May '07 bring back skeptics
I will remember 2006 as the year a misguided film portraying carbon dioxide as the main cause of all climate change captured the imagination of so many, even changing government policies.
Failed US presidential hopeful, Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, describes carbon dioxide as the enemy.
It then constructs a storyline as simplistic, horrific, technically flawed and politically naÃƒÂ¯ve as the Central Intelligent Agency's dossier on those elusive weapons of mass destruction that were never found.
While that CIA dossier saw the US, British and Australian send troops to war in Iraq, the Al Gore film has been crucial in convincing Australia and other countries to do much more about climate change.
It seems that there is now no place for scepticism.
When former Canadian champion alpine skier and now Chancellor of Canada's Thompson Rivers University, Nancy Greene-Raine, said on television last week that since we don't know what next week's weather is going to be, it is perhaps presumption to suggest we know what it will be in 50 or 100 years, many wanted her sacked.
A Canadian government meteorologist joined the public attack, questioning why the former Olympic skiing champion would offer comment about something on which she was not versed, noting that no one came to him for advice on skiing.
Indeed we are all now expected to do something about climate change, but not expected to make up our own minds on the issue.
One of my concerns with the blind focus on carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming is that it ignores the many other factors which may be contributing to changed weather patterns.
While rising carbon dioxide levels may be responsible for melting of Artic ice sheets, they may not be responsible for the drought across southern Australia.
Head of climate analysis at the Bureau of Meteorology, David Jones, has explained that the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic may have increased the temperature gradient between the equator and the South Pole, strengthening westerly winds and changing weather patterns across southern Australia contributing to the below average rainfall.
New climate modelling by Leon Rotstayn, at CSIRO's Marine and Atmospheric Research division, says pollution from Asian industry may be responsible for the increased rainfall and cloudiness since 1950 over north western Australia.
Understanding changes in weather patterns is very important for agriculture. If Dr Rotstayn is correct, and if Asian industries cleanup their smoke stacks, will rainfall then decline across north western Australia?
In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore suggests that climate change from carbon dioxide is a moral issue and that anyone who questions his claimed consensus is a heretic. But in a truly civil society there should always be room and respect for dissent.
Indeed, skeptics can be valuable, pointing out where conventional wisdom is not quite on the mark.
Australian farmers have historically been a skeptical lot, ever wary of the snake oil salesman.
I hope farmers remember the value of healthy skeptism into 2007 - when hopefully this drought will break.