Friday, 20 September 2013

Climate Change: Our Backs to the Future

By Ryan Pearson
This week climate change has been at the forefront of the media, and is finally getting some of the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, it's for all the wrong reasons because, in his first couple of days as Australia's new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott has already made his agenda abundantly clear. There is no space under his government for environmental protection, or those who endorse it.

This week, actions came into play to abolish any semblance of government support towards a clean energy future, any research into climate change, and seemingly any climate policy at all. He's done this through immediately shutting down the Climate Commission, an organisation who's mission statement is as follows:
" provide all Australians with an independent and reliable source of information about the science of climate change, the international action being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the economics of a carbon price."
He's also put in place processes aimed at shutting down the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Two bodies that are committed to battling climate change through positive action. The former through pricing carbon and reducing emissions that way, and the latter through investing in clean energy solutions in an effort to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and other non-sustainable energy options.

Why is this important? Well, for those who don't already know, climate change is very likely the biggest issue of not only our generation, but potentially of all of human history. When looking at the facts around climate change and attempting to explain potential impacts to those who haven't looked at said facts, it's difficult to avoid sounding apocalyptic. Suffice to say, if climate change turns out to be real, and the expected impacts continue to intensify, the world as we know it will never be the same. I'd like to stop there, but the point needs to be made that it may even turn out to be completely uninhabitable for humans sometime in the future. I'm not saying that all life on Earth will cease to exist because we know full well that somehow, through the greatest of adversity, life tends to find a way though. What I am saying that there is certainly a chance that the life that ends up finding a way through simply may not include us. I reiterate that I said 'may not'. This means I am certainly not saying this is a foregone conclusion, but it is a possibility. 

That is an extreme view, and one that is also entirely avoidable. So, I'll take a step back from the extremes and talk about what almost definitely will occurr in the coming years with increasing CO2 emissions. What we can most certainly look forward to is an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. That's more cyclones, tornados, bush fires, floods, etc etc. We will also see average temperatures continue to rise. That's not saying the entire world will always be hotter (in fact, we'll probably see some of the world have moments of  extreme cold as well). But what will happen is that on average the entire planet will continue to become hotter and hotter and hotter. This could lead to increased areas experiencing prolonged drought, and ultimately leading to increases in famine, water shortages, and disease. Now, only some, or all of these things could result from a warmer planet... but none of them are good. There are also a number of other more complex processes that are being affected by climate change that occur completely independantly of global warming... and none of them are good either.

So now I'll take another step back and make reference to the point where I said 'if' climate change turns out to be real. This is an acknowledgement that there are still climate deniers out there. There are still people that believe this is all a big hoax. Unfortunately, this is (at least partly) the media's fault. And it's probably actually somewhat accidental. I may just be naive on this subject area but I saw an interview with Professor David Suzuki on TV this morning in which he made a seemingly very valid point. He suggested, that in an effort to maintain journalistic integrity and present a balanced point of view, whenever a climate scientist is interviewed, the reporters almost always have someone (a climate denier) also presenting their opposing view. What they don't realise is that this is actually not a balanced point of view as it perpetuates the idea that there is about a 50-50 split between climate science deniers and advocates... which there certainly is not. As you'll see in the image below, the academic view from real climate scientists is far from 50-50. 

Through this unbalanced journalistic approach, the myth is perpetuated, and gives climate deniers within the general public the false belief that there is still a large body of the scientific community that denies human induced climate change. This is simply not true.

So, that said, there is still the argument that some climate deniers put forward that suggests it's all a big hoax, a conspiracy, and that science is lying. My comment to them is this. Look at who stands to profit from the outcome of each pathway. If we take no action to reduce carbon emissions, and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels, big industry continues to make a massive profit. If we take action, their profits may take a hit in the short term, but if they adapt to cleaner energy options they'll likely be just as profitable in the long run. Whether we take action or not, the scientists stand to gain no additional profit either way. The only thing the scientific community stands to gain from taking action on climate change is a better, cleaner world to live in - maybe along with the satifaction that we were right, and we acted quick enough to salvage some of the planet. I don't know about you, but my feeling is that if there is a conspiracy, it's going to come from those who stand to make the most or lose the most money... that sure ain't the science community.

Either way, what it comes down to is this, it's called a contingency table (below). 

When we look at this and consider that we should be mitigating for the worst possible outcome, there is only one course of action, and that is to take some! Though, when you really think about it, I guess the climate deniers have a point... what if climate change is a hoax and we wind up making a better world for nothing?

After reading this, if you (like me) feel that the government is taking the wrong path, there are still things we can do. We can petition our local members of government and make it clear that we want positive, and decisive action on climate change. We can also keep taking whatever small steps we can to do our part toward a positive future - turn our lights off when not using them, convert to renewable energy options in our houses, reduce your car travel time (walk, car pool, take public transport, or ride a bike), and more. 

A great place to start would be signing this petition to tell Mr Abbott we want to keep the clean energy finance corporation running... especially since it's actually generating revenue for the government...

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