Sydney [Australia] Morning Herald Online, September 29, 2005


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

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 fault.

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 averted.

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 syndrome.

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

Copyright 2005. The Sydney Morning Herald.