An inconvenient post about the climate emergency

As fires burn across Australia this week, imperilling life, animals and natural habitat, and with more declared catastrophic than at any previous recorded time, the Broad is devoting this week’s post to the climate emergency.

It’s by no means an exhaustive list, some books, plus a couple of docos, and articles the Broad has collected together if you’re looking for reading and watching on the topic, and some ideas on how to discuss it with young people.

The Broad accepts the science of climate change and the data that prompted thousands of scientists to recently declare we’re already in the midst of a climate crisis that will bring untold suffering unless we change our ways, such as stopping the use of fossil fuel, halting deforestation and reducing air transport and meat production. Twenty-five years ago thousands of scientists issued their first warning that we were approaching the limits of what the ­biosphere can tolerate ­without ­substantial and irreversible harm.

The Guardian has an explainer setting out how rising temperatures along with drier conditions, winds and rising fuel load add up to more intense bushfires and a longer period of bushfires. It comes as New Zealand passes legislation that commits the country to reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and meet its obligations under the Paris climate accords.

The Australian Climate Council, created and funded by donations after the Abbott Liberal Government defunded the Climate Commission (way to get rid of the problem, Tones) also has an excellent, albeit disturbing article on the link between climate change and bushfires. The Council comprises climate scientists, health, renewable energy and policy experts, as well as a team of staff, and a huge community of volunteers.

The article, penned by former New South Wales Fire and Rescue Commissioner Greg Mullins, explores the lessons for Australia’s worsening bushfire risk. Greg Mullins had an article out in the Sydney Morning Herald this week about bushfires and climate change, on the same day that Australia’s deputy prime minister Michael McCormack said only “woke inner-city raving lunatics” would talk about climate change during bushfires and the NSW deputy premier said he makes “no apologies for not talking about climate changes while the state was trying to prepare to face this week’s catastrophic fires. It’s offensive and wrong because farmers, emergency and fire experts along with councillors in effected areas are all talking about climate change this week. The only ones trying to shut it down are those people wanting to hide their inaction. The denialism and dog-whistle politics on display this week has been truly staggering. And finally to understand the multitude of ways going back years the government and MPs have avoided taking responsibility for climate action, have a look at this list.

On the Climate Crisis

But back to the books. On Fire: The Burning Case For a Green New Deal is the latest book by Canadian academic and journalist Naomi Klein. The Broad recently listened to her discussion with Philip Adams on ABC’s Radio National program Late Night Live about her latest book to address climate change. In this one, Klein argues that the climate crisis presents a profound political opportunity to transform our economies and our societies to re-cast them as fairer, sustainable and more equitable in the mould of US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s after the Great Depression. The book is a collection of long-form essays by Klein, dispatches from the frontlines of where climate change and ecological havoc are already being felt, from the dying Great Barrier Reef to the smoke-filled skies of the Pacific Northwest, to post-hurricane Puerto Rico and how and why we must address the climate issues within a broader political program.

If that isn’t enough, Klein’s earlier book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, published five years ago in 2014, has a similar argument that climate change presents an opportunity to make systemic improvements to democracy and inequality to rebuild economies, and why the market mechanism has not, and can not, fix the climate crisis. 

“She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives.”

A documentary of This Changes Everything was made in 2015 and is available on YouTube and Google Play.

Australian books related to Climate Change

In 1994, paleontologist Tim Flannery published The Future Eaters in which he contends that humans are consuming the food they need for their future. The book has had its critics, with scientists from different disciplines challenging his hypotheses, but it’s still a worthwhile read. Tim Flannery was the public face of climate change activism in Australia for many years and helped create the Climate Council. In his 2005 book The Weather Makers Flannery examines the history of climate change and its impacts to come in the future. Fires, drought, flooding, extreme heat – it’s clear that 14 years later we’re living with the effects of climate change. In the book, he traces the development of the concept of the greenhouse effect in the 1970s to the creation of the first panel of climate scientists in the 1980s. He continues up to the early 2000s when governments like the US and Australian were refusing to adhere to carbon reduction targets and interest groups were springing up to argue against the science of climate change. 

In Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions to the Climate Crisis the explorer and conservationist argues that the climate system is fast approaching crisis, but Flannery says catastrophe isn’t inevitable and that clean technologies and the “third way” presents a viable path towards protecting the Earth and creating a viable, sustainable existence. What is the third way?

It uses the power of life itself and the Earth system to draw CO2 out of the air and sea. As it results in changes in the Earth system, it might be counted as a form of geo-engineering, but it is qualitatively different in that it builds on processes that are as old as life itself, and seeks to directly reduce the human-caused greenhouse gases.

Taking a different approach to understanding local climate and farming systems is Dark Emu written by Bruce Pascoe, an Indigenous writer of Tasmanian, Bunurong and Yuin descent. He argues the hunter-gatherer tag for pre-colonial Aboriginal Australians was wrong and attempts to rebut the entrenched, centuries-old notion that pre-European Aboriginal people were hunter-gatherers who did not farm the land they occupied. The Indigenous teacher, farmer and fisherman says evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing

“Aborigines did sow, grow, irrigate, preserve and build. Hunter-gatherers do not do that. Time to look again.”

What can the book teach us about our response to climate change? We have the opportunity to learn about thousands of years of Aboriginal custodianship of the land and how it flourished and how to change our farming practices to work with the natural systems to regenerate the soil and help vegetation flourish, while eliminating the need for chemical pesticides.

If you’re a teacher or wanting to share the Indigenous approach to the land with children, the Broad recommends Young Dark Emu, which explains Australia’s pre-European history for younger readers.

The History of Climate Science

Climate change relies on the concept that the earth has a complex, interrelated climate system, which we didn’t always understand in itself. Yet it’s impossible to understand climate change and global warming without also recognising a climate system and the science of climate and water.

And that’s where this book comes in. Waters of the World by Sarah Dry, an academic who has spent more than 10 years studying the history of meteorology and climate science, charts 150 years of efforts by six major scientific figures in climatology who studied the various aspects of water systems around the world.

The book doesn’t take a strictly academic approach and it tells the personal stories of the scientists and their lives alongside their work to understand global climate systems. It includes the story of one female scientist, Joanne Simpson, a pioneer female scientist with a pilot’s licence who studied the mysteries of cloud formations.

The Al Gore Documentaries

And a reminder of Al Gore’s 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Remember that one all those years ago? The former presidential candidate made the case for global warming and humanity’s role in it and sparked global awareness and discussion of the issue back then.

The sequel An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power came a decade later and follows Gore as he examines our efforts towards an energy revolution. Both documentaries are on YouTube and Google Play, and the sequel is also on Netflix. A good choice for kids and young people to help understand the reality of climate change that they’re growing up with, and will inherit the consequences if we don’t all force those in power to act.

Climate Change Exhibition

In Meltdown, climate change is imagined in an exhibition showing the effect on glaciers of the changing climate. It’s put on by Project Pressure at the Horniman Museum in London ,but you can see the images the website too. 

“The works featured from these expeditions range in scale from the planetary level to microscopic biological impact, with artistic interpretations giving unique insights into the world’s cryosphere, its fragile ecosystem and our changing global climate.”

The Lewis Glacier, Mt Kenya, 1963 
Copyright Simon Norfolk / Courtesy of Project Pressure

A few final words to finish. So many lost years of taking little or no action to migrate towards renewable energy and changing our way to reduce carbon emissions, and so much denial, lies and obstruction from governments, mostly conservative, and the vested interests in the mining industries and reactionary media has muddied the waters. The science has been undermined, the motivations of the scientists questioned and sensible discussion of the issues has been prevented. And proper action by those charged with this responsibility by the citizens they’re supposed to represent has been avoided. No apologies for the lack of entertainment content this week, this is just too important.

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Rosalyn Page
Journalist, blogger and writer covering arts, culture, travel and digital lifestyle at www.rosalynpage.com and www.somenotesfromabroad.com.

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