Well, it’s been quite a summer, hasn’t it – record heat waves, drought, the deaths of 100 year old fish in our most important river system, bushfires, massive deluges and flooding.The insurance companies must be getting seriously worried.
We know that each degree of warming results in approximately a seven per cent increase in energy (and moisture) in the atmosphere, so we can be pretty confident that there will be more extreme weather events next year and the year after.
And what about in 10 years’ time? 20 years? 80 years? I have four grandchildren, all under the age of six – chances are they’ll probably still be alive and kicking when we get to the 22nd century. So we’re not talking about a problem in the distant future. This is now, with only one degree of warming so far, and it will affect our children and grandchildren (and their children and grandchildren) in ways we are only just beginning to understand.
The latest research suggests that we are currently on track to get to around four degrees of atmospheric warming in the next 80 years, and the sea level could rise as much as two metres in that time. And it will keep rising, as the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets melt. Think about that for a minute. Think about all the buildings and infrastructure that will disappear under water. Think about the loss of land for farming, the number of people who will be forced from their homes, not only here but in almost every country in the world. It’s already happening in some low-lying places – Pacific Islands, Bangladesh, Florida. And, imagine all the tower blocks in Miami and on the Gold Coast surrounded by water instead of beaches, roads and car parks.
From a Christian perspective, I believe that climate change is a moral issue that threatens the whole of creation, places added burdens on poor people, and compromises the common good of all. We cannot ignore it or leave it to others to sort out.
While scientists and world leaders talk about ensuring that global warming doesn’t go past two degrees, and steps are being taken in some places to reduce fossil fuel emissions, nowhere is it being treated as the existential crisis we know it is. With for or more degrees of warming, large parts of the world will become virtually uninhabitable. And sadly, famine will be the norm in too many places.
Did you know that more than half of the carbon we have emitted into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels was emitted in the past 25 years? This means we have burned more fossil fuels since the UN established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change than in all of the centuries before – so we have done more damage knowingly than we ever managed in ignorance.
So why aren’t our politicians bending over backwards to ensure that Australia is moving to a zero carbon economy as fast as possible? Why haven’t they announced that there will be no new coal mines and no fracking? Where is the program to transition workers from the carbon workforce to a renewables-based workforce? Why aren’t they putting strategies in place to mitigate the effects of climate change? Why aren’t they ensuring that our cities and buildings and transport infrastructure are better prepared for regular heatwaves? When will we see a policy which encourages the take-up of electric-powered vehicles and actively discourages the high emissions vehicles?
As we grimly contemplate an unpleasant future, it’s important that we all get our heads around the Carbon Budget. In 2013, scientists estimated the total quantity of greenhouse gases that could be emitted for the temperature rise to be limited to two degrees. Australia’s share of that total is 10.1 billion tonnes.
It sounds a lot, but we are still emitting around half a billion tonnes each year. So, unless drastic steps are taken to reduce our emissions soon, Australia’s total carbon budget will be all used up by 2033. 14 years away! Even if we were to halve our emissions virtually overnight we’d still only have 28 years before our allocation is all used up. Do we have the will to move all our industry and power generation and transport to zero emissions in that time?
We often hear the argument that Australia has only 0.3 per cent of the world’s population, so our contribution doesn’t really make much of a difference. But it does. Aside from the fact that Australia is a wealthy country and should be a global leader, we (that is 25 million Australians) directly produce 1.3 per cent of the world’s emissions. And let’s not forget the coal and gas that we export (and profit from) – they bring our contribution to around five per cent.
And if the nine mines in the Queensland Galilee Basin go ahead as planned, I understand that that the coal from that region alone would deliver the equivalent of the world’s seventh largest contributor of emissions!
Our call as people of faith—to protect the vulnerable and to be stewards of our planet —means we must act to stop global climate change. And because the effects of global climate change are already impacting those who can least afford to cope with it, addressing global climate change is also a significant justice issue.
So we need to keep reminding our politicians that the upcoming election is all about climate change. If they don’t get it, we have to tell them loud and clear that we don’t want any more fiddling around the edges. Changing a society and its economic underpinnings is not easy but we, and they, have to recognize the need. We want to give all children a future, and we want our national leaders to treat climate change with the absolute urgency that it requires.
We need climate action now. There is no Planet B.
Cathy Rossiter is the Chairperson of Tuggeranong Uniting Church.