Scientists fear climate confusion after wet summer

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Scientists fear climate confusion after wet summer

Updated March 15, 2012 12:57:08

Climate scientists are concerned that Australia’s cool and wet summer could lead to confusion about whether climate change is real.

The last few months have seen floods in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, with river systems overflowing and dams filled to the brim, and temperatures in the 20s rather than the 30s in many parts of Australia’s south-east.


The weather conditions appear to contrast with the Climate Commission’s latest report, which says global average temperatures have continued to rise over the last decade.

The six-page report, written by Professor Matthew England from the University of New South Wales, Professor Will Steffen from the ANU and Professor David Karoly from the University of Melbourne, says 2011 was the warmest La Nina year on record, and warmer than all but one year of the 20th century.

Professor England, the co-director of UNSW’s Climate Change Research Centre and chair of the Science Advisory Panel for the Climate Commission, says there is a lot of misinformation about.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of commentary that climate change is over and this is just not the case,” he said.

“The long-term trend is still one of drying actually over south-eastern Australia, even taking into account the last couple of wet years.

“The fact that we have a couple of heavy rainfall events, that’s actually in line with our expectations under climate change of more extreme rainfall events when they do occur.”

Short memories

He says people have short memories when it comes to their experiences of weather conditions.

“You have a cold snap and you suddenly think, I want global warming to come now, not in 20 years or 10 years’ time,” he said.

“You have a heat wave and suddenly people are talking again about climate change.”

He says people cannot personally detect the kind of warming trend that comes with climate change.

“People can’t personally detect a long-term sensory scale warming trend; it’s just impossible,” he said.

“We know from the measurement records the planet is warming and that our climate is changing, it’s just that we have a very difficult job explaining that when day-to-day weather varies by such a large amount.”

But Professor England says he has not detected much change in the political will to tackle climate change.

“Great politicians like Malcolm Turnbull [are] forever good on this topic. He understands the science well, he’s been briefed well,” he said.

“In the Government there’s obviously a move towards putting in a carbon tax and putting in an incentive to business to go to low carbon technologies and so on.

“So the right moves are being made but I would agree that basically the response globally and also within Australia it’s way too slow [compared to what] we should be having given the scale of the problem we’re facing.”

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