One of the great tragedies of the current debate about the carbon tax in Australia is just how divorced from the reality it is.
While our politicians and media commentariat fight the “carbon tax debate” through the old culture war paradigm (left versus right, Liberal versus Labor, Fairfax/ABC verses News Corp) physics and chemistry blithely continue to do what it does: push global temperatures higher.
Ignore the sideshow in the media – watch the numbers the scientists are telling you.
“The rate of release of carbon into the atmosphere today is nearly 10 times as fast as during the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), 55.9 million years ago, the best analog we have for current global warming, according to an international team of geologists. Rate matters and this current rapid change may not allow sufficient time for the biological environment to adjust…” – Penn State press release
Still, even the most well-intentioned science communicators are afraid to say the truth: things aren’t going to plan.
We should be reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, we’re doing the very opposite. As the above Penn State media release makes clear, we are releasing them at a rate higher than what was seen during the Palaeocene-Eocene-Thermal-Maximum, or PETM.
The PETM you ask?
This has to be just about the scariest acronym you’ll ever come across. Worse than AIDs, or SIDs.
Enough CO2 was released into the atmosphere during the PETM to push temperatures up by about 6 degrees over a 20,000 year period. Six degrees doesn’t sound that bad doesn’t it?
I mean it’s rather cold in Melbourne today! Brrrrrrrrr!
A few extra degrees would be lovely. Right?
Well, consider the fact that about 90% of life went extinct during the PETM and tropical forests grew at each of the poles. The PETM took place around 59 million years ago and is often referred to as the “Great Dying”.
As I said, PETM, one scary acronym.
When I read the Penn State media release, I did think it was a tad worrying. We’re pushing CO2 into the atmosphere at a rate faster than what happened then.
No nothing to worry about…
So that’s the bad news: what can you and I do today?
Much of the language framing the carbon tax positions it as a means to prevent climate change. If the messages are more nuanced – such as Tim Flannery’s recent comments that the climate will keep changing for a 1000 years – they still skirt the issue.
The conversation needs to be frank, in fact almost brutal. Too many people are afraid to say what they think: it’s not looking good.
So we have to face to the fact that we’re not going to prevent climate change, but to live on a very different planet.
To quote Bill McKibben in his brilliant book Eaarth:
“…We’ve changed the planet, changed it in large and fundamental ways. And these changes are far, far more evident in the toughest parts of the globe, where climate change is already wrecking thousands of lives daily. In July 2009, Oxfam released an epic report, “Suffering the Science,” which concluded that even if we now adapted “the smartest possible curbs” on carbon emissions, “the prospects are very bleak for hundreds of millions of people, most of them among the world’s poorest.”
So what are we to do?
Take control at the local level.
We’ve spent decades trying to educate a public disengaged from the issues, a fact that can be mostly attributed to the mainstream media.
If the media aren’t actively confusing or lying – viz Andrew Bolt, Terry McCrann, Miranda Divine, and Alan Jones – they’ve chosen to titillate us with dancing soap opera stars and reality television.
They’re not going to help. Angry letters to the editor are a waste of time.
I’m not calling for armed insurrection, storming of the barricades or overthrowing democracy.
My advice – which I am doing myself – is to suggest that you get active in politics at the local level. Become a council member, or help others run for council. Get involved with local environment groups, and those interested in adaptation.
Make a difference where you can: it is the sum of our actions that will change things.
If the media and federal government aren’t going to help, there is no choice but to take our own destiny – and that of our children – into our own hands.
“The airwaves are filled with corporate-financed climate misinformation.” But the vanguard of action isn’t waiting any longer. This week, representatives from an estimated 100 cities are meeting in Bonn, Germany, for the 2nd World Congress on Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change. The theme is “Resilient Cities.” As Joplin, Mo., learned in the most tragic way possible, against some impacts of climate change, man’s puny efforts are futile. But time is getting short, and the stakes are high. Says Daniel Sarewitz, a professor of science and society at Arizona State University: “Not to adapt is to consign millions of people to death and disruption.” – “Are you ready for more?” Newsweek
There is so much that can be done that is productive, useful and side steps the meaningless debate taking place.
So, help forge links with groups across the state and share information. Teach others how to grow their own food, reduce their energy usage and install solar panels.
Work to build a network of those thinking about adaptation and how to plan ahead.
Because being frank, we don’t have a choice.
There is no “plan B”.
We simply have to begin the adaptation process now.
Adaptation is Plan A, B and C.