The truth is the Australian public does not know what it wants its government to do on climate change. A large majority wants it to do something, but the government seems to lose support whenever it does anything. The only notable exception (and perhaps because many people don’t know it exists) is the Renewable Energy Target, first introduced by the Howard Government as a sop to public anxiety. For any political leader unwilling to exercise leadership on the issue, trying to respond to climate change leaves them uncertain which way to turn
It’s official, the past 12 months have been the hottest in Australia for more than a hundred years. Temperatures averaged across Australia between September 2012 and August 2013 were hotter than any year since good records began in 1910. The previous record was held by the 12-month period from February 2005 to January 2006.
Amid its bitter campaign against the carbon price the Coalition has maintained one significant foundation – ”we may hate the method, but we will achieve the same outcome”.
That outcome is at least a 5 per cent cut to emissions by decade’s end on 2000 levels, and more ambitious reductions if the world takes actions to curb climate change. These targets have enjoyed bipartisan support for about five years.
But in his National Press Club address on Monday, Tony Abbott has cast doubt on his commitment to these goals. And he has lifted the lid on one of the fundamental risks of his ”direct action” alternative to an emissions trading scheme.
Abbott told the audience the Coalition would not increase its spending on cutting carbon dioxide under direct action, even if its efforts were going to fall short of what is needed to meet the 2020 target.
”The bottom line is we will spend as much as we have budgeted, no more and no less. We will get as much environmental improvement, as much emissions reduction as we can for the spending that we’ve budgeted,” he said.
Such is the state of politics down under.
I’ll be honest, not having to take an active part in the debate the moment is a blessing.
Note: remember to keep the debate friendly, I’ll be watching comments closely.
Climate scientists are surer than ever that human activity is causing global warming, according to leaked drafts of a major UN report, but they are finding it harder than expected to predict the impact in specific regions in coming decades.
The uncertainty is frustrating for government planners: the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the main guide for states weighing multibillion-dollar shifts to renewable energy from fossil fuels, for coastal regions considering extra sea defenses or crop breeders developing heat-resistant strains.
Drafts seen by Reuters of the study by the UN panel of experts, due to be published next month, say it is at least 95 percent likely that human activities – chiefly the burning of fossil fuels – are the main cause of warming since the 1950s.
That is up from at least 90 percent in the last report in 2007, 66 percent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995, steadily squeezing out the arguments by a small minority of scientists that natural variations in the climate might be to blame.
That shifts the debate onto the extent of temperature rises and the likely impacts, from manageable to catastrophic.
Governments have agreed to work out an international deal by the end of 2015 to rein in rising emissions.
Up to 760 people have died in England during the first nine days of the ongoing heatwave, according to estimates from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as temperatures today continued to soar above 30C (86F) for the sixth consecutive day.
The hot spell, which began on July 6, is unlikely to pass until the end of next week, leading the daily to conclude that “this number is likely to double”.
The government’s national weather office issued a health warning to the country’s south east, urging young people and the elderly, as well as people with respiratory difficulties, to take precautions against the high temperatures.
An all-time national heat record was set in Japan today (August 12th) when the temperature peaked at 41.0°C (105.8°F) at the Ekawasaki site in Shimanto (part of Kochi Prefecture). The previous record of 40.9°C (105.6°F) was recorded at Tajima and Kumagaya on August 16, 2007. Tokyo endured its warmest daily minimum on August 11th with a low of 30.4°C (86.7°F). This was the 2nd warmest minimum on record for Japan following a minimum of 30.8°C (87.4°F) at Itoigawa on August 22, 1990.
2008 Fires: California has seen an increasing incidence of wildfires
Climate change is not a problem for the distant future, or an issue that can be left to future generations to fix. The impacts are real and being felt today.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
California is feeling the effects of climate change far and wide, as heat-trapping greenhouse gases reduce spring runoff from the Sierra Nevada, make the waters of Monterey Bay more acidic and shorten winter chill periods required to grow fruit and nuts in the Central Valley, a new report says.
Though past studies have offered grim projections of a warming planet, the report released Thursday by the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment took an inventory of three dozen shifts that are already happening.
“The nature of these changes is that they’re occurring gradually, but the impacts are significant and growing,” said Sam Delson, a spokesman for the health hazard assessment office, a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency.
Among the effects detailed in the report: The number of acres burned by wildfires in California has been increasing since 1950, with the three worst fire seasons occurring in the last decade. Sea surface temperatures at La Jolla have risen by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century, twice as much as the global average. Glaciers in the Sierra Nevada are shrinking, and water in lakes, including Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake, has warmed over the last few decades.
The changes associated with global warming can be irregular. Sea level rise in California, for instance, has bucked the global pattern and leveled off over the last two decades, the report notes.
But the overall trend is overwhelming, scientists say.
My post on whether or not Julia Gillard should stand aside as Prime Minister got a little attention. But it was not an easy thing to suggest, especially given the vitriol and hatred the Prime Minister has experienced. I do not wish to “let the bastards win”. No one does.
But what matters now is the future of nation, the skeletal climate change policy framework we have only just begun to implement and a genuine contest of ideas.
There are times when personal careers have to be sacrificed.
It is time for Julia Gillard to stand aside as leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, as Prime Minister of Australia, so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again. Ms Gillard should do so in the interests of the Labor Party, in the interests of the nation and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy. The Age’s overriding concern is that, under Ms Gillard’s leadership, the Labor Party’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate. Our fear is that if there is no change in Labor leadership before the September 14 election, voters will be denied a proper contest of ideas and policies – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.
The opposition under Tony Abbott has contentious policies on the carbon tax, the mining tax and schools funding; these are just the start of it. Yet Labor under Ms Gillard has been unable to step up to the contest. Mr Abbott is being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with his preposterous claim that a Coalition government would ”stop the boats”, in part by turning back the pathetic trail of rickety vessels laden with asylum seekers. This is a potentially dangerous and deeply dispiriting approach. Labor’s inability to unscramble this sloganeering is damning.
Time is running out. Labor needs to refresh its public face and present a compelling, united and inspiring voice. It is capable of doing so. Now it must find the will. There may only be one chance to minimise the damage that appears inevitable in September. To do nothing would implicitly weaken the democratic choice. If it is to be done, it is best done now. But it must be an unequivocal and energising change for the better.
There was nothing prescient in what I wrote, nor do I think the MSM pays much attention to bloggers such as myself. Farifax’s Sydney Morning Herald said the same thing a few weeks back.
It is simply that I am not alone in reading the situation or the risks should Labor continue to be led by Julia Gillard. Commentators across all sections of the media and on both sides can see the writing on the wall.
Is it fair? No.
Did Gillard deserve to be treated with respect? Yes.
Was she handed an extraordinarily difficult situation? Yes.
Was overt sexism a feature of the attacks on her? Yes.
Was the malice of the shock jocks and News Limited a factor? Yes.
As a nation, we need to reflect on just how toxic the level of debate has become these past few years. I lay much of the blame on News Limited and the Coalition. But the blame also rests with the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan.
The nexus for all this strife began when the “kitchen sink” cabinet that included Swan and Gillard convinced Rudd not to take us to a double dissolution election on the carbon price. At that time the public and mood of the nation was with them.
But they blinked, they thought they could ditch a policy which helped deliver them office in 2007. Since then Labor has been paying the price for the failure of the first iteration of the ETS under Rudd.
They thought we lived in a time of “politics as usual”.
Politics has been reshaped by climate change: it is time to acknowledge that reality.
This is the new normal on so many fronts.
If you want to proportion blame then start with this decision.
Julia’s finest hour, and the speech that will be her enduring legacy:
Via The Age, recent evidence of climate change’s impact on Southern Australia:
Southern Australia is in the midst of a climate tug-of-war that’s giving Melbourne weather previously experienced in NSW Riverina towns such as Deniliquin, according to new CSIRO research.
Warming global temperatures tend to push westerly winds south while El Nino weather patterns tend to push them north.
The atmospheric tussle of the past 50 years is becoming one-sided as global warming wins out, as inland dry zones shift about 250 kilometres south, said Wenju Cai, a principal research scientist and climate modeller at the CSIRO.
I’ll post a link to the report once I’ve tracked it down.
However, at this point it is Global Warming 3 – Humanity 0.
However, the report is really about the choices we make and the future we shape as a consequence. I’ll provide some more commentary this week as I’m still reading the report. Having said that, it is a very accessible document and far more approachable than any IPCC report.
There are two key passages from the executive summary I wanted to highlight. These showcase the clear choices we must make:
Most nations of the world, including Australia, have agreed that the risks of a changing climate beyond 2°C are unacceptably high. The temperature rise is already approaching 1°C above preindustrial, nearly halfway to the 2°C limit.
The best chance for staying below the 2°C limit requires global emissions to begin declining as soon as possible and by 2020 at the latest. Emissions need to be reduced to nearly zero by 2050.
Stabilising the climate within the 2°C limit remains possible provided that we intensify our efforts this decade and beyond.
From today until 2050 we can emit no more than 600 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to have a good chance of staying within the 2°C limit.
Based on estimates by the International Energy Agency, emissions from using all the world’s fossil fuel reserves would be around five times this budget. Burning all fossil fuel reserves would lead to unprecendented changes in climate so severe that they will challenge the existence of our society as we know it today.
It is clear that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground and cannot be burned.
Between now and 2050, the world has a choice: to either decarbonise or face risks that will challenge the existence of our civilisation. The reserves of coal and oil must be kept in the ground.
If we fail, then the journey to 2°C and beyond will not be smooth.
It would more than likely involve a series of climate shocks as various tipping points are induced, the product of amplified feed-backs - which in turn would also generate further changes to the climate.
The report notes the risk of tipping points:
An ice-covered Arctic Ocean is a large white surface that reflects sunlight. The loss of summer Arctic sea ice uncovers more dark ocean water that, in turn, absorbs more sunlight. This is another example of an amplifying feedback that drives further warming in the northern high latitudes, which in turn increase the rate of loss of sea ice. The loss of Arctic sea ice is happening so rapidly that it is often considered to be a fast feedback.
As I said, there are choices to be made.
But how much time do we have to achieve zero emissions?
I did the maths.
We have 37 years to do this – 440 months (give or take).
That’s well within the lifetime of most people alive on the planet today.
Indeed, anyone under the age of 50 will share the journey to a hotter, less hospitable and different world should we fail to act.
If you’re under the age of 50, or have children and grandchildren then it is both yours and their best interest to act. It is not a problem for the distant future, the challenge is already here.
In June 2013, author, activist and academic Bill McKibben is visiting Australia and New Zealand as part of the Do the Maths tour. He has been discussing the carbon bubble, fossil fuels, climate change, civil disobedience, and how we can get away from investing in coal.
His call for divestment has been picked up by the Greens, with Christine Milne asking the Future Fund to stop its “risky investment” in coal industries.
On Monday, McKibben appeared on an unruly episode of the ABC’s Q & A, defending climate science against sceptic politician, Cory Bernardi. On Tuesday he appeared at the University of Sydney; on Wednesday, he presented at the Australian National University; and on Thursday, he discussed climate change in an address to the National Press Club.
Big coal down under: fossil fuels and the carbon bubble
In this presentation, Bill McKibben observed: “The fossil fuel industry are outlaws against the laws of physics.” He contended that the fossil fuel industry needed to lose their veneer of respectability, the way the tobacco industry has. “If it is wrong to wreck the climate,” he said, “then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage”.
In 2012, the Carbon Tracker Initiative released a disturbing report on Unburnable Carbon: Are the World’s Financial Markets Carrying a Carbon Bubble?. The report concluded that investors were exposed to the risk of unburnable carbon: “If the 2°C target is rigorously applied, then up to 80% of declared reserves owned by the world’s largest listed coal, oil and gas companies and their investors would be subject to impairment as these assets become stranded.”
This year, the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Climate Institute produced a report on Australia’s Carbon Bubble, with similar findings for this country.
Bill McKibben launched his visit to Australia with a feisty piece in the Monthly which contends “The truth is that Australia’s coal has to stay in the ground, along with Canada’s oil, and the huge reserves of gas in the US, and so on … If that carbon is poured into the atmosphere, the equation laid out above won’t work, and the planet will overheat disastrously.”
McKibben concluded that, if you invest in fossil fuels, “You’re betting that we’re going to tank the earth.”
Stop investing in coal
In April 2013, the Board of Supervisors in the city of San Francisco supported divestment from fossil fuels. A dozen more cities and municipalities in the United States have passed policies on fossil fuel divestment. Bill McKibben suggested to Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore that Sydney should follow the lead of San Francisco and Seattle.
Bill McKibben has warned the carbon bubble means “your pension is being used in a $6 trillion climate gamble.” He encourages universities and colleges to divest themselves of fossil fuel investments. He commented that “students are demanding that their boards of trustees end their investments in the fossil fuel industry whose business plan guarantees these kids will not have a future really in which to carry out their educations.”
Divestment movements have also sprung up in Australia and Canada in the higher education sectors. The Uniting Church in Australia has pledged to divest itself of fossil fuel investments.
Internationally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been a vocal advocate for fossil fuel divestment:
Bill McKibben highlighted the investments by Australian financial institutions in fossil fuel projects. In Australia, there has been much debate about investments by banks in respect of fossil fuel projects – particularly by the Big Four (Westpac, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank, and the National Australia Bank).
The Whitehaven controversy and the ANZ Out of Order campaign certainly highlighted mining investments by financial institutions. The Future Fund has also come under scrutiny for its accounting of climate risks, in Freedom of Information applications by the Climate Institute.
In my own view, the Future Fund should not invest in a future of angry summers and extreme weather.
Divesting from coal will take international action
Bill McKibben has been an advocate for substantive international action on climate change. 350.org has been active at the recent climate summits at Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban, and Doha.
However, he has been disappointed by such international climate conferences. In his view, the outcomes of such meetings have lacked ambition, commitment, and enforcement.
During his visit to Australia, Bill McKibben has stressed that “climate change is driving inequality around the world”. He has highlighted the relationship between climate change, food security, hunger, and poverty.
Bill McKibben has argued that the Carbon Bubble “will require true global diplomacy, since no country can conquer climate change on its own.”
Dr Matthew Rimmer is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow, working on Intellectual Property and Climate Change. He is an associate professor at the ANU College of Law, an associate director of the Australian Centre for Intellectual Property in Agriculture (ACIPA), and a member of the ANU Climate Change Institute. Dr Matthew Rimmer receives funding as an Australian Research Council Future Fellow working on “Intellectual Property and Climate Change: Inventing Clean Technologies” and a chief investigator in an Australian Research Council Discovery Project, “Promoting Plant Innovation in Australia”.
“The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice” – Martin Luther King
Bill McKibben is a dangerous man.
At least to those wanting to stall action on climate change and deny the reality of a warming planet. He is dangerous to those who wish to extract every last drop of oil and piece of fossilized carbon in the ground.
He is dangerous to those who would trash the planet, and deny future generations the right to inherit a habitable Earth.
He is dangerous because what he says not only makes sense, but is powerfully articulated.
He is dangerous to vested interests because he is bringing organisation to the fractured and disparate environment movement.
And because Bill McKibben is so dangerous to the deniers, the fossil fuel industry and Murdoch’s media empire we should do everything we can to help Bill and 350.org.
It is almost impossible to capture my feeling about his talk last night, but Bill McKibben demonstrated something critically lacking within Australian politics.
McKibben does not aspire to lead, but to inspire others and bring out the best within us.
Stepping onto the stage, you could see how tired he is. And yet when he spoke he was animated, passionate and at times incredibly witty. This was no fire-and-brimstone speech: Bill spoke quietly, respectfully and with humility.
“This is the most important challenge humanity has faced in its history”
“They are reversing Genesis’ [The fossil fuel industry]
“I can’t promise you victory, but we can fight”
“There are times when one has to put one’s body on the line” [speaking about being arrested in conducting peaceful acts of civil disobedience]
“We’re not the radicals – we want a livable planet, which makes us the conservatives. We’re not the radicals changing the chemistry of the atmosphere” [paraphrased]
I believe I witnessed something incredible last night. The coming into being of a transnational social justice movement.
The delegation of parliamentarians from four tropical Pacific Islands nations braved the Canberra cold last week, and that wasn’t the only climate shock they suffered.
They watched the impressive intellectual exchange of question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and then moved on. But almost as soon as they left, Parliament started to debate a motion on whether the science of man-made climate change was real. This came as a bit of a jolt to the legislator visiting from Kiribati, a country of about 100,000 people on 33 small, low-lying islands strung along 5000 kilometres of the equator.
“Climate change is real in our places,” Rimeta Beniamina, a government MP and vice-chairman of his parliament’s climate change committee, told me, expressing surprise at what was going on in the chamber a few metres away.
“A few years ago it was not taken very seriously. But now quite a few villages are experiencing hardship. Beaches are eroding, houses are falling down, crops are damaged and livelihoods are destroyed.
“The intrusion of salt water is very evident. The sea level may be rising millimetres a year, but it is still rising. The strong winds and rising tides are the worst part. Once the salt water enters the land, that’s it. Trees are falling along the coast, crops dying, pigs and chickens are affected.”
A US study published at the weekend in the journal Nature Geoscience found the global sea level had risen by 16.8 millimetres between 2005 and 2011.
Clark Wilson, a co-author of the study and geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, says: “There was an increase in the melting rate in Greenland starting in 2005 and that is probably the underlying story why,” according to the Wall Street Journal. The academic study was funded by NASA and the US National Science Foundation.
The rising seas are whipped up by increasingly severe El Nino weather cycles, damaging the coastlines of countries including Kiribati, pronounced kee-ree-bas.
“Some communities have been forced to move backward from the coast,” Beniamina says. “The problem is, there is not much land to move back to.”
People are jamming into the overcrowded main island, Tarawa. Its centre has a population density estimated at three times that of Tokyo, says an April report by Australian journalist Bernard Lagan in the Global Mail. Fresh water supplies are at risk and there is not enough land to bury the dead.
Kiribati President Anote Tong has declared a policy of orderly evacuation that he calls “migration with dignity”. The nation is a proverbial canary in the carbon emission coal mine, and the prognosis is unhappy.