The layman's guide to understanding climate change

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A visual representation of Tony Abbott's thought process on The 7:30 Report (Image via YouTube - edited)

While the science behind climate change may be difficult for the average person to comprehend, it shouldn't be so for our political leaders, writes John Lord.

IN ORDER TO get to my point of energy policy and climate change, I need to take you back in time to the years 2010-11 when Tony Abbott was the Coalition Opposition leader.

I had tuned into the ABC 7.30 Report the night Kerry O’Brien interviewed Tony Abbott about the Coalition's “broadband policy”.

What has broadband got to do with energy policy you ask? Well, please bear with me.

During the O'Brien interview, Abbott grew flustered, explaining Coalition broadband policy and defended himself as no tech-head.

Abbott, who was totally out of his depth, appealed to O’Brien not to ask questions of a technological nature because he simply did not understand it.

As a voter, I was appalled that anyone with ambitions to become Prime Minister should know so little about his own policy. (Mind you, at the time he was incapable of introducing his party’s economic policy either, but that is another matter.)

What occurred to me on reflection was that if Abbott knew so little about the science of the internet, how could he have developed such an insightful knowledge of climate science as to be able to dismiss it as absolute crap?

This, in turn, prompted me to question my own comprehension. I had to admit that although I followed the debate rigorously and considered myself well-informed, I, like many others, knew little of the science itself. I have enough trouble with the pop-up toaster.

Ask me about literature, art, political and religious philosophy, music, sport and I can handle myself adequately, but science? No, thank you.

Ask me to explain how an atom is split, how carbon dating works, DNA, genetics or how electricity is produced and I would be hard-pressed to explain.

So, as a layperson, where does this leave me on the issue of climate change?

If, as you read this and you admit in all honesty that you are not clear on what it all means, ask yourself which side of the debate you side with.

For me, it is a no-brainer. I come down on the side of science. In the last few years, I have undergone a number of operations. I have had a heart attack and bowel cancer. When confronted with these issues, when consulting with surgeons I never once questioned the diagnosis. I accepted that scientific research had given my doctors the knowledge to perform whatever procedure was necessary.

Therefore, it goes that I cannot explain how many things function or occur. I simply know that science – through reasoned, rational inquiry, observation, evaluation and testing – proves that they do.

For the life of me, I cannot understand people who accept science as fact and use it every day somehow become brain-dead when it comes to climate science.

However, laypeople like me who believe in the existence of climate change cannot honestly claim to know the veracity of the science for ourselves, but we are happy to delegate this task to climate scientists.

Laypeople basically do not have the knowledge to adjudicate on the issue.

On the other hand, those who deny the overwhelming scientific consensus seek to justify their belief by attaching themselves to a minority of science sceptics with obscure qualifications, political parties, or, even worse, to Right-wing shock jocks and journalists with no scientific training whatsoever.

These people (like you and me) have no way of evaluating the volume of data produced by the various scientific institutions.

One of the most outspoken sceptics, Andrew Bolt, has been found guilty of deceptive lying in that he defamed some white-skinned Aboriginals. So much of what these people say is mired in untrustworthiness.

One has to wonder how many lies he has told when writing about his favourite topic, climate change.

If I do not support the 95 per cent of scientists, every major scientific institution and the research that is constantly peer-evaluated, then I am obliged to accept the alternative.

That is, I should take seriously the likes of Andrew Bolt (a journalist), Alan Jones (I’m not sure how you would describe his contribution to society), Lord Monckton (a discredited something who was once a lobbyist for the tobacco companies) and Craig Kelly, Liberal politician who is chair of the backbench energy committee who, along with Tony Abbott, both believe that climate science is crap.

In fact, Abbott is on the record as saying that climate change is a Left-wing conspiracy to replace communism. None of the aforementioned people has a background or expertise in climate science.

Now, that’s not to say that they should not have a view which should not be considered, as should any laypersons if they are of that ilk. But surely we must respect the science, otherwise you put into question all science.

As to which way is the best to tackle the problem in Australia, this is more open for the layperson to investigate. Labor, when in power, proposed that we tax the major companies responsible for pollution with a carbon tax and use part of the tax to compensate households and business for increased charges.

It was a market-based approach that would normally be supported by conservative governments and was Liberal policy prior to Tony Abbott being elected as opposition leader. Along the way, he developed 17 positions on the subject.

The carbon tax began to work but, for purely political reasons, Abbott tossed it out in favour of a direct action policy where taxpayers’ funds are given to the polluters to clean up the mess they have created without any guarantees they would do so.

This method had no credence among professionals. Indeed, Abbott could never produce one economist in support of direct action. At the time, Treasury had qualitative evidence to suggest his plan would cost twice as much as they had committed. It was, indeed, a shame to see shadow minister, Greg Hunt, who wrote his university thesis (with honours) in support of a carbon tax try to defend something he obviously didn’t believe in and lied about.

Now, we all know how the story ended. After nearly six years of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison Prime Ministerships, they have conceded defeat. Australia doesn’t have an energy or climate policy. It’s hard to conceive, isn’t it?

The argument that we should do nothing because we only produce 1.4 per cent of total global carbon emissions is a scurrilous one because all the nations combined who produce around that percentage account for a sizable amount of the sum total.

In conclusion, for me as a layperson, it seems logical to support the evidence the scientists have produced. I think all the people of this Earth and our planet itself deserve the benefit of any doubt.

Alternatively, when science discovers a cure for cancer, do I just say “absolute crap”?

It is far better to form your own independent opinion, relative to your life’s knowledge, sound reasoning and qualitative advice from science than to allow yourself to be blindly led by others of dubious expertise.

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