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Declare a Climate Emergency, or face catastrophic rising temperatures and sea levels

by Colin Hughes | Jan 5, 2024 | Comment & Analysis, Latest Posts

World governments must declare a Climate Emergency if they are serious about science and the catastrophic effects of rising temperatures and sea levels. Colin Hughes with this oped.

“All governments have to do to address the climate and ecological emergency is just to acknowledge it is the most significant threat facing humanity, and agree to take immediate action, to address and avert the emergency.” Stephen Barlow Conservationist and Environmentalist.

Last year saw the world’s global heating reach 1.5 degrees, 27 years before the IPPC target of zero by 2050 to hold global heating to 1.5 degrees. Global sea temperatures have been at record highs of over 0.5 degrees above baseline for over 289 days. 

The greatest loss of sea ice is in the West Antarctic ice shelf and the Arctic pole ice which if it continues at this pace could cause sea level rises of up to 4m over hundreds of years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded in a 2022 report, “… even on the pathway with the lowest possible greenhouse gas emissions and warming (1.5 degrees C), global mean sea level would rise at least 0.3 meters (1 foot) above 2000 levels by 2100″. 

According to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Kathryn Mersmann, global sea level rise is accelerating incrementally over time rather than increasing at a steady rate, as previously thought, according to a 2018 study based on 25 years of NASA and European satellite data. If the rate of ocean rise continues to change at this pace, sea level will rise 26 inches (65 centimeters) by 2100–enough to cause significant problems for coastal cities.

This threatens the collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current AMOC as early as the next few years with devastating effects on the Gulf Stream and resultant weather patterns.

The food chain

The world has lost 40% of its insects threatening pollination and the collapse of its food systems. Coral reefs including our precious Ningaloo and Great Barrier Reefs face collapse when global heating reaches 2 degrees, threatening fish supplies.

In Australia, we are seeing unprecedented floods and earlier and earlier bushfire seasons. Australia has lost 100s km of kelp forests along our coastlines. Our fragile Mountain Ash, Karri and Jarrah forests are at threat from loss of groundwater runoff due to declining rainfall. At least 23 marsupials including the iconic Koala are facing eminent extinction as well as over 2000 plants and invertebrates.

So it really is that simple. Declare a climate emergency; like they did for Covid or what they do in war and divert all action to this end. Every decision that government makes must then be put through the prism of its effect on global heating and its mitigation.

But for the politics …

It is crystal clear what the obstacles are but procrastination for the past 50 years has kicked the can down the road so that now only the most radical action can avert disaster for future generations. Half a megaton of emissions will still be present in 80 years still accelerating global heating as more and more tipping points are reached.

The answer is simple. The crisis is being driven by the mindless pursuit of economic growth on a finite planet. All of our leadership, industry, finance and governments are utterly wedded to and fixated on economic growth with no regard for the ecological costs. So these elites refuse to declare the climate emergency because it would mean in so many ways, halting or changing in some way the economic growth agenda.

Those at the top of decision making in society are part of the 1% of the richest people in society. Where they all lead extravagant lifestyles with massive carbon emissions. The top 1% account for more carbon emissions than the poorest 66%. What is less understood that in Australia this actually represents over 580,000 Australians or 3.8% of taxpayers. The biggest driver of these emissions are in our superannuation funds which hold 50% of all fossil fuel investments all tax free on retirement and whose companies pay little or no tax on what belongs to we the people of Australia.

In their ecocidal pursuit of this economic growth to preserve and enhance their lifestyles is pure self interest because their wealth , power, status and luxury lifestyles depend on it. Just like the smoker who knows that smoking will ultimately kill them, the cognitive dissonance of our leaders is unconscionable. They know the consequences; they have read the science and IPPC reports but deep in their psyche they believe their wealth will protect them and their families.

Ecosystem threatened by economic system

So this tiny demographic can simply block action by doing nothing, refuse to agree to the urgency of action, deliberately dissembling, lying through their massive budgets and false advertising in the media and the more insidious state capture of our politicians; demanding laws against peaceful, non violent protesters and lucrative board positions on retirement.

It is clear Net Zero by 2050 is unachievable not because it would fail to address the crisis but we are also facing a biodiversity crisis which is equally important as the climate crisis and will lead to ecological collapse, mass starvation and the deaths of 1 billion people and billions more climate refugees through loss of agriculture and fresh water. We either solve both or we solve neither. 

This is a systemic problem, caused by the whole of the current economic system, imposed by government under the control of the economic elites. Only whole of system change to a degrowth, sustainable, circular economy with zero population growth that puts equal emphasis on ecological sustainability can we possible achieve halting rising emissions.

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Formerly with the Flying Doctors service, Colin Hughes started the first Public Health unit in Perth and was inaugural Chair of the Divisions of General Practice. He is a Bombers fan and climate activist.

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