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The climate threat: An inkling of success?


TUMBY BAY - A few days ago, a comment by business journalist Alan Kohler in The New Daily caught my attention.

In an article, ‘Australian agriculture businesses fighting to secure the future of food,’ what particularly got me thinking was Kohler’s conclusion:

“It’s unlikely that Australia, or any other country, is going to meet the targets necessary to keep global temperatures to liveable levels without including agriculture, so research into maintaining a viable farming sector when meat is replaced with plant-based alternatives will eventually need a big push.”

I’ve been a vegetarian for over 50 years now. It had been the inherent and appalling cruelty involved in meat production that initially prompted me to change my diet.

But as the years went by, I also began to understand the enormous damage inflicted on the environment by animal farming.

That damage, Kohler suggests, is also highly detrimental to our chances of mitigating climate change.

Hard-hoofed ruminants, like cattle and sheep, not only damage soil and vegetation but produce prodigious amounts of methane, which is a deadlier atmospheric gas than carbon.

Kohler’s argument is consistent with the idea that the necessary changes required to tackle climate change in our overpopulated world will be forced upon us whether we like it or not.

The changes needed are starkly existential.

That is, if we don’t make them, humanity will not be able to survive on our little planet.

Apart from revolutionising agriculture we also need to see the rapid end of our practice of burning fossil fuels.

Climate change will also require us to make other lifestyle adaptations to slow down and, hopefully, eventually reverse the impacts of climate change.

At some point in the not too distant future, if we don’t make the necessary adaptations, this failure to act expeditiously will lead to conditions which will be extremely and painfully obvious even to the most moronic denialist.

If it all sounds terribly dire, that’s because it is - but there is a germ of hope.

If we are wise and resolute enough to tolerate the discomfort of adapting to climate change (noting that it has already begun and that our response so far has been worse than adequate), there might be a future that our grandchildren can enjoy.

As we suffer the pangs and problems of decrepitude, those of us who are old often reflect on our past to think of the better times of our youth in which, for the most part, we were able to look forward to a good future.

But right now, to look forward is uncertain and so laced with unpleasant probabilities that it is difficult to contemplate with any sense of hope.

But perhaps, if and when humanity comes to its senses, there might be something to look forward to after all.

A faint light at the end of the tunnel so to speak.

In Australia at least, but probably elsewhere, the greed and stupidity that has acted as a brake on meaningful action on climate change is beginning to show cracks in its veneer.

Not least because of the added influence of a new young cohort of better educated voters.

This is not to say we should moderate pressure on governments and businesses to change their ways. Of course they should be constantly urged to try harder to combat climate change.

Indeed, now there is an inkling of success, that pressure should be increased. There is still a long, long way to go.

But there is now hope where hope never existed. Perhaps our grandchildren can look forward to a future.

That in itself has to be hugely gratifying.


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Stephen Charteris

Today the published average global atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 419.1 ppm.

From a pre-industrial average of 280 ppm it passed the recommended upper safe limit of 350 ppm in 1980.

Four decades later it hovers around 420 ppm while the slope of the Keeling curve continues to bend upwards.

Globally we pump an extra 37 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually and industrial output has not peaked.

The last time global atmospheric CO2 levels were at this level was three million years ago when global temperatures were on average three degrees centigrade warmer and sea levels 10-20 metres higher.

This was not a world we would recognise today, nor one conducive to agriculture capable of sustaining 9-10 billion people.

We should reflect that it was the rise of agriculture that enabled human civilisation, due in large measure to the stability of the climate that has endured since the end of the last ice age.

This brief, period of comparative climate stability (Holocene) has underpinned the rise of human civilisation, knowledge and technology to the point we are today.

But, as climate stability is eroded by the daily addition of 100 million tonnes of a gas that absorbs outgoing solar (long wave) radiation, so the climate pendulum oscillates between ever greater and greater extremes.

And we see that played out daily in the news, taking the form of more frequent and worsening drought, fires, floods, storms and sea level rise.

Has it resonated with the US population that the Colorado River, a force that carved out the mighty Grand Canyon, no longer carries sufficient water to generate power?

Have Canadians noticed that the largest wildfires on record are happening before the start of the official fire season?

Have we noticed that the causative factor behind the wars and famine that are driving the migration of 100 million people to find a life, not necessarily a better life but any life, is driven by the inability of their homelands to produce food.

While mankind may not yet have lost the global heating war, the prospects of returning to the halcyon days when atmospheric CO2 concentration was comfortably under 350 ppm are remote.

We know what to do. Stop fossil fuel use – now! There is no alternative to safeguard human life.

Until 250 years ago fossilised carbon was safely sequestered underground for hundreds of millions of years.

The release of every extra billion tonnes of fossilised carbon into the atmosphere and oceans as a gas is killing our life support system: the planet.

Fossil fuel use will stop one way or another: either in a somewhat controlled fashion under the watch of wise leaders, or through uncontrolled, chaotic, life threatening human upheaval.

I hope we will get to choose the preferred option.

Lindsay F Bond

As reported: "The European Court of Human Rights will hear a case on the impact of climate change on human rights."

Paul Oates

Spot on Bernard. You've got in one. Thank you.

Bernard Corden

Dear Paul, One of the new religions you missed is shopping on credit via buy now and pay later schemes for items that many mindless consumers want but do not need.

There is a mere thrill for a minute and product lasts for a moment and debt accumulates accordingly.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Just as an aside.

As a long term vegetarian I've tried some of the plant-based alternatives to meat and they are bloody terrible.

Most of them seem to be chocker block with chemicals and other weird ingredients. I'm guessing they don't taste much like the meat they are supposed to be an alternative for.

At best they are a typical market fudge.

People really need to change their diets and habits in a more realistic manner.

I've just finished reading the three volumes of the collected works of James Herriot (aka James 'Alf' Wight) who wrote the 'All Creatures Great and Small' television series about his 1930-40s veterinary practise.

He describes a completely different world to the present one of mega factory and broadacre animal husbandry.

In his day the people of Yorkshire in England looked after small numbers of animals on small farm holdings and had limited impact on the environment. A bit like the way subsistence farmers live in Papua New Guinea.

They had their meat but it was mostly humanely grown and consumed (as opposed to over-consumed).

That's probably what we need to get back to.

Paul Oates

The disconnection between the so called younger generation and their elders is one of the reasons why reality will come as a big thump when it happens.

Population growth and the subsequent 'migration' of 'have nots' to where they believe there are better conditions has been underway for the last few decades.

The overpopulation of places in Africa and the Mid East has created large numbers of people who see migration as a means to gain a better life for themselves and their children.

Apparently, not much thought is given to how those in more 'well off' countries might feel about having to share what they have with those who recently arrive. Ownership of the world's resources are the traditional source of most wars, coupled with religion.

The big question is why so called leaders of the countries who are complaining about lack of population and have been up until recently, welcoming the huge influx of totally different customs and religious practises, but are now having to cope with increasing potential for disharmony on both sides.

Younger people in so called developed nations are either having children later in life or deciding children are too expensive and too disruptive when personal lifestyles are so 'expensive' today.

Taxation and pension benefits have always been under threat when an older population who has paid their taxes then can't understand why the benefits they thought they were putting away for their retirement are now no longer available.

The fact is that through better medical care and better food etc., people are living longer than they used to.

When I started work 60 years ago, it was often the case that men worked all their lives to look forward to retirement at 65 and often died before they reached 66.

Secondly, it is rather obvious to some that the world we grew up in is now impossible to pass on to our children since it has changed so dramatically that we don't really connect with it at all.

The lessons we learnt are apparently of little use to younger people when our smart phone skills and ability to interact on 'social media' can't cope with each new phase and craze.

Our stalwart fallback of religious inspired laws and ethics is now no longer sufficient since the new religion is sport, football, and gambling, while those who cry they don't have enough to meet the increases in housing, food and education costs while indulging in the frivolous pastimes they have become addicted to.

We at the cusp of a disintegration of our civilization when our so called leaders can't see anyway of being re-elected if they tell voters the truth of where we have been allowed them to go.

Chris Overland

My generation, the so-called 'boomers', are mostly a lost cause when it comes to understanding the need for large scale and quite radical changes in order to ameliorate the worst projected impact of human induced climate change.

We must put our faith in the rising generations who seem to be more aware about the perilous legacy that we are going to leave them.

As Phil has mentioned, the smarter people in agriculture have begun to innovate in ways that are much more environmentally friendly than traditional practices and, surprisingly often, more productive and profitable too.

Phil has mentioned the proverbial elephant in the room, which is the production of meat for human consumption. In essence, we need to devote much more of our arable land to the production of plant foods and much less to grazing.

There are already plant-based substitutes for meat which are finding their way onto our supermarket shelves. The tricky bit is persuading the consumers to buy them and, right now, there is very little demand for such products.

Climate change cannot be effectively tackled incrementally, which is the preferred means amongst our political elites of dealing with very difficult and complex issues.

Also, our business elites will not abruptly abandon activities or products that remain very profitable for them. Instead, they will hedge against the future by simultaneously trying to transition into much more environmentally sustainable industries.

For example, virtually all of the major petro-chemical companies are trying to grow their positions in the alternative energy markets. For example, British Petroleum and Shell are major players in the solar energy market.

Similarly, many of the world's major producers of motor vehicles are now becoming seriously invested in producing electric motor vehicles and the technologies used to make them such as batteries.

Even in the world of international shipping, the use of LNG as fuel is growing, together with the use of more efficient propellers and, sometimes, augmenting engines with wind power as well.

Another hopeful sign is that the world's population seems destined to peak by the year 2100 at about one billion fewer people than demographers initially calculated.

For example, China's population has now peaked and will decline quite precipitously over the next few decades, while the population of Russia and some parts of Europe is already in very steep decline.

Things are changing but not nearly fast enough.

The bottom line is that an economy based upon ever increasing consumption, supported by ever increasing production to generate ever increasing profits, is no longer fit for purpose, if it ever was.

This is a truth that our political elites probably understand but, in the developed world at least, they have no idea how to break the bad news to a population that has been encouraged to consume voraciously but without any real thought to the logical economic or environmental consequences of doing so.

As Phil has said, the burden if fixing the mess we are bequeathing to the world will fall upon the young. I certainly hope that they have the courage and resolve to remake the world into a fairer, more equitable and more sustainable place than we have left them.

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