Our Act. The cleaning up of...

I love a sunburnt country, she said, missing her land of sweeping plains whilst visiting far off England where the greenery can be positively disconcerting to those of us used to the permanently established dry. But love and patriotism are hard-pressed to solve the present-day sun-parched barren landscapes that are all too common in our regional and rural communities.

A few weeks ago a question was put to me. If Australia represents such a tiny percentage of the world's population, and a small percentage of global emissions, why should we fight tooth and nail to tackle climate change? It's a reasonable question. We represent only 0.3% of the world's population. We emit 1.5% (or thereabouts) of the world's emissions. But...

But we are already, and will continue to be, disproportionately affected by climate change. It's hard to deny that once-in-one-hundred year events are becoming more common, not just across the country but often the same event in the same location with a similar rarity only a few years later. These happen too often and in too many locales to be co-incidence. Many of our farms are turning to dust subjecting all of us to potential food insecurity. A staggering 85% of our population live within 50km of the coast, subjecting almost all of us to changing landscapes, transportation woes and houses crises. Our tourism sector suffers from bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef already; wineries, national parks and ski resorts also feel the heat. Scarcity of water affects more than farming, it also subjects all of us increased costs in any industry that uses this precious commodity. If nothing is done about climate change, water costs will increase by 34%, and there may be a 92% decrease in the agricultural production of the Murray-Darling basin by 2100 (Garnaut Review, page 127-128). Deaths from heat waves are increasing in the north; tropical diseases shift south; resultant health costs fall to the states that are already struggling to meet demands. And, as one of the wealthiest nations in the region, we will become home to more and more climate refugees as neighbouring countries literally go under, or become too hot to be hospitable.

These are the costs that we know are coming. We already know that Australia is being affected by climate change. The question really is two-fold: why have we not done more already, and what can we do as a tiny island nation do to make real change on a global scale?

Australia is in a tricky position when it comes to climate change. Our vulnerability to it is obvious. But. Our largest export is coal. Our second largest export is iron ore. We also export gold and aluminium in vast quantities. This creates tension between our economic needs - at least $176 billion of exports each year - and our environmental policies. Mining in energy intensive and leaves scars on the earth. But it also contributes at least $6 billion back to the states, which goes to fund many of our essential services and infrastructure projects. On the other hand, we grow and export $3.2 billion of wheat each year, a product particularly vulnerable to the influences of rainfall and temperature alterations.

Australia may unduly wear the outcomes of climate change due to our geographical and meteorological susceptibilities. But we live in a global world and what we do here is not in a bubble. What happens in China, India, the United States and the European Union (and everywhere else) directly and indirectly affects the global climate and thus us. Arguments for change in our national policies are not as hard to come by as you might think. We export coal. Lots of coal. And that coal has a direct impact on the carbon dioxide emissions globally. We dig up minerals at great environmental cost, processed both here and in the destination country, to further polluting effects. And, perhaps most importantly, we cannot sit back and do nothing claiming that we are but a small nation while asking other bigger, more absolutely (rather than relatively) polluting countries, to drastically change their behaviours. Particularly when their per capita wealth may be much lower. The actions of each individual, and each individual nation, matter.

To prove to you that we wouldn't be going at it alone, 179 countries have ratified the Paris Agreement. The British Parliament, in contrast to its current discord, passed exemplary legislation in the Climate Change Act back in 2008, with greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 being 43% lower than those of 1990. The UK recently celebrated eleven days in a row coal-free, the first time since the commencement of the Industrial Revolution. The Gambia, though a developing nation, has thoroughly invested in renewable energy in its growth strategy and serves as an example to other nations in the region. India, the world's second-most populous country, has made inroads on renewable energy production and may meet its 2030 energy goals as early as 2020. They've also pledged to ban plastic bags by 2022 at a national level, showing commitment to broader environmental policy (the implementation, of course, is key). It is notable that most countries have policies that, in the simplest sense, reduce reliance on fossil fuels and move towards renewables. The problem is not finding the answers themselves; the difficulty is in enacting policy.

National policy is fundamental to action on climate change. For all the disposable coffee cups avoided by bringing your KeepCup to work, and for all the shopping bags never produced because individuals bring their own calico bags, the biggest and most pressing changes need to be in how we source our energy and what we choose to do with it. While we can all reduce now what we use by turning off light switches and powering down our unused computers, unless the source power is renewable for all of our necessary emissions (you can't turn off the fridge and hospitals can't stop powering ventilators) there will continue to be high carbon dioxide emissions. Businesses can alter package production to biodegradable forms and states can invest in mass transit that pulls cars and trucks off the roads. But there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we as a nation see climate change and how much we are willing to invest now to stave off an inhospitable planet for our grandchildren, should they live to tell the tale.

The question is not, why should Australia invest in climate action if we are such a tiny island nation. The question is why haven't we done more already?

Looking for further reads:
Check out Four Fish: The Future of the last Wild Food by Paul Greenberg and Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps that Tell you Everything you Need to Know about Global Politics by Tim Marshall


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