidence supports human-induced climate change then the resulting media coverage should reflect this.
“It is one of the most common and inaccurate myths about balance on this or any other topic that it requires all sides to be given equal time and equal weight. It does not. It never has and it never will. Our editorial policies make it quite clear that ‘it is not essential to give all sides equal time’. Another better way to express and understand this is to understand that the kind of balance we aim to achieve in our news coverage is balance that follows the weight of evidence.”
Unfortunately the mainstream media, including journalists whose opinions are often expressed as fact, such as Andrew Bolt, help promote to the public that there is a 50/50 split within the scientific community about climate change.
My neighbour, along with 40 per cent of Australians, according to a recent CSIRO report, now believe the growing count of words which help create doubt about the science.
The Baseline survey of Australian attitudes to climate change report conducted an online survey of 5000 people during the last federal election campaign. Half of those surveyed believe we are the cause of climate change, while slightly less believe it is a natural fluctuation in temperature. An even smaller amount simply don’t believe it at all.
Interestingly, university scientists were considered the most trusted sources of information. While environmental organisations came in a close second for those who believe in human-induced climate change, with the second most believable source for those who consider climate change a natural temperature fluctuation, being family and friends. Governments ranked alongside, car companies and oil companies as the least trustworthy.
One of the most interesting findings was the level of confusion amongst those who don’t believe humans are responsible.
“As a group these people still viewed countries, governments and global organisations as at least partly responsible for causing climate change,” according to the report.
This confusion, or inconstancy, may in part be related to media coverage. It may also be displayed in a recent Queensland Household Energy Survey.
The survey of 3500 homes found 75 per cent of Queenslanders believe it is important to reduce their energy consumption, yet three out of four now own one of the most energy intensive appliances — the air-conditioner. When climate scientists tell us coal-powered electricity generation is an important contributor to climate change, this is a worrying set of figures.
The current Queensland Minister for Energy Stephen Robertson, said we are “increasingly energy hungry”.
Now, before you shout out ‘it’s population’, energy use has increased by more than double the population growth in Queensland in recent years.
So, we’re more confused, we’re split about the cause of climate change, we like using energy, yet we want to use less.
When small sound bites and headlines are all we have the time to listen to and read, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and ironically, switch off. Perhaps we have too much information, too many opinions and not enough simple and concise facts explaining exactly what each of us can reasonably do.
Maybe most of us are too busy earning a living to have the time to understand what’s going on — to understand that the reasonably priced air-conditioner we just bought to cool the family next summer is going to continue to cost us every quarter, every year. Perhaps even cost us in ways that we find hard to imagine.
I leaned forward in my seat again, placing the coffee mug down on the table. I know we all have different opinions and at the same time I realise neighbourly friendships are important to maintain. If friendships are a one of the trusted sources of information about climate change then perhaps next Sunday we should continue our discussion. Perhaps in a small way, coffee will help bridge the gap too. At the very least, our conversations will make us both think more about this important issue.
CSIRO report – General attitudes towards climate change. January 2011.
How we think about climate change
50.4 per cent think that climate change is happening and that humans are largely responsible
40.2 per cent think that climate change is happening but it’s just a natural fluctuation in the earth’s temperatures
5.6 per cent don’t think that climate change is happening
3.8 per cent have no idea whether climate change is happening or not
For those who believe humans are responsible for climate change. The most trusted sources of information are: university scientists, environmental organisations, environmental group scientists and government scientists
For those who believe climate change is natural. The most trusted sources of information are: university scientists, friends and family, doctors, people from your community and government scientists
Who is responsible?
Big polluting countries, multinational corporations, wealthy countries and the federal government
Major environmental actions taken by survey respondents to engage in climate change relevant behaviours
Recycling household waste, reducing water use, using environmentally friendly products and switching lights off around the house
This article first appeared in Eco online.