Two things have changed the debate: The IPCC and the weather.
Scientists have just got a lot better in explaining climate change in a more understandable, less frightening way. The risks, options and opportunities seem a lot clearer. Too often, the climate change narrative has been negative and filled with nightmarish scenarios, making it easy for sceptics and other climate foes to hijack the issue. In fact, there are positives in fighting climate change and we can all play a part.
Meanwhile, the weather has just got weirder and weirder. You might not be able to see carbon dioxide. But you can sure feel the weather and, admit it, the weather’s been getting more extreme of late.
Depending on where you are, it’s been getting hotter, colder, drier, wetter, stormier. Indeed, the changes, particularly the intensity of heatwaves and droughts, have been occurring faster than many scientists predicted. And that’s made it a bit easier to feel there is something real about climate change.
And that means, perhaps, more people will take a closer look at what the scientists have been saying and also take a harder look at the arguments of the sceptics, particularly those from the energy and mining sectors.
Scientists have long called for urgent action, warned of more intense droughts, floods, rising seas and failed crops. They’ve tried to educate the public about climate science, and the policies needed to cut carbon pollution, though many people have struggled to really comprehend all of this. The science can seem complicated and, on the surface, vulnerable to sceptics picking holes in the evidence. Some of the climate-related disasters seemed to be too far into the future or likely to occur in other parts of the globe.
This gloomy narrative has been a real turn off for many people trying to make a living and raise their families, particularly when it seemed there was little the average person could do.
Thanks to the polar vortex, the droughts in Texas and California, heatwaves in Australia and extreme flooding in Britain, some of us are now paying a lot more attention to the weather. Even if you don’t understand the science of climate change, we’re listening a little harder to what the scientists are saying.
And over the past six months or so, they’ve been saying a lot.
The world’s greatest assemblage of climate scientists has just given us the best guide to fighting climate change we’ve ever seen. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has delivered, like a marathon play over three acts, its fifth and finest update on climate change science, the risks of climate change, the impacts, the options to cut carbon and ways to adapt. The latest report, released on Sunday, examined the costs and options to cut carbon.
The three reports, involving hundreds of scientists from around the globe, contain alarming data and predictions but also hopeful investment and policy actions. The reports are meant to guide governments but are also meant for all of us to decide what sort of future we want. That’s the point. Climate change is not a hopeless narrative. The work of the IPCC gives us honest, even brutal, choices and gives us all a more accurate sense of probabilities on outcomes depending on how, and how fast, we act. It also highlights likely costs (act now and the costs are pretty manageable) and the ethics of fighting climate change.
It shows us there are real opportunities from cutting carbon pollution and limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius or less. For example, greater investment in renewables and weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is affordable over the long-term and isn’t a job killer.
Curbing deforestation, replanting and more efficient agricultural practices can also cut emissions and help soak up carbon. Trees are, after all, the best CO2-capturing device we have.
Greater energy efficiency in buildings and cities can also cut pollution and so can greener transport.
Denialists push back against some of these options, in part because they prefer to keep the status quo. But the status quo isn’t an option any more. We’re all heading for a climate-challenged future and what that future looks like should be decided by all of us, not just one or two governments or business sectors.
The author Tom Friedman recently asked what if the nightmare of the climate deniers came true. What would happen if, for example, the United States decided to seriously act against climate change? His vision:
Firstly, slash income and corporate taxes and replace them with a carbon tax to get companies to cut carbon and hire more workers.
Secondly, borrow money at almost zero percent and invest it in infrastructure to make U.S. cities not only more resilient, but more efficient.
Thirdly, make permanent the wind and solar and other renewable energy tax incentives to stimulate more innovation and secure a place in the global revolution for clean water and clean power.
Hardly a nightmarish vision, right? You would do these things anyway.
Moving away from coal means fewer destructive mines, less air pollution, fewer health costs – just ask China, which is battling air pollution and looking to limit the growth of coal.
A lot of the technology is available to reduce emissions and further R&D spending and policy support could speed up commercialisation of new forms of green energy. That opens up new industries and new job opportunities.
We need to keep pushing back at the sceptics and industry-funded denialists. For too long, the energy and mining sectors have been enjoying taxpayer-funded subsidies and avoiding responsibility for the true cost of their actions. Their constant push-back against climate policies is driven purely by short-term profits and a lack of long-term vision. Their lies and deceit are increasingly laid bare.
It backfired. Within hours, a huge Twitter campaign by angry Australians mocked the council with intense sarcasm via #Australiansforcoal. Many Australians just aren’t buying the PR spin anymore and are tired of the coal industry’s bullying tactics.
Suddenly, fighting climate change seems a little less gloomy and a bit more optimistic. And sometimes it can be fun.