Our Climate Heroes and a Post Covid-19 Recovery


Good friend and long-time acquaintance Barrie Pittock emailed recently (23.4.20): “At age 81 it is beyond me to do much re [the climate emergency], but as a long retired CSIRO climate scientist with many rewards for my work including a Public Service Medal, a share in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for my work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), etc., I want you and others to act on the message that after the Covid-19 emergency, global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions will be a far more pressing global emergency, with dire consequences for the human race, with large sea-level rises, more extreme weather events, more bushfires, etc., etc. Can you spread the message and act on it?”

Barrie’s list of his achievements is modest in the extreme. He was a participant in the 1975 “Australasian Conference on Climate and Climate Change” conference at Monash University, wrote the overview of the conference and was one of the editors of the subsequent publication Climate Change and Variability: a southern perspective (Cambridge UP 1978). Twelve years later there was another climate conference at Monash in which Barrie, along with many others from CSIRO atmospheric physics division, presented a paper. These papers were published in a large volume Greenhouse: planning for climate change (CSIRO, 1988) edited by GI Pearman.

In 2005 Barrie’s Climate Change: turning up the heat (CSIRO Publ. 2005) was published with an exhaustive, detailed analysis of the climate science to that date. In his introduction he wrote: “Hope lies not in science but going beyond the science to examine the policy questions and moral imperatives that the scientific projections throw into stark relief…making direct links between the science and the consequences… If this encourages you to address the issues, to make your own assessment of the risk, and to act accordingly, this book will have achieved its purpose.”

The politicians have been caught out with the coronavirus – having to act on the science for the pandemic and yet still ignoring the science on climate. The real heroes of Australia are the climate scientists once found in the CSIRO’s division of Atmospheric Research. As well as Barrie and Pearman they include Roger Francey, Tom Beer and Ian Enting amongst many others.

Each day that our representatives continue to deny or ignore the science of climate change must make us more determined to remove them from the portals of power or make them change their minds. Above all let us heed Barrie’s warning that the global warming emergency is far more serious than the coronavirus pandemic and “spread the message and act on it”.