Australia’s best-known historian, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, has challenged the idea that the current level of climate change is either unique or largely the result of human behaviour.
While agreeing the Earth was experiencing a warming period which had been under way for several decades, he said this in no way compared with much greater climate change in human history.
Professor Blainey, 89, the influential and sometimes controversial author of almost 40 books on Australian and world history, made plain he did not accept the overwhelming view of climate scientists that the changing climate required a unique, modern explanation limited to human behaviour.
He said human behaviour “may be part” of the reason for current global warming.
However, he said this did not explain how or why the climate had changed more dramatically in the past.
“The great period of climate change in Australia’s human history was in Aboriginal times, when the seas rose and cut off Tasmania and cut off New Guinea from Australia,” he said.
He added that ice-core samples from Antarctica had shown that as recently as 1173AD – the time of Francis of Assisi – had marked the start of a “horrible” 39-year drought.
“You have to be very careful that you’ve got good explanations for the past as well as for the present,” he said, in relation to climate change.
Professor Blainey, whose opposition to what he called the “black armband view of history” was used by Prime Minister John Howard during the so-called “culture wars” at the turn of the century, said he did not consider himself a conservative.
“I am a radical,” he said. “I am pro-change.”
Climate change was “the most difficult and interesting intellectual argument of the last 100 years”, he said. But he conceded he did not have answers for many of his own questions on the subject.