Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Rise Up, Citizen Scientists

Climate change protest

Scientists must play an active part in informing and shaping the debate and in developing technology options. Credit: iStockphoto

By Peter J. Cook

What passes for debate over technological priorities to decarbonise energy production needs to be better informed – and scientists need to lead the discussion.

Professor Peter Cook was the Chief Executive of CO2CRC until August 2011. His book Clean Energy, Climate and Carbon was recently published by CSIRO Press.

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As a scientist and as a citizen, I have became increasingly concerned and frustrated at the ever-louder and less informed debate over climate change in which science and technology are often dismissed or denigrated.

I am appalled by a debate that uses terms such as “believers” and “deniers” – with the religious overtones that these words carry. I am concerned that the poor quality of this debate has led many people to assume that we could switch to renewable energy in just a few years at little extra cost, or that we don’t need to do anything in Australia because “climate change is crap” or because we only contribute 1.5% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

It is my view we need to take action for the sake of our children and particularly our grandchildren. The need for action needs to be separated to some extent from the emotion of the debate, perhaps by focusing on the undisputed fact that atmospheric CO2 is increasing and that the precautionary principle should apply.

But any action has to be the right action and must take account of the world – but the world as it is, not as we might like it to be. It is a world with a population rising from seven billion to nine billion in the first half of this century, whose growing demand for energy is being met largely by burning fossil fuels. Contrary to what many people might expect, the percentage of electricity...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.