Deliberate Confusions


  • Chris O’Brien Charles Darwin University


Climate’s very complexities have been manna from heaven for climate change deniers. Reports of global atmospheric warming, the increasing of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and record after record tumbling on continent after continent have met with a common refrain from the international chorus of deniers – ‘the climate has always changed’. But this is a deliberate confusion. It is myth number one on the Skeptical Science web site, expressed in the phlegmatic claim ‘the climate has changed before’. It is a staple of climate change denial. The issue, however, is not change versus stasis; it relates instead to magnitude, rates of change and tipping points. Nevertheless, this spurious assertion has been effective in confusing the issue of anthropogenic global warming, at least in Australia. While a clear majority there understand that human activity causes global warming, this confusion has weakened the impetus for change and provided an alibi for business as usual from government and many (though not all) in the corporate and industrial sectors. Confusion has, for the time being, defused this issue. This is partly because many people know little about the intricacies of climate but know vaguely about climate change on geological time scales. More importantly, as Chapter Three of Mike Hulme’s Why We Disagree about Climate Change explains, the broader public both understands that disagreement is integral to science yet it does not grasp the robustness of the methods, data quality, and conclusions underlying scientific consensus. So, claims by deniers fall into this template of claim and counterclaim, which is widely seen as scientific debate. To some consensus looks more political than scientific. This paper considers another crucial set of factors that has enabled these ideas to make sense in Australasia at this historical moment. Until recently, the inherent variability of Australasia’s climate has been invisible in the formal scientific study of weather and climate. Yet such variability is an experiential hallmark of life throughout Australasia. One only has to live for several years in any part of Australia to experience seasons so different from one year to the next that they impress themselves on people’s memories. Usually tied to the drought/flood cycles of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), this variability affects communities, regions and usually leaves visible marks on the economy of the entire Commonwealth of Australia. This variability creates individual memories; it shapes collective memories and spurs art, literature, and myth.






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