Why we must talk about climate change

nsw rural fire serviceMary Debrett, Opinion page - The Ballarat Courier

With catastrophic bushfires continuing to rage across NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, recent statements by politicians implying it's offensive to talk about climate change in the face of bushfire victims' suffering, have prompted considerable backlash-from the nation's former fire chiefs, from the general public, and from bushfire victims themselves.

For politicians who have failed to develop policies to effectively mitigate the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions driving anthropogenic climate change, the current drought and wild fires are obviously embarrassing, since they reflect what climate scientists have been warning for over three decades.

In Australia the climate has now warmed by 1.4C. It is predicted that globally, unless more radical action is taken, we are on a path to reach 4-5C warming by the end of the century-a scenario leading to a hostile, severely diminished environment. With the COP25 meeting in Madrid concluding, we know that those talks have failed to secure commitment to cut emissions to the requisite level.

As Greta Thunberg noted, nations have used 'clever accounting and creative PR' to escape doing what is needed to keep global warming within 1.5C. Australia's attempt to carryover carbon credits from the Kyoto Agreement signed in 2007, to prove it has met commitments made at the Paris COP21 in 2015-even as our own official figures revealed the lie-offer good reason for all Australians to talk about climate change.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) SCROCC (Special Report on the Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate), which was released in September this year, found global mean sea level is rising faster, with increasing rates of ice loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and glaciers, which combined with a warming ocean is also increasing the likelihood of tropical cyclones and extreme waves, exacerbating coastal hazards. The Report also later noted that increased absorption of CO2 is increasing ocean acidification. While much has been said on the topic of rising sea levels referenced here, comparatively little media coverage has been given to the topic of ocean acidification, a process that will eventually make the sea hostile to marine life.

With IPCC and UN initiatives failing to secure national commitments to the needed emissions targets at the International level, and with elected politicians failing to develop adequate mitigation policies at the national level, it falls to our local councils and to us, as ordinary members of the public, to push back for climate action. Think global, act local was never as relevant as now.

Certainly the Ballarat region has been performing quite well on that score. With the City of Ballarat having endorsed the declaration of climate emergency in 2018 and unanimously passed its own Carbon Neutrality and Zero Emissions Action Plan in 2019, and recently appointing an Environment Officer. This year also saw the launch of GNET-The Grampians Regional Roadmap to Zero-a collaboration between environmental group, Beyond Zero Emissions and the Committee of Ballarat. Funded by DELWP, GNET will identify pathways towards a 100% renewable energy and a zero emissions economy for the Grampians region by 2050.

Talking about climate change helps to raise public consciousness about the impact of our consumer and lifestyle choices, as well as contributing to better understanding of the scale of the problem we are all facing. You don't have to be an expert.

Firstly, this is not a political issue-it's an existential one, as many have noted. The science of anthropogenic climate change has been clear for decades, and is clearly evidenced in the devastating extreme weather events that have wreaked havoc around the globe in recent years-heat waves, floods, droughts and wildfires - even in the Arctic. We humans are the cause-through GHG emissions from burning fossil fuels, methane emissions from landfill, and other unsustainable industrial and agricultural practices.

Secondly, the new bushfire reality is about to hit us. As former fire chiefs who have spoken up have confirmed, hotter temperatures arising from climate change have spawned fire storms that create pyrocumulonimbus clouds, changing the weather, producing dry lightning and violent winds that can carry embers up to 30-40 kilometres. With temperatures continuing to rise former fire chief, Greg Mullins, and 22 colleagues have appealed to government for action on climate change. As most Victorians know, we have good reason to be fearful of this new bushfire reality. Firefighting chiefs, bushfire-research scientists, meteorologists and climate scientists are all in agreement that climate change is the major factor for the heightened level of destructiveness we are seeing in this year's fires.

Thirdly, talk about what you are doing in terms of your lifestyle choices. No matter how small they may seem, explain how these help to reduce GHG emissions, while also possibly saving you money and making you healthier-growing your own food, sewing your own clothes, riding a bike, catching public transport, planting trees, using produce bags, keep cups and re-usable water bottles, eating less meat and dairy, trying to buy less, monitoring your use of the air conditioner, putting solar panels on the roof. The list of things people are now doing in the interests of reducing their carbon footprints is endless as is the list of things many are doing to assist the bees and insects and wildlife in their gardens, creatures that are also adversely affected by climate change and whose extinction will have a devastating environmental effect. Don't let people assume you're just a bit odd in doing these things, make sure they understand the rationale and that there is a social and environmental value that benefits us all.

Fourthly, acting to reduce emissions-whatever path you take-is a great way to address the depression that increasing numbers of us are now experiencing in thinking about the climate crisis. Taking action and talking about it has therapeutic value too.

Many among us, like the frog in the simmering pot, are still barely aware of the scale of changes now on the horizon. So don't be a quiet Australian. As Climate Councillor and former Australian of the year, Tim Flannery, once said, 'it is the army of mice' that will in the end be left to do most of the heavy lifting in transitioning to the changes we need. Community is where real climate action is happening. Be the change you want to see, talk and share what you know and what you are doing-to reduce GHG emissions and fight climate change.

Mary Debrett, President BREAZE