By Elizabeth Dangerfield
Apparently, the public do not respond well to doom and gloom, but the truth is that reality denying is rife when it comes to climate change and it is not doing us any good. Every time we choose the easiest path, every time we choose the best-case scenario rather than the one most likely, every time we opt for business as usual, we increase the likelihood that the worse-case scenario is the one that will happen.
One study suggests that lack of action on climate change could cost Australia $159 billion a year or the equivalent of the world experiencing 4 – 6 global financial crises per year. If the costs of increased severity and frequency of tropical storms and bushfires are included the figures are much higher. We have already experienced a global record of 20 million hectares burnt in an unprecedented bushfire season exacerbated by climate change and causing huge economic, social and environmental losses.
But the Government is determined to ignore all the evidence on climate change in order to create an alternative universe where their ideology and pseudo-reality meld together. The Labor Party at least acknowledges the overwhelming evidence for human induced climate change and believes Australia should put its own house in order by becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Emily Farnworth, Head of Climate Change, World Economic Forum, believes that a carbon neutral world by 2050 is inevitable because “No politician will be able to ignore the social and economic pressures as climate impacts become more severe – but the longer it takes, the more expensive it will become.”
Our politicians seem to be able to ignore the reality that it doesn’t matter who puts CO2 into the atmosphere – we all pay for it. Both Labor and the Government believe that we can have our cake and eat it when it comes to climate change. We can keep extracting more and more coal and gas to sell overseas and just wait until other countries tell us they don’t want it anymore. This way we can avoid the transformative change required to address climate change globally and can deny the reality that restricting global warming to 2°C is going to require sacrifices. As a result, Australia will become a very significant contributor to global CO2 emissions rather than a leader in reducing them.
In many places, countries, regions, cities and corporations are doing wonderful, innovative things but everyone needs to be part of this endeavour if we are to achieve the desired global outcome. Technological solutions require time to develop and implement. We have squandered that time. We have consistently denied the reality that the issues we face are time critical. We are like a person who wants to lose 30kg before their wedding in a year’s time but puts off dieting until 4 weeks before the big event. The only way to achieve the goal then would be by sewing their lips together, if the goal can be achieved at all.
Some still believe in the illusion that it will be possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C. In many regions, global warming has already surpassed 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels because global warming doesn’t occur evenly around the planet. More than one-fifth of all humans live in regions that have already seen warming greater than 1.5°C. In Arctic regions global warming of 2-3°C has been experienced.
The Government still pretends Australia will meet its emission targets set by the Paris Agreement despite the reality that industrial greenhouse gas emissions in Australia have risen 60% in the past 15 years. If you think that our emissions are so insignificant that we shouldn’t have to do anything then I suppose you are okay with using an unacceptable approach to fudge the figures. The reality is that we are right up the top of the list of countries that emit most greenhouses gases on a per capita basis. The reality is that countries like Australia that emit less than 3% of greenhouse gases collectively contribute around 37% of all emissions. The reality is that every extra bit of warming makes a difference – that we are all in this together.
On top of this we continue to ignore the reality that if all countries meet their targets under the Paris agreement emissions will continue to grow and peak by 2030, putting the world on a path to global warming of 3.0°C to 3.5°C. But worse than that, we continue to deny the reality that we are facing a future in which global warming could reach 4°C or more.
Here is a little of the reality that will confront us as the world warms up
A global warming between 2-3°C will mean that millions, then billions, of people will face a tough battle to survive. The Amazon will die, Greenland’s icefields will completely melt. Tropical reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, will already be dead. The warmer oceans will be unable to absorb as much CO2 so more will accumulate in the atmosphere. As the soil warms on land, bacteria will convert more carbon stored in the soil into CO2 in the atmosphere. These processes will accelerate global warming.
At three degrees there is a risk that the planet could be tipped into runaway global warming.
Farming and food production will falter, and many people will starve to death. Fresh water supplies may not meet demand. Many people will die from heat stroke. Rising sea levels will inundate the land especially during storm surges. Settlements around the Persian Gulf and on islands in the Pacific are very vulnerable. A metre rise in sea level would submerge almost 20% of Bangladesh and displace more than 30 million people Scientific American. Many people will drown. Coastal cities around the world will be badly affected. There will be a huge exodus of people to escape to safer areas – where will they go and how will they cope?
At between 3-4°C of global warming the economies of countries will be destabilised. People will be left destitute and governments will not be able to cope. Social cohesion will be destroyed. Agricultural production in China may not be able to meet demand. India and Pakistan will face water shortages. Millions of people will starve to death. Soaring temperatures will exacerbate dryness, droughts and bushfires as well as deaths due to heat stress. Huge migrations of people will take place putting great pressure on resources. Many people will lose their greatest asset – their homes as they become valueless due to their location. Ecosystems will continue to degrade, and more animals and plants will become extinct.
At 4°C of warming Europe will be in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh will be claimed by desert; Polynesia will be swallowed by the sea; and the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. A diminished population of humans will survive in a more chaotic, dangerous and unpredictable world. Fights, even wars, over resources, will be likely. Who is likely to win out in a struggle for resources? The reality of this world is likely to be very unpleasant.
The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. There will be no adaption possible to runaway global warming.
If this seems far-fetched note that even economists are saying that human life is under threat due to global warming. JP Morgan economists have recently said their research shows the climate crisis will impact on the world economy, human health, water stress, migration and the survival of other species on Earth. They say policymakers need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy “would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years”, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.
The reality is that we do not have until 2050 to become carbon neutral. National Geographic cites an analysis of millions of possible climate futures which found we only have a tiny window to keeping global warming to levels the international community has deemed safe. Carbon emissions must reach zero by 2030 in every country in the world if we are to stay at less than 2°C of global warming by 2100. If we don’t the above scenarios will play out. Obviously, we are not going to reach zero carbon emissions by 2030.
This is why members of the Extinction Rebellion are chaining themselves to barriers! This is why Greta Thunberg mounted her school climate strike! This is why so many scientists and environmentalists are filled with despair. This is why doing what is politically expedient, rather than what is needed to be done, is not good enough.
We need to focus all our efforts on the outcome required because Inaction on climate change will cost the Earth. That is too high a price to pay.
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