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Practical solutions to climate despair


UN Climate Conference in Doha, 2013

The Doha climate talks have come and gone, and it is all business as usual. 

Dr Pep Canadell of the the Global Carbon Project has crunched the numbers. 'Emissions are the highest in human history and 54 per cent higher than in 1990 (the Kyoto reference year).'

And yet it seems the outcome from Doha was full steam ahead, particularly with coal, despite dire warnings from the World Bank that if we don't turn down the heat we face clear threats to our great God the Economy. In fact the world as it now operates could just go bust, in a way that would make the GFC seem like a walk in the park.

Researcher Ann Scorbet has some startling figures for Australia alone. She states that delays in acting on climate change will cost Australians $5 million per week by 2020 as we struggle to catch up. The Stern Review in 2006 warned that unchecked climate change could cost the world $3.68 trillion. We could either deal with it now or face a cost at least 20 times greater

Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe has warned that Australia should cease exporting coal. Gasps of disbelief and cynical laughter may greet this pronouncement. But failure to do so is tantamount to continuing to sell asbestos, despite knowledge of its lethal nature. There may be immediate financial gains, but immeasurable costs in health, lives and sustaining our environment and the world, long-term economic implications of inaction aside.

Paul Gilding, former CEO of Greenpeace sees adaptation to a sustainable energy as the disruption we have to have. Somewhat more optimistically in his book The Great Disruption, he proposes that the climate crisis will transform the world's economy. Despite the fact that it looks increasingly like we will never reach a global agreement, Gilding says that business and the world will shift to renewables at the 11th hour.

This may be wishful thinking. The scientific consensus is that we are heading, not for the almost manageable 2 degrees, but to 5 to 7 degrees of warming unless we completely disengage from polluting energy within two decades. Yet world governments are dithering with inadequate or counterproductive responses, and vested interests are fighting like hell to keep mining and selling coal and fossil fuels. 

And although it is the youth of today who will suffer the consequences, a recent survey by Mission Australia says concern for the environment has dropped, trumped by concern for the economy. 

On the other hand, awareness is growing, and sceptics are looking out of tune with reality. Infamous denialist Lord Monkton, who has been sponsored by Gina Rinehart to give talks in Australia, was ejected from the Doha talks for impersonating a delegate while disputing the science, claiming there has been no global warming for 16 years.

Psychologically, humans use avoidance and denial when confronted with undesirable or untenable realities. Like the myth of the ostrich with its head in the sand, this creates an illusion that all is fine but leaves us vulnerable and exposed. We are merely shutting our eyes.

Despair is another option that can seem to make things easier: nothing can be done, my effort doesn't count, others aren't doing enough, so might as well just party like hell, drink, make as much money as possible or give up and fall into a numbing depression.

There are healthier, more helpful ways to respond. In taking some deliberate action we reduce the sense of powerlessness and the crippling state of depression. 

This action can take many forms. We can reduce our personal emissions (consumption of electricity in Australia has actually declined in the past year). We can become informed, inform others, and reduce wastage. We can withdraw investments from coal and polluting industries and invest in green industry. We can pressure politicians and the electorate to act.

Former PM Kevin Rudd asserted that climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our times. It is also our greatest moral responsibility. We are on the threshold of an enormous catastrophe. We can choose denial or despair, or take moral responsibility for all our actions to reduce emissions and losses. We owe this to the future.


Lyn Bender headshotLyn Bender is a Melbourne psychologist. Her Twitter handle is @Lynestel

Topic tags: Lyn Bender, climate change, Doha, global warming



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Existing comments

The issue of our racing to sell our coal is the third of the most shameful policies our government currently embraces. The first is its policy on asylum seekers. Howard's cruelties to these people made one feel ashamed to be Australian. The Gillard government's continuation of his policies, caving in to Tony Abbot and Scott Morrison and virtually allowing their ignorance and fear mongering to dictate Labor policy, entrenches that shame. The Global Mail, www.theglobalmail.org today exposes the horrors to which our campaign against people smugglers in Pakistan exposes the Hazara minority there. But while Labor can be made to feel electorally threatened by asylum seekers we can expect no genuine attempt to learn about situations like those The Global Mail reports. Labor does not want to know the truth because it cannot envisage any way of educating and leading the Australian people to a more humane stance. The second shameful Government policy, its continuation of Howard's Northern Territory Intervention through the Stronger Futures legislation, earned from Ron Merkel QC this week in his address to the Australian Human Rights Commission in Victoria, the judgement that "it is a history of unutterable shame." Jenny Macklin’s office continues to spin, but the ‘consultations’ which she was supposed to have had with NT Aboriginal people before introducing Stronger Futures and which differentiate the second Intervention from the first, have been widely shown to have been a fraud. Lyn Bender’s splendid piece today argues the ultimate shame of our policy to sell as much coal and gas as we can while refusing to consider the long term effects of that sale.

Joe Castley | 13 December 2012  

The earth's climate has cooled in the past 16 years. Professor Bob Carter suggests we should be more concerned about a looming global cooling. The global warming furore is just an excuse for a money grab. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeC_J6Pk_1w and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpfMM3bVbhQ

Skye | 13 December 2012  

Climate change isn't a great moral issue, or a 'moral' issue os any sort. It is a very simple issue of prudent management - we either totally cease using fossil fuel in the next couple of decades, or we abandon all prospect of having a climate anything like the 20th century for at least the next millenium. You don't need morals to figure this: just a long-enough attention span to learn and think the issues through.

David Arthur | 13 December 2012  

Thank you Lyn. I hope we can campaign loudly so the next election will be refocused on green energy and employment creation in innovative technologies and specialised long term new industries. Money will speak loudest, of course. The european and americans know how disastrous it is to shut their eyes, and it is something we could have developed many decades ago.We could be a great food bowl for Asia if we invest in solar and water management,especially in the north, Some indigenous communities in the Kimberly have agricultural enterprises on their lands, and need support to empower themselves at last. Coal and gas production are so damaging compared to solar, water and wind. We take so long to embrace natural goodness in this commercial fast lane and our waste is another energy producer to investigate. We are not using our intelligence.Its time for Gina and the bankers to invest heavily in R&D..minerals and finance are more volatile than solar energies..the sun will always be there,but our climate is being disturbed by pollution. We will pay for our worship of profit over nature. As a predominately christian country we have failed to respect and nurture creation. There is a lot more we can do, and tokenism is no longer excusable.

Catherine | 13 December 2012  

Bob Carter? A solitary voice, oh, almost, also there with Tony Abbott, Greg Hunt, Joe Hockey and the rest of the Ideas Team, coached by Lord Monkton. Do spare us Skye, please. That said, there are no politicians really interested in this issue, given they are all parrotting the 'more growth' mantra as the solution to every ill they have wilfully designed into our global economic system. Just look at people like Craig Emmerson, actually better suited to a member of the Turnbull led LNP, although few in the ALP seem to differ too much from Emmerson or Turnbull either. Meanwhile, as Joe points out, Gillard is a policy free zone, unless she can pinch LNP policies when it looks as if the Alan Jones directed punters might follow her somewhere, anywhere. I've just been reading about compressed air vehicles, French designed, made by TATA in India, range of 200 kms, top speed 110 kph for a flash one, and what did Gillard invest in? Hundreds of millions of tax dollars in the Toyota Camry hybrid! What a deadend investment that is, but typical of the closed minds our politicians have.

janice wallace | 13 December 2012  

Joe thank you, I am so angry with Labor's (and the Catholic church) token support for indigenous communities. We could have learnt and made real change, social and constitutional equality many decades ago. We don't want to listen to indigenous wisdom.True respect for these natural custodians would have seen different approaches to not only local agricultural practices in this unique Australian environment but also in social welfare. As community orientated people our indigenous cultures have not lost the importance of living as one body, a shared economy and in harmony with the land. Not dominating, defeating and pillaging nature. Labor knows Capitalism depletes social harmony when there is excessive wealth and poverty; individual competition and wealth is measured in personal gains only. .. Labor is no better than Liberal.. and still we want it all.. First Australians know nature is vital to the spiritual welfare of all of us. We have to open our eyes and also listen. Nature teaches Humility.

Catherine | 13 December 2012  

Skye, the world's experts are lined up against him but Professor Bob Carter prefers to ignore them. And David Arthur, of course it's a moral issue. Continue with fossil fuels and we do harm to everyone alive after us. Pursue other other ways of providing energy - nuclear fusion would be the ideal source - and we leave a legacy of good to everyone who comes after us. Is this not a moral issue?

Joe Castley | 13 December 2012  

Refugees are not problematic, rather people with needed talents and knowledge. Surely we can create necessary infrastructure with their help.We miss our opportunities again by rejecting them. Australia could then become wealthy in human resources. Northern Australia has the potential for leading the way - in innovation and then sustainable growth.We need to invite them to help us.

Catherine | 13 December 2012  

Global warming & climate change over time are natural phenominae may be adding to the process but how much compared to nature? The scientists cannot say with certainty so many of them guess. Realists like Bob Carter, Ian Plimer and Christopher Monckton point this out and shouted down by a 'consensus'of phoney 'scientists' and green politicians. Yes, adapt to climate change but do not arrogantly believe that we can change climate!

Gerard Tonks | 13 December 2012  

Joe Castley, it is the Sunni majority in Pakistan who are responsible for the persecution of the Shia Hazaras. They regard them as 'kafirs' infidels, and therefore able to be killed with impunity. You may well argue that we can treat asylum seekers better. However, we are not the ones shooting the Hazaras down in cold blood. Yet your post makes it seem that we are the primary villains.

MJ | 13 December 2012  

The arguments have been debunked repeatedly by real science, but it doesn't stop the deniers. We must challenge them. Here are some links for this purpose: http://skeptoid.com/blog/2011/06/15/i-global-warming-skeptic/ - a denier who has come around and worked out the truth http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php - debunks pretty much all the denier arguments in a clear way - an excellent resource. Direct debunking of Leon Ashby (climate sceptics party) http://sites.google.com/site/sutherlandcan/sceptics/ashby-response http://www.coolmax.com.au/ht/debunking-a-climate-sceptic.php My fear is that because of the enormous inertia of growing economies like China and the established ones like the USA, by the time the world recognises that something must be done urgently, the needed change will not come in time and we will be left with an uninhabitable planet. It should also be pointed out to sceptics that we need to consider the relative risks. It is prudent to take action, assuming that climate change scientists are correct. At worst, the environment will be better for it and we will have a new sustainable energy industry replacing the existing industry that has been using non-renewable resources; the economy will not be destroyed. Assuming that the scientists are incorrect, but they are later proven to be correct, the planet will fry and we will have no economy.

Frank S | 13 December 2012  

Lyn Bender December 12,2012 "Psychologically, humans use avoidance and denial when confronted with undesirable or untenable realities. ******************* There are wider applications to this. We say to Muslim immigrants, "We were here before you, so you must conform to OUR ways". We don't allow the aboriginals to say this.*** It is becoming increasingly clear that the Gospels on which we base OUR Traditions were written by Greek-speaking Gentiles, who inserted into the original stories many of their own pagan stories to make the message more in tune with THEIR traditions. WE want to ignore, avoid, or deny this because we have bonded to OUR Tradition, and our bonding has become bondage. We can't, or don't want to think outside our comfort zone, even though it is divisive, and an obstacle to Truth and Reconciliation.

Robert Liddy | 14 December 2012  

Catherine, not sure the NT can lead the way in much more than its current groundbreaking progress in redneckery, racism, anti-intellectualism, bigotry and boozing. It far exceeds even Qld, Tasmania and WA for those great worldclass qualities it has on open display. AS for becoming wealthy in human resources, if that is code for a giant population, do explain where the water is to come from please. It's all very well to lambast the deniers like Dr. Carter, but I think we need to be just a little sceptical about constant population growth being a 'good thing' too.

janice wallace | 14 December 2012  

@Joe Castey, who takes exception to my rejection of climate change as a moral issue. Joe, I repeat: it's an issue of plain common sense, of prudent management. Your continued insistence that it is a moral issue is illuminating: how do you think "morality" first evolved?

David Arthur | 14 December 2012  

Joe Castely and Janice - Science was never determined by 'consensus' or scientists lining up against others. It was always determined by the facts. A consensus of scientists once supported a flat earth but they were wrong. It is often the minority who are right. Professor Bob, Carter, Professor Ian Plimer and many others present facts - why not look at the facts and discuss them?

Skye | 14 December 2012  

Surely if people are afraid of climate change then why not use the safer fuel source i.e. no CO2 production and much less dangerous waste products i.e. USE URANIUM.

Peter S | 14 December 2012  

OK, so Kiribati is drowning and needs other countries to take its people, or it's over-populated and needs other countries to take some of its people. Either way, Australia can help and should, now.

Gavan Breen | 14 December 2012  

@Skye, who points out that science is determined by the facts.

Observation 1. Sun irradiates earth with short-wave energy.

Observation 2. Earth re-radiates long-wave energy.

Observation 3. Greenhouse gases retard transmission of long-wave energy, not short-wave energy.

Observation 4. Satellite observations show decreasing emission to space of this long-wave energy, at EXACTLY THE SAME WAVELENGTHS as CO2 absorbs long-wave energy.

Observation 5. Arctic sea ice is melting, so that summertime sunlight is being absorped in exposed ocean rather than reflected off ice.

Observation 6. Greenland and Antarctic ice is melting, increasing the rate of sea level rise. The rate of ice melt is accelerating as atmospheric greenhouse gases increase.

Observation 7. In the Arctic, tipping points have been crossed. Permafrost is thawing, releasing stored methane and carbon dioxide, and warming Siberian continental shelf is causing release of methane from submarine methane clathrates.

Inference 1, drawn from observations 1, 2 and 3. Greenhouse gases thus regulate earth's temperature. Altering atmospheric greenhouse gas content therefore alters earth's temperature.

Inference 2, (from inference 1 and observations 4, 5 and 6). Ocean is thermally coupled with atmosphere, and transfers a lot of heat to both Arctic and Antarctic.

Evidence already refutes Carter, Plimer.

David Arthur | 14 December 2012  

Janice, I may not have enough information, and I do agree with you...most of Australia outside Melbourne,Sydney,Brisbane
perhaps is still a sparse population, is still leaning more towards xenophobic and racist attitudes..not having the multicultural perspectives, colours and flavours in metro /suburban southern cities.. But I've visited and read that Darwin is very now multicultural and fastest growing city.Instead of 'tycoon grabs land' development I think there is room for sustainable growth this would be a good thing.Darwin will grow so we need to be very wise.The world is very over populated ,yes, but we have a tiny population, and an extremely high standard of living compared to our neighbours.We are wasting land when others are so over crowded. With planning, we could use huge rainfall northern Austalia in the wet seasons, only with consultation with indigenous elders (experts).. land could be used for solar /water energy capture maybe certain crops..I have been on a womens' bush tour where there are seven and nine seasons ...so it would be unique agriculture, and with innovation we could ease some of the world's poverty and disadvantage.I don't want ever bigger cities and consumer driven economies but I do feel we can afford to have an increase in the north .If we keep ignoring our share of responsibility in the world, on issues of climate, environment and over population, we pay a terrible price.

Catherine | 14 December 2012  

janice wallace14 Dec 2012
"do explain where the water is to come from please". *******************
Actually Janice, Joe has already explained the ideal source of energy. "nuclear fusion would be the ideal source" As soon as science finds a way to achieve nuclear fusion, which is what powers the sun, most of our problems would be over. Desalinated water could be pumped to make the desert bloom, and water shortage would go the way of the doom Malthus predicted.

Robert Liddy | 14 December 2012  

Thanks Lyn! I ask readers to go online and view a very informative video 'Climate Change. Taking Australia's Temperature. Catalyst.' This video is about a female reporter interviewing a Bureau of Meteorology Professor about climate change in Australia in the last 100 years, according to the records BOM have kept for that time. If people could view this video, we wouldn't get inacurate comments like the one claiming that the earth's climate has cooled in the last 16 years. BOM records show, for example, that Australia has had 330 months in a row of above average temperatures since February 1985. There is some alarming BOM input on floods, which many people need to hear. For every 10cm rise in ocean levels, the frequency of flood events increases 3 times, for another 10cm rise in ocean levels, the frequency of flood events increases 9 times. The mathematicians among you might like to work out the frequency of flood events with an ocean level rise of 1m, which may happen by 2100. Many home-owners would be wise to also download Google Flood Maps for their area. It was unprecedented, frequent flooding of her cottage that led the reporter to produce this video.

George Allen | 19 December 2012  

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Kiribati, situated in the central Pacific Ocean and home to 101,998 people — more than half of them Catholic — will be the first country to be drowned by global warming. While we wring our hands and climate sceptics pretend there is no problem, on Kiribati people are already in the midst of a climate change disaster.