We asked people to do climate change maths. Their answers depended on their politics


Will J Grant, Australian National University

In an ideal world, people would look at issues with a clear focus only on the facts. But in the real world, we know that doesn’t happen often.

People often look at issues through the prism of their own particular political identity – and have probably always done so.

However, in an environment of fake news, filter bubbles and echo chambers, it seems harder than ever to get people to agree about simple facts.

In research published today in Environmental Communication, my colleague Matthew Nurse and I report that even some of the smartest among us will simply refuse to acknowledge facts about climate change when we don’t like them.




Read more:
Why old-school climate denial has had its day


Skin cream versus climate change

The research took place just before Australia’s 2019 federal election.

We asked 252 people who were planning to vote for the Greens and 252 people who were planning to vote for One Nation to consider some data we’d put together. To understand that data, they would need to do some mental maths, just like you would when looking at a typical scientific report.

While there was no significant difference in the mathematical ability between the two groups of voters overall, it seemed that political affiliations can have an impact on how people answered a mathematical question, depending on the subject.

For example, in one experiment we told participants that data in the scientific report was about whether a new skin cream would cure a rash, as shown below.

We asked them to indicate whether the experiment shows that using the new cream is more likely to make the skin condition better or worse. Participants in our study got the correct mathematical answer 48% of the time.

However, when we showed them exactly the same data but said it was about whether closing coal-fired power stations would significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the local area (by 30% or more), we got a very different set of answers.

For example, when the report showed CO₂ emissions would go down significantly, only 27% of One Nation supporters got the right answer.

When the report showed CO₂ emissions would not significantly go down, only 37% of Greens voters got it right.

So it seems our participants were less likely to answer a question correctly when it went against their political ideology.




Read more:
Climate sceptic or climate denier? It’s not that simple and here’s why


Spilt people according to maths ability

But what follows is really the interesting bit.

We decided to find out whether numeracy – maths ability – played a role in people getting the wrong answers. First, we looked at those with below-average numeracy.

We found many of these people just gave their preferred, ideologically aligned answers when it came to the climate change question. This is a well-known effect called motivated reasoning.

But surely the more numerate groups of people, those better at maths, would fare better? Well, not really.

The groups of people with above-average numeracy sometimes did worse than the less numerate groups. Some did no better than chance at 50%, and some did far, far worse than that, as the graph below shows.

More numerate people are more polarised about climate change data.
Matt Nurse, Author provided

When we showed people reports about CO₂ emissions, the more numerate people were much more politically polarised than any other group. For example, the participants considered a report showing that CO₂ would go down significantly, a One Nation supporter with a numeracy score of seven (out of nine) was only 5% as likely to provide the correct answer as a Greens supporter in the same numeracy category.

Motivations change brain function

This is counterintuitive, but this isn’t the first study to reveal this effect.

These findings build on research previously done by a Yale professor, Dan Kahan. The phenomenon is a type of motivated reasoning called motivated numeracy.

While Kahan’s previous research focused on the politically polarising issue of gun control in the United States, some people suggested the same thing might happen with other topics, particularly climate change.




Read more:
Guns, politics and policy: what can we learn from Al Jazeera’s undercover NRA sting?


Our research is the first to confirm this.

These findings build on the theory that your desire to give an answer in line with your pre-existing beliefs on climate change can be stronger than your ability or desire to give the right answer.

In fact, more numerate people may be better at doing this because they are have more skills to rationalise their own beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence.

So what?

You might ask whether it really matters if people sometimes get the wrong answer on questions like this.

We’d argue yes, it does matter. Successful democracies rely on a majority of voters being able to identify and understand risks, and make the appropriate voting choices.

If people remain entrenched in their ideological corners when threats come along, and are unwilling to face facts, societal problems can fester, potentially becoming much more difficult to resolve later.

Just imagine scientists had discovered human activity was damaging our atmosphere. They said this problem would cause Earth’s climate to get hotter and threaten our livelihoods. Politicians and the people they represented saw this as a legitimate issue worth acting on, regardless of their political views. Imagine the world united to fix this problem, even though it would cost a lot of money.

In fact, we don’t need to imagine too much, as this isn’t just a hypothetical situation. It actually happened when scientists found evidence the use of industrial chemicals was depleting the ozone layer.

In 1987, for the first and only time, all 197 members of the United Nations agreed to sign the Montreal Protocol regulating the man-made chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. More than 30 years later we can measure the benefits of this agreement in our planet’s atmosphere.

A matter of science, not politics

Unlike the current climate change debate, people largely saw this risk as a matter of science, not politics.

But it seems people are increasingly encouraged to see risks like this through a political frame. When this happens, facts can become irrelevant because no matter how smart people are, many will simply deny the evidence to protect their side of the political debate.




Read more:
Communicating climate change: Focus on the framing, not just the facts


Societies need to make good choices for their survival and those choices need to be based on facts, regardless of whether everyone likes them or not.


This research was conducted by Matthew Nurse as part of a master’s thesis at the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.The Conversation

Will J Grant, Senior Lecturer, Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Advertisements

How to answer the argument that Australia’s emissions are too small to make a difference


Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

After a recent foray into the debate over Australia’s so-called “climate election”, I received plenty of critical replies to my argument that Australians should take climate action more seriously. The most common rebuttal was that Australians were right to focus on other issues at the ballot box because Australia’s contribution to global climate change is small anyway.

This is precisely the argument Alan Jones advanced in a now notorious Sky News segment in which he used a bowl of rice to explain away Australia’s climate obligations.

Australia, Jones noted, contributes only 1.3% of global carbon dioxide emissions from human activity, which in turn represents just 3% of the overall amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere, which in turn makes up little more than 0.04% of the whole atmosphere. So why, he asked while triumphantly brandishing a single rice grain, are we so obsessed with Australia’s climate policy when the planet is so big and the consequences of our actions are so tiny?




Read more:
Why old-school climate denial has had its day


This is a powerful critique and, on the face of it, a simple and compelling line of argument, which is precisely why it’s so often used. Why bother, if we lack the power to do anything that makes a difference?

But there are at least three obvious responses to it.

The ‘per capita’ problem

The first and most obvious response is that Australia emits much more than our fair share.

Sure, our emissions are 1.3% of the global total. But our population is 0.3% of the global total.

This isn’t the only way to allocate national emissions targets. But if rich countries like Australia aren’t doing more to reduce their disproportionately high emissions, what possible incentive is there for developing countries to take the issue seriously? Nations such as India, Brazil and China can ask – as indeed they have at various climate talks – why they should reduce emissions when Australia does so little.

In this sense, Australia’s position on climate action is significant, not only for the 1.3% of greenhouse gases we produce, but for the potential influence on global policy.

As a nation so proud of “punching above its weight” in fields such as sport and technology, Australia is missing a big chance to show global leadership on climate.

The ‘coal exports’ problem

The 1.3% statistic is only true if we focus purely on greenhouse emissions within Australia itself. Fair enough, you might say, given that this is the way the Paris Agreement, and the Kyoto Protocol before it, measures countries’ emissions.

But this approach excludes some significant factors.

First, it fails to take proper account of emissions created in one country while manufacturing goods for export to other countries. Emissions due to Chinese-produced goods destined for Australian consumers, for example, count towards China’s emissions, not Australia’s. If we take this “consumption shadow” into account, the climate impact of developed countries, including Australia, becomes much higher.

Second, there is a similar issue with coal exports. Coal dug up by one country but burned in another counts towards the latter’s emissions. As one of the world’s largest coal exporters, this is clearly important for Australia.

In 2012, the campaign group Beyond Zero Emissions estimated that if Australian coal was factored into Australia’s emissions, our contribution to global emissions would be 4% rather than 1.3%. This would make Australia the world’s sixth-largest contributor to climate change.

Are we responsible for what other countries do with Australian coal? According to the Paris treaty, the answer is no. But drug barons and arms dealers use similar arguments to wash their hands of drug addiction and war.

What’s more, Australia already limits a range of exports based on concerns about their use in importing countries, including weapons, uranium and even livestock.

So there’s certainly a precedent for viewing exports through the lens of our international responsibilities. And with the UN secretary-general joining recent calls to end all new coal power plants, a global coal treaty or even embargo might eventually force Australia’s hand.

The ‘capacity to respond’ problem

The third rebuttal to Alan Jones’s arguments is that Australia has far more capacity to take climate action than many other nations. Again, this works at two levels.

First, we’re rich. Australia is a top-20 world economy in terms of both size and average wealth. This means we are more able than most countries to manage the economic costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

Second, thanks to decades of relative climate policy inaction and modest targets, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit for Australia to ratchet up its climate ambition. This applies most obviously to the renewable energy sector, but also to areas such as energy efficiency and transport.

Australia’s land-clearing rates are also among the highest in the world – we are the only developed nation to feature in a 2018 WWF list of deforestation hotspots. Reducing this would significantly cut emissions while also protecting important carbon stores.

As economist John Quiggin has noted, the longer we wait to move away from fossil fuels, the more expensive it will be.

What does this all mean for Australia?

Jones’s argument is a beguilingly simplistic response to a wicked problem. Climate change is a global problem that requires global action. But the calculations around who should take the lead, and how much constitutes each nation’s fair share, are fiendishly complex.

But, by almost any measure, a country like Australia should be leading the way on climate policy, not being dragged kicking and screaming to take action that falls far behind that of comparable nations.




Read more:
Not everyone cares about climate change, but reproach won’t change their minds


The current reluctance to act seriously on climate change appears at best self-serving and at worst an outright moral failing.

We should take the argument that Australia’s climate contribution is insignificant with a grain of salt. Or perhaps rice.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why old-school climate denial has had its day



New South Wales, which was 100% drought-declared in August 2018, is already suffering climate impacts.
Michael Cleary

Michael J. I. Brown, Monash University

The Coalition has been re-elected to government, and after six years in office it has not created any effective policies for reducing greenhouse emissions. Does that mean the Australian climate change debate is stuck in 2013? Not exactly.

While Australia still lacks effective climate change policies, the debate has definitely shifted. It’s particularly noticeable to scientists, like myself, who were very active participants in the Australian climate debate just a few years ago.

The debate has moved away from the basic science, and on to the economic and political ramifications. And if advocates for reducing greenhouse emissions don’t fully recognise this, they risk shooting themselves in the foot.

Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions are not falling.
Department of Environment and Energy

The old denials

Old-school climate change denial, be it denial that warming is taking place or that humans are responsible for that warming, featured prominently in Australian politics a decade ago. In 2009 Tony Abbott, then a Liberal frontbencher jockeying for the party leadership, told ABC’s 7.30 Report:

I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.

The theory and evidence base for human-induced climate change is vast and growing. In contrast, the counterarguments were so sloppy that there were many targets for scientists to shoot at.

Climate “sceptics” have always been very keen on cherrypicking data. They would make a big fuss about some unusually cold days, or alleged discrepancies at a handful of weather stations, while ignoring broader trends. They made claims of data manipulation that, if true, would entail a global conspiracy, despite the availability of code and data.

Incorrect predictions of imminent global cooling were made on the basis of rudimentary analyses rather than sophisticated models. Cycles were invoked, in a manner reminiscent of epicycles and stock market “chartism” – but doodling with spreadsheets cannot defeat carbon dioxide.

That was the state of climate “scepticism” a decade ago, and frankly that’s where it remains in 2019. It’s old, tired, and increasingly irrelevant as the impact of climate change becomes clearer.

Australians just cannot ignore the extended bushfire season, drought, and bleached coral reefs.

Partisans

Climate “scepticism” was always underpinned by politics rather than science, and that’s clearer now than it was a decade ago.

Several Australian climate contrarians describe themselves as libertarians – falling to the right of mainstream Australian politics. David Archibald is a climate sceptic, but is now better known as candidate for the Australian Liberty Alliance, One Nation and (finally) Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party. The climate change denying Galileo Movement’s claim to be to be non-partisan was always suspect – and now doubly so with its former project leader, Malcolm Roberts, representing One Nation in the Senate.

Given this, it isn’t surprising that relatively few Australians reject the science of climate change. Just 11% of Australians believe recent global warming is natural, and only 4% believe “there’s no such thing as climate change”.

Old-school climate change denial isn’t just unfounded, it’s also unpopular. Before last month’s federal election, Abbott bet a cafe patron in his electorate A$100 that “the climate will not change in ten years”. It reminded me of similar bets made and lost over the past decade. We don’t know whether Abbott will end up paying out on the bet – but we do know he lost his seat.

The shift

So what has changed in the years since Abbott was able to gain traction, rather than opprobrium, by disdaining climate science? The Australian still runs Ian Plimer and Maurice Newman on its opinion pages, and Sky News “after dark” often features climate cranks. But prominent politicians rarely repeat their nonsense any more. When the government spins Australia’s rising emissions, it does it by claiming that investing in natural gas helps cut emissions elsewhere, rather than by pretending CO₂ is merely “plant food”.

As a scientist, I rarely feel the need to debunk the claims of old-school climate cranks. OK, I did recently discuss the weather predictions of a “corporate astrologer” with Media Watch, but that was just bizarre rather than urgent.

Back in the real world, the debate has shifted to costs and jobs.

Modelling by the economist Brian Fisher, who concluded that climate policies would be very expensive, featured prominently in the election campaign. Federal energy minister Angus Taylor, now also responsible for reducing emissions, used the figures to attack the Labor Party, despite expert warnings that the modelling used “absurd cost assumptions”.

Many people still assume the costs of climate change are in the future, despite us increasingly seeing the impacts now. While scientists work to quantify the environmental damage, arguments about the costs and benefits of climate policy are the domain of economists.

Jobs associated with coal mining were a prominent theme of the election campaign, and may have been decisive in Queensland’s huge anti-Labor swing. It is obvious that burning more coal makes more CO₂, but that fact doesn’t stop people wanting jobs. The new green economy is uncharted territory for many workers with skills and experience in mining.

That said, there are economic arguments against new coalmines and new mines may not deliver the number of jobs promised. Australian power companies, unlike government backbenchers and Clive Palmer, have little enthusiasm for new coal-fired power stations. But the fact remains that these economic issues are largely outside the domain of scientists.

Debates about climate policy remain heated, despite the scientific basics being widely accepted. Concerns about economic costs and jobs must be addressed, even if those concerns are built on flawed assumptions and promises that may be not kept. We also cannot forget that climate change is already here, impacting agriculture in particular.

Science should inform and underpin arguments, but economics and politics are now the principal battlegrounds in the Australian climate debate.The Conversation

Michael J. I. Brown, Associate professor in astronomy, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Not everyone cares about climate change, but reproach won’t change their minds


Chloe Lucas, University of Tasmania; Adam Corner, Cardiff University; Aidan Davison, University of Tasmania, and Peat Leith, University of Tasmania

So much for Australia’s “climate election”. In the event, voters in last month’s federal poll didn’t put climate policy at the top of their wish list.

Contrary to opinion polls predicting a groundswell of support for Labor’s relatively progressive agenda on climate and economics, the election results revealed that Australians are more divided on climate change than we thought.




Read more:
Australians disagree on how important climate change is: poll


Voters for progressive climate policy were dismayed at the re-election of a prime minister who famously brought a lump of coal into Parliament. Perhaps understandably, one of the immediate responses among these progressive voters was to express anger at those who don’t share their concern.

But anger feeds a divisive politics that cannot help us to address our big collective challenges. By retreating into social media echo chambers where mockery and disrespect are the norm, we risk losing entirely the social cohesion and trust needed for democracy to work.

A whole-of-society discussion about our collective future is urgently needed. Now is the time to reinvent how we communicate about climate change, particularly with those who don’t see it as an urgent concern. Here’s how.

Addressing the ‘climate-unconcerned’

Contrary to the assumption that unconcern about climate change is evidence of selfishness or politically motivated denial, our research shows that people who resist climate concern are just as likely to be caring, ethical and socially minded as anyone else.

While there is a small minority of people who actively campaign against climate action, within society at large, those who are simply unconcerned about the climate crisis encompass a broad range of political views and levels of political engagement.

Far from being prejudiced, unreasonable, apathetic or ignorant, our studies in Australia and the UK show that many people who are unconcerned about the climate nevertheless care about issues including justice, the common good, and the health of ecosystems.

Belonging to a social group that doesn’t have its own narratives of climate concern is one of the most common reasons for unconcern. People who are unconcerned about climate change often see it as a “greenie” issue. If they identify themselves as opposed to green politics, they are unlikely to prioritise calls for climate action.

The rural/city divide also plays a key part in polarising narratives of climate action, as regional and outer-urban Australians, who are more likely to be economically dependent on natural resources, feel ignored and devalued by policies designed to appeal to capital city electorates. If we want to break down polarisation on climate change, we need to understand what matters to rural and conservative social groups.

Bridging the divide

Our findings suggest a set of principles for engaging with people who are unconcerned about climate change:

  • Respect difference. Don’t assume that being unconcerned about climate change is a moral failing. People have other active concerns that are no less valid.

  • Listen. Build relationships with people who have different life experiences to your own, by asking what is important to them. Appreciate that some people may find social change more threatening and immediate than climate change. Empathising with this feeling can foster understanding of the core concerns that underpin resistance to change, and potentially help identify ways to address these concerns.

  • Value values. Avoid arguments based on appeals to the authority of science, or the consensus of expert opinion. “Debating the science” is a red herring – people’s responses to claims about climate change are motivated primarily by what they value, and the narratives of their social group, not their acceptance of scientific fact. Focus on values you might have in common, rather than getting caught up in disputes over facts.

  • Move beyond Left and Right. Don’t conflate political ideology with stance on climate. Showing that climate is not a defining issue for social groups is really important to avoid polarisation. We need to work against the idea that action on climate is an exclusively left-wing or “greenie” agenda.

Adopting these principles can help to build a political culture around climate science and policy that responds to the different priorities of Australians, all of whom are simply seeking a safe and secure future. This approach recognises that no action on climate change is possible without public trust and involvement in democratic institutions.

What can we learn from the UK?

Australia’s parliamentary system and media environment have much in common with that of the UK. Although the UK has not been immune to political divisions on climate change, with levels of concern typically higher on the political left than on the right, Britain has maintained a bipartisan approach.

With the help of intiatives supporting a pluralistic approach to climate policy discussions, the UK Climate Change Act passed into law in 2008 with almost unanimous cross-party support.




Read more:
The UK has a national climate change act – why don’t we?


Research in the UK has provided an evidence-based set of language and narratives to use when discussing climate change. This is focused on core socially conservative values such as maintaining the status quo (protecting it from a changing climate), avoiding waste (of household energy), and investing in secure (renewable) energy. There is also a push to reinvigorate democratic debate through citizens’ assemblies on climate change.

Now is the time for Australians to listen to each other, and develop a pluralistic approach to discussions on our shared future. The alternative is to sink deeper into partisan hostility and recrimination. And after a decade of division on climate policy, is that really the best way forward?

Join author Chloe Lucas at 3pm today for a live Q&A. Post your questions about #ClimateChange politics in the comments section below and she will answer.The Conversation

Chloe Lucas, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Tasmania; Adam Corner, Research Director, Climate Outreach & Honorary Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff University; Aidan Davison, Associate Professor, University of Tasmania, and Peat Leith, Research Fellow, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why there’s more greenhouse gas in the atmosphere than you may have realised



The Cape Grim observatory, home of the ‘world’s cleanest air’… and rising greenhouse gases.
CSIRO, Author provided

Zoe Loh, CSIRO; Blagoj Mitrevski, CSIRO; David Etheridge, CSIRO; Nada Derek, CSIRO; Paul Fraser, CSIRO; Paul Krummel, CSIRO; Paul Steele, CSIRO; Ray Langenfelds, CSIRO, and Sam Cleland, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This week brought news that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels at the Mauna Loa atmospheric observatory in Hawaii have risen steeply for the seventh year in a row, reaching a May 2019 average of 414.7 parts per million (ppm).

It was the highest monthly average in 61 years of measurements at that observatory, and comes five years after CO₂ concentrations first breached the 400ppm milestone.

But in truth, the amount of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere is higher still. If we factor in the presence of other greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide, we find that the world has already ticked past yet another milestone: 500ppm of what we call “CO₂-equivalent”, or CO₂-e.




Read more:
Forty years of measuring the world’s cleanest air reveals human fingerprints on the atmosphere


In July 2018, the combination of long-lived greenhouse gases measured in the “cleanest air in the world” at Cape Grim Baseline Atmospheric Pollution Station surpassed 500ppm CO₂-e.

As the atmosphere of the Southern Hemisphere contains less pollution than the north, this means the global average atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases is now well above this level.

What is CO₂-e?

Although CO₂ is the most abundant greenhouse gas, dozens of other gases – including methane (CH₄), nitrous oxide (N₂O) and the synthetic greenhouse gases – also trap heat. Many of them are more powerful greenhouse gases than CO₂, and some linger for longer in the atmosphere. That means they have a significant influence on how much the planet is warming.

Southern Hemispheric radiative forcing relative to 1750 due to the long-lived greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and synthetic greenhouse gases), expressed as watts per square metre, from measurements in situ at Cape Grim, from the Cape Grim Air Archive, and Antarctic firn air.
CSIRO

Atmospheric scientists use CO₂-e as a convenient way to aggregate the effect of all the long-lived greenhouse gases.

As all the major greenhouse gases (CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O) are rising in concentration, so too is CO₂-e. It has climbed at an average rate of 3.3ppm per year during this decade – faster than at any time in history. And it is showing no sign of slowing.

Cape Grim/Antarctic carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) calculated from the long-lived greenhouse gas radiative forcing data shown in the figure above with CO₂ data shown for reference, annual data through to 2018. Inset panel shows the monthly mean CO₂-e data for Cape Grim from 2015 through to March 2019, showing CO₂-e surpassing 500ppm in July 2018.
CSIRO

This milestone, like so many others, is symbolic. The difference between 499 and 500ppm CO₂-e is marginal in terms of the fate of the climate and the life it sustains. But the fact that the cleanest air on the planet has now breached this threshold should elicit deep concern.

Warming on the way

The Paris climate agreement is aimed at limiting global warming to less than 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change. But the task of predicting how human greenhouse emissions will perturb the climate system on a scale of decades to centuries is complex.

The best estimate of long-term global warming expected from 500ppm CO₂-e is about 2.5℃. But so far, since pre-industrial times, the global climate (including oceans) has warmed by only 0.7℃.

This is partly because industrial smog and other tiny particles (together called aerosols) reflect sunlight out to space, offsetting some of the expected warming. What’s more, the climate system responds slowly to rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations because much of the excess heat is taken up by the oceans.

The amount of heat each greenhouse gas can trap depends on its absorption spectrum – how strongly it can absorb energy at different wavelengths, particularly in the infrared range. Despite its simple molecular structure, there is still much to learn about the heat-absorbing properties of methane, the second-biggest component of CO₂-e.

Studies published in 2016 and 2018 led to the estimate of methane’s warming potential being revised upwards by 15%, meaning methane is now considered to be 32 times more efficient at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO₂, on a per-molecule basis over a 100-year time span.

Considering this new evidence, we calculate that greenhouse gas concentrations at Cape Grim crossed the 500ppm CO₂-e threshold in July 2018.

This is higher than the official estimate based on the previous formulation for calculating CO₂-e, which remains in widespread use. For instance, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is reporting 2018 CO₂-e as 496ppm.

The graph below shows the two curves for the time evolution of CO₂-e in the atmosphere as measured at Cape Grim, using the old and new formulae.

Cape Grim monthly CO2-e from 2015 until Sept 2018 calculated using the old and new formulae.
CSIRO

Some greenhouse gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), also deplete the ozone layer. CFCs are in decline thanks to the Montreal Protocol, which bans the production and use of these chemicals, despite reports that indicate some recent production of CFC-11 in China.

But unfortunately their ozone-safe replacements, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are very potent greenhouse gases, and are on the rise. The recently enacted Kigali Amendment to the protocol means that consumption controls on HFCs are now in place, and this will see the growth rate of HFCs slow significantly and then reverse in the coming decades.

We can change

Australia is at the forefront of initiating measures to curb the impact of HFCs on climate change.

Methane is another low-hanging fruit for climate action, while we undertake the slower and more difficult transition away from CO₂-emitting energy sources.

The significant human methane emissions from leaks in reticulated gas systems, landfills, waste water treatment, and fugitive emissions from coal mining and oil and gas production can be monitored and reduced. We have the science and technology to do this now.

Both in the oil and gas sectors and in urban areas, there are many examples of how methane “hot spots” can be identified and tackled.

It’s a classic win-win that saves money and reduces climate change, and something we should be implementing in Australia in the near future.The Conversation

Zoe Loh, Research Scientist, CSIRO; Blagoj Mitrevski, Research scientist, CSIRO; David Etheridge, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO; Nada Derek, Research Projects Officer, Oceans and Atmosphere, Climate Science Centre, CSIRO; Paul Fraser, Honorary Fellow, CSIRO; Paul Krummel, Research Group Leader, CSIRO; Paul Steele, Honorary Fellow, CSIRO; Ray Langenfelds, Scientist at CSIRO Atmospheric Research, CSIRO, and Sam Cleland, Officer in Charge, Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station, Australian Bureau of Meteorology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How we’re helping the western ground parrot survive climate change



A western ground parrot being released with a GPS tracker fitted.
Alan Danks

Shaun Molloy, Edith Cowan University and Robert Davis, Edith Cowan University

When a threatened species is found only in one small area, conservationists often move some individuals to another suitable habitat. This practice, called “translocation”, makes the whole species less vulnerable to threats.

In the past, this approach has worked really well for some species, but climate change is creating new problems. Will the climate change at that location in the future, and will it remain suitable for the species of interest? On the other hand, some regions might become appropriate for a threatened species.

This fundamental question is important in a rapidly changing climate, yet it has seldom featured when picking new areas for translocations.

Western ground parrots live and nest on the ground, making them very vulnerable to foxes and cats.
Alan Danks/DBCA

Saving the western ground parrot

Our recent research applied climate change modelling to translocation decisions for the critically endangered western ground parrot. This species is now restricted to a single population, with probably fewer than 150 birds, on the south coast of Western Australia.

It is enigmatic, in that it lives and nests entirely on the ground, unlike almost all other parrots except the closely related night parrot. And it is one of the many unique animals that make Australia so distinctive from all other parts of the world. But living on the ground has its drawbacks, as the parrot is very vulnerable to foxes and cats.

Its home near the south coast is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As southwestern Australia becomes warmer and drier, the risk of fire to the parrot increases.

Understanding potential climate change impacts is essential when selecting reintroduction sites. We developed high-precision species distribution models and used these to investigate the effect of climate change on current and historical distributions, and identify locations that will remain, or become, suitable habitat in the future.

Our findings predict that some of the western ground parrot’s former south coast range will become increasingly unsuitable in the future, so reintroductions there may not be a good idea. Four out of 13 potential release sites are likely to become inhospitable to these threatened birds.

On the other hand, many of the former or future sites are likely to become important refuge habitats as the climate continues to warm, and would make an excellent choice for any translocations or reintroductions.

We have given this information to an expert panel, who will use these predictions identify and prioritise areas for management and translocation.

Researchers have radio tracked a small number of birds to learn more about habitat use and movement patterns.
Allan Burbidge

The parrot in the coal mine

Fire is already a significant threat which, combined with predation by feral cats, may have led to the loss of this species from its former home at Fitzgerald River National Park. Many of these threats act together, so they must all be considered and managed alongside climate change.

What’s more, the western ground parrot may be an important indicator for the fate of many other species it currently (or formerly) shares its range with. These include the western whipbird, noisy scrub-bird, and a carnivorous marsupial, the dibbler.

These species are all likely to face the same threats and may be equally affected by the changing climate. Future studies will attempt to model these species and to assess whether all will benefit from similar management.

Many challenges remain for the western ground parrot, including the possible negative genetic impacts of the current small population size, and the increasing risk of damaging fires in a drying and warming climate.

But locating “future-proofed” sites is giving us some hope we can ensure the long term persistence of this enigmatic species, and the myriad other unusual species that occur in the biodiversity hotspot of southwestern Australia.


The authors would like to thank Allan Burbidge and Sarah Comer from the WA Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions for their invaluable help and guidance in putting together this article.The Conversation

Shaun Molloy, Associate research scientist (Ecology), Edith Cowan University and Robert Davis, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Biology, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Whichever way you spin it, Australia’s greenhouse emissions have been climbing since 2015


Tim Baxter, University of Melbourne

Let me explain how to see through the spin on Australia’s rising greenhouse emissions figures.

With the release today of Australia’s emissions data for the December 2018 quarter, federal energy and emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor has been more forthcoming than usual about the rising trend in Australia’s emissions.

There’s one small issue, though. Despite Taylor’s comments in which he sought to explain away Australia’s 0.7% year-on-year rise in emissions as a product of increased gas investment, actual emissions in the December quarter were in fact down relative to the September 2018 quarter. This is due mainly to the fact that people use much more energy for heating in the July-September period than they do during the milder spring weather of October-December.

Taylor, meanwhile, was discussing the “adjusted” data, which reveals an 0.8% increase between the two quarters.

This might all sound like minor quibbling. But knowing the difference between quarterly and annual figures, and raw and adjusted data – and knowing what’s ultimately the most important metric – is crucial to understanding Australia’s emissions. And it might come in handy next time you’re listening to a politician discussing our progress (or lack thereof) towards tackling climate change.




Read more:
Australia is not on track to reach 2030 Paris target (but the potential is there)


Highlighting the difference between quarters is problematic, because emissions data are what statisticians describe as “noisy”. Emissions levels jump around from period to period, which can obscure the overall trend.

Quarterly data is important for understanding how Australia is tracking more generally towards doing its fair share on reducing its emissions. But too much stock is put on the noise, and not enough on the underlying trend.

The charts below compare our estimated actual emissions on a quarterly basis (top) with the cumulative emissions for the year leading up to that quarter (here described as the “year-to-quarter emissions” and shown in the lower chart).

Quarterly emissions. (LULUCF stands for Land use, land-use change, and forestry.)
Dept Environment and Energy (data)
Year-to-quarter emissions. (LULUCF stands for Land use, land-use change, and forestry.)
Dept Environment and Energy (data)

These charts, both built on today’s data, make a few things clear.

Quarterly emissions are noisy

The first thing to note is that saying that our emissions are down compared with the previous quarter is hardly remarkable, or worth patting ourselves on the back for. This is especially true if we are comparing the December quarter data, released today, with the data for the preceding quarter.

September quarter emissions are almost always higher than the rest of the year. This is because, while September itself is in spring, the September quarter also covers July and August.

Our winter heating needs are generally met using fossil fuels, whether through electric heaters or natural gas, which is why the September quarter has the highest emissions. In the December quarter, which covers most of spring, our need for heating drops, and so do our emissions.

But if you look beyond the difference between quarters, as in the second chart above, you can see the underlying rising trend in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Cherrypicking the best metric

Readers who follow climate politics may remember the spectacular moment in March when Taylor appeared on ABC’s Insiders opposite Barrie Cassidy.

Many journalists, including those on the Insiders panel that day, responded at the time that Taylor’s claim that emissions had dipped over the preceding three months was true but not meaningful, in the context of an annual rising trend.

But it was not even necessarily true. As is visible in the quarterly chart, emissions were not lower in the September quarter of 2018 than they were in the preceding quarter.

Specifically, Taylor claimed that “total emissions are coming down right now”. This is only true if we are talking about “seasonally adjusted, weather-normalised total emissions”. The adjusted data are shown above. While the adjusted data went down between quarters, the actual emissions went up.

The process of adjustment is not unprincipled, and is used to see through the noise of our emissions data. “Seasonal adjustment” and “weather normalisation” are two separate processes.

Seasonal adjustment refers to the process of adjusting the emissions figures to account for the predictable seasonal fluctuations described earlier. Weather normalisation does the same, but takes into account individual temperature extremes, both hot and cold, during any given period, and adjusts accordingly.

Much as a golf handicap lets us compare the performance of golfers of differing abilities, these data adjustments tell us whether our emissions are tracking higher or lower than we might expect.

But if a golfer with a handicap of 10 goes around the course in 82 shots, we don’t declare that they have actually hit the ball only 72 times.

This is essentially what Taylor did in his interview with Cassidy. It is not correct to refer to these adjusted emissions data as our “total emissions”.

What does data adjustment mean?

Building on this, it is important to note that the adjusted data and actual data often disagree on whether emissions have increased between quarters. Since the Coalition took office in 2013, there have been 21 quarterly emissions data releases.

The actual quarterly emissions have increased nine times between quarters. The adjusted data says there have been 12 of these increases. And they have only agreed on whether there was an increase six times.

When one form of the data shows an increase and the other does not, the minister has a choice about which figure to highlight.

In the September quarter, the actual emissions gave bad news (an increase), and the adjusted emissions gave good news (a reduction). Taylor chose to refer to the adjusted data, as did the then environment minister Melissa Price, who had portfolio responsibility for emissions reduction at the time.

Today, this was flipped. The actual emissions showed good news (a reduction) and the adjusted data showed bad news (an increase).

It’s refreshing, then, to see Taylor choose to focus on the adjusted emissions data this time around, when he could have chosen the spin route and focused on the fact that the raw data showed a decrease between quarters.

So what does it all mean?

What we can say without any equivocation at all is that since 2015, in the wake of the carbon price repeal the preceding July, Australia’s greenhouse emissions have increased. On the government’s own projections , this trend is not expected to change.

Even if the government’s Climate Solutions Package delivers the amount of emissions reductions that have been promised (and it is unclear that it will), the overall effect will be to stabilise emissions rather than bring them down. This is because the government intends to use Kyoto carryover credits to help meet its Paris Agreement goal, rather than using fresh carbon reductions to deliver in full.




Read more:
Australia has two decades to avoid the most damaging impacts of climate change


Stabilisation is not enough. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear in its Special Report on 1.5℃ last year, deep cuts are required to ensure a safe climate. The Paris Agreement, while calling on all nations to do their part, says rich countries such as Australia should take the lead.

The need to reduce emissions is pressing. And while the raw emissions figures may be down this quarter, this is not meaningful progress. Far more meaningful is the fact that Australia has no effective policy to limit our impact on the global climate.The Conversation

Tim Baxter, Fellow – Melbourne Law School; Associate – Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.