We Australians in this bushfire summer have abundantly demonstrated our courage, resilience and ability to work together to do what needs to be done.
Not just firies on the front line but parents swallowing their own fear as they get their kids to safety, even if it’s only a beach with flames raging close by. Armies of other volunteers feeding and supporting emergency workers. People coping with many weeks of threat and uncertainty, people evacuating two, three, five times, refugees taken in. People piecing their lives back together, others supporting them in whatever way they can, floods of donations. In so many ways we have shown how we work together in adversity. Australians are not unique in this way, most people pull together when times are dire, but it’s a feature of human behaviour that we might be more mindful of.
It would be nice to report also how our parliament quickly put aside rivalries and worked to do whatever it could to support communities and emergency organisations in a time of great need.
Over the past few weeks terrorists have killed six Australians and destroyed 673 homes, 1,400 other buildings and vast stretches of unique bushland.
Well no, terrorists did not do that to us. It was bushfires. Mind you some of those fires are alleged to have been deliberately lit by firebugs. Perhaps we should regard firebugs as terrorists.
The Prime Minister doesn’t seem to be very concerned about fires and arsonists, though he does offer thoughts and prayers. On the other hand he indulges his antediluvian obsession of stomping on the last vestiges of union power and his novel Christian approach of holding innocent and sick people hostage indefinitely and watching them slowly die.
Two years ago I posted the latest plot of global temperature, and argued that if trends continue, as they are likely to do, the Great Barrier Reef has little chance of surviving beyond 2030 as more than a sad remnant in its southern reaches. Even if we suddenly got serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions the warming will still continue for 2-4 decades, and the damage would only be deferred.
The greater danger is that the warming will tip into being irreversible if it is not soon reversed. In that case our grandchildren would inherit a very different and hostile world.
There is a climate crisis. Deniers commonly have one or two facts that they claim show the scientists are wrong: the climate has always changed, carbon dioxide is only a tiny fraction of the atmosphere, and so on. They have an endless supply of supposed justifications for doing nothing.
Evidently the deniers imagine the climate scientists never thought of these objections, never investigated them. Well, they did.
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.