Climate Change Denial: A New Name for the Road to Ruin

When anyone of us thinks of a the ruggedly outdoors-type, we can be forgiven for mistakenly picturing some bloke, sitting on his arse, pushing the pedal to the floor of some turbo charged diesel 2+ton vehicle, ripping over a sand dune. Hell, that’s the standard sales-pitch; watching the sun set over some isolated beach.
However, how outdoors is it to do little to no work, in some climate controlled cabin, all but entirely oblivious to the world between points A and B?
A while ago, I made a similar point regarding the movie, Avatar.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that what is truly at stake, and is causing such an emotionally fuelled and irrational debate over climate change, is nothing more than an outdated set of paradigms. It’s not even a new debate at all.
The old world contradictory beliefs that we can do amazing things, but that the environment will absorb this pressure has been shattered by the evidence and it seems to have produced two diametrically opposed attitudes:
The first being a resistance to the evidence; on the back of industrial innovation, fuelled by combustible fossils, we’ve built this modern world – mindboggling growth that has produced amazing wealth.
The second being a more progressive attitude; climate change being a relatively new platform of evidence in an otherwise long list of degrading ecosystems as a result of unsustainable practices, all of which has led such people to ask whether we could potentially do things better.
Deforestation was the main debate as I knew it in my childhood and in recent years climate change has become the new name of this old argument.
We like to think that we’re the masters of the land, with our mechanical beasts of burden carrying us in comfort to all places remote and wonderful, yet we overlook the track we’ve made that cuts a path through the environment.
The Andrew Bolt’s of the world, will smugly argue that a species lost here or there means nothing at the end of the day. In some cases, they may be correct and in others, you’ll find a whole ecosystem shifted into a new state that cannot be reversed. On an even more personal level, what do we lose by ignoring our pressure on background extinction rates?
It’s always stirred me as a true tragedy that our species went out of its way to remove the thylacine from existence. All I’ve seen of this unusual marsupial that evolution led down an amazingly dog-like path is an old black and white video and many stuffed skins. It was a striking creature that was incorrectly seen as a threat to industry.

I could go on with many examples of species lost to human activity – even Bolt’s hated Raphus cucullatus, or Dodo, would have added an interesting and quirky behavioural study and is overlooked for its ecological service to the Tambalacoque tree; or the gastric-brooding frog, which amazed biologist, but too soon faded out of existence, most likely due to a range of factors – some directly and indirectly the result of our actions.
I could, on the other hand, highlight many wonderful efforts to re-establish species, my favourite being the Richmond Birdwing butterfly – which provides a flash of vivid yellow and metallic green along the southern Queensland coast. However, the point should be made already.
With so many lusting over the fictitious world of Avatar, when did we stop looking around us – or is it that anything remotely natural is so far off now, pushed to the fringes of urban sprawl?
Is the value of the centuries old timber really worth complete clearing of vast areas of remnant forest that simply cannot be replaced?
It is a little known fact that farming in many areas of the tropics failed because the settlers didn’t understand the structure of the landscape – most of the nutrients available is held not in the soil, but rather in the living biota, with a fast turnover rate of material. By clearing the area to farm, you effectively remove the available nutrients and ultimately remote the potential to farm or rehabilitate.
It was only in recent years that the pigmy blue tongue lizard was rediscovered, living in small areas of pastoral land in the Mt Lofty region. With land degradation / salinization / acidification all too prevalent in current agricultural practices, decreasing water security and a changing climate, will this little lizard hold on in these environments or will simply stare out lifelessly from glass boxes at future generations that visit museums? I’m not sure, but I’m also not very confident.
The chip-board wooden products made cheap for mass consumption will not last long and without a fully functional ecosystem to care for the soil and protect against disease and invasive species, eventually there won’t be the wood supply to continue such a market and long before this, we will have lost a whole host of species that once relied on the local environment for their own survival.
In short, we may be cocky today about the abundance of life, but eventually on any chosen front of human impact, we will lead to a world of much less colour, diversity, interesting species and necessary ecological services. We know that the extinction rate is higher than background levels due to our activity and that’s why this point is largely ignored by those who challenge the science (ie. the first group mentioned above challenging the progressive attitude) – there truly is no valid justification for this; a busy economy encouraging ‘consumers’ to by up-to-date technology and this season’s fashion is simply no excuse for environmental degradation and species eradication.
The old world arrogance and complacency needs to be replaced with new world accountability and re-evaluation. This is, as I see it, the heart of the debate in whatever guise it’s formally hidden behind.
With accountability and re-evaluation, we couldn’t continue the paradigms of endless growth and limited resource depletion; we couldn’t continue trucking the mechanical beasts over vast tracks of land with complete disregard for the tracks we lay.
No, we would need more dynamic societies that understood the evidence, discussed how it affects human life and relevant ecology and adopted, adapted and improved where required. Equality, standard of living and diversity of life would be paramount in modern world paradigms and not simply the value of the dollar and the strength of the market.
The debate is simply a soapbox for irrationality, urging the rest of us to give them our attention instead of the warning signs of a world becoming less interesting and enjoyable.

For more on the multiple sources of human impact on the environment, see Johan Rockstrom’s presentation here.

[h\t to Mike, for pointing out “The Values of Everything” by George Monbiot, which lead me to largely re-write / improve this piece]


3 thoughts on “Climate Change Denial: A New Name for the Road to Ruin

  1. One stunning thing about ecosystems I only found out from my mum this year. Two of my father’s (great?) grandfathers cleared land for farming on ridiculously small plots in the southern Flinders area in the 19th century. Think Carrieton-Quorn-Hawker. What exactly did they clear?

    It broke my heart when she told me that all these blokes industriously worked their horses over their few km2 and made a bit of money to tide them over before their first crop paid off. The money came from India. Why India? The place was covered in sandalwood. It all literally went up in the smoke from funeral pyres.

    And of course most of them went broke in the first few years. I have no idea if there’s any remnant sandalwood vegetation in the area. I doubt it looking at old maps of how all the tiny, unsustainable plots completely covered the area. When I was a kid travelling around up there, it was as bald as an egg.


    1. It is a tragedy – my Dad’s family came to SA as free settling German farmers in 1870. I doubt I can now find out much their history, but I guess there would be similarities.

      On a similar note, I’ve always been heart-broken by a painting in the SA art gallery. I can’t tell you the name of the painting or artist off hand, however, there’s a few small figures climbing over a fallen mountain ash in a forest of giant trees. Just the sheer scale of the trees is amazing. That painting is quoted as being from Melbourne I believe… anyway, it’s an image from the south east region – where I was borne and lived my first ten years. Apparently the forests went of for most of the Gippsland region. If you saw it now, you’d never guess – it’s mostly rolling, flat green hills. You have Morwell NP and Tarra-Bulga NP and a few places less interesting to farmers up towards the ranges, but otherwise all that forest is gone. Seeing an image of the immensity of the forests that once stood is both humbling and disturbing. Personally, it stands as an eye-opener and leaves me with no illusions that the environment is too big for our impact.


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