Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Climate Change or Climate Catastrophe? Hugh Steadman Warns That Immediate Action Is Demanded to Meet the Threat Posed by Global Warming

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Climate Change or Climate Catastrophe? Hugh Steadman Warns That Immediate Action Is Demanded to Meet the Threat Posed by Global Warming

Article excerpt

New Zealanders and the rest of humanity face an existential crisis such as other living species have not experienced since the Permian-Triassic extinction event (also known as the great dying) of 250 million years ago, during which an estimated 96 per cent of all living species were lost. Now we are well embarked on the Earth's sixth such calamitous event. This time it is our species that is causing it and only our actions that can prevent it. For humanity to survive this crisis, national governments need to reject the democratic imperative of not alarming their populations.

'Climate change' is an anodyne expression that functions to retain the anxiety of the global population within the manageable parameters that the situation does not warrant. After all, no-one denies that the climate changes from time to time. The planet has experienced a series of ice-ages and mini-ice ages and warmer periods in between. However, the current argument, which is being waged with increasing ardour, is not whether or not change is occurring, but whether or not the current changes represent mere fluctuations around a norm, or an out-of-control, existential catastrophe.

The debate is considerably complicated by the involvement of the most powerful vested interests on the planet. These are the companies which, since the Industrial Revolution, have come to control the supply of fossil energy and the fortunes of the governments and shareholders dependent on its continued and profitable trading.

Since well before 1991, in which year Shell produced its documentary Climate of Concern, these companies must have been aware of the link between emissions from the burning of their products and the potential intolerable rise in planetary temperatures. (1) Despite this fatal knowledge, Big Oil (Shell included) has continued to extract oil from Canadian tar sands, seek new reserves through drilling and, in general, maximise the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels. As is well illustrated in the film Merchants of Doubt (2) and as did Big Tobacco before it, the fossil fuel industry has continued to invest millions in persuading politicians and their publics that the pursuit of its economic business as usual is in everyone's best interests.

In consequence, the voices arguing that the current rapid acceleration of climate warming is man-made and that urgent action needs to be taken to counter the phenomenon are often rendered ineffective by those whose incomes and fortunes depend on downplaying the threat. The situation is not helped by the many more who, given the choice of accepting bad news or good news, tend naturally to opt for the good.

Bogus reports

With so many axes being ground, bogus scientific reports being bought and published and so many soft variables to be taken into account by climate scientists attempting accurately to forecast an unknown future, certainty is well-nigh impossible to come by. Under these circumstances, and seeing that what is claimed to be at risk is humankind's continued existence, it is as well to adopt the precautionary principle (in other words, Murphy's Law--Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.')

   The precautionary principle (or precautionary approach) to risk
   management states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk
   of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the
   absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not
   harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those
   taking that action.

It is fairly simple to measure the amount of carbon dioxide (the most plentiful of the greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere. Before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, global average C[O.sub.2] content was about 280 parts per million. During the past 200,000 or so years of homosapiens' existence, C[O.sub.2] has fluctuated between about 180 ppm during ice ages and 280 ppm during inter-glacial warm periods. …

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