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Keith Burrows, Dan O’Keeffe
Australian Institute of Physics
Education Committee (Vic)
In fact they should have a key role!
• Would you get on this aeroplane if 1 out
of 10 engineers found dangerous cracks
in the wings?
• How about if 9 out of 10 engineers said there
were dangerous cracks in the wings and 1 said
they didn’t matter?
• That’s about the proportion of
scientists saying climate change is
• That’s about the proportion of
scientists saying climate change is
“This image was digitally altered!”
Actually it is more like over 95%
Sea level rise: It’s worse than we thought
July 2009
Latest news:
Sea level rise worse than we thought
“The bad news is that there is a growing consensus
that the IPCC estimates are wildly optimistic.”
“They found that ice loss is increasing fast.
Greenland is now losing about 300
gigatonnes of ice per year, enough to raise
sea level by 0.83 mm. Antarctica is losing
about 200 gigatonnes per year, almost all of
it from West Antarctica and the Antarctic
Peninsula, raising levels by 0.55 mm.”
(0.83 + 0.55 = 1.4 mm/yr, i.e. >1.2 metres by 2100 )
“Large parts of the West Antarctic ice sheet are vulnerable to
collapse which would add 3 metres to global sea levels”
Still later news:
East Antarctica
is also melting
faster than we
Figure 14: Observed Antarctic Warming Trend (°C/decade) from 1957-2006
Steig, E. J. et al., Warming of the Antarctic ice-sheet surface since the 1957 International Geophysical Year. Nature 457, (2009)
“Paul Blanchon's
team at the National
University of Mexico
in Cancun has been
studying 121,000year-old coral reefs
in the Yucatan
Peninsula, formed
during the last interglacial period when sea level peaked at around
6 metres higher than today. His findings suggest that at one point
the sea rose 3 metres within 50 to 100 years.”
~25 m
Why Science Teachers?
• "I'm frustrated, as are many of my
colleagues, that 30 years after the US
National Academy of Sciences issued a
strong warning on CO2 warming, the full
urgency of this problem hasn't dawned
on politicians and the general public."
• Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate
Impact Research, Germany, at the International
Scientific Congress on Climate Change,
Copenhagen 10-12 March 2009.
This issue of Physics World can be downloaded free from
“The small coterie of individuals who deny
humanity’s influence on climate will try to use any
perceived flaw in the evidence to discredit the
entire picture. So how can researchers honestly
describe the uncertainty in their work without it
being misconstrued?”
“Some of the researchers’ online discussion
reflected a pervasive climate of suspicion — their
sense that any findings they released to the public
could and would be distorted by sceptics.?”
“No matter how evident climate change becomes,
however, other factors will ultimately determine
whether the public accepts the facts. Empirical
evidence shows that people tend to react to reports on
issues such as climate change according to their
personal values. Those who favour individualism over
egalitarianism are more likely to reject evidence of
climate change and calls to restrict emissions.”
“The climate-research community would thus
do well to use a diverse set of voices, from
different backgrounds, when communicating
with policy-makers and the public.”
Why Science Teachers?
Australia's Chief Scientist, Professor Penny Sackett:
"I think that we're seeing more and more a
confusion between a political debate, … and the
discussion of the science. I feel that these two
things are being confused and it worries me"
” ABCTV 7.30 Report (Feb 1)
Why Science Teachers?
"With the uneasy consensus on climate change fostered by Kevin
Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull having been dashed, a lot of voters
are taking refuge with whatever their side of politics is saying.”
''Because the science is so inaccessible, voters are generally forced
into treating the climate change issue ideologically. For a lot of
them, they don't feel that they have any choice,'' said Nielsen's
research director, John Stirton,
Why Science Teachers?
• Climate change is the most significant threat
human civilization has ever faced.
• In order to appreciate the magnitude of the
problem, it must be seen through the lens of
• A huge public education campaign is needed.
• (as distinct from the mis-education campaign
prevalent in some parts of the media)
Why Us?
• “These stark conclusions about the threat posed
by global climate change and implications for
fossil fuel use are not yet appreciated by
essential governing bodies
… In our view, there is an acute need for science
to inform society about the costs of failure to
address global warming, because of a
fundamental difference between the threat
posed by climate change and most prior global
• The conclusion from: Dangerous human-made interference with
climate: a GISS modelE study J Hansen et al. Journal of Atmospheric
Chemistry and Physics, 7, 2287–2312, 2007
Why Us?
• Two crucial points:
• “...acute need for science to inform society...”
• “...fundamental difference ... most prior global
Why Us?
• “...acute need for science to inform society...”
• We are asking everyone - EVERYONE ON EARTH - to
change the way they do things…
• …on the basis of a scientific discussion without OBVIOUS
evidence. (And some public dispute about it.)
• Never before has the actual science been so important in
the debate…
• People need good reasons to change their behaviour –
not just scientists telling them to.
Why Us?
• “...fundamental difference ... most prior global
• Unique in human history…
• Threat of war could be seen – (even if often
ignored until too late).
• Once climate change is obvious it will be
• and the consequences catastrophic.
• And again, it is only understandable in
scientific terms.
Why Us?
• Dealing with climate change will require massive
adjustments to the way we do things.
• Most of these adjustments are based on
science, so...
• people need to understand at least some basic
scientific concepts:
– Energy, and its importance in our world
– EM radiation & its role in the Earth’s energy balance
– Scientific method – notably the idea of ‘uncertainty’
Why Us?
• Climate scientists are generally:
• Too busy doing their science.
• Not necessarily good at communicating with
the lay public.
• Trying to talk to politicians.
Why Us?
Why Us?
If we don’t
do it, who
else will?
Ian Plimer... that noted climate expert...
It has sold very well! 50,000+ copies
• Plimer says “the climate
has always changed” – we
just have to get used to it.
• “If we humans, in a fit of
ego, think we can change
these normal planetary
processes, then we need
stronger medication.”
How can he, a scientist, say that?
• Surely he knows that we have increased the CO2
(greenhouse gas) in the atmosphere by over 35%
• and there is a strong correlation between the CO2
and the temperature...
How can he, a scientist, say that?
And that other noted climate expert...
“UN is using the global
warming scare in order to
impose world government”
Monckton’s temperature graph
Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun constantly comes up with
trivia which he thinks (?) is important.
All he needs do is create confusion. The fact that most
of what he says is drivel is irrelevant.
Herald Sun 19 Dec 2008
Herald Sun a
few days after
Bolt’s article.
5 out of 6
support Bolt’s
• “Satellite data indicates the southern hemisphere has recorded
no warming”
• “When will the biggest scientific fraud in history fall apart?”
• “The [CPRS] is a non-solution to a non-problem” (Bob Carter)
• “In the last Ice Age the CO2 levels were 4000 ppm”
• “heat travels from hot to cold so the colder CO2 cannot warm
the surface below”
• “The telling thing about the global warming faith is that it’s
preached almost entirely by hypocrites” (AB)
Why US?
• Other groups talking about climate change:
– often
not their
So why science teachers?
• There is a huge lack of knowledge out there!
• Only with an understanding of the basic
science will the community make the right
decisions about these extremely important
• the link between CO2 emissions and CC
• energy and greenhouse emissions
• ways to seriously reduce CO2 emissions
But is the science “settled”?
• Science is NEVER “settled”.
• That climate change is real and largely human
caused is as about as settled as science gets.
• There is debate about the consequences, but
the risk of inaction could be catastrophic.
• Many of the world’s major scientific bodies
have issued statements urging strong
immediate action and warning of dangerous
consequences if not.
Some scientific bodies who have issued statements
stressing the need for action on climate change
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
American Institute of Physics
National Research Council
Woods Hole Research Center
Union of Concerned Scientists
Federal Climate Change Science Program
NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
American Geophysical Union
Geological Society of America
American Chemical Society - (world's largest scientific organization)
Federal Climate Change Science Program - commissioned by Bush!
American Association of State Climatologists
US Geological Survey
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Pew Center on Climate Change
Some scientific bodies who have issued statements
stressing the need for action on climate change
• Rest of World:
• UN Project on Climate Variability and Predictability
• United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
• United Nations Environment Program
• World Meteorological Organization
• International Council on Science
• The Royal Society (UK)
• Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS)
• Geological Society of London
• The Australian Academy of Sciences
• The Institution of Engineers Australia
• The Australian Meteorological And Oceanographic Society
Since 2005, the Academies of Science for
the G8+5 countries have called on world
leaders to limit the threat of climate
change. We have advised prompt action
to deal with the causes of climate change
and cautioned that some climate impacts
are inevitable. However, progress in
reducing global greenhouse gas emission
has been slow…
Key vulnerabilities include water
resources, food supply, health, coastal
settlements and some ecosystems
(particularly arctic, tundra, alpine, and
coral reef). The most sensitive regions are
likely to include the Arctic, Africa, small
islands and the densely populated Asian
Climate change is a pressing issue for
today. Action on adaptation is needed
now and failure to respond poses a
significant risk.
“When climate scientists like me explain to
people what we do for a living we are
increasingly asked whether we "believe in climate
change". Quite simply it is not a matter of belief.
Our concerns about climate change arise from
the scientific evidence that humanity's activities
are leading to changes in our climate. The
scientific evidence is overwhelming.”
• Dr Vicky Pope is the head of climate change
advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre, Wed 11 February 2009
But this science is not getting
through to either the public
or the politicians!
• How is it going to get through given the very
strong lobby groups against it?
• This is where we come in
• Who else?
The science is “settled” but...
• As science teachers we could be the best link
between the scientists and the public.
– and the politicians?
And watch for
Contact us:
Cried one, IPCC co-author
Kevin Trenberth, in an email
to other members of this
conspiracy: "The fact is that
we cannot account for the
lack of warming at the
moment and it's a travesty
that we can't."
Trenberth is actually
concerned about our
current inability to track
small year-to-year variations
in the radiative fluxes –
which would help quantify
the current changes in the
Earth’s energy budget. The
comment has nothing to do
with a lack of warming!
His recent paper:
An imperative for climate
change planning: tracking
Earth’s global energy
New Scientist
(web) 25 Nov:
Climate sceptics have gleefully blogged that the emails,
now widely published on the internet, reveal extensive data
manipulation and expose a conspiracy behind global
warming research. An analysis by New Scientist finds scant
evidence of data abuse, but does show persistent efforts to
suppress work by climate sceptics.
Mostly the researchers are exposed as doing what they are
supposed to do: engaging in an often adversarial process to
arrive at the truth. One long exchange ends: "This is
ultimately about science, it's not personal."