Spell of climate inaction: lift it with knowledge

Jonas Rockström

“Action is the antidote to despair.”
Edward Abbey, American author (1927–1989)

Climate Catch 22: The antidote to climate despair is action. Everyone we have talked with in our radio show The Sustainable Hour agrees with this. But we don’t act as long as we are in doubt. Therefore, the removal of doubt is crucial: General knowledge about climate change science and how far we are with implementing solutions is essential when we want to break the stalemate that currently holds back broad, effective political and civil action on pollution reduction.

The climate crisis is such a huge issue that a lot of people – people of the media included – choose to ignore it simply because of that. Its too big to deal with, and too scary to even think about. The logic goes: “What difference will it make if little I start doing something about it? What difference will it make if our company, media house, city, even our entire country, begins to do something drastic about reducing our ecological footprint, as long as the rest of the world doesn’t?”

It has become a Catch 22 paradox. Our collective apathy and inaction on the existential threat of runaway global warming leads to denial or suppression for some, despair and depression for others. In both cases the end result is: inaction. Stalemate. Because it works the other way around too: denial and despair leads to apathy and inaction.

Could it be that the only cure for this vicious Climate Catch 22 situation is knowledge? Understanding where we are at, knowing what is being done about it and what options we have to deal with the problem – suddenly it becomes obvious where and how to begin to take action. With knowledge, fear disappears.

Knowledge doesn’t come by itself, obviously. As with any study and any learning curve, it requires a personal investment of time and effort. If you are ready for that, then this blog – and some or all of the videos embedded below on this page – is an invitation to get started on the journey.


Where we’re at

The science


In August 2017, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year globally since temperatures records began 137 years ago – and the third year in a row that the record has been broken.


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A century’s worth of data on global temperatures in just 30 seconds

Antti Lipponen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, has compiled weather statistics between 1900 and 2016 and turned them into a 35-second video. The results back up what climate scientists have been saying for decades: the planet is warming up.

“The image has resonated with many, as it has gone viral. The only question left is, what action will we take?”
~ Diana Sette, Hyperallergic


Below is another more static way of showing the same data:


Image by Antti Lipponen


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Climate chaos

“Climate is by definition the average of the last thirty years of weather observations. In the old days, we would be studying global maps and talk about tropical, subtropical, temperate and polar climate. There were fixed definitions for inland and coastal climate. Ocean currents and wind systems were if not rock-steady, then certainly very stable within certain limits. Record temperatures, maximum precipitation or long-term changes in wind systems were rare events.

Nowadays, the climate is no longer a climate. Rather, we are in the midst of climate chaos. Looking at the average of the last thirty years of weather observations makes less and less sense when never before in the history of weather observations changes occur so often and so frequently that record-breaking weather events in themselves have become the new normal. All fixed limits are dissolving.

What should be our appropriate response to this? Can we expect anything else than resignation and fatalism from people? Optimism would obviously be wonderful, but if it stands alone, it’s a tragic deception.”
~ Niels-Holger Nielsen

» World Economic Forum – 4 September 2017:
These 5 charts explore the human impact on extreme weather



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“The evidence is everywhere: forests retreating, glaciers melting, sea levels rising. Droughts, floods, wildfires and storms have increased five-fold over the past 50 years. And we’re only just beginning to feel the strain of climate change. It’s estimated that rising sea levels will threaten 30 million people in Bangladesh alone. Miami could disappear within a generation. Despite all of these dire events and projections, the attacks continue — on climate scientists.”

“So how did we get here? That’s where Naomi Oreskes enters the picture. She’s a Harvard professor and historian of science. In her book, Merchants of Doubt, she traces the people behind what has become a global industry of climate change denial. There are the American billionaire Koch brothers, who continue to finance “doubt” campaigns. Some observers put their contribution to climate change denial at $120 million, with the result that many now believe that stories about climate change are “fake news” or a “Chinese hoax”.”
~ Paul Kennedy, Ideas, CBC radio



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2020: The Climate Turning Point

What needs to happen by 2020?

In the next three years, businesses, investors and policy makers need to take bold, but achievable steps so that major milestones are reached by 2020. A wide range of sectors have a role to play so that by 2020:

Energy: Renewables outcompete fossil fuels as new electricity sources worldwide.

Transport: Zero emission transport is the preferred form of all new mobility in the world’s major cities and transport routes

Infrastructure: Cities and states have established plans and are implementing policies and regulations with the aim to fully decarbonise infrastructure by 2050

Land Use: Large-scale deforestation is replaced by large-scale land restoration and
agriculture shifts to earth friendly practices

Industry: Heavy industry – including iron & steel, cement, chemicals, and oil & gas – commits to being Paris compliant

Finance: Investment in climate action is beyond USD $1trillion per year and all financial institutions have a disclosed transition strategy

» Download report (PDF, 36 pages)

» Read more on www.newclimate.org



Just the headlines tell their own story: it is all happening – now

» More climate science


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The bigger picture

Reflection. Take a moment to see these two videos


Overview

“This is a wonderful short film (around 20 mins) from the POV of astronauts that encourages us to connect emotionally with how beautiful and fragile our planet is. Seeing the (so very) thin blue line that is our atmosphere, chokes me up every time when I think about the disregard our government has for it. Really worth a watch.”
~ Sue Dwyer


Isaac Asimov: Why should we care about climate change?

Why should we care about climate change? It’s not just an existential threat to be overcome, it’s an opportunity for humans to unite around a common cause. Sci-fi author Isaac Asimov knew this in the 1980s. It’s time we took his advice.

Published on youtube.com on 23 August 2017.



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Learn about what’s happening in the US


“We are in a climate emergency.”
~ Adam Bandt




“I expect flooding to be the most frequent public face of climate change over the next decade or so…”
~ David Roberts

» Vox – 28 August 2017:
Climate change did not “cause” Harvey, but it’s a huge part of the story
“9 things we can say about Harvey and climate.”


» National Geographic – 28 August 2017:
How Climate Change Likely Heightened Harvey’s Fury
“Several factors have conspired to make Hurricane Harvey so destructive in Texas, and warming temperatures are likely part of the problem.”


“Neither ABC nor NBC mentioned that climate change influences hurricanes like Harvey. From August 23 to September 7, none of the morning, nightly, or Sunday news shows on ABC or NBC featured a segment that discussed the link between climate change and hurricanes.”

» MediaMatters – 8 September 2017:
STUDY: ABC and NBC drop the ball on covering the impact of climate change on hurricanes








“If we hope to avert an increasing number of future disasters of this magnitude, it’s time for policymakers to act to address the climate crisis.”
~ Ken Berlin, Climate Reality




Learning about climate change


Johan Rockström: What we need is a carbon law

Lecture by Johan Rockström: ‘Beyond the Anthropocene’
Published on youtube.com on 17 August 2017.

Understanding climate change: Swedish Johan Rockström’s 20-minute presentation about earth science, our journey of exponential threats and tipping points and the deep transformation to sustainability – of which the last two minutes of his talk probably are the most important for everyone of us to be aware of.

Rockström explains why “business of usual” is no longer an option. We are exponentially moving in the wrong direction, and science is getting nervous. At the moment humanity is not on track to stay below the goal of the Paris Agreement – the 2°C of global warming. Even if we were committed to keep the Paris promise, this will not exclude the risk of loosing, for instance, the entire Great Barrier Reef.

However, since we are the fundamental force of change on this planet, this also means that we are in the driving seat. And we already have the roadmap to solve the problems. This requires massive exponential change – and new legislation. Rockström argues what we need is a Carbon Law.



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The nature of the challenge

Lecture by professor Will Steffen: ‘Climate Change 2017: The Nature of the Challenge’
Published on youtube.com on 17 August 2017


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“As a society we’ll need to reach some sort of meaningful consensus on the issue. From the boardroom to Twitter, we’ll need opinion leaders who can navigate the clashing world views that dictate how we view the science. It won’t be easy, but it is necessary.”
~ Riordan Lee



» Techly – 14 August 2017:
A toolkit to save the world: five skills you’ll need to fight climate change

» Cosmos – 24 August 2017:
Worldwide 100% renewable energy possible by 2050, claims detailed new plan
“A detailed roadmap for 139 countries outlines a path to a future powered entirely by wind, water and solar energy.”



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“Nonprofits and companies are spearheading initiatives to change the climate trajectory of the planet, but their work seems very piecemeal. And even though a lot of people are concerned, it doesn’t feel like every individual is on board for a solution, nor does there seem to be a cohesive push to diminish or eliminate human activities that are harming Earth…”

» Rewire – 23 August 2017:
Why Concern About Climate Change Doesn’t Lead to Action

» Vox – 18 August 2017:
It’s time to start talking about “negative” carbon dioxide emissions
“We have to bury gigatons of carbon to slow climate change. We’re not even close to ready.”

» Huffington Post | UK – 1 December 2014:
The Antidote to Climate Despair?



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“It is time to stop fighting the old systems that are not working and focus on building a new world – starting right here in Geelong.”
~ Petra Goerschel, member of Geelong Sustainability’s committee




Digging deeper


The following symposium and Ted Talks are some years old, but are still just as relevant.

Awakening the Dreamer Symposium

Duration: 64 minutes. Published on youtube.com on 10 April 2012.



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Justin Mog: The myth of “environmental sustainability”

Duration: 15 minutes. Published on youtube.com on 8 April 2015.

“It may be that we live in an age of hyper-connectivity and “big data,” but I contend that the fundamental reason why we’ve managed to construct the most highly unsustainable culture the Earth has ever seen is precisely because we have not been taught to see the connections.”

Justin Mog is assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives, a post created in 2009 to coordinate efforts to advance environmental, social and economic responsibility at the University of Louisville.

Dr. Mog served with the Peace Corps in Paraguay for three years before coming to UofL in 2009. He also has worked as an environmental educator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has conducted research on sustainable rural development as a Fulbright Scholar in the Philippines.



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Jon Alexander: Is global sustainability possible in our society?

Duration: 16 minutes. Published on youtube.com on 15 January 2015

What are we doing to ourselves when we tell ourselves constantly – through the medium of ever-more pervasive advertising – that we are consumers? And what would it look like to put all the creativity that currently goes into that, into involving people in society as citizens?





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Global Catholic Climate Movement:

We must reach 80% renewables in 13 years

“We know there is a huge difference between 1.5°C and 2°C. At Global Catholic Climate Movement, we are committed to 1.5°C. The Pope, vulnerable nations, and ultimately 195 countries supported this goal too. We are at 4% safe renewable energy (mostly wind, water, and solar) and we need to be at 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050, for 1.5°C. The countries closest to 100% installation are Tajikistan, Paraguay, Norway, Sweden, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Georgia, Montenegro, and Iceland. China ranks 39th and the United States ranks 52nd.

What can we do as Catholics to accomplish this and be definitive in our leadership? Can we at least evaluate our progress in relation to this? What will it take for us to get the world to 80% by 2030? How can we help? Can we take responsibility for/play a larger role with our brothers and sisters in communities without the resources to accomplish this for themselves? At least PV for charging, light, and microgrids? Are we making sure our own local communities (electricity production and transportation) are transitioning and on target, making milestones to get to no less than 80% by 2030?
~ Marie Venner, Global Catholic Climate Movement


Reporting and producing the change

» Hyperallergic – 25 August 2017:
A New Video Starkly Illustrates the Impact of Climate Change
“Earlier this year, the International Center for Photography held an exhibition called Perpetual Revolution: The Image and Social Change. It proposed that there is an ongoing revolution happening, from #Blacklivesmatter, gender fluidity, the refugee crisis, to climate change, and that digital images are simultaneously reporting and producing that change.”






Australian climate politics – the so-called “Climate War”


“Hurricane Harvey has caused nearly $200 billion dollars damage to Texas, record monsoonal rains have impacted more than 40 million people in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, record fires are blazing in Canada and others in the USA, and another hurricane, Irma, is threatening Florida. All of these, if not directly attributable to climate change, are ‘natural’ disasters made much more likely by climate change.

What is the government of Australia doing? Reaffirming its commitment to the Paris Accord? Promising to fast-track emissions reductions? No. It is pressuring AGL to keep one of the most polluting coal-fired power stations, 46 year-old Liddell, running for an extra five years and still considering giving a billion dollars of tax-payers’ money to shonky Indian company Adani so that it can open yet another coal mine.”
~ David Clarke

Considering the seriousness of the matter, it is shocking to observe the Australian government and part of the media completely to ignore the threats of climate change and directly be criticising renewable energy investments in this manner:



Treasurer Scott Morrison thinks it’s funny to wave coal around in Parliament. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton cracks jokes about rising seas in the Pacific. Labor leader Bill Shorten says he “supports the Adani mine so long as it stacks up.”

The coal and gas lobby are at war with the sun and wind, and the federal government is simply doing the coal lobby’s dirty work. They’re looking for every possible opportunity to pin the blame on renewable energy for price hikes caused by big polluters.

How does extending the life of a 50-year-old coal-fired power station meet Malcolm Turnbull’s so-called “commitment” to an “innovative, agile and creative future” for Australia?

Lying governments destroying democracy

“Giles Parkinson sets out the blatant lying by our Federal Government in misrepresenting the expert opinions provided by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), to justify the government’s non-existent energy policy.

This total irresponsibility hits at the very foundations of democracy and points to vested interest corruption on a massive scale:”
~ Ian Dunlop



Renewables power seven million homes

However, the positive fact is that Australia is already producing enough energy from the sun, wind and water to power over seven million homes — which is seven out of ten of all the homes in the country.

Here’s Andrea Bunting’s sensible response to the delusional discussion:

Letter to the Editor of Financial Review







The poor are the ones who are effected most

For anyone to claim that we must dig up and burn Australian coal to help Asia’s poor, flies in the face of the devastation that climate change is already causing our Northern neighbours. This ‘moral’ rhetoric is actually a disgusting immoral act that should be called out every time.

Nobody is immune to climate change but it is clear that the poor are the ones who are effected most, whether they are from Houston or Bihar.

» ABC News – 31 August 2017:
South Asia floods: Appeals for help as monsoon rains cause havoc in India, Nepal, Bangladesh



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Seeking answers to the wrong question

“George Monbiot’s commentary ‘Why Are the Crucial Questions on Hurricane Harvey not being asked?’ applies equally if not more so to Australia. Our supposed leaders run around in ever-decreasing circles on energy policy seeking answers to the wrong question. Political breast-beating to force energy providers to drop their prices is a total waste of time. Our entire shambles of climate and energy policy stems from one simple fact – Government and Opposition cannot bring themselves to accept that climate change is real and needs emergency action.

Accept that, put a sensible price on carbon, forget about the Galilee Basin, Adani, Shenhua, Bylong, CSG expansion etc; hang Abbott, Abetz, Christensen, Roberts and their denialist ilk out to dry and the problem will be solved post-haste. And the “clean coal” MCA, and “climate leaders” like BHP and Rio hiding behind them, should be hung out to dry the same way.

Who in our political and corporate firmament will have the guts finally to take the unfolding $100 billion plus Hurricane Harvey disaster, and the even greater disasters happening in South Asia, and simply say “enough is enough”, we have to get on a solve this on an emergency basis? No more time for party politics and corporate grandstanding.”
~ Ian Dunlop


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“While the Federal Government lobbies to keep a AGL coal fired power station open, developments in the renewables sector suggest it’s not the best way to stabilise Australia’s power grid.”

» ABC The World Today – 7 September 2017:
Renewable energy could meet power needs of 2022: ARENA

» Listen: Download mp3



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“Less intelligent than sheep”

“Charlie Prell runs 800 sheep on his property. He’s also hosting wind turbines on his land, and has come up with a fantastic way to share the revenue with nearby farmers. Charlie’s opinion of politicians who hold back on renewable energy development? Well, let’s just say there are people in power who are much, much less intelligent than sheep.”

“We need to get past this crap about whether climate change is real or not and get on with the solutions. It’s not about the debate anymore, it’s about the solution. There are threats but there are massive opportunities.”
Charlie Prell, Australian farmer

» Huffington Post – 28 August 2017:
The Heroic Farmer Sticking It To The Government, One Wind Turbine At A Time


» The Guardian – 31 August 2017:
States powering ahead on climate targets despite federal inaction, report shows




Reckon its time to get involved?

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» Get involved – a quickstarter for residents of Geelong