Climate change talk has been around for 30 years. Where's the action?

Climate change talk has been around for 30 years. Where’s the action?

My moment of realisation about the seriousness of climate change came 25 years ago. I expected governments to act. (Getty Images: Neil Overy/Gallo Images) I can’t tell you what I was doing on June 23, 1988, though I can take a guess.

I was a week or so from finishing my journalism course and — how times have changed — I’d already been offered a job.

That’s what would have been occupying my time — along with my girlfriend and my friends and going out. I definitely wouldn’t have been thinking about climate change.

But some people were. Because on June 23, 1988, James Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA, appeared before a US Senate hearing with a warning for the world.

Essentially, he said three things: that Earth was the warmest it had been since records began; that the increase in temperature was due to the greenhouse effect; and that the effect of this global warming was that extreme weather events were more likely.

If you’d been paying attention through the 1980s, this wasn’t a gigantic surprise.

Hansen and others had been publishing research in the scientific journals through the decade, and the news media often picked up on it.

In the background, the beginnings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had started to come together in 1985 and it was formally launched in 1988.

But with Hansen’s testimony, climate change and global warming became a thing. ‘The balance of evidence’

The IPCC’s first assessment report came out in 1990.

I was a reporter for Radio New Zealand by then and sort of aware of it — but I was also in my mid-20s, and very self-involved.

If you go back to that first report, it’s not exactly ‘the sky is falling’ territory — it’s cautious. The story was about what might happen in the future, in the next century.

To a young man, even one with a science degree, it seemed interesting rather than compelling — after all, the next century was a long way off.But by 1995 it wasn’t.That’s when the IPCC’s second assessment report came out, right at the end of the year.The language was more certain. The report used a key phrase: “the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”It doesn’t sound like much, does it? But it was enough for me.By then I was in London, at BBC Radio’s Science Unit, and I understood how careful scientists tend to be.Their method, of only accepting that something is true when you cannot prove that it’s not, means their work proceeds in increments and may well be contested.They’re not ones for shouty certainty. So that line, “the balance of evidence”, was the equivalent of ringing a bell.That’s when I had my moment of realisation — that climate change was happening and that we needed to do something about it.With that realisation came another: governments are full of smart people.I was confident that governments would begin to get serious about it, that they would find ways of reducing the emission of […]

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