Last night (23 June 2016) Professor Will Steffen (ANU) and I led a conversation on Climate change in the NSW South Coast hamlet of Mogo. Approximately 100 people squeezed themselves into the Grumpy Sweetheart restaurant. There were virtually no questions requiring clarification of the science or questions of a technological nature. Almost all the questions and contributions focussed either on the politics – why is more appropriate action not being taken: or on the moral issues – what gives us the right to ignore choices that are available to us, and if missed, simply will not be available to future generations?
It is clear that with the exception of independents like Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, and minor parties like the Greens., both major parties are seriously underestimating the mood of the electorate on this issue; the Coalition more so than Labor.
A number of important points were made:
· The science is not hard to understand. Life on the planet is kept at a liveable temperature through greenhouse gases that prevent too much heat escaping. If the gasses become more dense more heat is trapped – hence warming. Heat is energy therefore weather events have more energy associated with them. As the planet warms ice declines and sea levels rise. If tipping points occur this trajectory becomes self perpetuating.
· Greenhouse gases are at the highest level they have been since modern humans appeared approximately 200,000 years ago – and for a long time before that. In the time of the dinosaurs carbon concentrations were several times higher, but the climate then suited reptiles not mammals. Mammals require a much more temperate climate.
· The relative stability of climate in the Holocene period which has seen the growth of agriculture and widespread human flourishing is being overtaken by the ‘Anthropocene’ a period in which human domination is becoming so all pervasive that human activity is not simply affecting climate change but we are seeing a level of species mass extinction and loss of biodiversity unknown since the period of the dinosaurs.
· We live in a relational world. All life is interdependent. Every species requires other species in order to survive. Human beings are part of the web of life, not apart from it. Humans cannot continue to behave as if ‘nature needs to be conquered’ or made submissive to human needs.
· While Australia produces something like 1.8% of global emissions, per capita we are amongst the highest emitters in the world. If we were to be on the same level per capita of some members of the OECD, let alone developing countries, we need an immediate reduction target of 50 – 60% not 20%
· It is extraordinary that the Government can put forward a proposition for jobs and growth through innovation without mentioning renewable energy. It is abundantly clear that this is the sector that has the best chance of driving the innovative new economy we are led to believe we are transitioning into.
· It is bizarre that the Government continues with an environment policy (Direct Action) that can best be described as belonging within a socialist portfolio, while refusing to countenance a market driven policy – a price on carbon.
· It is simply untrue that we cannot afford to transition to a carbon neutral economy. To arrive at a carbon neutral position by 2050 would not take us back to the stone age, we would not even stop economic growth, we would only slow it marginally – which is probably a good thing.
The one thing that is lacking is political leadership. Whether the 21st century will see capitalism serving humanity and the flourishing of the nonhuman world depends on the stomach that politicians have to regulate the market in order that the common good is served. At the moment there is no sign of this happening. Apparently we human beings exist to serve an economic mantra through consumption. The market is neither moral or immoral, it does what it does – make a profit. Whether this profit serves a fair, civil, equitable and just world is largely up to those who represent us with the power and responsibility to legislate.