Last night (6 September) as fires were raging through the desiccated granite belt of southern Queensland, not a single reporter, politician or anyone else had the “temerity” of pointing out the inevitable relation between coal mining, carbon emissions, global and regional heating and the incendiary consequences.
The recent spate of regional to continent-scale fires, in Brazil, Siberia, California, southern Europe, Queensland and elsewhere, represents temperature rises over tinder-dry regions of Earth where forests, originally developed under Mediterranean to sub-polar climate conditions, are overtaken by heat waves associated with the polar-ward migration of tropical and subtropical climate zones. For over 40 years, fully cognizant of but ignoring the stern warnings by climate scientists, the ‘powers that be’, including so-called ‘progressive governments’, have continued to allow and commonly enhance the fatal greenhouse gas overloading of the planetary atmosphere, leading to global fires and a climate state destroying the habitability of large parts of Earth for a myriad species, including ‘Homo sapiens’.
As the globe warms, to date by a mean of near ~1.5 oC, or ~2.0oC when the masking effects of sulphur dioxide and other aerosols are considered, and by a mean of ~2.3oC in the Polar Regions, the expansion of warm tropical latitudes and the polar-ward migration of climate zones result in large scale droughts in subtropical latitudes such as in inland Australia and southern Africa. A similar trend is taking place in the northern hemisphere where the Sahara desert is expanding northward, with consequent heat waves across the Mediterranean and Europe.
Since 1979 the planet’s tropics have been expanding poleward by 56 km to 111 km per decade in both hemispheres. A leading commentator called this Earth’s bulging waistline. Future climate projections suggest this expansion is likely to continue, driven largely by emissions of greenhouse gases and black carbon, as well as warming in the lower atmosphere and the oceans. This expansion is associated with heating and drying at the expense of originally temperate habitats rich in flora and fauna. Turning the Earth into a big gas chamber.
Whereas in ‘good old’ medieval times the poisoning of wells constituted a hanging offence, nowadays despite overwhelming scientific and empirical evidence, overloading of the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and acidification of the water is fully legal and constitutes the foundation of great Big Oil economic empires, and through that decisive political influence.
Human resistance to this reality is weak. Regardless of political labels, two fundamental forces can be identified to operate in societies:
- Ideologies, policies and actions aimed at enhancing life.
- Ideologies, policies and actions that amount to the opposite.
It is not a coincidence that movements which promote injustice, racism and war (fascist, ultra-conservative) are commonly oblivious to, or even promote poisoned power, including carbon-overloading of the atmosphere and a dissemination of radioactive isotopes in the biosphere, oblivious to the immense consequences. By contrast they object to clean solar and wind energy.
This nexus is consistent. However there exists a third group, those who pay lip service to the reality of the global climate calamity but, when in power, rarely place limits on or try to reverse the deleterious effects of environmental devastation.
Examples are everywhere, including in Australia:
- An overwhelming denial of human emissions-induced global warming, by (ironically named) “conservatives”.
- The largest opposition party, the ALP, has to all intents and purposes replaced the “great moral challenge of our generation” by ambivalence, tacit acceptance and even support of new coal mines. Originally their focus was on domestic emissions and alternative energy, neglecting the twice-as-large role of coal and gas exports, which after all end up in the same planetary atmosphere.
- The Australian Greens, genuinely committed to fight climate change, have dispersed their efforts with the aim of becoming Australia’s mainstream left. Consequently, their climate change activities have been diluted and thereby less effective. Rarely do they support climate scientists in explaining the nature of global warming and the climate disaster.
Unfortunately, in a heating world dangerous fires can only become a norm, requiring fire-fighting defense on the scale no less than that of the current military. Worldwide, however, the powers that be are too busy creating enemies and diverting resources for military defense, so called, aimed at yet another catastrophe.
Andrew Glikson is an earth and paleo-climate scientist.