At the Glasgow climate conference, then Prime Minister Scott Morrison [that still engenders relief] said Australia will reach net zero emissions by 2050. However, in the lead up to the federal election the Liberal National Party candidate for Flynn, Colin Boyce said: “Zero net carbon emissions by 2050, Morrison’s document, is a flexible plan that leaves us wiggle room as we proceed into the future”1. So, we probably have to thank Boyce for helping get some Teal Independents and Greens elected in some inner city seats at the recent federal election.
A few days ago, Boyce delivered his maiden speech to parliament. He thanked the usual suspects: family, friends, volunteers, donors, political party people, complete strangers and, of course, the voting public2.
In his speech, he states that his earliest memory is hearing a voice on radio saying that the “President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, is dead”2. Kennedy was assassinated on 22nd of November, 1963 and Boyce was born on the 30th of October 1962. While I can remember hearing this on the television news when I was 9 years old, psychological research has demonstrated that children’s earliest memories date back to when they were about two and a half years old. Boyce is talking equine ordure when he says he can remember it, let alone understand it, as he was just under 13 months old at the time3,4.
Like many climate change deniers in this country, he repeats the old denialist refrain
“Australia is a land of extremes” and things were much worse in the 1800s. He even resorts to parroting Dorothea Mackellar as so many deniers do. Then he repeats another denialist refrain that the “climate is changing, as it always has, for billions of years since the dawn of time.” He also mentions that modern man evolved from “creatures in the Rift Valley” [in east Africa]2. This would upset the likes of Scott Morrison, Alex Hawke and Andrew Hastie who don’t believe that humans evolved, but were created by their god.
After waxing lyrical about all the coal-fired power stations, coalmines, smelters and other industries in and around Gladstone, he noted that “the industries of Flynn are heavy carbon [dioxide and methane] emitters and are vulnerable to the economic effects of any emissions target proposals, and it is these arguments that pose the biggest threat to our jobs, our livelihoods and our future prosperity, both as a region and as a nation”2. This is a third denialist refrain, that if we stop producing coal and gas it will destroy the economy. This is the same sort of whining I suspect candle makers, buggy makers, saddle makers, whalers and sundry other industries of the distant past made as their business either faded from view or declined significantly.
After all this spade work, he gets to his personal denialism: “The argument that global warming has been caused by human emissions and there is a need for drastic action is based entirely on computer modelling”2. This is a simple lie. We have over one hundred years of temperature measurements and other climate data and you can see the relatively rapid increase in the measured temperatures over the last three decades or so. There is no climate modelling involved here. These are measurements. The planet’s average temperature has risen 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1880. Most of that has occurred since 1975, at a rate of roughly 0.2 degrees per decade5.
While this may not sound startling, it is worse for Australia where, since records began in 1910, the average temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees Celsius. With climate change, Australia will be one of the countries that suffers the most. Already the frequency of extreme heat events is increasing. Up until 1980, it was rare for the number of extreme heat days to be over 5 per year. Now it is rare for the number of extreme heat days to be below 10 per year. In 2019, there were 33 days that exceeded 39 degrees C, which is more than the number observed from 1960 to 2018 combined6.
Boyce continues: “Climate, atmospheric and ocean temperature models over the last few decades have all been checked with actual measurements, and all of the predictions have been wrong”2. This is another lie. In 2020, researchers at the University of California conducted a systematic evaluation of the performance of past climate models. Seventeen increasingly sophisticated model projections of global average temperature developed between 1970 and 2007, were compared with measured changes in global temperature observed through to the end of 2017. The results showed that of these models, fourteen of them showed no evidence that the climate models systematically overestimated or underestimated global warming over the period of their projections7.
Boyce then uses another denialist claim that the catastrophic effects of climate change simply have not happened: He lists them: “The icecaps will melt. There will be catastrophic sea level rises. The polar bears will die. There will be tens of millions of climate refugees. We’ve got 90 days to save the planet”2. Here he is lying again. Nobody said the icecaps would melt immediately; nobody said there will be catastrophic sea level rises within the timeframe he seems to indicate. Nobody has suggested that polar bears would die out before the next federal election. Nobody has suggested there would be millions of climate refugees before Boyce loses his seat.
Despite Boyce’s drivel, the ice sheets (their correct name) are melting, with the Antarctic ice sheet losing an average of about 135 billion tonnes per year, while Greenland is losing about 255 billion tonnes per year8. Similarly, sea levels are rising and the rate at which they are rising is increasing. During most of the 20thcentury sea level was rising at about 1.4 millimetres per year. In the interval from 2006 to 2015 it rose about 3.6 millimetres per year9, and its rate is still increasing. As for polar bears, there are 19 subpopulations of them all around the Arctic and since 1980 sea ice has been decreasing in all the areas occupied by all these subpopulations. The Arctic Summer sea ice extent is decreasing by about 13% every decade. Back in the mid-1980s the Summer sea ice covered about 7 million square kilometres, now it is about 4.5 million square kilometres10. Loss of sea ice is the biggest threat to polar bear numbers and they have been listed as vulnerable to extinction in the wild because of this11.
Lastly, at least for this part, Boyce makes one of the few statements which I can more or less endorse: “If there is one universal truth, it is this: if the theory does not agree with practice, the theory is wrong every time, no exceptions.” Although Boyce’s phraseology is awkward, he means that a theory can be overturned by an awkward fact that it cannot explain. Boyce spouts this, but he doesn’t follow it himself. How does Boyce deal with the huge amount of data showing that climate change is happening and that it is caused mostly by the burning of fossil fuels injecting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? He simply sticks his fingers in his ears and refuses to hear all those myriad facts that don’t fit his ‘theory’ of denial. In this way, Boyce is from the idiot end of denialism spectrum; the same segment occupied by the likes of Craig Kelly12-14, Barnaby Joyce15,16, Ian Plimer17, Chris Kenny18, Rowan Dean19,20, Terry McCrann21, and Alan Jones22. They never learn.