BEN CUBBY July 10, 2012
Extremes … US researcher Jane Lubchenco. Photo: Graham Tidy
THE tide of opinion is turning against climate change sceptics in North America, according to the head of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Escalating bouts of extreme weather appear to be behind the shift, said Jane Lubchenco, the chief of the NOAA - the US equivalent of the CSIRO.
''I think there really is a heightened awareness now, because it is something tangible, it's something people are experiencing themselves - more heatwaves, more wildfires,'' Dr Lubchenco told the Herald.
''In the US, I think that the increasing number of extreme weather-related events will help the American public understand that there is a lot at risk and that we do need to be acting more definitively.''
The east coast of the US has just endured a series of some of the most intense heatwaves on record. Altogether, record high temperatures have been recorded at more than 40,000 sites in the US. If global warming wasn't taking place, the ratio of high and low temperature records would be roughly equal, but in the US this year, heat records have dominated by a ratio of seven to one.
''The heatwaves that we have been seeing in the eastern United States are completely consistent with what we expected to be seeing, and we expect to see more,'' she said.
An agreement was signed yesterday between the CSIRO and NOAA to share data and conduct joint research into reefs, oceans and atmospheric warming. At the International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, specialist ocean researchers released a statement calling for greenhouse gas cuts.
''The international coral reef science community calls on all governments to ensure the future of coral reefs, through global action to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,'' the statement said.
A Stanford University professor, Steve Palumbi, said scientists had described the severity of the problem and the risks, and politicians had to take responsibility for action. ''To be honest, it's really difficult,'' he said. ''It's a turning of a corner. It's scientists giving up control.''
Dr Lubchenco said she did not agree with critics who thought scientists were becoming campaigners for action on climate change. ''At NOAA, all we are doing is providing the data,'' she said. ''When some people don't like the information, they criticise the providers of that information and we certainly see that playing out.''