SciBlogs

Roughan’s relaxed, world drowns Bryan Walker Apr 07

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

rising seaInsouciance is the new face of climate change denial. John Roughan’s column in Saturday’s New Zealand Herald was a typical example. Half a metre sea level rise by the end of the century? What’s there to be concerned about in that, he scoffs. A bach at the water’s edge might no longer be a good idea, but that’s about all it amounts to.

At a century off, the predicted disaster of climate change is a slow burn.

“It is plenty long enough for people to move if necessary, for crops to change, fresh water to be managed much more efficiently. Human life will adapt if it has to…”

It’s hard to credit the nonchalance, let alone the implicit inhumanity. Roughan settles for the lower sea level rise estimates, I notice.  No mention of the metre or more which is now commonly advanced by scientists. But there’s not much need to be too closely acquainted with the science if you can brush it all away with the assertion that humans will adapt if they have to.

There’s no acknowledgement that sea level rise will continue to catastrophic levels in succeeding centuries if we take no notice of the urgent need to constrain emissions. No recognition of what a metre of sea level rise will mean for many small island states, or for the dense populations of low-lying coasts and the great river deltas. No appreciation of the precariousness of the lives of the hundreds of millions of poorer people whose subsistence is closely tied to a relatively dependable climate pattern. Does he advise them to be “sensibly relaxed about the risk of climate catastrophe”, as he praises the New Zealand government for being?

He appears as dismissive of technologies to address climate change as he is of the magnitude of the risks it carries. He contemptuously suggests that the alternative to adapting to climate change is returning “to some pre-industrial age of bicycles and village crafts.”  I think of books like Al Gore’s Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis which grew out of many lengthy and intensive “Solution Summits” he organised to enable leading experts from round the world to share their knowledge. The kind of technological expertise they represent is apparently not worth Roughan’s bothering to acquaint himself with.

Roughan’s trivialising may not be denial of the science, but it is denial of the science’s import. It effectively claims that climate change can’t be as bad for humanity as the science warns it will be. It pours scorn on those who allow themselves to be thoroughly alarmed at the prospect. It undermines urgent mitigation measures and misrepresents what those measures might be.

Roughan is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Herald. Of late the paper has carried a number of accurate and well-assembled news reports about climate change matters, albeit at some distance from the front pages.  It also hosts occasional opinion pieces which set out the seriousness of the issue. And a couple of days ago it at long last tackled the question in a thoughtful editorial critical of the lack of urgency in the government’s approach to climate change.

It’s disappointing, to say the least, to find one of its senior journalists so blasé on such a serious matter.

 

Climate crisis? What Crisis? NZ right ignore IPCC call for action Gareth Renowden Apr 01

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

New Zealand political reaction to the IPCC’s WG2 report has divided along expected lines: the Green Party and Labour used the findings to call for more action, the National-led government “welcomed” the report but said it is already doing enough, while the fringe right wing ACT party issued a press release making the abolition of the emissions trading scheme a condition of its support for any future National government. If the Scoop web site is to be believed, none of the other political parties with seats in parliament or hopes of election could be bothered to issue a press release in response to a report that makes it plain that climate change is here now, and set to get very much worse in future.

Climate change minister Tim Groser’s press release is a little more measured than a comment he made to TVNZ News in a story foreshadowing the WG2 release:

Grocer (sic) says the environment will determine what action will need to be taken.

“We’re not playing God on this. That natural process will determine what happens to adaptation of human beings and other mammals and species,” he said.

Survival of the fittest, or survival of the richest perhaps? That sounds almost as hands-off as new ACT leader Jamie Whyte’s policy proposals on TVNZ’s Q+A on Sunday morning. He was interviewed head to head with Green Party co-leader Russel Norman, apparently because the National Party refused to front up for a discussion on climate change1. The video’s here.

Whyte, a former management consultant, foreign currency trader and philosophy lecturer who recently became leader of the ACT Party2, looked to have a very poor grasp of the subject when he advocated a strict do-nothing approach to dealing with climate change. Action to reduce emissions was “irresponsible moral exhibitionism”, he said, because money would be better spent on adapting to climate changes. Global action on emissions reduction, he asserted, should be lead by the worst affected countries:

It’s for these poorer countries to lead the way because the trade off is harder for them.

The moral and intellectual bankruptcy on display in Whyte’s statement is breathtaking, and his argument so fatuous that it beggars belief that anyone with half a brain would advance it in public. As Green Party climate spokesman Kennedy Graham pointed out:

Mr Whyte needs to demonstrate his talents in the next few months describing ACT’s policies for a world adapting to a temperature rise of 2ºC to 4ºC. That is described by World Bank consultants as exceeding ‘dangerous’ climate change and entering the realm of ‘catastrophic’. What we see around us today by way of impact – overseas, and even here in New Zealand, is on the strength of 0.8ºC to date.

All Whyte had to offer on Sunday was a glib “I would do absolutely nothing”, which is not a million miles away from present government policy.

It’s tempting to demonise Whyte — it looks to be all too easy, in this election year, to show him to be an ideologue living in la la land — but the real villains of the piece are Tim Groser and his National Party colleagues. They have presided over a deliberate dilution of the climate policies they inherited from the last Labour-led government, and now have policies set to increase NZ emissions over the long term. A senior NZ climate scientist told me that their attitude to the whole complex climate issue was “active indifference”.

To accept the science, as Groser and co do in public, but then to ignore the need for urgent action is hypocritical in the extreme, grossly irresponsible, and a very long way from the best interests of the people of New Zealand, now and for all the generations to come. Riding out all that climate change is going to throw at us is a matter of survival. If we are to do that, New Zealand needs real leadership, not glib assurances that we’re doing all we can when the opposite is true.

  1. According to Norman on Facebook.
  2. At a meeting held at long-time party funder and committed climate denialist Alan Gibbs’ house.

IPCC WG2 impacts report released: fire, floods and rising seas in all our futures Gareth Renowden Mar 31

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

After the usual run of late nights and argument, the IPCC has released the second part of its fifth report — the Working Group 2 report on climate impacts and risks management. Commenting on the report, VUW climate scientist Professor Tim Naish said “this latest report makes it quite clear that New Zealand is under-prepared and faces a significant ‘adaptation deficit’ in the context of the projected impacts and risks from global average warming of +2 to 4°C by the end of the century.”

The IPCC identifies eight key regional risks for New Zealand and Australia:

  • significant impacts on coral reefs in Australia as oceans warm and acidify
  • loss of montane ecosystems in Australia, as climate warms and snow lines rise
  • increased frequency of and intensity of flooding in NZ and Australia
  • water resources in Southern Australia will be under increased pressure
  • more intense heatwaves will bring increased death rates and infrastructure damage
  • increasing risks of damaging wildfires in New Zealand and southern Australia
  • increased risks to coastal infrastructure and ecosystems from sea level rise
  • risk of severe drying in parts of Australia could hit agricultural production

For New Zealand, extreme weather events such as flooding and heatwaves are expected to increase in frequency and severity, and rainfall is expected to increase on the already wet west coast and decrease in the east and north east. Sea level rise of up to one metre is expected to cause significant problems for coastal communities.

VUW’s Jim Renwick points to sea level rise as a big issue:

Every 10cm of rise triples the risk of a given inundation event, and we are expecting something like a metre of rise this century. That would mean today’s 1-in-100 year event occurs at least annually at many New Zealand coastal locations. New Zealand has a great deal of valuable property and infrastructure close to the coast that will be increasingly at risk as time goes on.

The Summary for Policymakers of the WG2 report is available here (pdf), and the final draft of the full report can be downloaded from this page. The Australia and New Zealand chapter (25) is here (pdf) and the Small Islands (Ch 29) here (pdf).

A huge amount of coverage of the report’s findings has already hit the net, and there will be more to come. Check out The Guardian‘s take on the five key points in the report, The Conversation’s examination of climate health risks, Graham Readfearn’s commentary on 25 years of IPCC warnings, and Peter Griffin’s look at the prospects for agriculture. I’ll have a post about the NZ political response to the report tomorrow.

Climate modelling on your PC: weather@home comes to NZ and Australia Gareth Renowden Mar 27

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Climateprediction

That’s a climate model running on my iMac, thanks to BOINC, Climateprediction.net, and the new New Zealand and Australia modelling experiment launched yesterday. In this guest post, Dr Suzanne Rosier of NIWA explains what it’s all about…

A new citizen science experiment in which scientists will address possible links between climate change and extreme weather in Australia and New Zealand was launched on Wednesday. ANZ runs as part of the highly successful climateprediction.net project based at the University of Oxford, which makes state-of-the-art climate models available for anyone with a PC and an Internet connection to download and run on their computer. The global model contains within it a much more detailed model of the Australia/New Zealand region, detailed enough to model weather events properly, and the ‘2-in-1’ model needs to be run many thousands of times if scientists are to have a chance of capturing the very rarest weather events. This takes a huge amount of computing power – and you can help by volunteering your computer.

The model runs in the background on your machine, taking up any processing power that happens to be spare, but not interfering with your work. When your computer has finished crunching the results are automatically uploaded to a server at the University of Tasmania. If you take part in the project you also have the option to see how the model you are running on your machine is progressing. Many thousands of generous volunteers have already taken part in climateprediction.net, running global models, and , running regional models for other parts of the world. This is your chance to get involved and help scientists to gain a better understanding of what is happening to weather in Australia and New Zealand region as the climate changes.

The experiment launched today will produce many thousands of different simulations of how the weather in 2013 might have been, both with and without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This will enable scientists to put some hard numbers on how the risks of extreme weather events might — or might not — be changing as a result of the human contribution to global climate change. Scientists at NIWA will focus initially on the severe North Island drought of January to March 2013, but later the record-breaking warmth of last year’s winter will also come under scrutiny. Extreme rainfall events, such as that in Golden Bay and Nelson in December 2011 and the recent floods in Christchurch, will also be investigated as the ANZ experiment continues.
The more people who participate, the more science can be done. Please go to ‘weatherathome.net’ – sign up, and start crunching numbers.

Gareth adds: Suzanne does an excellent job of introducing the project in this video:

Read more about the project at Climateprediction.net, The Conversation, and NIWA. If anyone’s interested in running an NZ climate team, let me know. For some background to the difficult statistics of extreme weather events, I highly recommend this recent article by Stefan Rahmstorf at RealClimate. The ANZ models will run (via BOINC, the framework for distributed processing developed at Berkeley and used in a wide variety of distributed computing projects such as or ) on most recent releases of Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.

TDB Today: Facing the future – no Bridges too far Gareth Renowden Mar 26

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

In my post at The Daily Blog today — Facing the future – no Bridges too far — I take a look at the Royal Society of New Zealand’s latest information paper about the need to move New Zealand to a green economy. There’s a yawning gulf between the rational world view embodied in the RSNZ’s paper and the policy settings adopted by the current government. Which comes as no surprise…

Below the fold I’ve embedded the infographic designed by the RSNZ to accompany its paper. It’s well worth taking a look…

Facing the Future: Towards a Green Economy in New Zealand

by Dumpark.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

WMO 2013 climate summary: laws of physics not negotiable, extremes to be expected on a warming planet Gareth Renowden Mar 25

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

The World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) state of the climate report for 2013 was released on Sunday (pdf), and provides a very useful overview of last year’s weather and climate events. It confirms that 2013 was the 6th warmest year in the long term record (tied with 2007), that 13 of the 14 warmest years in that record have occurred this century1, and that the litany of extreme weather events that struck the planet is in line with what would be expected on a warming planet.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said:

There is no standstill in global warming. The warming of our oceans has accelerated, and at lower depths. More than 90 percent of the excess energy trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans. Levels of these greenhouse gases are at record levels, meaning that our atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm for centuries to come. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.

On extremes, Jarraud was equally direct:

…many of the extreme events of 2013 were consistent with what we would expect as a result of human-induced climate change. We saw heavier precipitation, more intense heat, and more damage from storm surges and coastal flooding as a result of sea level rise – as Typhoon Haiyan so tragically demonstrated in the Philippines.

Here’s the full list of the WMO’s key climate events of 2013:

  • Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall, devastated parts of the central Philippines.
  • Surface air temperatures over land in the Southern Hemisphere were very warm, with widespread heat waves; Australia saw record warmth for the year, and Argentina its second warmest year and New Zealand its third warmest.
  • Frigid polar air plummeted into parts of Europe and the southeast United States.
  • Angola, Botswana and Namibia were gripped by severe drought.
  • Heavy monsoon rains led to severe floods on the India-Nepal border.
  • Heavy rains and floods impacted northeast China and the eastern Russian Federation.
  • Heavy rains and floods affected Sudan and Somalia.
  • Major drought affected southern China.
  • Northeastern Brazil experienced its worst drought in the past 50 years.
  • The widest tornado ever observed struck El Reno, Oklahoma in the United States.
  • Extreme precipitation led to severe floods in Europe’s Alpine region and in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland.
  • Israel, Jordan, and Syria were struck by unprecedented snowfall.
  • Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere reached record highs.
  • The global oceans reached new record high sea levels.
  • The Antarctic sea ice extent reached a record daily maximum.

The WMO has published a very nifty interactive map of the year’s notable events here (requires Flash). Clicking on individual events brings up a pop-up with details of what happened. Well worth exploring.

Meanwhile, the prospects for 2014 and 2015 are becoming more “interesting” with each passing week. The chances of the tropical Pacific slipping into El Niño mode are increasing according the Bureau of Meteorology in Australia and NOAA in the US. El Niño years are generally associated with a spike in global temperature and increased extreme weather events.

See also: The Conversation, The Guardian, Climate Progress.

  1. The 15 warmest years have all happened since 1998.

AAAS “What We Know” Initiative: Same Denial, Different Issue – From Ozone Depletion to Climate Change cindy Mar 20

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Dr Mario Molina  (c)  Centro Mario Molina

Dr Mario Molina
(c) Centro Mario Molina

(Cross-posted with permission from Polluterwatch.com)

It must be like Groundhog Day for Mario Molina, the scientist who has presided over the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s new report and publicity drive aimed at convincing Americans about the urgency of what’s happening on climate change.

The normally reticent AAAS has taken a highly unusual step. There’s no new science in it.  Instead, it summarises “what we know” on climate science, highlighting the 97% consensus on the issue and calling for action.

Why did they do it? The AAAS says it’s becoming alarmed at the American public’s views on climate change, stating in the opening paragraphs:

 “Surveys show that many Americans think climate change is still a topic of significant scientific disagreement.  Thus, it is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real.”

They’re right:  the latest Gallup Poll published this month shows that climate change is low on Americans’ priority list, with 51% saying they worry about climate change very little – or not at all.   And 42% said they believe the seriousness of the issue was “generally exaggerated.”

Here’s one of their videos:

The AAAS report also stated:

“It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred.”

That’s not their job.  But I bet they’d like to. Especially Mario Molina.

The reason for that American disconnect between scientific and public views on global warming is simple:  it’s the result of a 20-year campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry that profits from the very products causing it – oil, coal and gas.   It’s got nothing to do with science per se.

A brief history of that campaign is outlined in a report I wrote last year: “Dealing in Doubt” that catalogues the attacks on climate science, the IPCC and on the scientists themselves.

But what’s that got to do with Mario Molina?  Molina, now 70, was one of the researchers who discovered the chemistry around ozone depletion. He and two other scientists received the 1995 Nobel Prize for chemistry for their work.   20 years ago, he faced a remarkably similar campaign to what the climate scientists face today.

In 1992, Molina was at a gathering of scientists in Brazil, ahead of the Rio Earth Summit, and about to present a 30-minute talk on ozone depletion.  He was dumbfounded when the presenter before him told the assembled scientists that the ozone depletion theory was a sham. He later told the AAAS’s Science magazine(full text here):

“Given enough time I could have carefully rebutted his objections.  They sounded reasonable but they were only pseudoscientific.”

At the time, in the face of increasing scientific certainty, there was a (successful) push to strengthen the Montreal Protocol, to further regulate CFCs to stop ozone depletion.  The fight was on.

The Science article went on to outline how talk show host Rush Limbaugh was leading the charge against the ozone science, labeling the issue a “massive conspiracy” promulgated by “dunderhead alarmists and prophets of doom.”

Limbaugh claimed the only reason scientists were working on ozone depletion was because “they always want more funding, and today that means government funding.  What could be more natural than for [NASA], with the space program winding down, to say that because we have this unusual amount of chlorine in the atmosphere, we need funding.”

This is one of the main mantras of the climate science deniers today – they’re only in it for the funding.  They also get labeled “alarmists” and “doomsayers” amongst other things.  Same arguments, different subject.

Enter S Fred Singer, a serial denier who cut his teeth on tobacco science, before moving on to ozone depletion and global warming.  In a 1995 article, he said this on ozone depletion:

“The facts are that the scientific underpinnings are quite shaky: the data are suspect; the statistical analyses are faulty; and the theory has not been validated… The science simply does not support this premature and abrupt removal of widely used chemicals—at great cost to the economy.”

It’s telling that one of Singer’s early articles, “My adventures on the ozone layer,” can be found today on the Heartland Institute website.  This is the same Heartland Institute that last year employed Singer to help work on its “NIPCC” report, designed to confuse a casual observer with the similarity to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) while using debunked arguments to suggest there isn’t a problem – which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In 1996, Singer told a House Committee there was no scientific consensus on ozone depletion. He went on to use the high-cost argument, and brought in a new theme that is very much prevalent in today’s anti climate arguments: that it would hurt the developing world.

“We are flying blind on this issue, at a huge cost to the U.S. economy and ultimately to every American household. In less developed countries, absence of low-cost refrigeration–for food preservation and vaccines–could, unfortunately, exact an even higher price in human lives.”

Two years later, Singer was even advocating putting mirrors in the sky to stop ozone depletion. That article can be found on another think tank website, theCompetitive Enterprise Institute.  The CEI set up the Cooler Heads Coalition. But its extensive ExxonMobil funding was dropped in 2007 because the company said their campaign “diverted attention” from a real conversation about how to tackle climate change.

Meanwhile, over at the Marshall Institute, Fred Seitz and Sallie Baliunas had also picked up the cause, with Baliunas arguing that it was the sun and other natural factors causing the problem:

“Scientific findings do not support an immediate ban on CFC’s. Both global and Arctic measurements point to natural factors as the main cause of recent ozone fluctuations. Ozone levels change primarily as the result of natural factors such as the ultraviolet output of the sun, oscillation of upper stratosphere winds and El Nino conditions.”

Sunspots is one of the main denialist arguments used against global warming today, notably by Baliunas’s colleague, Willie Soon.  A later Marshall Institute report about global warming, ozone depletion and tobacco science was picked up and pushed by Phillip Morris.

No consensus, science unsettled, the sun, El Nino, in it for the funding, doomsayers, solutions will hurt the poor, natural variations:  all these arguments are run today around global warming science by, amongst others, the Heartland Institute, the CEI, the Marshall Institute, S Fred Singer, Baliunas, Limbaugh and others.

The late Steve Schneider described the problem as being “caught between the exaggerations of the advocates, the exploitations of political interests, the media’s penchant to turn everything into a boxing match and your own colleagues saying we should be above this dirty business and stick to the bench.”

The AAAS appears to have gotten off of that bench, not least because they’re worried about Americans sleepwalking into climate chaos, cheered on by industry.

But the bottom line, as the AAAS has stated in no uncertain terms, is this:  “human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”

Perhaps our elected leaders might also like to spend some time reading it.

A lot of hot air: High Water group confronts climate change through comedy Gareth Renowden Mar 15

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

Auckland will go on without us

This guest post is by Damon Keen, one of the founders of new creative group High Water. Artwork by Lei Wen. If I were in Auckland, I would certainly be in the Classic Comedy Bar this Thursday…

The election is now firmly on the horizon, and despite a raft of extreme weather events globally, reporting and discussion about climate change seems to be quieter than ever.

That’s why a small group of artists and myself have decided to stop sitting on our hands and try to do something about it. We’ve set up a new group called High Water – to get creatives producing art and performance about climate change. And we’re kicking things off with a comedy night – focused entirely on our impending weathery doom!

We’ve convinced some fantastic comedians to get involved, including Michele A’Court (Female Comedian of the Decade 2010) and Jeremy Elwood (Best MC 2007), Mark Scott, Tim Batt and Maarten Idema. The show, named Hot Air, will run at the Classic Comedy Bar on Queen Street, Auckland on Thursday, March 20th.

Comedy might seem like a strange approach to such a daunting issue, but hopefully it’s a new way to broach the subject and get people talking about it again.

That’s why we want to do something different from what everyone else is doing. Artists – be they musicians, performers, designers, photographers, illustrators, or film makers – are natural communicators, and like many people are more and more anxious about the complete lack of progress on global warming. Our hope is that by creating a new platform for them to work with, we can find new ways to cut through the apathy and get climate change back onto the public agenda.

We have a number of projects planned for the year, including a climate change poster competition, a hard cover comic anthology and a play. But our first event is Hot Air – and hopefully creatives, greenies – and everyone else – will come along to find out more about the collective – and have a good laugh while they’re at it.

Find out more about High Water at:

www.facebook.com/highwaternz

www.twitter.com/highwaternz

Tickets for for Hot Air here:
http://www.eventbrite.co.nz/e/hot-air-comedy-night-tickets-10613157239

Is misinformation about the climate criminally negligent? Gareth Renowden Mar 14

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

This powerful article by Lawrence Torcello, assistant professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology, first appeared at The Conversation here. It examines the potential legal liabilities that should attach to deliberate misinformation campaigns to delay action on climate change.

The importance of clearly communicating science to the public should not be underestimated. Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death. When it comes to global warming, much of the public remains in denial about a set of facts that the majority of scientists clearly agree on. With such high stakes, an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent.

The earthquake that rocked L’Aquila Italy in 2009 provides an interesting case study of botched communication. This natural disaster left more than 300 people dead and nearly 66,000 people homeless. In a strange turn of events six Italian scientists and a local defence minister were subsequently sentenced to six years in prison.

The ruling is popularly thought to have convicted scientists for failing to predict an earthquake. On the contrary, as risk assessment expert David Ropeik pointed out, the trial was actually about the failure of scientists to clearly communicate risks to the public. The convicted parties were accused of providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information”. As one citizen stated:

We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices.

Crucially, the scientists, when consulted about ongoing tremors in the region, did not conclude that a devastating earthquake was impossible in L’Aquila. But, when the Defence Minister held a press conference saying there was no danger, they made no attempt to correct him. I don’t believe poor scientific communication should be criminalised because doing so will likely discourage scientists from engaging with the public at all.

But the tragedy in L’Aquila reminds us how important clear scientific communication is and how much is at stake regarding the public’s understanding of science. I have argued elsewhere that scientists have an ethical obligation to communicate their findings as clearly as possible to the public when such findings are relevant to public policy. Likewise, I believe that scientists have the corollary obligation to correct public misinformation as visibly and unequivocally as possible.

Many scientists recognize these civic and moral obligations. Climatologist Michael Mann is a good example; Mann has recently made the case for public engagement in a powerful New York Times opinion piece: If You See Something Say Something.

Misinformation and criminal negligence

Still, critics of the case in L’Aquila are mistaken if they conclude that criminal negligence should never be linked to science misinformation. Consider cases in which science communication is intentionally undermined for political and financial gain. Imagine if in L’Aquila, scientists themselves had made every effort to communicate the risks of living in an earthquake zone. Imagine that they even advocated for a scientifically informed but costly earthquake readiness plan.

If those with a financial or political interest in inaction had funded an organised campaign to discredit the consensus findings of seismology, and for that reason no preparations were made, then many of us would agree that the financiers of the denialist campaign were criminally responsible for the consequences of that campaign. I submit that this is just what is happening with the current, well documented funding of global warming denialism.

More deaths can already be attributed to climate change than the L’Aquila earthquake and we can be certain that deaths from climate change will continue to rise with global warming. Nonetheless, climate denial remains a serious deterrent against meaningful political action in the very countries most responsible for the crisis.

Climate denial funding

We have good reason to consider the funding of climate denial to be criminally and morally negligent. The charge of criminal and moral negligence ought to extend to all activities of the climate deniers who receive funding as part of a sustained campaign to undermine the public’s understanding of scientific consensus.

Criminal negligence is normally understood to result from failures to avoid reasonably foreseeable harms, or the threat of harms to public safety, consequent of certain activities. Those funding climate denial campaigns can reasonably predict the public’s diminished ability to respond to climate change as a result of their behaviour. Indeed, public uncertainty regarding climate science, and the resulting failure to respond to climate change, is the intentional aim of politically and financially motivated denialists.

My argument probably raises an understandable, if misguided, concern regarding free speech. We must make the critical distinction between the protected voicing of one’s unpopular beliefs, and the funding of a strategically organised campaign to undermine the public’s ability to develop and voice informed opinions. Protecting the latter as a form of free speech stretches the definition of free speech to a degree that undermines the very concept.

What are we to make of those behind the well documented corporate funding of global warming denial? Those who purposefully strive to make sure “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” is given to the public? I believe we understand them correctly when we know them to be not only corrupt and deceitful, but criminally negligent in their willful disregard for human life. It is time for modern societies to interpret and update their legal systems accordingly.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

TDB today: up a blind alley (without a paddle) Gareth Renowden Mar 12

Join the conversation at Hot Topic

In this week’s post at The Daily BlogUp a blind alley (without a paddle) — I ruminate further on the message to be gleaned from last week’s flooding in Christchurch, and how ignoring the shape of things to come makes for bad government and worse politics:

What happened in Christchurch was not a consequence of climate change (though the heavy rainfall is something expected to increase in a warming world), but an early warning of what will happen to coastal cities as sea level rise takes its toll over coming decades. With CO2 nudging 400 ppm, the planet can expect the sea to eventually stop rising when it is 15-20 metres higher than today. It might take a few hundred years to get there, but if we don’t act to reduce atmospheric carbon it’s not just a distant threat, it’s a long term certainty.

With another storm bearing down on the country from the tropics and severe weather on the cards for much of the country over the weekend, the government may well have to confront another flood emergency. We can only hope they learn something more than how to deploy the prime ministerial mop.

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer