Australian Research Council Members Condemn Lack Of Climate Action

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The mission of the Australian Research Council is “To grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community through funding the highest quality research, assessing the quality, engagement and impact of research and providing advice on research matters.”

In the wake of Australia’s disastrous bushfire epidemic, which is still going on, 80 of the ARC’s most prominent members have penned an open letter urging the Morrison government to take reasonable and realistic action to lower the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. The ARC laureate fellows are a small group of researchers selected by the ARC as the top researchers across all fields in Australia, according to The Guardian.

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Image credit: Australian Research Council

The government of prime minister Scott Morrison is having none of it, however. According to a report by Reuters, Morrison and his emissions reduction minister, Angus Taylor, maintain that Australia is already doing all that it should or can do and that limiting emissions further will damage the country’s economy, which is heavily invested in exporting fossil fuels. Last year, Australia became the largest supplier of liquefied natural gas, surpassing Qatar for the first time.

“In most countries it isn’t ­acceptable to pursue emission ­reduction policies that add substantially to the cost of living, ­destroy jobs, reduce incomes and impede growth,” Taylor wrote in The Australian, a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, on December 31. “That’s why we won’t adopt Labor’s uncosted, reckless, economy destroying targets that will always result in a tax on ­energy, whether it is called that or not.” Any resemblance to similar language emanating from the US government, which preaches that becoming the largest fossil fuel exporter in the world is a matter of national security, is not accidental.

The ARC laureates see things differently. “The scale and ferocity of the recent fires are unprecedented since European settlement of this country. They arrived at the end of a year with the lowest average rainfall and the highest average temperatures ever recorded across Australia. Climate change has arrived, and without significant action greater impacts on Australia are inevitable…..While much remains to be learned about the impacts of climate change, more than enough studies have been conducted to tell us we have a serious problem that requires urgent changes to be made.”

The open letter continues with these strong words.

The current impacts are happening with just 1 Celsius of global temperature increase, but we are set for the best part of another degree even if very strong international action is taken to reduce emissions. This means further increases in extreme fire risk, heat waves and flooding rains; ecosystems degraded and wild species forced to migrate or vanish; agricultural activities moved or abandoned, challenging our food security; and so on. If strong action is not taken, environmental degradation and social disruption will be much greater and in many cases adaptation will no longer be achievable. It would be naive to assume that such a world will still support human societies in their current form and maintain human well-being.

This dire outlook demands stronger mitigation of carbon emissions. Many argue that actions to achieve this would be economically destructive. This claim has no basis, nor is it consistent with Australia’s traditional optimism and ingenuity, nor with historical experience. Similar objections were raised in the past against government policies to limit air pollution, environmental toxins and ozone-destroying chemicals, but we collectively found ways to achieve mitigation at manageable cost, and with net benefits to society that are clear in hindsight.

A transition to lower, and eventually net zero emissions, is a huge task but is achievable and far less risky and irresponsible than allowing unmitigated warming. This transition requires determination on the part of leaders, as well as empathy, aid and forward planning for communities disadvantaged by the transition. Large transformations in the face of comparable challenges have been successfully achieved in the past, such as the development of road and mass transportation systems, waste-water and sewage handling to minimise diseases, and many others. These transformations created new jobs and whole industries, and will do so again.

The laureates’ letter concludes, “Much research has already been done to identify the policies and technologies that can move us to where we need to go. What is lacking is the courage to implement them on the required scale. (Emphasis added) We call on all governments to acknowledge the gravity of the threat posed by climate change driven by human activities, and to support and implement evidence-based policy responses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in time to safeguard against catastrophe. We owe this to younger generations and those who come after them, who will bear the brunt of our decisions.”

The claim by the Australian government that the country has already reduced its carbon emissions below the level required by the Paris climate accords is a lie. It is based on credits attributable to the Kyoto climate agreement that predated the Paris accords. In other words, the Morrison government is cooking the books to avoid its legal obligations to its citizens and the people of the world. Such a government deserves only one thing — to be voted out of office and as quickly as possible.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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