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Practical solutions to climate despair

  • 13 December 2012

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,