Sobering facts are emerging from our work with communities on climate issues, including the ever-more urgent need for real, physical collective action, notably by government. [3 March 2009 | Peter Boyer]
It wasn’t so very long ago that a majority of Australians, including our prime minister, rarely gave climate a thought. Global warming was somewhere out on the margins, the concern of bleating boffins and the chattering classes.
Times have changed. It’s no longer sensible to doubt that burning fossil fuels has caused our climate to change, or that the way we live our lives today is unsustainable. The evidence is overwhelming that we’re on a collision course with nature, a clash we’re bound to lose.
A string of atmospheric events in recent years add up to an unprecedented shift in weather patterns, all of which are in accord with global warming scenarios previously outlined by science, including melting polar and mountain ice and, in Australia, a drier south and a wetter north.
But in the past couple of years many of these changes have been more rapid and more decisive than any of the scientific models predicted, a fact which isn’t lost on those who have to deal with nature’s extremes.
Arctic summer ice is now dramatically diminished, and southern Australia’s drought is biting like never before. We didn’t really need February’s bushfires to remind us that such climate shifts can be life-threatening.
Nearly all of us now acknowledge there’s a problem – but that’s where the going seems to get tough. Like dealing with an overweight issue or a smoking habit, acknowledgment means nothing without action.
This is what’s exercising the minds of presenters for the Climate Project in Tasmania. Over the past couple of weeks, Nick Towle, Lesley Nicklason, Liila Hass and myself have reflected on where we’ve been and where we’re headed, and come up with some salient, and sobering, points:
• People working with climate issues are now deeply concerned by recent alarming evidence that both our global carbon emissions and the rate of climate change are accelerating beyond expectations, putting us and our planet in ever greater peril.
• While it’s never too late to make the switch, it’s wasting energy to debate with people who ignore today’s climate crisis. The focus must be on helping those who appreciate the danger.
• It is now urgent that we stop pretending that we can survive outside nature and learn to live within it. While continuing to pursue technological solutions to our energy crisis, we will have to acknowledge that these will only work if they are in accord with nature, the ultimate arbiter.
• To avert ecological collapse we need unprecedented collective action to cut emissions – urgently. Small actions by individuals and communities, while essential, will not be enough. The only measure of success for government measures will be a rapid reduction in emissions.
• Our changing climate will continue to bring calamity which in the most extreme cases will threaten our administrative systems, so we must help people develop more resilient communities that are able to respond to threats urgently and effectively – and to survive.
• Climate change and the economic crunch give us the opportunity to engage with others in new ways, working towards collective goals, empowering local enterprises and strengthening local communities.
• Our biggest challenge is psychological. Resolution of our climate woes will come from a shift in social mindsets. We have the heart and the energy and the brainpower to salvage a good world for generations to come – if only we can muster the will.