Hope lies beyond latest climate shock therapy


News about climate change can be depressing. But it was downright shocking to learn that budget cuts to CSIRO have led to the decimation of the agency's climate science. This despite the fact that CEO Larry Marshall says climate change has been 'proven' and that now is the time for action.

Climate Emergency banner

Hardest hit will be modelling and monitoring of the oceans and atmosphere. Predictions will be compromised, as will observation and monitoring if our Paris targets and evidence based adaptation and mitigation.

The earth is very ill. The habitat of humans and earth's ecosystems and dependant species are in severe decline. Should our rising emissions continue, we will bequeath a ravaged planet to our descendants.

Pope Francis — the most compassionate hopeful and scientifically informed Pope of all time — is not holding out for a miracle. Speaking prior to COP21 in Paris, the Pope declared: 'We are at the limit of a suicide, to say a strong word.' Our world is on a suicidal course, unless we pay attention and pull out of this nosedive into the sixth great extinction.

Psychologically, we may defend, deny, delude, distract, rail against the truth and shoot the messanger; but that won't save the earth. We may sacrifice Africa, the Pacific Islands, Bangladesh and their people, to drought and inundation; but the rampaging of an anthropogenic changed climate will get us all in the end. That poor and less developed nations will suffer first and most is cold and immoral comfort.

We tell ourselves it won't happen to us. That is a psychological defence against an unbearable reality. It can be our fatal undoing, leading to a failure to heed warnings.

Professor Robert Manne asks in his Monthly essay 'Diabolical' why we have failed to address climate change despite knowing its human causes and dire consequences. Australia's emissions have risen to all time highs and will not peak before 2030.

I have been told — and research shows — that climate news is seen as boring and repetitive, and should not be doomsday-ish or frighten the readers, otherwise they will switch off. Terrorism, political intrigue, sport, jobs and the economy are the favoured news items.

Alan Rusbridge, as retiring editor of the Guardian, called climate the biggest story of our lives. He regretted not waking people up to this. 'It is such an enormous story that you would expect it to be on the front page every day — and it almost never is.'

The media has, ironically, reported on its own failure to report climate change. In Canada, the Toronto Star noted that while individual stories on climate change were being reported, 'The big picture is still missing, as are sustained, deeply informed efforts to push public policy in the right direction.'

US Newsweek reported on media distortion of, and failure to cover, climate science. In Australia a report by Professor Wendy Bacon concluded in 2013 that a third of Australian media distorted, and promoted doubt of, climate science.

Such doubts and distortions could prove to be lethal. 2015 is the hottest year ever recorded. It has produced droughts, floods, fires, tornados, increased vector born disease and mass animal deaths. All of this was predicted by Al Gore over ten years ago.

But the truth is still inconvenient. Vested interests have impeded action and the wheels of our killer fossil fuel system keep turning.

You get the government you deserve. Australian citizens have outsourced responsibility for refugees and climate protection. The ease of bipartisan agreement on such crucial dilemmas confirms the point. A dormant electorate creates a negligent, sleeping, self-satisfied and corrupt government.

Australia is one of the worst global emitters. The planet has warmed by one degree. We are half a degree from our COP21 agreed 'safe' limit. The warming rising ocean contains nearly 5.25 trillion tons of plastic. Over 72,000 hectares of Tasmania's ancient forests have burned over this extended fire season.

Is there hope?

Coal and gas are tanking, with major energy company AGL pulling out of CSG exploration in Queensland and NSW. Renewable energy is on the rise globally. The conversation has shifted from outright denial of climate change to ways of responding.

We are halfway through our climate denial therapy.

As media increasingly join the dots on climate change, we are facing the truth. It is the beginning of the end of the age of climate denial.

Humans ignore seemingly distant threats, but respond to the visible and palpably immediate. We can see and feel these threats right now.

It is in our hands. If we take active responsibility we have reason to hope.


Lyn Bender headshotLyn Bender is a Melbourne psychologist. Follow her on Twitter @Lynestel

Main image: Takver, Flickr CC

Topic tags: Lyn Bender, CSIRO, climate change



submit a comment

Existing comments

" A dormant electorate creates a negligent, sleeping, self-satisfied and corrupt government." - indeed we are in big trouble today in this country - and with all our human and other resources,we needn't have got to this point.Thank you Lyn, for saying the hard words.
cecile yazbek | 09 February 2016

Pollution is the word we should use. It will have a far bigger impact. Most people know that the Bureau of Meteorology has not used early records and has skewed the statistics which hardly engenders trust. Whereas pollution is everywhere and if we solve pollution then we go a long way to solving any climate change. That our oceans contain so much plastic is a disgrace, apart from killing marine life. Have you ever watched that little tractor towing all the supermarket trolleys, have you watched the smoke bellowing out of it’s exhaust pipe? Do you wheel your trolley back to the shop or are you too lazy and leave it on the street for someone else to take responsibity? One small step for humans, one giant leap for the environment. How can we go on polluting our own beautiful little planet and not take responsibility for our own actions, big or small?
Plain Jane | 09 February 2016

This is a classic greenie "shock and awe" piece of over-exaggeration about the current state of the world. In fact the CSIRO decision to move from "modelling" to finding restorative technical answers to our problems seems exactly the right way to go. This should be applauded. Perhaps Lyn is worried that if we sort these issues out, which we have the technical capacity to do through people like the CSIRO, then she will have nothing to beat Western civilisation over the head with. But, fear not Lyn, I'm sure you will find the next big drama to keep the green bandwagon of angst on its high-speed trajectory soon enough.
Eugenew | 09 February 2016

Thank you, Lyn, for drawing our attention to this sickness of our leaderless collective psyche.
Brian V. Cotter | 09 February 2016

Thank-you Lyn, for saying what we know is so devastatingly true but hardly dare to own as "suicidal", and for concluding on a word of hope that challenges us to keep acting responsibly and hopefully against all odds.
majella tracey | 09 February 2016

I prefer to take notice of Professors Sackett, Lane, Steffen, Sherwood, Walsh, Lowe, Hamilton and Drs Durack, Perkins-Kirkpaatrick than to "classic greenie shock-and-awe' Eugenew.
Gavan | 09 February 2016

Thank You Lyn for your contribution. Sadly Economic Rationalists and the Climate Change Skeptics (Turnbull's 'Brutus') still dominate the economic and political scene .They lurk in the background ready to pounce on Turnbull. 'Plain Jane' you are totally incorrect when you allege that BOM is somehow massaging the statistics. However you are quite correct about the pollution issue in what is now "the throw away society". Sadly Human Nature does not recognise a danger until it is almost too late (the frog in the beaker? ).'Eugenew' there is NO exaggeration in the data coming from the various Met. organizations. Believe me as a person involved in climate observation and research for thirty years, I can categorically state we have no conspiracy to take over the world . My worry , and it drives my research, is the future of my grandchildren. The decision by the boss of CSIRO, Dr. Marshall, is the most retrograde decision I have seen for decades .The CSIRO exists for research AND innovation but it is NOT founded for a commercial gain . Sadly economic rationalism rules!
Gavin | 09 February 2016

Thank you, Eugene, for having the courage to tell the truth. Ron Cini
Ron Cini | 09 February 2016

Many thanks Lyn. And we still have those who would turn away from it all and hope it all goes away. Well, it won't.
Tom K | 10 February 2016

Not sure what measures we're going to use to "sort these issues out" Eugene, or how we'll compare their effectiveness in any given region or situation, without the kinds of skills the CSIRO is well known for. An example would be the Cape Grim air monitoring station which is apparently under threat from the current "reorganisation". How will we know whether mitigation has been effective if CSIRO can't measure the result?
johnnie sazzler | 14 February 2016

Fear not Folks! Wec are not killing our planet. Read the sensible article on Climate (and meteorology) by Michael Asten in The Weekend Austrlalian, Inquirer P14, Friday 12 Feb 2016.. CSIRO are doing the right thing to realign research.
Gerard Tonks | 14 February 2016


Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up