Dr Sarah Boulter is a research fellow with NCCARF.
In this role, Sarah has been involved in the research, development and synthesis of knowledge to support adaptation planning and management across all sectors.
In particular her work has focused on extreme events and the lessons for adaptation, assessment of forest vulnerability and policy guidance.
Before joining NCCARF she held roles at Griffith University researching the impacts of climate change on plant reproduction and biodiversity in forests and with the Queensland state government in science communication and policy related to vegetation management and impact assessment in Moreton Bay.
Climate change and those whose job it is to talk about current and future climate impacts are often classed as the “harbingers of doom”. For the world’s biodiversity, thepredictions are grim– loss of species, loss of pollination, dying coral reefs.
The reality is that without human intervention, ecosystems will reshape themselves in response to climate change, what we can think of as “autonomous adaptation”. For us humans – we need to decide if we need or want to change that course.
For those who look after natural systems, our job description has changed. Until now we have scrambled to protect or restore what we could fairly confidently consider to be “natural”. Under climate change knowing what that should look like is hard to decide.
If theGreat Barrier Reefstill has a few pretty fish and coral in the future, and only scientists know they are different species to the past, does that matter? It’s an extreme example, but it is a good analogy for the types of decisions we might need to make.
For the rest of Queensland’s ecosystems the story is much the same as the Great Barrier Reef. There are the obvious regions at risk. Our coastal floodplains and wetlands are potentially under threat from both sides, with housing and development making a landward march and the sea pushing in from the other side. These ecosystems literally have nowhere to go in the crush.
It’s a similar story for species and ecosystems that specialise oncool, high altitude mountaintops. These small, isolated populations rely on cool conditions. As the temperature warms, if they can’t change their behaviour (for instance, by taking refuge in cool spots or crevices during hot times), then it is unlikely they will survive without human intervention such as translocation.
We are all too familiar with the risk of coral reefs dying and becoming a habitat for algae, but some of our less high profile ecosystems face similar transformations. Our tropical savannah woodlands cover much of the top third of Queensland. An iconic ecosystem of the north, massive weed invasions and highly altered fire regimes might threaten to make themunrecognisable.
So where to from here?
From the grim predictions we must rally to find a way forward. Critically for those who must manage our natural areas it’s about thinking about what we want to get out of our efforts.
Conservation property owners, both public (for instance, national parks) and private (for instance, not-for-profit conservation groups), must decide what their resources can achieve. Throwing money at a species we cannot save under climate change may be better replaced by focusing on making sure we have species diversity or water quality. It’s a hard reality to swallow, but pragmatism is part of the climate change equation.
We led the development of the Queensland plan, and were encouraged to discover a sector that had a great deal of knowledge, experience and willingness. The challenge for the Queensland government is to usefully channel that energy into tackling the problem.
One of the clearest messages from many of the people we spoke to was about how biodiversity and ecosystems are valued by the wider community. Or not. There was a clear sense that we need to make biodiversity and ecosystems a priority.
It’s easy to categorise biodiversity and conservation as a “green” issue. But aside from the intrinsic value or personal health and recreation value that most of us place on natural areas, without biodiversity we risk losing things other than a good fishing spot.
Every farmer knows the importance of clean water and fertile soil to their economic prosperity. But when our cities bulge, or property is in danger from fire, we prioritise short-term economic returns, more houses or reducing fire risk overbiodiversityalmost every time.
Of course, this is not to say the balance should be flipped, but climate change is challenging our politicians, planners and us as the Queensland community to take responsibility for the effects our choices have on our biodiversity and ecosystems. As the pressure increases to adapt in other sectors, we should seek options that could help – rather than hinder – adaptation in natural systems.
Coastal residences may feel that investing in a seawall to protect their homes from rising sea levels is worthwhile even if it means sacrificing a scrap of coastal wetland, but there are opportunities to satisfy both human needs and biodiversity needs. We hope the Queensland plan can help promote those opportunities.
Cath Moran contributed to developing this article.
The world must thrash out a new deal for nature in the next two years or humanity could be the first species to document our own extinction, warns the United Nation’s biodiversity chief.
Ahead of a key international conference to discuss the collapse of ecosystems, Cristiana Pașca Palmer said people in all countries need to put pressure on their governments to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration.
“The loss of biodiversity is a silent killer,” she told the Guardian. “It’s different from climate change, where people feel the impact in everyday life. With biodiversity, it is not so clear but by the time you feel what is happening, it may be too late.”
Pașca Palmer is executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity – the world body responsible for maintaining the natural life support systems on which humanity depends.
Its members – 195 states and the EU – will meet in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, this month to start discussions on a new framework for managing the world’s ecosystems and wildlife.
This will kick off two years of frenetic negotiations, which Pașca Palmer hopes will culminate in an ambitious new global deal at the next conference in Beijing in 2020.
Conservationists are desperate for a biodiversity accord that will carry the same weight as the Paris climate agreement. But so far, this subject has receivedmiserably little attentioneven though many scientists say it poses at least an equal threat to humanity.
Eight years ago, under theAichi Biodiversity Targets, nations promised to at least halve the loss of natural habitats, ensure sustainable fishing in all waters, and expand nature reserves from 10% to 17% of the world’s land by 2020. But many nations have fallen behind, and those that have created more protected areas have done little to police them. “Paper reserves” can now be found from Brazil to China.
The issue is also low on the political agenda. Compared to climate summits, few heads of state attend biodiversity talks. Even before Donald Trump, the US refused to ratify the treaty and only sends an observer. Along with the Vatican, it isthe only UN state not to participate.
Pașca Palmer says there are glimmers of hope. Several species in Africa and Asia have recovered (though most are in decline) and forest cover in Asia has increased by 2.5% (though it has decreased elsewhere at a faster rate). Marine protected areas have also widened.
But overall, she says, the picture is worrying. The already high rates of biodiversity loss from habitat destruction, chemical pollution and invasive species will accelerate in the coming 30 years as a result of climate change and growing human populations. By 2050, Africa is expected to lose 50% of its birds and mammals, and Asian fisheries to completely collapse. The loss of plants and sea life will reduce the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon, creating a vicious cycle.
“The numbers are staggering,” says the former Romanian environment minister. “I hope we aren’t the first species to document our own extinction.”
Despite the weak government response to such an existential threat, she said her optimism about what she called “the infrastructure of life” was undimmed.
One cause for hope was a convergence of scientific concerns and growing interest from the business community.
Last month, the UN’s top climate and biodiversity institutions and scientists held their first joint meeting.
They found that nature-based solutions – such as forest protection, tree planting, land restoration and soil management – could provide up to a third of the carbon absorption needed to keep global warming within the Paris agreement parameters.
In future the two UN arms of climate and biodiversity should issue joint assessments. She also noted that although politics in some countries were moving in the wrong direction, there were also positive developments such as French president, Emmanuel Macron, recently being the first world leader to note that the climate issue cannot be solved without a halt in biodiversity loss.
This will be on the agenda of the next G7 summit in France.
“Things are moving.
There is a lot of goodwill,” she said. “We should be aware of the dangers but not paralysed by inaction.
It’s still in our hands but the window for action is narrowing.
We need higher levels of political and citizen will to support nature.”
As opuses documenting the spectacular hypocrisies, vagueries and stupidities of modern day politics go, this piece by Dr Lissa Johnson is quite something. Indeed, it’s possibly the most heavily linked and referenced demolition of modern politics ever published on New Matilda. Sit down before you start reading it. And keep a bucket handy.
With the votes finally counted for the October 20 Wentworth by-election, independent candidate Dr Kerryn Phelps has maintained her lead over Liberal candidate Dave Sharma, riding the crest of the19 percent swingagainst the Liberal Party all the way to Federal Parliament.
Phelps will be sworn in this month, taking ousted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s seat, forcing the Coalition into minority government. It is the first time since the Liberal Party’s inception that Wentworth has parted ways with the Liberals at an election.
Dr. Kerryn Phelps
Although the Coalition’s new powerbrokers are putting on a brave face, it’s got to hurt being thrust into minority status by a formerly loyal electorate. Having staged an internal coup against Turnbull in order to run their own show, it can’t be easy coming to terms with his replacement, Phelps, whose first order of business is gettingchildren off Nauruand tackling climate change.
As the post-Turnbull guard shifts into power-sharing mode, what has their response to the Wentworth by-election revealed about them so far?
How will they fare making nice with crossbenchers?
Has the Wentworth result taught them anything?
On election night, Prime Minister Morrison assured voters that he was all ears. “Tonight is a night where we listen”, he said, “where we learn.”
And so, with his listening ears on, and the magnitude of the swing against him sinking in, at hisconcession speechMorrison spoke in rallying terms about “what we believe” as Liberals. He dished up a slightly re-heated serve of the Abbott Government’s victim-blaming ‘lifters and leaners’ of 2014, stale and cold around the edges.
Morrison invoked a pro-austerity, anti-tax world populated by undeserving ne’er-do-wells and “hard working” Australians who “get up early in the morning” and “have a go”.
What it had to do with Wentworth wasn’t clear.
Wentworth isamong the leastwelfare reliant seats in the country. Its residents, on average, are among the most likely to benefit from Coalition tax policies.
Perhaps the unfolding reality was too much for Morrison to absorb: the strata of society he sought to prop up had turned against him.
So Morrison went instead to a happy Liberal place, pledging to fight for the early risers of Australia (formerly known as ‘lifters’) “til the bell rings. And the bell hasn’t rung Liberals, the bell hasn’t rung. We’ll take this all the way to the next election.”
The following day Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenbergdoubled downon their existing climate change and asylum seeker policies, despite both issues being central to the winning Phelps campaign.
Other senior figures in the Coalition seemed equally mis-attuned to voters’ sentiments. The day after the by-election, former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyceopinedthat Malcolm Turnbull had neglected his “responsibility” to “campaign to save his own seat… And I truly believe… that if he had… we would still have a majority in parliament.”
‘It’s all Malcolm’s fault’ is what the by-election said to Joyce.
Being a professional listener, I can’t help but observe that the Coalition’s listening skills need some work. Others seem to have noticed too.
Aneditorialin the Canberra Times, for instance, concluded that the Coalition would only succeed as a minority government “if they discover an ability to listen to voices other than their own. The Coalition’s current problems are the direct result of their refusal to do that.”
In fairness to the Coalition, perhaps ‘listening 101’ is not a step on politicians’ career ladders these days. Perhaps our leaders could use some tips. So, to help them out, here is a little listening 101.
As any good listener will know, real listening involves hearing not what you want to hear, as our leaders seem prone to do, nor simply the words that are being spoken, but the underlying meanings, themes, feelings and implications. This, in turn, requires putting oneself in the other person’s shoes, which listeners call perspective-taking.
The next level of listening entails reflecting back the themes and underlying meanings that you have gleaned, in order to enhance attunement and check your understanding. We call this reflective listening.
Given the level of mis-attunement to Wentworth voters, to help the Coalition with their perspective-taking skills, here are some messages they might have deciphered from within the Wentworth results. And to help them with their reflective listening, here are some honest reflections* they might have offered in response.
We thought this was a democracy
Although the Financial Reviewblamedsocial media and GetUp!, according toexit pollingthe biggest issue driving voters from the Liberal Party to Kerryn Phelps was that their elected candidate and Prime Minister, Turnbull, had been rolled. Were the Coalition listening attentively and reflectively to these voters, their responses might have included some or all of the below:
“We understand your anger at being forced to get out and vote right now. You’d rather be off enjoying your weekend. Who wouldn’t? You’re only here because the candidate you elected to represent you – and govern the country – has been ousted. By us.
You are probably extra peeved because no good reason was ever really offered for the leadership spill, other than the fact that we didn’t like Turnbull’s style and wanted his job. Plus there was Abbott’s revenge. Which are thin excuses for a coup, granted.
You probably also feel like the whole thing was all about us. Which it was. Maybe you thought governance should be about you.
In fact, you must be fed up with elected Prime Ministers getting rolled by ambitious rivals. Not that Turnbull is innocent, as you know. He did the same thing to Tony Abbott in 2015. Just like Julia Gillard did to Kevin Rudd in 2010 and then Rudd did back to Gillard in 2013. It’s practically the Australian way by now, with no elected Prime Minister serving a full term since 2007.
You may even remember the ABC telling you in 2015 not to get too het up about it all. It’s ‘just the Westminster systemin action’ apparently.
But you do seem fed up. Fair enough. Australia has a good reputation as a democracy. We get great scores on thoseDemocracy Indices. Nine out of 10 even.
And – it can’t be denied – elections are a cornerstone of democracy. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you had the right to choose who leads your country. Even if you’re mistaken, technically.
But Westminster system or not, we recognise that we were probably a little naïve to think that you’d be cool with us changing your electoral minds for you like that. Hell, even America, whose democracy is in tatters, takes the issue of ousting an elected President seriously. It’s only polite when you think about it, even if just to maintain theappearanceof democracy. Otherwise the plutocratic nature of the whole project becomes a little too obvious, and that makes everyone uncomfortable.
Some of you might have noticed that in the US they need years of special investigations, indictments galore, endlessprimetimeandprintpropaganda, intelligence reports, no matter howdubiousoramateurish, and reasons – real andimagined– to try to roll a President. Even then there’s no guarantee. In Australia we treat it like it’s no big deal.
You could be excused for thinking ‘what the fudge?’Americatakes democracy more seriously that we do? Sure, American elites bang on endlessly about democracy. But it’s obvious to any non-elite that this is what psychologists call ‘overcompensation’.
In America they’re barely eventryingat democracy. Here we consider ourselves the real deal. And yetwe’rethe ones whose Prime Ministers get ousted when elites-in-waiting just can’t keep it in their parliamentary portfolio anymore.
You’d be forgiven if you were thinking all of that. Even if you weren’t – even if you’re just mad that we took your candidate away – we get it. You’d prefer to elect your leaders democratically.”
We could have been a lot angrier
“To be honest, it could have been a lot worse. Asothershavepointed out, you weren’t calling for revolution or shouting ‘down with capitalism’ or ‘neoliberalism sucks’ or anything like that.
Although you did vote against us in Wentworth, you chose an establishment candidate with ahistoryof supporting corporate tax cuts and opposing the right to publicly protest. One who preferenced us right-wingers, just in case, climate nihilism, asylum seeker abuse and all.
Of course, Kerryn Phelps has a more progressive stance than us on climate change and asylum seekers, which is another reason many of you voted for her, but she’s not about to fundamentally rock the climate-catastrophe, human-rights abusing predatory-capitalist boat.
So, as ruling elites – which matters much more than which ruling elite party we represent – we’re grateful.
We’re also, believe it or not, grateful that you don’t read theWorld Socialist Website. Not that you’d be interested in mobilising the working class, probably, but on the subject of democracy, you might be interested in reports that pressure from Donald Trump’s administration may have played a role in Turnbull’s ouster.
At the time of the leadership spill, the World Socialist Website (WSW)reportedthat:
‘Among those leading the charge against Turnbull have been figures closely associated with the US-linked military and intelligence forces…. Over the past two years, a succession of key figures in the US ruling elite, including former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, ex-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and US Vice President Mike Pence, have visited Australia to insist that Canberra remain totally committed to Washington’s geostrategic confrontation with China.’
China. Bet you didn’t think you were giving up your Saturday to vote because of China.
The whole thing reads like a case study in plutocracy. How many powerful vested interests does it take to bring down an Australian Prime Minister?
Not that we recommend you read the WSW article or anything, but if you did you’d find out that a few weeks before Turnbull was heaved overboard he ‘gave a speech that would not have pleased the US ruling elite. He vowed his determination to maintain a ‘very deep’ and growing relationship with China.’
Over at the WSW they reckon that that’s when we made our move against Turnbull – when the US was good and mad at him. ‘The move against Turnbull was certainly not opposed in Washington, if not tacitly endorsed,’ they said.
You must admit, timing is everything.
Then, a few weeks later inanother articleabout the ‘survival of prime ministers… being determined by intrigues between billionaires’ the WSW added that ‘Turnbull was regarded as unreliable in Washington because of his reluctance to join provocative US military operations in the South China Sea and his attempts toprotect the profit interestsof those sections of Australian capitalism most reliant on China.’
Typical Turnbull. Thinking he knows best right to the end.
But luckily you don’t read that kind of stuff. If you did, you might have taken umbrage at the possibility of a foreign government deciding you’d voted the wrong way, and helping to correct your mistake for you.
True, the US does thatall the timedirectly and indirectly in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, El Salvador or Haiti, to name a few. But this is Australia. We’re an arm of the US Empire. Or a bicep at least, surely. Not a client state. Are we?
But, look, don’t worry. As long as you don’t read the World Socialist Website you won’t have to think about any of that. You won’t be forced to grapple with Australian politics in imperial context. It’s a downer. (No pun intended).
You won’t have to wonder whether ‘Make America Great Again’ ‘Mexicans are Rapists’ ‘Build a Wall’ Trump had anything to do with the Wentworth by-election. There was enoughwhite supremacist madnessin Canberra as it was.
So just don’t read the World Socialist Website. It’s easier that way. In fact, forget we mentioned it.”
“To be honest, before the by-election we didn’t think very much about the whole democracy angle.
It hadn’t occurred to us that you’d be all that bothered whether it was Morrison or Dutton on Turnbull in power, seeing as how their policies are more or less the same anyway. You must admit, judging by actions rather than words, they’re difficult to distinguish, other than the blatant, obvious racism and far-right excess some of us add to the mix.
Take these two impressive lists onclimate changeandrefugeesfor example. Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison makes for a seamlessly integrated three-headed climate-catastrophe human-rights-abusing beast. A beautiful beast, we might add. But we’re biased.
Plus Turnbull took us further down the path to a police state than even Abbott could manage. Here’s asatirical little videoon the subject. (Police states are better digested laughing than crying, we find).
I mean show me a police state that’s not racist. Turnbull just put a ‘market friendly face’ on it. LikeMorrison puts on us. Market friendliness is essential these days.AndTurnbull presided over the ‘Foreign Interference Legislation’, which criminalises dissent and political organising, with up to 20 years jail for journalism the government deems unacceptable. (No prizes for guessing what kind of journalism police states deem unacceptable. Police states are notoriously sensitive to criticism).
The laws are so repressive they go ‘well beyondmeasures in force in other so-called democracies.’
Granted, the US did have to lean on Turnbull slightly to get him torush the legislationthrough parliament. It was priceless, though. The US interfering in Australian politics to push swift passage of foreign interference legislation. You wouldn’t read about it.
After the legislation was passed, Steve Bannon came to Australia andsang its praises. The laws are all bound up with that whole clash between China and the West that Bannon isitching for. Australia belongs on the ‘front line’ of that clash he reckons.
Anyway, truth be told, we were starting to get a little jealous of Turnbull. He was touted as the ‘moderate’ ‘centrist’ one, and here he was presiding over all the hard-right stuff we had our eyes on. It wasn’t fair. We wanted a piece of that action. We didn’t really think you’d mind all that much.
But we neglected the importance of politeness, clearly. You probably didn’t appreciate us championing awhite nationalist slogan, beloved by a former KKK grand wizard, the alt-right and neo-Nazi groups, just before the by-election. We got a little carried away.
We understand now that most people like their politics seemly and respectful on the surface. Then they can turn a blind eye to the ugliness underneath.
People are busy. They don’t have time to dig deep and inspect the rot at the roots of their society.
We should have realised that you’d find that white pride stuff shameful and repugnant. We should have remembered, for instance, that ruling elites on both sides of the aisle despise Donald Trump for much the same reason.
They happilyrubber stamp,abet,enable,support,ignoreandassisthis most reactionary policies, but they hate that he fails to hide the contemptuous prejudice, racism, cruelty and oppression that those policies represent.
Turnbull, on the other hand, understood the importance of the anodyne façade.As didBarack Obama.
The point is, Obama wrapped everything up in such lofty, expansive progressive language that most people didn’t look beyond his pretty words until it was too late. Which made Obama, according to the Executive Editor of Black Agenda Report, Glen Ford, not the lesser evil but themore effective evil.
What we’re trying to say is that we get confused when we see progressive types being so cool with such over the top violence, authoritarianism, climate sabotage and oppression. We forget about the power of empty progressive words.
Your preferred candidate, Turnbull, while no Obama in the rhetoric department, was at least adept at another kind of anodyne façade – playing the lame duck leader.
It was quite a clever trick really, appearing to be a thwarted progressive Liberal (they don’t exist, believe me), doing nothing, getting nowhere, stymied by the hard right, while advancing a hard right agenda all the time.
I mean apart from the stuff we’ve already mentioned about police states, criminalising dissent, climate change and refugees, look what else we achieved under Turnbull. We ramped uparms salesto despots and dictators, earmarked $200bn for arms manufacturers (we prefer to say ‘the military’), whipped up fear of African gangs tovilify the Sudanese community, tried our best tocut student loan schemesandthe pension, cut weekend penalty rates andwelfare and disability(again), punished welfare recipients with the cruelrobo-debtfiasco, passedregressive tax cutsthat benefit the wealthy, presided overongoing neglectof Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Australians, ignoring the urgentRedfern Statementcalling for an overhaul of Aboriginal affairs, and promised ‘special attention‘ to visas for white South African applicants, while torturing and rejecting black and brown refugees. We could go on.
Same agenda different face. We just rub people’s noses in their oppression harder. We didn’t think you’d mind.
We care about climate change.
“Politeness aside, we understand that although you’re mostly cool with the status quo, you do genuinely care about climate change.
We can’t ignore the polls. (We pretend to, but we don’t).Exit pollstell us that apart from rolling Turnbull, the biggest issue for you Wentworth voters was climate change, and replacing coal with renewable energy.
Which is a bummer for us.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison even takes Coal into the Australian Parliament
It’s not easy propping up coal and sabotaging renewable energy when voters care about their climate.
In the past we tried to hide the fact that97 percent of scientists agreeon climate change being real and human-induced. Our predecessors even stacked the ABC board withclimate deniers, to create fake ‘balance’ and confuse the issue, but the truth seems to have gotten out now.
So it must be difficult for you to put global warming out of your minds, especially as the opportunity to avert climate Armageddon is rapidly narrowing.
You’ve probably heard highlights from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which, let’s face it, makes it look as though we’re actively trying to eliminate life on Earth.
What are the odds? Just as you snatch power, poised to squeeze every last dollar out of fossil fuels while you still can, the scariest and most strongly worded climate report ever comes out.
They reckon that we only haveuntil 2030to cut carbon emissions almost in half. Otherwise we’ll hit catastrophic climate tipping points andfeedback loops.
Which, even we admit, isn’t long.
That’s only four more election cycles. Makes sense you’d be thinking about it at the polls.
If you’ve been following coverage of the IPCC report you’ve probably heard that these tipping points are expected to kick in when we pass1.5 degrees Celsiusof warming on pre-industrial levels.
Not two degrees like everyone’s been saying.
So, look, we understand that it’s probably a little alarming, seeing as how the world has already warmed by one degree, which only leaves half a degree to go.
On top of which other eminent scientists have gone and said that the IPCC report isconservative, andunderstatesthe enormity of the crisis.
If only those F-ers were Australian citizens and our new police state was in full swing. Then we could whip out that Foreign Interference Legislation and slam them with a charge of reputational damage or something.Lawyers reckonthe Foreign Interference laws are good to go for that sort of thing.
See – we Liberals are lifters. We get up early in the morning to do more than our fair share of global warming.
Given all of that, we’re hoping most of you don’t delve too far into the kinds of things that scientists are saying these days. Like this guy, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, who says, ‘climate change is now reaching theend-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.’
‘Unprecedented action’… ‘end game’. What would he know? He’s just a professor of physics specialising in complex systems and nonlinearity, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (1992-2018), former chair of the German Advisory Council on Global Change and senior climate advisor to the European Union, the German Chancellor and Pope Francis.
‘No precedent’. Again, an amateur. Just a journalist. Quoting the IPCC consensus reached byhundreds of scientific expertsfrom universities all over the world. Amateurs, all of them.
See what we’re up against? It’s not easy campaigning during civilisational end-times, selling apocalypse and omnicide. In the scheme of things we did remarkably well in Wentworth. We got 49 percent of the vote, omnicide and all.
Which is especially impressive considering that renewables are rapidly becomingcheaper than coal. Snake oil salesmen had it easy. This is tough.
So we get that many of you wanted to give our pro-coal ‘business as usual’ agenda a hiding at the by-election.
Even school kids are fed up.Children are going on strikefrom their schools across the country on November 30thto protest our (non) response to the IPCC report. ‘Make coal history’ they say. Little smart alecks.
Do not, we repeat DO NOT encourage your children, or any children, to take part in this climate action.
Once we figure out how to legally expel gay kids from schools we’ll get to work on pro-environmental children.
The worst of it is that you folks in Wentworth and those blasted kids aren’t alone in your attachment to a life-sustaining biosphere. Most Australians would like to preserve life on Earth. (How soft can you get?)\
According to polling, themajority of Australiansare worried about climate change and would like to see us phase out coal and replace it with renewables.
We do understand.
You want climate action.
The trouble is, that makes governing on behalf of fossil fuel giants very difficult.
We were hoping that you wealthy Wentworth voters might at least be too comfortable to care about climate change. But the majority of you are obviously smart enough to realise that your wealth won’t protect you from hurricanes, storms, heatwaves, mass migration, societal breakdown and the global unrest that thePentagon sees coming.
Nor will money protect your children or your children’s children. Unless you’re banking onspace colonisation, which is a gamble.
We realise thatnot all of youin Wentworth are wealthy, but those of you who are might have also begun wondering what will become of yourwaterfront propertieswhen climate change bites.
Once you start imagining your coastlines wracked bystorm surges, floods and erosion– Bondi, Clovelly, Nielsen Park, Redleaf, Double Bay, those gentle oases from the city bustle, where anyone, no matter their income, can bask in some gentle sunshine – you start to realise that the waterfront properties are the least of it.
You probably start feeling a little sad about the imminent loss of such natural beauty: the morning and evening walks along the shore, children playing in the sand, soft breezes, sailboats bobbing in the distance, birds… sunrises… sunsets.
Imagining those tranquil havens as scenes of destruction might rouse a sense of grief in you, or guilt even, for future generations. ‘What are we doing to them?’ you might ask yourself. ‘What kind of world are we leaving behind?’ ‘How can we stop this?’
‘Think of Our Future‘ pleads the placard of one young girl participating in the school climate strike.
No matter how much money you have, or don’t have, you are human. You care about life on Earth, your children, their children and other people’s children. You don’t want to leave a hell hole behind for them.
We get it. You’d like us to do the right thing and address the climate emergency. You saw a chance to register your feelings on the subject and you took it.
So here’s what we’ve decided. To hell with you.
There are profits to be made. Now. Not after some transition process to clean energy, which will require us to turn our brains on, engage with science, and do some genuine problem-solving.
We’ll be out of office by the time the benefits start flowing anyway. What’s in it for us? Climate change might be here and now, but so is coal.
How long do you think we’ve waited to get our hands on this kind of power? Do you think we’re relinquishing it now? Do you think we’re about to leave all that money in the ground? Just because of some stupid by-election? A few votes? The wishes of the majority of the Australian population?
You and your democracy. Didn’t you read thatPrinceton study? Governments don’t govern on behalf of the people any more. They govern on behalf of corporations, and the wealthy elites that own them. Everyone knows that.
Like Adani. That’s who we represent. Our job isn’t to stand up to Adani on behalf of you, it’s to stand up toyouon behalf of Adani.
We’re happy that you’ve had your little moment of democracy. We hope you feel better now. It’s time to go back to your ordinary lives, and we’ll go back to our powerful ones, looking after our powerful mates.
You might prefer politeness, but there’s nothing polite about ending human civilisation.
In fact, sugar-coating it will only seal humanity’s fate, like hiding cyanide in a chocolate drop. So here’s the impolite reality of our response to you and your ‘historic’ swing.
Screw the future. Screw your children and their children’s children. Screwourchildren and their children’s children.
We heard what you’re trying to say. We’re not listening.”
* Disclaimer: The above dialogue is fictional. It is a work of fancy and does not claim to represent the actual intentions or motives of any individuals. It is, however, loosely informed by evidence-based literatures on the psychology ofanti-environmentalandinhumaneclimate and immigration policies.
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Zombies For Climate Apocalypse gathered outside Warren Entsch’s office on Halloween.
They were be there to mark the death and destruction caused by fossil fuel economies.
Carrying signs such as ‘Warren Entsch’s Walking Dead’ and ‘Tony Abbott Bit Me’, the zombie horde drew the link between horror fiction and the fact of climate denialism within the LNP government.
The Zombie Shuffle is in solidarity with a zombie event being held at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne.
The MASIL Project (Mapuche-Aboriginal Struggles for Indigenous Land) has initiated the Melbourne event to highlight the damaging effects of transnational corporate mining on First Nations peoples.
The Mapuche are a First Nations people from Chile.
They have partnered with Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance for this event.
Zelda Grimshaw explained, “People often joke about ‘the zombie apocalypse’ but we know it is only half a joke.
Droughts, fires, plagues, floods, epidemics, rising seas, terrible storms and other climate impacts really are the stuff of apocalypse, and we know that this is what is coming unless we end fossil fuel use.
“In Melbourne the global heads of mining companies are meeting to work out how best to profit from the extinction of our species.
First Nations peoples in Australia as elsewhere are on the front lines of mining and climate impacts.
Here in Queensland, the negotiation rights of indigenous landholders have been trampled by the State and Federal governments in order to facilitate the Adani mega mine.
So we are shuffling in solidarity today.
“We are a reef electorate.
The Great Barrier Reef is suffering as a result of Australia’s coal-fired power stations, fracking, and coal exports.
Our federal representative, Mr Entsch, has yet to take any meaningful action at all to protect our people, our towns and our reef from continued fossil fuel use.
Stop Adani Cairns was refused an audience with Mr Entsch to discuss the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change, which warns that a temperature rise of above 1.5 degrees will have catastrophic consequences for humanity.
Stop Adani Cairns is demanding that Mr Entsch read the report and follow the recommendations to phase out coal and gas immediately from the Australian economy.
The latest report from the IPCC shows we cannot afford to burn the vast majority of remaining reserves of fossil fuels if we are to keep warming below 1.5 or even 2 degrees.
A new line in the sand is needed.
We support an agreement with a moratorium on any further expansion of the fossil fuel industry in rich countries, together with a fund to support renewable energy development in poorer countries to reduce the need for fossil fuels, paid for by redirecting the staggering $10m per minute that governments currently spend on fossil fuel subsidies.
The best way to mark the 50th anniversary of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty would be to begin negotiation of its fossil fuel equivalent.
Bill McKibbenFounder, 350.org Naomi KleinWriter and activist Caroline Lucas MPGreen party John SauvenExecutive director, Greenpeace Craig BennettCEO, Friends of the Earth Ann PettiforPrime Economics Leo Murray10:10
It is also right to demand that the government “tell the hard truth to its citizens”.
This hard truth should not only apply to the effects of climate change but to the necessary measures to mitigate it.
An example measure would involve a great deal of rationing akin to that in wartime.
For instance; petrol and diesel cars could be restricted to use only every other day, natural gas for central heating could be rationed to that required to heat an average house to 20 degrees, or even less.
Even electric cars could be affected, it may be impossible to recharge batteries when there is a windless night.
The green lobby spells out the hard truth on the effects of climate change but fails to spell out the harsh measures necessary to mitigate it.
John Huggins (Independent consultant; formerly director of gas transportation for British Gas), London
•Count me in for the extinction rebellion.
I fully support the aim of “rapid total decarbonisation”, and the need for credible plans.
They will succeed when there are millions of accompanying individual decarbonisation plans being implemented by each and every one of us.
And we can start now.
I look forward to seeing significantly less traffic on our roads, reduced flights from our airports, reduced heating and lighting in all our buildings, reduced building and construction, and reduced needless stuff being sold in our supermarkets and shopping malls.
We’ve entered some profoundly unfamiliar planetary territory.
Amid a backdrop ofU.S. politicians still questioningwhether the changing climate is attributable to humans (it is), it’s quite likely that we’ve actually boosted Earth’s carbon dioxide — a potent greenhouse gas — to the highest levels they’ve been in some 15 million years.
The number 15 million is dramatically higher than a statisticfrequently citedby geologists and climate scientists: That today’s carbon levels are the highest they’ve been on Earth in at least 800,000 years — as there’s irrefutable proof trapped in the planet’sancient ice.
Though scientists emphasize that air bubbles preserved in ice are the gold carbon standard, there are less direct, though still quitereliablemeans to gauge Earth’s long-ago carbon dioxide levels. These measurements, broadly called proxies, include thechemical make-up of long-dead planktonand theevidence storedin the breathing cells, or stomata, of ancient plants.
Scientists have identified this 15 million number by measuring and re-measuring proxies all over the world.
“It’s a good scientific documentation, but it’s an indirect measure,” Michael Prather, a professor of earth system science at the University of California Irvine, said in an interview.
“And there’s several lines of evidence,” Prather, a lead author on UN climate reports, added, citing the carbon dioxide evidence in fossilized marine life. “It’s not just one person’s crazy number.”
There may have been a time, roughly 3 million years ago during an extremely warm period called thePliocene Epoch— when sea levels were between 16 and 131 feet higher than today — during which carbon concentrations could have approximated present levels.
“However, the concentration of CO2 currently in Earth’s atmosphere is higher or is nearly as high as it has been over any time period during the past 15 million years,” Daniel Breecker, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences, said over email.
The critical difference today, however, is that carbon emissions are expected to continue rising. With theunprecedented burningof fossil fuels, carbon accumulations will simply keep going up.
“Of course, C02 concentrations aren’t stopping today,” said Lachniet. “We’re probably going to blow through 550 to 600 ppm.”
Those sorts of high carbon concentrations haven’t been experienced on Earth in well over 20 million years, noted Lachniet.
“That makes this conversation even more stark,” he said.
Some folks in the climate community, though, have even argued that today’s climate has the highest concentration of total greenhouse gases — when gases like methane (natural gas) and nitrous oxide are added to the mix — in 20 million years.
This idea, called the “carbon dioxide equivalent” hassome supportin the climate community, though a variety of climate scientists we reached out to weren’t aware of research supporting this 20 million-year claim.
In the end, it’s not just the actual concentration of carbon dioxide that matters — it’s how sensitive the planet ends up being to this dramatically rising carbon accumulation, noted Breecker.
Already, Earth has proven quite sensitive
Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1 degree Celsius.
“It [global warming] raises sea levels and makes storm surges worse, it makes the atmosphere wetter, leading to flooding from extreme rainfall, and warming ocean temperatures provide extra energy to tropical storms,” climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research,saidin September.
“The polar ice is melting, in the ocean the Gulf Stream System is weakening, and in the atmosphere the jet stream is getting weird,” Rahmstorf added.
Unlike previous geologic epochs, the defining circumstance today isn’t just notably high carbon in the air — it’s how fast it’s all accumulating.
The natural world both loads and removes carbon from the atmosphere over long periods of thousands to tens of thousands of years.
For example, a warm period called the Eemian, which ended around 120,000 years ago, slowly melted a significant portion of Greenland’s ice sheets — even withprofoundly lowercarbon concentrations of around 280 ppm.
But these days, the climate hasn’t yet caught up.
“We’re warming so fast that we haven’t even begun to let Greenland melt,” noted UC Irvine’s Prather.
Where civilization ultimately ends up, carbon-wise, is contingent upon how quicklyglobal societies transitionto clean energy, and generate electricity without a deep reliance on fossil fuels.
“I would argue what’s really relevant is where we stabilize out,” said Lachniet. “Over the next hundred years we really set the next 10,000 years of climate history.”
Quick: Think of some inventions that help fight climate change.
What came to mind first?
I bet you thought of solar panels and wind turbines.
In my experience, that’s what people point to when they think about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
They’re not wrong.
Renewables are getting cheaper and many countries are committing to rely more on them and less on fossil fuels for their electricity needs. That’s good news, at least in places that get a lot of sunlight or wind.
Everyone who cares about climate change should hope we continue to de-carbonize the way we generate electricity.
I wish that were enough to solve the problem.
Unfortunately, it isn’t.
Making electricity is responsible for only 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions each year.
So even if we could generate all the electricity we need without emitting a single molecule of greenhouse gases (which we’re a long way from doing), we would cut total emissions by just a quarter.
To prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to get to zero net greenhouse gas emissions in every sector of the economy within 50 years—and asthe IPCC recently found, we need to be on a path to doing it in the next 10 years.
That means dealing with electricity, and the other 75% too.
Where do greenhouse gas emissions come from? I like to break it down into five main categories—what I call thegrand challenges in stopping climate change:
Electricity(25%). Although there’s been progress in the renewable energy market, we still need more breakthroughs. For example, wind and solar need zero-carbon backup sources for windless days, long periods of cloudy weather, and nighttime. We also need to make the electric grid a lot more efficient so clean energy can be delivered where it’s needed, when it’s needed.
Agriculture(24%). Cattle are a huge source of methane; in fact, if they were a country, they would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases! In addition, deforestation—clearing land for crops, for instance—removes trees that pull CO2 out of the air, and when the trees are burned, they release all their carbon back into the atmosphere.
Manufacturing(21%). Look at the plastic, steel, and cement around you. All of it contributed to climate change. Making cement and steel requires lots of energy from fossil fuels, and it involves chemical reactions that release carbon as a byproduct. So even if we could make all the stuff we need with zero-carbon energy, we’d still need to deal with the byproducts.
Transportation(14%). Low-emission cars are great, but cars account for a little less than half of transportation-related emissions today—and that share will shrink in the future. More emissions come from airplanes, cargo ships, and trucks. Right now we don’t have practical zero-carbon options for any of these.
Buildings(6%). Do you live or work in a place with air conditioning? The refrigerant inside your AC unit is a greenhouse gas. In addition, it takes a lot of energy to run air conditioners, heaters, lights, and other appliances. Things like more-efficient windows and insulation would help. This area will be more important over the next few decades as the global population moves to cities. The world’s building stock will double in area by 2060. That’s like adding another New York City every month for 40 years.
(The final 10% is a sixth, miscellaneous category that includes things like the energy it takes to extract oil and gas.)
I think these grand challenges are a helpful way to think about climate change.
They show how energy isn’t just what runs your house and your car. It’s core to nearly every part of your life: the food you eat, the clothes you wear, the home you live in, the products you use. To stop the planet from getting substantially warmer,we need breakthroughs in how we make things, grow food, and move people and goods—not just how we power our homes and cars.
Australia’s emissions are growing since its government axed the carbon price.
These challenges are only getting more urgent.
The world’s middle class has been growing at an unprecedented rate, and as you move up the income ladder, your carbon footprint expands.
Instead of walking everywhere, you can afford a bicycle (which doesn’t use gas but is likely made with energy-intensive metal and gets to you via cargo ships and trucks that run on fossil fuels).
Eventually you get a motorbike so you can travel farther from home to work a better job and afford to send your kids to school.
Your family eats more eggs, meat, and dairy, so they get better nutrition.
You’re in the market for a refrigerator, electric lights so your kids can study at night, and a sturdy home built with metal and concrete.
All of that new consumption translates into tangible improvements in people’s lives.
It is good for the world overall—but it will be very bad for the climate, unless we find ways to do it without adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
This is undoubtedly a tough problem.
It is not obvious what the big breakthroughs will look like.
Most likely we will need several solutions to each challenge. That is whywe need to invest in lots of research and development, across all five areas, now.
“The amount of funding available has gone up by more than $3 billion a year.”
Fortunately, governments and the private sector are stepping up.
Since the 2015 launch ofMission Innovation—two dozen governments that committed to doubling their spending on clean-energy R&D—the amount of funding available has gone up by more than $3 billion a year.
Personally, I’m part of a group of investors in a private fund calledBreakthrough Energy Ventures(BEV), which is putting more than $1 billion into helping promising companies take great ideas from the lab to market at scale. We’re using the five grand challenges I mentioned above as the framework for our investments. Every idea we’re supporting is designed to solve one of them—andour mission is about to get a big boostfrom a new partnership in Europe.
We’re still working out the details, but here’s what I can tell you today: I’ll be in Brussels this week to sign an agreement between Breakthrough Energy and the European Commission. Our goal is to create a joint investment vehicle called Breakthrough Energy Europe, which will serve as a pilot fund investing in European companies working on the grand challenges. The partners will commit €100 million, half from the European Commission and half from BEV.
But this isn’t only about funding.We’re creating a new way of putting that money to work.
Because energy research can take years—even decades—to come to fruition, companies need patient investors who are willing to work with them over the long term. Governments could in theory provide that kind of investing, but in reality, they aren’t great at identifying promising companies and staying nimble to help those companies grow.
That’s where this partnership can shine. It allows the European Commission, which is funding cutting-edge research and development, to partner with investors who know how to build companies well. Because the fund will be privately managed, it can avoid some of the bureaucracy that slows things down and makes it hard to support new companies.We’ll have the resources to make a meaningful difference, and the flexibility to move quickly. That’s a rare combination.
I hope this partnership is just the beginning. We need many more like this one around the world.
Over the next year, I will be writing a series of TGN posts about each of the five challenges, focusing on some of the promising solutions I’m learning about. (In the meantime, I’ve posted a short, fun quiz about energy and climate.See if you can beat my score.) I’m inspired by the ingenious inventors who are tackling climate change and all the partners who are supporting their work. I can’t wait to share their progress with you.
Geneva – A fifth of Switzerland’s glacier volume has melted away over the past 10 years, the Swiss Academy of Sciences said Tuesday after the past record summer delivered a further blow to the country’s iconic Alpine ice.
The melt water over the past decade could cover all of Switzerland’s 41,285 square kilometres with 25 centimetres of water, according to the Academy-funded Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network.
Summers with unusually high temperatures have become more frequent in the country, and the past April-September season was the hottest since records began in the 1860s.
The permanent ice cover on the Alpine peaks lost 2.5 per cent of its volume over the past 12 months.
Receding glaciers increase the risk of large landslides and floods caused by overflowing glacier lakes.
Although Switzerland saw unusually large amounts of snow last winter, most of it melted away during the dry spring and hot summer.
“Many glaciers completely lost their snow cover in the past months,” said Andreas Bauder, one of the network’s scientists.
This is problematic because the white winter snow reflects the sun and protects the darker glacier ice underneath, he told dpa.
In addition, fresh snow is necessary to sustain glaciers over longer periods, because it can turn into ice over the years, Bauder added.
Immigrant, Swiss-American ecological ecologist at the University of Leeds. Research focus on living well within planetary limits.
This is a key question, apparently, because, in some polite circles, preventing planetary-scale, irreversible harm to ecosystems and humans can only be justified if we promise not to change the economic system that this harm arose from in the first place.
Sydney Azari, an eco-socialist based in New York, as usual has the best pithy comment here:
Capitalism is a big word, and covers many different definitions.
Kate Raworth wisely refuses to be drawn into debates on that word, because of the toxic combination of strong feelings and vague meaning, of which she distinguishes three:
The third definition is the one that applies here, and we can sharpen it: our current capitalism is fossil-based, and fossil-fueled capitalism has made the companies that provide this fuel the most profitable in the history of humankind.
The fossil giants and their adjacent industries, such as automotive & aviation, represent our current capitalist system. Our infrastructure and cities are built for them, our markets function for them, our governments are in thrall to them.
Pushing fossil capitalism off the (emissions) cliff
Monday’sIPCC SR15 report, finally, clearly, shows that our emissions must go from 40-odd billion tonnes per year to zero within the next 20 years. Effectively, our emissions must fall off a cliff, and then keep falling.
That cliff is utterly incompatible with the continued existence of fossil industries and their adjacent friends.
Never mind the usual greenwash PR, ofShell calling for more treesthe day after theIPCC reportwas released: what wereallyneed, of course, are fewer Shells. None at all, zero, nada, zip, to be precise.
And the simple fact that preventing climate breakdown is incompatible with the very existence of fossil companies means that taking climate change seriously means bringing down fossil capitalism, with its inbuilt drivers of accumulation, domination, exploitation and destruction. This monster cannot be tamed or reformed: it must be destroyed, so that the rest of us and the ecosystems we depend upon can live.
Does this mean the end of all private enterprise and profit? Of course not. In fact, as multiple business sectors and organizations have realized, their futures align far better with sustainable pathways (i.e. non-Mad Max wasteland prospects). Predictably, their voices and positions have been drowned out by the vast sums of money and influence pushed by the oil, coal and gas barons. So ending fossil capitalism does not mean ending markets, private ownership or profit: however it does mean actively, consciously working to stop fossil companies cold.
New voices for clarity
Encouragingly, what used to be unspeakable (except by the fringe of usual Cassandras, those who see and speak only with principle, not worrying about their reputations in “polite” circles — I’m thinking of Kevin Anderson, Alice Larkin, Naomi Klein) is now finally said overtly: we need to do whatever it takes to stop fossil and adjacent industries, and thus bring emissions to zero.
Deep down, everyone who knew the reality of climate change also knew this, but they found it convenient to politely hide that reality: I call it “hiding behind the market.” It would work like this: we’d have a model of the energy system and monetary costs of carbon and various technologies (renewable, electric…).
Then to achieve a livable future, the model would have to crank up the carbon cost to a high level at a certain rate.
This would then make the fossil industries’ products unprofitable, and they would go gently into that good night where the most-profitable-ever-mega-giant corporations go when their balance sheets turn red. Ok, I wasn’t able to help myself from editorializing there, but you get my point: this idea of carefully balanced markets, where you can just gently dial up the price of carbon past the point where you’ve put Exxon-Mobil, BP, Shell, Gazprom, Saudi-Aramco & Co. completely out of business, without them noticing or intervening in any way, is laughable.
Markets only work like that in a nice model: in reality, the big bad (fossil) dogs do everything they can to keep the gentle fluffy (renewable and lower energy consumption) puppies out.
There is a name for that in political economy: vested interests.
There has been a sea change of late, and though it is late, it is welcome. Scientists and economic commentators are no longer quietly “hiding behind the market”, and just advocating for high carbon prices or taxes or trading schemes: they are connecting the dots to where those prices, taxes and trading schemes need to go to be effective, and talking openly about the power of vested interests. Just a few recent quotes show how the new awareness of our urgent reality has made this clarity possible:
“One such [effective] policy would be a carbon price starting around €30 per tonne of CO2, which would very likely render investments in coal-fired plants unprofitable. Zero-carbon mobility, such as electric cars, could then become an attractive option as consumers would expect an increasing carbon price, and the internal combustion engine would gradually be phased out.” — Ottmar Edenhofer & Johan Rockstrom in The Guardian.
“I think we need to start a debate about who is going to pay for [the costs of climate change and carbon removal from the atmosphere], and whether it’s right for the fossil-fuel industry and its customers to be enjoying the benefits today and expecting the next generation to pay for cleaning it up.” —Myles Allen, Oxford University, in Nature.
This clarity makes it our mission and its challenges ever clearer and easier to grasp: our fight, our struggle, has to be to rapidly free our societies from the vested interests of fossil-fueled industries. But how can we do this?
Removing the dragon of fossil capital from our societies
There are many ways to act to remove fossil industries and their harmful influence from our midst.Moreover, actions to ban fossil fuels have pervasive and wide-ranging effects: they ripple out through societies, making the next steps of change ever more likely and swift. Working on divesting, i.e. removing investment revenues from fossil companies, is one of the best avenues for action.
The European Parliament, under the leadership ofMolly Scott Cato(who was also on the BBC panel), has made great strides in this direction: a broad coalition now realizes that investing in fossil industries is both risky and harmful. Many pension funds and organizations (such as universities) have already successfully divested from fossil fuels, and their numbers keep on growing. As a further step, we need to compel our leaders and governments to end all funding and subsidies to fossil industries.
Another strong action to ban fossil fuels is to intervene physically, by stopping extractive industries at the locations of extraction or transport.
This is the mission of thee anti-fracking movement in the UK, anti-pipeline movements in Canada and the US and so on.
These are all direct actions we can take to stop the power of fossil industries, and through these actions we can rapidly render them toxic and nonviable.
If we have a realistic view of the fight for our future, we will learn from past efforts, anticipate the vicious actions of the fossil lobby, and keep each others spirits up, because the stakes here are far too high for failure to be an option.
Probability and severity of global warming must be explored
By Graeme McLeay
6 October 2018 —
A United States court has again rejected an appeal by the federal government to deny the right of children to sue the government for failing to act on climate change. The kids, who come from 10 states, form a group called Our Children’s Trust and range in age from 10 years to young adulthood.
The children allege that the defendants’ actions and inactions have “so profoundly damaged our home planet that they threaten (our) fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty”.
As one 17-year-old said, “it is time for climate science to have its day in court”.
In a similar case in the Netherlands in 2015 a court ruled that the Dutch government was negligent in failing to adopt policies mitigating global warming. The government was ordered to reduce emissions by 25 per cent within five years.
Is it time for climate change to be tested in Australian courts?
Photo: Jessica Shapiro
The Australian government should now stand accused of the same negligence.
Australia is among the world’s highest per capita emitters; our greenhouse gas pollution levels, excluding land use, were the highest on record up to June 2018 for the third consecutive year and are likely to continue rising under a business as usual scenario; we are amongst the highest exporters of coal and soon to be gas; we are unlikely to meet our Paris targets; and we have no policies to change any of these.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent claim that Australia would meet its 26 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 “in a canter” illustrates the government’s disingenuousness. What Morrison meant was that emissions in the electricity sector will meet that target. That they do is thanks to closure of some coal power and a surge in wind and solar energy. It is a different story in transport, agriculture and land use.
The WHO has described climate change as the greatest health threat of this century, a view recognised by the statements of the Australian Medical Association and other medical groups in other parts of the world.
Increasing frequency of heatwaves, bushfires, and weather extremes will seriously impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of Australians and the health system’s capacity to cope. The cost of natural disasters in Australia is expected to rise to $33 billion annually by 2050 and the health costs are likely to be more than half of these.
Canadian-American psychologist and academic, Steven Pinker, in his book Enlightenment Now, a paean to the values of the Enlightenment, those of reason, science, humanism and progress, writes: “four out of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature rejected the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming”.
When pressed, ministers in the Australian government, claim to agree with the science. But their actions speak otherwise. Morrison, as treasurer, passed around a lump of lacquered coal in Parliament in 2017 in an attack on renewable energy. Energy Minister Angus Taylor is openly hostile to renewable energy and has campaigned against wind energy in the past. Separating the Energy and Environment portfolios was more than symbolic. It was a deliberate denial of the nexus that exists between the two.
The risks due to global warming must be viewed not just in terms of probability but also severity. In their recent report, What Lies Beneath, Ian Dunlop and David Spratt from the National Centre for Climate Restoration, Melbourne, write that the risks have been underestimated, the models used by the IPCC have been overly conservative, and that there is a real risk of climate tipping points.
A duty of care has been recognised by some, notably APRA’s Geoff Summerhayes, who has pointed to the prudential risk. In an important test case that has this week been put to the federal court, a superannuation fund member claims that his fund, REST Super, failed to properly consider climate change risk when making investment decisions.
Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions have soared since we stopped the price on carbon pollution.
There are those in the military who understand the threat to our security from climate change. Ex-chief of the armed forces Chris Barrie described the risks associated with the loss of the glaciers which feed the great rivers of Asia, for example.
Suing the government for inaction on climate change is not a new idea and was mooted in Australia in 2015.
The legal systems in the US and the Netherlands are very different to Australia’s, but a lawsuit by the non-profit Plan B in the UK’s High Court suggests such an action may be possible here given the historical similarities of our legal systems.
Plan B claimed that the UK Government’s 2050 carbon target is unlawful based on the latest science and violates the UK’s commitments to the Paris Agreement. In July a judge blocked the suit. The judge agreed with the government’s argument that the Committee on Climate Change was still deliberating and that the existing 2050 target was “compatible with the Paris Agreement”. The plaintiffs are appealing the decision.
The urgency of the climate problem demands action. If Canberra remains deaf to this issue and to the 73 per cent of Australians who are concerned about climate change, then it is time to challenge them in the law courts.
Public lawsuits whether successful or not fill the important need to bring essential issues into the media and expose ineffective government action. Such an approach was effective in the area of anti tobacco lawsuits.
Cross-examination of ministers would be expected to expose poor understanding of the threats of climate change, the influence of polluters and their preference for retaining power at the expense of lives and future generations. As we see from the Royal Commission on banks, cross examination can bring change.
Will no well-appointed legal firm volunteer to help their children and grandchildren, and ours, bring the Government to account?
Dr Graeme McLeay is a spokesperson for medical group Doctors for the Environment Australia.