Last night I went to a climate forum organised by Climate Change Our Future in the City of Monash. It was both inspiring and terrifying. Inspiring because there are local attempts to create transition towns and Sustainability Streets, even in this conservative, middle class area, and they are thriving. In Ashwood they are about to open a local food co-op, where people buy/swap/share food from their own gardens, to minimise food miles. They are also beginning the process of becoming a transition town. There was talk of planting food trees in public spaces, forming communities to share knowledge and pool resources, and lots of positive strategies for becoming sustainable.
One of the really heartening things about these initiatives is that they are firmly grounded in local communities. There is no single blueprint of things to do, and an order to do them in. It’s up to each community to tackle the things that they are passionate about, and to share their knowledge and resources to cut their carbon footprints, develop sustainable lifestyles, and, above all, become a real community, not just people who happen to live near each other. How many of your neighbours do you know right now?
We also heard about two American researchers who have worked out how 100% of the world’s energy needs can be provided by existing renewable technologies within 20 years. The article is in this month’s Scientific American, and is a fascinating read. So next time anyone says “oh, but renewable energy can’t supply us with all the energy we need”, point them at that article – it can. And it can right now. The technology exists.
What was terrifying was hearing from David Spratt, one of the co-authors of Climate Code Red about the scale of the problem, the cataclysm (his word) that is coming, and the utter lack of the political will needed to tackle it. A 4 degree rise in average global temperature, which may already be unavoidable, will lead to the melting of the arctic and antarctic, and a resulting sea level rise of 70 metres. That would put 1/3 of Australia under water. One third. And it would be the inhabited, arable third.
The lack of political will seems to be grounded in a failure to grasp the scale of the problem, and the availability (and implications) of the solutions. Many of our ready answers to fears about climate change have come straight from propaganda campaigns by the fossil fuel industry. “Renewables can’t supply all our energy, we need a base load supply in case the wind drops and the sun goes down.” Yet this article shows that, with a mix of renewables including geothermal and wave energy, oh, and solar storage – yes, there are existing solar plants that store the energy and can continue to provide electricity throughout the night, in Spain – it can be done. And yes, closing down all the coal power stations will involve a loss of jobs. But starting up a renewable industry will create jobs, so there is balance. Besides, what good is a job if the world has gone to hell?
Then there is the “the world is actually cooling” furphy. A close look at the real information, graphs of global temperature etc shows that this is just ludicrous misinformation. It would be lovely to be able to believe it, but it’s just not true. If the world is cooling, why is the arctic ice melting?
“The climate may be changing, but it’s nothing to do with our activity, it’s just a natural cycle.” Sure, a natural cycle on a scale, and at a rate, never before seen in geological history. Temperature and climatic changes that have only ever happened over thousands of years are happening over decades, but it’s normal, and nothing to do with us. We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. We know that methane is a greenhouse gas. We know that greenhouse gases cause warming, and that there is an unprecedented concentration of them in the atmosphere, right now, and it is increasing due to our lifestyles. We know that plants take these gases out of the atmosphere, and we know that we have defoliated the planet at a massive, unprecedented rate. The debate is over, people. Climate change is here, and we only have one chance to tackle it.
It was made clear to me last night that the biggest problem is the lack of political will to take meaningful action on climate change. Organisations like GetUp and Avaaz are making politicians edgy, so support them if you can – the more people who are motivated to take action on these issues, the more the politicians will perceive them as important. Ultimately the single most effective thing we can do to create the political will now is to hit the politicians where it hurts – in the ballot box. Vote for the strongest climate change policy you can find. My guess is that it will usually be The Greens, but I may be biased because I am a member of the Greens. But if you have a by-election in your electorate coming up, and at the next state and federal elections, the most powerful thing you can do for the climate is to vote for climate change. Hit the major parties in the ballot box, and they will green up faster than than the ice sheets are melting. And that’s alarmingly fast.