The Best Australian Science Writing 2014

Free The Best Australian Science Writing 2014 by Ashley Hay

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Authors: Ashley Hay
of sea-level rise, increases to more than 50 per cent. If we carry on at the present rate, we will see as much as 4° Celsius to 6° Celsius warming. This will take our climate to conditions not seen in millions of years, when sea levels were tens of metres higher than they are now.
    But just as we human beings are the cause of the problem, we are also the solution. We are already committed to 1.5° Celsius warming from pre-industrial times: we’re currently at 0.8°. We will experience some climate impacts based on our emissions already.
    The question is just how intense and dangerous are we willing to let it become. We already possess a range of technologies involving energy efficiency, solar power, biomass, wind power and a range of other options that can reduce the impacts of climate change. What is missing is the will to act, from our political leaders and from the Australian public. The choice to commit our children and grandchildren to a perilous world, or to work to transition our society towards a clean and safe future, is in our hands.

    Weathering the storm

Weather and mind games
    Tom Griffiths
    As a teenager I read Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and was intoxicated by the glimpse of a young questing mind wrestling with experience, evidence and argument. In my final year at school we studied Alan Moorehead’s Darwin and the Beagle and learned how this voyage came to change our understanding of the world. Darwin’s insight into the origin of species and the process of natural selection was carefully and anxiously developed over decades in his home at Down House in Kent and then forced into the open by Alfred Russel Wallace’s 1858 letter from the feverish jungles of Malaya. Two great and very different offspring of competitive, industrial Britain had arrived at the same idea. It was at heart a beautifully simple concept but its full scientific implications are still unfolding today. As I read Darwin’s account of his South American excursions and learned of Thomas Huxley’s eloquent defence of On the Origin of Species , I yearned to live at a time when a grand and transformative scientific idea burst upon the world.
    Be careful what you wish for.
    Even while I was at school, a revolutionary new idea was already emerging, but its power remained hidden. It was a scientific insight that was eventually to reveal itself as even moreradical and challenging than Darwin’s. The science of climate change had its foundations in the mid-19th century with the discovery of ice ages, and it had a breakthrough moment in the year of the publication of On the Origin of Species , 1859, when Darwin’s friend, John Tyndall, discovered the influence of greenhouse gases on the temperature of the planet. A century later, in the late 1950s, Charles Keeling began to measure a steady, relentless upward trend in atmospheric CO 2 , and by the final decades of the 20th century, ice cores from both Greenland and Antarctica delivered a sense of urgency and crisis about global warming. The ice core data revealed the historical delicacy and instability of Earth’s climate and confirmed that CO 2 levels, which have risen rapidly since the Industrial Revolution, are the highest for at least three million years and therefore new in human history. Scientific alarm began to influence public debate and in 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established to distil complex, emerging scientific information for government and business.
    The theories of evolution and of anthropogenic climate change both had a long, slow gestation followed by a sudden crystallisation, rapid scientific acceptance and some trenchant public resistance. In the early 19th century, the link between animals and humans became a subject of dangerous fascination, for it raised questions about ‘the mode of creation’, about organic origins and spiritual destiny, and therefore about the

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