I still encounter people who say ‘There’s always been climate change’, meaning don’t worry about global warming, it’s not our fault and there’s nothing we can do about it. You hear other excuses too. So should we not worry about the Reef and the rivers, about Townsville, about Tasmania, about the kelp forests and the mangrove forests and the many other symptoms of a climate awry?
Do the ‘sceptics’ think the scientists haven’t thought of all the ‘reasons’ they find to ignore global warming? Evidently so. But of course the scientists aren’t quite that stupid. They have thought of all those possible ways out of the conclusions, and a lot more besides. They’ve checked them all out. They don’t work.
Global warming, caused by us, is still there, pretty much on the course predicted decades ago. Except that it may now be accelerating.
The Great Barrier Reef is unlikely to survive as more than a small, sad remnant of its past glory. The reason is straightforward. It is well known in climate science that even if we stopped harmful emissions tomorrow global warming would not peak for another several decades. By then most of the reef will be long gone.
This is not pleasant news, and clearly many would prefer it was not said, but there it is, the argument is simple and the conclusion is difficult to avoid.
There was no big revelation, just a train of thought. Nearly a quarter of the Great Barrier Reef is dead, and there has been no discernible political response. Global temperature is rising off the chart, only glancingly noted in the torrent of chatter. The decades-long trend of ever-more perverse and destructive politics continues. Societies are fragmenting.
For perhaps two decades I have held to the thought that while ever there was a chance of avoiding a planetary tipping point I would continue explaining how we can avoid the worst. Through that time, the path to a healthy, stable world has become clearer and more obvious, demonstrated in a thousand practical, small-scale ways. All that time the window of opportunity was closing. It is, in my judgement, barely open any more.
From the perspective of 2020 it’s a bit hard to recall just how disconnected from its constituents the political mainstream had become before the 2016 election campaign. No wonder they churned through so many prime ministers.
The readjustment began just as the campaign began, though few saw what was coming. Even the bleaching of a large part of the Great Barrier Reef did not at first get much reaction. True to form, the major parties gave it minimal lip service. It was only as large swaths of the Reef turned brown and ugly over following weeks that widespread concern began to surface. The Government might still have squeaked in, but it had set itself a 10-week-plus campaign.