Show us your stripes

By David McEwen and Michelle Hamrosi 

#ShowYourStripes graphic by Ed Hawkins This isn’t art, it’s data. Each vertical line is a year. Blues are years that were cooler than the average between 1971 and 2000; red is hotter. The darker the colour the further from the mean. The hottest 10 years since records began in the late 1800s have all been in the last 20 years. 2020 has a good chance of setting a new record. Our planet, our only home has a fever. It’s not sunspots or volcanos or the earth’s rotation or whatever else you might want to believe because you watched some denialist crap on YouTube: it’s us. Mainly our use of coal, oil and gas, cement, land clearing and agriculture. "But the climate’s always changed", I hear some of you say. As the stripes above acutely show us, and scientists have long warned us, this change isn't occurring over thousands of years, it is occurring rapidly within the space of a few decades. Human induced climate change is occurring at a rate never seen before in earth's history.

And as it gets hotter, the weather becomes more tempestuous, crop harvests and fresh water supplies become less reliable, the seas rise and become more acidic, and ecosystems on which our lives depend collapse. This is all accelerating now.  And as it gets hotter, positive feed back loops are being triggered, that perpetuate the heating. Climate scientists call these tipping points. An example is methane being released from the thawing arctic permafrost. This is already happening now. The more tipping points that we trigger, the less chance we have of getting climate change under control.  One example is the melting permafrost in the arctic. This releases enormous amounts of methane, an even more potent Greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, that then lead to further global warming. Nine out of 15 tipping points are already activated. The situation we are currently in, is a global emergency of the upmost scale.

We can fix it, given government will to make systemic changes to our economic system. The good news, is that the technology is available today and is already (or soon will be) cheaper than the old ways that have created the problems. There are multi trillion dollar opportunities for business, millions of jobs, and clean air and water to look forward to. Here’s how: 1. A moratorium on new fossil fuel extraction. Any new investment in coal, oil or gas is utterly incompatible with where we need to be. Existing plants will need to be wound down as quickly as later steps can be scaled up. 2. Rapidly scale up renewables and storage. Australia is currently at 21%. We need to get to at least 700%. We have more than enough land, sun, wind and know how - we just need the right policy and regulatory settings from government. 3. Use the excess renewable power to electrify everything that can be including transportation, gas use in buildings and industrial processes. 4. Use the rest of the excess to produce green hydrogen, which can be used for heavy transport (including ships and maybe aircraft), to make steel (instead of coking coal), fertiliser, and for other industrial processes that can’t be electrified. There’s also a huge emerging export opportunity to ship clean hydrogen instead of coal and LNG, and even to send power to Indonesia, Singapore and beyond via submarine cables from the NT. 5. Replace cement, plastic and other products with emerging clean alternatives. 6. Adopt regenerative agriculture to trap carbon in soils, improving productivity and water retention and reducing the need for artificial fertilisers. Reduce the livestock herd and introduce feed systems to reduce their methane emissions. 7. Trap and store methane from landfills and wherever else emissions can’t be eliminated. Trapped carbon can be used as a feedstock for plastics, jet fuel and other chemical uses. 8. Rewild - return land to nature. To maintain any semblance of a safe climate the world needs to halve greenhouse emissions by 2030 and get to net zero no later than 2050. As a rich nation with almost the highest per capita emissions in the world, and amazing assets to decarbonise, Australia owes it to the world to punch above our weight. But there are powerful vested interests  distorting and diluting this message and fighting to preserve the status quo. The fossil fuel industry has captured Australian politicians (from both major parties) and key media organisations. They are using their super profits to buy their longevity, while knowingly hastening the end of a habitable planet. What can you do? * Educate yourself. Start with the IPCC’s 2018 report about the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming. Read science written by scientists; avoid opinion pieces written by people with vested interests. Understand who funds what you read and watch, and question their motives. Join a group such as Australian Parents for Climate Action to learn more and connect with the growing community of concerned people. * Engage with your MPs and Senators. Write to them, call them, meet with them. Let them know you expect to see decisive and meaningful emissions reduction to secure your vote. * Engage with your community. Encourage your family, friends and colleagues to become more aware and politically engaged. * Use your money wisely. Switch your super to a fund that does not invest in industries that contribute to climate change (it will probably generate a better return than your old fund - being sustainable pays). Bank with an institution that doesn’t lend to the fossil fuel sector. Switch to a power company that only uses renewable power. Replace ageing gas appliances with efficient electric alternatives. Insulate and draught-proof your home. Put solar on your roof and make your next car electric. You’ll save money and feel great. * Eat less meat and dairy. Even if you’re a committed carnivore, try out the growing range of meat and dairy substitutes. Some are almost indistinguishable from the real thing and prices are falling. If you have the means, plant a veggie garden and compost. * Travel less and think about your choices. Less flying and car use; more terrestrial mass transit, cycling and walking. Value time in nature. * Switch your media to sources that clearly communicate the gravity of the climate crisis.  * Buy less stuff. Recognise that your self worth is not bound up in what you have, but about who you are and the actions you take. When you need stuff, think second hand. Buy quality, and hold onto it. Repair. Gift or sell what you don’t need. Recycle. Tossing should be the option of last resort. Please, for your children’s or grand children’s sake; your nieces, nephews or just your friends’ children; we must convince our governments to truly act in the best interests of the voters they were elected to serve. This pandemic has given us an opportunity to pause and reflect and grow and change. It has given us an opportunity to reconsider the course we are on and change direction. As governments all around the world start rolling out economic stimulus package - can we shift our mindset from business as usual to one of regeneration and restoration of our planet's climate health. We need to bring down its fever, and fast! Below: We are at a critical cross road - will be keep warming to below 1.5 degrees or witness collapse of human civilisation in the face of climate breakdown. Which road will we collectively take?