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Mother-earthism infects climate change debate

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“Mother earthism” has complex symptoms. Foremost is a touching belief in the Garden of Eden (further mystified by some as Gaia), the halcyon state of the Earth before the wicked industrial revolution. This balmy, and barmy, garden existed in a state of existential ecological balance, within an unchanging, benign environment.

By Bob Carter

from on-line opinion

Professor Bob Carter is a researcher at the Marine Geophysical Laboratory at James Cook University

Many Australians are worried, rightly, by the possibility that avian flu might infect the nation. They should be just as concerned about the disease of “mother earthism”.

“Mother earthism” has already penetrated our shores, and is now reaching epidemic status. One of its most virulent strains is called “Hansenism”, after James Hansen, the high-profile NASA scientist who started the global warming scare campaign running back in 1988.

These diseases attack people who venture public opinions on matters of environmental concern. Transmitted through green agents provocateurs, the infection has reached nearly all Australian media commentators and newsrooms. However, its most worrisome recent manifestation is in two alarmist books on climate change by popular science writers Ian Lowe (Living in the Hothouse) and Tim Flannery (The Weather Makers).

“Mother earthism” has complex symptoms. Foremost is a touching belief in the Garden of Eden (further mystified by some as Gaia), the halcyon state of the Earth before the wicked industrial revolution. This balmy, and barmy, garden existed in a state of existential ecological balance, within an unchanging, benign environment.

The roots of its philosophical trees lie with Rousseau, and those who tend these trees deny absolutely the dynamic, ever-changing character of our planet, its biota, and its climate, as elucidated by many brilliant scientific studies over the past 200 years.

Secondary symptoms of “mother earthism” are many. They include: appealing to authority rather than explaining or discussing the science; false claims of consensus among scientists; cherry picking research and opinions which support a desired world view; and guilt-by-association smearing and vilification of those who hold alternative views.

Other symptoms include: erecting conspiracy theories about improper industry influence; endless repetition of incorrect or correct facts out of context; withholding data and computer code from other scientists; and a preference for computer model predictions over real world measurements.

Recourse to the intellectually vapid precautionary principle can also be added to the list, along with exploiting guilt among ordinary citizens and, above all, an unwavering alarmism that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and it's all our fault.

The biggest serpent in the Gaia garden is alleged to be carbon dioxide, and we must give up our fix. Why? Because it's causing global warming, silly. And so it is.

The Earth's comfortable (for us) average temperature of about 15C is maintained by the atmosphere, without which the average would fall to a chilly -18C. The presence of small amounts of water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide - the "greenhouse gases" which absorb Earth's outgoing heat radiation and re-emit some of it downwards - causes the warming.

Most of the total warming of 33C is caused by water vapour (more than 30C), carbon dioxide contributing only about 1.2C worth. And of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the US Department of Energy estimated in 2000 that just 3 per cent comes from human sources, which equates to a warming effect of about four-hundredths of a degree.

Against such a background, and should all signatory nations to the Kyoto accord meet their commitments (which is vanishingly unlikely), computer models suggest that a further human-caused increase in temperature of perhaps two-tenths of a degree might be averted by 2100.

Compare these tiny changes with the experience of an Australian citizen who moves from Hobart to Darwin to live. Such a person experiences a change in annual average temperature of 18C, which is accommodated quite happily by wearing fewer clothes, drinking more beer and trading in one's heater for an air conditioner.

To crucify the world's industrialised economies by spending trillions of dollars for a possible temperature drop of 0.2C simply defies comprehension. The daft, hairshirt policy exemplified by the Kyoto Accord is, in fact, a classic non-solution to a non-problem.

The best cure for the type of “mother earthism” epitomised by Kyoto is to remove the funds that sustain its advance. As Dr Flannery points out in a different context in his book, individual members of the public can exert influence here, by witholding their memberships and donations from the organisations (including especially green NGOs) responsible for spreading the disease, and by not buying alarmist books.

The government too could do its bit, and save taxpayers’ money, by disestablishing the professional greenhouse lobby groups that now dominate its own environmental and energy policy bureaucracies.

It is rumoured that federal environment minister Campbell is earmarking extra money for research to develop a vaccine against this terrible disease. If successful, the vaccine could be compulsorily administered to good effect to all Australian climate scientists. I hope that doses will also be available to inoculate my grandchildren.

A goal to "stabilise world climate” is misplaced, not to mention unattainable. Climate is a dynamic system within which extreme events and dramatic changes will always occur, irrespective of human actions or preferences.Witness hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

As for other major natural disasters, the appropriate preparation for extreme climate events is to mitigate and manage the negative effects when they occur. Climate impacts are generally slower to appear than those of other “instantaneous” disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, storms, volcanic eruptions, landslides or bushfires. This difference is not one of kind, and neither should be our response plans.

Needed are more research and the preparation of response plans for both climatic coolings and warmings. Not needed is more of the futile “feel goodery” espoused by those infected with the “mother earthism” syndrome.

Three other articles by Bob Carter

Created by keza
Last modified 2005-12-06 03:15 AM

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