The framing of the climate change debate has become quasi-religious. You are either a climate denier or a climate alarmist.
Like our political debate, camps have become polarised and no one is allowed to cross the line. Witness social media. You are either a Gillard barracker or an Abbott disciple, and you just ignore any evidence that may fog the rose-coloured view of your hero.
As it is in the Parliament, so it is in climate debate.
In rural Australia and in metropolitan Oz, you will find believers and non-believers. People who work in and with the climate every day cannot agree.
So how do Mr and Ms Average make sense of this debate?
The facts, ma’am, provide the lifeboat to which I cling.
If the overwhelming majority of climate scientists are telling me the overwhelming weight of evidence comes down overwhelmingly on the side of a warming planet, hell, who am I to argue.
Today the Climate Commission is releasing the Extreme Weather Report, which draws on the latest research from CSIRO, Bureau of Meteorology, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Australia’s top climate scientists from Australian universities, the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meterology make up the Climate Commission’s expert Science Advisory Panel and reviewed the report.
They are agreed: Australian climate has, in some cases, changed for good.
Speaking to The Hoopla this morning, the Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the report showed climate change was already having an impact on Australia’s climate and it proved the Government’s emissions trading scheme was essential for future generations.
He said while there was a consensus among climate scientists about the reality of climate change, there were still vested interests in society who did not want to acknowledge the link between greenhouse gas emissions and the warming of the planet.
“Some in industries who use a lot of coal fired power don’t like having a price attached to carbon… in the same way those in the asbestos and tobacco industries did not want to acknowledge a link to their products.”
He said since the carbon price of $23 a tonne was introduced on the top 350 polluters on July 1 last year, carbon emissions had dropped in the first six months of the scheme by 8.6 percent compared to the same six months in 2011.
“There is a concentrated international effort to rein in greenhouse gases and our carbon price mechanism will become internationally linked. I met with China last week and they are starting pilot (emissions trading) schemes and will introduce a national scheme in 2015.
“It is happening around the world.
“(An ETS) is creating a cost for putting pollution into the atmosphere and we are using that money to compensate families through tax cuts and family tax benefits.”
The Climate Commission report found:
- Climate change is already increasing the intensity and frequency of many extreme events with significant risks for Australians.
- Australia’s southeast, including many of our largest population centres, stands out as being at increased risk from many extreme weather events.
- Key food-growing regions across the southeast and the southwest are likely to experience more droughts in the future.
- There is a high risk that extreme weather like heatwaves, heavy rainfall, bushfires, droughts and cyclones will become even more severe over the coming decades, increasing the risks of adverse consequences to human health, agriculture, infrastructure and the environment.
- Only strong preventative action, reducing greenhouse gas emissions deeply and swiftly, can gradually halt the trend to more extreme weather.
According to the report, the Millenium Drought (1997-2009) was the mother of all droughts in white Australian history.
As it happens, it pretty well covered my first dozen years of farm life. Our daughter was born in 1997 and like the cliche, my son, a 1999 drop, still gets excited enough to sit and watch when it rains.
At a child’s fourth birthday, the party girl unwrapped an umbrella and stared. “What is it?” she asked.
Sheep were selling at $5 each compared with an average of $50 now. My husband spent most of the year with a feed cart, dribbling out very expensive grain as they rushed like thousands of hungry dogs. In ordinary times, sheep scatter as you walk towards them. In those days, they ran towards you in the hope of food.
Since 2009, the land has recovered and we have had a few wet years. With the optimism that only a farmer can muster, my husband talks wistfully about getting back to a “normal year”. I remind him, after nearly 20 years on the farm, I am still waiting for a normal year.
Last summer was a particularly brutal one for those of us living on the land, as outlined by the Climate Commission’s previous report, The Angry Summer.
There were floods, bushfires and heatwaves that would kill a brown dog. My bushfire captain husband went off to the grass fires all around us that were feeding on increased fuel loads from heavy rain. And while a lot of old timers would say it is all just part of the cycle, there does seem to be a new normal.
For me, the bottom line is if we accept the evidence of climate change, if we go with the economic restructuring that China, Europe, and many other regions are now putting into place, if we head down the renewable route and embrace sustainable energy – there is much less downside.
Maybe climate change will not turn out to be as bad as the Climate Commission predicts. But if it does, will we be too far down the track to turn the ship around?
MORE ARTICLES BY GABRIELLE CHAN
*Gabrielle Chan is The Hoopla’s political correspondent. She is a journalist and author with more than 25 years experience, having worked most recently as a regular columnist with The Australian. She has previously worked for The Daily Telegraph, the ABC and the South China Morning Post. Gabrielle has written and edited Flickers of History, War On Our Doorstep and FEAST and is a member of the NSW Anzac Advisory Council. She blogs at www.gabriellechan.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @gabriellechan.