It'll Be A Hot Summer

Comments like the following are nails on a chalkboard to me, ‘if it’s like this in spring, it’s going to be really hot in summer’. No, not really. It’s climate change, the weather is unpredictable.

Twitter for Sydney Hot Summer

Twitter search results "hot in spring #sydney"

I heard about Climate Change in '94

We just don’t seem to get climate change. The year was 1994 when I heard about it. Her name was Miss Tracey and she had passion, she was an animal rescuer, and my year four primary school teacher. Once, she brought a bat to class and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It’s wings were made of rubbery velvet, and she told us about their plight with powerlines.

Another treat she brought in was a video. But unlike many videos kids watch at school, this one wasn’t meant to be a time-killer. I was home sick when Miss Tracey played it, but when I returned, she insisted I take it home to watch. Not because there was going to be a test (I was 9), nor because it would be fun, but because it was important. The video opened with a young hooligan doing burnouts in his driveway, spinning around and around in his bright red, hotted-up car. And narration chimed in to say that this is bad. Why? Because of the greenhouse effect. Fast forward to ‘the future’ and we see the same kid, or another kid, marooned on an island and experiencing constant changes in the weather. I also remember a turtle being involved. (I tried to find this video, googling, ‘greenhouse effect turtle documentary’, but these terms weren’t specific enough).

The Gist of Climate Change

A sentiment I remember more vividly was that global warming means higher temperatures generally, but specifically, unpredictable weather and extreme weather events, be they hot or cold. Knowing this for 20 years and realising that other people don’t is where the slight frustration comes from.

@coopesdetat Amy Coopes, NSW Bushfires, Oct13

Amy Coopes, @coopesdetat, NSW Bushfires, Oct 13

Action on Climate = Worst Fail Ever

As far as social movements go, environmentalism’s attempt to get action on the climate is a great case study in failure. For instance, see if you can guess who said this and when:

Since … records have been kept, [last year] has been the hottest year. All the predictions are that [this year] will prove to be hotter still. That means that four of the hottest years in recorded meteorological history have been experienced in [this decade] … Harvard University was closed for the first time in 352 years because of the heat … We have only a decade or two in which to face up to the implications of the problem.

That quote wasn’t made today, and wasn’t made by a hemp-wearing greenie. It was spoken in the Australian parliament a quarter of a century ago by the Minister for Science. Barry Jones was his name and it was on 1 November 1988 that he said ‘we have only a decade or two’.

The Biggest Reason to Hate the Current Government?

And here we are today, the deadline already passed (a literal dead-line), with the second most developed country in the world (yep, for real) saying we can’t afford action on climate change, or helping poorer countries to take action. And yes, they deserve help because they didn’t create the problem, we did (see Dan Farber’s “Adapting to Climate Change: Who should pay?”, 2007). Australia has been accused of being the most destructive force at the current UN climate talks in Warsaw, Poland.

Accepting Climate Change: Where Science is Now

Some environmentalists are focusing on the future. And the future is about changing what we protect, and changing how we live in a climatically-stuffed world.

Ross Beckley, NSW Bushfires 14 Oct 2013

Ross Beckley, Rossco, Flickr, NSW BushFires 14Oct13

In 2008, I braved Canberra’s winter to attend a conference on living in this new world at the Australian National University. Professor Jan McDonald (former Research Manager, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility) explained that we have reached the point of needing to deal with what we can, and drop what we can’t. Conservation has been failing and, under climate change, it will be impossible, added Jeff Smith from the Environmental Defender’s Office, NSW. Jeff struck a sensitive nerve when he said we need to be resigned to a certain amount of environmental destruction and honest about the species and habitats that will be lost. Resources need to focus on saving species that are most essential to the ecosystems that affect our survival. It’s not pandas, it’s algae.

And there’s the controversial point: it’s about us. Because we’re talking famine, poverty and deaths of an incomprehensible amount (Typhoon Haiyan).

Great Barrier Reef, Dying Any Day Now

The Great Barrier Reef is one ecosystem that’s doomed. The last report card on the reef’s health said it was at a crossroads and not looking great. Considering the lack of action in the five years since, the next report due in June will likely say it’s all over.

Editor's Note: And indeed it did. The June 2014 Report states "Even with the recent management initiatives to reduce threats and improve resilience, the overall outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is poor, has worsened since 2009 and is expected to further deteriorate in the future."

How Did This Happen?

I refuse to believe that we failed so spectacularly because climate change was too technical to understand. I understood it 20 years ago. Yes, maybe I was indoctrinated by that video, with the turtle, and Miss Tracey’s infectious passion. Maybe we undervalue the importance of primary school teachers. Or maybe my interest in this stuff is a little outside the norm. But none of those arguments, although valid, explains the full picture.

We only change at the precipice. We just think that by now we would be smarter and see the train wreck coming.