SCIENCE is about FACTS, Integration is for Community.
Posted by David Burns | comments 10 Comments | agree_icon Agree (6) | disagree_icon Disgree (2)
SCIENCE is about FACTS, Integration is for Community.

Carbon Tax, ETRS, Innovation Fund, or Do Nothing? These are important options before us. Photo Credit: ScienceImage - CSIRO Scientist Luisa Pentland investigating new technologies for urban water treatment.

As the world's population expands, adapting to rising average global temperatures has become the main focus to sustain people and biodiversity. Even Tony Abbott now admits that climate change is real. International debate is way past whether climate change and relationships between environmental & social indicators such as the loss of native habitat, famine, world security, urban sprawl, and rising temperature is ‘real' or ‘absolute crap'. International debate has moved onto ‘HOW' governments can introduce economic mechanisms to assist business and consumers transition into a sustainable economy, where the two leading ideas under consideration involve either - addressing the ‘cause' (carbon emissions), or the ‘symptoms'. Ultimately, the choice to address climate change will be an economic one.

The role of science is to gather and test a hypothesis by acquisition of peer reviewed data. It is our role as consumers to listen to accepted scientific facts, then support government and business once a sensible way forward has been accepted, usually via public debate so that application of sensible options do not waste public money. Skewing the climate change debate between a negative tax campaign and simply planting more trees shows contempt for the electorate and little respect for the scientific method.

Good climate change science eliminates vested interests. Good climate change science maintains trust. Good climate change science improves community outcomes and ensures solutions effectively address the key point. Unfortunately we, the community often receive misinformation based on the fear of complex carbon politics including wild statements of worst-case scenarios such as the end of the world, or economic demise?

What is the answer? An example of intelligent climate change debate that educates and entertains the audience can be viewed on YouTube between Bjorn Lomborg, Adam Werbach and others where the motion is, ‘Major Reductions in Carbon Emissions are not Worth the Money'. Lomborg argues for short term climate change adaptation, commitments for long term research, and innovation funding to address climate change symptoms. Whereas Werbach, key advisor to Walmart on their massive carbon reduction transformation, believes in using a single economic lever to address the root cause. Although Lomborg is very convincing, I see strong merit in a compromise or hybrid model that addresses both the cause and symptoms. Whatever you decide, access to accurate public information based on scientific method is the only way to ensure delivery of values, costs, and outcomes that benefit both people and biodiversity.

Climate change is now about economics. The best solution shall -

1. Trust the science.
2. Be transparent with open and quality public debate.
3. Provide solutions that restore healthy lifestyles and provide vibrant habitat for biodiversity.

Climate change is real, support the science.

If you have an opinion, please share it with me at


David Burns is a Sustainability Advisor and Analyst

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Joe Karten
Mon 28 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (0) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

Good point, Dave. Until the impact to the environment resulting from our generation and use of energy is considered and addressed, we will use it like it's going out of style.

David Burns - Sustain450
Tue 15 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

As a post script, it is critically important to heed the warnings of scientists when national energy policy options are being considered. Watching the Japanese earthquake story stream onto our TV's is made even more heart wrenching with Japan's solution to energy generation pose additional threats to their nation. Nuclear may be a low carbon option, but it is definitely not sustainable, nor safe over the long term, posing huge risks and costs when engineering goes wrong.


Why would anyone want more expensive nulear power plants built on the landscape when it's purpose is only to accomodate our continued wasteful energy behaviours - energy consumption analogous to a leaking tap running 24hrs per day?

Nigel Howard - Edge Environmental
Mon 14 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

The problem is three-fold I think with a fourth concerning observation: Firstly, as scientists we have lost the trust of the pubilc through successive failures - we have yet to come close to the promised safety levels of Nuclear reactors with national and international consequences - Seascale, Three Mile Island, then Chernobyl should to my mind have been the end of Nuclear and I've heard it said that if the same investment had gone into renewable technologies Nuclear wouldn't even need to be part of the climate change solution. And now in Japan nuclear is in crisis and we will find out over the next few weeks just how much crisis. It's simply not good enough to blame the earthquake and sunami as unpredictable. However low the odds, you don't play the game if the stakes are that high - and they inherrently are that high with nuclear (unless its 93M miles away or at the centre of the earth, then its energy IS freely available to us). AND these are the incidents we know about - what happens at sea (and in the armed forces) no doubt stays at sea perhaps? Secondly, as scientists we rely on the media to interpret our indecipherable expert gobbledygook to the general public. But the media make their living by fostering, engendering and fuelling controversy, because its more fun and it sells. So, the same scientist interviewed about the same topic - say mad cow disease might reply to a question about the scale of the risk saying that "there is a vanishingly small chance of contracting the disease from eating red meat". If then asked if there was any chance of catching the disease the scientist would have to answer "Yes there is a very small chance" and if asked "how many people are likely to catch this disease from eating red meat", the scientist might quote a range of numbers. All of the answers can be true, but the resulting headlines might represnet these answers in all kinds of contradictory ways with very significant consequences, but not least to damage to the credibility and reliability of science to the public. Thirdly, noone wants to hear bad news and have to change their behaviour in response. So, the general public, the press and most 3-year term politicians cling to every hint of discredit of bad news science - and the worst is cliamte change. Finally, the IPCC covering up its own inconvenient truths has really thrown a spanner in the works for folk like me. It is unquestionably right that inceased GHG's in the atmosphere results in climate change - but how quickly and how mitigated and moderated by planetary mechanisms and how that turns into weather events is HARD HARD detailed science and I had placed my complete trust in the integrity of IPCC which I now find shaken.

Cameron Burns - Senior Editor, Rocky Mountain Institute
Fri 11 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

David, good blog. In my opinion, climate is an important thing to keep your eyes on, but what (I think) is more important is what we do with ENERGY----how we use, what kinds, etc. If we have the right intentions regarding energy, good climate policy will surely follow. Best, Cam

David Ansley
Thu 10 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (1)

Unfortunately climate change science is less science-like and more macro-economics-like due to the lack of direct cause-effect observation and the inability to conduct experiments to test theories. And like economics, forecasting is dismally difficult and usually wrong, often by a large margin. Interestingly my observation is that most people don't understand and don't trust economics. That said, even if the science was more clear-cut, the really important question is what we should do about it. As David says, that is an economics question - money, effort, and attention allocated to maximise individuals' and collective groups' (eg a government's) "utility". The scientific community can help by informing the debate about the potential consequences of alternative approaches - not by attempting to force one view of the future and demanding "the right solution". Climate science incorporates many uncertainties which scientists should explore, understand and explain - despite the popular media's preference for simple sound bites. Then the full range of potential "solutions" can be robustly evaluated, tested and assessed. In such a complex & uncertain area it is highly likely that the most effective "solutions" won't emerge from linear "problem definition - solution development" thinking. The economists have a major role to play in assessing the range of potential economic consequences of alternative solutions and comparing them (to each other and the do nothing option) to further inform the debate. Then the public can be better informed so they support sensible government policy and can see through dodgy populist manoeuvring. In that light in my opinion a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme in Australia looks: expensive - at a minimum it will require an entirely new layer of government to implement & administer it (especially complex with all the "exceptions" that will be negotiated to get legislation through both houses - remember the GST mess) inefficient - unlikely to reduce Australia's carbon emissions by a significant amount without major public spending (remember the economically sound requirement to compensate all the "trade-exposed" industries) ineffective - even if Australia reduced its carbon emissions significantly it would have almost no impact on climate change irreversible - once in place it would be very complex & expensive to unwind if it was decided that it really wasn't worth continuing (think of all the investment that would be made to meet government set targets - compensation would be demanded if the targets & incentives were removed) Therefore on economics grounds I wouldn't support one until these limitations can be overcome. The challenge is to conceive alternative "solutions" that are more economically attractive.

Caroline Pidcock - PIDCOCK Architecture & Sustainability
Wed 09 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

Great blog David - thanks for bringing some reasonableness and intelligence to the discussion!

Vic Masi - IT Professional
Wed 09 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

The issue is the discussion needs to be re-framed to address the addressable issues......"science facts are the friend" of the business, economic and social case to support the move to a low carbon economy........

Peter Reefman - Energised
Wed 09 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

Great Blog David. It reminds me a lot of the recent keynote that Schwazenegger gave to the ARPA-E 2011 conference in Washington. Trust the science, and reach for the most pragmatic and bipatisan ways to address both mitigation and adaptation. Cheers

Wed 09 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

Without application of critical thinking it is difficult sometimes to distill information and have a crisp picture. I do trust research report more then political statements. Climate is always changing, so it is handy to be able treat the symptoms, but the fact that we are adding a major extra variable in already complex game should be addressed urgently. To my view, there is nothing economic in global economy, if there is so much pollution, waste is enormous, a wasteonomy. But we are closing the loop with tools like LCA and better understanding of our planetary cycles. No we to get better at acting accordingly to new understanding as well.

Shant Soghomonian - IT Professional
Wed 09 Mar 2011 agree_icon Agree (1) disagree_icon Disgree (0)

Very interesting article, I agree with the case of long term R&D and an innovation fund is the smart way to address both the cause and the symptoms... At the same time It will create more jobs and investment in businesses in Australia,we will be seen as thought leaders...

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