Or why the world is going to hell
http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/ - May 21, 2013 12:42:10 AM - May 29, 2012 5:25:50 PM
Leave a Comment »"400ppm""chasing ice""inconvenient truth""rob hopkins""Transition Towns"transitioncollapseenergy
A guest post by Rob Hopkins
Originally published at http://www.countercurrents.org/print.html
16 May, 2013
In November 2006, I sat at the back of the Barn Cinema, Dartington, and watched ‘An Inconvenient Truth‘. It had such an impact on me that by the time it ended, I had decided that I couldn’t just leave the cinema without marking the event by making some kind of change in my life. I decided that evening not to fly again, and I haven’t flown since. I have played an active part in supporting the growth of an international movement in 40 countries since then, participating in countless workshops, and discussing Transition internationally through Skype and pre-recorded talks, most of which I begin with how much carbon I have saved by not travelling in person. However, I recently watched the film ‘Chasing Ice’, and it had, if anything, a more visceral impact than ‘An Inconvenient Truth’. My resolution at the end of watching it, re-enforced by the recent passing, for the first time, of 400 ppm of C02 in the atmosphere, was that it was time to get back on a plane, and I want to use this post to tell you why.
When I was born, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere was 325.36 ppm. I was 19 when it passed 350 ppm for the first time, the level which climate scientists such as James Hansen argue is the highest concentration possible if we are to “preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted” When, in 2004, the first seeds of Transition were sown when I sat with my students in a classroom at Kinsale Further Education College to watch The End of Suburbia, we were at 376.15 ppm. On the day this blog first began with its first post, we were at 378.29 ppm.
When I watched ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, it was 380.18 parts per million (ppm). On the day Transition Network was formally established we had reached 386.40 ppm. On the day I left Venice last September, following the Degrowth conference (which I had travelled to by train), seeing Venice from the sea as this extraordinary jewel just inches above sea level, concentrations had reached 391.06ppm. When I sat down to watch ‘Chasing Ice’ it was 395.55 ppm.
The rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations during my lifetime (http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/#mlo_data).
A couple of weeks ago we passed, for the first time, 400 ppm. It’s just a number, but it had a deep impact on me, a sobering line in the sand, a deeply troubling face. As Joe Romm at Climate Progress puts it:
Certainly as we hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence, with not even a plan to avoid 600 ppm, 800 ppm, and then 1000 — not even a national discussion or an outcry by the so-called intelligentsia – it is worth asking, why? Is there something inherent in homo “sapiens” that makes us oblivious to the obvious?
This means that current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are far higher than they have been for the last 4.5 millions years at least. The graph below shows how concentrations have fluctuated over the past 800,000 years. By way of context, 30,000 years ago, Cro-Magnon man was flourishing, hunting and gathering and painting cave walls. The Guardian have created a great infographic that tells the story of 400 ppm and what it means in a very understandable way. As Damien Carrington in The Guardian puts “the last time so much greenhouse gas was in the air was several million years ago, when the Arctic was ice-free, savannah spread across the Sahara desert and sea level was up to 40 metres higher than today”.
In spite of all the efforts of the green movement, Transition initiatives, a slew of international conferences and meaningless agreements, the rise has continued inexorably. It shows little sign of slowing, the International Energy Agency warning last year that the world is on track for at least a 6 degree rise in temperatures by 2100.
Carbon dioxide concentrations for the last 800,000 years (http://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/)
I know anecdotally that my giving up flying has inspired quite a few people to do the same, but has it had any impact at all on the rising levels of emissions? Clearly not. But has it been the right thing, thus far, to have done? Absolutely. A fascinating paper by Joakim Sandberg, called My emissions make no difference explored this question. He writes:
My suggestion is that we have a collective obligation to change our ways, and this collective obligation may be partly separate from the obligations of individuals. While my own flying makes no difference, it should be noted, climate change could be averted if we all changed our ways. But then it seems plausible to say that we act wrongly as a collective, even though no individual driver or flyer may be doing anything wrong. This view could be further explained by saying that moral questions can be asked on at least two different levels, with implicit reference to different sorts of agents. It is one thing to ask “What should I do?” but quite a different thing to ask “What should we do?” and the answers may not always converge.
The fact is that at a time in history when we desperately need to cut emissions sharply, we all have a responsibility to re-evaluate behaviour we undertake that normalises, for those around us, ways of acting that generate high levels of emissions. As Sandberg puts it, “while it may not typically be wrong of me to drive or fly, then, it may be wrong of us to do so and we must therefore seek ways of coordinating our environmental efforts more effectively”. I will still not fly for holidays or family reasons, to conferences, for pretty much any reasons. However I have decided, through discussions with those I work with, that passing 400 ppm, the extent of the climate crisis, means that it is time to get back on a plane, in cases where the benefits can be seen as outweighing the impacts.
Around 25% of the world’s emissions come from the US, the world’s greatest emitter of carbon dioxide. I recently had a moving conversation with someone in the US, who works for an organisation who fund groups acting on climate change, and who is very well connected politically in the US. She told me, with strong emotion in her voice, that it was her sense from talking to people she knows in the UN and other organisations, that there seems to be a consensus to give it another 18 months, 2 years at most, and then the funding and political effort will shift from mitigation and into adaptation and defence.
I’ll say that again. The funding and political effort will shift from mitigation and into adaptation and defence. Or to put it another way, that they will give up. The consensus will shift to the assumption being that it is now too late. Officially. The imminent White House briefing about the state of the Arctic ice and its implications probably won’t help either, given the gravity and seeming irreversibility of that situation.
I refuse to accept that the lurch to 500ppm, 600ppm, 800ppm is an inevitability. I refuse to accept, as Nigel Lawson tried to argue in his debate with the remarkably patient Kevin Anderson on Jeremy Vine’s radio show recently, that doing anything about climate change would impact on economic growth so we shouldn’t bother. I refuse to agree with Peter Lilley that the only way to preserve our economy is to allow unfettered gas fracking anywhere the gas industry decides it wants to drill because “there are simply no affordable renewable technologies available to replace fossil fuels”. I refuse to accept that we can’t do any better than what we have now, and that communities have only a passive role to play in doing something about this with the real work being done by governments and business. I refuse to give up while there’s still a chance.
So when an explicitly personal invitation came in to speak to a gathering of the largest philanthropic funders at their gathering in the US, and the opportunity to present them with Transition’s model of bottom-up, community-led action and to explain how Transition is increasingly focusing on the creation of a new economy, owned by the people, for the benefit of the people, the climate and the future, I had to think twice. That’s quite an extraordinary opportunity to try and influence the mindset of people who have the power and capacity to significantly support communities, and other crucial actors, who need to act to make the real and rapid shift so needed. I have thought long and hard about it.
I have come to a place, also through discussions with other people here at Transition Network and in discussion with our friends at Transition US and Post Carbon Institute, of feeling that it is worth having a go and getting on a plane and making the journey, in the (possibly naive) hope that it might sow some seeds of a new direction in the minds of some of the US’s foremost funders, give Transition in the US a boost, raise its profile, do what I can to try and support what’s already happening there. I would expect to return home wrung out like a sponge. This doesn’t open the door to now flying here, there and everywhere. This is a very particular invitation that has been looked at entirely on its own merits.
What do I know? Many of the movements, ideas, people and projects that have inspired me over the last 20 years have come from the US. There are wonderful things happening there, inspirational projects, great movements, incredible networks. But if Transition can bring something energising, some insights from this 7-year global experiment, some kind of renewed optimism that change is possible, something, anything, then it feels worth doing, before the window of possibility closes.
What haunts me every day, and no doubt will for the rest of my days, is what I will reply to my grandchildren when they ask me what I did during the time when climate change could have been brought under some sort of control, when the necessary changes could have been put in place to create a low-carbon, resilient and thriving culture that nurtured healthy human cultures. Was I as effective as I could have been? Did I do everything I could have? Having reflected on this for some time, it feels churlish to decline an opportunity that could potentially have a far greater positive impact than the negative impact of the flight.
So sometime in late September, it looks very much as though I will make that journey. Quite what I’ll do when I’m there has yet to be agreed (although we will of course let you know). Whether it will have any meaningful impact is even less certain. But it needs to be done, so I’m doing it.
The CO2 concentration statistics come from the Earth System Research Laboratory’s website, from measurements taken at the Mauna Loa research station.
Rob Hopkins is the co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and of the Transition Network.
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Another guest post by Mark Cochrane……..
The science is settled….. if only we could inform the public.
For anyone who might have any doubt about the level of consensus about anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse warming (AGW), please read this paper by Cook et al (2013) which is open access so anyone can read it.
The authors looked at over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers published bewteen 1991-2011 and quantified the number of papers that took a stand on AGW and whether or not they explicitly accepted or rejected that human beings are causing the ongoing climate change. A similar study was conducted in 2004 by Naomi Oreskes but she ‘only’ looked at 928 papers and found none that rejected AGW.
Cook et al. (2013), not only had agreed upon definitions for classification of the 12,000+ papers going into the study:
We decided from the start to take a conservative approach in our ratings. For example, a study which takes it for granted that global warming will continue for the foreseeable future could easily be put into the implicit endorsement category; there is no reason to expect global warming to continue indefinitely unless humans are causing it. However, unless an abstract included language about the cause of the warming, we categorized it as ‘no opinion’. (
The point being that their conclusions are likely to be about as poor of a case as you can make for scientiifc consensus on AGW. Their conclusion, even after using this approach, is that 97.1% of all of the papers taking a position on AGW support that climate change is happening and that we are the major cause. Just to check on ther work they actually emailed the authors and asked them to categorize their own papers positions – the author’s-based result was that 97.2% supported that we are causing the climate to change. Take a look back at that graph above and note that the majority of the ‘doubt’ within the science community that existed about AGW occurred in the literature 20 years ago.
However, the reality of the science position of climate change is being eroded by vested interests who are intentionally misleading the public by trying create the appearance of doubt where little exists.
While a number of studies have independently established overwhelming agreement among climate scientists, two decades of sustained attack on the consensus has been effective. There is a gaping chasm between the public perception and the actual 97% consensus. When a US representative sample was asked how many climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming, the average answer was around 50%.
Why is climate denial synonymous with consensus denial? Social scientists are just starting to figure out what climate deniers have understood for decades. A 2011 study found that when people correctly understand that climate scientists agree, they are more likely to support policy to mitigate climate change. This is why a political operative hired by fossil fuel interests to undermine climate policy focused on attacking the consensus, arguing “If we win the science argument, it’s game, set, and match.” ()
The active disinformation agents think that they are playing a game. Their game risks all of our lives, especially the lives of future generations. If you encounter any ‘doubters’, please ask them just how much more ‘proof’ they are going to need? If they can’t or won’t answer then you’ll know that they are in denial, or worse.
4 Comments »"david hamilton""economic depression""limits to growth""Peak oil"hopepeak oilpolitics
Another guest post by David Hamilton
In his blog post “On giving up”, Mike Stasse talks about his years of campaigning on the great environmental themes of peak oil and climate change, and on how his attention has in recent times turned away from trying to help society to change towards survival in the face of the certain collapse of our civilization. Mike made me think about my attitude to these issues, and this piece is the result of my thinking. In short, I have not “given up”. This is an individual decision, of course, and not a decision which one makes for all time – life circumstances change and one’s energy and time available also change. However, for those with the energy and time, I urge you all to not give up, but to still strive for change. I have three reasons for not giving up.
Collapse is not binary. By this I mean that collapse is not all or nothing. Collapse can be small or large, slow or fast. I think it is self-evident that the more prepared a society, community or group — the more resilient they are prior to the collapse – the better they will survive the collapse and the less destructive the collapse will be. There are many parts of our civilization that are worth saving (and others which are not!). I’m passionate about music, and particularly the classical tradition which arose out of medieval Europe, produced the greatest musical innovation – the system of written musical notation – and evolved those wonderful mixtures of art, craft and technology: modern musical instruments. A collection of uniquely talented individuals with names like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven then used the genres, forms and instruments of the day to create extraordinary works of art that speak to people across the centuries. I could not bear to think that this supreme legacy could be lost. There are many more areas of great human achievement gradually assembled over the centuries whose loss would also be incalculable. These things are definitely worth saving.
Our diagnosis will not necessarily be accepted.Mike, you and I know that when a collapse occurs we will understand its roots in the limits to growth, the Ponzi scheme nature of our financial system, resource limits (such as peak oil), or climate change, or all of the above. Others, however, may have very different ideas. When given the choice between a complex interweave of factors, most of which essentially say “it was us”, or a conspiracy theory demonising some “other” group, a regrettable proportion of our population will choose the conspiracy theory every time. One of my greatest fears is that we will see the rise of overtly fascist groups touting simplistic “remedies” built mainly on blaming the current batch of problems on some group, nationality, religion, or other characteristic. Indeed, Europe’s current economic woes have brought an increase in support for ultra-nationalistic and other right-wing parties.
By continuing to talk about what is going wrong, why the present course of our societies is heading for a sticky end we not only decrease the damage, we also increase the chance that the causes will be correctly diagnosed when the problems pile on each other. Better diagnosis of what is going wrong will surely lead to a better response, even if the response only changes things at the margin.
We need hope.Humans, being aware of their own mortality, need hope – a belief that actions have an impact on changing the future, even if we don’t expect it to be our future. Hope is related to correctly diagnosing the underlying problem; once people understand what is happening, their ability to act to modify their own future and that of their children improves, and this helps them to have more hope about that future. Hope and action strengthen each other.161 Comment »"david hamilton""International Energy Agency""Low carbon economy index for 2012""Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost""World Bank Report: Turn Down the Heat"IEAPricewaterhouseCoopers
This is a guest post by David Hamilton, with whom I share a passion for energy efficiency and a love of Tasmania. I thank him for allowing me to reproduce this article in my humble blog. And thank you to Graham Palmer for pointing me to the Tasmanian Times where this was first published…….
I am posting a lot of info on Climate Change at the moment, and it seems to me that the amount of data and information, all bad I might add, is coming thick and fast. Is this what might start a tipping point in people’s attitudes? One can only hope……
In November 2012, four reports relevant to climate change appeared within the short span of about three weeks. Alerted by brief media reports I went and found them online. Even after just reading their summaries I was alarmed. Here is my summary of them, in the order in which they appeared.
5th November 2012: PwC UK Too late for two degrees? Low carbon economy index for 2012.
This was the fourth annual low carbon economy index report from the UK member of the global PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) network. This global network of accounting and corporate advisory firms is hardly a radical left-wing deep green environmentalist organization; however the economists in their global sustainability and climate change practice have for four years now been calculating the carbon intensity of the global economy (measured in tonnes of emissions per $million GDP), watching how it changes from year to year and calculating by how much it needs to change if warming is to be limited to 2 °C. The news was not good, and this is their summary from the beginning of the report:
The PwC Low Carbon Economy Index evaluates the rate of decarbonisation of the global economy that is needed to limit warming to 2°C. This is based on a carbon budget that would stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at 450 ppm and give a 50% probability of limiting warming to 2°C.
This report shows that global carbon intensity decreased between 2000 and 2011 by around 0.8% a year. In 2011, carbon intensity decreased by just 0.7%.
The global economy now needs to cut carbon intensity by 5.1% every year from now to 2050 to achieve this carbon budget. This required rate of decarbonisation has not been seen even in a single year since the mid-20th century when these records began. Keeping to the 2°C carbon budget will require unprecedented and sustained reductions over four decades.
Governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2°C appear highly unrealistic.
One of the great advantages of the PwC approach is that it gives us a yardstick against which to judge emission reduction objectives. An annual reduction of 5.1% represents a halving of emissions in just under 14 years – a 50% reduction from 2013 emissions by 2027, assuming no increase in GDP. Australia’s current target is a 5% reduction from 2000 emission levels by 2020.
12th November 2012: International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook 2012.
The International Energy Agency (known as the IEA to energy policy aficionados) is an independent agency established by the member countries of the OECD to advise them on energy policy. Every year the IEA publishes its World Energy Outlook, a compendium of energy data and energy policy options, which the IEA organises into scenarios. The full document is expensive; however the IEA helpfully publishes an Executive Summary in a number of languages which can be freely downloaded from its web site. For several years the IEA has been pointing out with increasing force that actions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases are falling short of what is required to achieve the current global target of constraining warming to 2 °C. In the 2012 report the IEA starts by discussing the very important role energy efficiency can play in reconciling disparate policy objectives, then follows with this section which I quote with their emphasis:
Energy efficiency can keep the door to 2 °C open for just a bit longer
Successive editions of this report have shown that the climate goal of limiting warming to 2 °C is becoming more difficult and more costly with each year that passes. Our 450 Scenario examines the actions necessary to achieve this goal and finds that almost four-fifths of the CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 are already locked-in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc. If action to reduce CO2 emissions is not taken before 2017, all the allowable CO2 emissions would be locked-in by energy infrastructure existing at that time. Rapid deployment of energy-efficient technologies – as in our Efficient World Scenario – would postpone this complete lock-in to 2022, buying time to secure a much needed global agreement to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2 °C goal, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is widely deployed. This finding is based on our assessment of global “carbon reserves”, measured as the potential CO2 emissions from proven fossil-fuel reserves. Almost two-thirds of these carbon reserves are related to coal, 22% to oil and 15% to gas. Geographically, two-thirds are held by North America, the Middle East, China and Russia. These findings underline the importance of CCS as a key option to mitigate CO2 emissions, but its pace of deployment remains highly uncertain, with only a handful of commercial scale projects currently in operation.
So to summarise the IEA’s first paragraph, if we wish to limit warming to around 2 °C we have until 2017 – 4 years away – to either get very serious indeed about energy efficiency, or at that date we have to completely stop building all coal fired power stations, all gas fired power stations, all other coal and gas fired equipment (industrial furnaces, gas home heating, gas hot water services, etc), all airplanes, all trucks (apart from electric ones), all cars (apart from electric ones), and all ships – apart from sailing ships. Further, the second paragraph tells us that we had better not plan to burn ourselves or export for others to burn all of Australia’s large coal and gas reserves – they need to stay safely in the ground.
How much have you heard people from Australia’s mainstream political parties or from the mainstream media talk about leaving our coal and gas in the ground? Compared with where the mainstream Australian political dialogue is at, these recommendations of the IEA are shockingly radical.
18th November 2012: World Bank Report: Turn Down the Heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided.
The World Bank was assisted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics in this detailed (≈ 100 pages) report which:
• reviews observed climate change impacts such as rising global mean temperature, increasing ocean heat storage, rising sea levels, increasing loss of ice from Greenland and Antarctica, ocean acidification, heat waves and extreme temperatures, and agricultural impacts.
• looks at the likelihood of a 4°C world before the end of the 21st century and the implications of such a world for precipitation, droughts and cyclones.
• reviews risks from sea-level rise and how they vary from region to region.
• discusses changes in extreme temperatures, with the emphasis on projected increases in heat extremes and the impacts of more frequent heat waves.
• reviews the potential impacts of the changes already discussed on agriculture, water resources, ecosystems and biodiversity and human health.
• finally considers the risks of non-linear and cascading impacts. Up until this point, issues such as sea level rise had been considered on their own; now the report discusses how problems could add to each other (a “cascading impact”), or how tipping points could be reached, leading to a non-linear response. An example of such a non-linear response is the sensitivity of some food crops (such as maize, wheat and soya) to temperature; growth rates can reduce quickly if temperatures exceed a threshold.
The concluding remarks of this report are:
A 4°C world will pose unprecedented challenges to humanity. It is clear that large regional as well as global scale damages and risks are very likely to occur well before this level of warming is reached. This report has attempted to identify the scope of these challenges driven by responses of the Earth system and various human and natural systems. Although no quantification of the full scale of human damage is yet possible, the picture that emerges challenges an often-implicit assumption that climate change will not significantly undermine economic growth. It seems clear that climate change in a 4°C world could seriously undermine poverty alleviation in many regions. This is supported by past observations of the negative effects of climate change on economic growth in developing countries. While developed countries have been and are projected to be adversely affected by impacts resulting from climate change, adaptive capacities in developing regions are weaker. The burden of climate change in the future will very likely be borne differentially by those in regions already highly vulnerable to climate change and variability. Given that it remains uncertain whether adaptation and further progress toward developmentgoals will be possible at this level of climate change, the projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.
27th November 2012: United Nations Environment Program: Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost
Permafrost is frozen soil, and currently occupies about 24% of the exposed land surface of the Northern Hemisphere. Permafrost typically contains organic matter; if the permafrost thaws, then the organic matter is expected to decay releasing carbon dioxide and methane. Thus thawing permafrost is a mechanism for runaway climate change: warming thaws permafrost, releasing carbon dioxide and methane, which causes further warming, which thaws more permafrost, which releases…… and so the process continues.
As well as describing permafrost and the large potential for emissions as it thaws, the report tells us that permafrost thawing is being observed, but there is not much information available to tell us how fast it is currently thawing. The main paragraphs from the conclusions section of the report are:
Climate projections indicate substantial permafrost loss and degradation by 2100. Wide-spread permafrost degradation will permanently change local hydrology, increasing the frequency of fire and erosion disturbances. The number of wetlands and lakes will increase in continuous permafrost zones and decrease in discontinuous zones. Overall, the total number of wetlands and lakes will decrease as the continuous permafrost zone shrinks, impacting critical habitat, particularly for migratory birds. Risks associated with rock falls and erosion will increase, particularly in cold mountain areas. Damage to critical infrastructure, such as buildings and roads, will incur significant social and economic costs.
Degrading permafrost can release enough CO2 and methane to influence global climate, amplifying warming due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Permafrost contains approximately 1672 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon in the form of frozen organic matter. If the permafrost thaws, so will the organic matter, which will then decay, potentially releasing large amounts of CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. Emissions from thawing permafrost could start within the next few decades and continue for several centuries, influencing both short-term climate (before 2100) and long-term climate (after 2100).
Let me try to brutally summarise all the above:
1. A very dramatic and complete change of direction in our collective greenhouse gas emissions is needed very soon (before the end of this decade) if we are to have any hope of avoiding more than 2 °C warming. Making that change in direction requires us to turn our backs on fossil fuel reserves we already know about and have counted as collective assets. It will also require us to start shutting down the fossil fuel industry, perhaps the largest and most successful industry in human history.
2. A world in which we fail to limit warming to 2 °C will be very problematic. We cannot assume that we will be able to feed, house and keep relatively healthy those members of the human family that we can now.
3. While we don’t think we have crossed the threshold into uncontrollable runaway climate change, we don’t know where that threshold is. We do know we are drawing ever closer to it.
So what is to be done? Clearly Australia’s two main political parties are light years away from where they should be if they were serious about this issue. Time is short. So activists everywhere, I propose a one-year moratorium on all campaigning – except on climate change. That’s right, drop everything (even the forests!), and concentrate on climate change. It’s that serious.
PwC report is available from http://pdf.pwc.co.uk/low-carbon-economy-index-nov12.pdf IEA World Energy Outlook summary is available from http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/English.pdf
World Bank Report is available from http://climatechange.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/Turn_Down_the_heat_Why_a_4_degree_centrigrade_warmer_world_must_be_avoided.pdf
UN Environment Program permafrost report available from http://www.unep.org/pdf/permafrost.pdf
David Hamilton is a semi-retired physicist, energy consultant and tree grower who moved to northern Tasmania in 2009 and has not regretted it for a moment. He can be followed on Twitter at @DavidHTassie
• Talk given to the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, 11/5/2013 by Dr Frank Nicklason
Thank you for inviting me to speak at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) National Day of Action.
It is an honour to talk to your excellent organisation.
Recently I have attended 2 events in which AYCC has played an important role, or has organised.
The first of these events was in Adelaide several weeks ago, at the medical student’s chapter of Doctors for the Environment Australia convention. One of the most memorable presentations at this convention was given by Dan Spencer of AYCC. Dan spoke of the brilliant ‘Repower Port Augusta’ campaign. The aim is to replace coal powered energy generation with solar-thermal. AYCC has garnered broad community support for such a transition. AYCC have elicited this support by a grass roots information campaign and, crucially, by gaining the involvement of Joy Baluch, the city’s mayor, who is gravely ill with cancer associated the long term effects of inhaling coal dust. Later that afternoon AYCC’s Katya Glogovska and Sarah Cohn led workshops designed to give their members the skills to increase community awareness of the implications and impacts of global climate change and how to be involved in working for solutions. Two weeks ago I attended a seminar at the University of Tasmania hosted by AYCC, another, interesting, very well attended, and energising event.
It has been great to witness the energy, passion, skills, and commitment of AYCC members!
‘The bystander phenomenon’ is well known to social psychology researchers. How is it that people can observe clear wrongs and then simply avert their gaze? Various reasons for this type of disengagement have been offered. These include fear of physical harm and fear of litigation relating to public statements/actions against wrongdoers. A very interesting and consistent feature associated with the bystander phenomenon is that the more observers there are of a wrong doing the less likely it is that any of those observers will attempt to either help or stand up for the victim(s). A variety of excuses may be offered; ‘I’m just one’, ‘I’ll mind my own business’, ‘What will other people think if I make a fuss’. What sort of message do young people get when observers of wrong doing include political, religious, and business leaders, media organisations, and the community at large? And what sort of example is set when there is collusion with the wrong doers?
All of this is, of course, relevant to the issue of climate change. The extraction, and subsequent use, of fossil fuels from massive industrial open cut and long wall coal mines, and from coal seam gas operations represents a massive contribution to climate change. AYCC are well aware that if current plans to expand these activities are realised then Australia will be the source of about 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions by year 2020. This is an appalling prospect. Some 2020 vision! AYCC are smart to focus so much of their attention to these projects.
I was asked to talk about some of the health related issues associated with these fossil fuel extraction projects. When considering these issues it is important to think broadly. Some of these health issues are quite obvious and are underscored by unequivocal research evidence. Coal dust inhalation is associated, acutely, by worsening of asthma and of emphysema symptoms. Long term coal dust exposure increases cancer risk.Very small dust particles, so-called PM2.5s, are able to gain access to blood vessels and cause inflammation, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Long term effects of heavy metal, and other chemical, water contamination associated with coal mining are also of great concern.
What is is less well studied, understood, and publicised are the individual mental health effects and the implications for community health, wellbeing, and cohesion, of industrial scale landscape destruction, 24/7 mining and transport noises, and in fly in, fly out employment.
In Tasmania we are familiar with broadacre landscape conversion associated to clearfelling of native forests and establishment of monoculture pulpwood tree crops on cleared forest coupes and on productive farmland. The details of the anguish of a man living at Rose’s Tiers in North East Tasmania are relevant. This German (Berlin) born man, Roelf Roos, became increasingly distressed by clearfelling forest destruction, aerial spraying of dangerous chemicals, baiting of browsing native animals with 1080, and so-called “regeneration burns”. Roelf Roos pinned his last hope on the election of Mark Latham in 2004 and the proposals that the Labor party had to restructure the Tasmanian forest industry. With the re-election of John Howard, Roos lost all hope and shot himself, within days of the election.
A word has been coined to describe the mental and emotional devastation of confronting the destruction of beloved home landscapes.
That word is solastalgia. It was proposed by Glenn Albrecht and was first applied to locals who witnessed recent severe droughts on mainland Australia. Solastaglia is a state that health care professionals are going to have to recognise and address as the extreme weather events and fires associated with climate change become ever more frequent. No doubt Australian people living in rural and regional NSW and Queensland are experiencing solastaglia. Solastalgia is the homesickness you can have whilst still at home. The extent and scale of coal mining and coal seam gas activities is mind boggling, literally. Industrial incursion is a potent cause of solastalgia. One lesson of solastalgia is that it can be fatal and it can wreck relationships.
What has impressed me about AYCC is the approach and commitment of it’s members, now 80,000 Australia wide. They have not exhibited anger visibly, though surely there is reason to be disgusted with decisions made by our political leaders and by the CEOs of multinational companies. AYCC are not passive bystanders, not fearful. Responsibility is accepted for our mutual future. AYCC is creative in forging relationships with all those people who are hurting and who can be encouraged to take a stand in whatever way they can. It is understood that coping with climate change involves consideration of food security, water resources, community cohesion, as well as biodiversity and world heritage. So relationships are forged with farmers, fishers, tourism operators, community groups, and any one who can help.
Another word has been coined by Albrecht. An antidote to solastalgia was required. That word is soliphilia.
Soliphilia is the solidarity and alliance that is required, between us all, in order that we can be responsible for a place, a bio-region, the planet. Soliphilia stands up against the tactics of those multi-national corporations who are digging up our country, laying to waste food producing land, and drilling thousands of holes in our soil in search of gas, in the process threatening our water supplies. The tactics of multi-national corporations are to divide communities, to mislead, and to falsely claim the middle ground with the pretense of balance. Their characteristics are deceit, untruthfulness, lack of empathy, false charm directed at the favoured few, entitlement, arrogance, and displays of breath taking ruthlessness. There is manifest disconnection from the needs of others. These are the hallmarks of psychopathy.
AYCCs characteristics are intelligence, connectedness, courage, and positivity. Your responses are inspiring and I wish you well, you will have important wins.
Thank you and good luck.