Friday, June 24, 2011

CLIMATE EMERGENCY: What Outstanding Australian Scientists Say

Whether it is climate change risks or major disease risks (e.g. from influenza, smoking, alcohol, obesity etc), responsible risk management means that we take very seriously the advice from top scientific experts at the cutting edge of research in these areas and ALSO from other outstanding scientists and top scientific bodies able to make authoritative statements about such risks.

Below are quotes from such outstanding Australian scientists about the risks from the Climate Emergency – links to key biographical details and sources are given and key statements in a wider context are emphasized for clarity, especially for non-scientist readers.

1. Professor Peter Doherty (Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, 1995; Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1996; Australian of the Year, 1997.Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne; author “A Light History of Hot Air”, Melbourne University Publishing, 2007; see: ):

(a) 2007: “There are a whole lot of good ideas out there to try to deal with global warming. The journal Science had an issue earlier this year that explored 10 or so totally different technologies that are involved in producing clean energy or cleaning up carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants. What makes me sad is that we have been missing the boat in Australia and putting more emphasis on fossil fuels than on renewables where we have enormous potential. Until very recently, our Federal Government has made every wrong decision … Solar, wind and deep geothermal. There are all sorts of other possibilities. Generating hydrogen from algae. There is some carbon capture sequestration work which involves producing hydrogen from coal. There is also discussion of using algae to capture carbon. It is probably inevitable that there is more nuclear power in the Northern Hemisphere. I’m not totally convinced we need it in Australia. Germany has rejected nuclear power and gone for solar and Spain is putting a lot of effort into solar. Denmark has chosen wind power … Everything is about hot air. Political and in the atmosphere. We are in real danger. The recent CSIRO report suggests that temperatures could rise as much as five degrees by 2070. The ice is melting much more quickly than anyone expected. The Himalayas are melting very fast. We are now talking about the Arctic being ice-free by 2030” (see: ).

(b) 2007 in “A Light History of Hot Air” (Melbourne University Publishing, 2007): “We are consuming the future and it’s up to us to develop and use renewable resources” (see: ).

2. Professor David de Kretser, A.C., Governor of Victoria, Australia (2008) (eminent Australian medical scientist; ) in launching the book “Climate Code Red. The case for emergency action” by David Spratt and Philip Sutton (Scribe, Melbourne, 2008): “The book draws on a vast array of information to build a cogent and compelling case that we do have a genuine emergency on our hands if we are to limit the rise of greenhouse gas emissions to a level at which we can limit the degradation of our planet to manageable levels … There is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest problem confronting mankind at this time and that it has reached the level of a state of emergency” (see: ).

3. Professor Tim Flannery (2008) (eminent Australian mammalogist, palaeontologist and climate change activist; ):

(a) “[inserting global dimming sulphur into the stratosphere] would change the colour of the sky. It's the last resort that we have, it's the last barrier to a climate collapse. We need to be ready to start doing it in perhaps five years time if we fail to achieve what we're trying to achieve…The consequences of doing that are unknown …The current burden of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is in fact more than sufficient to cause catastrophic climate change… Everything's going in the wrong direction at the moment, timelines are getting shorter, the amount of pollution in the atmosphere is growing…It's extremely urgent" (see:,23599,23724412-2,00.html ).

(b) 2007: “Because methane is more than 20 times as powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, scientists have been watching methane emissions carefully. The gas is abundant in permafrost, so as the Arctic warms it is escaping in great volume. More emissions come from new gas fields, leaky gas infrastructure, and industrial processes, particularly in Asia. Because all of these sources are producing ever more methane, almost everyone expected that methane levels in the atmosphere would escalate dramatically. But mysteriously, for the past seven years there has been no increase in atmospheric methane at all. The reason for this, the climatologists discovered, is that much of Earth's tropical and subtropical areas are drying out, and the dryness is draining lakes, swamps and other wet areas worldwide. In times past, these wetlands were the largest source of methane on the planet, and so prodigious is their loss that it is counterbalancing the mighty increase in methane emissions from other sources. What this tells us is that Australia's extraordinary drought is part of a global phenomenon: it simply cannot be part of some local natural cycle. The one-in-1000-years drought is, in fact, Australia's manifestation of the global fingerprint of drought caused by climate change” (see “Whither our weather?”: ).

4. Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) (Australia’s premier scientific research organization), Climate Change in Australia Technical Report 2007: “The key findings of this report includes that by 2030, temperatures will rise by about 1 ºC over Australia – a little less in coastal areas, and a little more inland - later in the century, warming depends on the extent of greenhouse gas emissions. If emissions are low, warming of between 1 ºC and 2.5 ºC is likely by around 2070, with a best estimate of 1.8 ºC. Under a high emission scenario, the best estimate warming is 3.4 ºC, with a range of 2.2 ºC to 5 ºC” (see: ).

5. Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (top world expert on climate change and coral; University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia; see: ):

(a) with 16 international scientist colleagues (Coral Reefs Under Rapid Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, Science 14 December 2007: Vol. 318. no. 5857, pp. 1737 – 1742 (see: ), 2007: “Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is expected to exceed 500 parts per million and global temperatures to rise by at least 2°C by 2050 to 2100, values that significantly exceed those of at least the past 420,000 years during which most extant marine organisms evolved. Under conditions expected in the 21st century, global warming and ocean acidification will compromise carbonate accretion, with corals becoming increasingly rare on reef systems. The result will be less diverse reef communities and carbonate reef structures that fail to be maintained. Climate change also exacerbates local stresses from declining water quality and overexploitation of key species, driving reefs increasingly toward the tipping point for functional collapse.”

(b) 2007 (Science Show with Robyn Williams: ): This is a paper [see (a)] that's really wrapping up essentially ten years of science. It's bringing together the two great threats to coral reefs, global warming and ocean acidification. What we find out is that the threat is much closer than we thought in the past, and in fact the magic number may be 450. When I say '450'; 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide and we lose them. [Robyn Williams: Do you mean you lose the shellfish, and you lose the reefs?] Lose coral reefs. If you look around Australia today, in fact the world, you find that coral reefs only prosper when you've got a certain amount of carbonate ions in the water. The level at which the carbonate ion drops below that level is when you've got 450 parts per million, and of course we know that we haven't actually had that concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for possibly 20 million years, so this does make sense. So once we've identified this number, I get the feeling that our politicians, even with their best intentions in Bali, are still flailing around trying to identify the target. And I think that everything, and this goes for not only coral reefs but for rainforest, for the breakdown of the Greenland ice sheet and all of these other issues, 450 is going to be what we must at all costs aim for.

6. Dr Graeme Pearman (top Australian climate scientist; Chief of CSIRO Atmospheric Research in Australia from 1992 to 2002; world expert on increasing levels of CO2 and global warming):

(a) 2008: "This science tells us that the world's climate is changing and that the change is primarily because of an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities. We are changing the climate. Very recent science suggests that climate change may be happening faster than we expected and that we and other species on the planet are more vulnerable to change than we thought. This is now forcing serious consideration of rapid responses by all nations as we work to tackle this shared problem. Challenges in this quest include a general community lack of appreciation of the significance of what appears to be small shifts in global average temperature, incompleteness of the knowledge-base and the need to respond using risk management" (see: ).

(b) 2008: “Climate change: the evidence, science and current projections …CONCLUSIONS: recent science strongly reinforces the views that: global warming is occurring; it is primarily the result of human activities. Australia, particularly south of 30oS is likely to: lose 10-30% precipitation through the 21st century; experience a drier climate. Tertiary effects of climate trends have probably been grossly under-stated. There is a rapidly emerging urgency for both adaptive and mitigative action. Challenges exist in how we manage the sheer complexity of climate change and the response options – coping with sustainability” (see the very useful, extensive, well-illustrated and highly-informative document “Climate change: the evidence, science and current projections” : ).

7. Professor Barry Brook (Director of the Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability at the University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia.), 2008: “The Washington Post recently reported Walter Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center about the parlous state of Arctic sea ice: “Flying over the Arctic, one might perceive the sea ice cover as broad, Meier said, but that apparent breadth hides the fact that the ice is so thin. ‘It’s a façade, like a Hollywood set,’ he said. ‘There’s no building behind it’.” Joseph Romm, who writes a blog on climate change and denialism (, commented: “What a perfect metaphor for the delayers. Their arguments seem solid and impressive, but it’s a façade.” Scientists should beware of feeding [climate sceptic] trolls by engaging them on their terms. Instead be strong, well-informed advocates for good science! Don’t think that it is enough to be merely passive bystanders. Good science alone invariably wins these silly debates, but usually not before denialist spin does much damage. Active and forthright public communication of science is not only an obligation of scientists, but a critical necessity. This is especially true for climate change and environmental sustainability, where we are perilously close to running out of time” (see: ).

8. Professor David Karoly (Federation fellow at Melbourne University; head of the Victorian Premier's climate change advisory group; wants a 25-40% cut below 2000 GHG pollution level by 2020; member of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group 2; School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne; a top Australian and world climate scientist: ):

(a) 2007: “There is no doubt in my mind that the climate change we’ve seen over the last 50 years is primarily due to human activity… Australia has the highest per person emissions in the world. It is critically important for the government to take leadership in setting emission reduction targets, irrespective of which political party is in government. It’s not too late to do something now because we can still reduce the worst impacts of climate change, but it is too late to slow down climate change for the next 30 years because for the next 30 years, the warming is committed. What I’m trying to do as much as possible, is communicate the seriousness of this and the urgency” (see: ).

(b) June, 2008: “We have far less time to minimize dangerous anthropogenic climate change than previously thought. Observations of the climate system indicate that the impacts of atmospheric warming are at the upper end of the range predicted by the IPCC. This puts us in an extremely precarious and urgent situation that compels immediate action” (see his Forward to Greenpeace’s “Energy [R]evolution. A sustainable Australian energy outlook”: ).

(c) September, 2008, re Australian Government Climate Change Adviser Professor Garnaut’s 2008 advice of “10% decrease below 2000 GHG level by 2020”):

"I thought Australia wanted to be a leader on the international scene … [a minimum 20% cut below 2000 GHG pollution level by 2020] should be done to try and encourage the other countries around the world to join in. Within Europe, that's what the emissions reductions are aiming at … I would anticipate the Government would take an even weaker approach than Garnaut, which is going to essentially be no change whatsoever" (see “The Age”: ).

9. Dr Hugh Saddler (leading Australian energy expert; modelled Greenpeace’s “ Energy [R]evolution. A sustainable Australian energy outlook”: and ; see: ), with Julien Vincent and Sven Teske (Greenpeace), 2008: “The risk of passing the threshold of runaway climate change is not one that humankind can afford to take. The Energy [R]evolution Scenario demonstrates that making the necessary transformation in how we use energy is achievable, and provides a wealth of opportunities to stimulate economic growth and ensure social stability” (see: ).

10. Dr Mark Diesendorf (Environmental Studies, University of NSW; author of “Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy”, UNSW Press, Sydney; leading environmental policy and renewable energy expert: ):

(a) 2008: “To conclude, wind power, with a small amount of peak-load back-up, which is operated infrequently, could substitute for several of Australia’s coal-fired power stations. Several additional base-load coal-fired power stations could be retired by implementing efficient energy use and solar hot water, while banning electric resistance hot water systems. A little further down the time track, bioelectricity, generated from combusting the residues of existing crops, and hot rock geothermal power could replace the remaining coal-fired power stations. The barriers to this transition are not primarily technological or even, with a significant carbon price, economic. They are the political power of the big greenhouse gas emitting industries” (see: ).

(b) 2008, in response to the Question: “What is it that, if anything, really proves to the average man or woman that Climate Change demands immediate attention?”: “I can only offer my own view. I cannot speak for the ‘average man or woman’. In public addresses, my main argument for URGENT action is based on stopping the positive feedback processes that are amplifying and accelerating global warming: melting of north polar cap; melting of permafrost, which releases greenhouse gases; warming of soils which emit greenhouse gases; warming of the lower atmosphere which takes up more water vapour, a greenhouse gas; warming of sea-water which then absorbs less CO2; increased prevalence and severity of bushfires, which release more CO2. Most audiences understand very well the dangers of these positive feedback processes” (see: ).

11. Professor Neville Nicholls (School of Geography & Environmental Science, Monash University; a lead author of the 2007 Report of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC):

(a) 2007: “Warming, especially accelerated warming, can lead to large underestimates in the probability of exceeding high temperatures over future multi-decadal periods, if historical records are used to estimate probabilities” (see Scott Power & Neville Nichols, “Temperature variability in a changing climate”, Aust. Met. Mag,, 56, 105-110, 2007: ).

(b) 2009, quoted by Adam Morton in “The state must brace for more heat waves, deaths”, The Age, 8 June, 2009, [commenting on the State Government estimation that 374 Victorians may have died because of extreme heat in the final week of January, specifically the final week of January Melbourne had three consecutive days topping 43 degrees - Melbourne had never before experienced a run of three days hotter than 42 degrees]: “With heatwaves it is not [happening later this century]. Climate change is happening now and will happen all through the rest of our lifetimes … The old records are not just being broken by increments, they are being smashed.” (see: ).


12. Dr Paul Steele (Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO); 2001 Victoria Prize):

(a) 2006: “Methane is an important greenhouse gas, and its atmospheric concentration has nearly tripled since pre-industrial times. The growth rate of atmospheric methane is determined by the balance between surface emissions and photochemical destruction by the hydroxyl radical, the major atmospheric oxidant. Remarkably, this growth rate has decreased markedly since the early 1990s, and the level of methane has remained relatively constant since 1999, leading to a downward revision of its projected influence on global temperatures … On longer timescales, our results show that the decrease in atmospheric methane growth during the 1990s was caused by a decline in anthropogenic emissions. Since 1999, however, they indicate that anthropogenic emissions of methane have risen again. The effect of this increase on the growth rate of atmospheric methane has been masked by a coincident decrease in wetland emissions, but atmospheric methane levels may increase in the near future if wetland emissions return to their mean 1990s levels” (co-author together with Dr P. Bousquet and an international group of scientists, “Contribution of anthropogenic and natural sources to atmospheric methane variability. Nature, 443, 439-443, 2006 : ).

(b) 2006: "Had it not been for this reduction in methane emissions from wetlands, atmospheric levels of methane would most likely have continued rising. This suggests that if the drying trend is reversed and emissions from wetlands return to normal, atmospheric methane levels may increase again, worsening the problem of climate change" (see: ) [indeed there was a disturbing increase in atmospheric methane in 2007 that has been linked to tundra permafrost melting as well as increased industrial activity: ].

13. Dr Bill Hare (based at Germany's Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, an author with the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; wants a 25-40% cut below 2000 GHG pollution by 2020), re Australian Government Climate Change Adviser Professor Garnaut’s recommendation of “10% cut on 2000 GHG pollution level by 2020”, 2008: “Ross Garnaut's report is effectively putting off the cost of climate change to another generation, who will have to deal with a three-degree rise in temperature as well as sucking carbon dioxide out of the air … It has failed to face up to this risk issue - in some ways it has dodged the bullet. As a highly vulnerable country, I would have thought it would have been better for Australia to be going forward with a more aggressive position" (see “The Age”: ).

14. Professor Amanda Lynch (a Federation fellow at Monash University; an author with the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; wants a 25-40% cut below 2000 GHG pollution by 2020) re Australian Government Climate Change Adviser Professor Garnaut’s recommendation of “10% cut below 2000 GHG pollution level by 2020”: "I think they will take it as another piece of evidence that Australia is not really interested in walking the walk …How much is it worth to us to have a Great Barrier Reef? How much is it worth to us to be self-sufficient in food? These are the sort of things where setting a value on it are quite challenging, and he largely skirted those issues" (see “The Age”: ).

15. Dr Andrew Glikson (an Earth and paleo-climate research scientist at Australian National University, Canberra, Australia) in “The Methane Time Bomb and the Triple Melt-down" (see: : ): For some time now, climate scientists warned that melting of subpolar permafrost and warming of the Arctic Sea (up to 4 degrees C during 2005–2008 relative to the 1951–1980) are likely to result in the dissociation of methane hydrates and the release of this powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere (methane: 62 times the infrared warming effect of CO2 over 20 years and 21 times over 100 years) The amount of carbon stored in Arctic sediments and permafrost is estimated as 500–2500 Gigaton Carbon (GtC), as compared with the world’s total fossil fuel reserves estimated as 5000 GtC. Compare with the 700 GtC of the atmosphere, which regulate CO2 levels in the range of 180–300 parts per million and land temperatures in a range of about – 50 to + 50 degrees C, which allowed the evolution of warm blooded mammals. The continuing use of the atmosphere as an open sewer for industrial pollution has already added some 305 GtC to the atmosphere together with land clearing and animal-emitted methane. This raised CO2 levels to 387 ppm CO2 to date, leading toward conditions which existed on Earth about 3 million years (Ma) ago (mid-Pliocene), when CO2 levels rose to about 400 ppm, temperatures to about 2–3 degrees C and sea levels by about 25 +/- 12 metres. There is little evidence for an extinction at 3 Ma. However, by crossing above a CO2 level of 400 ppm the atmosphere is moving into uncharted territory. At this stage, enhanced methane leaks threaten climate events, such as the massive methane release and fauna extinction of 55 million years ago, which was marked by rise of CO2 to near-1000 ppm.”

16. Professor Will Steffen (Executive Director of the Climate Change Institute, Australian National University, Canberra and contributor to IPCC reports), 2009: “We now have very good evidence that temperatures, sea level rise and so on are right at the top of the IPCC projections, and that is indeed a cause for concern. One of the big ticket items of course is the sea level rise issue, and we had a lot of discussion, a lot of presentations on that yesterday. And they were pretty sobering indeed. The best estimate we can give you now is that the sea level rise is gonna be above the IPCC fourth assessment reports, in the order of half a metre to a metre by 2100. And a lot of speakers, very eminent people, were saying we're gonna hit very close to a metre and we may indeed go across a metre by 2100. And that indeed is very sobering news… But nevertheless, all the modelling suggests, and indeed the observations suggest in the other parts of the world as well, that as the climate warms - and particularly in those areas where it is drying as well as warming - the risk of severe fires goes up. We've always had severe fires in Australia, but I think the likelihood of them is increasing. We'll see more of them. We saw a really bad one in the Canberra area in 2003; now we see Victorian fires in 2009. That's only a six year interval. That's not a long interval at all. And the likelihood of these big fires continues to go up so long as the climate shifts that we're seeing continue… Now just to put this in context, we're now seeing since pre-industrial temperatures arise of between 0.7 and 0.8 degrees. So we're coming up on one degree already. Now there's already, as I mentioned, inertia in the climate system, so we're committed to further change even if we cut emissions tomorrow. Now that further temperature rise will bring us to about 1.3 or so, so we're already getting right up to the 1.5 that some people are getting - are considering to be dangerous, and we're pushing - now pushing pretty hard at the two degrees… But the longer we wait and the longer we put in new carbon emitting infrastructure, the worse the problem is gonna get. Now, in terms of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, what does two degrees mean? It means we need to cap carbon dioxide at somewhere around 350 to 400 parts per million, and we're sitting at about 385 now. And we need to cap carbon dioxide equivalent, which means we take into account the other greenhouse gases - somewhere around 450 to 500, and we're sitting about 440. So, that really, really does put the accelerator on in terms of getting to grips with the problem. “ (see ABC TV Lateline , 11 March 2009: ).

17. Dr Graeme Pearman (former CSIRO Climate director; GP Consulting; interim director, MSI): Monash University Sustainaibility Group), “Climate change: the evidence, science and current projections”, (2007) (see: ): “The Earth is deglaciating. Since 1979, more than 20% of the Polar Ice Cap has melted away … Over the last century: global temperatures risen by 0.74 +/- 0.18oC; 11 of last 12 years rank as amongst the 12 warmest years; snow cover decreased in most regions, especially in spring and summer; summer period extended 12.3 days … Arctic sea-ice decline of 2.7 +/- 0.6 per cent per decade; sea levels have risen at a rate of 1 .9 +/- 0.5 mm yr-1 (1961-2000), 1.7+/- 0.5 mm yr-1 (1900-2000); ocean acidification 0.1 pH unit so far … Gases: current carbon dioxide and methane concentrations far exceed those of the last 600,000 years; increases primarily die to fossil fuel use, agriculture and land-use changes; Warming: unequivocal, evident in air and ocean temperatures, melting of snow and ice and rising sea levels; warming an effect of human activities – at least 5 times greater than that due to solar output change … extreme temperatures – more frequent, intense, longer-lived heat waves … Recent science strongly reinforces the views that: global warming is occurring; it is primarily a result of human activities; Australia, particularly south of 30oS is likely to: lose 10-30% precipitation through the 21st century, experience a drier climate; tertiary effects of climate change have probably been grossly understated; there is a rapidly emerging urgency for both adaptive and mitigative action; challenges exist in how we manage the sheer complexity of climate change and tth eresponse options – coping with sustainability.”

For other Climate Emergency Fact Sheets see the Yarra Valley Climate Action Group Website: .

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