AUSTRALIA’S peak body of earth scientists has declared itself unable to publish a position statement on climate change due to the deep divisions within its membership on the issue.
After more than five years of debate and two false starts, Geological Society of Australia president Laurie Hutton said a statement on climate change was too difficult to achieve.
Mr Hutton said the issue “had the potential to be too divisive and would not serve the best interests of the society as a whole.”
The backdown, published in the GSA quarterly newsletter, is the culmination of two rejected position statements and years of furious correspondence among members. Some members believe the failure to make a strong statement on climate change is an embarrassment that puts Australian earth scientists at odds with their international peers.
It undermines the often cited stance that there is near unanimity among climate scientists on the issue.
GSA represents more than 2000 Australian earth scientists from academe, industry, government and research organisations.
A position statement published in 2009 said the society was concerned about the potentially harmful effects of carbon dioxide emissions and favoured “strong action to substantially reduce current levels’’.
“Of particular concern are the well-documented loading of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which has been linked unequivocally to burning of fossil fuels, and the corresponding increase in average global temperature,’’ it said.
“Risks associated with these large-scale perturbations of the Earth’s fundamental life-support systems include rising sea level, harmful shifts in the acid balance of the oceans and long-term changes in local and regional climate and extreme weather events.”
Publication of the position statement caused an uproar among members and led to a revised statement, after wide consultation. The revised statement said: “Geological evidence clearly demonstrates that Earth’s climate system is inherently and naturally variable over timescales from decades to millions of years.
“Regardless of whether climate change is from natural or anthropogenic causes, or a combination of both, human societies would benefit from knowing what to expect in the future and to plan how best to respond.
“The GSA makes no predictions or public policy recommendations for action on climate beyond the generally agreed need for prudent preparations in response to potential hazards, including climate change.”
The revised statement was criticised as being too vague.
In a short statement published in the latest edition of the society newsletter, Mr Hutton says: “After a long and extensive and extended consultation with society members, the GSC executive committee has decided not to proceed with a climate change position statement.’’
“As evidenced by recent letters to the editor … society members have diverse opinions on the human impact on climate change. However, diversity of opinion can also be divisive, especially when such views are strongly held.
“The executive committee has therefore concluded that a climate change position statement has the potential to be far too divisive and would not serve the best interests of the society as a whole ,” the statement says.