Climate Crisis on Election Back-burner

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Coal-fired power station in Germany – Catazul www.pixabay.com

My reading of election coverage (such as it is), is that both major parties have shuffled the climate crisis to the back burner. It must be crowded back there, with homeless people and refugees trying to stay warm.

What has been widely ridiculed as the ‘shouty’ debate (on Channel Nine) said nothing meaningful about the most important issue of all – the climate crisis. Such has been the pre-occupation with the election here, we haven’t seen much coverage of Canada’s wet, cold spring, India and Pakistan’s lethal heatwaves, or debate about whether our wet autumn is driven by climate change or something else.

People who deny climate change theory often dismiss it with ‘there’s always been climate change’. Well, yes, but it’s been accelerating since 1950 and in 2022 we have the technology to make material changes.

Andrew Wallace, Federal member for Fisher and Speaker of the House, recently told a public meeting in Montville he was not convinced that climate change was caused by emissions from human industry.

Sunshine Coast resident Gillian Pechey, who was at the meeting, wrote to the Glasshouse News after hearing this statement.

I asked him (Wallace) whether he had worries about the predicted ocean level rise, loss of the sandy beaches which tourists flock to holiday on. He smiled!   His position is predicted to lead to global temperature rise of 3-4 degrees. Parts of Queensland will become unliveable unless you’re wealthy enough to live and work in a solid air-conditioned building.

It is frustrating to see the lead political party turning its back on climate science which predicts that over this century we will continue to have destructive bushfires, floods, eroded beaches and gradual loss of the Great Barrier Reef.”

FOMM’s observation is that Andrew Wallace, elected in 2019 with a 62.7% two-party preferred vote, is obviously going to stick to the LNP’s position on subsidising fossil fuel at the expense of investment in renewable energy. He persists with this line even when campaigning in the Green-friendly towns of the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

Whatever politicians are saying (or not saying) about the climate crisis, there is evidence that the general population has been trying to self-educate. The ABC found a researcher who uncovered a 5,000% increase in the volume of climate questions on Google since 2019.

The data has been ‘normalised’, meaning interest has increased relative to that of other topics. The use of ‘big data’ to reach conclusions is called ‘culturomics’.

For the past 18 months, social researcher Rebecca Huntley has been conducting focus groups to understand climate change concerns among Australians.

Dr Huntley said the Google search data broadly aligns with the focus group results. Various other polls concur – the climate crisis is a hot-button issue. The ABC’s Vote Compass shows an overwhelming number of Australians want more action to reduce carbon emissions.

“The basic theory as to why this is happening now rather than, say, three years ago, is stuff builds up,” Dr Huntley said.

She told the ABC the 2019/20 Black Summer fires were not enough on their own to “shift the dial” on climate concern. But they were followed by two other major climate crisis events.

Australia was criticised for inaction on climate change at the November 2021 COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. Australia did present a net zero emissions plan, but it lacked detail and critics pointed this out.

The third event which may have tipped some Australians over the climate fence was the 2022 floods in Queensland and New South Wales. There’s no evidence yet to blame that individual weather event on climate change. But it was consistent with predictions of the type of epic natural disaster we can expect under global warming scenarios.

The ABC delved into the Google research to find that the top ‘searchers’ came from very small towns, which suggests the data may not be that reliable. A reporter asked Lawrence Springborg, Mayor of Goondiwindi Shire and president of the Queensland Liberal National Party, what he thought.

He suggested people were searching “because they don’t believe” climate change and wanted ammunition to disprove the science when the topic came up in conversation.

“I have absolutely no idea why they’re searching,” he added.

One of the common searches on Google is ‘when did climate change start’.

The latest research now suggests that atmospheric warming began in the early to mid-1800s, rather than the mid-20th century. Until 1950, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had never been above 300 parts per million. Now the readings are over 400 ppm and rapidly increasing.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report says the current warming trend is unequivocally the result of human activity since the mid-20th century.

“It is undeniable that human activities have warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land and that widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, and biosphere have occurred.” 

The Sydney Morning Herald said the Resolve Political Monitor found young voters (18-34) ranked climate change as the second-most important issue in this year’s election. Not surprisingly, the number one issue for young voters was keeping the cost of living low.

Meanwhile, the LNP is sticking to its target of reducing emissions by at least 26% by 2030. Labor’s target is 43% although climate experts warn Australia must cut emissions 75% by 2030. Both major parties want to keep on exporting coal, despite the US Environmental Protection Agency stating that the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Stephen Bartos was recently commissioned by Farmers for Climate Action to prepare a report on the impact of climate change on food supply. Farmers for Climate action is part of the National Farmers Federation (which has 7,000 members).

Writing in The Conversation, Prof Bartos, Visiting Fellow, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, explained his methodology. He reviewed research in this area, interviewed more than a dozen farmers, farmer representative bodies, and other participants in the food supply chain. Among the issues identified were the impact of drought, diseases and stress on livestock, the loss of food due to hotter weather, and shorter shelf lives.

An unexpected finding was the degree to which everyone involved in the supply chain is affected by uncertainty caused by climate change. It is making future weather highly unpredictable, making planning harder for both farms and in transport networks.

Climate change has made a further impact on lending and insurance, where unpredictability means higher costs for financial products. Some farmers reported that they were unable to insure due to climate risks. All these costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher food prices.

This concurs with the Climate Council’s findings that one in 25 Australian properties would be ‘uninsurable’ by 2030. The Climate Council says this is directly due to the rising risk of extreme weather and the impact of climate change.

The Climate Council created at interactive map so households, businesses and farmers can assess the likely risk. Queensland is looking vulnerable.

Finally, though this report is five months old and I’ve mentioned it before, it should be remembered that Australia ranked last in a survey of 60 countries on climate change policy. The Climate Change Performance Index, published annually since 2005, gave Australia a zero for its policy response to the climate crisis, citing ‘a lack of ambition and action’.

As we post this, the Condamine River has risen so much overnight authorities are about to close the bridge into town. The Cunningham Highway to Brisbane is closed and the road to Toowoomba must surely be compromised.

Climate crisis? What climate crisis.

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