TOO HOT TO HANDLE – A PERSPECTIVE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

December 18, 2013

Alex Mooney

Have you been following the news recently? No? Me neither. That’s because we both know that the Australian media is about as informative and relevant as scribble on the back of a pub door (no offence, Fairfax). Take the reporting on climate change, for example; the rampant hysteria and witch-hunting in its coverage has prevented most of Australian society from participating in the more nuanced, useful debate occurring in the international political sphere. Although it often seems that tackling climate change is an insurmountable task, this is not the case; there are many practical steps that we – both as a society and as individuals – can take which can have a real and measurable effect. Understanding the reality of climate change is essential, especially for young people, in order for us to develop our country in a sustainable and equitable manner that provides for future generations.

Now,  I know it’s not as hardhitting as the plot twists in the newest series of Teen Wolf, but climate change is actually a fairly important issue for the youth today (that’s you). Climate change is caused by “the emission of a number of gases that exacerbate the natural process whereby infrared radiation is trapped in the atmosphere, land, and seas”. In other words, certain gases (such as CO2 and CH4) are released into the atmosphere, trapping heat in the form of infrared radiation, which results in a higher temperature of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. This effect is called the ‘greenhouse effect’ and of itself it’s not necessarily a bad thing – in fact, without the greenhouse effect, the current Earth temperature would be minus 18 degrees and living here would probably be a little uncomfortable (just look at Mars, living there SUCKS).

So why is everyone suddenly complaining about it? Well, since the industrial revolution (early 1800s), the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) has been increasing, with over 290 billion tonnes of CO2 being released. There are many myths surrounding the effect of these carbon emissions; however, 97% of active climate scientists have acknowledged their existence is linked to climate change. Unfortunately, due to inertia in the climate system, the effect of pollution is not seen until around 30 years after it is emitted. This time span has complicated the issue; the problem we are creating will not be felt until it is too late to really do anything about it, requiring the human race to be proactive in reducing emissions. Proactive, the human race is not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a percentage of global emissions, Australia’s contribution is relatively insignificant – around 1.4%. When their overall contribution is so small, are Australians really required to reduce their emissions? Well, youth, I’m going to leave that to you to decide – but, before you do, let me hit you up with some statistics. Australians have the highest per capita (per person) emissions in the world, and this isn’t because Australians are nasty fuel-guzzling people. The National Electricity Market (NEM) provides electricity for the entire eastern coast of Australia, and is the largest A/C grid in the world. The NEM was built in the 1950s and is a remarkably inefficient system, becoming more and more inefficient over time. Rising energy prices and CO2 emissions are mainly attributable to the NEM’s state of disrepair, as it needs to be patched up with increasing regularity. In the recent future the NEM will, in fact, need to be replaced entirely.

Recently, a research project called Zero Carbon Australia determined that it is possible for wind and solar power to meet 98% of Australia’s current electricity demand. With the inclusion of other renewable resources, such as bio-mass and hydro, it was determined that 100% of our current demand could be met. It’s true that replacing the NEM will be costly, but it’s a price that Australia will have to pay regardless of whether we are working towards becoming carbon neutral. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) completed a similar study and determined that the transition could be made with as little cost as $8 per household per week.

SO, if we HAVE to change our system anyway, and it’s possible to change it to renewables with very little cost to Australian households, then why aren’t we? Well, youth, there’s no clear-cut answer. The debate in Australia about renewable resources has so far been fairly hysterical. The Australian media has been decrying simple and effective climate change mitigation policies – such as the carbon tax – and emphasising the losses sustained to households and businesses rather than the benefits and opportunities. The media has also played a role in diverting the debate away from sensible and necessary decisions that Australians can make every day to lower their carbon emissions, such as cutting down on red meat consumption and using public transport. It’s true that our country’s contribution to climate change is relatively small. However, as we have the highest per capita emissions in the world, we cannot in good faith tell others to reduce their emissions without making an effort ourselves.

Climate change is often portrayed as an insurmountable problem, an inevitable catastrophe that we are unable to prevent. This depiction is useless to everybody, except perhaps fossil fuel producers (I’m looking at you Gina). In reality, climate change MUST be tackled, and we need to make changes today. Most of the required changes are achievable; on the governmental level, it means upgrading our electricity and public transport systems. Importantly, climate change also requires us, the citizens of Australia (that’s you, youth!), to become informed about the issue and change our habits and way of thinking. This won’t be easy and it won’t happen in a short period of time. The thing to remember is to keep talking about the issue in positive ways, focusing on how WE can make changes rather than expecting the older generations to do it for us. We’re inheriting the Earth right? Lol, better get on that.

– Alex Mooney

– Cartoons by Joel Pett for the the USA Today and

– Feature photo by Paul Miller for the Guardian and Justin Bilicki

SOURCES

Beyond Zero Emissions website

AEMO report

A summary of the science behind climate change

Facts on CO2 emissions and a discussion on the geopolitics of climate change

Extra reading (for tackling climate change deniers)

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