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Tag Archives: Environment

Book Review: Surviving the 21st Century

Surviving the 21st Century Humanity’s Ten Great Challenges and How We Can Overcome Them is Julian Cribb’s latest book. I was halfway through Chapter Two when I thought, “This book should be mandatory reading for every politician around the globe.” Everyone, politician or not, can benefit and learn from the insights and information Cribb shares with us.

Cribb takes complex global issues and distills them into a crystal clear picture of where we currently stand. Surviving the 21st Century will not be as easy as our leaders would have us believe. After my thought of required reading for politicians, I read the dustjacket reviews. I know, I know – odd timing, convention suggests I should have read them first, but I prefer to make up my own mind.

One of the dustjacket reviews by Professor Clive Hamilton, author of Requiem for a Species and Earthmasters:

With astonishing breadth of knowledge and acute observational skills, Julian Cribb has given us a book that is a kind of report on the state of life on the planet. At the centre of life on earth, he tells us, is the creature known as homo sapiens – self-deceiver, degrader, destroyer, anything it seems but sapiens. And yet, if we peer through the gloom is that a spark we can just make out, the spark of wisdom?

Jenny Goldie, past president of Sustainable Population Australia writes, “This is an important book. Few others deal with so many confronting problems in an integrated way.” The added emphasis is mine. This is what I see as the greatest value of this book to any reader: scientist, politician, educator or layperson. Emeritus Professor Bob Douglas says, “… absolutely essential reading for all politicians and policy makers, voters and young people everywhere. … Grandparents should read the book with particular care.”

Ten Greatest Threats

Cribb takes the ten greatest threats to human existence and suggests we do “the very thing we humans have always done best: understand and find co-operative solutions to life-threatening challenges”. He doesn’t just describe the threats, he offers solutions.

Cribb got me in the first chapter, Homo suilaudans. The Self-Worshipper. He describes how we ended up with the sapiens tag simply so the father of taxonomy could avoid a massive dispute (or possibly worse, given the era) with the religious fanaticism of his time. Heaven help anyone who suggested humans were not some form of divine special creation. Cribb asks the question, did this actually set a terrible trap for humans? Perhaps it did. “A name is who you are.” Or who you think you are, or want to be. As this book so clearly describes, we are not wise. Not at all.

A Topsoil Fact

Some of the facts Cribb covers I was already aware of. But I have learnt much. One learning that I found particularly interesting involves topsoil. Cribb relates how today’s crop varieties are developed to grow in modern, degraded soils. Such crops are lower in micronutrients and higher in carbohydrates and this situation is a major driver of the global obesity pandemic and other diet related diseases. I look at such things from a personal perspective – is this likely to be contributing to the ever increasing and as yet unexplained incidence of auto-immune conditions? I share this to illustrate we are ALL impacted, all readers will find relevance. All of the threats are relevant to all of us – it is our survival at stake.

The water situation globally is horrifying. Deforestation. Population growth. Bringing all these problems together is what Cribb does so well. Big problems, readily solved. If we use some wisdom.

I don’t want to share spoilers – this book is one each reader needs to discover at their own pace. I could not read this book in one session. It is damn scary. It is also immensely encouraging because while the facts are disastrous, Cribb clearly shows there are ways we can get through this. Ways to ensure surviving the 21st century.

If we stop being Homo delusus.

The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reasons for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.” – Voltaire (Surviving the 21st Century, p 171)

Like, you know, “clean coal”.

Fund Science

One conclusion I came to is the current trend of many in power ignoring science, of slashing funding for scientific endeavour, has to stop. That, my friends, is up to us, the voters.

I’ve never demonstrated or marched – been tempted a few times over the years, but never did. On Saturday, April 22, I marched. For science. I’m interested in surviving. I want my grandchildren to survive. I publish this review on ANZAC Day. My father fought in World War II – he didn’t fight so we could become extinct – at our own hands.

March for Science

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Will we hate ourselves into oblivion?

Look around you, my friends. Hate. Everywhere. At first I thought to myself “this is worse than it has ever been”. Then I remembered the Holocaust, two World Wars, the Crusades, the Inquisition. Maybe this is just the next wave. It seems worse because the global population is the most it has ever been, so there is more hate noise spewing forth. But is it worse per capita? Probably not. Too many people shouting out hate for “the other side” rather than listening, comprehending, learning: the very things humans pride themselves on being able to do that allegedly separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom.

This time IS different though. This time our home is at stake.

“Rich western countries are now siphoning up the planet’s resources and destroying its ecosystems at an unprecedented rate,” said biologist Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in California. “We want to build highways across the Serengeti to get more rare earth minerals for our cellphones. We grab all the fish from the sea, wreck the coral reefs and put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have triggered a major extinction event. The question is: how do we stop it?”

Despite the scientific community becoming more vocal than ever before, many countries, prominent, influential countries, have leaders who deny there is any environmental problem at all. Trump declares concerns a hoax perpetrated by China, Turnbull changes his mind once Prime Minister and, believe it or not, there are worse waiting in the wings. I don’t understand David Archibald at all, nor am I going to try.

I do understand people having different views, perspectives, beliefs, religions. What I struggle with is the vitriol of discourse, the hatred expressed. Nothing will be solved if the best the human race can do is hate the other side.

We have the unthinkable happening in the USA: press freedom under threat. Sure, some members of the media have not maintained the required degree of professionalism in recent years. The internet has made it difficult to determine the real from the unreal, a large proportion of the populace has become addicted to “reality TV shows” (that bear no resemblance to reality at all).

There is no escaping, however, the seriousness and historical learnings from silencing the press.

It isn’t just the press. As the people rise up in protest in the USA, those in power move to shut them down – in eighteen states. THE democracy that held itself up as THE political system all countries should follow, whether they wanted to or not, is trying to silence the people.

Hillary Clinton called the Trump supporters “deplorables”. Not a sensible move. Trump spoke of “draining the swamp” (but refilled it with worse).

There is no doubt Trump lies. The evidence is overwhelming and easily found. In Australia we have our current Brandis issue: not the first and not the last.

The efforts to disenfranchise the general populace is astounding. Trump’s administration is busy winding back school lunches, health care and protections for the LGBT community. The Turnbull government just readjusted penalty rates, probably on the basis parents’ should be buying houses for their children rather than the children working Sundays to put fuel in the car to attend their classes to try to get that good job to be able to afford their own house before they are forty.

But, you ask, where is the hate in all of that? Indifference might indeed be a better description of some of the actions taken, but that indifference leads to the have-nots hating the haves. The haves don’t listen, don’t learn, don’t comprehend and react with hatred.

During WWII we had the capacity to destroy ourselves. Surprisingly, we managed not to. Today we have even greater capacity to hate ourselves into oblivion. Whether than be by destroying our planet due to environmental mismanagement fueled by greed or firing nuclear and chemical weapons around the globe, we have more than enough capacity to annihilate ourselves.

The biggest threats are the “wannabe haves”. The ones that aren’t the billionaires but see politics as an avenue to power and prestige. Pauline Hanson – from fish and chip shop owner to a very nice high profile, well paying, powerful role. Both Hanson and Trump generate hate by attacking anyone who is not like them. Their followers take up arms, literally, in the belief they are faithfully following their leaders. What I do not understand is the inability of the followers to assess these dangerous leaders with critical thought processes. The blind adoration and acceptance is astounding. What have we become? Can we no longer think for ourselves? People like Trump and Hanson seize upon the lack of critical thought in the the population as an opportunity for them to rise to power, yet crush the very voters that put them there. Before we know it, we WILL be repeating history.

Even if we successfully manage not to blow ourselves up, we are at risk of stressing ourselves out of existence. Google “stress” with “health” and there are number of reputable articles.

Not having a lunch at school is stressful. Not being able to afford health care is stressful. Missing classes because the student is unable to afford to get to class or buy textbooks is stressful. Renting is stressful (refer Sally’s Tweets above). Being unemployed is stressful. Not having food to feed your children is stressful. Stress is cumulative and a massive health risk.

The human race must find a way to stop hating “the others” and work together for the benefit of all. Until that happens, every single one of us is at risk.

Related:

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Australian Compendium

By Keith Davis

There is so much to love about Australia. We love living here, and visiting celebrities are wise enough to say how much they love visiting here. We see ourselves as egalitarian, as fair and open-minded, as welcoming, and as free as the kangaroos jumping about in the paddocks. We are also a tad delusional.

Firstly, Australia actually is a great place to live, and nothing that follows can detract from that. The problems lurking just beneath the surface of our mythical landscape do not diminish the possibility of opportunity that exists here. Secondly, even the poor can still, at least for the moment, access our beaches and public BBQs … so our true cultural roots remain homogenous and open to all.

But on with it. What is actually happening in Australia?

Aboriginal People: They remain dispossessed. Our Government is dithering about the wording of the Referendum that is meant to finally acknowledge the very existence of Aboriginal People. Indigenous People have been here for over 60,000 years, and probably a lot more than that, and the rest of us have been here for just over 200 years … so it is fairly clear who should be having a Referendum to recognise whom.

Social Justice: In an all pervading sense, if Social Justice existed here in Australia then we would not have our current dire need for the proliferation of Organisations and Charities who exist to strongly fight for the establishment of social justice here in Australia.

Politics: It would be great to actually have some. Currently we are saddled with a Two Party System where the main focus of either side is the gaining and retention of power. The Liberal and Labor Parties might just as well formalise things and form the LibLab Coalition because it is becoming a little hard to differentiate between them.

The majority of our current crop of politicians are mediocre power junkies and Party sponsored head-nodders.

The Politics of Hate that are emanating out of Canberra are having the inevitable effect … small nationalistic minds are hitting the streets. Fear and suppression are rearing their ugly heads.

The Age of the Independents appears to be coming. Meanwhile, the country lurches onwards to . . .

Gender Equality: Where pay in Australia is concerned it pays to be male. Where securing a position in middle or higher management is concerned it pays to be male. I have always wondered why women don’t simply just all walk off the job and bring the whole lurching unfair edifice to a screeching crumbling halt in a nanosecond. If they all walked out at once then equal opportunity and equal pay would suddenly appear like manna from heaven. Perhaps that will happen one day.

Religion: Some say that it is a mass delusion, some say that it is not. Some religious people do exceptionally good work here in Australia and they fight for victims who exist because of our lack of social justice.

Others simply feather their own nests and rob their congregations blind. Like anything else here in Australia religion is a mixed bag, there is good and bad, but it has strongly insinuated itself into the core of our federal government, and that is quite clearly bad.

War: Putting aside (but never forgetting) the historical attempted genocide of Aboriginal People, and the flattening of the Eureka Stockade, Australia has latterly been free of open warfare on our continental mainland.

We have fought in a couple of major and righteous wars, and we have fought in far too many dodgy and unnecessary wars. No doubt Indigenous People and Asylum Seekers might have a slightly different view to the rest of us when it comes to defining what war actually is. However, we all get to wake up each morning without the smell of cordite in our nostrils, or the sight of a newly created line of bomb craters … and we need to remind our federal government that most of us do not want to jump into the next handiest ‘war coalition’.

Growth: We are told that the world will end without this thing called growth. To gain this growth, and bigger houses, and bigger cars, and bigger televisions, both members of Australian couples have to work full time, and have to bung their children into institutionalised childcare. The kids are probably thinking ‘bugger this growth thing, I would like to grow up in the loving arms of my parents’.

Growth gives us alienated kids and a mega-tonnage of discarded instantly obsolescent electronic technology buried in our landfills. If Australia had smaller houses, smaller cars, and fewer greedy aspirational types – we might have happier kids and we might actually grow as a nation.

Environment: We could lead the world in the uptake of renewable energy technology … but instead of that we lurch about in the coalfields. Australia is madly digging up anything out of the ground that will fuel the engine of ‘growth’ around the world and we continue to gaily contribute to the continual pollution of our planetary atmosphere.

We degrade our own environment and we allow a very small number of people, who are no more important than you or I, to become sickeningly rich on the environmentally destructive proceeds. Money, growth, power, and not giving a stuff, are doing injurious harm to our Australian environment.

Freedom: We are free from starvation, but we are not free. We are free from civil war, but we are not free. We are currently mainly free from totalitarian suppression, but we are not free.

We are a controlled people – controlled by the ‘growth’ wish, controlled and socially engineered by our governments, controlled and manipulated by our advertising industry, controlled and constrained by our own collective small thinking.

We wave and claim our mythical flag of freedom, we wrap ourselves up in it, we broadcast it to the world, and we forget that to an outside observer we simply appear to be using the ephemeral strands of the mythology of Australia to weave a shroud of our own making.

Now, having said all that – there is nowhere else I’d rather live. The wonderful thing about faults … and Australia is replete with them … is that they can be rectified.

So let’s continue to agitate for the establishment of a better Australia!

 

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A tree is for life, not just for Christmas!

There is something quite magical about trees. From the food we eat to the air we breath trees sustain us. They provide us with medicines, enrich our soils, cleanse our water tables, build and furnish our homes, provide shade and coalesce the clouds that bring us fresh rain water. Trees soothe us emotionally, for no matter how down we may feel, we always feel a little better when we can get ourselves to a park or forest and commune with a tree.

What could be a better symbol of hope and renewal than a tree?

You may be surprised to learn that the humble Christmas tree actually pre-dates “Christmas” by many thousands of years. The winter solstice celebration currently known as Christmas has in fact gone by many names, and has had many religious rituals attached to it throughout the ages.

The Pagans used to use evergreen branches to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as a reminder that the renewal of spring would soon be with them. The ancient Romans even used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia, so there is nothing new, or exclusively christian about lopping down a tree and dragging it inside for the mid winter festival.

While the global figures are difficult to calculate the USA chops down and sells around 40 million live christmas trees every year, but this is not an entirely bad thing. It means there is somewhere in the vicinity of 400 million trees in the USA, (sorry don’t have Australian figures), now growing that wouldn’t be there but for the Christmas market, (and 400 million trees is a lot of carbon abatement).

With roughly 40% of live Christmas trees subsequently being recycled, and the fact that fir trees don’t need as high a quality soil as other crops, (so they can utilise otherwise degraded land), using a real tree is, on the face of it, a far better option than using a fake one.

“The annual carbon emissions associated with using a real tree every year were just one-third of those created by an artificial tree over a typical six-year lifespan. Most fake trees also contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which produces carcinogens during manufacturing and disposal”. NY times

Even so, the arbitrary chopping down trees is not something we should be taking lightly. The fact is we are in big environmental trouble, and deforestation is a large part of our problem.

replanting-forest-china.jpg.400x300_q90_crop-smart

Forests currently cover about 30 % of the world’s land mass but according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization an estimated 18 million acres (7.3 million hectares) of forest – roughly the size of Panama – are lost each year and about half of the world’s tropical forests have already been cleared; with forest loss contributing between 12 and 17 % of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.

But the reckless felling of the world’s forests doesn’t just pose a threat to our global climate, it also endangers global food security. Soil erosion, soil salinity, drought, and desertification are just some of the devastating consequences of industrial forestry and farming practices.

burkina_faso_black_hand_955x415_0 While there are a plethora of ideas and arguments on how to manage the climate crisis, many suggestions, like geo-engineering, could expose the planet to utterly terrifying unforeseen consequences. There is however one rather unassuming solution being proposed that is, (as far as anyone has been able to ascertain), totally free from any negative consequences…

PLANT MORE TREES!

worth of a tree

It’s hardly a radical proposition, as pretty much everyone agrees that if we are to avoid a catastrophic environmental collapse we need to preserve the trees and forests we already have, and we desperately need to plant more!

There is plenty of good science behind this too. Trees release chemicals that form clouds, and clouds not only bring rain, but they also reflect sunlight and act like a heat shield. Trees can literally cool the planet if we plant enough of them. But the good news doesn’t stop there, planting trees can repair degraded landscapes and provide food, employment and business opportunities where there is currently nothing but despair.

This inspiring video, narrated by Stephen Fry is an insight into what we can achieve if we all pull together.

At this point I would like to introduce you to “WE FOREST”, a non profit TREE PLANTING NGO that in spite of being very well known in Europe, (and having been founded by noted Melbourne expat Bill Liao), has thus far remained fairly low profile here in Australia.

With the modest aim of planting two trillion trees, rehabilitating degraded land and cooling the planet, (all while providing food, business opportunities and employment for locals), WE FOREST has planted more than 6 million trees so far, and is currently doubling it’s total plant every year.

SUCH IS THE POWER OF A GOOD IDEA BACKED UP BY ACTION!

Giving trees for Christmas is something that I am doing this year, and it’s something I am inviting you to do with me. In just a few clicks, you can offset your entire carbon footprint for the year, or buy trees as a gift for your loved ones. (You will get a nice certificate via email stating how many trees you have bought on their behalf, and you can add a personal message too). The trees you donate, (and their associated permaculture forests) are monitored to ensure they remain in place, so you can rest assured that your gift will be one that will keep on giving for generations to come.

When you add up all the benefits of strategic tree planting the upside is absolutely astounding, and at approximately $1 a tree, the cost is surprisingly small. What better gift to give your children than to match the cost of this year’s Christmas tree with the gift purchase of REAL LIVING GROWING TREES that will help secure a better future for the planet and our entire human family?

tree huggers

Best of the season to you all.

 

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THE CLIMATE OF DENIAL: Why real climate action will NEVER come from big business or government.

By Letitia McQuade

If a quick study of our industrial age can teach us anything, it is that big business and governments are either not willing, or not able to “fix it”, whatever “it” happens to be. Climate change is no exception.

For the vast majority of us, (who are not making billions of the back of fossil fuel, or other mass polluting industries), the solutions to climate change appear simple enough. We just need to change course, invest differently, get behind renewables, preserve and plant forests etc…

BUT, and this a big but… Most of those in power have a HUGE amount invested in the fossil fuel economy, and surprise surprise……they don’t actually want things to change.

While big business continues to profit from devouring fossil fuels with a rapacious zeal, and governments remain little more than advocates for the corporations that fund their campaigns, should we really be all that surprised that climate summit after climate summit nothing terribly significant is achieved?

It is a curious facet of human nature that when ever circumstances permit almost all of us are driven to acquire wealth well beyond our personal needs, and to that end those of us who find ourselves in power, (be it economic or political), are generally happy to exploit those of us that are not. This usually continues along merrily until those at the bottom of the heap no longer feel that quietly starving is viable strategy and some form of revolution ensues.

Bear in mind revolutionary change is never a top down process, much like a volcanic eruption the pressure builds from beneath until it becomes an unstoppable force. While those at the top may sense the rumblings they almost never choose to tackle the situation head on. (The relatively harmonious dismantling of South Africa’s apartheid being the only example that readily springs to my mind). Instead, like Louis the XVI, the Rominovs, the Saar of Iran and countless others toppled by revolution they turn a deaf ear to their inevitable demise, and it’s usually not until their lives are quite literally on the line that they realize the gravity of what is actually going on.

The corporate/political oligarchy seem happy enough to fiddle while Rome burns, knowing they can afford a class can afford a 1st class ticket out of New Orleans, or Tachloban (or wherever the next disaster falls) well ahead of the storm, and what ever consequences ultimately come, they will most likely occur after their lifetime.

But those of us who don’t have a multiple choice of other homes to occupy (or the private jets to take us there), are all too aware that the weight of any future disasters will fall squarely on our (or our children’s) shoulders. And as such I think it’s time we face the fact…THEY ARE NOT GOING TO FIX IT.

Given that we all know, in heart of hearts, that those in power are highly unlikely to act in any meaningful way, it kind of begs the question: Why are we sitting around like Marx’s lumpen proletariat, or the tragic character’s in Beckets “waiting for Godot” doing nothing, waiting in vain them “to do something about climate change”?… and further more, how exactly is that working out for us? If you believe the science then the only possible answer is not too well!

So where exactly does that leave us?

For a start let’s just sweep aside the all the so called “arguments” of the denialist movement; whom, with a staggeringly willful ignorance manage to push aside 99.9% of the science in order to advocate for the status quo. In spite of the fact the mainstream media, (no doubt due to the vested interests of their owners), continues to give these deluded souls ill deserved airtime to espouse their crackpot anti science, if you talk to any sane, educated person they will readily acknowledge that the proof is in and the facts are irrefutable. Climate change is real, we are responsible and it poses a real, tangible threat to us and future generations!

 

On the face of it this may seem a rather bleak prospect, and many rational Australians are in total despair at the governments active dismantling of our national climate action initiatives. But rather than fall into a pit of despair (like the Greek Goddess Cassandra, who was cursed with seeing the future, but was unable to alter events, or convince others of the validity of her predictions), I would suggest it’s time for us to stop wringing our hands and turn our focus on what WE, as individuals can actually do.

We need to be sewing the seeds of a bottom up revolution. (And no I am not suggesting storming the Bastille, or any other kind of armed rebellion. I am talking more of a 100th Monkey kind of revolution*). If we seriously want to address the issues of climate change and environmental degradation then we need to involve our selves in a revolutionary change of our personal habits, attitudes, expectations of ourselves and others, until we reach a tipping point where people just feel too out of step and too ashamed to behave in wasteful ignorance.

The list of things we can do to reduce our personal environmental footprint is exhaustive. For example I have a tradesman doing work on my house at present. I asked him to take a cup down to the cafe on the corner, rather than add to the pile of cafe cups steadily building up in my bin. While he chose not to take a china cup, he washed out one of his used take away cups and has now had it refilled no less than 15 times. Sure it’s a drop in the ocean, but what is the ocean if not a sea of drops?

For those of you that need a bit of help, here is a short list of changes you can make that WILL help turn the tide… (Remember it is your kids and grand kids that will thank you).

*Eat less meat (even a couple of days meat free is a great start).

*Buy a smaller car and use it less.

*Turn off lights, boycott your down lights (unless they are LED, and change those that are not),

*Use energy efficient lighting ALWAYS.

*Turn appliances off at the wall, don’t leave things on standby.

*Refuse bottled water, drink tap water (buy a filter), don’t drink Soda.

*Eat less take away, and when you do take your rinsed out containers back for a refill.

*Walk to the shop.

*Buy locally made/grown (food co ops and farmers markets are great for this).

*Use reusable bags (make it a habit to refuse plastic shopping bags).

*Read the news on line, don’t buy the print copy.

*Plant trees.

*Use air conditioners sparingly.

*GO SOLAR, (and for any Australian who has a split system air conditioner that says they can’t afford Solar, KNOW that you are lying to yourself… the cost of basic solar is less than the cost of your air conditioner installed. Fact is you just made a selfish choice based on your comfort and convenience; now smile at your kids!!… If you are getting a split system, get the solar to run it FIRST!).

*Buy unpackaged and unprocessed food and actually cook it. You tube is awash with recipes!

*Use phosphate free washing powder and cleaning products (look for the NP logo). Baking soda, white vinegar, borax and lemon juice can also do wonders.

*Next time consciously get a smaller car.

*Don’t sit idling your car while waiting for people, (start it up after they have all arrived).

Add an environmental NGO to your charity list… Personally I like “We Forrest” as a tree planting, environment remediating NGO. $20 can plant enough trees to offset your toilet paper use for a life time… (oh and don’t over use the toilet paper).

While I get that no one can do all of these things all of the time, every little change helps. The more of us that reduce, reuse, and recycle the smaller the problem gets. After all, all revolutions, (both personal and political) start with small acts of change on the part of individuals.

We all know what to do… so why don’t we do it, I am at a loss to understand! Is it because we don’t see it as our responsibility or are we all just too busy waiting for them to fix it?

So, good people I say it’s time for change on a personal level. In the immortal words of John Lennon we all need to “think globally, act locally”. Every one of us has the power to reduce our environmental footprint. What’s more we can do it ourselves, we don’t have to sit about waiting for the likes of Tony Abbott to do it for us!

[twitter-follow screen_name=’LetitiaMcQuade’ show_count=’yes’]

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It’s the environment, stupid

climate-change-economy-aurich-lawson-ars-technica

In the aftermath of the 2013 Australian election, I spoke to a variety of my friends and colleagues about the core issues that motivated my voting intention. Chief amongst these was the issue of climate change, and the various parties’ approach to Labor’s ETS or another alternative. I voted below the line and took into account several important areas of policy, to the extent it was known, but the primary consideration for me was climate change.

In many cases during my discussions, I was disheartened to hear that climate change just wasn’t top of mind for these people I valued. For them, other issues took priority: Australia’s budget, its productivity, its two-tiered economy. There were others for whom provision of healthcare, education, housing and social benefits were of higher import. And there were some for whom the key issue was the two parties’ policies on refugees and boat arrivals.

What people perhaps fail to fully understand is that climate change will fundamentally alter every aspect of life and governance in this country and around the world. It is already having adverse effects on health, on productivity, on national economies and on food production. And all the scientists tell us that we are on the cusp of a downward slope, that things will get far worse from here.

Already we can see some of the effects of climate change on the front pages of our daily news. In early 2013, a report was published indicating that the 2012-2013 Sydney summer was the hottest on record. That was before the current summer of bushfires began. When every summer becomes the “hottest ever”, we have to start wondering about where the trend will lead. 2013 has seen climatic extremes across the globe: from floods to blizzards, from droughts to heat waves, from tornadoes to wildfires, all of the linked events are record breaking or without precedent. But climate disasters, even when they directly affect people, are remote in comparison to daily pressures of life. They’re too big to easily comprehend as an immediate and pressing concern.

What seems needed is a connection between the oncoming threat of climate change and the pressing policy areas that do concern people. When the protest is made that money spent on carbon abatement could be better spent on hospitals, real information on the healthcare impacts of climate change is needed. When western Sydney voters are concerned about the tide of boat-borne refugees, a cold-eyed view of the millions of people who will be displaced from our asian neighbours (due more to loss of habitable land and food yields than to rising sea levels, although both are important) might help put the numbers in perspective.

There is one specific objection to prioritising climate change mitigation efforts and carbon abatement policy, and it’s a doozy. Under both Labor and the incoming Coalition government, Australia’s prosperity relies upon a continued efficiency in extracting mineral and fossil fuel wealth from our abundant reserves and selling them overseas. Under the newly elected Coalition, it is likely that this reliance on resource mining will increase, rather than decrease, as the government dismantles Labor’s perfunctory efforts at wealth transfer from the resources sector to high-tech industries and manufacturing. The Coalition’s rabid determination to vilify and destroy the “carbon tax” (more accurately described as an emissions trading scheme) is underpinned by this unspoken need to prop up Australia’s cash cow. Nothing can be allowed to interrupt the gravy train of that lovely, lovely brown coal. If they were to give an inch, to allow the ETS to continue, it wouldn’t be long until greenies were making cogent arguments about Australia’s net carbon export via its sale of coal to China and India. Failing a rational answer to such arguments, and unwilling to be the government under which Australia’s GNP collapsed, the best solution for the Coalition is to keep the fight focused on domestic use of energy.

On the wrong side of history

But the Coalition, as well as Labor and the whole of the nation, are caught up in the march of history. Cutting back on climate change priorities is a false economy. It will hurt us in the long run – not just environmentally, but financially.

Wind-generated power is currently cheaper than coal, and solar is not far behind. A little extra investment and solar power could take care of all Australia’s energy needs. Australia has, or had, some world-leading researchers and companies in the field of renewable energy, and it has wide-open spaces with very few people and plenty of sun and wind. Australia is a prime potential for development of economically viable renewable energy, removing our own need for fossil fuels, but also giving us high-tech energy generation to sell to other countries. Doing so would be costly. But the cost would be borne almost entirely by those energy companies already heavily invested in fossil fuels. Make no mistake: the average Australian would not suffer greatly from an immediate moratorium on coal mining. It is big companies, who hold long-term leases on prime coal-bearing land and whose net company worth is supported almost entirely on the coal still in the ground, which would be most affected. See Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math – I’ve linked to this article before but it deserves it.

Just because Australia has access to all this lovely, lovely coal doesn’t mean the rest of the world is standing still. As other nations implement carbon trading schemes, as new energy generation methods become available and economical, and as shale gas and other fossil fuels become increasingly exploited, the demand for coal and oil will decrease. Australia faces a growing risk of becoming the kid in the corner hawking his trading cards when the rest of the school has moved on to He-Man figures.

The long-term argument against coal goes along the following lines: the rapid emergence of shale gas, falling renewable energy costs, air pollution regulations, governance issues, action on climate change, changing social norms and worsening water constraints are putting pressure on coal’s competitiveness. – King Coal running out of luck

This may be partly why the Coalition is desperate to clear regulatory blockages to large-scale shale gas (fracking) projects in this country. The writing is on the wall for coal, and Australia will quickly lose its competitive advantage. Then we really will be the poor white trash of Asia.

What would it take?

For every objection to the prioritisation of climate policy (beyond the frankly unworthy “it’s not happening, not listening, nyah nyah nyah”), it is possible to make a case that climate change will have a dramatic deleterious impact.

Regardless, there remain those for whom climate change is not an immediate priority. The question must be asked, what would make it an immediate priority? Will it require the displacement of millions and a logarithmic increase in climate refugees reaching Australia? At what point does the loss of much of Australia’s food production capacity trigger our concern? We’re already facing annual floods/fires/heatwaves/climate events – how far does it have to go before we see the signs? Will the recognition of a “new normal” of climate events and weather spur us to action, or will it simply move us past action to despair? When the tides are swamping our cities and sucking at our toes, will we perhaps think that climate change may be worth our investment?

By the time these things come about, it will be far too late to change them. It may already be too late. Immediate, desperate, strong action may yet provide us a chance to partially mitigate the damage. But we need to make climate change a priority.

Unfortunately those who don’t want to spend money and opportunity now to combat a remote threat from the future are the same kinds of people who don’t want to invest now to build capacity for the future. They’re the economic rationalists, and they’re in charge of the funhouse.

Co-published on Random Pariah

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