The future is now

It took the devastating Australian bushfires to bring home to the country’s politicians that perhaps, maybe, they had to update their thinking on climate change. Perhaps, because that thinking remains dominated by an ideology which increasingly looks untethered to present day realities. Below are some of those realities:

The ocean absorbs vast quantities of heat as a result of increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, mainly from fossil fuel consumption, see: The organisation comprehensively covers much of the research on ocean warming and its effects on peoples, animals and marine life.

It’s alarming but necessary because politicians and big business so often push solutions aside. But the reaction is now on the streets where one sign in Australia’s drought and fire-stricken states summed it up: ‘We are on fire – act now!’  But will politicians step up to the challenge driven home? asks ABC’s Laura Tingle, the ABC’s Chief Political Correspondent:

‘The parrot-like references to ‘meeting and beating’ targets has been very effective in blocking any real focus on what policies the Government claims are actually driving emission reduction targets without any pain to anybody.’

Facts though, are stubborn things and here are some more, starting with Wikipedia:

 * The Fifth Assessment Report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013 revealed that the ocean had absorbed more than 93% of the excess heat from greenhouse gas emissions since the 1970s. This is causing ocean temperatures to rise.

* Data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that the average global sea surface temperature – the temperature of the upper few metres of the ocean – has increased by approximately 0.13°C per decade over the past 100 years. A 2012 paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters revealed that the deep ocean is also affected, with one third of the excess heat absorbed 700 m below the sea surface. Modelling studies published in IPCC’s 2013 Report predict that there is likely to be an increase in mean global ocean temperature of 1-4oC by 2100.

Impact on humans

  • A 2012 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates that marine and freshwater capture fisheries and aquaculture provide 4.3 billion people with about 15% of their animal protein. Fisheries and aquaculture are also a source of income for millions of people worldwide. By altering distributions of fish stocks and increasing the vulnerability of fish species to diseases, ocean warming is a serious risk to food security and people’s livelihoods globally. Economic losses related to ocean warming are likely to run from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Rising temperatures also affect vegetation and reef-building species such as corals and mangroves, which protect coastlines from erosion and sea-level rise. Rising sea levels and erosion will particularly affect low-lying island countries in the Pacific Ocean, destroying housing and infrastructure and forcing people to relocate.
  • The rise in sea surface temperatures is causing more severe hurricanes and the intensification of El Niño events bringing droughts and floods. This can have significant socio-economic and health effects in some regions of the world.
  • Ocean warming leads to deoxygenation – a reduction in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the ocean – and sea-level rise – resulting from the thermal expansion of sea water and continental ice melting. The rising temperatures, coupled with ocean acidification (the decrease in pH of the ocean due to its uptake of CO2), affect marine species and ecosystems and, consequently, the fundamental benefits humans derive from the ocean.
  • Closer to home unprecedented fires rage across a number of states, fires with an intensity firefighters have never seen before.  International media have compared fire stats from other countries and though fires are relatively common in Australia, the latest are the most widespread.
  • The 2018 California fires burnt  two million acres in 2018; last year fires in the Amazon  destroyed 2.2 million acres; in Siberia, the total was 6.7 million acres. So far Australia’s 2019 and 2020 fires have ravaged some 12 million  acres and smoke and  ash drifted 1200 miles across the Tasman, layering ash on  the South Island’s snowfields and bringing smoke to Nelson and further north to Auckland.

Everything is connected – except perhaps the world’s political and corporate elite.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.