Once upon a time it was only those pesky scientists telling us some home truths about climate change. We could brush them off with ease and get on with our lives without having to be bothered by facts and evidence. But now it’s not just the scientists telling us. It’s the planet we live on. Our landlord, no less.
And the planet is telling us that some parts of its surface are uninhabitable, or about to become so, owing to climate-induced factors such as inundation, drought, or bushfire. It is telling the people who live in these parts they should move on and find somewhere else to live. It is evicting these people, or about to.
What parts are these? Well, for the moment, some small island nations in the South Pacific, like Kiribati. Then parts of California, eastern Australia, and Chile. Then coastal areas of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Cities such as Jakarta, Bangkok, New Orleans, and Venice. Beaches such as Miami and the beautiful Stockton Beach in Australia. And unless we do something now, right now, the list will just keep getting longer and longer.
It is happening, just as the scientists said it would. They told us this twenty or thirty years ago, and they were ignored, scoffed at, laughed out of town. But, all along, they were right.
What have the scientists been telling all of us that are prepared to listen? At the risk of sounding like a cracked record, I shall summarize. If you think you have heard this story before, which you certainly should have, please skip the next paragraph.
When we extract, and then burn or otherwise process, fossil fuels – think coal oil and gas – we release greenhouse gases – think CO2 and methane – into our biosphere. These gases are responsible for the global heating we are seeing. Global heating dramatically increases the chance of all sorts of adverse weather events, like drought, fire, sea level rise, etc. It takes some time for the full-on effect to be realized but, boy, that time is up. We on the receiving end now.
Denialists are at large, and they always will be. There have been those who denied the earth was round, those who insisted the earth was the centre of the universe, and those who refused to countenance evolution by natural selection. There were people insisting that tobacco does not contribute to premature death, and that no man ever trod on the moon. There are people who reject vaccination because they think it causes autism, and people who don’t want to see fluoride added to our water supply.
And now there are people who insist there is no human-induced global heating. All of these people deny science and its evidence base. Recently, some of these denialists have even started to deny they are denialists. To me, that indicates even they know their position is on the nose. They want to have their cake and eat it too. How pathetic!
Let’s look at some of the tired refrains we are hearing from these incorrigible climate denialists:
(1) “Bushfires have always been with us.’ FACT CHECK: Monster bushfires like these ones definitely have not. They are a very recent phenomenon. Already, so early in the season, and unfortunately with still more of the season to come, their total extent almost equals that of the all-time record in terms of hectares burnt per annum. Stuff like rain forest that should never in a fit burn is burning. You can confirm the assertions I make here by consulting expert opinion, e.g. the Bureau of Meteorology, the Rural Fire Service, and (of course) Australia’s first people.
(2) “We should not indulge in knee-jerk reactions to events.’ FACT CHECK: For crying out loud, the scientists have been warning us for decades. This must surely be the longest knee-jerk in recorded history.
(3) ‘Scientists shouldn’t get into politics.’ FACT CHECK: They aren’t. For Pete’s sake, listen to them. The scientists are getting into science. It’s their accusers that are playing politics.
(4) ‘We’ll meet our Paris target in a gallop.’ FACT CHECK: Here in Oz, our target will only be met through a sleazy accounting trick, condemned outright by most of the signatories to the Paris accord. Bad form, Australia!
(5) ‘No worries, mate. The firefighters fight fires, because they like doing it.’ FACT CHECK: Sure. Just ask any firefighter.
(6) ‘God has decided to nail us because we voted for gay marriage.’ I won’t even dignify this one with a response.
(7) &etc, &etc, &etc.
So, with the denialists denying compulsively, and the planet serving eviction notices willy-nilly, what’s in store for us, the meat in the sandwich?
Over thousands of years, humankind has in fits and start managed to construct a civilization and culture based on evidence, logical thinking, and the ethics of equity. There have been setbacks, some major. Setbacks in the nature of military and colonial adventurism, untrammelled greed, slavery, racial violence, and the like. But generally the better angels of our nature have struggled and won through. Now, however, we face a struggle of a completely different stripe. A struggle to reverse our own adverse impact on the climate. There is no precedent in human history to go by. Are we up to it?
We must disown fossil fuels and embrace renewable sources of energy in their place. The quicker we do this the better. There will be no avoiding blood, sweat, and tears, but the quicker we act the less we will taste of this bitter pill. We owe it to the innocents now. These innocents are our children, our grandchildren, and the multitude of other species with which we share our troposphere. Surely we would wish there to be a place on our planet to take them in.
POSTSCRIPT, New Year’s Eve:
Re my point (1) above:
With fires of unprecedented intensity burning out of control in NSW and Victoria as I type these additional words, the all-time record for hectares burnt per annum must now (for calendar year 2019) have been exceeded. There is a good chance this record will be broken yet again in 2020. These are not statistics to be proud of.
Most people by now will know people, family members or friends, who are affected by the fires to the extent they fear for their homes or even their lives. For example, Janet, my partner, has a daughter in Moruya, NSW, who is cut off in every direction with no way of leaving town.
I am told these fires smell really bad. There is just one thing that has a worse stench, a stench that really gets up the nostrils. That thing is a denialist politician who has been bought. We are afflicted by quite a few of these at present. The powers that be please deliver us from them!