The current "debate" about whether the climate is changing seems to be a uniquely Australian phenomenon.
"There IS no debate about the fundamentals in Europe," said Professor Stephan Lewandowsky. "They are just getting on with reducing their carbon emissions. Debate is completely unnecessary in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence."
But in Australia, people are still arguing whether sea levels are rising, whether human beings and their activities are to blame for global warming, whether we should have carbon credits.
Professor Lewandowsky (a cognitive scientist) and two UWA colleagues, Professor Malcolm McCulloch (Premier's Research Fellow in the Oceans Institute and Fellow of the Royal Society) and mathematician Professor Kevin Judd, formed a group dedicated to exploring and communicating climate science.
In less than 12 months, the group has grown to include about 40 UWA academics and others from the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.
"The purpose of this group is to provide real science information and reach out to the community," Professor Lewandowsky said.
His involvement began as a cognitive scientist with his investigations into scepticism. "I started looking at the climate change literature and discovered a huge discrepancy between what the literature said and the often misleading and false statements made by some in the media and politics, and realised that it was important that we counter that," he said.
"We are not a research group, even though most of us are doing research associated with climate change. We just want to communicate real scientific answers to climate questions, to dispel the unfounded scepticism that is encouraged by a small sector in the community which usually has vested interests in keeping the energy status quo."
With funding from the Vice-Chancellor Professor Alan Robson, Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Alistar Robertson, the Science faculties, the Engineering faculty, and the School of Psychology, the group has hosted two big public events, in December and June.
They have a fortnightly spot on radio RTR-FM 92.1 on which Professor Judd or Professor Lewandowsky essentially deliver a three-minute lecture on an aspect of climate change.
The lecture is then posted on a science blog run by a UQ physics graduate, www.skepticalscience.com
"This blog had 400,000 hits in March, from people who spent long enough to look at three pages," Professor Lewandowsky said. "The blogger, John cook, is co-ordinating the contents of his site closely with scientists around Australia and the world."
All members of the group contribute to public debate about science. Professor Lewandowsky has repeatedly written about climate change on the ABC's website The Drum, and Professor McCulloch gives public lectures as part of his Premier's Fellowship. Professor Judd has been interviewed on ABC radio and met with politicians in Canberra. WA Chief Scientist Professor Lyn Beazley supports the group and chaired one of the public meetings.
"Our group is still building but we are getting the message out there," he said.
"We welcome scientific input from anybody else who wants to get involved."
"Two independent peer-reviewed papers have recently established that 97 per cent of all active climate scientists agree that we cause climate change. It's time we stopped talking and started doing something about it.
"The real problem is not that people are not turning off their appliances but that the power to run those appliances is generated in the worst possible way in Australia compared to other developed countries. According to the OECD, only Mongolia and North Korea emit significantly more CO2 per unit energy produced than Australia, and we emit more than three times as much as Sweden.
"We need to look at other economies: Portugal is already producing 45 per cent of its power from renewable sources; Germany has more solar power than Australia; and the EU reduced coal consumption by 16.3 per cent in 2009 alone. Between 1990 and 2009, Germany reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 28 per cent and is on target to reduce them by a further 40 per cent. In that time, Australia's emissions increased by eight per cent. Over the same period, the German economy grew by 32 per cent. They employed 350,000 people last year in the clean energy sector and emit about half as much CO2 as we do for each dollar of GDP."
US climate change authority and author Professor Naomi Oreskes from the University of California will be the star attraction at the group's event in November.
For more information about the visit and the group, go to www.climatescienceWA.org which links to the UWA website.
Published in UWA News, 4 October 2010