Profile: Professor Will Steffen
A key science adviser to the past Howard Government and the present Rudd government has described the debate in the media over the basics of climate change science as ”almost infantile”, equating it to an argument about the existence of gravity. Professor Will Steffen said this to the Australian Davos Connection’s Future Summit, while also pointing out in his latest book that Australia’s unique biodiversity is under threat from a rapidly changing climate.
Adam Morton in The Age (25 May 2010):
A science adviser to the federal government has described the debate in the media over the basics of climate change science as ”almost infantile”, equating it to an argument about the existence of gravity.
Speaking at a Melbourne summit on the green economy, Professor Will Steffen criticised the media for treating climate change science as a political issue in which two sides should be given a voice.
While there were uncertainties about the pace and impact of change, he said, the core of climate science – that the world was warming and the primary cause since the middle of the last century had been industrial greenhouse gas emissions – should be accepted with the same confidence as the laws of gravity and relativity.
”It’s a no-brainer. If you go over the last couple of decades you see tens of thousands of papers in the peer-reviewed literature, and you have less than 10 that challenge the fundamentals – and they have been disproved,” Professor Steffen said after an address at the Australian Davos Connection’s Future Summit.
”Right now, this almost infantile debate about whether ‘is it real or isn’t it real?’, it’s like saying, ‘Is the Earth round or is it flat?’ [Climate change] is a hugely important question and yet we are not having a rational discourse in the media in Australia on this question. That is my biggest frustration.” He called on the media to focus on areas where there was not a consensus, including the link between climate change and the south-east Australian drought and how rapidly sea levels would rise.
Professor Steffen, the executive director of the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute, was appointed a science adviser by the Howard government in 2004. He has advised Labor’s Penny Wong and the Coalition’s Ian Campbell and Malcolm Turnbull.
Asked about the scepticism of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, he said scientists respected leaders from both sides of politics who showed respect for scientific expertise.
”You can have a very partisan approach to the policy and how you deal with it – that’s fair game – but I think a wise society would respect the judgment of its experts, bearing in mind that that judgment is continually debated within [the scientific community],” he said.
Will Steffen on his contribution to a new book – Australia’s Biodiversity and Climate Change:
Australia’s unique biodiversity is under threat from a rapidly changing climate. The effects of climate change are already discernible at all levels of biodiversity – genes, species, communities and ecosystems.
Many of Australia’s most valued and iconic natural areas – the Great Barrier Reef, south-western Australia, the Kakadu wetlands and the Australian Alps – are among the most vulnerable.
But much more is at stake than saving iconic species or ecosystems. Australia’s biodiversity is fundamental to the country’s national identity, economy and quality of life.
Australia’s biodiversity is fundamental to the country’s national identity, economy and quality of life.
Dr Will Steffen, lead author of the new book Australia’s Biodiversity and Climate Change, talks about the science behind the book and the process of working with the authoring team to pull this important book together.
His Professional Background
Will Steffen has a long history in international global change research, serving from 1998 to 2004 as Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), based in Stockholm, Sweden, and before that as Executive Officer of IGBP’s Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems project. Prior to taking up the CCI Directorship in 2008, Steffen was the inaugural director of the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society. From 2004 he has served as science adviser to the Department of Climate Change, Australian Government.
His Research and Teaching Interests
Will Steffen’s interests span a broad range within the field of sustainability and Earth System science, with an emphasis on the science of climate change, approaches to climate change adaptation in land systems, incorporation of human processes in Earth System modelling and analysis; and the history and future of the relationship between hum ans and the rest of nature.
Here are some event coming up organised by or in association with Will Steffen’s Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute:
Canberra: Thinking together about sustainability, development and growth
Thursday, May 27th 6:00 pm—9:00 pm
Climate Change and Game Theory
Thursday, May 27th 12.30 pm—13.30 pm
Healthy Climate, Planet and People Conference
Wednesday, June 23rd 9.00 am—5.00 pm
Conference: Democratizing Climate Governance
Thursday, July 15th 9.00 am—5.00 pm