Ravaged by climate change, Australian inferno goes from bad to worse

No deep cuts in carbon pollution expected without stronger movement for climate justice in 2013

No 648 Posted by fw, January 9, 2013

“Right now in Australia, we’re having record-breaking heat waves. There are fires burning in almost every single Australian state and territory. People have been evacuated. Some people have lost their homes; they’ve lost everything. Our Bureau of Meteorology has come out and said that these are the kind of heat wave conditions that are absolutely unprecedented in our history in terms of the duration, the ferocity. And it’s expected to continue into the weekend and to get worse.”Anna Rose

Anna Rose, co-founder and chair of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, provides a first-hand account of the situation Down Under in the following 12:30-minute embedded video interview and abridged transcript with added subheadings. Alternatively, watch the video and access the complete transcript by clicking on the linked title.

Australia on Fire: Record-Shattering Heat, Wildfires Engulf World’s Largest Exporter of Coal, Democracy Now, January 9, 2013

ABRIDGED TRANSCRIPT

[Introduction]

Two new colors have been added to Australia’s weather maps to show temperatures exceeding 122 degrees Fahrenheit in the country’s fiercest heat wave in more than 80 years. Wildfires are raging through Australia’s six states, including in Tasmania where some 50,000 acres of forests and farmland have been destroyed. We go to Sydney to speak with Anna Rose, co-founder and chair of Australian Youth Climate Coalition.

Anna Rose — “These heat wave conditions are unprecedented in terms of their duration and ferocity”

Well, right now in Australia, we’re having record-breaking heat waves. There are fires burning in almost every single Australian state and territory. People have been evacuated. Some people have lost their homes; they’ve lost everything. Our Bureau of Meteorology has come out and said that these are the kind of heat wave conditions that are absolutely unprecedented in our history in terms of the duration, the ferocity. And it’s expected to continue into the weekend and to get worse.

The last two years have been really rough in terms of extreme weather events in Australia. In Queensland, we had big floods that covered an area bigger than the size of France and Germany combined. We had entire towns that were really destroyed by this flooding. But we also—I come from a farming background, and we’re starting to see the impacts in agriculture all over the country. And when you talk to farmers, they’ll tell you that it rains less often, but when it does rain, it all comes down at once, because, essentially, what we’re doing to our climate system is we’re messing with the water cycle. And so, when we know that warmer air holds more water vapor, which means there’s less vapor in the soil, when it does come down, it all comes down at once.

Worldwide, this is the new normal

It’s not just Australia. We’ve seen huge droughts in China, massive floods in Pakistan. Obviously there was Hurricane Sandy in the United States. All around the world—in Russia, the Kremlin, a couple years back, had to ban wheat and corn exports in 2011 because they were having such extreme heat waves that they couldn’t export it anymore. And then we saw the price of grain go up threefold around the world, which caused huge food insecurity.

So, the key message from all of this, and what our weather agencies are telling us, is that this is the new normal. This isn’t just some freak extreme weather event. Actually, we’ve seen a trend over the last few decades of extreme weather events on the rise, getting worse and worse, as we pump more and more carbon pollution into the atmosphere and make climate change worse.

Even Antarctica has not escaped the ravages of climate change

So I just got back to Australia yesterday from Antarctica, where I was talking to people there about the impacts of climate change. Now, western Antarctica, it’s still very cold, but it’s actually the most quickly warming land mass. So the Arctic is warming very quickly, but it’s an ocean. West Antarctica has warmed three times the global average. And that’s starting to have some impacts on penguin populations, on marine life.

Climate change impacts are widespread and scary – ocean acidification, human health, human infrastructure, food security

[We're] also starting to see the impact of ocean acidification, because we can all see what’s happening on land and in the air, but the other big changes that are happening are in our oceans, particularly with the formation of calcium carbonate, which is a really important substance for little marine organisms, which feed fish, which then provide protein for much of the world. So, when it comes to climate change, sometimes you hear people talking about polar bears or rainforests, and those things are important, but really we’re starting to see the impacts, and we have for a while now, on human health, human infrastructure, on food security and on our day-to-day lives. That’s certainly what’s happening here in Australia. People are starting to see the impacts in a very practical and a very scary way in our everyday lives.

It will take an enormous worldwide climate justice movement to force negligent governments, fossil fuel industry and mainstream media to act responsibly

The United Nations climate conference will never aim higher than what the governments attending demand. And those governments will never aim higher than what their people demand. So, I won’t—I don’t believe we’ll have significant progress at the international level until we’re able to build an even stronger movement in Australia, in America and around the world. And that movement has certainly begun. There is an enormous climate justice movement all over the world. And particularly the youth part of that movement, which is what I’ve been working with for the last few years, has just grown exponentially as the scale of the crisis grows.

In Australia, we have now a carbon price, and we are investing $10 billion in renewable energy to start the shift away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy, like wind and solar. But we still have a lot of work to do, particularly on things like our coal exports from Queensland. I know in the United States you have similar issues with the power of vested interests in politics. So, the U.N. climate talks will continue, countries will continue to make incremental steps, but we won’t achieve the really genuine, significant, deep cuts in carbon pollution until we’re able to get to work to build an even stronger movement for climate justice in 2013.

Some parts of the media are connecting the dots between extreme weather and climate change. And certainly, as climate campaigners and people who try to help people understand what’s happening to our country and to our planet with climate change, we’ve been trying to encourage the movement to have those conversations to be able to connect the dots. But, of course, we have some other elements of the media who simply aren’t making the link at all, and that’s where we need to come and remind people that this is a tragedy, what we’re seeing here in Australia, and we need to be able to come together as a community not just to deal with the short-term impacts, but also to look ahead at what Australia is facing in terms of our extreme weather events, our food security, our health, our infrastructure, and what we can do to reduce our carbon pollution, because Australia is the highest per-capita carbon polluter out of all of the OECD countries. And right now, the movement, the climate movement in Australia, is focusing a lot of its attention towards the coal exports issue, particularly in Queensland, where we have two mining billionaires who want to export huge amounts of coal through our Great Barrier Reef. And what we need to be doing instead is developing clean technology and exporting that to the rest of the world.

In her book Madlands, Anna tells of her journey with a climate skeptic, Australia’s former finance minister, to convince him of need for immediate, forceful action on climate change

I took our former finance minister on a four-week journey around the world. And when we started, he had said that climate change might be happening, but that humans were not responsible, and he was quite opposed to any kind of action on climate change. We traveled for four weeks. I took him to the United States and met some people there, in the U.K. We talked about human rights implications. By the end, I did get him to a point where he said, in his words, “Climate change is happening, and humans have probably caused part of it.” And I was also able to convince him, somewhat, of the need to switch to renewable energy, because we need to make this transition right away towards clean energy, towards wind and solar, because if we don’t, we are going to see more and more of these devastating extreme weather events that are hurting not just Australia, but people all around the world.

Significant progress on climate change won’t happen until the US puts a price on carbon

It’s incredibly significant. You can’t overestimate how important what America does is for countries like Australia and countries around the world. The rest of the world has started to act on climate change. Europe has been doing it for a long time. In New Zealand, Australia, we have carbon prices now. We certainly have a lot more work to do, but those big steps won’t happen until we get the United States to put a price on carbon, to significantly invest in renewable energy, and to start moving away from fossil fuels.

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