The climate change challenge cup
By Bill Henderson
26 September, 07

Australia is on the front line of climate change: climate change effects have been more severe and the public is more knowledgeable about climate change than in most other nations. But there is a significant and paralysing lack of consensus about how serious climate change will be and consequently what mitigation measures need to be undertaken.

Australia is the world's leading sporting nation. Aussies excel at competition. New digital technology offers the opportunity for a competition of ideas that could remove much of the present uncertainty so that a majority of Aussies could be in agreement, on the same page, about climate change risk and suitable mitigation methods.

Online written, iterated debate can enhance, focus and greatly speed up the peer review process. Scientists already collaborate on scientific papers online. Such controlled access wiki building is relatively inexpensive and straight forward as well as being transparent and educational. A rational debate is possible where both climate change deniers and extreme alarmists have to join the competition and put up convincing evidence or shut up.

How would it work:

You need two teams. Ask Tim Flannery, for example, to put together a team to try and prove that climate change is a very serious danger: that greenhouse gases are raising global temperatures leading to drought, sea-level rise and other severe effects on future generations; and that humanity faces an increasing probability of potential extinction through runaway climate change. Ask Hugh Morgan to put together a team to prove that climate change at its worst is only a minor problem if a problem at all.

Ask a major centrist organisation with resources and expertise to facilitate and referee the debate. CSIRO could be the perfect referee.

Both sides put their initial position and evidence up online and then there is an iterated battle of competing positions. The iteration process will focus present state of the art climate science and reduce the non-scientifically credible until there is a consensus on the range of climate change effects we should expect with the probabilities of risk quantified.

There would then be a consensus about how serious our mitigation efforts need to be. If there remains disagreement about which specific mitigation measures to employ the debate can be widened to include expertise on differing mitigation strategies, their potential benefits and liabilities.

The media and especially the emerging web 2.0 blogosphere can help the public follow the competition and keep score: which team is making what moves, who's winning, who's on attack, who's defending and what is the key evidence battle. Big Gav and pals doing the play by play and colour.

It is probably too late to have such a competition up and running before the upcoming election, but if it were the political parties and candidates would have to adjust their platforms either for or against a well understood consensus of climate change risk. If there was agreement that climate change is only a minor problem then other issues would dominate political platforms; if the evidence and subsequent consensus was that climate change is a serious danger requiring immediate and innovative mitigation then the country could hand a decisive mandate to the winning government.

Such iterative debate and the whole burgeoning web 2.0 toolkit promise a future turbocharged democracy and just in time. Citizens will have access to state of the art expertise on any contentious subject and an ability to make their preference known. Governments will be re-empowered with consensus mandates so that reasonable action becomes possible again.

Climate change requires a new level of consensus building and Australia can lead. A defining consensus on climate change danger and needed mitigation globally could be built in time for the crucial US election in 08.

Ultimately everybody who competes in sports is a winner. If we are all not to be climate change losers, we have to innovate a game where we get better at recognising and evaluating complex problems and achieving reasonable consensus on appropriate solutions.


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