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Author: L. Cormack
Source: The Age
Date: 4th November 2015

A CSIRO report this week revealed the close link between an Australian’s political ties and their understanding of climate change.

It found that barely one in four Coalition voters accepts climate change is mostly caused by humans, while 59 per cent of Labor voters and more than three-quarters of Greens voters said humans were mostly to blame for the warming planet.

The report canvassed five surveys of Australian attitudes between 2010 and 2014 and the diverse results could point to one question: If we are still so divided in our thinking, what do Australians still not know about climate change?  

Every year, the independent non-profit organisation the Climate Council fields questions from everyday Australians about the whys and wherefores of climate change.

These are the top five questions they are asked, and the responses they give:

If the climate is changing and temperatures are getting warmer, why was winter still so cold?

When winter swings around, you are always likely to feel cold – but don’t forget to consider the long-term trend. Based on average temperatures, between 1970 and 2014, winter temperatures have increased most in southern and eastern Australia. 

Temperature variability day-to-day and year-to-year will always result in cold and hot weather, even in a changing climate. To get a picture of the impact of climate change on winter temperatures, look at the long-term trends rather than single-year data.

I keep seeing different numbers – how much has the temperature actually changed?

When it comes to numbers there are a variety of factors that can send them up or down, such as where you are talking about, when you are talking about and what you are comparing it to, but the Climate Council maintains that “the science is very clear”.

Here are some numbers for good measure (including summer and winter, and everything from icy mountain peaks to sunny beaches):

  1. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia’s average surface air temperature (averaged across the whole of the country, across the whole year) has warmed by 0.9°C since 1910.
  2. Seven of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.
  3. Globally, 2014 was the world’s warmest year ever since global records began in 1880.
  4. The global average temperature for 2014 (averaged across the whole globe, across the whole year) was 0.69°C above the 20th century average (average of 1901-2000 temperatures), beating the previous record set in 2010 and 2005.
  5. Globally, all of the world’s top 10 warmest years have occurred since 1998.

Don’t volcanoes emit greenhouse gases? And don’t they also heat the oceans?

Yes, volcanoes do emit small amounts of greenhouse gases every year, but compared with human-caused emissions, the volume is very small. All the volcanoes in the world emit less than 0.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide each year, whereas human emissions are over 36 gigatonnes each year.  
During volcanic eruptions, volcanoes emit large amounts of volcanic gas, aerosol droplets, and ash into the high atmosphere. The ash is heavy, falls out of the atmosphere rapidly and has little impact on climate change. However, gases like carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide linger in the atmosphere for much longer. While the greenhouse gases do have a global warming effect, the sulfur dioxide emissions actually cause global cooling – and the cooling effect generally outweighs the warming effect.

Has there been a global warming pause?

Unfortunately not – the climate is continuing to change. NASA, NOAA, the IPCC and a long list of other trusted organisations have confirmed that the yearly global average temperature continues to climb. Australia’s hottest year on record was 2013, and 2014 was the hottest year on record globally.

Where should I retire to?

These days you might be preoccupied with first finding somewhere you can afford, but in terms of the parts of Australia that will be most impacted by a changing climate, the Climate Council suggests looking at joint publications by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, as well reports on the council’s website.
In the long term, things to keep in mind include sea level rise if you’re looking to retire on the water’s edge and hot days getting hotter in some southern and eastern parts of the country.

Read the article on The Age