Muddy ovals under threat from climate change

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Muddy ovals under threat from climate changeI was at my local football club recently, watching my son’s under-13 side play. It was a warm Sunday afternoon, almost too warm for footy. I stood with a couple of other parents and at half time our chat turned inevitably to the weather.

All long-term football followers, and especially those of us who played school or local footy in our youth, remember bitterly cold days, ankle-deep mud and finding it difficult to tell team mates from opposition through the layers of mud caked on jumpers. My twelve-year-old has already played for more than five years but has not experienced one of those afternoons.

Our discussion turned from the weather, as it inevitably does these days, to the climate, and from there to how we can contribute to the effort to save water and reduce our environmental impact. We talked about water tanks and solar power systems.

Can anyone imagine, even two or three years ago, the discussion between three dads at a suburban football game turning to the sorts of issues once thought only the preserve of 'loony greenies'? Could anyone have predicted that John Howard himself would acknowledge, however grudgingly and superficially, the reality of climate change?

As a reasonably long-standing 'loony greenie', I find this new environmental awareness very pleasing. The fact that the awareness of the issues among the general population is outrunning the policy responses of the major parties doesn’t surprise me. So thorough is the conservatism now built in to our political system, and so profoundly corrosive of the formal political process has been the influence of corporations and neo-liberalism, that it is looking increasingly likely that only a crisis of epic proportions is likely to elicit an appropriate response to the problems that we face. Either that, or people will simply have to demand that governments act in a serious and determined way to deal with climate change.

Let us not, however, exaggerate the level of environmental awareness among the general population either. The understanding of the problems that face the nation and the world remains superficial. John Howard maintains that he will defend jobs and economic prosperity before the environment because he knows a substantial proportion of the population also think that way.

Local football and climate changeThe argument, of course, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Defending jobs in the Australian coal industry is a bit like defending the jobs of night soil collectors when the Board of Works was building sewers. The problem is a lack of vision. Australia’s major party politicians cannot envisage a different world to the one we inhabit. They cannot conceive that tackling the environmental crisis by fundamentally changing the way our society currently functions might actually improve our quality of life.

What is truly remarkable about the present discourse on climate change is the almost universal acceptance of the idea that continued economic growth is not only possible but necessary. Even the Stern Review claimed that dealing with climate change would not prevent healthy rates of economic growth. Stern may, of course, just be playing good politics, with an awareness that economic growth has reached the status of religious belief in contemporary capitalist societies, and that for his environmental message to get through he couldn’t call religio-economic belief into question.

If that is what Stern is up to, it’s not actually doing anyone a favour. Never-ending, exponential growth in a closed system such as the earth is just not possible. We should already know this from recent history. Despite very real improvements to energy efficiency in recent decades, the world’s greenhouse emissions have continued to rise. This is because of an increase in economic activity. Does anyone (other than Australian coal exporters and John Howard) seriously think that China’s economy can continue to grow at 8-10 percent a year without destroying China’s own environment and the global atmospheric system?

Imagine if the world were able to reduce its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 70 percent tomorrow, so that we only emitted 30per cent of the CO2 that we currently do to get the same GDP output. If the global economy continued to grow at three percent per annum, it would take roughly 42 years to get us back to producing the same amount of CO2 as we did before the cuts. In other words, emphasing continued economic growth — unless it can be completely decoupled from carbon emissions, which is unlikely — will make it impossible to prevent catastrophic climate change.

In the struggle to prevent destructive climate change, one of the most important tasks is to shatter the myth of never-ending economic growth. What is needed is a real discussion about different futures and different forms of economic organisation. Assuming that the current system is the best that we can get betrays a lack of vision that will ultimately be terminal. It also means that my son will never have the chance to get his football jumper muddy.



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My point in all of this is that CO2 does NOT cause climate change; I am not arguing that a change in the climate might be occurring. The climate on earth changes all the time and that global change is caused by the Sun (a new NASA finding). All life on the planet is carbon based, CO2 is part of our food chain, and it is not a pollutant. The biggest "green house gas" is water vapor. If climate change is caused by human activity then we would need to start eliminating life on the planet, yes this is absurd, so is the assertion that humans are causing climate change. It just is NOT the truth.

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Dr Coles | 14 June 2007  

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