Friday, December 26, 2008

Quarterly Essay 31: Now Or Never: A Sustainable Future For Australia?, by Tim Flannery


This is not a particularly cheery Quarterly Essay. In it Tim Flannery states starkly that the political will is simply not there to make the necessary cuts to our carbon emissions. His belief is that the environment will continue to warm, surpassing dangerous levels. Much extraordinary suffering will be the result of this.

I can see why there are people who are so suspicious of climate change. In this essay Flannery says how for the first time in the planet's history humans hold the levers to the natural environment. We can pull them this way, and hopefully we can choke off dangerous emissions and stop the planet from over heating and wiping out much of the biota - including (gulp) us.

Or we can throw the levers another way and continue on with 'business as usual', polluting further and adding more heat to the planet.

I sense that it is this argument, that we can control nature, rather than the other way around, that causes the mind set of what some call 'climate change denial'. These 'deniers' think (I'm guessing) that it's preposterous to believe that we can somehow control, predict or so intimately know nature. (Is it any wonder then that so many climate change deniers are from the religious right. They believe God, not man, knows and controls nature.)

Here is His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney on the subject:

'Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. Belief in a benign God who is master of the universe has a steadying psychological effect, although it is no guarantee of Utopia, no guarantee that the continuing climate and geographic changes will be benign.

In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.'

Most of these people basically think tomorrow will be the same as today, that there'll be no problem. Cardinal Pell believes in the benign forces of God, and that this gives a 'steadying psychological effect'. It soothes the nerves to think that God's great invention, nature, is essentially benign. It's all a matter of she'll be right, mate. (Pell's likening calls for a reduction in our carbon dioxide emissions to pagan sacrifices is totally bizarre.)

Myself, I have not studied in depth the science of climate change, but as Flannery says in this piece, even the most conservative groups (like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) agree that the planet is warming dangerously, and it is caused by human activity. It's like have 9 out 10 cancer specialists diagnose you with cancer. Who do you trust. The nine in agreement or the one dissenting opinion?

Another problem with climate change is that it can't really be tested. We can dramatically cut emissions, reduce our standard of living, but how can we know what kind of positive effect our reductions have had? This is more ammo for the sceptics.

I'll always vote for a reduction in emissions because despoiling our environment doesn't make good sense to me. Just recently I've been reading about how much toxic crap we put into landfill every year. I've also been reading about my local area of North Melbourne, and a beautiful, crystal clear lake that existed in when the Wurundjeri people, of the Kulin nation, inhabited the area. When white settlers overtook the place, they started pumping their excrement into the lake. Not a good idea. It had to be drained because it was so unsanitary. Maybe it would have been a good idea if we'd taken more care of the environment, then we'd still have that beautiful lake to enjoy.

Then again, maybe environmentalists are dreaming, thinking they can create some type of utopia. Yet for the religious, or for those who think nature is always inclined to think benevolently of us, God/Nature might have other ideas.
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Update:
One final note for the naysayers. Do they really think that when the global population reaches some 9 billion people in 2050, that each individual will be able to give off as much polution as the average Australian does today? Will 9 billion people be able to eat as much meat as we do per capita? Obviously not.

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