by Jöelle Gergis
It should come as no surprise to regular readers of The Millenium Project or my columns in Australasian Science that I am what climate change deniers call a "warmist". I have been asked if I believe in climate change, but "believe" is the wrong word. I no more believe in it than I believe in evolution, the age of the universe, the effect of antibiotics or the value of vaccines. These are not matters for belief – they are matters where the science is almost as close to a fact as it possible to be. My response is always that I don't believe, I know with almost certainty. (I agree with Robert Anton Wilson: "Belief is the death of intelligence. As soon as one believes a doctrine of any sort, or assumes certitude, one stops thinking about that aspect of existence".) This book is the work of a scientist who has investigated changes in weather patterns and climate in Australia over the last few hundred years and guess what – things are getting worse. Weather events are now closer together and more damaging and the cause is clear – it's because humans have been doing things to change the climate.
Climate change deniers keep telling us that the weather has always been variable (they know the difference between climate and weather but it suits them to ignore it). They tell us that floods, droughts, forest fires and tidal surges have been recorded for as long as people have been keeping records (and remembered from before that in the stories of indigenous people). This is true, but it obscures the fact that conditions now are not like they were – they are getting worse. As I write this (January 2020) my eyes are streaming from the effect of smoke from a fire that is 100 kilometres away and has burnt 123,000 hectares of bushland. This just one of the many fires across New South Wales and Queensland and follows several months of the highest average temperatures ever recorded. The dam that supplies water to my town is currently at 32% capacity – three years ago it was spilling water at several hundred megalitres each day. In the middle of the drought we had the heaviest snowfall for many years. Things are not as they used to be.
As Dorothea Mackellar famously pointed out in the most famous Australian poem, the sweeping plains of Australia have always been subject to droughts and flooding rains. This book is an excellent history of Australia's variable and often terrifying weather patterns, and it is a warning that things are only going to get worse unless we do something about and do it soon.
My only criticism of the book, and it's one I brought up with the author at the launch of the book, is that it refers to "climate change skeptics". The correct term is "deniers". I know they don't like being called that but facts are facts, and while they might choose which facts to believe, belief doesn't change the truth.
Dr Joëlle Gergis is an award-winning climate scientist and writer from the Australian National University, Australia. Her research focuses on reconstructing Southern Hemisphere climate variability over the past 200-1,000 years using annually-resolved tree rings, corals, ice cores and historical records.