Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Facing up to our responsibility

This Law Dome snowfall series has been used in Tas D. van Ommen’s and Vin Morgan’s ‘Snowfall increase in coastal East Antarctica linked with southwestWestern Australian drought’ (Nature Geoscience, 7 February 2010) to demonstate how un-natural modern observed low rainfalls are.
Tonight, after a rather quiet afternoon and evening in the State Library, I was told by a tired mother that it was 42˚C today. This could lead to a record number of days over 40˚C this summer with another forecast and no sign of mild weather again – after a promising start to January. Whilst I feel I have said too much too “noisily” over the years about the solution to the problem, I will note very clearly two utterly false denial signs:
  1. Greenhouse scepticism – whilst it reigns supreme amongst those who fear loss of convenience or privacy in Australia’s suburbs, the scientific evidence from studies such as those of the Law Dome ice core and Perth water flow data is too strong.
    • What needs to be done is for education series, instead of being focused fuzzily on abstract temperature series, to be focused instead on practical cases like changes in SWWA, Central Chile, or CWA rainfall, where easily understood, precise data can be seen.
  2. Denial of responsibility – an all-too-common problem is belief that Australia’s emissions have no significant impact by themselves on the global climate. This occurs even in peer-reviewed articles like ‘Halving global CO2 by 2050: technologies and costs’ and ‘Illustrated implications of the Terrifying New Math of Meinshausen and McKibben’ which do not go into details about Australia’s emissions and instead focus on China, India, Russia and the United States. There are several problems with this attitude:
    1. As Zhang et. al. have shown, Australia’s extremely low soil phosphate means that it has much lower absorption capacities than other major emitters, and hence a lower allowable emissions value
    2. Australia’s per capita emissions are the highest in the world so that each Australian – living on the lowest-energy land in the world – makes the greatest contribution
    3. Most greenhouse emissions in China and India, and to a lesser extent other Eurasian and Western Hemisphere nations, are built from Australian coal and aluminium so are indirectly the responsibility of Australia
For these three reasons, there needs to be a culture of responsibility amongst the next generation of Australians – one where it is acknowledged Australia bears unique responsibility for creating and hence for solving climate change. This responsibility is one that must extend to both ordinary Australian citizens – most especially when doing the responsible thing and cycling or using public transit for every journey is uniquely tough – and for tourists who, used to higher-quality public transport in countries with incomparably less need for it, must not sacrifice keeping emissions lower for convenience even if they could at home. In fact, the attitude towards Australia’s environment among tourists is one that has to change a great deal: although Australia may seem peculiar and strange to those used to uniquely fertile and young soils, it is not peculiar but how Eurasia and the Americas looked a mere 20 million years ago.

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