A summary of the proceedings from the APCSE conference on Economic Growth, Climate Change and the G20 is now available on Medium.com
By Jeremy Williams, Griffith University
News emerging from Washington last week suggests climate change may amount to more than an FAQ in the appendices of this November’s G20 leaders’ summit agenda. President Obama’s deputy national security adviser for international economics, Caroline Atkinson, has made the point that, as the G20 economies generate 80% of the world’s carbon emissions, the group should give a political push to “specific steps” to address climate change.
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.
In this presentation, I essentially make the point that community engagement should not be viewed as an add-on; an act of charity or something purely philanthropic.
Doing what you love, and loving what you do has become a bit of cliche, but it is not just the route to personal fulfilment. In a resource-constrained, post-GFC world, with the imminent threat of potentially catastrophic climate change, building socially and ecologically resilient communities is of critical importance.
Community engagement, therefore, should not just be something you do in your spare time. It needs to be the way you live your life. I should define who you are.
There has been some speculation in recent weeks as why 16,000 dead pigs floated down the Huangpu River. The rotting carcasses threatened the water supplies of those depending on this river system including the 23 million inhabitants of Shanghai. (Now, to add insult to injury, there are dead ducks to contend with as well).
Characteristically, there has been plenty of sooth-saying from Chinese government officials, but the scepticism aired on Chinese social media platform Weibo suggests that this is doing little to reassure residents.
The problem, according to a report in The Guardian yesterday, is the sheer scale of pig production. Last year, China produced and consumed half the world’s pork (about 50m tonnes), and with a mortality rate of 2-4%, up to 300,000 carcasses need to be disposed of each year. Things become difficult when the capacity to process dead pigs does not keep up with the growing number of pig farms. Until now, it seems, this issue has been managed by some ‘entrepreneurs’ who have been buying up dead and diseased pigs and butchering them for sale as pork to unsuspecting consumers. A crackdown on black market traders has put a stop to all this and so farmers have resorted to dumping the carcasses in the river.
Mainstream economics refers to this as a ‘negative externality’ arising from a market transaction. I call it wanton destruction of natural capital, fuelled by rampant consumption and unsustainable production. GDP will go as a result of the expenditure required to rid the waterways of dead animals, but this is not economic development.
This is the slide deck I presented at the Asia Pacific Centre for Social Enterprise (APCSE), Griffith University, Open Lecture Series this week.
The Climate Commission was established, among other things, to provide Australians with an independent and reliable source of information about the science of climate change. Last week the Commission released its latest report, Off the Charts: Extreme Australian Summer Heat; authored in response to questions from citizens and media seeking to understand the link between climate change and the intense heat wave experienced in recent weeks.
Understanding this link is important because having good knowledge of climate change risks enables us to take appropriate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to put measures in place to address the rising incidence of more extreme weather events.
Drawing on CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology research, the report points out that Australia’s average temperature has risen by 0.9°C since 1910. On the face of it, this may not seem like a huge increase, but according to the Climate Commission it has contributed to a doubling of the number of record hot days across Australia since 1960.
The key point here is that we are likely to see many more record hot days in Australia if global warming continues unabated. The time has come, it seems, when we must act on what the climate scientists have been telling us for a long time now.
This time last year NASA announced that, globally, the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 15 years. In November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US Department of Commerce told us that the 10 warmest Novembers have occurred in the past 12 years, and that November 2012 was the 36th consecutive November and 333rd consecutive month with global temperature higher than the 20th century average.
The likes of NASA and NOAA are respected scientific bodies, and their analyses need to be taken seriously. Indeed, very few academics within the climate science community would likely disagree. A number of surveys in recent years show almost total unanimity in their views about climate change, the most recent of which was conducted by James L. Powell, the Executive Director of the National Physical Science Consortium, and member of the National Science Board under both the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations.
Powell reviewed 13,950 peer-reviewed papers published between January 1991 and early November 2012, and only 24 (0.17%) clearly reject global warming or endorse a cause other than CO2 emissions for observed warming.
There is also a growing consensus among the general population as research published in August last year through the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCAF) demonstrates. The two-year project, led by Griffith University academic Joseph Reser, involved nearly 7500 Australians and 1800 Britons and found 90 per cent of Australian and 89 per cent of British respondents accepted human causal impact on climate change.
Australian respondents, the report noted, were beginning to adapt to climate change by modifying their thinking, feelings and behaviours; some 71 per cent declaring an increasing concern about climate change over the two year period prior to the surveys, citing increased awareness, media coverage, perceived lack of government action, and increasing frequency of natural disasters and extreme weather events.
If there has been some reassessment of climate change risk among the general public, it is highly likely that stock market investors will be doing the same. HSBC Global Research published a report last week, Climate Inflation Hits Australia, that recommends investors push companies harder for disclosure on the financial materiality of risks associated with weather disruption from both an operational and supply chain perspective.
To deliver emission reductions in line with a carbon budget of less than a 2°C warming, says HSBC, governments must step up in their policy ambition for emission reduction. The catalyst for such policy momentum, says the bank, will be ‘increased disruption caused by extreme weather, combined with a greater focus from climate scientists on attributing short-term weather extremes to longer-term temperature gains’.
A useful first step might be for politicians of all persuasions to accept the science. Only then can a sensible policy debate can take place. Sound policies will deliver outcomes that send clear signals to the marketplace about how resources can be allocated to minimise the risks associated with climate change.
The sooner there is a political consensus to match the scientific consensus, the easier it will be all of us to adapt to the new reality of a warmer world.
(This article was published in the Courier-Mail under the title, Consensus on science will take the heat out of debate, on 21 January.)
When faced with an emergency, it has been common practice for governments to adopt a bipartisan approach.
This has happened routinely during times of war and, typically, resources have been mobilised rapidly to combat a common enemy.
The common foe now is climate change, which is bringing major disruption to all corners of the globe. Whether it is record drought in the US, record rainfall in the UK, or record heat waves in Australia, to continue to deny there is any need for a coordinated response (or repudiate the existence of the problem altogether!) when there is such a strong scientific consensus, is to abdicate moral responsibility.
The Union of Concerned Scientists should be congratulated for producing this video. The rest of us need to join the call to action.
2013 has to be the year we acted on climate change.
The world did not end in 2012 as the Mayans predicted, but as George Monbiot documents in a superbly authored piece in The Guardian the other day, humankind is certainly doing its best to engineer such an outcome. The article is a superb summary of my feelings about 2012, and why it is likely to be remembered as the year we did least at the time we needed to do most.
It is probably a little harsh to lay the entire blame with humankind in the broad sense. It is our political representatives that are most at fault, as inaction has come to characterise discourse at both national and international levels.
To talk of keeping the average temperature increase to 2 degrees or less by the end of the century now appears to be sheer folly. Meanwhile, biodiversity loss is intensifying at an alarming rate with some quite profound consequences for human survival on the planet.
Where will the leadership come from in 2013?