Australian Climate Council’s weasel words demonstrates complete lack of understanding

Nov 22, 2022
Jet airplane on blue sky, question mark in the sky.

It seems that the majority of participants in COP27, and indeed the directors of our own peak advisory body, have no comprehension that, if we want to avoid uncontrollable, runaway warming incompatible with life and society as we know it, our global carbon budget is already spent.

Wikipedia states that the Australian Climate Council is Australia’s leading climate change communications non-profit organisation formed to provide independent, authoritative information on climate change and its solutions to the Australian public.

It recently advertised a New Zealand trek to raise both awareness and funds. The funds anticipated to be raised are modest at about $5,000 per head for sixteen people. But what message does this send when we know the serious pollution caused by air travel. The Climate Council acknowledges this and its words about offsets, caring etc sound great, but are they not weasel words to cover a total lack of understanding of what we need to do.

There is absolutely no doubt that to stay below two degrees warming something has to change. That something must be attitudes. We cannot just go on as we have been with a bit of a tweak here and there. Bear in mind that there is a lot at stake with two degrees. Steffen et al in 2018 calculated that this was the most likely tipping point to uncontrollable, runaway warming incompatible with life and society as we know it.

Last year COP26 delivered some very blunt warnings about the dangers that we face and the urgency that is required with our actions. This was supported by the sixth IPCC assessment report, AR6. Now, COP 27 at Sharm El Sheik in Egypt proudly boasts more than 40,000 participants. How will they get there? Almost all will fly. What will be their purpose? What will the majority actually achieve other than being able to say they were there? If we assume that the average flight will be the equivalent of New York to London and a conservative doubling of ground level burning of aviation fuel because it is in the high atmosphere, we find that the emissions for the flights to that one conference are around the annual emissions of the whole of Tonga.

Of course our Australian participants, as usual, will punch above their weight given the distance that they will fly. What is the justification of the majority of attendees contributing so much to global warming that it eclipses any personal efforts at home to reduce their footprint? What is it that they don’t understand?

Engineers are the custodians of risk for almost all infrastructure in our society. They have very low tolerance to risk and if there is a chance that someone will die from failure of something they design, the worst probability that most engineers will accept is a 1 in 10,000 chance that it could fail. COP26 and its associated AR6 reports have, as a minimum, an 83% chance of success in its recommendations of carbon budgets. That means a 1 in 6 chance of failure. Compare 1 in 6 with a 1 in 10,000 and you see that any carbon budget is already spent if we wish to compare the survival of society as we know it with the potential for loss of life from something built by mankind.

It seems then that the majority of participants in COP27, and indeed the directors of our own peak advisory body, have no comprehension of what is at stake and what their part is in all of this, which is depressing indeed. Sure, air travel is a minor part of the emissions problem because it is only the world’s rich that fly, but Australians fly because they are rich compared with the bulk of the world. It is the rich that must change and much of the changes in behaviour must come from the actions of individuals. What hope do we have if the so called leaders cannot even comprehend?

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