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EnvironmentOpinion

Climate Change: Let’s Get Real

(Alex Ellinghausen, 2018)

It seems extreme weather events make the news more and more frequently these days – we’re always having the hottest, driest, coldest month on record. One catastrophe to have consistently graced the front pages in recent times is the drought in east Australia. One hundred per cent of NSW has been declared in drought (ABC, 2018) and new Prime Minister Scott Morrison, on a recent visit to a drought-stricken rural farm, claimed the climate change debate will not help at this point and that he didn’t wish to discuss the matter (ABC, 2018). Whatever you say, PM. The RSPCA has responded to complaints about livestock, having to euthanize cattle too weak to travel to markets (ABC, 2018), and farmers are dumping working dogs because they can no longer afford to feed them (Herald, 2018).

Humankind is emitting massive and consistently increasing amounts of pollution into the atmosphere, and the rapid and unprecedented dominance of one species (humans) is leading to the destruction of natural environments. Common sense would tell you that’s going to have some kind of effect on the very precarious balance of nature. Or so you’d think.

I take the rather nihilistic and fatalistic stance on climate change that we’ve surpassed the tipping point from which there is no hope of return. In fact, in academic circles it is widely agreed that 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was the tipping point for global change, and we  surpassed that in 2017 (Forbes, 2017).

In the words of one of the greatest lines in cinematic history, this is one doodle that can’t be undid, home skillet.

Some might be old enough to remember the slowly changing metonym for humans’ impact on the environment: first, ‘greenhouse gases’ was the buzzword, then ‘global warming’ was all the rage, and now we’ve settled on ‘climate change’. It makes more sense because it incorporates the shift towards extreme weather on both ends of the temperature spectrum, negating Trump’s ‘It’s freezing out, can we get some global warming over here?’ argument.

Many climate change deniers use ’scientific claims’ to form a counter-argument, suggesting that the earth goes through natural cycles of hot and cold. All those ice ages were really fun, weren’t they? You know, the ones where lots of animal and plant life went extinct because of an un-adaptable shift in climate? I will agree with them on one thing. The Earth has seen worse. There was a time when this planet was covered in lava and yet it’s still ‘here.’ To that extent, I disagree with the common catchphrase that we’re ‘killing the planet’, because nature will bounce back, evolve, adapt, take on new and horrifying forms. What we are killing is the Goldilocks Zone, the slim range within which we can support human and many other forms of life as we know it.

People don’t often tend to think about those long-extinct species of mega fauna too much in their day to day lives, nor do they particularly mourn the loss of the woolly mammoth as something tragic gone awry. Perhaps, that’ll be what future evolutions of humankind, or whatever takes over the Earth in our absence, will think of us burning our way into extinction. Just the natural cycle of things, right?

Wrong.

We have a responsibility to support those who will feel the effects faster, because while running between shady spots on a 40-degree day and getting branded by a metal seatbelt sucks, getting your house destroyed by a tsunami is probably worse.

The responsibility is almost always shared equally, as if the single mother who uses plastic lunch wrap because she can’t afford beeswax wrapping is as much to blame as the mining magnate jetting around the world. Those in power have a greater responsibility to salvage what’s left of the liveable environment, if not out of the goodness of their gilded hearts, then for the practical purpose that there will soon be no one to buy their packs of plastic straws or instant coffee pods.

So I’m not confident that ‘saving’ the planet is really on the agenda anymore, but perhaps we can prolong the inevitable and survive long enough to see our Sun expand into a red giant and consume us all. While I agree we ‘all have our part to play,’ there are some who have a much larger part than others. Here’s looking at you Morrison.

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