ALS Topic 21 - So what do you think you should do about climate change (if anything)?

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 10 November 2018
Venue: · Adelaide
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Note: About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.


Focus Questions

1. The last Ice Age began almost 1.8 million years ago and lasted until approximately 11,700 years ago. Humans didn’t have much say in it. The climate is always changing. How much effective say can humans have in the present state of climate change?

2. If present global warming is caused in a major way by humans, what will it take for humans to act in concert to slow change, and to minimize the negative effects? Humans as a species have never really acted with unified will before. They can’t even stop wars.

3. Are individuals powerless to do anything about climate change, and so justified in ignoring it?

4. Even if we ignore or deny human effects on climate change, does it make good sense to develop renewable energy resources and recyclable technologies? Justify your opinion.

5. Australia has a close strategic, and hopefully humanitarian, interest in the micro-states of the Pacific Ocean. These people are in no doubt about rising sea levels caused by climate change threatening their very existence. What can we do to help Pacific Islanders? [p.s. I used to teach students from 12 small island countries at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji].

6. The level of basic scientific and mathematical understanding in every country is extremely low (single digit percentages). The word ‘scientist’ is much misused, and rather few people can explain how scientific method really works. Given this level of misunderstanding and mistrust, how can general populations be motivated to act on inconvenient scientific opinions about dangerous risks like climate change?

7. Both governments and companies vary in their reaction when it comes to questions of the environment and climate change. Some are actively looking for solutions (and commercial opportunities) some of the time. However many political and business leaders worldwide are deeply entrenched in preserving their own short term financial interests. A number of them fund fake news and fake research on a large scale (a bit like the cigarette industry). What can be done about this?

8. There seems to be a social law like the laws of physics: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There are plenty of balanced people who have a very sober view about environmental and climate risks. However, as with anything in the popular mind, there is a tide of opportunists and also easily influenced people tinged with almost religious fervour about anything ‘green’. They immediately excite the prejudice of another large group who oppose and despise them. Both of these extremes are easily moved by fake or malicious information, with the political effect that they make real solutions extra difficult, or sometimes impossible. What is the best way to handle this dilemma?

9. What kind of engineering options do we have, or might we invent, to control the climate and the environment generally? Do you think major geo-engineering solutions might be tried if life on the planet becomes desperate and obviously dangerous, even to the doubters?

10. Because of its present harsh environment, Australia is probably the least populated continent. Will that fate always be accepted, or do you think that if the climate and environment become even less hospitable, Australian innovators and political risk-takers might be driven to re-engineer the landscape in major ways? (e.g. when I was younger there was a half-serious proposal to blast a waterway right through the centre of Australia. This would affect temperature and rainfall patterns etc.).


Comments & Extra Reading


Mike Seccombe (26 October 2018) "Climate change claims its first mammal extinction - Liberal moderates, corporations and the voters of Wentworth have all called on the Morrison government to act on climate change. But the country’s top scientists say its effects are already wreaking havoc across Australia." The Saturday Paper @

Christian Schwagerl (July 6, 2016) "What’s Causing the Sharp Decline in Insects, and Why It Matters - Insect populations are declining dramatically in many parts of the world, recent studies show. Researchers say various factors, from monoculture farming to habitat loss, are to blame for the plight of insects, which are essential to agriculture and ecosystems". Yale E360 website @

Oliver Milman (23 November 2016) "Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’" The Guardian @

Libby Brooks (22 December 2016) "'Mad Alex': Donald Trump letters abuse Scottish ex-first minister - Donald Trump harangued the former first minister of Scotland as “Mad Alex” and accused him of being on a “march to oblivion” in a series of increasingly angry and eccentric letters about windfarms he claimed were blighting his Scottish golf courses". The Guardian @  [2554 comments]

James Taylor (February 13, 2013) "Peer-Reviewed Survey Finds Majority Of Scientists Skeptical Of Global Warming Crisis" [no, don't stop at the title! Please go to the comments to find out who this claimed 'majority of scientists' really is..] Forbes Magizine @

Damian Carrington (17 November 2017) " 'Political watershed' as 19 countries pledge to phase out coal - New alliance launched at Bonn climate talks hopes to signal the end of the dirtiest fossil fuel that kills 800,000 people a year with air pollution". The Guardian @

Nick Miller (26 October 2018) "Bordeaux faces bitter harvest as it gets to grips with climate change - “For anyone who had a doubt about climate change, the year 2018 should shake up their beliefs a little:” Franck Bijon, the director of winemaking at Chateau Larose Trintaudon, a 300-year-old estate in the Haut-Medoc region of Bordeaux’s wine country." Brisbane Times @

Moscow Times (September) 06 2018) "Russian Ministry Warns of Coming Environmental Apocalypse Fueled by Climate Change". Moscow Times @

Kirsty Needham (11 January 2018) "Beijing skies blue in 'dramatic' pollution reduction - A report by Greenpeace released on Thursday confirmed what Beijing residents have happily noticed - levels of the air pollutant PM 2.5 fell by 54 per cent in the last three months of 2017. Greenpeace said a 'winter action plan' targeting Beijing, Tianjin and 26 northern cities had resulted in "dramatic falls in pollution in the area". Brisbane Times @

Umair Irfan (June 9, 2018) "Why India’s air pollution is so horrendous - Eleven out of the 12 most polluted cities on a World Health Organization list were in India." Vox @

Gabrielle Chan (22 October 2018) "Look after the soil, save the Earth: farming in Australia's unrelenting climate - Former governor general Michael Jeffery says soil health and regenerative farming is essential for security and carbon emissions" The Guardian @

Graham Readfearn (24 January 2018) "Murky world of 'science' journals a new frontier for climate deniers". Deniers have found a platform in emerging publications that publish without rigorous review". The Guardian @

James Lemon (July 13 2017) "One trillion tonne iceberg breaks off Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctic". Brisbane Times @

Richard G ‘Bugs’ Stevens (3 August 2018) "How the marvel of electric light became a global blight to health". Aeon magazine @

Anna-Sophie Schneider (March 08, 2018) "Marcella Hansch Wants to Save the Ocean - Up to 13 million tons of plastic wind up in the ocean each year. German architect Marcella Hansch has developed a platform designed to remove that waste from our seas. But it wasn't something she planned". Spiegel Online @

Damian Carrington (17 Apr 2018) "Scientists accidentally create mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles. The breakthrough, spurred by the discovery of plastic-eating bugs at a Japanese dump, could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis." The Guardian @

Adam Morton (19 April 2018) "Researchers create super sponge that mops up oil spills - Australian scientists say new polymer can remove crude oil and diesel from seawater" The Guardian @

Tamara Avellán (March 22, 2017) "The world needs more toilets – but not ones that flush - A third of the world’s population still lacks access to proper sanitation facilities, but if people do get them water and sanitation problems will arise". Asia Times @

Wikipedia (2018) "Climate engineering". Wikipedia @

Science Daily (2018) "Climate Engineering" [index of articles]. Science Daily @

David Biello (April 6, 2010) "What Is Geoengineering and Why Is It Considered a Climate Change Solution? - Some scientists are calling for more study of technological interventions to forestall catastrophic global warming. Why?" Scientific American @

John Harris (20 October 2018) "‘We'll have space bots with lasers, killing plants’ - A farming robot .. can be equipped with software that can recognise up to 800 different kinds of weed, destroying them with precision targeting. At a stroke, chemical weedkillers would become yesterday’s news...The developers claim they can increase arable farming revenues by up to 40%, and reduce production costs by as much as 60%. The agility of [very small] agricultural robots means small farms with compact fields will no longer be at a disadvantage; independent shops and restaurants will be able to grow their produce on smallholdings efficiently tended by Rachel-like machines. The Guardian @

Yasmin Robertson - I think we have very little effect on climate change, it will occur irrespective of us on how much we pollute the skies, the planet is ever evolving, growing and changing, it certainly doesn't give a hoot about us. Alas we should never ignore it because we can make small differences for the future generations.

  ... With question 6...In my opinion, the awareness of a scientific and mathematical level is on the increase. More information is available with ongoing discoveries about our planet.

  ... Question 7.. the only solutions the government is looking for is their hip pocket, what can be done? I'd vote for Elmo.

   ... Question 9: none..... Australia could be a desert land in 50 years time.. or it could be over flowing with food production. :-)

Gay Alcorn, Mike Bowers (28 October 2018) "Morwell - A powerhouse in the grip of coal transition - Gay Alcorn checks in on the electorate in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley and finds one issue on everyone’s minds: jobs." The Guardian @

Sarah Szabo (29 October 2018) "Endgame: how Australian preppers are bugging out and hunkering down - As global anxiety takes hold, an increasing number of people are preparing for the worst-case scenario. Earlier this year the hands of the Doomsday Clock moved to two minutes to midnight, as atomic scientists announced that the world is closer to annihilation than it has been in decades. Is it any wonder, then, that the worldwide phenomenon of prepping, in all its camouflaged, gun-toting, canned-food-hoarding glory, is spreading as global anxiety about everything from thermonuclear war to climate change takes hold. When we think about the worst case scenarios that could play out on the planet, most of us fit somewhere on the sliding scale from wilful ignorance through sensible precaution to paranoia. Yet for some, the zeitgeist is trending towards a bleak future." The Guardian @

Fergus Hunter (28 October 2018) "Government funds feasibility study into $250 million pumped hydro project". Brisbane Times @

Rob Guyatt - This topic is a good example of how people can make claims lacking good evidence. Experts are ignored when it suits and quoted when convenient. To have an opinion on any complex topic that is not the opinion of the majority of the topic's experts is hubris, arrogance, willful ignorance and more in my opinion. I do not believe in believing. I listen to the experts. I accept the experts because to go against is nonsensical. At the same time, I'm prepared to accept new science as it comes along if sufficiently supported by the experts and change my position. When there is significant doubt the precautionary principle should be applied. But what does average joe citizen do? Takes a position one way or the other forming a strongly held belief that may, in fact, be false. This particular topic, AGW, is supported by virtually every relevant scientific organization. That's enough for me to agree that action should be taken.

=> Thor May - Rob, I agree with you. The discussion topic title is deliberately provocative (I do that often) to encourage debate. We are constrained not just by nature, but by human cussedness and indifference, so a major part of any solution has to be how to reach that vast number of people in every country who don't or won't grasp what we are facing.

=> Yasmin Robertson - But when the experts can prove left, right and centre, it's who's shouting the loudest that gets heard.. too often lines are fudged to make a case look good.. to accept without investigating would be leaving yourself vulnerable. Expert doesn't mean they are looking after our (planet) best interest, but their own?

=> Yasmin Robertson - Who are you debating with? Thought provoking?.. no, because there's no leeway .. you're hiding behind a phrase..

=> Rob Guyatt - Thanks Thor. For me there are two characteristics of us that are incredibly counterproductive. Hubris and intellectual laziness. And so often I have written such as my above only to be followed by an excellent example or two of the kind of potentially destructive thinking my words describe.

=> Rob Guyatt - Yasmin, Thanks for providing evidence for my post. Tell me, since you don't trust experts, who services your car? Who does your dental work? Where do you go if you need medical assistance? If you got 3 medical opinions and 2 said you need treatment and one said you don't, which way would you go? I have a strong suspicion of the answers. Assuming my suspicions are correct, why not accept the overwhelming majority of climate experts when they say we are affecting climate? If you look into the topic with an open mind there is only one conclusion to draw. Or at least conclude that the vast majority should be listened too. But you won't because you have formed a belief. A foolish belief. A dangerous belief. One shared with so many people that tends me to fear for the future of millions of people over the next century or so. Why no precaution? Why no consideration that you might just be wrong?

=> Yasmin Robertson - As Ketchup says 'thought provoking'.. push a few buttons and you'd be surprised what pops up....

Fergus Hunter (28 October 2018 ) "Shorten flags Australian infrastructure investment bank for Pacific". Brisbane Times @

Agence France-Presse (October 22, 2015) "Global Warming Has Opened the Famed Northwest Passage to Navigation. In nearly forty years of Arctic exploration, Canadian meteorologist Roger Provost said he "never imagined ever seeing this." Alternet @

Nick Kilvert (30 October 2018) "More than half the world's vertebrates have disappeared since 1970; WWF sounds warning". [A large part of this animal species extinction is due to habitat loss. Alarmingly Australia is among the world's top 11 countries for deforestation, with increasing rates of forest destruction since 2013]. Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Wikipedia (2018) "Past sea level" @  => Ten thousand years ago you could walk from Australia to New Guinea. There are many similar examples around the world. Sea levels change with glaciation (ice ages) and to some extent plate tectonics (the crust of the earth). Recent human contributions to climate change are very difficult to calculate in this geological time scale. "Over geologic time sea level has fluctuated by more than 300 metres, possibly more than 400 metres. The main reason for sea level fluctuations is the Antarctic ice sheet and Antarctic post-glacial rebound during warm periods. The current sea level is about 130 metres higher than the historical minimum, and more than 200 metres lower than the historical maximum, about 100 million years ago. Historically low levels were reached during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), about 20,000 years ago. The last time the sea level was higher than today was during the Eemian, about 130,000 years ago. Over a shorter timescale, the low level reached during the LGM rebounded in the early Holocene, between about 14,000 and 6,000 years ago, and sea levels have been comparably stable over the past 6,000 years. Observational and modeling studies of mass loss from glaciers and ice caps indicate a contribution to a sea-level rise of 2 to 4 cm over the 20th century. Based on orbital models, the cooling trend initiated about 6,000 years ago will continue for another 23,000 years. It is possible, however, that a "next glacial maximum" will be reached only in about 100,000 years, with a possible warm period in 60,000 years".

Janey D. (June 28th, 2018) "Is Climate Change Real? Separating 5 Facts from Misconceptions" Life Advancer blog @  => Some things to think about in this article. Example of a myth (read carefully): "97% OF ALL SCIENTISTS BELIEVE IN CLIMATE CHANGE - This famous percentage of 97, in which “97% of all climate scientists” still believe in climate change due to global warming by man. Even President Obama has quoted the 97%. So where has this number come from? Several authors wrote a paper to settle the climate change question of ‘Are humans responsible for climate change?’ Over 12000 scientists took part in this paper and over 97% agreed with the consensus that humans were causing climate change. [Thor: This is where things go funny..] However, an analysis of this consensus was undertaken by a student for their Master’s degree. It showed that from a sample of 10,257 scientists, only 77 were actual ‘climate scientists’. Furthermore, of the 77, all but 2 had endorsed the consensus, which is where the 97% comes from. This, of course, represents a tiny proportion of the paper.

Murray Hunter (11th September 2015) "Global warming and climate change: Separating truth from fiction". Asian Correspondent @

C. D. Idso and K. E. Idso (1998, 2018) "Carbon Dioxide and Global Warming - Where We Stand on the Issue - There is little doubt the air's CO2 concentration has risen significantly since the inception of the Industrial Revolution; and there are few who do not attribute the CO2 increase to the increase in humanity's use of fossil fuels. There is also little doubt the earth has warmed slightly over the same period; but there is no compelling reason to believe that the rise in temperature was caused by the rise in CO2. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that future increases in the air's CO2 content will produce any global warming; for there are numerous problems with the popular hypothesis that links the two phenomena". Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change @  [Thor - recommended reading]

=> Thor - Separating politics and science gets really hard. These writers are members of a conservative, Trump-favouring libertarian think tank, Heartland Institute (  ). However that does not necessarily disqualify their research challenging the popular hypothesis that a human-generated increase in CO2 levels is damaging and "causing" global warming. For what it's worth, the more I look at this issue, the more dubious I become that CO2 is a climate change villain (but yes, I am all for renewable energy alternatives).

Union of Concerned Scientists (August 3, 2017) "Why does CO2 get most of the attention when there are so many other heat-trapping gases?" UCS website @  [Thor: UCS puts an argument opposing the Idso website approach to CO2 in the previous post]

George Monbiot (Wednesday 31 Oct 2018 ) "Electric food – the new sci-fi diet that could save our planet - Growing food without plants or animals sounds like science fiction. But it could stop environmental destruction" The Guardian @

BBC (1 November 2018) "Climate change: Oceans 'soaking up more heat than estimated'" British Broadcasting Commission @

Wikipedia (2018) "Afforestation" @  - "Several new studies suggest that forests attract rain and this may explain why drought is occurring more frequently in parts of the world such as western Africa. A new study by Carol Rasmussen, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory gives the first observational evidence that the southern Amazon rain forest triggers its own rainy season using water vapor from plant leaves. The finding helps explain why deforestation in this region is linked with reduced rainfall " ... "In Adelaide, South Australia (a city of 1.3 million as of June 2016),[5] Premier Mike Rann (2002 to 2011) launched an urban forest initiative in 2003 to plant 3 million native trees and shrubs by 2014 on 300 project sites across the metro area. The projects range from large habitat restoration projects to local biodiversity projects. Thousands of Adelaide citizens have participated in community planting days. Sites include parks, reserves, transport corridors, schools, water courses and coastline. Only trees native to the local area are planted to ensure genetic integrity. Premier Rann said the project aimed to beautify and cool the city and make it more liveable; improve air and water quality and reduce Adelaide's greenhouse gas emissions by 600,000 tonnes of C02 a year. He said it was also about creating and conserving habitat for wildlife and preventing species loss"

Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


 So what do you think you should do about climate change (if anything)? (c) Thor May 2018 return to Ddiscussion