By Rich Bowden
Picture credit: Chicago Tribune
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered an extraordinary and damning warning to the world this week following their annual meeting in Incheon in the Republic of Korea. The recommendations were shocking, to say the least. Ignoring the usual diplomatic speak, the IPCC — a group of the world’s leading climate scientists — said that keeping global temperature rises to within 1.5C wasn’t impossible. However, drastic action needs to be taken now to do so and avert the catastrophe that awaits our children and grandchildren if we continue with business as usual.
The subtext was that every moment counts and urgent action is required by global governments. The press release of the meeting is available here and the video of the press conference here. However, I’ve taken a few quotes from the press release from members of the IPCC to give you a taste of the immediacy of the problem.
"One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes," said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.
"Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems," said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.
"Limiting warming to 1.5°C is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes," said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III.
The decisions we make today are critical in ensuring a safe and sustainable world for everyone, both now and in the future, said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.
"This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people's needs. The next few years are probably the most important in our history," she said.
The key takeaway is that we must keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius or face major climate catastrophe. The quote “The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” rings like a combination of a chilling warning and a call to action.
Speaking on Sky News, Ben Oquist, Executive Director of The Australia Institute said: "The IPCC is a massive wakeup call to policymakers in Australia who are out of scientific reality and this is a stark warning -- it would just be horrible if we said, because the truth is unpalatable, we are going to put it in the bin."
To quickly address the climate deniers here. Those who consider that global warming is a furphy, perhaps instigated to destroy capitalism as we know it. I recognise the right for you to take this view. I am not one to insist that you change your views. I am no climate scientist. In fact, I’m no scientist at all. I make no claim to any expertise on global warming.
Being no scientist, I rely on the world’s qualified groups to advise me on key issues that affect me, my friends, my family, my fellow countrymen and women and citizens of the world. When they say we must act now to avert tragedy — yes tragedy — I listen to them. There are no groups on the planet (I say that with confidence) better qualified than the IPCC to advise us on climate and the terrible consequences of failure to keep global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Others with different views are welcome to them, and I defend their democratic right to hold them, but I won’t waste too much time discussing the issue. Listening to the IPCC, not to mention numerous qualified commentators in the last few decades, it’s obvious the time for debate is over. The time for action is now. We must change our ways on a personal, country and global level to reduce emissions to avert catastrophe.
So, if we accept that we are facing an existential crisis (as I do) the first thing we look to is political leadership. In a democracy, we understand that our elected representatives are the ones who show the way in such a major crisis, to instigate policy to reduce emissions. In other words to do our bit in the world to avert climate catastrophe. In the wake of the release of the report, surely our “New Generation” of government, which recently usurped the old new generation of leaders in a coup no-one understands, will call emergency meetings, talk to the nation, assess all emissions, switch to a road map of a renewable energy future?
In a word: nope.
The first announcement from our new PM following the IPCC findings is that he will “no longer fund environmental conferences” deeming them (presumably) a waste of time and money.
As discussed in a previous article, the man appointed to the vital Energy portfolio, presumably to chart us into the future, is an active wind farm opponent. Morrison is, of course, infamous for brandishing a lump of coal in Parliament in a stunt to show that he considered coal to be the future energy source of the country. This despite its now almost universal acceptance as being one of the chief causes of global warming.
Pictures beamed around the world of our future PM waving around coal in the people’s chamber have done our national image no end of harm. It’s obvious then, that there is no federal leadership on this most crucial of issues. Most state and territory leaders are also in the thrall of fossil fuel industry lobbyists, fearful of a combination of shock jock attacks and withdrawal of funding from the fossil fuel industry.
So what to do?
If you agree with the IPCC that urgent action is needed on climate change, what do you do as a citizen looking to do the best you can as an individual? What actions, as a regular person/voter will give you the most influence?
The answer may lie locally. In your own community. While practising personal sustainability is laudable (and necessary) it is not the only answer. Thinking it is enough is dangerous. The real answer is to become politically active on the issues that matter to you. As an individual, you can only do so much, you have far more influence as part of a like-minded group. While reducing the amount of single-use plastic is an excellent start on your sustainability journey, it is more important to join or form groups that lobby against the real polluters, the real destroyers of our climate. The second advantage is to more effectively influence our elected representatives, either at the local or national level. Join local or national groups that bring financial or political pressure on polluting companies.
The Stop Adani movement sweeping the country is a great example. The Indian Adani corporation has received permission to mine the Galilee basin in northern Queensland. The massive mine will make it one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the southern hemisphere and its approval has been yet another case of the Queensland government caving in to the coal lobby.
However, like the Franklin River dam controversy of the 80s in Tasmania, thousands of people have said no. Stop Adani groups have sprung up around the nation. It is these groups that bring grassroots action and pressure not only on miners but also our elected representatives that something must be done on climate change.
The alleged “New Generation” government ensconced in Canberra can only ignore the people for so long in a democracy. Political parties will do their utmost to avoid an election fought on climate change and both have their hands dirty and are controlled by the fossil fuel lobby. However, increasing public support for effective policies against global warming and growing disgust at the continued lack of action make this a real possibility. Perhaps as soon as the next federal election, due next year?
If you are reading the headlines and wondering if there’s something you can contribute to helping to reduce the threat of global warming to our kids and grandkids, consider joining a local environmental group. One committed to increasing the pressure on elected representatives whether local, state or federal to reduce emissions. Join a group who are willing to stand up for our kids and our planet.
Do you think recent comments by Scott Morrison — the fossil fuel PM — are the last straw? Get active, join or form an environmental group. Stand against inaction in political leadership!
Rich Bowden is a freelance writer, podcaster, family man, coffee drinker and news junkie. He spends most of his time looking puzzled and saying stuff like “you’re never too old to learn” to anyone who will listen. Likes a laugh. Otherwise harmless. Podcasts at Climactic, The Real Food Chain and Permaculture Plus.