We must adapt to climate change

Last updated 05:00 22/02/2014
John Kerry

CHANGE CALLS: US Secretary of State John Kerry tears into climate change skeptics in a speech in Jakarta on Sunday.

Kerry on climate change

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US Secretary of State John Kerry was right to tell Indonesians on Sunday that climate change is a serious danger to humanity if not addressed appropriately.

OPINION: While asserting that such changes are "the greatest threat that the planet has ever seen" was over the top, history shows that disaster ensues when societies do not properly deal with climate change.

But Kerry's assertion that climate science is "simple", and "not really a complicated equation", isn't right.

Trying to unravel the causes and consequences of climate change is arguably the most complex science ever tackled. The Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change demonstrates that much of what we thought we knew about climate is wrong or highly debatable. The science is becoming more unsettled as the field advances.

We do not actually know how much climate will change as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels continue to rise. We do not even know whether warming or cooling lies ahead.

That may surprise many people. We have been told for years that "future warming is unequivocal". Al Gore and others regularly cite the predictions of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a steady rise in temperature is inevitable with increasing CO2 levels.

But nature is not cooperating with such forecasts. While atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased about 8 per cent over the past 17 years, even the IPCC now acknowledges that planetary temperatures have not risen during this period for reasons they do not understand.

They're also in the dark as to why their forecast of "a decline in the frequency of cold air outbreaks in the Northern Hemisphere winter in most areas" have failed so spectacularly in recent years.

Of greater concern than hypothetical future warming is the possibility that the past decade's cold weather records are a harbinger of significant global cooling. Solar scientists are forecasting that cooling is inevitable as the sun weakens into a 'grand minimum' over the coming decades.

History shows that cold periods are far more dangerous than warm times. Yet governments across the world are planning only for warming, a relatively benign scenario and one that is appearing increasingly improbable.

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So what should be done about climate change given that we don't know what will happen next?

We should focus on adapting to climate change, not vainly trying to stop it. Adaptation measures should include upgrading our heating, cooling, and irrigation systems, relocating populations living in dangerous areas, burying electrical and communications cables underground, reinforcing infrastructure, and preparing for continuing sea level rise.

To do this we will need massive quantities of inexpensive, high quality, reliable power. Yet in discussing his solutions to these dangers, Kerry promotes wind and solar power, the least reliable and most expensive options available. Moving away from coal and other hydrocarbon fuels to flimsy alternative power sources because of climate concerns would be suicide.

The secretary encouraged his audience to "have a frank conversation about this threat."

To facilitate such a discussion, Kerry must admit what science and engineering really tell us about these topics, not just what is politically convenient. We have no hope of fulfilling his goal "of leaving our future generations the safe and healthy planet that they deserve" if we do otherwise.

Tom Harris campaigns against the scientific consensus on climate change and is the executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, which denies humans cause climate change.


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