Carbon age must end or we will
During a Canberra symposium last week on ''The Future of Homo Sapiens'' in a 12-hour day of presentations and panel discussions, 15 leading Australian experts from climate science, public health, theology, philosophy, politics and economics expressed their dismay at the seriousness of the human predicament.
They bemoaned the continuing effectiveness of entrenched interests to maintain a culture of denial and inaction about the seriousness of the developing climate emergency. The meeting was in honour of Phillip Adams, who, in his keynote address quoted Pablo Casals. ''The situation is hopeless. We must take the next step.''
Neither the media nor most of our elected federal representatives appear to share the view which prevailed at the conference, that the situation is well-nigh hopeless unless somehow the world can urgently break its addiction to fossil fuels.
No one seriously argued against the technical feasibility of doing this but both Clive Hamilton and Robert Manne expressed the view that governments are unlikely to rise to the challenge in time.
Instead, Hamilton opined, on present evidence, humans are more likely to wait until catastrophe is upon us and try managing and manipulating Earth's systems to protect us through such techniques as gigantic injections of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere. And as if to confirm Hamilton's view that humans will continue to treat the Earth as our servant rather than our host, Thomas Faunce described increasingly promising efforts to replace natural with artificial photosynthesis and said that commercial interests are falling over each other to patent the process.
The symposium reinforced my own conviction that our species is doomed unless we can act quickly and decisively to terminate our dependency on fossil fuels. That is a really challenging ask but it is by no means unachievable. The longer we leave it the more impossible the task will become to avoid un-survivable global heating.
Australia is the highest carbon emitter per capita in the world. We are hugely dependent on fossil fuels for our energy and on top of that we are continuing to export coal and gas to other countries for them to convert into carbon emissions. We must take the next step.
It is hard to imagine a more lemming-like response to this crisis then what most of our Australian governments are doing. There is frenetic commitment to export as much of our coal as can be dug out of the ground as fast as possible; destructive fracking of our range-lands, subsidies to big polluters and coal mines as well as retreat from wind and solar energy initiatives and failure to invest adequately in other renewables.
For now, the climate-change denial industry remains in the ascendancy. National consensus that climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time rose and fell with Kevin Rudd. Neither side of federal politics now sees it as the cataclysmically important issue that it is. We are much more concerned with Peter Slipper's texts and Alan Jones's outbursts.
It would seem that until there is visible electoral expression of concern about these issues, government policy commitments will remain timid and largely ignored by media that are preoccupied with trivia.
The good news is that many Australians are now acting and that the 50,000 strong Australian Youth Climate Coalition is working strategically with politicians on a number of fronts to awaken the dreamers to the reality that the threat is here and now.
The Manning Clark conference heard from former Liberal leader John Hewson, who is leading an international ratings agency that is monitoring the extent to which trillions of dollars of investment and superannuation funds are being used to prop up fossil fuels rather than promote renewable technologies. This is a brilliant strategy to force investors to a reality check on how their funds are being used.
A decisive rejection of fossil fuels and an enthusiastic embrace of renewable energy is our best hope for a future for our grandchildren. This is a moral and not an economic issue.
Bob Douglas is a retired epidemiologist, a director of Australia21 (australia21.org.au) and chair of SEE-Change ACT (see-change.org.au).