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A new dimension to climate debate

11 March, 2011

Adding a new dimension to the climate change debate, a discussion paper recently published by researchers at the University of South Australia, suggests that we may actually run short of high carbon emitting fossil fuels before dangerous climate change sets in.

Lead author of the paper from UniSA’s School of Natural and Built Environment, Dr James Ward, says the paper will be controversial.

"Basically, we have a situation where many of the climate change forecasts are being based on fossil fuel production futures that are at odds with the peer-reviewed literature," Dr Ward says.

"All of the most recent studies of fossil fuel production are pointing to imminent shortages and that’s what we should be worrying about."

Dr Ward says the situation is a bit like the Titanic running out of fuel before hitting the iceberg.

"The ship would still have been stranded at sea somewhere in the Arctic Circle, but at least it wouldn’t be sinking."

He says this controversial idea is criticised by lobbyists on both sides of the climate change debate.

"The deniers don’t want to hear about anything that imposes a limit on growth, while the climate activists don’t want to hear about anything that downplays the climate change threat," Dr Ward says, "so it’s sure to be a lively debate."

The discussion paper is published in a high-ranking open access journal and anyone can download and read it freely.

"We are really pleased that the paper is so freely available because the general lack of access to peer-reviewed publications is one of the biggest problems faced by everyday people who are trying to understand the science and develop an informed opinion of the issues," he says.

"Publishing this way also means the peer review process takes place online and in public.

"All the nasty comments will be there for all to see, along with our replies, a great departure from the regular peer-review process, which is usually anonymous and secretive."

Dr Ward believes a transparent review process is essential in controversial and topical areas such as climate change.

"I don’t have a position, as such, on the Australian government’s proposed carbon tax," he says.

"What I’d like to see is a holistic approach to sustainability where climate variability and change are part of the situation, but where the overarching problem is recognised as the global limits to non-renewable resources in the face of a growing global population.

"We need to get that back on the agenda and work from there."

The discussion paper is available online, and is open for scientific review until May 3 2011

Dr Ward’s co-authors are Professor Simon Beecham (UniSA), Associate Professor Adrian Werner (Flinders University), and Dr Willem Nel (Sustainable Concepts, South Africa).

Source: University of South Australia

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