Stay planted as experts exchange hot air over climate change theories
THE climate change debate is heating up at a rate greater than any rise in global temperatures. Any scientist who dares challenge the link between CO emissions and global temperatures or, worse, suggests that warming may be slowing or nonexistent, is immediately attacked by the consensus of scientists who have an evangelical belief in its existence and its anthropogenic causes.
It’s not a new debate for the wine industry. Back in 1988, Richard Smart, Australia’s best internationally known viticulturist, at that time working and living in New Zealand, published a paper entitled Climate Change and the NZ Wine Industry: Prospects for the Third Millennium.
He is now based in Tasmania and holds the same views as he did 20 years ago. In this hemisphere, the farther south you are, the better your prospects. He recently presented papers at two conferences in Spain (one devoted to climate change, with several hundred delegates) in which he likens the wine industry to the canary in the coalmine due to the narrow band of optimal growing-season temperatures for conventional viticulture.
He was the first Australian researcher (in collaboration with Peter Dry) to develop a detailed matrix of all the climatic factors relevant to grape-growing, with the fulcrum being the mean January temperature.
Also published in 1988, it divided Australia into five zones: very hot, with MJT greater than 23C; hot, MJT 21C-22.9C; warm, MJT 19C-20C; cool, MJT 17C-18.9C; and cold, MJT below 17C.
He presented his Spanish paper at meetings of Wine Communicators Australia, formerly the NSW Wine Press Club, in Melbourne and Sydney, pointing out the implications of a rise of 1.5C in the MJT, metaphorically taking Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula to South Australia’s Barossa Valley, the Barossa Valley to NSW’s Hunter Valley, and so on.
The problem is that John Gladstones, an equally distinguished researcher and author of ViticultureandEnvironment , suggests that an increase of 1C would favour a shift to warmer regions and it was only once the increase reached 1.8C that you had to change to later-ripening varieties (for example, cabernet sauvignon replacing pinot noir), move south or move to higher elevations to keep the varietal mix of your vineyard the same.
This is a storm in a teacup (or wine glass) compared with that caused by the impeccably credentialled Don Aitkin in his lecture at the Planning Institute of Australia in Canberra on March 19 entitled A Cool Look at Global Warming.
The main thrust of his fascinating thesis is that Australia is facing two environmental problems of great significance: first, how to manage water in a continent that may be moving into a long dry period and, second, how to find acceptable alternatives to oil-based energy.
Both water and oil will become much more expensive, with profound implications for the next generation and beyond.
He continues: ‘‘ Global warming, you will have realised, is not one of those two issues . . . and I see it as a distraction from the two I have highlighted.’’ He then proceeds to clinically dissect the consensus of the scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and elsewhere that global warming is caused by rising CO emissions and will have catastrophic consequences if allowed to continue.
But there is one point that has been coincidentally echoed by Phil Chapman ( The Australian , April 23), a geophysicist and aeronautical engineer who was the first Australian to become a NASA astronaut.
The rise in Earth’s temperature during the 20th century occurred in two periods: from 1910 to 1940 and from 1975 to 1998.
Between 1998 and 2008, the temperature has been constant (according to Aitkin) or cooling (Chapman and others).
Chapman points out that in 2007 the Earth cooled by 0.7C, the fastest change on record, leading to the eye-catching headline in The Australian : ‘‘ Sorry to ruin the fun, but an ice age cometh’’. So don’t sell up and go to Tasmania or Patagonia just yet.