This is a guest post by Dave Gaukroger.


The Australian today has published a confusing article by Malcolm Colless where he attempts to paint the discussion of climate change as a “beat-up” and offers as an example two events from the past few decades when people have supposedly overreacted to an imagined threat. Colless’ argument basically boils down to two points, firstly, things probably aren’t our fault, and secondly, we should avoid taking action because of the cost and limited chance of success. The problem with Colless’ argument is that the examples he has chosen were both caused, and solved, by human action.

Colless’ first attempt to re-frame the climate change debate is by comparing it to the Y2K bug. He appears to have fallen into believing that because there were no disastrous failures on the eve of the year 2000, that the Y2K bug was merely hype. I can assure him that the colleagues of mine who spent that New Year’s Eve posted at critical government sites throughout Canberra would quickly disagree. The reason that major failures due to the Y2K bug never eventuated was because of the enormous amount of effort spent averting it. The more extreme claims like

Aircraft could fall from the sky

were almost entirely creations of the media, rather than the IT industry. As to who caused the Y2K bug, that has never been in doubt, it was programmers who never dreamed that thesoftware that they were writing in the 70s and 80s could possibly still be in use by the year 2000.

The second example that Colless chooses is perhaps even more astounding, the hole in the atmospheric ozone layer. Colless dismisses the hole in the ozone layer as an environmental concern because

The hole is apparently still there, although it has stopped expanding and has, in fact, started shrinking. Coincidentally, it is now playing second fiddle to global warming in the climate change debate.

and for some reason he decides to draw a parallel with climate change that seemingly undoes his entire argument

But just as we were told to disregard any suggestion that a hole in the ozone layer could be, in large part anyway, caused by Earth’s natural evolution, so we must accept that global warming cannot be attributed to any natural changes in the planet’s climactic cycle. No. It is all our fault.

The simple fact here is that there is no doubt whatsoever that the hole in the ozone layer was caused by the release of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs) from aerosols and refrigerants, products that are man made. The Montreal Protocol was proposed in 1987 and has had the effect of reducing the amount of ozone depleting substances in the atmosphere, which is why, as Colless noted, the hole has started shrinking.

Colless spends the second half of his article criticising the Rudd Government’s intransigence when it comes to climate change, and their reliance on peer reviewed scientific journals, specifically condemning Greg Combet’s comment that

“Publication in newspapers and blogs is no substitute for the careful processes of scientific rigour,”

With all due respect to Mr Colless and the medium he writes for, if the argument he made today in the Australian is the best reason he can come up with to justify inaction on climate change, I’m afraid that I have to agree with Mr Combet.

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