From National Science week through to the September Climate events in Bega and Moruya (and the rest of the world) we have seen a multitude of actions, walks, marches, picnics, church bells rung by the Anglican Church all round Australia and more. Hundreds of thousands of people trying, with limited success, to “speak truth to power” on the subject of weather, sea level rise and the likely impacts of dangerous climate change.
The planet has its own mechanisms that maintained the comparative stability of the climate throughout the 3.8billion years since life first took hold. During that time the climate has shifted from very warm to icy cold and back again more than once, so it seems that sometimes the control mechanisms are overwhelmed. But the planet works on a time scale so different from our human perspective that the whole of human existence is but the blink of an eye.
The fingerprints of humanity and particularly advanced economies is clearly evident in the rise of carbon dioxide levels since the industrial revolution. While the rate of increase may be slowing the total is still going up. In the last twelve months atmospheric CO2 reached 400ppm a level that has not been seen for the last eight hundred thousand years and possibly not for the last 20million years. And emissions are still rising. The CSIRO Global Carbon Project advised that CO2 emissions in 2013 were in excess of 40billions tons of which 36billion tons came from burning fossil fuels and from cement production. There has been an increase of approximately 65% in fossil fuel emissions since the Rio Summit.
On current projections the world is looking at a probable increase in average global temperature of around 3.2 – 5.4degC above the pre-industrial levels. Given that we have accepted that a 2degC rise is likely to lead to dangerous climate change the mind boggles as to how the political class and the fossil fuel lobbyists will sell this concept as an acceptable outcome. One rather thinks that obscuring the information may suit them better.
There are other problems that come with delayed action, in particular the inexorable rise in sea levels. Once we see the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland start to melt we may never be able to stop or slow the melting ice.
Over time the sea levels will rise. It will probably take centuries, there is no real understanding of how or how fast the ice will melt, but it does seem that eventually all our coastal cities will vanish beneath the waves.
We are of course also losing our biodiversity at a rate that is believed to rival or even exceed the great extinctions of the past. This loss of complexity makes our ecosystems vulnerable and regardless of our skills and determination to control the natural world we remain dependent on functioning ecosystems.
There are hopeful signs on the horizon, we still have time to change our current direction and avoid the worst predictions. Action by China to limit pollution by burning less coal, and actions in the USA including the State based renewable energy initiatives are hopeful signs. Even here where we have seen so many initiatives undermined there is still massive public support for renewable energy. At a recent forum held by the Solar Council in partnership with Solar Citizens and supported by the multitude of small businesses specializing in renewable energy prospective attendees had to be turned away as they could not be accommodated in a hall that seats 600.
There are things that we as individuals can do as well, things that may just help to tip the balance. Small things like buying local produce, maybe selecting grass fed instead of feedlot or grain finished meat, being aware of the food miles that are in the shopping trolley and taking action where and when we can to move our own consumption patterns onto a sustainable trajectory. It will not be the easy transition that we would have had, had we acted in 1992 and it will take us all to make the change.
The worldwide climate action that took place on Sunday 21st September this year was initiated by 350.org and it was undoubtedly a magnificent success. Their mantra was “To Change Everything We Need Everyone”