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The impacts of global warming are happening anyway

By Eric Claus - posted Thursday, 1 November 2018

Certainty in Australian policy responses

The big difference with many environmental impacts and global warming is that we can insulate ourselves against many of these problems by stabilising our population, while efficiently managing our resource use and pollution. We can't do that with global warming. China's and India's coal fired power plants will warm up Australia and cause an increase in droughts and typhoons in Australia regardless of the policy decisions we make. China's and India's coal fired power plants will NOT destroy wild animal habitat in Australia, though. We probably can't save the rhino, elephant and tiger but we can save the koala and the wombat.

We might not be able to save the fisheries in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean, but it is certainly in our power to save the fisheries off our coasts. We can ensure that the oceans around Australia are not overfished. We can limit polluted runoff from our coasts and preserve mangroves and wetlands in Australia even if they won't be preserved in the rest of the world. There is probably very little we can do about over-pumping groundwater in Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi's can't make us deplete our own groundwater. We might not be able to reduce soil erosion in Africa, but the African's can't force us to farm our land unsustainably. These factors make Australian environmental protection policy much more certain of success than our efforts to combat global warming.


The second difference is we don't have to wonder whether increased population, increased resource use and increased pollution will have the impacts that are being predicted. We know they will because they are already happening. Global warming impacts are also already occurring but the most serious of these are harder to quantify. Climate Scientists are not certain how much more destructive hurricanes will be, or how much drier droughts will be due to global warming.

It is absolutely certain, though, that with a billion more people to feed in 2030 and 2.2 billion more people in 2050 that the world will need more food, energy, minerals, land and water. Based on recent history it is also extremely likely that there will be more pollution, less forests and more refugees. When the worst-case scenarios are considered there are likely to be more violent conflicts within and between countries.

Two of the biggest obstacles against any unified effort to develop policies to combat global warming are the fear that others won't be doing their part and that the impacts are hard to pin down. Opponents of action against global warming and environmental protection in general, focus on these negatives and argue for business-as-usual. Business-as-usual will result in environmental impacts that are certain to reduce the standard of living of most of the world's population and will probably result in violent conflicts in many environmentally stressed locations around the world.

That's not a world we should leave our children. Australia can't solve all the world's environmental problems by ourselves and that shouldn't be our goal. What we can do is make sure that our little patch of the earth is run sustainably. A bonus of policy improvements like stable population, sustainable land management and protecting the oceans is that they will help combat global warming. They won't be sufficient to meet our goals on their own, but they will provide a significant addition. No single policy will solve our environmental problems but if we keep making these significant additions we can give our children a future that they can work with, rather than the one we are currently headed for.

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About the Author

Eric Claus has worked in civil and environmental engineering for over 20 years.

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