This is getting serious. We have become comfortably accustomed to the notion that, yes, climate change is a thing, but, you know, it’s some time off. We can still run business as usual with the occasional sympathetic nod to doing the right thing – buying solar panels, recycling our rubbish, buying vegan, riding our bike, voting green.
Malcolm Turnbull once voiced his support for 100% renewable energy. Given the latest surge in average temperatures, he should do so again.
Then out of left field comes the Ides of March headlines that (despite all our abovementioned efforts) global temperature in February had the temerity to be “shocking” – a shocking acceleration upward.
Not content with the usual arithmetic monthly record-breaking upward trend, global temperatures leapt by a shocking average 1.35 degrees. An exponential increase!
Indeed, not content with that shock to my system, the Guardian unleashed another shock and awe barrage telling me that sea level is not just rising, the rise is “accelerating”. Oh for the heady comfort of post COP21 smugness. We’d done it. We’d gotten together and solved the world’s crisis. Nothing to see here. Solved.
But not so. Now you’re telling me that climate change is accelerating. NASA is saying the Syrian conflict may not simply be the tribal sectarian war we all smugly assumed but the world’s first climate change war, based on the observation that persistent drought has reduced Syria’s agricultural production by 60 per cent. Ditto Egypt. Biblical hordes hammering at the gates. Plagues of dying porpoises and bleached coral.
Such complexity and threat tend to send us into a rabbit-in-the-spotlight inertia. We seek comfort in denial, look away, seek out peace-in-our-time appeasers, denial then anger, bargaining, depression. We devour alternative narratives when what is required is acceptance and courage.
Chamberlain accepted that Hitler was a threat but Churchill had the courage to draw a line in the sand. It seems to me that we are coming to a slow awakening rather than a sudden epiphany that climate change threatens the planet. Possibly not yet enough of a groundswell of anxiety to trigger a mobilization to war but at some point we will need to find the courage to go to war against climate change.
There is much to be optimistic about. Buffering the increasing threat of climate change is an arsenal of rapidly advancing technology: solar, wind, storage, electric cars, batteries, big data all of which promise, if not salvation, then certainly amelioration. The market will bring these in as rapidly as their economics warrant but it’s not yet a level playing field with the fossil fuel incumbents able to privatize profits and socialize the damage.
Who will be our Churchill? Malcolm Turnbull? Such promise. An articulate statesman. He got it. Or seemed to. Didn’t he advocate for 100% renewables in 2010? That was him wasn’t it? Yet, such a disappointment. Mr 23.5% renewables dragged kicking and screaming into Tony’ Abbott’s tent. Will he show his true colours once he gets his own mandate? And what about Bill Shorten? Mr 50% renewables 50% beholden to the 12% who are union members? Richard di Natale? Mr 90% renewables. Now, he definitely gets it.
The good news is we can turn things around. First we need awareness that we have a problem. The time for denial is past. Then we need a plan. Bhutan, Costa Rica and Uruguay are already at or near 100% renewables. Much of Scandinavia and Europe are already over 30% targeting 50% plus. It’s entirely possible.
Renewables are either cheaper than fossil fuels now, or will be shortly as the price is plummeting. Renewables at 3% penetration employ more people today than the coal industry which supplies 70% of our power. Around the world wind and solar are the dominant source of all new energy supplies and are often matched by an equivalent retirement of coal fired power. Renewables may be 3% of world energy now but are on track to overtake fossil fuels in the next couple of decades.
Let’s get on board this renewables revolution. The blueprint is at renewaustralia.org.au
George Parry is a former CEO of SuperFerry Ltd in Australia, chairman of the Direct Access Group of Companies and CEO of Araluen Aboriginal Corporation and director of numerous social welfare organisations. These days he focuses on renewables and climate change
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