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The cost of climate change denial

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Hundreds of thousands of Australians are becoming more vocal against the Government's inaction on climate policy (Screenshot via YouTube)

Mark Zanker looks at the effects of ignorance towards climate change and what we can possibly do to stop destroying the planet.

THE HOWARD LNP GOVERNMENT started the active disruption of international climate change efforts with their outrageous approach, as part of the so-called umbrella group during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations which resulted in Australia being permitted to increase its CO2 emissions to 8 per cent above 1995 levels.  

However, political leaders have been told for many years about the likely consequences; perhaps the first notable event was climatologist James Hansen's presentation to a congressional committee recounted in his book, Storms of My Grandchildren.

All the asinine, scientifically ignorant journalists have constantly asked questions of political leaders about the costs to the economy of taking action to limit climate change. I worked in the area for a time and I never recall a single question about the costs of not taking action. 2019 and, I expect, 2020 will reveal those costs, likely to be ongoing and they are horrendous, indeed capable of causing the collapse of our economy. 

Certainly, agriculture, forestry and the timber industry, fisheries, tourism, small business and the insurance markets are going to take massive hits. Apart from the fires, 2019 was also unprecedented in terms of dust storms, fish kills and water shortages. These political and journalistic spivs would go down in history as having committed crimes against humanity, but there is not likely to be a history so it won't matter.

The world is already 1°C warmer than preindustrial times and the effect of this in Australia is plain for all to see. We are locked into further temperature increases, travelling on a trajectory to around 4°C. We could cut emissions to zero by waking up one day and doing nothing, but that won't work because the amount of CO2 that has already accumulated in the atmosphere will take centuries to disperse and practically everything we know about the Earth as it currently is will change beyond recognition. 

I share the view of Professor Kevin Anderson, formerly of the UK Met Office Hadley Centre, who, at the 4 Degrees and Beyond International Climate Conference at Oxford University in 2009, prophesied that there will be no human life if this comes about, as now seems almost inevitable.

What to do? 

Banning all new oil and gas exploration and fracking would be a start. We must as soon as possible phase out coal mining and transition workers in those industries into new employment.

We need to abandon what Clive Hamilton described as the growth fetish and probably stop immigration very soon. Every effort should be made to process effluent into potable water. Limits must be imposed on the size of dwellings. Urgent thought should go into the use of composting toilets.

All subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, either direct or indirect, such as through railway construction must immediately cease. Plans must be made for the orderly retreat of the population from rural areas likely to permanently lose their water supply and from coastal areas such as Collaroy, the Stockton Peninsula at Newcastle in NSW or Fremantle in WA, where sea level rise is rearing its ugly head if we are to avoid a large internal refugee population from coming into being.

Private diversion dams along rivers must be outlawed. Planning laws must be changed to require all new buildings to be powered to the maximum extent possible by renewable energy and to require retrofitting of existing dwellings.

These are only a few of the desperately urgent measures that occur to me.  

Will any of this happen? Most unlikely — as Frank Fenner and James Lovelock observed, human beings are too stupid to deal with the reality of climate change.

As for Michaelia Cash's beloved tradies and their utes, and the 4WD enthusiasts and their boat trailers or caravans, if there are repeats of this crisis, all that will be left is smoking, burned out, metal hulks by the side of incinerated foreshores all around the coast.  

Jim Hawkins, appalled by the greed and stupidity of the Treasure Island adventure, was haunted by the screeches of the parrot Captain Flint: ‘pieces of eight, pieces of eight’. I will be haunted by the screeches of the demented noisy miner Captain Morrison: “this is coal, don't be afraid, this is coal, don't be afraid”.

Mark Zanker is a retired lawyer and diplomat. You can follow Mark on Twitter @MZanker.

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