Following the failure of the Kyoto Protocol, powerful political forces are now being applied to voters in western democracies to do something about global warming.
In late 2005 and early 2006, three major climate conferences were convened in Australasia, namely GREENHOUSE 2005: Action on Climate Change, 13-17 November 2005 in Melbourne; Climate Change Business – 2nd Australia-New Zealand Conference, 20-21 February 2006 in Adelaide; and Climate Change and Governance Conference, 28-29 March 2006 in Wellington.
The three conferences shared the features of widespread pre-meeting publicity, and of sponsorship by major science organisations (CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, Royal Society of New Zealand), government departments (governments of Victoria, South Australia and New Zealand, foreign embassies (U.K., Holland), Greenhouse organisations and lobby groups (Australian Greenhouse Office, Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature, Pew Center for Climate Change), and a wide range of companies and business organisations.
The press coverage before and during each meeting often gave the impression that the science of climate change was to be the focus, but in fact the conferences were dominantly concerned with greenhouse politics and governance.
I present here an analysis of the face that was presented to the public by the Wellington conference, Climate Change and Governance. The conclusions that I draw are, however, applicable also to the Melbourne and Adelaide meetings and to others of like kind. I assess the intentions of the Wellington conference organizers, the degree to which the general and policy discussions were informed by an adequate understanding of the science of climate change, the role played by the media in informing the public, and assess the outcomes.
Troublesome ethical issues emerge, the most important of which include the role in society of scientific organisations and universities, and the way in which government-employed and other scientists are today constrained in the public comment that they can make on controversial issues of the day. Another major concern is the way in which scientific results are now routinely deployed into the public domain with a clear propaganda intent.
That human activities are causing dangerous global warming is unproven and unlikely. Assertions towards that end are based on circumstantial evidence and unvalidated computer modelling. Present-day public discussion of climate change is dominated by self-interested scaremongering against a background of inculcated social guilt.
Yet against this background of strong and complex uncertainty, the Wellington Climate Change and Governance conference succeeded in reinforcing the already strong public impression that dangerous human-caused climate change is occurring, and that this change can be prevented by limiting human emissions of greenhouse gas.
However, to the degree that the conference was intended to contribute to a balanced public debate on human-caused global warming, it failed.
The major sponsors of the conference included organisations whose charter includes the disinterested presentation of high-quality science, and civil social responsibility; these organisations failed in their duty of public care.
In addition, media coverage of the conference was balanced in only the most superficial way; news reports concentrated heavily on climate alarmism, and failed to follow up on the caveats which were expressed by the more responsible speakers at the conference.
These major conclusions about the Wellington climate conference apply also to many other similar climate meetings that are held around the world, including the recent meetings in Melbourne and Adelaide. In fact, future natural climate change is inevitable and attempts to stop it are both futile and scandalously expensive. Fanning public hysteria over hypothetical human-caused global warming – as the Wellington, Melbourne and Adelaide conferences did – is particularly damaging because it diverts attention from the need to develop plans to manage future natural climate events as and when they occur, both warmings and the more dangerous coolings.
Our modern societies will be much the poorer if we do not protect the key principles of:
- Fearless, independent and impartial advice from civil servants and expert committees to their political masters;
- The scrupulously disinterested pursuit of research by scientists; and
- The even-handed reporting of scientific results to the public.
Both the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Wellington climate conference, display clearly the unacceptable price that society pays when it allows science to be corrupted by politicization. The future assessment of complex scientific and technological issues like climate change needs to be much more rigorously bias-proofed. At the very least this will require the routine use of counterweight and audit panels for rigorous verification of all major policy recommendations.
Human causation aside, compelling scientific evidence exists that natural climate change, both warmings and coolings, present a future hazard to mankind.
Professor Carter’s full analysis of the Conference has been published by the NZCPR as a research paper.
Professor Robert (Bob) M. Carter
Bob Carter is a marine geologist and environmental scientist with forty years professional experience, with degrees from the University of Otago (New Zealand) and Cambridge University (England). He has held academic positions at Otago University and the University of Adelaide, and is currently a Research Professor at James Cook University (Queensland), where he was Head of School of Earth Sciences between 1981 and 1999. He is a former Director of the Australian Office for the Ocean Drilling Program (ODP), the premier, world-best-practice research program for environmental and earth sciences.
Bob has served on many national and international research committees, including the Australian Research Council. He is a former Chairman of the Marine Science and Technologies Award Committee and the National Committee on Earth Sciences. He is an overseas Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
Bob Carter’s current research on climate change, sea-level change and stratigraphy is based on field studies of Cenozoic sediments (last 65 million years) from the Southwest Pacific region, especially the Great Barrier Reef and New Zealand, and includes the analysis of marine sediment cores collected during Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Leg 181 in the South Pacific Ocean east of New Zealand.
Bob’s research has been supported by grants from competitive public research agencies, especially the Australian Research Council (ARC) who in 1998 awarded him a Special Investigator grant. He receives no research funding from special interest organisations such as environmental groups, energy companies or government departments.
Bob Carter has published more than 100 papers in international refereed science journals. He is also an established opinion writer for newspapers such as The Australian, The Brisbane Courier Mail, The Financial Review and The Sunday Telegraph, and makes regular appearances on radio (ABC Science Show; Michael Duffy, John Laws, Alan Jones and Glen Beck radio shows) and television. Bob has acted as an expert witness on climate change for the U.S. Senate Committee of Environment and Public Works (Washington, 2006) and for the U.K. High Court (London, 2007; Dimmock v. the Queen).
See http://members.iinet.net.au/~glrmc for more detailed information on seminars, media contributions and publications, and research papers.