IT seems every Australian has an opinion on the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme. Green groups have been calling for stronger emissions targets while businesses have been pushing for more assistance to be granted to affected industries. Others simply argue that Australia should be waiting until Copenhagen before rushing ahead with any scheme. The one question, however, that no one seems to be asking, is whether or not we even need an emissions trading scheme at all?
Only 500 years ago, people believed Earth was the centre of the universe and the sun and planets revolved around it. Anyone who dared challenge this idea was denounced as a heretic and punished by imprisonment, torture or in some cases even death. Public debate on this issue was strictly prohibited. It is only on account of people such as Copernicus and Galileo, who dared question the "indisputable science", that we now know these assertions to be false. For me, these events are in many ways reminiscent of the present debate on climate change. Though thankfully we do not persecute those arguing against the idea of human-induced global warming, a blind acceptance of only one perspective has meant that proper debate on this issue has essentially been stifled. Opponents of the popular opinion that global warming is a direct result of carbon emissions, a group that includes many notable and distinguished scientists, are often derided and quickly dismissed.
It is for this reason that I headed to Washington this week on a self-funded trip to look at the science and facts behind global warming. I am neither a climate sceptic nor a climate extremist. What I am, however, is open-minded.
As an engineer, I have been trained to listen to both sides of the debate in order to make an informed decision about any issue. Any scientist worth their salt will tell you that in order to form a conclusive view about any topic, you need to properly explore all available possibilities.
Until recently I, like most Australians, simply accepted without question the notion that global warming was a result of increased carbon emissions. However, after speaking to a cross-section of noted scientists, including Ian Plimer, a professor at the University of Adelaide and author of Heaven and Earth, I quickly began to understand that the science on this issue was by no means conclusive. At the conference I attended on Tuesday hosted by the Heartland Institute, I heard views that challenged the Rudd government's set of "facts". Views that could not be dismissed as mere conspiracy theories, but that were derived using proper scientific analysis. The idea that climate change is a result of the variation in solar activity and not related to the increase of CO2 into the atmosphere is not something I can remember ever being discussed in the media. The question of whether global warming is a new phenomenon or something that is just part of the naturally occurring 1500-year climate cycle was never raised in any of the discussions I have had with the Rudd government. Has the government considered these questions, or has it just accepted the one scientific explanation for climate change at face value?
These are the sorts of questions that I believe need to be answered before any emissions trading scheme can be properly considered.
I plan to put some of these questions to Penny Wong and her advisers when we next sit down to discuss the carbon pollution reduction scheme bill, just as I did when I spoke to climate change experts in President Barack Obama's administration this week. I want to know why she is confident carbon emissions are driving global temperatures when during the past decade carbon emissions have been increasing rapidly but according to some scientists global temperatures have not been rising. Can the Minister explain why through the past 100 years, global temperatures have not changed in proportion to the changes in carbon emissions? Has the Minister seen modelling which shows that solar radiation is highly correlated to global temperature changes, and if so, why can this not be a plausible alternative explanation for global warming?
Perhaps CO2 is not the bogeyman of the climate world as many would have us believe.
It seems even the parliamentary library, an independent resource for politicians, has become caught up in the carbon craze. Only recently, the library produced a 13,000-word manifesto on the case for carbon-related climate change. Strangely enough, however, no accompanying research paper was provided exploring any alternative views. Why are these opposing arguments treated with such disdain and, in fact, largely ignored?
I raise these questions not because I am wholly convinced of the merits of these arguments. Rather, because I believe that only by having a healthy debate on the issues and not shirking from these confronting facts can we expect to arrive at the proper conclusion, whatever that may be.
I have been criticised by some for raising these questions. However, I firmly believe that a fear of doing something unpopular should never get in the way of the responsibility to do what is right.
Several weeks ago the then parliamentary secretary for climate change, Greg Combet, correctly declared that the carbon pollution reduction scheme was one of the most significant environmental and economic reforms in the history of the nation. He could not be more correct. It is a scheme that will unquestionably lead to thousands of Australians losing their jobs, more than 23,000 in the mining industry alone. It is a scheme that will send the cost of basic goods and services upwards at a time when we can least afford it and will leave state governments $5.5 billion worse off by 2020. As a federal senator, I would be derelict in my duty to the Australian people if I did not even consider whether or not the scientific assumptions underpinning this debate were in fact correct. Unlike the Greens, who with alarmist rhetoric and extreme ideology have painted themselves into a corner, I am willing to engage in this debate so that the best outcome for all Australians can be achieved.
Interestingly enough, there is indeed one fact on which every scientist does agree. That is, if Australia pushes ahead with a carbon trading scheme without the participation of the big global polluters such as the US, China and India, then Australia's efforts will be of little consequence. Even the most ardent carbon-despising scientist would agree. Perhaps it is time the Rudd government and the Greens started paying attention.
Steve Fielding represents Family First in the Senate.