Sydney [Australia] Morning Herald Online  [Printer-friendly version]
September 29, 2005


[Rachel's introduction: "Secondary symptoms of Mother Earthism
include... recourse to the intellectually vapid precautionary

By Bob Carter

Many Australians are worried, rightly, by the possibility that avian
flu might infect the nation. They should be just as concerned about
the disease of Mother Earthism which has reached our shores, and is
now approaching epidemic status.

One of its most virulent strains is called Hansenism, after James
Hansen, the high-profile NASA scientist who started the global warming
scare campaign running back in 1988.

These diseases attack persons who venture public opinions on matters
of environmental concern. Its most recent manifestation is in two
alarmist books on climate change by popular science writers Ian Lowe
(Living in the Hothouse) and Tim Flannery (The Weather Makers).

Mother Earthism has complex symptoms. Foremost is a touching belief in
the Garden of Eden, the halcyon state of the Earth in times before the
wicked Industrial Revolution. This balmy, and barmy, garden existed in
a state of existential ecological balance, within an unchanging,
benign environment. The roots of its philosophical trees lie with
Rousseau, and those who tend these trees deny the dynamic, ever-
changing character of our planet, its biota, and its climate.

Secondary symptoms of Mother Earthism include: appeal to authority
rather than explanation or discussion of the science; false claims of
consensus among scientists; cherry-picking of research and opinions
which support a desired world view; guilt-by-association smearing and
vilification of those who hold alternative views; the erection of
conspiracy theories about improper industry influence; endless
repetition of inaccuracies, or facts out of context; a preference for
computer model predictions over real world measurements; recourse to
the intellectually vapid precautionary principle; the exploitation of
guilt among ordinary citizens; and, above all, an unwavering alarmism
that the world is going to hell in a handbasket -- and it's all our

The biggest serpent in this Garden of Eden is alleged to be carbon
dioxide, and we must give up our fix. Why? Because it's causing global
warming, silly. And so it is.

The Earth's comfortable (for us) average temperature of about 15C is
maintained that way by the atmosphere. The presence of small amounts
of water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide -- the
"greenhouse gases" which absorb Earth's outgoing heat radiation and
re-emit some of it downwards -- causes warming. Most of the total
warming of 33 degrees is caused by water vapour (more than 30
degrees), carbon dioxide contributing only about 1.2 degrees worth.
And of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, just 3per cent comes from
human sources, which equates to a warming effect of about four-
hundredths of a degree.

Against this, computer models suggest that a further human-caused
increase in temperature of perhaps two-tenths of a degree might be

To crucify the world's industrialised economies by spending trillions
of dollars for a possible temperature drop of 0.20 defies
comprehension. The hairshirt policy exemplified by the Kyoto accord is
a classic non-solution to a non-problem.

As Flannery points out in a different context in his book, the
individual members of the public can exert influence by witholding
their memberships and donations from the organisations (including
especially green groups) responsible for spreading the disease, and by
not buying alarmist books.

The Government could do its bit by dis-establishing the professional
greenhouse lobby groups that now dominate its own environmental and
energy policy bureaucracies.

A goal to "stabilise world climate" is misplaced, not to mention
unattainable. Climate is a dynamic system within which extreme events
and dramatic changes will always occur, irrespective of human actions
or preferences. Witness hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

As for other major natural disasters, the appropriate preparation for
extreme climate events is to mitigate and manage the negative effects
when they occur. Climate impacts are generally slower to appear than
those of other "instantaneous" disasters like earthquakes, tsunami,
storms, volcanic eruptions, landslides or bushfires. This difference
is not one of kind, and neither should be our response plans.

Needed is more research, together with the preparation of response
plans for climatic coolings and warmings. Not needed is more futile
feelgoodery espoused by those infected with the Mother Earthism

Bob Carter, a research professor at James Cook University, is an
experienced environmental scientist.

Copyright 2005. The Sydney Morning Herald.