|Even climate change sceptics probably like biodiversity, which has |
already fallen by 30% in the last 40 years - a yellow dragonfly I snapped
in our back garden in Woolloomooloo, Sydney.
AUSTRALIA: In the last three years Australia has experienced an avalanche of extreme weather, including record heat and fires in Victoria with 374 fatalities, a record two years of rain, repeated “1-in-a-100-year” floods, record heat waves in Adelaide and Perth, and Cyclone Yasi, all following a devastating decade-long drought.
GLOBAL: It’s happening everywhere, with record global temperatures, more than 15,000 temperature records broken in the USA in March this year, devastating floods in Pakistan, fires in Russia, record heat and drought in Texas, and what the Europeans are calling “weather weirding”. Most of these changes and extreme events have a direct link to climate change.
NEW EXTREMES: Already our planet has warmed by almost 1 degree Celsius, mainly from humans burning fossils fuels such as coal and oil. Warmer air carries more water vapour, increasing the chance of very heavy rain; warmer seas can produce more intense cyclones, and both change the world’s wind and rainfall patterns. With our fossil fuel emissions still going up, the extreme weather we have experienced will become more and more frequent... until it becomes the norm. We are experiencing flashes of the future today.
DROUGHT: The proportion of Australia experiencing hot and wet extremes has increased in line with predictions of the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions. Australia will become a land of more droughts and more flooding rains, more heat, and higher food prices as crops fail. Global warming threatens our food and water security. “Drought is capable of crashing a civilization”, says meteorologist Jeff Masters.
FOUR DEGREES: Even taking into account the emissions reduction target in the new federal carbon package and other nations’ commitments, the world is on track for 4 degrees or more of warming this century. The world would then be warmer than during any part of the period in which modern humans evolved, and the rate of climate change would be faster than any previously experienced by humans. The world's sixth mass extinction would be in full swing. Ocean ecosystems and food chains would collapse as oceans became more acidic. Half of the world would be uninhabitable. Likely population capacity: under one billion people.
** ACIDIFICATION: Oceans are more acidic than they have been for at least 20 million years, and they are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred. It is predicted 10% of the Arctic Ocean will be corrosively acidic by 2018, and 50% by 2050. By 2030 tiny pteropods at the base of the food chain in the southern ocean are likely to have hit a tipping point where they can no longer maintain their shells, says Dr Donna Roberts of the University of Tasmania.
** FOOD CHAIN: In January 2010, the prestigious journal Nature reported that Scientists have found a 40% decline in phytoplankton since 1950 linked to the rise in ocean sea surface temperatures. Phytoplankton are the foundation of the marine food chain, suck up harmful carbon dioxide and produce half the world’s oxygen. This may be the most devastating impact yet documented of human-caused global warming.
BIODIVERSITY: The world’s biodiversity has dropped 30 per cent over the last 4 decades, a rate not seen in 60 million years. Extinctions worldwide are occurring at a pace that is 1000 times as great as the background rate. Eminent Naturalist E.O. Wilson predicts that our present course will lead to the extinction of half of all plant and animal species by the year 2100.
** SEA LEVEL RISES: US scientists are saying “For coastal management purposes, a [sea level] rise of 2 meters should be utilized for planning major infrastructure”, double the figure being used in Australia. Australia sea-level expert John Church says we need to think now about how to protect our coastal cities: “We can’t afford to protect everything. We will have to abandon some areas.”
LEARNING FROM THE PAST: The last time carbon dioxide levels were as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 3 to 6 degrees Celsius higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 25 to 40 metres higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland. We must act quickly to turn around the level of greenhouse gases before their full effect is felt.
TIPPING POINTS: New research says the disappearance of Arctic sea ice has crossed a "tipping point" that could soon make ice-free summers a regular feature across most of the Arctic Ocean. This will rapidly heat the Arctic, where researchers say the complete melt of the Greenland ice sheet could occur at lower global temperatures (with a best estimate of 1.6 °C) than previously thought,. And increasing methane releases from the Arctic are an ominous sign that larger-scale permafrost melt may be under way.
ACTION FOR A SAFE CLIMATE: 17 of the world’s leading scientists say if we are going to move from a future of extreme climate harm to a safe climate, the world can do so by cutting its greenhouse emissions by 6 per cent a year, each year, plus lots of reforestation to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. We have the technology: it is predicted within 2 or 3 years solar panel technology will be cost competitive with coal and gas electricity. And we have the financial resources and the capacity to halt all logging of native forests. If we can save the banks, we can save our planet and our future. The missing ingredient is political will and political leadership from State and Federal Governments.
Leading climate change economists, Nicholas Stern estimates the annual cost of action on climate change to be around 1-2% of GDP by 2050. This compares with inaction which is projected to cost 5-20% of GDP by 2050.
To bring this about requires a huge groundswell of activity from all of us, building public awareness and mobilising to seek the phasing out of old polluting industries and to build the new, clean economy.