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  • James Howey

The Other Eden: Climate Change Irony

Global warming has been unavoidable in the media lately. A paper was recently published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with the full title Global warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. Some of the stats on this paper:

  • 91 authors and review editors

  • authors and review editors from 40 countries

  • over 6,000 technical references

  • thousands of expert and government reviewers.

Anthropogenic climate change is a given, NASA state that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. One of the first reports of climate change was back in 1988 by James Hansen, when he testified to the US Congress that human activity was changing the climate.

Temperature data showing rapid warming in the past few decades. According to NASA data, 2016 was the warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The 10 warmest years in the 138-year record all have occurred since 2000, with the four warmest years being the four most recent years. Credit: NASA/NOAA.

The IPCC paper looks at the impact where global warming is limited to 1.5°C, opposed to 2°C. The difference in 0.5°C in some instances is profound:

  • With global warming limited to 1.5°C coral reefs are projected to decline by a further 70–90% with almost total loss (>99%) at 2ºC. Funding for the Great Barrier Reef has been very topical lately.

  • Marine ice sheet instability in Antarctica and/or irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet could result in multi-metre rise in sea level over hundreds to thousands of years. These instabilities could be triggered around 1.5°C to 2°C of global warming.

  • An extra 10 million people will be affected by sea level rise, based on a difference of only 0.1m.

Scientific evidence is there that our climate is changing and our way of life will change in our lifetime. So what are we doing to limit emissions, or at least to prepare for the impending changes? Queensland has just approved Australia's largest coal mine, set to be one of the largest coal mines in the world. It is expected to produce 2.3 billion tonnes of low quality coal over 60 years. I can only speculate that the government's rationale is to sell it as quick as possible, before it's worthless. At a national level our politicians haven't been able to agree on an energy policy since 2010, when the carbon trading scheme failed to get past the senate.

I can't help but think of the book The Other Eden, with an impending ecological disaster, instead of changing their ways humanity pretty much carried on as normal, but bought self-sufficient bunkers to protect themselves. When disaster struck the majority of people fled to their bunkers and the irony being that by doing so the planet was saved, as emissions stopped over night. I don't think that we will be so lucky, as 'sticking your head in the sand' doesn't often work. Plus, I don't know where to buy a "claustrosphere".

With the short election cycles and the revolving door on the PM's office, governments are unlikely to make tough decisions. It has been left to business to make smart investment decisions considering the risk of climate change. Where does this leave water businesses that pump a dwindling natural resource (clean water) using large amounts power? The IPCC report identifies Australia as having a particularly high risk of water scarcity with a rise of 2°C, opposed to a rise of 1.5°C. To limit climate change to 1.5°C carbon emissions need to be net zero by 2050.

Australia needs to look at more resilient sources of water, however, the irony is that these often require more energy to treat (e.g. recycled wastewater and desalination). Renewables, energy recovery and low energy models must come into the thinking. What will the water utility of the future look like, same as now with a solar panel on the roof or something totally different?

Only time will tell...

P.S. I'm looking for an investor for my startup, ECO-Bunker.

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