Poor Australia. It's responsible for just a tiny fraction of the global warming that's occurred so far and has already been bearing the punishment in the form of a national carbon tax -- repealed today by Parliament.
Rupert Murdoch, one of Australia's most famous sons, cautioned against policy overreaction to climate change in an interview that aired Sunday. Speaking with Sky News Australia, he lauded Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who pushed for the repeal after calling it a "hand brake" on the economy. He also dismissed significant risks from global warming.
Murdoch's comments about climate change on Sunday bear little resemblance to what’s going on in the scientific journals:
"Climate change has been going on as long as the planet is here… Things are happening,” Murdoch said. “How much of it are we doing, with emissions and so on? As far as Australia goes? Nothing in the overall picture."
The same day the interview aired, scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published a study that attributes southwestern Australia’s 40-year rainfall decline to human influence. Specifically, greenhouse gas pollution and ozone loss high in the atmosphere.
Less rainfall in the southwest is just one of the joys of being Australia this century, with rising snow lines on mountains, more frequent fire weather, and strains on water supply.
Current scientific research suggests that Murdoch is wrong here on a number of accounts, or, to be charitable, is providing insufficient context for us to know what he’s talking about.
Australia's historical responsibility for climate change is bigger than nothing. Oz ranks 19th among the top 20 national contributors to the warming that’s already occurred, according to a study in Environmental Research Letters in January.
From that perspective, Australia might indeed sit back and wait as the rest of the polluting world cleans itself up. On the other hand, Australians emit more CO2 per-capita than most any nation that isn't the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, an island or an emirate. Which nation should cut its carbon first, and by how much, is a matter of policy, not science.
Murdoch's other climate remarks call to mind common anti-science talking points.
I emailed what he said, as reported in the Guardian, to the two scientists who conducted the Nature Geoscience study, and to another who wrote a commentary in the same issue. David John Karoly, a University of Melbourne professor who wrote the commentary, said about the interview: “It is hard to know or even guess what Rupert Murdoch’s statements are based on."
The Earth’s climate does vary on long time scales. What is remarkable about manmade climate change is its speed. Usually, it takes the world much longer to change phases -- "many thousands of years," said Tom Delworth, one of the authors of the new Australia study. (He specified that he was speaking only on his own behalf.)
That the climate shifts over time doesn’t mean that natural factors are leading the charge now: A single species has never changed things so dramatically, so quickly. Delworth calls current global changes “outside the bounds of climate variations we see in the geologic record.”
Murdoch says in the interview that the worst-case scenario is a 3 degree Celsius rise in temperatures over a century, and that only a third of that would be manmade. “Wrong,” Karoly said. The worst-case is closer to 5 degrees C, almost all human-driven. “There is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest that human factors would cause only 1 [degree] C warming by 2100.”
The Australian prime minister has now made and fulfilled a campaign promise to repeal the nation’s carbon tax. Would that repealing the laws of nature were as easy.
This post was updated from its original version to include the news of Australia's carbon tax repeal.
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