David Slack’s column on Stuff today looks at the resistance to taking climate action seriously, and the reasons why we should,
We have just two choices, they both take us into the unknown, and we have to pick one: give up fossil fuels and move to sustainability, or remain unsustainable and live with the consequences.
To help explain the wall of flames across their nation, the ABC has made a web page to lay out the future in exceptionally clear graphic form.
They say, about the climate: “The childhood you remember no longer exists.”
Here’s the executive summary: the hotter it gets, the worse things are. And it will not be good. It will be awful. Horrible. Deadly.
From the ABC graphic,
The IPCC says that in the next 10 years the world must begin to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. If we continue to use fossil fuels the way we currently do, modelling from the IPCC shows we will be on track for a 4-degree increase in temperatures this century.
That would mean that by the time a child born today is 20, the 2018-19 summer we sweltered through would be considered a mild Australian summer.
Pete George then made the argument in response that we should be cautious in the process of giving up fossil fuels, because to do so quickly or radically would cause more problems than climate change.
We don’t have “just two choices”.
If we “give up fossil fuels” (and some go as far as saying or implying this should be immediate and total) the consequences would be enormous. Virtually no more flying. Virtually no more shipping. Drastically reduced private and public transport. Countries that rely a lot on on fossil fuels, like the US, China and Australia, would have extreme energy deficiencies, with no way of switching to electric transport to any degree.
The flow on effects of these changes alone would have a massive impact on our way of life – and would cost lives. We rely on fossil fuels for emergency services.
There would be massive impacts on food production and distribution.
Any sort of rapid change away from fossil fuels would cause far more problems than continuing on much as we are.
Slack has omitted the obvious choice – work towards alternative energy options as as quickly as we can – far more quickly than we are at present – but without putting civilisation on Earth at risk of catastrophic collapse.
Leaving aside that Slack doesn’t appear to be arguing that we should give up fossil fuels tomorrow (and in fact very few people are suggesting this), but rather that we should be taking more action, what’s really the issue here is how fast.
The irony of the incrementalist/slower position is that had we taken climate change seriously in the past we could have much more easily transitioned to renewable sources of power across society and been much less likely to have the deficiencies people worry about. It’s doubtful now that there is time for a slow transition that doesn’t disrupt people’s lives. It’s also doubtful that green BAU is possible because the timeframes are too short and because BAU transition takes too much of our carbon budget.
Regarding the basics (food, shelter, safety, healthcare, a decent standard of living), we’re approaching the tension point between the fear a fast transition will deprive us vs the fear that not acting fast enough will lead to climate change depriving us. Climate activists fear the latter more. Incrementalists fear the former more.
I can live without many things that we currently have and I’m not afraid of a decrease in lifestyle privileges. My grandparents born at the end of the 19th century lived good lives, and we will have far more technological advantage than they did.
Not so much social and community advantage but that’s the other great challenge here. When we give up fossil fuel tech we realise that we need social structures more. Relocalised economies, food/resource production and so on are dependent on strong community, and strong/healthy social connections make up a lot of the shortfall we might worry about. Think less socialising on our phones and more potlucks. Or less driving to the supermarket, more food from our neighbourhoods, more time to spend with the kids.
If that’s all a bit hippy for you, and we go back to the how fast a transition issue, what exactly is it that is stopping NZ from going fully renewable? Either we need more generation (wind, solar, hydro), or we need to use less power (and be more efficient in what we use, as well as make better use of passive tech). We need both, and both is what allows us to transition faster and with less disruption. Yes, we have to give some things up, but this is not a hardship when we consider what is at stake. The sooner we get on with it the more we will be able to save.