STRANGE things can happen when media and science meet, nothing stranger than The Australian's recent attempt to assess mainstream climate science.
The Australian (May 15, pages 1 and 5) asserts that, based on its cursory review of Bureau of Meteorology data, the Climate Commission's latest report on the impact of climate change on NSW is incorrect.
However, rather than casting doubt on the report, The Australian's assessment actually confirms the Climate Commission's findings.
The science in question concerns the change in hot weather - days above 35C - across the Sydney region during the past 40 years or so. The Climate Commission report included two graphs showing the change in hot weather from 1968 to 2011 in central Sydney (Sydney Cove - Observatory Hill station) and in the western suburbs (Parramatta North - Masons Drive station).
The graphs showed no trend for central Sydney but a 60 per cent increase in hot days in Parramatta in that period. Central Sydney benefits from frequent cooling sea breezes, while the trend in Parramatta is probably due to a combination of an increasing urban heat island effect and the underlying trend of rising temperature due to global warming.
The underlying effect of global warming is evidenced more broadly across Australia in a doubling in the number of record hot days in the past 50 years.
In analysing the commission's report, The Australian did not use the full data set that was available to it from the bureau. Had it done so, the long-term nature of the heating trend would have been clearer. In addition, the article mentions changes in the number of hot days during five-year intervals, which simply describes short-term variability and is not relevant for the longer-term trends associated with climate change.
The Australian apparently asserts that the commission did not look at enough weather stations to provide an accurate overview of changes in hot weather in the Sydney region. It published five graphs of changes in hot weather, the original two from the commission's report plus graphs for Sydney Airport, Bankstown Airport and Prospect Reservoir. However, these other graphs confirm precisely what the commission has shown - that the number of hot days in western Sydney has risen during the past four decades and has risen at rate greater than that for the eastern suburbs.
In fact, the commission erred on the careful, conservative side by not including the station at Prospect Reservoir, which showed a much more pronounced trend than either Parramatta or Bankstown Airport. In fact the trend is an increase of about 200 per cent in hot days since 1965.
A much larger data set based on weather stations across rural NSW, where there is no urban heat island effect, shows an increase in hot days of about 50 per cent in the past half-century, similar to the trend observed at the Parramatta station.
In its editorial of May 15, The Australian asserts that the language used in the commission's report regarding heatwaves and bushfires was too strong. In contrast it asserts that the language regarding the link between heavy rainfall events and climate change was too weak. Perhaps we got it just about right.
The bulk of the Climate Commission's report focused on what has happened already. During the past 40 years NSW has been getting hotter and there has been an increase in extreme fire danger weather. These climatic trends carry large risks for human health and wellbeing, and for the infrastructure and natural systems on which we depend.
We must not be tempted to shoot the messenger just because they have bad news. That is never a good strategy for dealing with bad news from your family doctor, nor is it a good strategy for dealing with bad news from scientists who point to serious challenges facing society as a whole.
The Climate Commission's report is based directly on data and research from Australia's most outstanding observation and research institutions - the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and our world-class universities.
The Australian said in its editorial: "We accept that the majority of scientific opinion says human-induced carbon emissions are contributing to a warming climate." That is correct.
It could have added that human-induced emissions are the main contribution to observed warming in the past half-century. Then it would have been spot-on.
So there is much agreement between The Australian and the Climate Commission on the science of climate change. It is time to stop the phony, divisive, manufactured "debate" on climate science, and move on to solutions to the climate change challenge.
There is a massive amount of observed temperature data for stations across Australia freely available to the public on the Bureau of Meteorology's website: www.bom.gov.au.