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Be selfish, save the planet


Earth Hour artwork featuring half-lit planet earthOn Saturday night the annual international observance of Earth Hour asked us to give our attention to the planet. Just a few days later, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its latest report. It emphasises the likelihood of an increase in extreme and irreversible damage.

In many ways it is an indictment on humanity that we need to be reminded yearly to consider the health of our planet, as if it were some fringe topic. Other creatures that possess the will to live pay close attention to their surrounds, to the environment that sustains them. Apparently, we humans are different. Or the majority of us, anyway. Some of us sideline all that 'greenie stuff'. Some of us have simply become nihilistic, and despair at hearing about climate change without feeling we can effect change.

In light of the IPCC's worrying report — the second part of the panel's fifth climate change assessment and the result of years of work involving 309 leading researchers — consider the fact that modern civilisation has even deemed Earth Hour necessary. It's a bit like having to prompt a dog to notice its kennel is on fire — it wouldn't happen. Unless the dog is in very bad health, it will do what it needs to in order to save itself.

The report outlines numerous risks (identified as 'high confidence' risks) due to climate change. These include higher mortality rates caused by extreme heat; risk of death, injury, ill-health or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states due to storm surges, coastal flooding and sea-level rise; ill-health and disrupted livelihoods related to inland flooding; increased global food insecurity with crops affected by increased drought and flooding; significant loss of species; breakdown of infrastructure affecting electricity, water supply, emergency and health services; loss of income and livelihoods for farmers and pastoralists in semi-arid regions; loss of marine and coastal ecosystems and fishing industries in affected areas.

The report highlighted, 'Many key risks constitute particular challenges for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities, given their limited ability to cope.' If you didn't think of climate change as a social justice issue, think again.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists claim climate change is due to human impact makes humans sound as though we don't give a damn about our planet. Indigenous Australians before British invasion respected the environment and lived in balance with the land. Us? We rip masses of stuff out of the ground, tear down forests by the football field, dump tonnes of non-biodegradable plastic and trash into the sea, pollute our finite sources of water, and fill our atmosphere with smoke and chemicals.

Yet I'm pretty sure most of us appreciate being able to live here. Whatever your political leanings, you probably enjoy the sights of forests, mountain ranges and other natural beauties. Whatever you believe about the likelihood of climate catastrophe, wouldn't you prefer to thrive rather than survive? Would you really object to having cleaner air and water, higher-quality food grown in better soil, and rubbish-free oceans? If I ever have children, I want as clean and healthy an environment as possible for them — not a polluted, used-up planet.

You don't need to be a greenie or a scientist. Go for a walk along a river in a city and survey the rubbish washed up on the shores. See for yourself the difference between a metropolitan city night sky and one in the middle of nowhere. Or taste the difference between organic in-season produce compared with the all-year-round lacklustre offerings in most supermarkets. Like the human blobs of the future in the film Wall-E, will we snap out of our touchscreen trances and remember where our real 'home' is?

Saying 'no thanks' to more affordable sources of energy than petrol, to more beautiful places to see, more pristine oceans to enjoy, and more human-friendly weather is one thing. But if to do so also places future generations at risk of suffering or possible extinction, that's harder still to justify.

Respecting our ecosystems won't hurt that badly. Switching to renewable energy or biodegradable materials won't kill us. Even if we're not fully convinced, we may do well to heed the IPCC report. If we don't owe it to future generations, other creatures who have no say in our destructive ways, or — for the faithful — God, at the very least we owe it to ourselves to act wisely. Climate change is already here.

Megan Graham headshotMegan Graham is a Melbourne based writer, journalist and occasional blogger. She won the 2013 Margaret Dooley Award.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, climate change



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Existing comments

" Unless the dog is in very bad health, it will do what it needs to in order to save itself."....... Megan, your article says it all. Unfortunately it highlights just how sick our society is, blinded by worshipping 'Mammon" above all, and seeking to concentrate as much as possible of the Wealth of Nations into the hands of the 'favoured few', at the expense of 'those others'. We can only hope that the necessary change of heart does not come too late.

Robert Liddy | 02 April 2014  

We are asked to treat all of creation responsibly and with respect. It has to start with us, even when we think we can do nothing, and we get no leadership from those put in charge. It was remarkable to read the UN IPCC report on April Fool’s Day, knowing we live in a country where the Prime Minister says climate change is crap.

APRIL FOOL | 02 April 2014  

Dear Megan and Respondents Tony Abbott actually said that global warming supposedly mostly caused by human CO2 emissions is unproven ('crap') and a large proportion of scientists, including all geologists and Denis Jensen MHR for Tangney say the same. Global warming, which is increasing mildly, is largley caused by natural factors of sun, sea and earth. Thanks goodness it it is not another Ice Age coming soon! Gerard Tonks

Gerard Tonks | 02 April 2014