Australia, your country is burning – dangerous climate change is here with you now

‘In Australia, beds are burning. So are entire towns, irreplaceable forests and endangered and precious animal species such as the koala.’ State Government Of Victoria Handout/EPA
Michael E Mann, Pennsylvania State University

After years studying the climate, my work has brought me to Sydney where I’m studying the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events.

Prior to beginning my sabbatical stay in Sydney, I took the opportunity this holiday season to vacation in Australia with my family. We went to see the Great Barrier Reef – one of the great wonders of this planet – while we still can. Subject to the twin assaults of warming-caused bleaching and ocean acidification, it will be gone in a matter of decades in the absence of a dramatic reduction in global carbon emissions.

We also travelled to the Blue Mountains, another of Australia’s natural wonders, known for its lush temperate rainforests, majestic cliffs and rock formations and panoramic vistas that challenge any the world has to offer. It too is now threatened by climate change.

I witnessed this firsthand.

I did not see vast expanses of rainforest framed by distant blue-tinged mountain ranges. Instead I looked out into smoke-filled valleys, with only the faintest ghosts of distant ridges and peaks in the background. The iconic blue tint (which derives from a haze formed from “terpenes” emitted by the Eucalyptus trees that are so plentiful here) was replaced by a brown haze. The blue sky, too, had been replaced by that brown haze.

The locals, whom I found to be friendly and outgoing, would volunteer that they have never seen anything like this before. Some even uttered the words “climate change” without any prompting.

The songs of Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil I first enjoyed decades ago have taken on a whole new meaning for me now. They seem disturbingly prescient in light of what we are witnessing unfold in Australia.

The brown skies I observed in the Blue Mountains this week are a product of human-caused climate change. Take record heat, combine it with unprecedented drought in already dry regions and you get unprecedented bushfires like the ones engulfing the Blue Mountains and spreading across the continent. It’s not complicated.

The warming of our planet – and the changes in climate associated with it – are due to the fossil fuels we’re burning: oil, whether at midnight or any other hour of the day, natural gas, and the biggest culprit of all, coal. That’s not complicated either.

When we mine for coal, like the controversial planned Adani coalmine, which would more than double Australia’s coal-based carbon emissions, we are literally mining away at our blue skies. The Adani coalmine could rightly be renamed the Blue Sky mine.

In Australia, beds are burning. So are entire towns, irreplaceable forests and endangered and precious animal species such as the koala (arguably the world’s only living plush toy) are perishing in massive numbers due to the unprecedented bushfires.

The continent of Australia is figuratively – and in some sense literally – on fire.

Yet the prime minister, Scott Morrison, appears remarkably indifferent to the climate emergency Australia is suffering through, having chosen to vacation in Hawaii as Australians are left to contend with unprecedented heat and bushfires.

Morrison has shown himself to be beholden to coal interests and his administration is considered to have conspired with a small number of petrostates to sabotage the recent UN climate conference in Madrid (“COP25”), seen as a last ditch effort to keep planetary warming below a level (1.5°C) considered by many to constitute “dangerous” planetary warming.

But Australians need only wake up in the morning, turn on the television, read the newspaper or look out the window to see what is increasingly obvious to many – for Australia, dangerous climate change is already here. It’s simply a matter of how much worse we’re willing to allow it to get.

Australia is experiencing a climate emergency. It is literally burning. It needs leadership that is able to recognise that and act. And it needs voters to hold politicians accountable at the ballot box.

Australians must vote out fossil-fuelled politicians who have chosen to be part of the problem and vote in climate champions who are willing to solve it.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalistic collaboration to strengthen coverage of the climate story.The Conversation

Michael E Mann, Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Imagine newsletter: researchers think of a world with climate action

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What if climate action was the norm? The Conversation
Jack Marley, The Conversation; Khalil A. Cassimally, The Conversation, and Will de Freitas, The Conversation

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Imagine is a newsletter by The Conversation which presents a vision of a world acting on climate change. Drawing from the collective wisdom of academics in fields from anthropology and zoology to technology and psychology, this newsletter explores what alternatives there are from the world of research and what they would mean for you and the rest of the planet.

Issue 1: National service for the environment

Climate change is here. Decades of warnings from scientists are now being vindicated, from extreme weather to mass extinctions of species. Every day we’re more familiar with the reality of climate change and what it means for life on Earth.

But climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is a fundamental crisis for civilisation. How can humanity face up to the wide range of challenges posed by climate change? If we embraced solutions and alternative ways of doing things, how might life be different?

The media has had some success in communicating how climate change could devastate the planet, but people are less familiar with the solutions. Beyond the idea of driving less and going vegan, there is often less discussion about the transformations needed to help society thrive in an age threatened by ecological crisis.

The ideas are out there, and already some are capturing attention. The Green New Deal, announced in February 2019 by US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, proposes an emergency transformation of America’s economy and society to bring greenhouse emissions to zero in ten years, redistribute wealth and help people find useful work and leisure time in a resurgent natural environment.

There are many other research-based solutions from different environmental, political, social and energy academics to consider. Imagine will arrive soon and is your guide to the future as it may yet still be. There is still time for radical thinking on how the world can seize the initiative on climate change, and make life more fulfilling for all living beings in the process.

In the present gloom of an ecological crisis, Imagine aims to bring clarity and suggestions for what a future beyond climate change could look like.

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Jack Marley, Commissioning Editor, The Conversation; Khalil A. Cassimally, Community Project Manager (Audience development), The Conversation, and Will de Freitas, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.