DAVID SHEARMAN and PHIL SHEARMAN; Anguished Scientists and the Collapse of Democracy

Feb 12, 2020

In the clouded eyes of government, scientific facts, which have guided our technologically advanced civilisation are now simply an opinion which can be discarded in favour of their own.

The rebirth of activism for coal in both major Parties, a cause of death and ill health whenever burned, and the major cause of global warming, is a blot on the current parliament.

In the United States the Republican Party and its President have chosen to ignore and even deride scientists and their opinions when their researched facts didn’t serve the interest of government. Over the past three years Trump has dismantled environmental regulations with zeal and dedication to help coal and gas development. In Australia, Coalition unity and therefore power is now prioritised above the climate crisis and its now obvious impacts on the future. The stabilisation of Labor depends on the use of coal “for some decades to come” .

The appearance of two petitions one from the United States (The Union of Concerned Scientists– UCS) and the other from Australia (Australian Research Council Laureate Fellows) indicated the frustration and anxiety felt by thousands of scientists, including the two authors of this report, over the failure of their governments to heed the science.

The UCS wrote

Scientists have a moral obligation to clearly warn humanity of any catastrophic threat and to “tell it like it is.” On the basis of this obligation and the graphical indicators presented below, we declare, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from around the world, clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency.

In their Open Letter on Australian Bushfires and Climate, 60 ARC scientists highlight the: Urgent Need for Deep Cuts in Carbon Emissions

The tragedy of this summer’s bushfires commands our attention, and after aiding and supporting the victims it is important to learn from the event. The scale and ferocity of the recent fires are unprecedented since European settlement of this country. They arrived at the end of a year with the lowest average rainfall and the highest average temperatures ever recorded across Australia. Climate change has arrived, and without significant action greater impacts on Australia are inevitable.

Scientists know that without decisive action we are heading for the certainty of a further one degree rise in world temperature this century and more likely a rise of three or more degrees. Australia, https://reneweconomy.com.au/experts-slam-morrisons-false-equivalence-between-emissions-targets-and-hazard-reduction-44355/ and the World having just seen the impact on bushfires related to a one degree rise have been informed by Mr. Morrison that fuel reduction in its remaining vegetation would be equally as “important as emissions reduction and I think many would argue even more so……”

World emissions must be reduced by 45-50% by 2030 to bring global heating under control and this cannot be done this decade without drastic reduction in fossil fuel burning. For example to limit warming to a 1.5 degree rise the amount of CO2 from coal burning each year would need to fall from around 14bn tonnes (GtCO2) in 2019 to just 3GtCO2 in 2030, an annual reduction of 1GtCO2. There must also be large reductions in gas and oil production.

The anxiety demonstrated in these petitions is fed by the knowledge that neither the US or Australia are doing little to address even remotely the size of the problem and are obligated to fossil fuel interests for political funding

In Australia government supports the continuing use and export of coal over this next crucial decade and more mines are being approved as well as drilling for oil and gas.

Australia has never had a secure, impartial approval system for these developments so the task of government to promote fossil fuels has been easy.

The world needs both the USA an Australia to do more than deliver the Paris agreement pledge. The US has chosen not to sign the agreement. Australia has signed but its performance to date makes it unlikely that it will deliver.

A second term for Trump will be mortal blow against the control of world emissions for the US is in a trade position to pressure others nations by climate diplomacy. The remaining 2 years of the Morrison government leaves 8 years to reduce emissions by 50 percent and even if replaced by Labor, reduction in fossil fuels will not be sufficient, if at all.

It has been usual for scientists to present the facts without emotion or opinion, accepting that it is the role of government to act on these facts. In their frustration and anger the UCS and Australian scientists spell out the consequences of not changing policy in a range of spheres.

The UCS;-

To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live…… Economic and population growth are among the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion therefore, we need bold and drastic transformations regarding economic and population policies

The climate crisis is closely linked to excessive consumption of the wealthy lifestyle. The most affluent countries are mainly responsible for the historical GHG emissions and generally have the greatest per capita emissions

The ARC Laureates;-

If strong action is not taken, environmental degradation and social disruption will be much greater and in many cases adaptation will no longer be achievable. It would be naive to assume that such a world will still support human societies in their current form and maintain human well-being.

This dire outlook demands stronger mitigation of carbon emissions. Many argue that actions to achieve this would be economically destructive. This claim has no basis, nor is it consistent with Australia’s traditional optimism and ingenuity, nor with historical experience.

The UCS steps for emission reduction

The UCS petition also brings some innovative thinking to enable nations to monitor their own performance-

Policymakers and the public now urgently need access to a set of indicators that convey the effects of human activities on GHG emissions and the consequent impacts on climate, our environment, and society

They suggest six critical and interrelated steps (in no particular order) that governments, businesses, and the rest of humanity can take to lessen the worst effects of climate change They are on energy, short-lived pollutants, nature, food, economy and population.

The national situation needs decisive action now.

Our democratic system is failing

In 2007 one of the authors of this paper (with a legal expert as co-author) published a book “The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy” at the  invitation of the US Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy. It made grim reading on the performance of democracy which in general  was not addressing the climate situation as it then was.

In the past ten years Australian climate change policy has failed to enact necessary measures to even remotely address the increasing challenges which are now much greater than in 2007.

Both major parties are fixated in the primacy of their own parties instead of this national emergency but clearly the Parliament as a whole must address this problem.

An increasing number of members have from time to time expressed the need for bipartisanship; there is little hope for this from current leaders. However many members of parliament must now have sufficient concern and loyalty to the nation above party to come together to allow Parliament as whole to move forward. This “centre” drawn from both major parties and the Greens, Independents and Alliance might just be a majority.

A vote for an impartial way forward could not be denied if we are to retain any faith in the functioning of democracy.

Unsullied by the party system and ideologies the impartial way forward is the easy part of the proposal. A plan to use the first 2 years of this vital decade would be prepared by independent experts in science, technology and emergency services on measures to reduce emissions and to commence a plan for adaptation, which many other countries in their wisdom have operated for the past 10 years.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the”- women- perhaps Zali Steggall and her colleagues?

David Shearman AM PhD FRACP is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Adelaide and Phil Shearman PhD

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