One disturbing climate change prediction by scientists is that our global temperature is trending upwards at least 2 degrees Celsius. Does this really matter, asks futurist Stephen Alexander, and if it does, what should we be doing about it?
ARISE IN TEMPERATURE of 2oC above pre-industrial levels is generally accepted as inevitable, due to the amount of pollution already in our eco system. So the debate has tended to rage around when will it happen, how much more can the eco system take before the tipping point occurs and, (of course the inevitable), whose fault is it and can we do anything about it?
These specific questions remain a riddle because so much data that define the answers is still in dispute. I was personally confronted by this riddle when asked to examine the sustainability of the Gold Coast’s economy from a residential perspective by Council’s town planners. My job was to tease out the information about all the global trends that might affect whether or not a resident could afford to continue living on the Gold Coast.
Aside from factoring in the rising cost of oil, land prices, energy and water bills, and the general cost of living which would make affordability very tight, particularly for first home buyers, we were frustrated in our attempts to factor in the effects of global warming on the economy. This was due to the lack of any meaningful data that was not in dispute. Although it is well understood that spikes in extreme weather have adverse effects on local economies, we didn’t know how to factor global warming into that equation.
I sought help from a renowned town planner, Bernard Cleary who, as an ex-Toowoomba lad, had made good, creating the initial master plan for the City of Dubai in the early 1990s. Bernard went on to run the WideBay 2020 planning project in Bundaberg, and I tracked him down just before he flew off to become lead planner for urban regeneration in Libya, an agenda valued at US$65 billion.
Even Bernard struggled with my 2oC riddle so he introduced me to a team of engineers and environmental scientists he was working with at the time. They had one thing in common – they insist on working with certainty.
Quite simply, they used risk-based logic to assess infrastructure services under pressure. Listing out all civic and community infrastructure like roads, rail, power, airport, schools, hospitals etc., they determined the scale of risk associated with known climate change events, such as increased temperature, change in moisture, changes in frequency and intensity of storms, enhanced chance of flooding (especially in historic storm water systems) and areas prone to flooding, and sea level rises etc.
It was soon obvious which areas and which infrastructure systems were most at risk – so which water and sewage pumps would be out of action due to regular flooding, which bridges would be covered with water or would become too expensive to repair due to frequent storm damage, what railway lines would buckle due to rail expansion from heat, and which critical buildings, such as hospitals, would be inoperable through loss of power for long periods of time, indeed at the very time when they are most needed.
The findings were daunting. A 2oC rise in temperature brings extreme weather putting most of our services, with the exception of non-fibre telecommunications, in the very high, extreme or even catastrophic category.
“This twenty‐first century of ours will be faced with appalling social injustices, conflict and pestilence. But these will not be its defining challenge. Instead our task is a far more difficult one: to bring sustainability to a species that has not known such a condition since it manufactured its first tool.“
Tim Flannery – ‘Now or Never’. Atlantic Monthly Press 2009
We should be very concerned, but why aren’t we? Well, more recently, the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit revealed a win by the skeptics, who established
a “common wisdom” amongst almost all governments that no meaningful action is required, nor would it be affordable if it was, to keep the temperature rise at 2oC.
This has been helped along in part by the mining and oil industry players like EXXON who have been funding a complex network of research and universities to challenge any scientific finding. A leaked memo from the American Petroleum Institute’s stated plan and objectives reveals, under the heading of Victory will be achieved when … “the average citizen recognises uncertainties in climate science and when those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of exact science appear to be out of touch with reality.”
This argument is similar to that used to establish equal status for the creationist theory in the US school curriculum. If a piece of scientific work cannot provide 100% absolute proof, as is the case with Darwin’s theory,
then any other theory, regardless of its scientific merit, must be given equal status.
So, it comes down to the scientific analysis of certainty versus the skeptical belief that uncertainty equals do nothing. So what are the implications closer to home – for the Blackall Range? As things stand, our national, state and local governments have no plan to deal with the effects of an inevitable 2oC temperature rise on our region or its local economy.
Genuinely concerned families and communities who see the risks for our kids of ignoring the inevitable 2oC rise appear to be left out in the cold.
Some may see the Blackall Range as a place of survival in any dramatic climate change scenarios. Maybe. But only people with high earning capacity or capital would be able to
move to the Range. Anyone dependent on welfare or pensions who are susceptible to market spikes will struggle to afford to stay. This seems likely even with the advent of emerging sustainable technologies like solar power, more involvement in local food production, and knowledge-based employment where people can work from home.
It looks highly unlikely that many of our kids would be able to gain the type of local employment that would provide the level of income required to pay for the hike in services and commodities caused by climate change disruptions.
So, we return to the overarching question. Is it justifiable to take the risk of doing nothing or encourage others to believe that there’s not enough evidence to act, when the odds are fully against the ability of our kids to even afford the escalating costs of land, home, water, power and food – let alone finding a job?
Bernard’s response to my question was hard-hitting, as always, but worthy of concluding this article.
“It’s said one never hears the bullet that hits you. Well, this one’s coming and many are hearing it loud and clear. As more open their eyes to the fragility of our systems and our current circumstances, hearing what’s incoming is the first step towards side-stepping or ducking it as best as possible. As always, this will be achieved through the motivation of individuals as distinct from those who are supposedly in control of our global systems.”