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With great power ...

  • Published at 06:05 pm November 18th, 2014
With great power ...

During the time it took me to read the November 15 op-ed published in the DT titled “True lies of climate change,” my reaction underwent three phases. Amusement, followed by incredulity, and then sadness.

Amusement at the arguments presented in the article trying to discredit climate science. Incredulity that this was not just a comment in some popular blog that was riddled by good old Internet trolling. Finally, sadness that at a time when we must move swiftly towards solutions, people are still mired in the propaganda engineered over decades by the fossil fuel industry.

Responding to all the inaccuracies would take much longer than one response article, and is also unnecessary. So instead, I will address some of the most glaring ones before moving on to more substantial matters.

The author mentions: “The debate is primarily on the root cause, ie whether it is due to human-induced carbon emission or natural climate variability.” This fundamental premise is false.

There is no debate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – arguably the largest collective scientific inquiry in human history – unequivocally states in its recently published Fifth Assessment Report: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid 20th century.”

As a geologist myself, I can tell you that scientists don’t take the term “extremely” very lightly, and that is coming from the IPCC, a consensus-based body known to be quite conservative with its conclusions.

Furthermore, the author writes: “Man’s contribution is as small as 0.2% to 0.3% of the total greenhouse effect.” I cannot be certain where this statistic comes from, but there are plenty of websites full of misleading figures supported by specious reasoning that fail to withstand even the most basic scrutiny.

The relevant fact about greenhouse gases is that humans have pumped enough CO2 into the atmosphere to raise its concentrations from about 270ppm (parts per million) in pre-industrial times to roughly 400ppm now (yes, you can track the CO2 molecules which come from human-generated sources).

This is the highest it has been for the last 15 to 20 million years. If we don’t change course and fast, the IPCC writes that we risk “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts.” And to know what that means, we don’t have to look beyond our own borders.

There are many other pseudo-facts, irrelevant facts, unsupported claims, and other issues with the article, but they have already received more attention than they deserve. In the meantime, something big is happening all around the world. Just within the last month, the European Union announced that it will reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030.

Last week, the US announced that it will cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025, and China, for the first time ever, announced a date for its emissions to peak, by 2030 if not earlier.

At the G20 summit that just ended, Obama pledged $3bn to the Green Climate Fund (and Japan committing an additional $1.5bn), with what amounts to a slap in the face to Australia’s rogue Prime Minister Tony Abbott after he refused to include climate in the G20 agenda.

These announcements inject much needed momentum into the climate change negotiations to resume in two weeks in Lima, Peru at the UNFCCC 20th Conference of Parties. Make no mistake, the scale of the challenge of addressing climate change is still massive and dwarfs any of the actions that have yet been announced. But, it is clear that after decades, the rusty cogs of global bureaucracy are finally creaking.

As I have written before, this is a time of unprecedented consequences. Creating a world powered by clean energy, in a matter of 30-40 years – after centuries of fossil fuel addiction – is going to be as disruptive as quitting cocaine is to an addict. But the results can be just as transformative and rewarding.

At this time, it is each of our duty to do our best and push the boundaries of what is possible, and not concede to special interests that will not take kindly to these massive changes that threaten their influence. Nowhere is this more applicable than for the media, which can be the best gatekeeper to our democracies. With the great power of shining the light on darkness and shaping public opinion, comes the great responsibility of serving the interests of the people.

Climate change denialism has long become obsolete, and yet mainstream media continues to allocate it space. Sometimes, it is done deliberately, such as when one of Murdoch’s numerous media outlets try to undermine any climate action. At other times, it is done with the justification of “telling both sides of the story.” But that argument is largely invalid when one side of the story is science, and the other side is a fear-mongering fairytale. It is far past time media outlets recognise so.

I end with the hope that responsible journalism wins, and that the story changes from whether we act on climate to how we do. Because, trust me, there are many sides to that story. 

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