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Hot, parched and sinking – apocalypse Sydney

Deborah Smith, Wendy Frew and Marian Wilkinson; Sydney Morning Herald
SYDNEY faces a temperature rise of up to 4.3 degrees by 2070, and a tripling of the number of days a year when the thermometer soars above 35 degrees, if global greenhouse gas emissions are not cut deeply, a report warns.

But it is already too late for the city to avoid a warming of about 1 degree by 2030 as well as a 3 per cent reduction in annual rainfall because of polluting gases present in the atmosphere.

The report, Climate Change in Australia, provides the most comprehensive assessment of the country’s climate to date, and is based on the work of more than 50 scientists from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Its grim projections of more droughts, heatwaves, bushfires, and severe “weather events” were released in Sydney yesterday at the Greenhouse 2007 conference.
(3 October 2007)

Australia in climate crisis: Garrett

Sid Marris, The Australian
Australia is in “climate crisis” following fresh scientific warnings about temperature increases over the next fifty years, Peter Garrett says.

Labor’s environment spokesman said today that the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology findings, together with projections of rising Australian emissions, spelled “dilemma and doom” for the farm sector.

Mr Garrett said that while the natural cycle of weather meant we would see rain again across desperately dry regions, in the long term the continent would be punished by rising overall temperatures.

“All in and all it is really, really big exclamation mark around what we have already known about climate change,” he said
(2 October 2007)

Climate change inevitable, says CSIRO

AAP, The Australian
Temperatures across Australia are likely to rise by 1C by 2030, but could rise by up 5C in some places by 2070, climate experts say.
Penny Whetton, the co-author of a new Climate Change in Australia report produced by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, said the probability of warming exceeding 1C was 10-20 per cent for coastal areas of Australia, and more than 50 per cent for inland regions.

“Australia is likely to be about 1C warmer by 2030 compared to the temperatures of recent decades and this amount of warming isn’t much affected by what we do about greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr Whetton, of the CSIRO, said at today’s launch of the report.

“However, later in the century, it is much more impacted by what we do with global levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
(2 October 2007)

How we can save ourselves

Tim Flannery, The Age
THE release of the CSIRO’s report on Australia’s climate future brings a sharp focus on what is at stake as we evaluate Liberal and Labor policies on climate change. Among the most alarming projections is that just 60 years from now Australia could be up to five degrees hotter and 40 to 80 per cent drier.

In the same week we learned that Australia’s population will reach 33 million by 2050 – just 40 years from now. Put the projections together and you can see the future shape of our cities. By 2050, for example, Melbourne will have 6 million inhabitants (up from 3.6 million now), far greater heat-stress and bushfire threat, and far less water.

Even with our current level of population and water availability, much of Australia is struggling. Our lower Murray wine industry is facing collapse and Adelaide is our most water-stressed capital. If the water crisis continues into this summer the region faces a full-blown disaster.

Never has the case for sustainability been more evident, or more ignored by our political leaders. Peter Costello is a great population booster, yet we have heard nothing from him about where the water will come from for our increased population. And it’s now self-evident that the climate problem requires urgent action. We must remember that the CSIRO projections are not a fait accompli but a call to action.

Australia can do much to reduce its own emissions, and I believe it has enormous potential to impact on global emissions. Doing so could avoid the worse-case scenarios: our future need not be a train wreck of unsustainability, but the time left within which to act is limited indeed.
(4 October 2007)
Global Public Media is due to post an interview with Flannery soon.

UPDATE (October 6):
The interview is now posted.

The climate change challenge cup

Bill Henderson, Online Opinion
Australia is on the front line of climate change: climate change effects have been more severe and the public is more knowledgeable about climate change than in most other nations. But there is a significant and paralysing lack of consensus about how serious climate change will be and consequently what mitigation measures need to be undertaken.

Australia is the world’s leading sporting nation. Aussies excel at competition. New digital technology offers the opportunity for a competition of ideas that could remove much of the present uncertainty so that a majority of Aussies could be in agreement, on the same page, about climate change risk and suitable mitigation methods.

Online written, iterated debate can enhance, focus and greatly speed up the peer review process. Scientists already collaborate on scientific papers online. Such controlled access wiki building is relatively inexpensive and straight forward as well as being transparent and educational. A rational debate is possible where both climate change deniers and extreme alarmists have to join the competition and put up convincing evidence or shut up.

How would it work:

You need two teams. Ask Tim Flannery, for example, to put together a team to try and prove that climate change is a very serious danger: that greenhouse gases are raising global temperatures leading to drought, sea-level rise and other severe effects on future generations; and that humanity faces an increasing probability of potential extinction through runaway climate change. Ask Hugh Morgan to put together a team to prove that climate change at its worst is only a minor problem if a problem at all.

Ask a major centrist organisation with resources and expertise to facilitate and referee the debate. CSIRO could be the perfect referee.

Both sides put their initial position and evidence up online and then there is an iterated battle of competing positions. The iteration process will focus present state of the art climate science and reduce the non-scientifically credible until there is a consensus on the range of climate change effects we should expect with the probabilities of risk quantified.

There would then be a consensus about how serious our mitigation efforts need to be. If there remains disagreement about which specific mitigation measures to employ the debate can be widened to include expertise on differing mitigation strategies, their potential benefits and liabilities.

The media and especially the emerging web 2.0 blogosphere can help the public follow the competition and keep score: which team is making what moves, who’s winning, who’s on attack, who’s defending and what is the key evidence battle. Big Gav and pals doing the play by play and colour.

It is probably too late to have such a competition up and running before the upcoming election, but if it were the political parties and candidates would have to adjust their platforms either for or against a well understood consensus of climate change risk. If there was agreement that climate change is only a minor problem then other issues would dominate political platforms; if the evidence and subsequent consensus was that climate change is a serious danger requiring immediate and innovative mitigation then the country could hand a decisive mandate to the winning government.

Such iterative debate and the whole burgeoning web 2.0 toolkit promise a future turbocharged democracy and just in time. Citizens will have access to state of the art expertise on any contentious subject and an ability to make their preference known. Governments will be re-empowered with consensus mandates so that reasonable action becomes possible again.

Climate change requires a new level of consensus building and Australia can lead. A defining consensus on climate change danger and needed mitigation globally could be built in time for the crucial US election in 08.

Ultimately everybody who competes in sports is a winner. If we are all not to be climate change losers, we have to innovate a game where we get better at recognising and evaluating complex problems and achieving reasonable consensus on appropriate solutions.
(26 September 2007)
Author Bill Henderson has been taking a unique approach to global warming and sustainaiblity — as a long-time sports fan and participant, he’s been looking for inspiration in the world of sports.

I have mixed feelings about this particular idea. It would be wonderful to be able to inject some drama and color into abstract debates such as climate change.

But why not have the debate be about something real?

The climate skeptic position is losing credibility at a dizzying rate. Why lend it legitimacy by giving it equal time in a debate? The media made this mistake years ago, and only now are beginning to realize that it was intellectually lazy and journalistically irresponsible.

Another problem is that people in these debates don’t play fair. In sports, it is easy to uncover someone who cheats. Not so in debates, where the rhetorical tricks of the Ancient Greeks and Romans are as effective today as they were thousands of years ago.

Unless you pay attention to the management of the debate or have a skeptical, educated audience, the side that is more ruthless and skilled in propaganda will win.

(Needless to say Bill disagrees with me!)