Prof Lesley Hughes, of Sydney, says events such as the Australian bushfires are influencing opinion on the issue of climate change. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
The increasing intensity of extreme weather events, and
associated hugely damaging bushfires in Australia, are
starting to influence public opinion over climate change
issues, a leading ecologist, Prof Lesley Hughes, says.
Prof Hughes, of Macquarie University, Sydney, gave a public
lecture on ''Southern hemisphere biodiversity in a changing
climate: 2050 and beyond'' at an international conference
being staged in Dunedin this week.
More than 300 researchers from about 35 countries are
attending the Seventh Southern Connection Congress, a
multidisciplinary gathering devoted to natural science
research involving the southern hemisphere.
Prof Hughes felt frustrated that despite a high level of
agreement among scientists about the big threat which global
warming posed to the environment, human life and many plant
and animal species, many other people had not fully grasped
the urgency of the situation.
By 2050, global temperatures could be expected to rise about
4degC on average and scientists were indicating it was
''fantasy'' that increased temperatures could be confined
within a mooted 2degC ''guard-rail'' limit.
Heat waves and fire dangers in parts of Australia would be
significantly worse by 2050, and it would, in fact, be hard
to maintain human habitation in parts of central Australia at
New Zealand would not be exempt from the impact of climate
change, and rising sea levels would make it harder to protect
some coastline assets.
Prof Hughes said a ''silent majority'' of Australians already
accepted the reality of man-induced climate change and recent
huge bushfires and the prospect of a further drought were
likely to eventually make it easier to argue for more
political action to counter climate change.
Super-storm Sandy also killed more than 30 people in the
United States in October last year and affected about 50
million people, sending a record 4m tidal surge into parts of
the New York subway system, and making many people homeless.
Prof Hughes said weather-related devastation on that scale
was also likely to be influencing public perception of
climate change issues in the United States.
President Barack Obama had recently called for stronger
action on climate change.
The five-day congress, hosted by the University of Otago,
focusing on ''Southern Lands and Southern Oceans: Life on the
Edge?'' ended yesterday.