During 2018 I travelled to Wellington in New Zealand to participate in the second Pacific Climate Change Conference hosted by Victoria University and located in the amazing Te Papa Tongarewa Museum. It was a fascinating inter-disciplinary conference featuring international climate scientists such as Professor Michael Mann from Pennsylvania State University, as well as a diversity of social scientists, community representatives and activists from across the Pacific.
Australia is siding with what I call the coalition of the selfish – those industrialised nations which are putting the welfare of their carbon-polluting industries and their workers before our welfare and survival as Pacific Islanders.
It would be nice to report that since then the Australian government’s position has changed and there is now a clear focus on the need to embrace rapid decarbonization and wind back our fossil fuel industries. But of course that hasn’t happened. If anything, the current Morrison government is doubling down on the fossil fuel bet with its “gas-led recovery” from the corona virus pandemic and proposed Senate inquiries into financial institutions shifting away from fossil fuel investments!
While fossil fuel multinationals pivot from explicit climate denial to a strategy of predatory delay, our Pacific neighbours are facing the very real likelihood of the physical inundation of their lands by rising oceans and worsening tropical cyclones. The Australian government at the behest of its fossil fuel donors seems oblivious to the suffering that will ensue in this “age of consequences”.
Visitors to this blog will know of my interest in climate futures, a subject I’ve published on in academic outlets. Recently I re-read British sociologist John Urry’s excellent article “Climate Change, Travel and Complex Futures”. I remember first reading this in 2008 and the future scenarios it outlined opened my eyes to the huge issue of climate change adaptation. Indeed, this article and Al Gore’s 2006 movie Inconvenient Truth were major influences in re-directing my research towards the issue of business responses to climate change (which this blog summarizes).
Readers may remember that back in November, Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald caused some consternation when he characterised the ‘appalling’ situation of too much research funding being devoted to climate change! Explicit in the Senator’s statement was an argument that competitive grants had been subject to political influence under the former Federal Labor Government. As Senator Macdonald stated:
I also know that a number of scientists—and I have had personal interaction with some of them—who wanted to do research that did not follow the then government’s view of climate change would never ever get a grant from the Australian Research Council. That seemed to me, if that were the case—and I accept what was told to me—that the Research Council was actually following a dictum from the then government about climate change and climate change research.
Well the IPCC‘s latest scientific report has come out confirming what many of us have suspected – that anthropogenic climate change is on track with previous worst-case scenarios and the future prognosis is bleak. Given the IPCC is by its nature a conservative organisation, it seems likely that as before, the current report may well underestimate some climate impacts. Be that as it may, this is startling and confronting to read given the import of its conclusions.
So here’s the thing. Despite decades of debate and a scientific consensus that anthropogenic climate change is a real and present danger to not only our societies, but our future as a species – greenhouse gas emissions continue their inexorable rise. This year we passed the symbolic 400 ppm CO2 concentration levels (not seen on Earth for several million years) and we now appear destined to exceed the politically constructed fiction of a 2 degree limit on global warming. The house is on fire, the experts are screaming ‘do something!’, and yet we remain oblivious, addicted to the distractions of hyper-consumption and tech-toys. Which brings me to the topic of this post: can our political systems actually deal with the challenge of climate change?