Just a sliver of a chance: the uncomfortable truth of insufficient climate action

Feb 9, 2021

We must stop celebrating trivial wins in this war of cataclysmic consequences. The pretence that we are making a significant difference may make us feel better but it lets us settle into the complacent delusion that one day someone will sort it out in time.

Here is the bottom line that we must face up to:

Monthly average Mauna LOA CO2

The successes we celebrate are making no noticeable difference to the atmospheric CO2 that forces climate change, because they are too trivial. Even the global Covid-19 pandemic still doesn’t show up as reducing even the rate of growth in emissions, partly because it takes time for atmospheric CO2 to respond to change. If we reduce emissions to the atmosphere, oceans may dissolve less, buffering the change.

Moreover, according to Professor Will Steffen, we have already triggered nine out of 16 climate feedback loops – so if we reduce emissions from human activity, that’s not going to stop the feedback loops from continuing to accelerate feedback emissions, such as:

  • Bushfires globally – NSW and QLD in 2019/20, WA currently!
  • Melting tundra releasing methane
  • Reduced reflectiveness of arctic regions as ice melts

Our greatest successes seem to be nowhere near enough to even offset the rate at which these feedback loops are relentlessly growing emissions. We are fighting a losing battle.

The excellent “What Lies Beneath” report (Spratt & Dunlop) looks at IPCC forecasts through a precautionary lens (instead of the “most likely” scenario lens of the politically moderated IPCC reports). Combining this with the “Hothouse Earth” research (Steffen et al) into climate feedbacks, suggests that there is now more than a 10% chance that we are already past the point of no return to potentially un-survivable 4-6 Degrees C of global warming.

If a global pandemic-forced recession can’t offset the rate of growth in emissions from feedback loops, perhaps we have already lost control of our climate – our children and grandchildren’s futures may already be at risk. The collapse of civilisation (David Attenborough) and the extinction of our own and 90% of other species seems almost inevitable! Do I help my daughter with her science degree, or do I send her to live with a remote Indigenous community to learn how to find water in the desert, find bush-tucker and hunt?

We need to tell the full unedited truth, however uncomfortable, and start demanding change at the scale required from every level of our governments, our financial institutions, our corporations and at home, including in everything we do, buy and invest in.

In this next decade, where we still have a sliver of a chance, we must stop celebrating trivial wins in a war of cataclysmic consequences. The pretence that we are making a significant difference may make us feel better but it also lets us all settle into the comfortably complacent delusion that one day someone will sort it out in time.

We cannot have a gas-led recovery, we must not be diverted by misleading silver bullet cons, like renewables being spruiked by the fossil fuel industries or by the technology myth of carbon capture and storage.

We must do all of the right things, in the right order, informed by best available precautionary science, without distractions that delay or obfuscate the changes needed.

We need radical transformation of the grid to enable rapid decarbonisation with renewables before 2030, coupled to reforestation and carbon draw-down farming, as well as some high risk geoengineering. The latter needs to be researched now, with the same urgency and at the same pace that we researched Covid vaccinations.

We must use our votes, our buying and investing power and protest peacefully but vigorously to confront our psychopathic, corrupted governments and the political parties that take money from fossil fuel vested interests and put their interests before our own children and grandchildren.

What grotesque conceit that our politicians and fossil fuel executives would sacrifice a survivable future for a few years of ego building power or money. A national strike led by our youth to force change is not excessive when so much is at stake and it’s perhaps the only thing that would get the attention of a world driven by the delusion that only GDP growth matters.

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