Saturday, 1 December 2012

Is this wisdom without a clue?

In today’s Australian, the chief of the UN’s climate change section, Christiana Figueres, has said:
“Each one of us needs to assume responsibility. It’s not just about domestic governments”
On the surface, this is a most welcome comment. The trouble is that many people may not know how to assume responsibility, or even who is failing to do this and is responsible for the present increases in greenhouse emissions.

It can very easily be established that Australia is the chief culprit, but the questions is how Australians and non-Australians can counter this urgent problem, and Figueres, like so many abroad, seems to have little idea.

The first issue is how to educate children on the key issues regarding climate change, which are not melting of polar ice caps, sea ice or permafrost, but rather changes in rainfall observed over many hotter regions. Most significant among these are Western Australia and parts of southern South America. In both regions, rainfall has declined dramatically over the west coasts in the subtropics and increased in the same latitudes further east due to the pushing of the subpolar westerlies southwards at a rate of about 18 kilometres per year. This has virtually made Perth’s water storages kaput: since 2001 the average runoff has been only 70 gigalitres per year, or around 20 percent the average from 1900 to 1967. In fact, the total runoff since 2001 has been less than that in July 1946 alone.
The consequences on observed climate changes – a 1 percent decline in rainfall per year over 45 years – would be the loss of almost all endemic species from southwestern Australia by 2050, and similar though less severe changes are possible in parts of South America.

The second issue, once Australia’s unique responsibility for the pollution that causes global warming is established, is how people concerned with Australia can be prepared to make the large sacrifices required to achieve a carbon-free lifestyle. Most Australians have no access to reasonable public transport and may not wish for it, but it is essential that young people in Australia’s suburbs volunteer to:
  1. refuse to use private motorised transport even where alternatives are inconvenient
  2. avoid using mains electricity wherever possible
A voluntary campaign involving education and practical use of these principles both by Australians and tourists – who seldom see beyond the central cities with their relatively usable public transport – is a definite key to solving the climate crisis. Those passionate about this issue – even if not from Australia - must work together to create a volunteer program with the basics outlined above.

Sad to say, people concerned about global warming are not prepared to make the sacrifices to do this even as I was a couple of days ago in Braeside, where there are no pedestrian paths or bike lanes or public transport whatsoever. Combining simple education of young people (maybe during school holidays) with this sort of mass campaign – with links to abroad – is the key to solving the climate crisis by shutting down the suburban Australian machine behind it.

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