[ASC-media] Media release: storm over climate claims

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Thu Jul 12 05:23:22 CEST 2007

Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

July 12, 2007


Scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies have strongly criticized claims made by climate skeptics in a program to be aired on ABC television tonight as lacking in scientific credibility.

They have also given the ABC a rap on the knuckles over its decision to broadcast scientifically misleading information in its program "The Great Global Warming Swindle".

Professor Malcolm McCulloch of CoECRS and the Australian National University and Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg of CoECRS and the University of Queensland warned that broadcasting such material could lead to dangerous delays in dealing with a potentially catastrophic situation affecting Australia's coral reefs and other ecosystems.

"This isn't a documentary, because documentaries are about fact. If it were rational skepticism, I'd welcome it," Prof. Hoegh-Guldberg said. "All this will achieve is to confuse the public and policy makers about one of the most well-researched and locked-down scientific facts of our time."

Professor McCulloch says "This program takes a step backward in attempting to deny the reality of global warming. It ignores recent temperature data that shows that the beginning of this century has included the 2nd to 7th warmest years recorded - with 1998 and 2005 being the warmest on instrumental records. Its so-called scientific data are at best distortions or in some cases blatant misrepresentations.

"Our current era of global warming is being driven by increased atmospheric CO2 and is occurring almost 100 times faster than in the past - and is thus of enormous concern. Such rates of warming have rarely, if ever, been previously encountered by our planet. 

Prof. McCulloch says the Earth is a highly non-linear system and the possibility of rare but catastrophic events should not be ignored. "For example, in the IPCC report, the projected sea level rise of about 0.4m by 2100 is very likely, based on the well-known physics of thermal expansion of the oceans. But it is also likely that much larger increases of 6 metres or more may occur if the ice sheets of Greenland and the west Antarctic melt. 

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg heads an international program that is investigating coral bleaching.  "The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest and most diverse coral reef system and is truly one of the World's greatest natural wonders," he says. "It is also a highly valuable natural resource that generates over $5 billion a year from tourism. But coral reefs are particularly susceptible to global warming. 

"For reasons we don't yet fully understand, when reef waters exceed a critical temperature threshold by more than a few degrees for several days, the corals bleach and die.

"There is also a significant risk that high CO2 levels will cause the oceans to become more acid, which could also kill corals and other marine life with chalky skeletons.

Professor McCulloch added "We know from the fossil coral record that, over thousands of years, corals can adapt to warmer conditions.  However, there is as yet no evidence they can adapt in years or decades - and that adds up to a significant threat that some coral species will vanish."

Prof McCulloch says actions taken now can substantially ameliorate some of the worst effects of global warming. "The reduction of CO2 emissions is a key challenge, which requires more efficient energy usage, and the development of new and alternative technologies, such as solar and wind power, as well as the wise use of our vast natural endowments of gas, coal, and uranium. 

"Given the expertise and calibre of Australia's scientific community and our technological capacity, there is a great opportunity for Australia to play a leading role in the development and implementation of a new energy regime, which takes advantage of our natural resources. In such critical times, scientists have a clear responsibility, to not only get the science right, but also in educating, not misleading the public, as this program does."

A public forum will be held in the Finkel Theatre of the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the ANU from 1.40-2.30pm tomorrow (July 13) to respond in detail to the claims. Speakers include: 
* Dr Janette Lindesay, ANU Fenner School of Environmental Science: "The Science of Global Warming: Instrumental Records " 
* Professor Robert Dunbar, Stanford University School of Earth Sciences: "Lessons from the Past: Manmade Climate Change versus Solar, Volcanic Forcing"
* Professor Malcolm McCulloch, ANU Research School of Earth Sciences and CoECRS:  "Why we should Avoid Dangerous Climate Change: Risks, Thresholds and Mitigation" 

Following the speakers the forum will be open for general discussion and questions.  The public and media are welcome to attend.

More information:
Professor Malcolm McCulloch, CoECRS and ANU, 02 61259969 
or 0439 490 282

Professor Ove-Hoegh-Guldberg,CoECRS and UQ, 07 3365 1156 
or 0401 106 604; www.climateshifts.org

Susanne Hutchinson, ANU, 02 61259970 
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, 07 4781 4222

More information about the ASC-media mailing list