From science to ethics to action

I’ve been reading the admirably lucid report of the Australian Climate Commission which Gareth highlighted recently, and reflecting on its restrained exposition of the current state of the science. One couldn’t ask for a clearer or more accessible statement within its 70 page range.

At the same time I’ve started reading a book by philosopher Stephen Gardiner (pictured). It’s titled A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change and I’ll be reviewing it in due course. Why I mention it here is because the first proposition he sets out in his preface accorded with what was floating around in my mind as I read the Commission’s report. He notes that we are currently accelerating hard into the most serious environmental problem humanity has ever faced. Yet, after twenty years of awareness we are neither slowing down nor stabilizing, let alone reducing our output to the problem. Rather we are continuing to add more fuel to the fire, ever faster. “This, arguably, is the most striking fact of our time.”

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The Climate Show #13: James Hansen and the critical decade

Special guest on this week’s show is Dr James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and perhaps the best-known climate scientist in the world — the man who put the 350 in and a forceful advocate for leaving coal in the ground. We caught up with him during his recent NZ tour, and grabbed an interview during his whirlwind visit to Canterbury University (thanks Bronnie!). John Cook’s back from the tour launching his new book Climate Denial: Heads In The Sand, and talks about his experiences on the road as well as debunking the “CO2 lags warming” myth. Plus the Australian Climate Commission’s new report, The Critical Decade, Britain’s ambitious new carbon targets, and a couple of new solar power initiatives.

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The Critical Decade: time is tight

Australia’s Climate Commission (established by government, but “not subject to government direction“) today released an overview of the current climate state of play — The Critical Decade: Climate science, risks and responses (key points, full report). It’s important and timely — especially in the Australian political context, but it also has lessons for most of the world’s policymakers. Here are the key findings:

  1. There is no doubt that the climate is changing. The evidence is overwhelming and clear
  2. We are already seeing the social, economic and environmental impacts of a changing climate
  3. Human activities – the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation – are triggering the changes we are witnessing in the global climate
  4. This is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change our children and grandchildren experience

The last point is the most important. It underlines much of what we’re learning about the climate system’s response to the pulse of greenhouse gases we’re forcing it to swallow. Here’s one of the bullet points under point four:

This decade is critical. Unless effective action is taken, the global climate may be so irreversibly altered we will struggle to maintain our present way of life. The choices we make this decade will shape the long-term climate future for our children and grandchildren.

This is what Jim Hansen was on about in his tour of New Zealand — the duty we owe to our children and our children’s children. Please read his latest draft paper: The case for young people and nature: a path to a healthy, natural prosperous future. And look in particular at the emissions paths therein. We have a limited window in which to prevent unimaginable damage to the planet.

To do that, we need policy that starts where the laws of physics finish, not pretends that they can be bent to economic theory. We need more bodies like the Climate Commission, willing to speak truth to power, and we need politicians who will listen.

[See The Conversation for comments from senior Aussie academics.]

[Booker T and the MGs]