Earth

The CSIRO reveals why we can’t have nice things, such as a liveable planet

Established in 1926, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is Australia’s national science agency. Over the years the CSIRO gave us things such as WiFi, gene shears, the Parkes Radio Telescope and atomic absorption spectroscopy, just to mention a few of their discoveries and inventions.

As the CSIRO was the first Australian organisation to start using the internet, it was able to register the unique second-level domain csiro.au, as opposed to using the now common .com.au or .org.au domain designation.

On Tuesday, the CSIRO released the results of its annual climate attitude surveys from 2010 to 2014. The surveys reveal why we can’t have nice things, and why I am increasingly inclined to try to get on the first Mars mission, so I can get off our beautiful little blue planet seemingly doomed by human ignorance.

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‘I’m not a scientist,’ and other climate change doozies

The story of climate change and consensus climate science is the story of the world’s leading scientific minds banging their heads into a brick wall made of human ignorance.


Contrary to what is being peddled by many climate change deniers, there’s no scientific disagreement about climate change. It is happening, and it is man-made. There is scientific consensus. Full stop.

The tactics employed by climate change sceptics is reminiscent of the obfuscation by the tobacco industry of the health effects of smoking tobacco. No matter how strong the scientific consensus became on the link between smoking and lung cancer, they kept financing, often secretly, and rolling out ‘scientific research’ that kept casting doubt on established science. It appears that so-called conservative think-tanks and energy companies are adopting the tobacco industry’s playbook when it comes to trying to create doubt and uncertainty.

Are there crackpots, often unqualified, with a plethora of unproven theories out there, such as solar flares being responsible for the global warming we are experiencing or that temperature records are being falsified by scientists? Yes. Is this a sign of scientific uncertainty on the subject? No.

It may be that 70% of conservatives in the US don’t ‘believe’ in climate change but, unfortunately for them, and the rest of us, that doesn’t make it any less real. You may have your own ‘beliefs’, but you can’t have your own facts.

In this context it has also been noted that apocalyptic Abrahamic religions may represent a serious underlying cultural block in combating climate change. For example, many conservative evangelical literalists interpret extreme climate events as merely a sign of the ‘long-awaited’ apocalypse, a matter beyond human intervention: ‘Apocalyptic narratives‘ (Podcast, Rock Ethics Institute, Pennsylvania State University, 23 April 2007).

In this day and age being uninformed and uneducated is arguably a deliberate lifestyle choice, especially in the wealthy, Western liberal democracies, given the availability of endless quality educational and scientific materials online, much of it free for the picking.

‘I’m not a scientist,’ and other climate change doozies, The Vue Post (28 April 2015)

For reasons which are hard to comprehend, the science is losing to, well, it’s not quite clear what it is losing to, but it appears to be a combination of ignorance, fear, and political and social conservatism.

White evangelical Protestants are much more likely to attribute the severity of recent natural disasters to the biblical “end times” (77%) than to climate change (49%).
Why Americans are conflicted about climate change, environmental policy, and science – Findings from the PRRI/AAR religion, values, and climate change survey, Public Religion Research Institute (21 November 2014)

Recently, our ex-Prime Minister, Tony Abbott referred to the now repealed Australian carbon tax, designed and implemented as a policy response to climate change, as ‘socialism masquerading as environmentalism.’ This kind of politicised, polarised rhetoric has poisoned the well for scientists.

The surveys conducted by the CSIRO show that a large majority of Australians believe climate change is happening, and are more likely to attribute climate change to humans than to natural fluctuations in Earth’s temperature, with only 7.9% of respondents denying outright the existence of climate change.

CSIRO Figure 1

Just under 80% of respondents thought climate change was happening. On average, respondents estimated that human activity accounted for about 62% of changes to the climate.
Australian attitudes to climate change: 2010-2014, CSIRO (3 November 2015)

So far, so good, but the CSIRO also confirmed our fears by revealing that 38.6% agrees that climate change is occurring, but believes it’s just a natural fluctuation of Earth’s temperatures.

The truly disturbing revelation is that some find climate change ‘boring,’ ‘exciting,’ or even ‘joyful’?!

CSIRO Figure 2

Ironically, those who believe climate change is not happening, or is caused by natural processes, are more likely to select ‘common sense’ as the basis of their opinion.

Unsurprisingly, the survey also found political affiliation has a statistically significant effect on attitudes towards climate change.

On average, those who voted for the Labor party or the Greens were more likely to state that climate change was human-induced. By contrast, those who had voted for the Liberal party or the National party were more likely to state that climate change was happening, but natural.

CSIRO Figure 3

There you have it: in 2015 our political and religious affiliation influences whether we accept or reject peer-reviewed science. Stories like this make me doubt the future of our species.

You could be forgiven to think that the numbers of the truly ignorant are far less than those who accept consensus climate science, so they are irrelevant. But sadly, they are a significant enough portion of the voting population to influence politicians seeking favour and reelection. They also constitute a significant base for the Liberal and National parties, with barely one in four of their voters accepting the proposition that climate change is largely caused by humans.

It will be interesting to see whether our new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can convince that base, or many in his own party, of the need for substantive action on climate change.

The CSIRO on climate change

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