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A climate change catastrophe of our own making

By James Moylan

We have just seen a huge coral bleaching event critically impact sections of the northern Great Barrier Reef. The seriously damaged areas stretch all the way from Papua to Cairns. This is not evidence of a pending problem. Nor is it an isolated event. We are in the midst of a climate change catastrophe of our own making.

Our scientific community have been up in arms and screaming about this looming catastrophe, in no uncertain terms, for many years. Yet the response of our politicians has been to downplay and dismiss these warnings. They continue to offer meaningless ‘solutions’. They say that it is a global and not a national problem. They constantly repeat the mantra that we are ‘doing our bit’.

They are lying. Sometimes they lie knowingly but more often they lie due to simple ignorance. Most of our politicians have their heads so firmly wedged up their own backsides they just cannot see reality. They inhabit a world filled with worries and priorities that bear little resemblance to the problems faced by the majority and remain largely insulated from all of the actual perils most average citizens face.

Even now while the predictions of the scientists are being realised, as we watch parts of the reef die, the response of these same politicians and press outlets has been to continue to ignore the problem or even actively distribute misinformation about the unfolding catastrophe. We have all been witness to simultaneously seeing footage of acres of white skeletonised coral on our television screens while also reading in our major papers that there is no big problem at all. Aussies are being told to simply discount the evidence provided by their own lying eyes. Everything is under control.

Our politicians are proposing ten year tax plans and arguing about superannuation breaks for the rich while the reef dies. Snow now falls in parts of central Queensland regularly during ever colder and more tempestuous winters. Earlier and later cyclones of greater intensity are crossing the coast. Tasmania just ran out of hydro power due to the driest winter on record. We continue to experience ever longer periods of ever more extreme heat across ever greater stretches of our continent. Yet still our political class and our mainstream media refuse to admit to the reality we are experiencing. Perhaps future generations will curse us for our negligence and apathy? If there is still a developed society left?

First we have to acknowledge that the future will be different. Then take immediate action to limit the extent of the damage that we are now causing. We must admit to the damage already inflicted and realise that we are in the midst of an ongoing catastrophe – not an isolated event. We cannot ‘fix’ the problem on the reef. Anyone who intimates that we can do so is just selling you a fond dream. The continued degradation of parts of the far northern and northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef is certain, whatever we decide to do from here.

The consensus of scientific opinion is that huge sections of the far northern reef system will simply disappear over the next twenty years. This is an inevitable consequence of global warming. We can expect the mean average base temperatures in these regions to continue to rise. So we can expect the likely impact of the next event to be at least as critical as the one we have just witnessed. This last event will eventually be considered as just one of many, more frequent, bleaching events. Therefore the northernmost barrier reef systems will simply no longer have enough time to recover between storms and bleaching events.

So even if every country upon the face of the globe took immediate and determined action, right now, to scale back their carbon and other pollutant emissions: the far northern sections of the reef are already irreparably damaged and will invariably suffer further damage, before eventually disappearing. Over the next eight to ten months those sections of reef that are already most badly damaged will crumble away. Wave and tidal action will quickly sandpaper these white jagged outcrops into fine sand. Storm-surge and tidal flows will seek out these new gaps and further undermine what is left. Slowly what was once a massive saw-toothed breakwater will be reduced to scattered battlements, then it will slowly crumble away. Where once were vibrant acres of intense colour, darting fish, creeping, stalking, burrowing and slithering animals, will be bare sea.

Yet while we are in the midst of one of the greatest environmental catastrophes that has ever been witnessed by modern man; our media and our politicians seem to be obsessed with the housing market and superannuation matters? And when they do deign to mention the bleaching of the reef they treat it as if it is an isolated and isolable problem.

The problem is not coral bleaching. The problem is with the way in which we manufacture energy.

When you are deep in a hole, the question of how to get out of the hole can be argued about, but first you have to stop digging. Our political class are not even prepared to consider that we should stop digging – ever. They are currently all arguing that we can get out of the hole we are in even while we continue to dig at an ever faster pace. Then whenever anyone suggests that we should stop digging an ever deeper hole they are shouted down as being dangerous radicals.

The reality is that we must not only wean ourselves off using coal to generate electricity; we have to close down all of our coal mines and walk away from them. We must acknowledge that we are in the midst of an unfolding global environmental emergency and that the world cannot afford our coal however much money might be offered for it.

We must learn to acknowledge that coal is as bad for the lungs of the planet as asbestos is for our lungs. So both substances must be left undisturbed in the ground. Eventually this will become the common sense opinion of every politician in Australia. However until such a time arrives we will continue to inflate the problem we are facing instead of acting to solve it.

Climate change is the greatest moral, economic, and environmental challenge of our age. So we deserve better than petty party politics. At the very least we deserve to have a political class and a media who are willing to describe the problems and required solutions in an honest and forthright manner. Instead we are being sold snake-oil by a bunch of self-interested fools who have their priorities bought and paid for by vested interests.

The bottom line is that there are no jobs on a dead planet. Without a healthy environment we can have no healthy economy.

Already we have lost most of the northern sections of the Great Barrier Reef: how much more are our politicians willing to sacrifice before they eventually succumb to doing the right thing on behalf of the planet and the public interest?


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  1. keerti

    In terms of climate change and the survivability of the planet there will be a tipping point. A tipping point that topples the deck of cards otherwise known as the modern world The destruction and eventual breaking up of the Great Barrier Reef may well have been it. Without the reef the climate of northern australia will change. Cooler water from the greater Pacific will change warmer waters that used to flow along the coast of Queensland. Coastline sheltered from the pounding of Pacific rollers will be exposed and altered. Islands,such as Green Island off Cairns, are likely to be removed by the sea.When the next El Nino strikes radical changes to the reef now could lead to even more destructive effects on what remains. The potential exists for destruction of the whole reef which in turn would lead to inundation of towns along the coast, destruction of coastline and with it a lot of the road that connects the north and south of Queensland. Potential population upheavals and bankruptsy for a million or more people and the two major parties are only willing to put up less than a billion $!

  2. Don A Kelly

    At least five reef islands in the remote Solomon Islands have been lost completely to sea level rise and coastal erosion, and a further six islands have been severely eroded.

  3. Jack Russell

    Will Queenslanders be wanting asylum in the southern states?

  4. keerti

    They’d better not try to come by boat, Jack Russell! On the other hand, providing boat transport for Queensland refugees could be lucrative!

  5. King1394

    Likely that the next big cyclone to hit up north will affect the country further inland without the Barrier of the reef and the mangroves, which are also dying

  6. Arthur Plottier

    We have to accept that when the time come to cast the vote people are more concerned with economy management of the country than protection of the ecosystem.
    Greed for consumption and refuse to change the standard of living even if it a small sacrifice it is popular and our politicians know it.
    The CT was not popular, it cost the average person $10.00 per week, and people said NO.
    We can see on previous elections and in polls, the LNP a party that does not take serious science and not care for the pollution is more popular that the Greens by immense margin.
    Unfortunately greed and not caring for the well being of the next generations rules

  7. keerti

    Without a healthy environment there is no economy…you can’t eat coal!

  8. Jexpat

    We can at least be thankful that the corporate media and the ABC wasn’t so thoroughly infested infected with its present disease (and infested with cowardly disease ridden indiviuals on every level) in the late 1980’s and early 90’s.

    Had it been as it is today- the Montreal Protocols would never have made it past the drawing board, and we’d all be burning twice as hard with melanomas.

  9. John Englart

    Please Arthur Plottier, it is a myth that the Abbott/Turnbull Government portrays that the ‘axe the tax’ was effective. Labor disunity lost the election. Most people did not vote taking into account climate change. Sad but true. I wrote about this in November 2013. At the time of the 2013 election Carbon pricing had 50% support, while only 36% opposed carbonpricing according to the votecompass survey data.

    This support has only grown further in the 3 years since then

  10. John Englart

    Great article James Moylan. After looking at the global temperature trend, ocean acidification trend, assessments of temperature range for healthy coral reefs, and the best (though difficult) 1.5C decarbonisation pathways I have come to the conclusion the Barrier Reef is heading for extinction. It will be extraordinarily difficult to ‘Save the Reef’ at this stage. We just can’t keep sea surface temperatures from rising: there is too much inertia in the climate system. It will be a long and painful death over the next 20, maybe 30 years. It has made me enormously sad and angry.
    Even more so, considering 50 Australian marine scientists warned of the risks in October 2007, while Malcolm Turnbull was Environment Minister. He should have been aware of the long term climate change risks to the reef then as part of his portfolio.

  11. Arthur Plottier

    John Englart, with all my respects, I agree with you that people are concerned with climate change and even said that they support carbon pricing, but disagree with you because when you see the polls people put as number 1 the economy and believe that the LNP is better in managing it.
    The polls also indicate that the LNP is even with the ALP and well in front of the Greens and micro parties that are concerned with global climate.
    At the end of the day, when the time come to cast the vote, the polices that affect the back pocket come well over the one that care for the environment.
    Greed rules John.

  12. col gradolf

    Arthur Plottier, I don’t know which history you read but you seem to be buying into the myth that the LNP are proven to be better managers of the Economy than the current Opposition. This is a lie pedalled by the Murdoch Press and reinforced by comments such as yours.

  13. Arthur Plottier

    col gradolf, in my post I said: polls people put as number 1 the economy and believe that the LNP is better in managing it.
    It is not what I believe or support, far from it, it is what the electorate consistent said on the polls.
    I guess that you know well that for the majority of people when a lie it is repeated 1000 it become the truth for them.

  14. Pingback: A climate change catastrophe of our own making – The AIM Network via #AusPol – #AusElection

  15. Anomander

    I think they have resigned themselves that the battle for the reef is lost. And since we don’t really have any hope of mitigating the damage, we should just do nothing. This attitude alone condemns future generations to a future far worse than our own, and I find this attitude disgusting. They constantly harp on about debt and how future generations will be laboured with our debt, but they refuse to contemplate the dystopian future we are definitely handing to our children through their inaction.

  16. Arthur Plottier

    Anomander, I agree with you and in my book the real debt is ours with the next generations in the way that we care for the environment and the real deficit is the little that we have done to the country ecosystem, the health and education of those in need.

  17. guest

    The Murdoch press has been muddying the debate about climate change for many years. They see no connection between carbon emissions and global warming, apparently (or maybe a little bit but not enough to worry about).

    Even now they are spruiking for the Adani Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin. They speak with bleeding heart about bringing light and power to millions of the poor in India by burning coal from this mine, digging it up and shipping it at the rate of 60 m tonnes per annum projected for the next 60 years. The area available is 10x the area of Sydney Harbour. Imagine the cost of rehabilitation..

    It is a mine which will not need many workers, it will need infrastructure and will spread coal dust along the corridor to the coat, where there will be an extended port. Boats will exit the Reef through a ‘natural gap’. But the dredging required has already caused huge controversy, and while the dredgings will not be dumped so much near the Reef, it will be dumped in wetlands on the coast.

    Then we have the burning of the coal in India. This, despite the fact that solar lighting and solar cookers are already available. As well. the Indian Govnt is working on alternative energy sources. Coal is becoming more and more redundant and will become a stranded asset. That is why it is proposed to dig it up and ship it as quickly as possible.

    For Murdoch and the Coal-ition it is just business-as-usual. No thought about the environment, or global warming – or people. It is all about the money!

    Strangely, if you ask around, not a lot of people know what Adani is all about.

  18. blindfrida

    I believe that Australia needs a plebiscite now! Not about same sex marriage but about how our billions are spent. On submarines and other war machines or on trying to save our GBR and our planet????

  19. Kyran

    When ‘reality’ and ‘legality’ collide. It can be no better demonstrated than with the edict’s of the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA). The ‘event’ occurring on the east coast is not covered in most policies, as an act of god (an instance of uncontrollable natural forces in operation), is unforeseeable.
    In a previous life, as an insurance claims manager, the argument became ‘where did the water come from?’ rather than ‘did you suffer water damage?’.
    The Great Barrier Reef is the epitome of that collision.
    The ICA is currently seeking assistance from the government for the current ‘event’, in the full knowledge they will be denying a lot of claims. A bit like the bank’s, seeking (and getting) government assurance, during the GFC.
    These ‘event’s’ are, and were, foreseeable. Inescapably.
    When the ICA get hit with ‘loss of income’ claims from workers in Queensland, due to the deterioration of the reef, will they seek further assistance from the government (whilst they deny the claims)? Will they invoke their ungodly denial?
    As god doesn’t exist, as a legal construct, any ‘suit’ against him/her/it will have to be directed against his/her/it’s representative’s on planet Australia. In the event that occurs, the ICA and the ABA (Australian Bankers Association) will be paying for the legal defences of the representatives of god. It’s not like the ‘churches’ have any money, or the ICA/ABA have any vested interests.
    “A climate change catastrophe of our own making”
    Few truer words have been said. It’s no more an act of god, than an act of the ungodly.
    Thank you, Mr Moylan. For the sake of your sanity, I hope you don’t get elected. For the sake of this country, I hope you do.
    Take care

  20. OldWomBat

    The government’s approach to climate change, and to many other areas where they ignore science is a form of Lysenkoism. To quote Wikipedia: “The term Lysenkoism is also used metaphorically to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.” What an apt description of the LNP dogma.

  21. Arthur Plottier

    That is a good one OldWomBat, perhaps will be good the change the name of the coalition to the Lysenkoist Party.
    I must borrow it for future use, there will be plenty of opportunities.

  22. jimhaz

    Over 30 years 1 man created a forest.

    When the neo-traitors are put under control just imagine what 500 million people can do to resuscitate the world. With our levels of productivity an allocation of 500m for corrective purposes is entirely possible.

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