‘Sometimes the best way forward is through the past’

Paleoclimatologist Dr Joelle Gergis spoke at the National Library of Australia, in Canberra, today about the complex relationship between climate variability and climate change.

The Australian Research Council fellow and science writer presented data from the large interdisciplinary South Eastern Australian Recent Climate History project which uses palaeoclimate records (tree rings, coral, ice cores and cave deposits), documentary records (newspaper articles, governors’ records and early settler accounts) and early weather data (weather journals, government gazettes and pre-Federation observatories) to reconstruct past climate conditions.

Gergis’s delight in discoveries from the historical records, as well as the ‘harder’ science data in which she is more at home, was engaging – and the capacity crowd on a very wet weekday lunchtime was certainly engaged. They have probably all now checked the SEARCH project’s OzDocs page to see how they can be involved as ‘citizen scientists’.

The most notable aspect of Gergis’s lecture was her unequivocal stance on the role of anthropomorphic activity in climate change and increasing regularity of extreme weather events – and the moral imperative for action now. (A position, as NLA Assistant Director-General Margie Burn explained, that has made her the target of an astonishing amount of vitriol.) It is the human historical record as much as the scientific data that has bought her to that position.

As Gergis said, ‘Sometimes the best way forward is through the past’.



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