This summer, the summer of 2015, Tasmania burned.
In our Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area wet, alpine areas that have never adapted to fire, burned. Pencil pines, cushion plants and rare remnant Gondwanic plants are dead and won’t come back.
It’s yet another horrific reminder of what global warming is doing to our planet. Extinction is forever. It is heartbreaking for those of us who have worked for decades to protect this magnificent wilderness to now see it black and littered with skeletons of trees and the dead bodies of wallabies and wombats. Scientists say that within 50 years the remnants of Gondwanaland will be gone. It is a tragedy for nature and for generations who will be the poorer for knowing it was there and now is lost.
But soon news of the fires was overtaken by news of the most intense storm ever to hit the Southern Hemisphere with Cyclone Winston slamming into Fiji leaving a trail of death, destruction and human misery. The usual calls for disaster assistance have been made and gradually relief is finding its way to villagers left without sanitation, food or drinking water. It is being reported as another 'natural' disaster. It’s not. It’s a global warming disaster and a tragedy for people and nature.
At the same time NASA has measured CO2 levels at 402ppm, sea level rise is now accelerating, 4 billion people experience water scarcity for at least a month a year, west Antarctic ice sheets are unstable, Greenland’s melting ice is running off faster than we thought, coral reefs are being destroyed by acidification and yet Governments behave as if we have all the time in the world.
While the Paris Agreement has been signed, it’s a post 2020 Agreement and already some signatory Governments like Australia are back to business as usual. By March 2016 Australia had approved the massive Carmichael coal mine, created another $15.4m fossil fuel subsidy with the launch of an oil, gas, coal and energy resources growth centre and slashed CSIRO scientific research on the Antarctic and Southern Ocean.
We live on a finite planet governed by a complex web of interrelated ecosystems. There is a limit to the non renewable resources the planet can give up to humanity without driving species to extinction and ecosystems into decline. There is also a limit to the capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems to absorb waste to rivers, oceans and atmosphere.
Some people argue that people come first, that “development” is what matters and that the environment can be looked after later. They fail to acknowledge that there are two types of development . 1. “Development” which destroys habitat, ecosystems, soil, water or air quality such that there can be no “later" and; 2. “Development” that is ecologically sustainable and maintains a healthy planet and healthy ecosystems for now and future generations.
It is also about more than an energy transformation. I love renewable energy but an economic system that simply transfers to renewable energy and continues business as usual exploitation of people together with displacement from their lands and destruction of ecosystems is not the answer either. We need energy transformation, social justice and protection of nature combined. People cannot live without nature. We have to look after both as our fortunes are inextricably combined.
Global warming has gone from theory, models and predictions to a lived reality with disastrous consequences. It has gone from a discussion about mitigation to arguments over whether adaptation to and compensation for what is currently the case should be prioritised over trying to make what is coming next less destructive. We need action on all of those fronts and that means finance and political will right now combined with the energy and insight of civil society and the capacity of progressive business.
It is an urgent, complex and wicked problem for which business as usual with a green tinge is not the answer. The Paris Agreement has put us on the right track. I am committed to the transformation that its implementation demands.