Climate commissioner Will Steffen has called on critics to stop their “vicious” attacks against the body’s chief Tim Flannery and rejected suggestions the federal government-created commission is alarmist.
Prof Flannery has copped a hammering from politicians and sections of the press this week over the Climate Commission’s latest report on the impact of global warming on NSW.
The report found heatwaves were longer and more intense, while the number of hot days in western Sydney had risen 60 per cent since the 1970s.
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It said the state was more susceptible to bushfires and coastal areas were at risk from rising sea levels. As a consequence people’s physical and mental health would suffer increasingly.
Acting NSW Premier Andrew Stoner was quick to declare most people would view the findings as “alarmist”.
The Daily Telegraph’s Miranda Devine on Wednesday said Prof Flannery was doing the federal government’s “dirty work of fear mongering”, while Anthony Sharwood suggested on the Punch website the environmentalist was making things up to grab the public’s attention.
Prof Steffen says that’s all rubbish.
“Climate scientists take exceptional care to be absolutely straight,” he told AAP in an interview on Wednesday.
“We don’t use inflammatory language, we don’t overplay and we don’t underplay.”
The ANU researcher compared climate scientists to the family GP.
While you wouldn’t want them only to give dire warnings, “you certainly don’t want them to underplay the risks you might face and can do something about”.
Prof Flannery was shouted down by a protester dressed as a penguin at a public forum in Parramatta on Tuesday night.
His fellow commissioner says that was a “one-off” – an organised group of sceptics attended the forum – but he acknowledges the debate has, in some quarters, become toxic and “driven by anger and hate”.
“When you see the attacks on Tim that you’ve seen, that is completely counter-productive,” Prof Steffen said.
“It’s uncalled for. You may disagree quite strongly with some of the things Tim says, but let’s be a civilised country and sit down over a cup of tea and talk about this.”
Prof Steffen said there was no place for the “viciousness” seen over the past few months.
Nevertheless, the commissioner insists the vast majority of Australians are more engaged than ever before and keen to get the facts.
The NSW report was the eleventh in a series and the commission has previously held forums across the country including in Adelaide, Perth, Bunbury and Ipswich.
People were overwhelmingly polite and respectful, Prof Steffen said.
Labor’s climate commission was established in early 2011 to spruik the case for tackling dangerous climate change.