We must fight climate change like it’s World War III – here are 4 potent weapons to deploy

Lukas Coch/AAP

David Blair, University of Western Australia; Bruce Hobbs, CSIRO; David Franklin Treagust, Curtin University, and Malcolm McCulloch, University of Western Australia

This article is part of a series in The Conversation on radical ideas to solve the environmental crisis.

In 1896 Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius explored whether Earth’s temperatures were influenced by the presence of heat-absorbing gases in the atmosphere. He calculated that if carbon dioxide concentrations doubled, global temperatures would rise 5℃ – even more at the poles.

Just over a century later, the world is on track to fulfilling Arrhenius’ prediction. If we continue on the current trajectory, Earth will warm up to 4.8℃ above pre-industrial times by 2100.

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We are a group of experts in physics, geology, science education, coral reefs and climate system science. We believe the lack of progress by governments in reducing global emissions means bold solutions are now urgently needed.

We must fight climate change like it’s World War III – and battle on many fronts. Here we examine four of them.

The world’s emissions are headed in the wrong direction, despite a century of warnings to act.

1. Plant a lot more trees

Tree-planting has enormous potential to tackle to climate crisis. Recent research calculated that worldwide 900 million hectares of additional tree cover could exist outside of already-established forests, farmland and urban areas – sufficient to store 25% of the current atmospheric carbon pool. Forests act to increase cloud and rainfall and reduce temperatures.

The grand vision of the Gondwana link project in Western Australia is an example of what can be done. It is reconnecting fragmented ecosystems to create a continuous 1,000km corridor of bushland.

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Want to beat climate change? Protect our natural forests

Broadscale land clearing must cease and a massive program of tree planting should be implemented in all possible areas. Such a program would provide huge small business employment opportunities. It requires incentives and partnerships that could be funded through taxes on carbon emissions.

Renewable energy-powered desalination may be required in some places to provide the water needed to establish forests in drought conditions. This meshes with an important new technology: carbon mineralisation.

Millions of hectares of forest should be planted to act as a carbon sink.

2. Turn carbon dioxide into rock

Carbon mineralisation involves turning carbon dioxide into carbonate minerals by emulating the way seashells and limestone are made naturally.

Many techniques have been researched and proposed. These include capturing carbon dioxide from industrial plants and bubbling it through brine from desalination plants, or capturing it from nickel mine tailings using bacteria.

Huge quantities of CO₂ can potentially be captured in this way, creating useful building materials as a by-product.

Demonstration plants should now be trialled in Australia, with a view to rapid scaling up to commercialisation.

3. Make Earth’s surface more reflective

Solar radiation management describes techniques to reflect solar energy (sunlight) back to space, and so counteract planetary heating.

Changing the reflectivity of surfaces, such as by painting a dark roof white, reduces absorbed heat enormously and could cool cities. On larger scales we can dust asphalt roads with limestone, retain pale stubble on farms over summer and plant paler crops.

Studies suggest lighter land surfaces have good potential for cooling at a regional scale, and may lower extreme temperatures by up to 3℃.

Such methods also indirectly cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing air-conditioner use.

White roofs, such as on the Greek Island of Santorini, can help reflect solar radiation and lower temperatures.
Yvette Kelly/AAP

4. Reimagine transport

Economic mechanisms are essential to accelerate the transition to renewable energy, energy storage and zero-emission transport.

The international shipping industry emitted about 800 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2015, and this figure is expected to double by mid-century.

For all ships not powered by renewable energy, research suggests speed limits could be lowered by 20% to reduce fuel use. Australia could lead the world by scaling berthing charges according to satellite-monitored ship speeds.

Australia should also follow the lead of Norway which offers generous financial incentives to encourage zero-emission vehicles (powered by hydrogen or electricity). These include sales tax exemption and free parking in some places. And it’s worked: almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway in March 2019 were reportedly entirely electric-powered.

Forcing ships to sail more slowly could lower carbon emissions.

Where to next?

The above list is by no means exhaustive. Australia’s bid to sell emissions reduction to the world as renewable hydrogen and electricity should be massively accelerated, and expanded to the scale of the Apollo mission’s race to the Moon.

We must slash emissions from agriculture, and re-establish soil carbon reservoirs lost through modern agriculture. We also suggest a major military response to bushfire, including a water-bombing air fleet and airfields within two hours of every fire risk location.

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Finally, the war demands a central headquarters providing leadership, information and coordination – perhaps a greatly expanded version of the Greenhouse Office established under the Howard Coalition government in 1998 (but later merged into another government department). The office should provide, among other things, information on the climate cost of every item we use, both to aid consumer choice and tax climate-harming products.

Some technologies may prove too costly, too risky, or too slow to implement. All require careful governance, leadership and public engagement to ensure community backing.

But as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow, governments must deploy every weapon available – not only to win the war, but to prevent the terrible social cost of despair.

The full report on which this article is based is available here.The Conversation

David Blair, Emeritus Professor, ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery, OzGrav, University of Western Australia; Bruce Hobbs, , CSIRO; David Franklin Treagust, John Curtin Distinguished Professor, Professor of Science Education, Curtin University, and Malcolm McCulloch, Professor, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Ideas for Australia: A six-point plan for getting climate policy back on track

Peter Christoff, University of Melbourne

The Conversation has asked 20 academics to examine the big ideas facing Australia for the 2016 federal election and beyond. The series examines, among other things, the state of democracy, health, education, environment, equality, freedom of speech, federation and economic reform.

The past two years have been the hottest on record globally, yet Australian climate policy is frozen in the past. Might this election campaign see real competition about how to tackle global warming? So far, the signs aren’t good.

Questions about Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership on climate first arose last year. In opposition, he was an articulate and forceful counterpoint to Tony Abbott’s climate policies.

“Sooner, rather than later, we must have a price on carbon,” said Turnbull in 2010.

But, as prime minister, Turnbull then barely budged from the Abbott narrative until his belated rescue of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which faced the axe until late last month.

Turnbull’s best chance to reshape Australia’s course came at the United Nations climate conference in Paris. He could have announced tough new national targets and substantial financial pledges. Instead, he spoke in the abstract about innovation.

Observers puzzle about his motives. What hold do the Coalition’s sceptics have over him? Is he waiting for an electoral mandate, or for next year’s scheduled climate policy review? Or is there simply no deeply felt agenda to be revealed?

Playing catch-up

Having failed to take the initiative, Turnbull is now on the back foot, trapped between the demands of the Paris Agreement, pressure from Labor and the Greens, and the dragging rump of his own party. Here are six suggestions that, together, would make Australian climate policy relevant to the challenges this nation faces.

1. An end to wedge politics

Those countries with successful climate policies and strong track records on cutting emissions – such as Germany – also have deeply ingrained cross-party support on this issue. By contrast, Abbott used climate change as an ideological wedge, creating policy turbulence, public dismay and investor confusion.

When he took the top job, Turnbull promised to foster a more civilised political culture. Nowhere is this more needed than in talking about climate policy. It would be a game-changing departure for Turnbull to use his authority as prime minister to take the heat out of Australian climate politics by calling for only respectful and constructive debate on this issue, with any bitter divisions to be left to other parts of the electoral agenda.

2. A climate target with teeth

The Paris Agreement requires all countries to ratchet up their climate targets and mitigation efforts every five years. It emphasises the gap between countries’ current pledges and the emissions reductions needed to hold global warming well below 2℃ and close to 1.5℃, as the agreement demands. It calls on wealthy developed countries to help vulnerable states resist the intensifying impacts of global warming.

Australia’s current 2030 target of 26-28% below 2005 levels is among the weakest of all developed countries (only Canada and New Zealand are comparable). Moreover, our actions are heading in the other direction. As the independent policy review group Climate Action Tracker has noted:

With currently implemented policy measures, Australia’s emissions are set to increase substantially to more than 27% above 2005 levels by 2030, which is equivalent to an increase of around 61% above 1990 levels.

The Climate Change Authority, Australia’s independent advisory body, recommended a 2030 target of 40-60% below 2005 levels. It was ignored. Acknowledging this recommendation now as a baseline for the 2017 climate policy review would underscore the intention to make a credible contribution to global mitigation efforts after the election. It would also close the policy gap on Labor’s pledge to cut emissions by 45% by 2030, and on the lower end of the Greens’ call for reductions of 60-80%.

At the same time, Australia’s 2020 renewable energy target (RET) must be restored and enhanced. Its downgrading from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh spooked investors and made rapid emissions reductions much harder to deliver.

3. End the carbon price phobia

The lead weight of Abbott’s carbon tax scare campaign must be cut loose. This is a tough ask for the Coalition, but an unavoidable one. Effective rapid mitigation, adaptation and our contributions to global climate finance will all require greater public funding.

While it existed, Australia’s modest carbon price raised A$6.6 billion during 2012-13. It cut emissions effectively and had no significant negative economic impact. Its proven performance makes it a palatable political sell.

Carbon pricing could be part of a national emissions trading scheme. That’s a policy that Turnbull supported in 2009 and which will be deployed in more than 40 countries, including China, by 2020. Or emissions could be taxed directly to fund an expanded version of the Direct Action Plan, redesigned to require the participation of major emitters.

4. A federal approach to cutting emissions

One of the clear failures of the Australian emissions trading scheme – even before it failed to appear – was the way it encouraged the states and territories to abdicate their mitigation responsibilities to Canberra. A new approach is required to mobilise effort in a federal system in which major emissions sources are geographically dispersed, and the impacts of shutting mines and power plants are felt locally.

Substantial Commonwealth funding to the states should be a prominent part of a national climate policy. But its delivery should be contingent on them meeting tough sub-national emissions targets, through measures such as ending land clearing, reafforestation, enhancing carbon farming and retiring dirty power stations. It would create an incentive for state governments to embrace aggressive climate policies and reward the best-performing states, while fiscal penalties could be applied if targets were not met.

5. Unite climate and energy policies

Australia’s climate and energy policies have been developed in isolation and are largely estranged from one another. National and state governments have pursued fossil energy as if climate change didn’t exist – as the recent approval of the Carmichael mine in Queensland attests. Yet production of coal and gas exports is a growing source of domestic (and embodied) emissions. Australia’s climate policy has also ignored the huge emissions from our exported fossil fuels.

The two policy domains must be harmonised – with mitigation as the overarching goal. A moratorium on new coal and gas export projects, and a levy on existing ones, should be announced immediately, with a planned national approach to withdrawing from fossil fuel extraction scheduled to avoid the economic chaos associated with the collapse of investment in “unburnable” carbon.

6. Play up the positives

So far, this discussion has been about political pain. The Paris climate conference showed that a new positive narrative can (and must) predominate. The main message coming from Paris was that the Age of Carbon is over: the transition to an economically attractive post-carbon future has begun.

Cutting emissions and boosting Australia’s climate resilience will deliver many direct and indirect benefits. Europe’s experience shows how the switch to renewable energy creates new and enduring sources of employment, while tackling global warming has significant health co-benefits.

Ironically enough, the Paris climate summit showed that the issue is less and less the preserve of national governments. Climate policy is being shaped and driven by a wide range of actors – including investors in the banking, insurance, construction and transport industries, as well as sub-national and local governments.

Inclusive, creative and positive discussions about climate change have been all too rare in Australia. A national climate summit, involving federal, state, territory and local governments, key industry sectors and civil society representatives, is a necessary part of the preparation for Australia’s 2017 climate policy review.

This summit would help deepen public understanding of the social and economic positives of a post-carbon Australian economy. As the culmination of structured national discussions and accompanied by concrete promises of funded outcomes, it would further turn the tide of Australian climate politics from cynical opposition to rapid action.

You can read other articles in the series here.

The Conversation

Peter Christoff, Associate Professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bird Feeding Tips for the Garden

The following link is to an article about feeding birds in the garden. It is an American-based article, but I’m sure some ideas can be gleaned for Australia and other countries.

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Earth Day (April 22): Ideas for Earth Day

The following link is to a page that has a number of ideas and projects on how to celebrate Earth Day, raise awareness on environmental issues and how to take action.

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Holiday Planning

It is time to start planning my next holiday. First step in the process was to settle on a date for it – this has been done and I have booked in two weeks annual leave for it.

The second stage is now to establish a location for the holiday. I’m toying with a couple of ideas at the moment. The first is to travel to Cathedral Rocks National Park and do some walks in that area. The second idea is to do some overnight walks through the Myall Lakes National Park through to the Gloucester area. I ruled out the possibility of travelling to the red centre due to rental car restrictions, so it is down to these two possibilities at this stage. I am leaning towards the latter at this stage however.