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Science vs politics
You’d expect Dr Karl to suggest science is
a great life path, so it’s intriguing when he
says the most powerful way to drive change
is to be political.
“One of the things the readers of Active
Retirees could do is encourage their kids
and grandkids to go into politics,” he
proposes. As a science commentator, I have
influence but I’ve got zero power. The only
people who have power in Australia are
the politicians who can write laws. And
remember: if you don’t go into politics,
the bad people will.”
Dr Karl did give politics a go in
2007, running as an independent
for the Senate and hoping to “do
good stuff to help battle climate
change”. While he didn’t score enough
votes, he was pleasantly surprised to get the
backing of a Sydney publication after
he admitted he’d made a mistake on some
of his campaign material, because, well, it’s
rare for candidates to admit much at all.
He is adamant the majority of the science
he’s quoted on climate change is correct, and
despairs that so-called ‘deniers’ misinterpret
data to “avoid having to actually deal with
Dr Karl has addressed the science in many
of his books, including in his 2014 book
House of Karls, with a step-by-step rebuttal
to the argument that current warming is
only natural. Here’s an extract:
“Over most of the past 1400 years, the
volume of the Arctic ice each September has
stayed pretty constant. But something has
changed recently. Since 1980, we have lost
80 per cent of that summer ice.
“Over the last 4.7 billion years, there
have been many natural cycles in the
climate – both heating and cooling. What’s
happening today in the Arctic is not a cycle
caused by nature. This more recent change
is caused by humans. We’ve burnt fossil fuels
and dumped slightly over one trillion tonnes
of carbon over the past century...
“ What we are seeing in the Arctic today...
is an amazingly huge change in an amazingly
short period of time. I wonder when this loss
will reach 100 per cent?”
Never stop learning
Dr Karl muses humans like to connect
over shared passions, rather than exchanging
‘ facts’. So, his advice to any adult hoping to
inspire young people about science is to find
experiments and research you can enjoy
together (see the ABC’s science websites for
examples) – and help young people accept
that it’s okay to make mistakes.
“ If you don’t make a mistake, then you
don’t make anything,” he says. “One thing
I notice is that as people turn older, they tend
to get more eccentric, which is good, but get
irrational about it and close their minds.
What you learn, you learn really well; but
then there are gaps in your knowledge that
you don’t know exist.”
Having been online since the 1980s,
Dr Karl warns many people don’t scrutinise
internet sources, often clicking on the first
link they find.
So the second-most important thing
adults can teach young people is critical
thinking. With topics such as climate change
and fad diets constantly debated in the
media, young people need the smarts to
filter fact from fiction.
It’s not a conspiracy
“People can have their own opinions, but
they can’t have their own facts [about
science],” states Dr Karl bluntly, adding that
without critical thinking, some people end
up believing conspiracies, like claiming
man-made global warming is a hoax, or that
vaccines do more harm than good.
He ponders that perhaps some people enjoy
being contrary, believing they have secret
knowledge. But as Dr Karl notes, we can’t let
personal beliefs blind us to science, which
demands repeatedly demonstrated proof.
Take childhood vaccines for example:
“Overwhelmingly, they work and are safe. The
odds are so much better in your favour if you
get the kids vaccinated than not. Yet people
are against it and they keep on quoting stuff
that’s factually wrong,” he says.
“Nothing humans make is perfect.
Vaccines are not perfect, but they’re
the best bet that we’ve got.” »
has been at
the front line
He is a qualified
He ran for the
Senate in 2007
on a Climate
on science and
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