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Facing the Climate Emergency

January 25, 2011

The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences. – Winston Churchill


We face a climate emergency

The climate is changing faster than we thought. What we believed would happen in a hundred years is happening now. It’s getting hotter, the ice caps are melting, the oceans are rising, bushfires are bigger, and crops are failing. A climate crisis threatening hundreds of millions of lives faces us all, and we have to start treating it as an emergency!

For years our cars have run on petrol and our electricity has come from burning coal. Climate-changing gases have been pumped into the air. If we continue to release these gases for much longer it will soon be impossible to stop the climate from changing dramatically.

Climate change can be daunting, but like any emergency we have to deal with it. We need to respond to this emergency the same way we would a bushfire or if someone was having a heart attack – with action.

If we ignore climate change now, we will be unable to ignore the damage it causes in the near future – and the survivors will ask why we didn’t act when we still could.


We need an emergency response

Australians know that climate change is a real problem and many of us are taking personal steps to stop it – such as using less electricity in the home. But this only solves a small part of the problem. We need businesses and government to act – but they aren’t.  Money needs to be invested into cleaner energy and transport solutions, not large polluting industries.

We need to quickly change how we generate power, produce food, travel, and organise our economy. Responding to this emergency will bring change and create job opportunities through new industries and different farming practises.

The ‘put jobs before the climate’ argument is completely misleading and hollow. It’s a lot like arguing that a fire-fighter should let a house burn so that builders will have work.

In working together to solve this crisis, we will also strengthen our communities.

Humankind has shown that we can rise to meet urgent challenges when needed. In World War Two car factories became tank factories, millions of civilians were trained to be soldiers, and the world’s largest consumer economy (the USA) became the largest military economy within one year. Today, instead of tanks and soldiers we need clean energy and engineers; are we able to do what we did 65 years ago to save humanity?


The climate movement needs you

An emergency response is possible, but it’s far from certain. Polluting industries pay hundreds of professional lobbyists to spread doubt about climate science – just like tobacco companies did about the medical effects of smoking. And politicians are still able to win votes by talking ‘green’, but acting dirty.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s up to individuals to change this. Thousands of people across Australia, from every walk of life, have realised that they need to do something. But time is short, so we have to face facts about what is the most effective ‘something’ for people to do.

Climate change will not be avoided through individuals living green lifestyles or buying green products, but by individuals uniting to transform their societies. Living in the only climate-friendly house in your street, in a city built around cars, is not the solution.

As long as millions of tonnes of oil and coal are still being burnt, we are simply standing aside while politics-as-usual and business-as-usual destroys our Earth. And unfortunately, it’s the only one we’ve got.

Accepting that climate change is real is no longer enough. To judge between real solutions and the fibs of politicians, we must understand the urgency and size of the problem. We cannot ignore or negotiate with the laws of physics and chemistry, and we need to know when our leaders are trying to do just that.

To survive this emergency we must change the way we do things. To succeed we will need to find the courage hidden within ourselves. We will need to argue with our friends, go to a protest instead of to a movie, and put our reputations on the line. Some of us – in the tradition of Gandhi, Mandela and King – may risk even more.

These are truths that don’t fit easily with the way we’ve always done things – but we should not disregard them, for we now enter an age of consequences. There is hope, and more than hope, in the hundreds of climate action groups that now exist throughout Australia. If you haven’t joined one yet, now is the time.


Climate change is too much of a hot potato for our leaders

by Geoff Lazarus

The floods show us that Gillard and Bligh lack conviction on tackling global warming. With the weather disaster being played out in eastern Australia, it’s pleasing to see our political leaders giving good leadership to the authorities and communities dealing with the tragic loss of life and property impacting on thousands of Australians. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s two-hourly press conferences were informative and well conducted. And apart from the rather silly offering to some West Australians of lesser flood relief amounts than for Queenslanders, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has become a strong leadership voice supporting flood-stricken communities in three states.

Less pleasing has been their failure, along with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, to properly explain the atmospheric and oceanic factors influencing our weather which is putting people’s lives and property at risk and will continue to do so with greater intensity over coming decades. Gillard disappointed those of us who understand the dynamics of global warming when asked indirectly and directly on ABC radio about its relationship to current weather events and whether we have to plan for future disasters. She avoided answering the questions.
What she should have said is that our nation has always been periodically beset by floods and droughts but due to global warming these events are even more likely to occur and with greater intensity.
Tying down the connection between eastern Australian flooding and global warming is not a straight forward matter. To what extent it’s caused by natural climate variability on the one hand, and global warming on the other, can’t be clearly established at this point. But while we can’t say with absolute certainty that individual events can be attributed to climate change, the weather extremes are in keeping with the views and predictions of climate scientists.
Melbourne University climate science professor David Karoly said recently the wild extremes being experienced by the continent were consistent with scientists’ forecasts of more flooding associated with increased heavy rain and more droughts as a result of high temperatures and more evaporation. Karoly says the present heavy rainfall is being caused by our experiencing of possibly the strongest La Nina in recorded history as well as record-high ocean temperatures in northern Australia, which means more moisture evaporating into the atmosphere which in turn means lots of heavy rain.
The record high ocean and atmospheric temperatures are, of course, being caused by global warming factors. Back in 2004, the CSIRO predicted that climate change would lead to more intense rainfall globally, and that results from a computer model focusing on regional Australia suggested small areas would receive much more extreme rainfall. Each year extreme rainfall events cause significant damage as a result of flooding in the highly urbanised regions along Australia’s eastern coastline where population is increasing. CSIRO says this will become all too apparent in future decades.
Last year, the scientific advisory group to the Queensland Government’s inland flooding study advised ‘‘an increase in rainfall intensity is likely’’ and ‘‘the available scientific literature indicates this increased rainfall intensity to be in the range of 3 to 10 per cent per degree of global warming.’’And according to the CSIRO, a 26 per cent increase in flooding leads to a 60 per cent increase in damage costs and with projected increases in the intensity and frequency of extreme precipitation events, the community’s exposure to extreme rainfall events is growing rapidly.
The CSIRO and the advisory group are providing clear warnings on what will happen in future decades and Gillard and Bligh should be articulating a perspective that acknowledges what climate science is telling us. Will Bligh factor this into future planning decisions in the recovery period? Will she ensure that businesses and residents are fully informed of the probability of this type of event repeating itself? Not likely because this could lead to questions about her rapidly expanding and large coal industry.
The irony of global warming impacts on Queensland is the fact that it’s also Australia’s leading contributor to global CO2 emissions. As for Gillard, isn’t this the appropriate time for the Government to properly explain what global warming is and how it’s going to have a greater and greater impact unless the top 22 polluting nations, that include Australia, reduce their emissions by 80 to 100 per cent over the next 10 years?
For all the talk by our leading politicians about the seriousness of climate change, there continues to be little sign of the strong leadership required to have Australia play its role in averting a global catastrophe.

 The next test for the Government will be whether it’s prepared to put in place a price on carbon through a carbon tax and regulations substantial enough to drive the transformation to a renewable,energy-based economy.  This means scrapping the 12 coal-based power stations proposed for various states. Judging by our politicians’ recent performances, it’s hard to be optimistic about the future wellbeing of the nation.
(this article was published in the Canberra Times on  Jan 22nd)
■ Geoff Lazarus is a spokesperson for Climate Action Canberra.

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