Although similar things have happened before with regard to the danger we face from climate change, they have never been this large: More than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries around the world have put their names to a scientific paper explaining the extreme danger the world faces1,2,3. For Australia, this is on top of a petition presented to parliament signed by over 400,000 people urging the Coalition government to declare a climate emergency, something that they voted down last month4.
It has been clear that the climate is changing at least since the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which came out in 19905. Indeed, the First World Climate Conference, held in Geneva in 1979 had rung alarm-bells over a decade earlier1,2. The predictions in the 1990 report were pretty close to what has been observed since then4. However, over the last few of years, it has become clear that the pace of change has increased. Global Average Temperature, Ocean heat content, the number of extreme weather events are all increasing faster than previously1,2. In addition, Arctic sea ice and glacier thickness are decreasing at a faster rate than previously. Records of the Greenland ice mass and Antarctic ice mass do not go back beyond 2002, so rate comparison is impossible. However, the mass of the Greenland ice is decreasing at a rate of 261 billion tonnes per annum, while that of Antarctica is decreasing at a rate of 123 billion tonnes per annum1,2.
Will this eventually make a difference to the Australian political scene, and especially to the numerous climate change deniers in the Coalition? I suspect not. Their parties are paid too much by the likes of Gina Rinehart and other billionaires and millionaires to ignore science and to keep the fossil fuel subsidies flowing. One hopes that it will make a difference to members of the Labor Party who often seem reluctant to call out the deniers in the Coalition for fear of being wedged somehow. There is no hope with vegetative halfwits like One Notion, who are impervious to knowledge, let alone evidence of any sort.
I suspect that the only way the Australian political scene will be made to notice is if the mainstream media realises how dire the situation is in which we humans find ourselves. Given that a large proportion of them (i.e. mostly NewsCorp media) have been denying the science for as long as the Coalition, I suspect it will make no difference to them at all. This is because, as Naomi Oreskes has demonstrated, discrediting science is a political strategy, used by corporations to prevent or slow action in dealing with the deleterious result of their products. It worked for the tobacco industry (lung cancer), the chlorofluorocarbon industry (ozone hole), and now the fossil fuel industry6. The non-Murdoch remainder of the commercial mainstream media are so bereft of any concerns except selling advertising and making do with fewer journalists, that it is unlikely they would be capable of interpreting the paper by Ripple et al. (2019)1,2, as there are so many more important stories about tennis, cricket, the Melbourne Cup and flammable cladding on buildings, to name a few. Indeed, much of the mainstream media including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation seems to think that science is just a matter of opinion and that while the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is an existential threat, some other scientists don’t seem to. Almost all of those ‘scientists’ either work for or are paid indirectly by the fossil fuel industry, and yet much media gives them equal time. This is exactly how the fossil fuel industry’s denialism system operates, by creating doubt in the minds of the ignorant. The problem is that many of the ignorant are journalists.
Despite well over 30 years of global climate negotiations, we have gone blithely on largely conducting business as usual, while failing to even consider addressing the problem in any serious way. Now the climate crisis has arrived and it is accelerating faster and is more severe than most scientists expected. It not only threatens ecosystems, but humanity itself1. Especially concerning are the feedback cycles7, which seem to have begun already, much earlier than expected8,9. These could lead to a catastrophic runaway global warming which will be well beyond the control of humans. These could destroy some ecosystems, economies and societies, and could make large areas of the Earth uninhabitable. Some of those uninhabitable parts of the world will likely be in Australia.
When it becomes obvious to the denialist politicians in parliament that climate change is real and that it is an existential threat, they will likely say something like: ‘we didn’t know it was so serious’ or ‘why didn’t the scientists tell us earlier’ or ‘the scientists should have made it clearer’ or ‘we only did what we were elected to do’. They will blame anyone and everyone but themselves. The concept of evidence is alien to them, as is the concept of leadership. One relatively new word makes it into the Ripple et al. (2019) paper which I have used elsewhere10, and that is ‘ecocide’, and it is in the context of litigation. Ecocide should rank, not as a litigation topic, but as a crime against humanity. This is because the global warming deniers, in preventing or delaying action, have effectively aided and abetted ecocide, and will have given us a planet on which many millions will be displaced or will die. It will make the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot seem like chicken feed by comparison. Litigation is not sufficient to punish these deniers; they need to face criminal justice for their crimes against humanity.
The fact that so many scientists have signed a paper detailing the data is something that should wake the media up to the catastrophic threat we face. If they do not than they are complicit in this crime against humanity.
- Ripple, W.J., 2019. World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency. BioScience biz088, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz088