I wrote this blog in 2008. It's worth revisiting because some friends on social media seem to be arguing that because our government has changed, climate change is no longer real. Sticking our heads in the sand is a bad manoeuvre economically, environmentally and socially. We are about to lose most of our hard won government climate action: Our carbon price (which is working), the clean energy finance corporation (a commercial success) and the Independent Climate Change Commission (which advises on government targets based on the science).
The only addition I could make to this piece would be: it is clearer now and worse now. I have added these two links: A World Bank Climate Change video warning and a chart on the 97% scientific consensus. It is also worth noting that the International Panel on Climate Change is about to hand down it's next report on the state of climate science. Stay tuned to find out that it's worse than we thought.
So here 'tis:
Human induced climate change is the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. The Pentagon has called it the biggest threat to USA security. The atmospheric coal, oil, gas and land clearing carbon experiment is changing our climate faster than it has ever changed. There is now 30% more carbon in the atmosphere than there has been in 600,000 years. The growth rate in global carbon dioxide emissions trebled between 2000 and 2006. There have been higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere previously - when there was no life on earth. The International Panel on Climate Change (1000 climate scientists from 100 countries over 17 years) have concluded that human kind is to blame and that we have eight years to turn our carbon emitting ways around before run away climate change occurs. The predicted two degree temperature rise this century could lead to the extinction of a third of all species of life. In the past 2 degrees has been the difference between a warm period on earth and an ice age. The poles are warming five times faster than the rest of the globe. The summer arctic sea ice is now predicted to be gone by 2015: In 2005, this prediction was 2050. Ocean acidity is rising, which is lowering the ability of the oceans to sequester and store carbon. Mosquitoes and therefore disease are spreading in range, and altitude as temperatures change. 279 species of plants and animals have been observed moving closer to the poles. Ecosystems and habitats that have always evolved and moved with the climate cannot move fast enough for the current change. Category four and five hurricanes have doubled since the 1970’s. Extreme weather events generally are increasing including bushfires, droughts and floods. Ten of the past sixteen years in Australia have been the hottest on record. Glaciers around the world are melting and retreating - in 2006 glaciers were found to have melted at nearly twice the rate as in 2005. Across the Antarctic Peninsula air temperature has risen an average of 2.5 degrees in 50 years, the greatest rise in the world. The International Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research says 87% of the glaciers on the Peninsula are in retreat. A 2008 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development report into climate change in the European Alps declared that in the past 500 years, the warmest years on record were 1994, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007. Ski fields are shrinking globally. The CSIRO says Australian ski-fields with at least 60 days of snow cover will shrink 38-96% by 2050. Swiss Banks are now refusing to lend money to skiing outfits below 1500m. Scientists have warned that at current rates of ocean temperature change, the Great Barrier reef will be functionally extinct within decades. One third of the world's coral reef building species are threatened with extinction because of climate change. The island nation of Tuvalu is disappearing under rising sea levels. The Papuan Cararet Islands people are currently moving their culture and heritage to another island as their own has been inundated with surge tides, which ruined their fresh water supplies. The poorest nations and peoples will be hit hardest by climate change; there are huge social justice implications. Our fossil fuel energy addiction must be broken. Wasting of energy must cease. Globally we need emissions to peak by 2015, be 30% less by 2020 and 80% less by 2050 to stabilise the climate below the 2 degree rise. In 2008, scientists are now telling us that reduced natural carbon sinks and increased feedback loops since these targets were set mean that we now need to reduce CO2 by 90% ASAP. These targets are non negotiable: we cannot debate with physics, chemistry and biology. We must eliminate fossil fuel use within our lifetime and create a renewable energy revolution. And jobs? The 60,000 people employed in the threatened Great Barrier Reef tourism industry out number those employed in our coal industry by a factor of three. The loss of the reef would also lose us $4.9 billion annually. Professor Ross Garnaut's draft report released in July 2008 predicted a 92per cent decline by 2100 in irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin; a reduction of at least 7.8 per cent in real wages; and a $425 billion loss in potential gross domestic product. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics predicts if we don't act on climate change, Australia's exports of key commodities will fall by up to 63 per cent in 2030 and by up to 79 per cent in 2050. As for peak oil* - a recent report suggests that petrol could soon cost $8 a litre. And the shrinking number of deniers? In a 2006 letter to Esso, the UK arm of ExxonMobil, the Royal Society cited its own survey which found that ExxonMobil in 2005 distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society said misrepresented the science of climate change.
... And from the Australian government on Climate Change in 2008:
Carbon pollution is causing climate change, resulting in higher temperatures, more droughts, rising sea levels and more extreme weather. The 12 hottest years in history have all been in the last 13 years and IPCC scenarios project temperature rises between 1 and 6.4 degrees over the next century relative to 1980–99. Without action, scientists predict up to 20 per cent more drought months over most of Australia by 2030, more intense and damaging cyclones and rising sea levels with serious impacts on:
* coastal property in Australia
* low lying Asian mega cities
* the Pacific Islands.
With one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia's economy and environment will be one of the hardest and fastest hit by climate change if we don't act now. It threatens Australia's food production, agriculture, water supplies, as well as icons like the Great Barrier Reef, the Kakadu wetlands and the big tourism industries they support. Today we are already beginning to feel the economic and environmental costs of inaction on climate change. But if we delay action any longer, these costs will be felt even more by not only our generation, but also our children and grandchildren.
“First, climate change is the greatest long-term threat faced by humanity. It could cause more human and financial suffering than the two world wars and the great depression put together. All countries will be affected, but the poorest countries will be hit hardest. Secondly, the costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of action.”
- David Miliband, Secretary of State for the Environment, statement to House of Commons in response to ‘The Stern Review’ into the economics of climate change, 30 October 2006
“It is likely that the recent speed of global economic growth has increased the risk that the world is rapidly moving into an era of large scale climate change.”
- Professor Ross Garnaut, 2006
"It has been estimated that the fringe benefits tax concession on company cars produces about as much greenhouse pollution as a medium-sized coal-fire power station."
- Professor Ian Lowe, 2008
* The only subtraction I would make to this piece is that now we are drilling for oil in the ice free arctic and processing the tar sands, peak oil is looking further off. Which of course makes the situation worse.
I could nuance other parts of the piece as the science has change and improved, but it's worth presenting as a whole.