By James Moylan
I am guardedly optimistic that we will eventually come together and designate global warming as being the most pressing issue facing humankind as a species. Then we will likely implement some long lasting and substantial changes in the way we go about harvesting and using power. I think this optimism is justified. Just one quick glance at our shared history reveals how inventive and industrious we human beings can be when we have our back to a wall.
But even if we are eventually successful in implementing global measures that act to curb our emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutant gasses: it is already far too late to halt the inevitable rise in temperatures that will be occasioned by our emissions over the last 200 years. We have to get ready to change a lot of things. We have no other option.
Just ask any climate scientist. They will tell you that our climate is changing and that it will continue to change, ever more rapidly. The world is heating up. We are already experiencing more extreme weather events more often. Yet this is only the beginning. During the next few decades we will be obliged to adapt to ever more pronounced alterations in rainfall patterns, rainfall totals, and temperatures. Storms will occur more frequently and will reach greater intensities simply due to a greater amount of energy being trapped in our atmosphere, lakes, seas, and oceans. And this means a whole lot more than just ‘bad weather’.
As temperatures rise sea levels will also rise. The Coorong will become inundated along with the lower lakes of the Murray system. Parts of our parched inland will begin to receive the rainfall that now supports the WA grain belt. Invasive weed species will spread across much of our inland. Cane toads will finally reach southern WA and SA. Much of the east coast will fall into a continuous El Niño then La Niña cycle and so droughts and flooding rains will become the actual norm rather than being a literary exaggeration.
Across the globe hundreds of millions of people will be displaced or become grossly impoverished due to renewed climatic variability. Since the early 1800’s the global climate has been relatively stable and generally docile. In 1804 there were just shy of one billion people on the surface of the globe. Then after 123 years of reasonably reliable harvests we managed to double the worldwide population to two billion. By this point most of the prime agricultural land had been taken up. >From here on in humans began bringing more and more marginal land under cultivation using modern fertilisers and irrigation techniques.
It took only from 1927 to 1960 (33 years) to add yet another billion people and since we have been adding one billion more souls every 13 years. The tally now stands at 7.4 billion people (and counting). So not only have we been progressively pumping more and more pollutants into the atmosphere, we have also been spreading out from occupying approximately 6.5% of the available land mass to now occupying and landscaping virtually every area that is habitable.
So even as we have been changing the makeup of our atmosphere we have also been radically altering the microclimates across each of our continents, utterly transforming much of the lands surface by manufacturing massive heat sinks (cities), clearing vast areas of forest, and also by pumping massive amounts of groundwater onto the surface to irrigate swathes of farmland that are maintained as monocultural deserts. So our planet is now bursting at the seams with massive human populations that are utterly dependent on rainfall patterns and climactic conditions staying much the same as they are now.
What could possibly go wrong?
Many readers will simply dismiss what I have to say as being nothing more than alarmist claptrap and certainly for anyone who is more interested in maintaining a sunny rather than an informed disposition this is a perfectly understandable reaction. After all nobody wants to be labelled an alarmist. But we are now well beyond the point where denying that climate change is happening can be labelled as simply entertaining a reasonable viewpoint. To believe so is as reasonable as believing that the earth is flat or that the earth goes around the moon. However while believing that the earth is flat is simply quaint; believing that the atmosphere and planet is not warming indicates that you are either ignorant or immoral.
For the last half a century the globe has been largely free from widespread warfare or famine, so the majority of those alive today have no memory of what was commonplace across the world during the centuries beforehand. However I am a student of history. I understand that this recent period of relative peace and food security is exceptional rather than ordinary.
In the 1800’s millions of people died from starvation in Ireland, India, China, Russian, and Africa. Then during the early 1900’s millions more died in the Soviet Union, Ethiopia, China, Cambodia, Somalia, and the Sudan. Millions died of starvation in North Korea relatively recently. These deaths were occasioned by institutional dysfunction coupled with a local climate catastrophe.
However now we are facing widespread alterations in temperature and climate of a type which we have not experienced since our species colossal expansion across the face of our planet. From about 1050AD until 1300AD Europe experienced much the same sort of temperatures as we have seen during the last one hundred years, then suddenly a period of climactic variability set in which saw a general drop in temperatures across Europe of more than 1.5 degrees C. This is colloquially called the Little Ice Age. This minor fall was enough to cause major difficulties for farmers all across Europe. It caused mass starvation and turmoil amongst a population that was far smaller and was cultivating only prime agricultural land.
Now we are anticipating a rise in temperature of at least 2 degrees Celsius across the whole of a globe where the majority of a population that is more than tenfold as large depends primarily on marginal cropping lands. All that is needed to tip many areas of the world into long and sustained famine is for the rains to fail just three or more times in succession.
What will happen to our world when several countries begin to suffer decades of drought simultaneously? If Central India, Bangladesh, and China, suddenly experience much the same conditions that struck these same parts of the globe during parts of the 1800’s, then as many as two billion people will be at risk of starvation. If just 1% of these people become refugees then that means twenty million displaced persons. How would Australia cope with five million boat people arriving from Asia? If we see a sea level rise of more than half a metre then we will also experience a flood of refugees arriving from the southern ocean, even as the amount of viable cropping land in our country is reduced by as much as one-third. All of these things are possible within the next thirty years.
Yet we have a small but powerful segment of our population who are constantly talking down any need to act. They describe the science as being dodgy and the scientists who are engaged in climate science as being self-interested and wrong. They say that we need not do anything. They constantly assure us that there is no such a thing as global warming, or if there is, then it is nothing we need be alarmed about or there is nothing we can do about it anyway.
However most climate science deniers are, in the main, dupes rather than being duplicitous. Most climate science deniers are followers who simply regurgitate the views of their fellow right-wing ideological warriors. This class of climate science denier is also likely to believe that the world is only six thousand years old, that angels really do exist, and that the US government is suppressing information about Bigfoot and UFO’s. These ‘low information’ voters and consumers are very likely to admit to a belief in anything that they have been told by what they believe to be ‘authoritative sources’. This class of climate science denier deserves to be pitied more than chastised. There is nothing that a rational individual might say that is likely to change their minds. All we can do to combat this form of mental delirium is to improve our educational system and try our best to remove the shonks and charlatans from our political and educational systems.
But leading these ideological warriors around by their nose-ring are climate science deniers of another stripe entirely. Politicians, journalists, public relations personnel, economists, and denizens of ‘Think Tanks’ all across the world, are constantly spewing out material which is designed to knowingly mislead and obfuscate. These ‘professional climate science deniers’ interject themselves into every public and private forum so as to do their best to delay action and downplay any need for action. Wherever possible they buy influence and corrupt public discussions. They twist the truth, demonise and belittle science and scientists, do their best to short circuit the democratic process, and get paid to do so.
In this way the job of the professional climate science denier is to do everything they can to delay actions that are in the public interest. They are paid to ensure that we continue to pollute more places, more thoroughly, for longer. They are paid to ensure that the consequences of climate change are greater than they need be and that more people will die and suffer than otherwise might be the case. So while I can forgive the thick-skulled right-wing ideological warrior for failing to understand the science, I cannot forgive the professional climate science denier for deliberately misrepresenting the science.
Any person who stands up in public and declares that we do not need to do anything about global climate change instantly labels themselves as being unfit to hold public office. If they are ill-educated then they need to retire to their study and read a book or two. However if they are one of the professionals who are feeding like vultures on this topic then they deserve to be strapped to a pole, tarred and feathered, and then run out of town.
The stakes are too great. The longer we delay the greater the harm that will be suffered. And while I can forgive a fool I cannot and will not do the same for a shyster. They deserve to be verbally abused and then ejected. After all: any conversation with a committed climate science denier will achieve exactly nothing. It will simply mean that there are two fools talking instead of one.
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