Our Work Climate Change Letter to the Editor: Media must let the truth prevail

Letter to the Editor: Media must let the truth prevail

Is there no end to the contention by climate change sceptics, who report in The Australian, that action is useless and that adaptation will see us through? asks Dr John Iser in his Letter to the Editor which as far as we know has not been published. As he states, the media’s role is to shed light on truth, not to obfuscate it; to challenge power, not be beholden to it.

Chris Mitchell in his article “Fair climate reporting must include economic facts” (The Australian 21 Oct) once again resorts to a mix of dubious economic arguments, denial that action by Australia will have any flow-on effect and the contention that levies (sic) will protect coastal cities. 

Firstly, on Lomborg. In his book “Cool It”, Lomborg, in costing the effects of combatting possible global warming and how revenue might be better spent in other ways, makes little or no mention of the costs of bush-fires (or wild-fires). In denying the progression of global warming, he certainly did not entertain the occurrence of unprecedented wild-fires on his back-door step in Scandinavia and across the Arctic circle this year which resulted from record high temperatures. 

Wildfires have occurred with increasing frequency throughout the world from the combination of rising temperatures and changed rainfall patterns. The fires in California in 2018 cost billions (and still counting) in structural damage, personal death and injury, and fire-suppression measures. And what about at home in Australia? Those of vast firefighting experience here (for example, Greg Mullins in NSW) report that fires are now at a level of ferocity not seen before, let alone the longer season which now starts in winter. 

Secondly, reliable data from NASA confirms an alarming rate of increased polar and glacial melting and ocean expansion through warming leading to a general rise in sea-levels. Local factors such as winds, currents and tides account for local variations so that cherry-picking individual spots is not sound science. The cost of constructing levees to preserve major cities and coastal agricultural land is considered to be too high to contemplate, so how does humanity cope with the huge translocation and migration required? 

Thirdly, the argument that it does not matter what we do in Australia is tired. Yes, Australia is a small carbon emitter globally but all the global small emitters contribute a total of about 43% of total global emissions. And if we expand gas and coal-mining and exports we will be a significant contributor  which could amount to 17% of global emissions by 2030. Australia has much to lose from climate change. We are the most vulnerable of developed nations to its effects. Stock devastation and land degradation from the recent drought may be irrevocable when we consider Bureau of Meteorology’s forecasts, which have been accurate to date. 

So, we can either adopt ambitious measures to reduce our emissions, thereby encouraging other nations to do likewise (just as we should be doing for our Pacific neighbours) or we can simply hand-over what could be insurmountable problems to our children and grand-children. In the vernacular, what a cop-out. 

Fourthly, an attempt to cost solutions to power generation by looking at the contenders individually is not useful as there are many factors to consider. Low emissions power generation is likely to consist of a mix of solar panels, wind turbines, stationary and vehicular batteries, hydro and pumped-hydro, hydrogen, smart switching, and all assisted by demand variation and improved energy efficiency. And there are many other possibilities being tested world-wide. Integration of these into AEMO’s ISP is likely to be more cost-effective than the distraction of nuclear with its unending budget and time-lines. Ross Garnaut puts forward ample arguments that Australia can benefit economically from developing these energy modalities and become an energy “Super-Power”. 

And fifthly, the state of the future is not just about global warming and climate change in isolation. Scientific and medical experts (AMA’s and DEA’s climate emergency declarations for example) are telling us that unless we change course to stop global surface temperature increase, and to reduce contamination and destruction of habitat for all biological species, then eventually there will be a survival crisis. It is not that a “mass extinction was (is) near” but that if measures are not taken now, business-as-usual of past decades will not be reversed and tipping points in climate change will be passed. 

Modelling for these tipping points is proving to be remarkably accurate and so to ignore these is a monumental gamble. Climate science embraces the knowledge and “work of astronomers and geologists” and is seeing its analyses realised year by year. The economics of change should be seen in this light. 

Grassroots action, such as Extinction Rebellion, is a sure sign that politics is failing to respond urgently to the reality of the impending climate crisis, glimpses of which Australians and people everywhere are experiencing. 

The media’s role is to shed light on truth, not to obfuscate it; to challenge power, not be beholden to it.