The threat of global climate change is now a regular feature in all forms of media and countless conversations across the globe.
We are not in a movie where a superhero's powers will save the planet before the credits roll up the screen. Among those of us who are informed about climate change, anxiety levels are rising steadily.
Steven Covey in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People' describes a large circle or ‘area of concern' within which is a smaller circle representing our ‘area of influence'.
He writes that if we expend energy outside our personal circle of influence we will achieve little, our stress levels will rise, and our area of influence will actually shrink.
Thanks to Scratch.
On the other hand, if we are careful to find out what our area of influence is and then work steadily within it, it will grow.
We can extrapolate from this to develop a method for dealing with the anxiety caused by climate change.
Climate scientists generally agree that cutting global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60% before 2050 provides the best chance of stabilising the average rise in world temperature at around 2oC higher than it is now.
Even this, however, will be cutting it fine. Tim Lenton, of the UK's Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, emphasises that we must start to reduce carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible to have any chance of preventing the melting of the Greenland ice cap. This will become unstoppable if the earth warms by an average of 2.6oC.
All countries must put a co-operative international approach to tackling climate change before national self-interest.
This will be no simple task. Emissions cuts must happen despite the fact that the world's population will grow from the current 6.5 billion to 9.1 Billion in 2050, and that growing middle classes in developing countries are turning to high-emissions, consumer lifestyles like our own.
Over the past three weeks momentum has built to push Australia towards joining the co-operative international effort to reduce emissions. The ABC Four Corners program on the ‘Greenhouse Mafia' and Clive Hamilton's speech ‘The Dirty Politics of Climate Change', delivered at the high level Climate Change and Business Conference in Adelaide, have given fresh impetus to our climate change conversations.
Practical policy measures to stem climate change can be divided into a number of key areas.
Regulations, and intergovernmental and business co-operation .
Caps on greenhouse gas emissions are a central part of the Kyoto protocol. Market mechanisms such as emissions trading may help countries to reach cap targets. As well as caps, climate change or CO2 charges will need to be assigned to greenhouse gas emissions to enable deep cuts to be achieved. This will increase market efficiency by directing emissions allowances to activities with greater economic benefit.
New Zealand is the first country to begin to implement charging for carbon emissions. This early adoption will put them in an excellent competitive position if globally negotiated charges are introduced.
If the business sector is given sufficient warning and the CO2 charge is introduced gradually, the transition to low emission economies should be relatively smooth.
The global insurance industry will take a lead in determining policy in relation to climate change. Munich Re, a major global re-insurer, studied weather data and found there were less than 200 weather-related disasters in the 1950s versus over 1,600 in the 1990s. Nearly 100 companies from 25 countries have joined the UNEP Insurance Industry Initiative which is pressuring governments and business to cut emissions.
Renewable electricity generation will take a lead over CO2 geosequestration or nuclear power because of significantly lower carbon emissions costs in the entire energy generation cycle.
Countries with multiparty coalition governments that have a strong environmental focus are leading the way in the transition to low emissions economies.
Sweden has committed to a plan to slash demand for fossil fuels and drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2015. This includes such initiatives as projects to collect methane from livestock and other industry waste to power the Swedish transport fleet.
By expanding the renewable portion of national electricity generation by more than 1.5% per year, Germany is challenging the myth that renewable energy is not able to supply a country's total electricity needs. It is planned that all Germany's electricity will come from renewable sources by 2050.
Placing a climate change charge on carbon emissions will channel funding into renewable energy and energy saving technology and reduce emissions from transport, agriculture and industry.
In Australia, the first task is to put an end to the coal industry's excessive influence over policy responses to climate change. Research into the geosequestration of CO2 generated from coal may still form part of the mix of R&D into climate change abatement measures, but it should not continue to receive the lion's share of greenhouse research funding. As a matter of urgency, equal support must be given to R&D on renewable energy and energy efficiency or Australia will fall behind in the transition to the low-carbon world economy.
The assistance we have pledged under the Australian and US initiated ‘Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate' (AP6), to help countries such as China develop renewable technology, is insignificant compared to the work that China is already doing in this area. Though the dialogue involved in then AP6 is welcome, modelling by the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics (ABARE) shows that emissions will in fact rise 100% by 2050 under the plan. Without significant emissions cuts, the AP6 is nothing more than a public relations exercise directed at voters in Australia and the US.
Education & publicity campaigns.
Broad public access to unbiased education and advertising about climate change will reduce emissions as well as lead to demand for better mitigation policies from government.
At present, very high levels of advertising feeds growth in consumption of goods and services. Rapid annual growth in greenhouse gas emissions is the final result.
As an example, there has been a very high rate of purchase of imported large screen television sets by Australians over the last 5 years. The manufacture and importation of each of these sets creates huge amounts of greenhouse gases.
On the other hand sales of solar water heaters have remained virtually static. Solar water heaters are made in Australia and reduce annual household greenhouse gas emissions by about 1/3rd. The cost difference between them and a conventional hot water service is about the same as the cost of a medium priced large screen TV, yet only 4% of Australian households have a solar water heater.
If the public are well educated about climate change they will make purchasing decisions that reduce emissions. This then makes governments' job of achieving national emissions reductions targets easier.
Effective messages that promote community, social and environmental values above a pervading ‘riches are everything' message will also strengthen climate change prevention.
Systemic economic change for sustainability.
Careful step by step restructuring of economies will be a necessary part of fighting climate change.
The current world economic system favours large companies over stable local economies.
As an example, global agricultural corporations benefit from transport costs that do not take carbon emissions into account. The transfer of packaged, processed and fresh food over huge distances is therefore very cheap but damaging to the climate.
Many products are simply ‘swapped' between continents. One country may export citrus to a country on another continent while at the same time importing citrus from the same country. When climate change charges for carbon emissions are introduced this will become much less common and significant greenhouse gas savings will result.
Road-freight transport is predicted to double in Australia over the next 15 years. This will be very detrimental to emissions reduction efforts.
One of the easiest ways to reduce our personal ecological footprint is to eat foods that are produced locally. Diverse local economies will once again be competitive when the invisible subsidies promoting climate change are removed.
The power of public influence
The scientific evidence that human induced climate change is a reality is now overwhelming.
The failure of our government to join the co-ordinated international effort to avert impending disaster abandons current and future generations of Australian voters and the population of the world as a whole to an unpalatable future.
The Environment Minister's repeated assertion that ‘Australia is a global leader in tackling climate change' is, rightly, losing credibility.
It appears we are approaching the point where token gestures by government and industry lobbies will no longer silence an increasingly concerned public.
If we each develop a detailed understanding of the global and personal effort required to avert serious climate change, it will allow us to determine accurately where we can exert our influence to address the problem. Our ability to place pressure on governments and businesses puts them within our sphere of influence.
If public pressure mounts steadily and shows no sign of abating we will witness an end-of-slavery, end-of-apartheid, collapse-of-the—Berlin-Wall kind of watershed. The stakes are certainly as high or higher!