A lamb stands next to its dead mother at a farm near Braidwood, NSW, as a result of the drought that’s gripping the nation — while the Government argues over climate change. Picture: Lukas Coch
A lamb stands next to its dead mother at a farm near Braidwood, NSW, as a result of the drought that’s gripping the nation — while the Government argues over climate change. Picture: Lukas Coch

Huge threat Australia is ignoring

AUSTRALIA, you're being "irresponsible to the extreme".

That's the harsh message from leading scientists across the country, not just for our "confused, divided and backwards" government but for the everyday Aussies who believe climate change scepticism and refuse to acknowledge the state of "emergency" we face.

Climate policy was one of the catalysts for the Liberal Party rolling Malcolm Turnbull last month. In his final speech as prime minister, Mr Turnbull acknowledged the Coalition found it "very hard" to take action on climate change.

"The emissions issue and climate policy issues have the same problem within the Coalition of … bitterly entrenched views that are actually sort of more ideological views than views based, as I say, in engineering and economics," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison's new energy minister, Angus Taylor, has made it clear that he is focused on lower power prices and electricity reliability ahead of climate action.

"I am and have been for many years deeply sceptical of the economics of so many of the emissions reduction programs dreamed up by politicians, vested interests and technocrats around the world," Mr Taylor said last week.

All of this leaves Australia, once again, without a meaningful plan on how to cut Australia's carbon emissions.

As policy continues to stagnate, news.com.au contacted nearly 30 scientists across the country to get their views on the contentious issue.

Overwhelmingly they agreed Australia wasn't doing enough about our "existential threat to civilisation".

It sounds extreme and exaggerated, but it isn't. The facts are all there and have been for years.

That threat lies in more extreme weather events - severe bushfires, droughts and heatwaves - and greater sea level rise, leading to the displacement of millions of people.

Yet Australia's politicians have failed to develop a longstanding policy on what Kevin Rudd famously described in 2007 as "the great moral challenge of our generation".

Instead, the policy has been used as a political tool to oust at least three prime ministers.

Last month Mr Turnbull was brought down for the second time over energy/climate change policy. The first time he was rolled by Tony Abbott as opposition leader. This time it cost him his job as prime minister.

Scientists have slammed the federal government for its "deliberate negligent failure" to take action to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions over the last few years.

Climate and Health Alliance president Peter Sainsbury said the Australian Government was, remarkably, still projecting an increase in carbon emissions to 2030.

"Australia is being held back by the self-interest of a few right-wing politicians and a network of highly influential companies, particularly in the fossil fuel industry, who are prepared to sacrifice other people's health and wellbeing for their own short-term economic gain," he said.

"Every delay, however, means that the consequences over the next 10 to 100 years will be more severe, with increased global warming, more severe and more frequent extreme weather events, more land and marine environmental destruction and more human injuries, ill-health and premature death."

But Professor Greg Skilbeck's words were even more sharp.

 

Temperature change in Australia according to a CSIRO report. Picture: CSIRO
Temperature change in Australia according to a CSIRO report. Picture: CSIRO

 

 

A lamb stands next to its dead mother at a farm near Braidwood, NSW, as a result of the drought that’s gripping the nation — while the Government argues over climate change. Picture: Lukas Coch
A lamb stands next to its dead mother at a farm near Braidwood, NSW, as a result of the drought that’s gripping the nation — while the Government argues over climate change. Picture: Lukas Coch

The academic from the University of Technology, Sydney, said if we believed in science as part of the function of our everyday lives, we should believe in climate change.

"You cannot pick and choose - if you don't accept climate change, you should not be given penicillin or painkillers or even visit a doctor," he said.

"You should not be allowed to fly or drive a car either. But I guess that as most climate deniers also pick and choose the bits of the Bible they subscribe to as well, I should not be surprised."

News.com.au isn't the only media organisation to survey scientists.

The Australian Science Media Centre worked with the Australian National University to survey all scientists on the centre's database, with more than 300 responding from all fields - not just climate scientists but also those in physics and medicine.

They found 94 per cent agreed there was solid evidence the Earth's average temperature had been rising over the past few decades.

Not one scientist said it had not. Of the remaining scientists, 5 per cent said there was some evidence either way and under 1 per cent said they did not know.

In June, the Lowy Institute's survey of 1200 adults found 59 per cent of Australians thought "global warming is a serious and pressing problem" about which "we should begin taking steps now even if this involves significant costs".

 

Scientists say we should move away from coal, shifting to renewable energy. Picture: David Ake
Scientists say we should move away from coal, shifting to renewable energy. Picture: David Ake

Almost 84 per cent supported renewables even if this meant the government investing more in infrastructure to make the system more reliable. Only 14 per cent thought the government should focus on traditional energy sources like coal and gas.

Dr Paul Read of Monash University said a "government divided is a government extremely confused".

"If it cannot muster enough resources to get a straight answer on climate change, it has little business meddling in ultimately moot issues - economic growth, pensions, education, health, defence, technology, gender politics, gay marriage and so on - should climate change eventuate as predicted by our current world trajectories," he said.

"The immediate impacts of a government divided on climate change means they can't agree on what is and isn't a priority - one big example will be lack of preparedness for the global heatwave predicted to 2022 and that trickles down to everything from pubic health and farming to massive bushfires.

"We will lose our food security for one. If they can't agree on science, they can't prepare for reality. They will leave us in the headlights of a semi-trailer getting faster and more unpredictable."

 

 

WHAT SCIENTISTS TOLD US

John Quiggin, University of Queensland: The toxicity of the issue is not due, primarily, to conflicts of interest, which could be resolved through ordinary political processes. Rather the problem is that the issue has become bound up in right-wing culture wars.

Peter Sainsbury, Climate and Health Alliance: Climate change is occurring at a rate that is far faster than anything seen in Earth's recent history, and that it is principally due to human activity. If co-ordinated global action is not taken in the next few years to rapidly slow the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and reach zero net carbon emissions by 2050, there will be catastrophic consequences.

Liz Hanna, Australian National University: The evidence supporting climate change exists in all areas of science, and it comes from all countries, and from all meteorological organisations. Collectively, humanity is causing the warming, so all of humanity has a responsibility to stop it, and stop it as fast as we can.

Greg Skilbeck, University of Technology, Sydney: Scaremongering on energy prices and anything that will affect these, is seen as a very effective (political) campaigning tool, even though it has been consistently shown that rising energy prices are only about the greed of the energy companies and poor management of the infrastructure, and really nothing else.

Chris Brown, Griffith University: Time spent debating the science on climate change delays decisions on acting to address climate change and its impacts. It is time wasted that our natural ecosystems and our economy cannot afford.

 

A dry cornfield in Ahlen, Germany. The German Government last month compensated thousands of farmers whose harvests had suffered as a result of this year’s extreme drought, which experts have linked to climate change. Picture: Martin Meissner
A dry cornfield in Ahlen, Germany. The German Government last month compensated thousands of farmers whose harvests had suffered as a result of this year’s extreme drought, which experts have linked to climate change. Picture: Martin Meissner

Haydn Washington, UNSW Australia: They (the government) are betraying the future of future Australians and risking large parts of Australia becoming uninhabitable. This is irresponsible in the extreme.

Dietmar Dommenget, Monash University: For the rest of the world, Australia used to be an environmental friendly place with no nuclear energy and an environment that is still beautiful and natural. But a country that is destroying its own natural wonder and does next to nothing to prevent global warming will not be popular for much longer.

Olaf Meynecke, Griffith University: We are no longer in the position to wait or hope that the problem will solve itself. We are faced with mass extinctions, severe weather and the long-term loss of stability of our economy if climate action is delayed.

Tom Worthington, Australian National University: There is plenty of hard science to say climate change is real. What we have to do now is help the community with what to do about it. We need to be putting in place actions now, such as investing in renewable energy, to save high costs to the community and the economy later.

Linda Selvey, University of Queensland: This is an emergency. That is not an exaggeration, but an assertion that is backed by scientific evidence. We need to take more action than less and a divided government means that we do very little.

Ian Lowe, Griffith University: The immediate impact of the current government policy paralysis (and mindless encouragement of new fossil fuel projects) is to accelerate the changes we are seeing - altered rainfall patterns, more extreme events, worse bushfires - as well as risking international sanctions for failing to meet our treaty obligations.

 

NSW farmer Ian Cargill inspects a dried out dam on Billaglen farm near Braidwood, NSW. Picture: Lukas Coch
NSW farmer Ian Cargill inspects a dried out dam on Billaglen farm near Braidwood, NSW. Picture: Lukas Coch

Stephen Williams, James Cook University: Stop pretending there is any serious debate and start getting on with doing something rather than political grandstanding and using climate change as a scary topic to play political games. Climate change is the most serious challenge facing the world.

Peter Rayner, University of Melbourne: It's much better to squeeze the brakes gently than jam them on at the last minute, especially when we can see the brick wall a mile off.

Bill Laurance, James Cook University: Australia's political conservatives have shifted so far to the right that they've fallen off a cliff - and they're dragging the rest of the country with them, consequences be damned.

John Church, UNSW: Saying we do not want to discuss climate change and the drought is like arguing we do not care how much more Australian farmers and regional areas suffer in the future.

Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University: As the Earth gets hotter, governments will increasingly confront tragic choices. Global climate change will cause severe food and water scarcity, resource conflict and a sea-level rise that will threaten major cities. Warming at the higher levels (5-6C) will be civilisation-altering.

Andrew Blakers, Australian National University: Climate change is likely to become an ever more prominent political, engineering, environmental and business issue. The fact that solar and wind are both cheaper and have zero emissions virtually guarantees continued rapid growth throughout the first half of the 21st century.

Steven Sherwood, UNSW: Division means uncertainty, which means lack of investment in new electricity hence higher electricity prices. The impact of such uncertainty on electricity prices has been vastly greater than the impact of whether we use coal, solar or wind or whatever. Eventually we will agree on climate change but it may be too late then to do very much.

 

 

 

Tony Matthews, Griffith University: Australia is underperforming in its response to climate change overall. The country continues to fall behind expectations in terms of emissions reductions, relative to many other developed economies.

Peter Tangney, Flinders University: There is unequivocal evidence that the climate is changing. There is also unequivocal evidence that the climate is changing due to human interference.

Colin Butler, Flinders University: Climate change represents an existential threat to civilisation. Catastrophe may yet be avoided, but is increasingly likely, with early signs already evident.

Celia McMichael, University of Melbourne: Australia should be doing much more to shift to a clean economy and to urgently meet - or exceed - greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

Tullio Rossi, Animate Your Science: Let's take the Great Barrier Reef situation as an example. Given the inestimable value of this wonder of the world, and the fact that we are seriously risking losing it because of climate change. Australia should be at the forefront of climate change action globally.

 

 

 

 

 

Scott Kelly, University of Technology Sydney: While Australian politicians continue to argue between themselves, the rest of the world is going to move on and Australia will be left behind. If Australia is going to lead the way in renewable technology and build a society of the future, it can't continue to support vested interests in old expensive technology such as coal.

Ying Zhang, University of Sydney: We need better public engagement to increase the awareness of both risks and opportunities in responding to climate change. For example, better urban planning to accommodate more public and active transportation that could bring co-benefits of improved air quality and health status.

Elizabeth Haworth, University of Tasmania: It is hard to explain Australia's lack of action, considering the vulnerability of the population and business to climate change - perhaps due to lack of understanding of the scientific base, apathy due to ideology and/or being in thrall to big business rather than science.

Jason Evans, UNSW: Australia has been increasing emissions in recent years but we need to decrease them to reach our Paris Agreement commitment. Then we need to continue decreasing them beyond that to limit the worst impacts of climate change.

Paul Read, Monash University: We've lost decades of action and squandered opportunities for an economic adaptation that would have preserved a decent quality of life for future Australians.

Anonymous: The absence of effective greenhouse gas emission reduction policies is a decision to continue high emissions from Australia. That is a decision to make climate change worse; more intense and more frequent heatwaves, greater sea level rise, reduced rainfall in southern Australia and more intense bushfires.



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