Weather is friggin’ mental. Mexico got hit by an earthquake. A catastrophic amount of rain put two thirds of Bangladesh under water a couple of weeks ago. A trilogy of hurricanes hit the States in the last month. It was the worst trilogy since the Star Wars prequels.
We’re only in September. It’s supposed to be Spring. You remember Spring? We’re supposed to be smelling flowers, dodging magpies and watching rabbits root. Instead, we’re getting our first lot of bushfire warnings, and the bureau of meteorology is warning that Australia may have its hottest September ever. That makes sense, given we just came out of our warmest winter ever.
So it might be time to brush up on your climate change knowledge. If you’re anything like me, you watched An Inconvenient Truth ten years ago, became evangelical about recycling, and are now calmly waiting for the end of the world.
But knowledge is power. So here’s the latest.
It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes…
As the great poet Nelly once intimated, heat means more opportunity for nudity, which means more opportunity for sexy times. However, Nelly wasn’t up to date with global warming, because it’s hard to be sexy when you’re drowning to death.
The Earth’s temperature is up two degrees, on average, since 1880. That’s a big deal. A lot of the planet’s ice mass is beginning to melt.
Scientists agree that this has been caused by human-made greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas are a group of compounds that get trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing the planet to heat up. Some greenhouse gas emissions are natural. The Earth can handle dealing with a certain amount. But in the last 120 years, basically since the Industrial Revolution, we humans have put a huge amount of new gases into the atmosphere.
Where does the bad gas come from?
Took me two months to get a fart joke into Slow News Weekly, but I got there.
So the naughty gases come from loads of places. Methane, for example, comes from farming. Industrial farms mean loads of animal shit. And loads of animal shit mean disturbingly high levels of methane that get trapped in the atmosphere. Our atmosphere can absorb methane with relative efficiency however, so methane isn’t the big bad guy. The big bad guy is carbon dioxide.
Our atmosphere really struggles with carbon dioxide. Most of our carbon dioxide comes from burning fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil. That makes how we produce electricity a really hot topic for the future of our planet. We took a deep dive into Australia’s energy policy a couple of weeks ago – it’s still plaguing the Turnbull government.
We’re also giving the finger to Mother Nature through our constant deforestation. Ripping apart forests to make way for land to host our booming population robs our planet of the very thing that helps process carbon dioxide – trees.
Scientists have known this for ages, by the way. The first scientific prediction that the Earth would warm as more gas was released was made in 1896.
Are we sure that the higher amount of gas is human-made?
Seriously, scientists are really sure.
The sun isn’t getting hot enough to explain the rise in temperature. And the climb in temperature is happening way quicker than at any other point in our planet’s history. The last 120 years of studies have shown that human are causing the issue.
But is it a hoax?
The current President of the United States has previously stated that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese to hurt American manufacturing. There are a bunch of other claims out there that climate change is a massive conspiratorial hoax.
World leaders or political conservatives who suggest that the science of climate change is faulty usually have a vested interest in tearing it apart. Because we’re really worried about greenhouse gases, industries like car manufacturing and resource mining have a lot to be concerned about too. Trump wants to protect American jobs. High-profile Australians who are climate skeptics like Malcom Roberts and Tony Abbot are deeply invested in the coal industry and ‘protecting Australian jobs’. They want to keep those industries alive. And that’s a real concern, by the way – because if we tear down these industries too quickly, or try and get them to change overnight, the world economy will have to suffer a major hiccough.
So we should just trust the government?
Well, so far they haven’t done too great a job. In 2015, at the enormous Paris meeting between world leaders to come to an agreement about how to control emissions, Australia was ranked third to last in the world for emissions. We beat Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan.
Different governments have tried a whole host of measures to cut down on emissions. In Australia, we attempted to raise taxes on companies emitting too much carbon – a measure that Tony Abbot ditched as soon as he became Prime Minister. The Turnbull government remains confused about how environment friendly to go – in fact, the market is ahead of them. AGL – one of Australia’s biggest electricity retailers – says it’s moving away from coal and closing down it’s coal projects. The government wants them to stay open.
What’s going to happen?
The Great Barrier Reef, in all likelihood, will die. It’s already in the process of decaying thanks to a huge amount of pollution from Queensland’s mines and the overall rise in the ocean’s temperature.
Climate change is likely to create severe refugee crises. It’s already had devastating knock-on effects.
- The Amazon Basin hosts a range of businesses and local who are fighting over what few resources remain. Crime syndicates are on the rise as desperate locals attempt to make a living.
- Lake Chad is a vital source of water for much of Africa. It’s shrunk by 90% in fifty years. It’s worsened conflicts in affected countries, and played a central role in displacing three and half million people.
- In 2007, Syria, Turkey, western Iran and northern Iraq entered a three year drought. Over 1.5 million people left their dying farms in regional Syria and flooded into the cities. Food prices soared, the economy destabilised, and the country was plunged into civil war. Over thirteen million people were affected.
- China’s desert land has grown exponentially, devastating farmers. The Chinese government has resettled hundreds of thousands of economic migrants, forced to abandon their homes.
- Warming oceans probably encourage typhoons and wild storms. The Phillipines has been relentlessly hit by natural disasters. Since 2013, nearly 15 million people have been affected by typhoons in the Phillipines.
If you take a look at the countries listed above, you won’t see any that part of the Western developed world. In fact, most aren’t even part of the Western developed consciousness. Climate change will affect the world’s poorest the hardest. It already has.
This is all without mentioning the natural world. A recent study found that 30% of all land animals are experiencing declines. That’s almost a third. In most parts of the world, the study says, 70% of mammals are in decline due to habitat loss.
Scientists can’t agree how fast or how high oceans will rise, but they already are.
What’s being done?
The Paris Climate deal, in 2015, was a big step forward, as many countries agreed to try and limit emissions by a certain target. Australia’s ability to get to that target is in doubt as the Turnbull government keeps stalling on a clean energy target and a cohesive energy policy. And Trump keeps teasing that he thinks the Paris deal is dumb.
Will renewables hurt the economy? What about clean coal?
Although the teething period may be uncomfortable for some, the long term economic vision across the world says that the renewable energy market is going to be huge. Jobs are strong in the renewable sector.
Australia is debating over how much coal will play a part in this future. ‘Clean coal’ is a term used to describe new coal plants that limit emissions (as much as they can), and pump the emissions back underground. There’s very little evidence of the lasting environmental impact of such a strategy. Many would like to see governments move away from coal altogether.
What can I do?
The most important thing you can do is to use your rights as a citizen.
- If you think your public transport options suck, contact your local councillor and ask why they’re not better.
- If you have an opinion on how Australia should think about it’s energy future, contact your local member of Parliament and tell them.
Not sure how to do this? A bit intimidated? Slow News Weekly has plans that will make the process of contacting your local politician way easier super soon. In the meantime, finding your federal member is moderately easy. Start by putting in your suburb or postcode here.
Other, smaller, personal things that reduce your footprint.
- Eat less meat
- Use more public transport
- Limit your plane trips
- Use energy efficient electricity light bulbs and appliances
- Next time you buy a car, take more notice of its fuel efficiency
- Cut down on food waste as much as you can
- When shopping, take time to look up the environmental policies of some of your favourite companies. If they don’t meet your approval, find an alternative.
We’ll be back with the week’s news on Friday.
Photo at the top by Yuri. The forest is just outside of Moscow.