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Oversite - A Personal View

By Bruce Barbour

Update -  January 2019

Most of this website was written 10 or more years ago. I consider that most of what was written is still valid. Some of the ideas suggested have been implemented but a lot haven't been. Actions proposed on this site and the additional more extensive actions proposed by others more knowledgeable than me may have been adequate if full implemented 10 years ago but it is not now. At this time when green house gas emissions should be plummeting toward zero they continue to go upwards. This in itself is an indictment of current policy settings and actions taken. All the solar, wind and hydro that has been installed, and energy efficiency measures implemented, has only acted to slow the growth of green house gases. The time when slow and steady solutions of the past may have been adequate, if they ever were,  has passed. Under current settings and in the current political environment the possibility of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial temperatures is a fantasy. We are already over one degree! Two degrees is also a fantasy under the current strategy. The planet is heading to at least 3 to 4 degrees of warming - and possibly a whole lot more. This level of warming would be an extinction level event for many ecosystems. The impact on much of humanity would be catastrophic.

This is a tragedy - a horrendous slow motion train crash that many people can see coming but others, despite the evidence and the clear warnings from the scientific community, are completely and willfully blind. The other tragedy is that if humanity really wanted to it may still be possible we could stop it, we might be able to turn it around even at this late stage. Considering the consequences it would be at least worth trying. It would take declaring a climate emergency, devoting significant proportion of the world's productive effort to tackle the problem. (See pdf document - Don't Mention the Emergency.) It is too late for the so called market based mechanisms like carbon taxes or small scale subsidies to work on their own - though they may play a part, especially carbon taxes as one means of at least partially funding the required work. The only way forward from this position is to place the world onto a wartime like footing with the enemy climate change and green house gases - and those that release them. Some industries would need to be nationalized or closed and new ones set up by government devoted to climate change solutions. Across national boundary help would have to be given (yes given not sold or lent) to less developed countries. Countries that did not cooperate would be pariah states and isolated from world trade and commerce and membership of international bodies until they amend their ways. Tackling climate change needs direct action by governments on a grand scale and direct action by companies, groups and individuals on a smaller scale. Green house gas production from the static energy production (primarily electricity production) would have to be brought to zero within a decade. The rest of the sectors producing green house gases (agriculture, transport etc.) would have to go to zero or be fully offset soon after. After that green house gas production would have to go below zero - that is we have to be removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, taking atmospheric carbon dioxide levels back closer to pre-industrial levels. We may even have to consider beneficial geo-engineering - after all what is our current green house gas emissions if not unintentional geo-engineering. We will need to undertake large scale restoration of degraded environments.

The current economic basis of our society in the West - continual economic growth based on year by year increases in material consumption - is the cause of much of the increasing green house gas releases and will have to change. Lifestyles will need to change - especially in the West.

Is this likely to happen? Based on current experience I fear that this too is likely to be a fantasy but who knows. There will be more action taken in the future but will it be enough? The next 50 years will show.

Fixing climate change is indeed a "wicked problem", but not impossible. The current generation, and its political class in particular, has so far failed miserably to rise to the challenge and will deserve the condemnation from future generations that it will undoubtedly get if the situation is not addressed.

Bruce Barbour
January 2019


Welcome to the Green Oversite info web.

There is general agreement within the scientific community that global warming is occurring and its cause is due in large part to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. Even most politicians concede that it is occurring. With this general consensus you would think that putting policy and practices into place to address the issue would be uncontroversial. However this is not the case. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • powerful vested interests in maintaining the status quo for as long as possible;

  • the effects of climate change cannot readily be seen in your day to day life. You can't readily feel a 0.8 degree global warming in your day to day life, nor see the relatively small changes in sea level already occurred. I went for a bush walk the other day - beautiful blue sky, birds chirping etc. The environment does not appear on the surface to be in a state of disastrous decline. There are news stories of drought and increased storm frequency and intensity and of unseasonal melting of glaciers and ice sheets but if they are not happening to you and you can't see them directly it can seem a bit unreal. Yet the vast majority of the scientific community is saying that if allowed to go on disastrous decline is what we will get - we need to take their warnings seriously and act now. By the time the disaster is readily apparent it will be too late. There are a number of issues - there is a lag between the carbon pollution and the environmental effect - the Earth is a massive system and it takes years for changes to occur so while there is a 0.8 degree world wide temperature increase at present. even if we stopped all pollution now further warming would occur. The other problem is that the climate change may well be non linear - there may be "tipping points" beyond which larger scale change could occur which would increase warming significantly from what we have at present. If these tipping points are exceeded then run away climate change effects could be anticipated and short term recovery probably impossible. The other issue is that some of the claims of sea level change seem hard to believe. For example a seven meter sea rise if the Greenland ice sheet melts seem incredible - the world's oceans seems so large and while Greenland is large it is nowhere near the size of the oceans. And if the Antarctic ice shelf melt we will be looking at a 25m sea level rise or more. It all seems unbelievable until you realise that the ocean has been this high and higher in the past - if it has happened before (for different, non anthroprogenic, reasons) it can happen again;

  • in additional to this even though some might acknowledge that warming is occurring there may be a lack of concern about the severity of the consequences of global warming: Some may think "just a few degrees hotter, more storms, some islands flooded and refugees are a small price to pay for our way of life". This is a dreadful, even unethical, attitude - even a few degrees may have dire consequences. It could be a lot worse than "just a few degrees". Low lying areas of densely populated countries could flood, ecosystems disrupted leading to mass extinctions, and water availability and food production threatened. War is possible - people and governments are not going to starve in silence. To proceed along the route leading to global warming is playing dice with our life support system, the earth's environment, only worse. If we stuff it up we could be at a stage where we couldn't go back. In the life and death issues of our environment it is much better to adopt the precautionary principle;

  • the Australian and other democratic political process does not encourage the adoption of a long term view. Some required reform will hit the hip pocket or require lifestyle changes. The benefits may not be able to be seen for decades, if they can be seen at all. When a politician can only see to the next election, a few years away, there is not much incentive to implement what may in the short term be unpopular policies whose effects are decades away.

A lot of changes can and should be done in response to this crisis. It is a matter of priorities. When a politician says some environmental policy initiative is too expensive what they are really saying is that in their opinion there is some other action which they believe has higher priority and therefore deserves the funding more than the environmental initiative. If Australia decided that global warming was one of the highest, if not the highest priority, funding would be found. It is a matter of getting that decision made - the priority increased. It would not break Australia's economy - nowhere near - and even if it did it is a price we would have to bear.

The community needs understanding of the significance of the problems, from which will come the will to tackle this most significant issue of our time, global warming. If there is the will the resources necessary to carry out the required works and to make the necessary lifestyle changes will be made available. The cost may be significant but, I suggest, significantly less than the cost of doing nothing and accepting the consequences of global warming.

I hope you will enjoy reading the contents of this site where I make further commentary and suggest some partial solutions. Please access the pages off the side bar at the top of this page and elsewhere on this site.

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