WEEKLY DISPATCH: “How I arrived at my position on climate change”

Posted on July 18, 2010 by


BY BEN HABIB.


On Wednesday 30th June I had the pleasure of meeting with Fiona Nash, Nationals senator for New South Wales, during her public visit to QE2 Square in Albury.  During our discussion I asked Fiona about her position on climate change.

Fiona proclaimed herself as a climate change fence sitter on the question of whether humans were responsible for climate change, saying she saw valid points in both sides of the argument.  I asked her what burden of proof would persuade her one way or the other in the climate change debate; after a long pause, she said she’d be persuaded when a clear position was given from a large majority of scientists’ worldwide.

Regardless of the merits of Senator Nash’s position, the discussion made me think about how I arrived at my own standpoint on this question, which I’ll now explain.

I take as my starting point the obvious truth that the Earth is a closed finite system.

If one accepts that the Earth is a closed, finite system, then by extension one must accept that there are limits to the amount of resources we can extract from the Earth and the amount of waste we can pollute, without consequences for biological processes of the planet and the human social systems that depend on it.

The next question is: have we reached these limits?  Is there any concrete evidence around to suggest that we have?  I am persuaded by the thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers published over the last two decades, from thousands of scientists around the world, conducting independent research projects across numerous scientific disciplines (meteorology, oceanography, biology, geology, botany, hydrology etc), which all suggest that…

  1. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (e.g. methane) have been steadily increasing since the industrial revolution.
  2. Human activity is responsible for this increase, which greatly exceed cyclical variations in atmospheric concentrations over geological time.
  3. The impact of this increasing concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations is beginning to have a noticeable effect on the Earth’s biosphere (and by extension human societies, which exist within this system).
  4. These changes to the biosphere caused by increasing concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are becoming more intense and erratic.

Of course there is great debate within the scientific community about the timing and magnitude of these impacts, but the four basic points outlined above have not been a matter of conjecture for some time.

As an academic I have a scholarly duty to apprise myself of all the literature on the climate change debate, so I am familiar with the work of many climate sceptics.  One thing sticks out straight away: only a very small number of these works are peer reviewed, in comparison to the thousands of peer reviewed papers published by scientists that have reached the findings listed above.  Don’t take my word for it though, have a look for yourself.

Peer review (known as refereeing in some academic fields) is a scholarly process used in the publication of academic studies, through which publishers (such as academic journals, book publishers & research organisations) select and screen submissions. This process helps to ensure that publications meet the standards of their discipline.  There is a marked difference in credibility between peer-reviewed academic literature and other publications that have not passed through this rigorous process.  For me, this discrepancy in the quantity of peer-reviewed studies is an obvious indicator of where the credibility lies in the climate change debate.

One of my research interests is international security studies.  I find it striking that military institutions in countries around the world have devoted urgent attention to the impacts of climate change on their operations, present and future (for example, see page 84-88 of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review published by the US Department of Defense).  Military people are not known for left-wing greenie bias, so if they are devoting substantial attention to climate change, it is not without cause.

In light of the above, I have reached the conclusion that we have reached and exceeded the limit of Earth’s capacity to act as a sink for the by-products of human activity—it can no longer function as a sink for anthropogenic greenhouse gases.

This conclusion leads me to the following position…

  • As an individual, I am obligated to reduce my carbon footprint as much as I can.
  • As a voter, I am obliged to advocate to my elected representatives the necessity for timely legislation aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of our society, to a level commensurate with that recommended by the increasingly dire scientific evidence.
  • As an Australian, I hope that my country steps up to the challenge of reducing its carbon footprint.  We don’t have direct control of what people and policy-makers in China, the EU or the United States do about this problem, but we do have direct control over our own response to this problem, no matter how large or small the impact of our actions may be.  If we expect people in other countries to step up to the challenge, the best thing we can do is lead by example.  I believe that this concept of mutual obligation is an idea with which the conservative side of politics should have some sympathy.

That, in a nutshell, is the process by which I arrived at my own personal position on the climate change debate.

Benjamin Habib is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga. Ben’s research project projects include North Korea’s motivations for nuclear proliferation, East Asian security, international politics of climate change, and methodologies for undergraduate teaching. Ben undertook his PhD candidature at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and has worked previously the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship.  He has spent time teaching English in Dandong, China, and has also studied at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea.


The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.

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