Climate change is looming as the issue of the next generation. For most lay observers, the question isn’t whether all those eminent experts may yet be wrong: far too many are issuing the same warnings with urgency and conviction. Humanity can’t ignore the likelihood they are right.
There are two vital questions. Who or what’s to blame for the peril we’re in, and what’s now to be done to avert disaster? Two new books tackle these questions from a predominantly Australian perspective.
In The 3rd Degree, Murray Hogarth emphasises “solutions not retribution”. He points out that substantial climate change is already inevitable: the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere will rise by 2C this century because of greenhouse gas emissions in the past. Nothing can stop it.
The effects of a 2C rise will be bad - extreme weather, floods, droughts, crop failures, water shortages, extinctions. But a 3C rise would worsen these effects catastrophically. “Between 2 degrees and 3 degrees is where humanity has to make our stand”.
Hogarth, formerly a journalist, has worked since 1999 as a corporate adviser on environmental issues. His book serves as a primer on the basic science and terminology, as a potted history of events to date, and as a lively discussion of measures available to meet the crisis.
Hogarth believes that “everything has to be on the table” - including nuclear energy. An unapologetic supporter of free enterprise, he places his faith in “creative market solutions”. There are “well-deserved fortunes to be made”.
But serious government intervention will also be necessary, and Hogarth contends that this will come soon. Although we’re starting ten years too late and our current policies “aren’t even remotely close”, Hogarth is confident that Australia will rise to the challenge, as will the rest of the world.
Pray he’s right. After reading Clive Hamilton’s Scorcher, it’s hard to be anything but pessimistic.
Australia’s record on climate change is atrocious. We are the world’s worst nation in terms of greenhouse gas emissions per capita, and top-ten in absolute terms. We’re also the world’s biggest coal exporter, thus directly facilitating a large portion of other nations’ emissions. We weaseled ourselves a very cushy deal at Kyoto in 1997, and then reneged on ratification of the protocol.
Worst of all, argues Hamilton, we’ve deliberately attempted to sabotage the ongoing Kyoto process, to prevent other countries from reducing their own emissions. We’ve been “inside the tent pissing in”.
Citing copiously from public and private documents, and many interviews, Hamilton builds a powerful case. He is fearless in naming and shaming the powerbrokers in Australia’s fossil-fuel industry - corporations, executives, lobby groups, think-tanks, key diplomats and bureaucrats. He also identifies their public stooges - PR flaks, compromised scientists, right-wing columnists and shock-jocks. I hope Hamilton and Black Inc. have good defamation lawyers.
Hamilton also chides certain less obvious culprits: green groups with misplaced priorities; cynical and ignorant mainstream journalists; some prominent Labor politicians, state and federal. The general public, too, although broadly sympathetic to the need for action, has been lazy and myopic.
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