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Climate Change and the impotence of Australia’s leadership

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Climate change, an existential threat beyond reasonable doubt, is the foremost concern for humanity in the 21st century. Yet the climate issue is met with inaction, unpardonable time-wasting, utter capitulation to lobbyists and a desperate distortion of the scientific consensus. Our inability to confront climate change reflects the enormity of the task before us and also the dangerous rigidity of our society. Change on the scale needed to even partially avoid the catastrophic consequences of a warming Earth is simply not up for discussion in the media or political arena. This must change.

On the centrality of human influence on the climate

The conservative conclusions of the 2007 Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated that it was more than 90% likely the observed changes in climate were anthropogenic in origin. Since then, climate scientists have been reporting that almost all previous predictions are understated; observations of changes in sea level, ocean acidity, average temperature and polar defrosting are revealing increases at or beyond the highest rates predicted by the IPCC report. (Australian Collaboration)

We are on track to double the atmospheric concentration of CO2 from pre-industrial levels. Indeed at a current level of around 390ppm we have little chance of stopping the rise and returning to the 350ppm that a majority of scientific opinion believes is near the upper limit for continued human survival. We have observed an increase in global temperature of 1° Celsius and are already committed to much more due to the temperature lagging CO2e concentration.

Recent extreme weather events such as Australia’s floods and the US tornadoes are occurring more frequently and with more devastating results. According to a statement by the Bureau of Meteorology on 28 February 2011, “[w]hilst any one such event cannot be attributed to global climate change, a recent study of extreme weather events across the globe suggests that there has been an increase in the frequency of such events over recent decades, and this trend is consistent with what we expect under global climate change”.

The conservative, economically driven insurance industry understands the reality of data and observations: Munich Re (one of the world’s leading reinsurers) has said the ‘only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change. The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge.’

Other motivations to change tack – peak oil

Even if you are in the minority that do not agree with the climate scientists, one thing that is harder to deny is the finite nature of Earth’s fossil resources. ABC’s Catalyst program (28/4/11) featured an interview with Dr Fatih Birol, the Chief Economist at the International Energy Agency. In the opinion of his agency, peak oil occurred in 2006. Previously nonsensical adventures like deep water drilling and tar sand extraction are now becoming commonplace – at unfathomable cost to the environment.

As was written in an opinion piece in the Age (‘A world without oil – it’s closer than you think’ 27/4/11), fossil fuels are on the decline. Australia is particularly exposed in this regard, with only around 50% oil self-sufficiency. Putting aside for a moment the timeline, the undeniable reality is that eventually, all energy must be sourced from renewable resources. Taking this line of argument to its conclusion shows that uranium too will eventually run out – leaving the nuclear option a bandaid at best.

Pascal’s Wager for the 21st century

It may help to think of Climate Change a modern day Pascal’s Wager. If we continue with business as usual, we are committing to biological destruction on an unprecedented scale. Regardless of climate change, immeasurable damage will result from our incessant liberation of resources. In the existential crisis that will unfold from burning every last drop of dirty oil, the quality of life on Earth can only decrease.

If we act drastically to bring to an end our infinitely destructive dependence on Earth’s finite resources, we would become a truly advanced human civilisation. Clean air, clean water, fewer wars and a healthier global ecosystem will result. Not to mention the added bonus of averting the potential extinction of homo sapiens.

On the carbon tax and the futility of waiting for government action

The evidence suggests that abrupt, extensive, systemic changes are now necessary to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate alteration. With this in mind, how appropriate is the current debate over a measure that aims at a feeble 5% reduction by 2020? The carbon tax is a dangerous distraction that will serve only to prevent us from acting more appropriately.

A recent Australia Institute paper revealed that industry representatives are making wildly exaggerated claims about the likely impacts of a carbon tax. The measly changes advocated by the Gillard government will barely impact profits, especially compared to the diminishing returns due to the strong Aussie dollar. Of course, it should not surprise us that those paid to maximise profit are simply clamouring for the biggest handout. This does raise the question however of how our government would ever instigate something resembling real action on climate change; indeed it appears fundamentally incapable of introducing the required reforms.

With the burgeoning propensity of industry groups to throw tens of millions at advertising campaigns aimed at changing public policy, we can be sure that no mainstream government will advocate for the abrupt change required. As written at Brave New Climate, ‘the potential for catastrophic impact from anthropogenic climate change is increasing rapidly. Strangely, the official Australian response largely ignores these warnings.’ It does not appear that our leaders are fit to lead us anywhere but where we’re already going.

So where do we want to go?

In a world of finite resources, it is a truism to state that eventually, all our energy must come from renewable sources. Acknowledgement of this reality is crucial to forming policy that has any hope of achieving energy security for Australia. Only by reflecting on this final destination can we hope to find the path. If you want to go to WA for a holiday you don’t start by aiming for Werribee and hoping for the best, you decide to go to Perth and you make the necessary arrangements to get there.

Beyond Zero Emissions, in collaboration with the University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute, recently released their Zero Carbon Australia (ZCA) 100% renewable energy roadmap. Along with similar publications, this important document details the existing, proven renewable technology that could supply Australia’s baseload electricity requirements within ten years. The details may be debated, but even critics agree that the ZCA plan is desirable.

At very least the ZCA proposition puts into discussion the ultimate goal of 100% renewables. It should be completely unacceptable to the Australian public that this idea has no resonance, let alone discussion, in the upper echelons of government.

A chance to Advance Australia

As a nation with a brief (white) history, Australian culture languishes. We struggle to decide if we’re a Monarchist lap-dog or an American Imperialist lap-dog, and continue to sacrifice lives for both.

What would a country that was independent of fossil fuels look like? Do we want this for Australia?

It’s time we found ourselves. Our land abounds in nature’s gifts; renewable energy for all.

Stepping forth onto the world stage with a clear goal, a common purpose, Australians should unite under a pledge to remove carbon from our society. A profound departure from the sycophantic pandering of years gone by, Australia would find its national identity in shrugging off thoughtless pursuit of economic growth, the crack pipe dream of infinite resources and profits. A newborn republic would emerge, a nation free from fossil fuels, an inspiration to the world.

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Written by Sean Bozkewycz

May 1, 2011 at 18:05

Posted in ideas, rants

One Response

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  1. The International Energy Agency (IEA) (2010): “Current energy and CO2 trends run directly counter to the repeated warnings sent by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which concludes that reductions of at least 50% in global CO2 emissions compared to 2000 levels will need to be achieved by 2050 to limit the long-term global average temperature rise to between 2.0 o C and 2.4 o C. Recent studies suggest that climate change is occurring even faster than previously suspected and that even the “50% by 2050” goal may be inadequate to prevent dangerous climate change.”

    Time is now people!

    Sean Bozkewycz

    May 1, 2011 at 20:41


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