News from the front desk No 347: On why politeness and measured responses do us no favours
13 July 2017
It seems the days of climate change being a future problem are sadly long gone. Al Gore, at the Ecocity World Summit on Thursday, shocked the audience when he detailed the atrocities already belting the earth, for example, “rain bombs” – climate-change-induced airborne rivers now causing havoc across the world.
— Ecocity World Summit (@Ecocity2017) July 12, 2017
And while all eyes are currently on Antarctica following one of the biggest icebergs on record – more than twice the size of the ACT – breaking away from the continent this week, the other end of the planet is also proving quite instructive as to the carnage of climate change.
Melting permafrost there means streets are buckling and bubbling before residents very eyes, now more rollercoaster than road, while houses sink into the ground.
As the Alaska Dispatch News wrote this week, permafrost shrinking and melting means huge challenges for engineers trying to build homes and roads that can withstand the rapidly shifting landscape.
“Out here, levelling a building doesn’t mean bulldozing it to the ground but, rather, making it level again,” the paper wrote.
“The whole house might sink so much that a wastewater line no longer has enough slope. Tubs won’t drain well. Toilets need repeat flushes in a town where many people ration their home-delivered water. Low spots in pipes become bellies that trap wastewater, then freeze and burst in wintertime.”
This week’s viral New York Times piece, The Uninhabitable Earth, was another no-holds-barred account of our currently trajectory, a place marked by “famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us”.
David Wallace-Wells’ piece put every tragic fact and likely future regarding climate change in the one place, and is a shocking, sobering account of the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
The New York Times, the Alaska Dispatch News and Gore’s rhetoric were unusually strong and emotive, but perhaps that’s exactly what we need right now, in a world that seems to have become complacent to huge shifts happening before our very eyes.
The world this week has been getting wake-up calls from all over the globe, and it’s time we answered that call. Perhaps the time for politeness and measured calls for action is over? Perhaps we need to call it like it is.
As Wallace-Wells ends his piece, “… when we do truly see the world we’ve made, [the scientists] say, we will also find a way to make it livable.”
Let’s hope they’re right.
The elephant in the room
Speaking of answering the climate call, it was great news to hear that Queensland had become the sixth state/territory jurisdiction to commit to a 2050 net zero target.
Of course, the elephant in the room here was the mega Adani mine, set to pump more carbon into the atmosphere than Queensland would onshore – many times over.
Many were quick to call out Queensland for its mammoth display of cognitive dissonance and shocking hypocrisy – one, to call itself a leader when it is one of the last states to commit to net zero (we’re now looking at you Western Australia and Northern Territory), and two, to talk about moving to protect the Great Barrier Reef when it has approved a mega-mine that will surely help to destroy it.
As Greenpeace said, net zero means zero if Australia doesn’t reduce its coal exports.
“Australia produces nearly twice as much carbon dioxide emissions through the coal we export than we emit domestically,” Greenpeace campaigner Alix Foster Vander Elst said.
“If mining in the Galilee basin goes ahead emissions from Australia’s coal exports will double.
“The choice is clear for Queensland – we can have coal or we can have the Great Barrier Reef, not both.”
The thing is, one tonne of carbon burned in Queensland is the same as one tonne of carbon burned in China, India or Japan. The earth doesn’t care. The other thing is, though, with carbon accounting, if the carbon is released in another country then it’s considered their problem, as far as international obligations are concerned.
This is why Victoria this week can announce it is looking for ways it can export its vast swathes of dirty brown coal, while at the same time talking about its renewable energy action plan, strong climate action and net zero commitment. And why Queensland has done pretty much the same thing.
Not that action at home isn’t important. Australia needs to urgently transition its energy system – and improve its building stock – if we have any hope of staying within our carbon budget.
So we don’t put ourselves in the same camp as federal anti-environment minister Matt Canavan who, absurdly, chastised Queensland for trying to save the planet like it was a terrible thing to do.
Instead of trying to save the planet in 2050 the QLD labor should just concentrate on saving jobs today!
— Matthew Canavan (@mattjcan) July 11, 2017
Canavan’s statement doesn’t dignify a response, and the Queensland government does deserve praise for its net zero position, however hypocritical.
But do we not also have to take responsibility for what we’re sending offshore? At the very least, surely we can’t label ourselves leaders while we’re facilitating the burning of coal offshore, and facilitating the monstrous events currently happening all over the place, and to come.
Thankfully, every week we’re hearing how those countries now reliant on our coal are making swift moves into the renewable energy space, creating jobs for their citizens and putting the viability of mega-projects like Adani further in doubt.
A recent Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis report showed that countries like India, to which Australia is pinning its hopes, are climbing out of their coal holes.
“Coal exporters that are looking to India to prop up volumes as China continues to reduce coal consumption are going to be disappointed,” IEEFA director of energy finance studies Tim Buckley said.
“The transformation of the Indian electricity sector is happening right now under energy minister Piyush Goyal’s leadership, and the rate of change is accelerating as renewable costs come down and technology innovation continues.”
So Queensland should double down on its net zero plans, and create renewable energy jobs to fill those that will be lost from the decline of the antiquated thermal coal industry.
We don’t have to choose. We can save the planet and create jobs today, Mr Canavan. It just takes leadership.