Saturday, December 8, 2007

Climate Change or Global Warming

The famous Watergate journalist Bob Woodward was speaking on the BBC today about his working life being an investigative journalist. He said that one of the most important things he and other journalists needed to do consistently is to be tough, to demand answers.

Over 30 years ago the hard questions he and his colleague Carl Bernstein asked about corruption in the Whitehouse landed an American president, Richard Nixon, in jail. But Woodward commented that over the years both he and other leading American journalists had grown too soft. For example, he had not asked those hard questions over weapons of mass destruction pointing out that WMD debates came not long after 9/11 so America's focus including his own, was turned elsewhere.

This week attention is focused on Bali where governments of the world have gathered to make tough decisions to curb climate change. Climate change?

The investigative media organisation IndyMedia is asking those tough questions trying to get to the bottom of why many journalists in Australia and elsewhere either ignored the plea to act on global warming or spent more space covering the sceptical view, thus raising doubt in the public's minds. This worked to limit their anxiety about the issue - and their lobbying power.

Climate change sceptics used ad hominem arguments to distort and disuade. Eco-activists and scientists like Professor Ian Lowe, the Wentworth Group, and many others globally including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continued to challenge the nay-sayers but the global media was often loathe to treat their science and their warnings seriously. With Al Gore's documentary, the truth was now out in the open. The time for debate and misreporting was over.

Drought came. The river basins and river flows began to retreat especially in inland Australia. The Murray River, the lifeblood of the country, was dying.

In his boook 'When the Rivers Run Dry' (2006) journalist Fred Pearce documents the parlous ecological state of rivers globally and says of the Murray that its death is evident in the giant river red gums that line its banks.

'The trees live up for a thousand years, hunkering down during droughts and then spreading their seeds after floods. But if the drought goes on too long, they die' (2006:249).

His book tells the story of rivers across the globe whose quality and flow are under severe threat. The risk is too great but the precautionary principle, it seems, is not being applied. For example, underground aquifers are being mined - drained - water is not being replaced.

Pearce calls for a water ethos - 'an ethos based ... on managing the water cycle for maximum social benefit rather than narrow self-interest' (348). It recognizes that in many religions rivers are revered as sacred, holy places for pilgrimage and baptism. Its significance in Aboriginal culture is found in 'waterholes and billabongs ... physical manifestations of the process of creation itself' (350).

A water ethos venerates water sources, cherishes water and respects all rivers - including the Brisbane River.

Pearce F, 2006, When the Rivers Run Dry: What Happens when Our Water Runs Out, London, Transworld Publishers.