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The end of the world as we know it (do you feel fine?)

G'day. I met Susie Russell in Elands, NSW in the 80s in the context of forest campaigning with the North East Forest Alliance, and have mostly known of her since, through various friends, as one of the rare level-headed stayers of the environment movement. I've been trying to commission an article on the state of Australia's forests for a while now (and still am), but I think Susie felt that if she was to make her debut, she needed to start with the most important issue on the planet, climate change, of which forest management is but a chapter. Thank you Susie for a most sobering article, and I... um... look forward to more, I think. Hamish.

by Susie Russell

On Thursday a new book will hit the shelves, authored by British scientist James Lovelock. The Revenge of Gaia outlines why the author now predicts that human beings have in fact crossed a climate change threshold and the changes we have triggered are irreversible.

Lovelock is an atmospheric scientist. In the 1970s he was employed by NASA the National Aeronautical Space Agency (USA), to design instruments to detect life on Mars. His thinking and research lead him to conclude that it is not possible for life to only exist on part of a planet. Life is a planetary phenomenon and thus planets - or at least the surface of them - are alive.

By ‘alive’ he meant interactive and self-regulating, that is it is homeostatic. He named his hypothesis ‘Gaia’. The idea that the planet is self-regulating and alive received much criticism from other scientists, so Lovelock has worked actively to counter the criticisms with his own independent research. To answer his critics he built a computer model known as ‘daisy world’.

On daisy world the heat emitted from the sun increases over time - as ours does. This favours black daisies, which absorb the heat, while at the same time contributing to creating a cooler environment which then allows white daisies to develop. Over time, the white daisies are favoured by the atmosphere and flourish, until even their atmospheric cooling function can no longer regulate the sun’s heat, and life on the planet dies out. The model can be made increasingly complex by adding rabbits to eat the daisies and foxes to eat the rabbits etc and a more stable system emerges: Life creates the conditions for its own existence and stabilises a planet’s temperature until the increasing heat of a sun (which can of course be several million or billion years) wins out.

Lovelock’s hypothesis has substantial scientific support. We see that on our amazing and wonderful planet Earth there have been numerous homeostatic mechanisms, which have maintained the temperature within what are very narrow confines that favour life. These include the tiny sea organisms that release cloud forming particles, which lead to clouds forming over the oceans that build into storms, which make the sea choppy thus mixing the colder and warmer water layers and allowing the organisms access to nutrients that normally circulate in the lower colder water. Or the cliffs of chalk that are formed also by tiny sea creatures binding vastly greater quantities of carbon-dioxide (CO2) than circulate in the atmosphere, or the tropical rainforests which not only lock up CO2 but protect large parts of the land mass from the dessicating effects of the sun.

Lovelock is an atmospheric scientist who for more than 20 years now has been warning anyone who would listen about the potentially dire effects to our species- human beings – of the increased amount of greenhouse or earth warming gases we are allowing into the atmosphere. Not only from our power stations and our cars, but also from our livestock (methane is 20 times more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2) and from our aerosols, etc (Lovelock was the first to detect chloroflourocarbons, CFCs, in the atmosphere and warn of their global warming effect.)

So when someone like James Lovelock says we’ve gone too far and there’s no stopping the roller-coaster now, I, for one, feel impelled to take notice.

As Michael McCarthy Environment Editor for Independent Online says in his explanation of Lovelock’s latest views:

This is because the system contains myriad feedback mechanisms which in the past have acted in concert to keep the Earth much cooler than it otherwise would be. Now, however, they will come together to amplify the warming being caused by human activities such as transport and industry through huge emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

It means that the harmful consequences of human beings damaging the living planet's ancient regulatory system will be non-linear - in other words, likely to accelerate uncontrollably.

Already we are seeing a range of phenomenon on the planet unlike ever before: Such as the melting of the permafrost across sub-Arctic western Siberia. This area of a million square kilometres has been frozen for over 11,000 years and is now starting to thaw. An area which has been a carbon storage area will now have the capacity to release billions of tonnes of methane and CO2 into the atmosphere which will increase global warming. It will also change a huge area of the earth’s surface from white to dark, which will absorb more heat rather than reflect it, and also increase the warming effect (not to mention the devastating effects on the indigenous population who live there).

The melting of the icecaps and glaciers is leading to an increase in the freshwater component of seawater. This is very significant when you know that it is salinity that drives the deep ocean currents that move warmer water and air into the northern hemisphere.

I’m sure other readers can contribute examples.

And into this changing world human beings continue to take actions to exacerbate the process. New satellite technology shows the clearing of the Amazon rainforests is much greater than anyone previously knew - if applied globally it would probably show the same everywhere including Australia where laws to end land-clearing are regularly announced but seldom given any implementation grunt. Warmer seas will diminish plankton which will lead to a dramatic fall in marine life and less fish. Deforestation leads to many things but one is the drying up of small creeks during dry weather, where previously the forests had pumped water through the soil and kept them running... life and death effects for down-stream dependents.

What Lovelock and other climate scientists are saying is that we can’t expect a gradual process of warming. Instead the warming will start off gradually (like it has) and as various thresholds or trigger points are crossed, things will start to go ballistic and it could all happen in a few decades. And that is Lovelock’s dire prediction. That civilisation as we know it won’t last 100 years and much of the planet will become uninhabitable for humans in a relatively short time (like the time it takes you to pay off your mortgage.)

Life won’t die on earth. But as has happened in the past when something has triggered a major climate shift, such as the asteroid which shrouded the planet in dust and plunged it into a cold period for long enough to see the dinosaurs die out 65 million years ago, it takes a long time for complex life to evolve. Maybe those cockroaches will get their turn yet.

It wouldn’t be fair not to mention that Lovelock has been an advocate of nuclear power for the last 20 years, suggesting that the risks inherent in a major shift to nuclear energy might be worth it if it slows global warming sufficiently to buy us time. It seems his latest views are perhaps now a strong argument against any further expansion of nuclear energy. Spreading radiation around the planet will lead to mutations and sickness, and weaken those species and individuals who may otherwise stand a chance of surviving. If we are really looking at the collapse of society as we know it in the next century then the chance of providing security for radioactive waste for several tens of thousands of years becomes even more preposterous.

We human beings have created the pre-conditions which will see the next massive wave of extinctions of many complex life forms on this planet. That process is well underway as we fell the forests, dry out the land, poison and drain the wetlands, rivers and oceans and generally shit in our own nest.

We should begin preparing for the worst. Like the low levees of New Orleans, we know the flood is coming... we can either start work on the Ark or keep our head in the sand and pray the levee holds.

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Howard gags the CSIRO but listens to the Mafia

ABC Four Corners -  How does the Howard Government get away with it?

Australia faces it greatest challenge and we are led by a government that is nobbling the CSIRO. Preventing the truth and letting the big end of town make enormous profit at the expense of the majority.  Now a former liberal insider speaks out:

JANINE COHEN: The latest extreme climate change forecasts for Australia are alarming - more droughts, more bushfires, more cyclones, more heatwaves, more disease.

DR BARRIE PITTOCK, CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT: I think the government just hasn't yet understood that it's urgent and that there are uncertainties which might be at the high end and which might be disastrous.

JANINE COHEN: But has the Federal Government misunderstood, or is there something else driving the agenda? This man thinks so. A Liberal Party insider, he claims a powerful group of industry lobbyists have hijacked greenhouse policy. Their influence, he says, leads all the way into Cabinet.

DR GUY PEARSE, SPEECHWRITER, ENVIRONMENT MINISTER, 1997-2000: Having found out what I've now found out, I find it impossible to continue with a clear conscience without speaking out.

Reviews of Lovelock's Revenge of Gaia

Reviews in the UK Independent and Times Online are now on the net. No doubt more soon.

Gaia's revenge

 Susie Russell has given us an interesting piece. However, according to my informant at Penguin Australia, we will have to wait till April to buy Lovelock’s latest book in any bookshop here. (Hamish has already accepted an advance offer of a review from me, but that will have to wait till April too, as Penguin has no review copies in Australia).

James Lovelock FRS is a scientist to be taken seriously, whatever your opinion of his Gaia hypothesis and whatever your basis for that opinion. If the press reports about The Revenge of Gaia are fair to the book itself, then Lovelock has just upped the political ante on Climate Change by about 99 percentage points. (See for example, the journalism of Gwynne Dyer on the subject, here, here, or here.) One beneficiary will be the nuclear power industry, which is presently being strongly supported by Lovelock according to these sources, and which will no doubt return the favour by promoting his ideas. I for one prefer to suspend judgement on the wisdom of this until after I have read this latest book.

Susie wrote:

The melting of the icecaps and glaciers is leading to an increase in the freshwater component of seawater. This is very significant when you know that it is salinity that drives the deep ocean currents that move warmer water and air into the northern hemisphere.

Currently the northern hemisphere is experiencing a severe winter, possibly due to a slowing down of the Gulf Stream which carries warm water (ie heat) from the equatorial western Atlantic to the northeastern Atlantic, giving a milder climate to Britain and Europe than would be expected from their latitude. (London at 51.5 degrees N might otherwise be climatically much the same as Puerto Natales at the southern end of Chile  (51.4 degrees S.  Like us at the moment, it is enjoying the height of summer.)

This slowing may be due to excessive fresh meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet and excess also from rivers flowing north through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean, mixing with the salt Gulf Stream water and causing more than the usual amount of it to stay afloat rather than to sink for the return to the south. In other words, global warming could be bringing about a counter-intuitive effect on the Earth’s climate. This could be interpreted as one of Gaia’s homeostatic mechanisms in action, but I am not sure that Lovelock himself would agree with such a conclusion. Nor with Susie that “it is not possible for life to only exist on part of a planet. Life is a planetary phenomenon and thus planets - or at least the surface of them -are alive.”

In his original book Gaia – A new look at life on Earth (OUP 1979) (first and last chapters here) Lovelock described his hypothesis as being one “in which the Earth’s living matter, air, oceans and land surface form a complex system which can be seen as a single organism and which has the capacity to keep our planet a fit place for life.”  (p vii) He contrasted the present planetary chemical disequilibrium (favourable to life) with the situation we would expect if chemical equilibrium and a state of lowest chemical potential energy somehow prevailed – requiring very artificial conditions to create.

In this he based himself on the work of the Swedish chemist Lars Gunnar Sillen, who was the first to calculate what the effect would be of bringing all the substances of the Earth into thermodynamic equilibrium. In the air of this totally stabilised world, instead of 0.03%carbon dioxide, there would be 99%; instead of 78% nitrogen, there would be 0% (it would all be in the oceans as nitrate ion); instead of 21% oxygen, there would be 0% (it would be combined as oxides like carbon dioxide and water).

The oceans would be only 63% water, not 96% as we experience, and their salt content would be 35%, not 3.5%. 1.7% of the oceans would be dissolved sodium nitrate. (This means that  there is an oceanic salt sink somewhere, because these figures are based on known rates of salt leaching out of the continental land masses.)

The above figures for CO2, nitrogen and oxygen are pretty much what we find on Venus, which has a surface temperature of  477 Celsius degrees. According to Lovelock’s calculations, an Earth without life would have a surface temperature of 290 (+/- 50) Celsius, instead of an average of 13. His conclusion was that life modifies the environment drastically, and in its own favour. Venus is not alive. The Earth is, at least in the Lovelockian sense. That makes an enormous difference between the two. At the 'GAIA and Global Change Conference', in Dartington, Devon, UK on 4 June 2004, Lovelock said this:

In the late 1930s when I was a student we knew that war was imminent, but there was no clear idea of what to do about it. As a young man I was naturally inclined to the Left in politics and followed the peaceful way, and thought that nothing could be worse than war; my views were shared by many, especially by old soldiers, with awful memories of the First World War. Even those on the Right said that Hitler was no danger; his natural enemy was Soviet Russia. This pacific dream world persisted until 1940 when suddenly the war became real.

I find a marked similarity between attitudes over 60 years ago and those now towards the threat of Global Change. Most of us think that something unpleasant may soon happen but we are as confused over what to do about it as we were in 1938. Our response so far is just like that in 1938, an attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement is uncannily like that of Munich with politicians out to show that they do respond but in reality bidding for time. We are tribal animals and the tribe does not act in unison until a real and present danger is perceived. This has not yet happened and as individuals we go our separate ways while the ineluctable forces of Gaia marshal against us.

Battle will soon be joined and what we now face is far more deadly than any blitzkrieg. We are at war with the Earth itself.

Make no mistake, we will soon be faced with the greatest test humanity has ever had. Our chief scientist, Sir David King, was right when he said in the USA early this year that global warming was a greater threat than terrorism but I think he did not go far enough. Global warming is the response of our outraged planet to the harm that we have already done, and the consequences for humanity are likely to be far worse than any war.

The Earth is now acknowledged by scientists to be a self regulating system made up from all its life forms including humans and its material parts, the air the oceans and the surface rocks. The Earth system regulates its climate and chemistry. Because the Earth is like a living system and is responsive to what we do; adding greenhouse gases to the air has quite different consequences from doing the same thing on a dead planet like Mars.

 

There is a way out here for John Howard. He can claim that he won’t on principle be party to any Munich agreements, and opt instead for the Churchillian approach: that is, unrelenting war on CO2, fighting it on the beaches, etc, etc.

Finally, I would have thought that by now the punditacious cockatoos on the fence to the right would be having a go, given the interest that Lovelock’s latest book has already generated in the media, and the implications it has as far as business-as-usual goes. But not a squawk from any of them. This meagre offering is all I have been able to find so far. But perhaps I have not looked hard enough.

 

 

 

One dickhead's view

CP, I note with interest your link to Andrew Bolt, the talking-head, par-excellence who in his divine wisdom thinks that global warming is much ado about nothing.

What this mouthpiece for interests unknown is trying to achieve still remains clouded. However notwithstanding his total lack of scientific credentials our Andrew blathers on. He despises naysayers and has therefore chosen to champion a totally irresponsible view. He even savages his own side for being seduced by the emotive arguments surrounding climate change.

Bolt believes he is the only commentator who is in step with what is the real truth. No room for doubt.

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change

The UK Government  has published this report

Tony Blair says in his introduction: "Climate change is the world’s greatest environmental challenge. It is now plain that the emission of greenhouse gases, associated with industrialisation and economic growth from a world population that has increased six-fold in 200 years, is causing global warming at a rate that is unsustainable. ... It is clear from the work presented that the risks of climate change may well be greater than we thought."

The report regards the melting of the Greenland Ice shelf and the consequent longer term 7 metre increase in sea level as essentially now inevitable. "The results suggest that complete or partial deglaciation of Greenland may be triggered for even quite modest stabilisation targets. We also examine the time scales associated with sea-level rise and demonstrate that long after atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations or global temperature have been stabilised coastal impacts may still be increasing."
 

A topic that won't go away

Thanks to all of you who have posted comments to my article (good to hear from you, Sid). I think one of the challenges for those of us who recognise the seriousness of the threat is to start discussing what our society can be doing to prepare. For example, dare I suggest that extensive borrowing for public infrastructure such as the training of health workers and the reconfiguration of our infrastructure into regional components might be an interesting start. By that I mean that we aim to give regions, which could be self or geographically defined, infrastructure that is not dependent on some central hub. This would include health, transport, power, food, water and some form of social organisation.

Let us not forgot that there are many people for whom 'the end of the world' in the sense of a breakdown of civil society and the collapse of their infrastructure has already occurred. The vast majority of those affected by the tsunami, the Pakistani earthquake and even Hurricane Katrina no longer have a home. While these events disappear from our headlines, many of those affected may never recover.

A quick comment on an editing oversight on my part, picked up by C. With respect to the melting permafrost, parts of the frozen north of the planet have now warmed to the highest level since the end of the ice-age. Once significant melt of the permafrost occurs, and we are seeing the first signs of that, it will mean it is the warmest it has been in 100,000 years.

If you think one or two degrees warming doesn't make a difference, try the following experiment. Get a jam thermometer and get into a very hot bath. Take the temperature. Add hot water to raise the temperature a couple of degrees! Warning- more than 10 minutes in such hot water can cause you serious body damage, including collapse of your cell proteins and release of toxins into your blood stream. So do be careful.

I look forward to more discussion on this topic as it's one of those that won't be going away. 

Notes on the scale of the problem

Thanks Susie for the overview of Lovelock's book. Even if we take his position as being at the extreme end of modeling for climate change he is still much closer to the mainstream of scientists in the area than any of the few right out on the edge of skepticism like Plimer.

It would therefore seem, on any sensible balance of probabalities, that only fools would not advocate a need to drastically wind back human production of greenhouse gases and start trying to reduce those already in the atmosphere. That we are not doing much speaks volumes for the inequalities and vested interests built into the political and economic systems that run the global economy. This vast (human) system is acting as a hindrance to a rational response to the problem. And the size of this system, plus the size of the problem, acts to inhibit people feeling any sense of power at the individual level. And while they remain within an individual mindset this is how things will remain. Co-operation on the political and economic level can make inroads but it will be a race to see if big enough co-operation can force sufficient changes  in time to prevent major catastrophes and displacements for large populations.

Yet it's a shame how often the climate change issue ends up bogged down in mindless left/right debate. A debate based on defense/attack of politicians whose ideological pronouncements matter less than (are just a cover for) their ties with the status quo establishment. The reasons for  non-action on  are far more ones stemming from inertia, short sightedness and vested interest holding up change. A properly working market model, and an aware and democratically empowered citizenry (touchstones of the right and the left), would be responding to the problem a lot better than the current systems are.

For further, depressing, reading I would suggest Bill McKibben's latest article in the New York Review of Books. Particularly his notes on "tipping points." Exponential rather than gradual change is becoming a much more probable possibility.

I also note recent news reports in the New Scientist regarding nitrogen now becoming another major greenhouse gas, and the sort of vicious economic-environmental circle developing with regard to the passage of ships across the northern/polar seaways of Russia. Global warming looks like making lanes previously only navigable for 7 or 8 days a year without ice breakers now navigable for months at a time. This in turn is making the export of oil from Siberia more viable, in turn of course increasing the availability of oil, which equals more greenhouse, equals more warming, less ice etc.

Are we gambling earth's future?

Great feature, Susie, the issue of global warming is the biggest threat to the future of the planet. I think Lovelock is correct when he advocates the use of nuclear power to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere. I am ashamed, as an Australian, that our government has not supported the Kyoto agreement, a first step maybe, but one in the right direction.

We must listen to the voices of the scientists and make urgent steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Even if they are proved wrong, it is better to act now than gamble with the future of the planet.

The inadequacies of the lay person

Alga Kavanagh: "I may be a fool, but I run my medium sized hospitality, tourism business on solar and wind."

I bet you do.

Say, do you have a web site for that business?

I'm sure your business's alternative energy technology innovations would in themselves represent a great endorsement.

I'd love to read about the details.

Alga Kavanagh: "But, then again it's probably quite frustrating and infuriating knowing that you are inadequate in preparing for the foreseeable future."

Sister Marguerite used to tell me the same thing in the second grade.

C Parsons...

C Parsons, no we don't have a web site currently, where we are our internet has been extremely bad, as is our phone service and almost non existent mobile coverage. It is only in the last couple of weeks that we have been connected via satellite and after we get our voip service this month, fingers crossed we will then set up a site. I will certainly give you an address when that is done, you may like to come and stay.

We got into this form of energy by accident a few years ago when in Melb, a friend was fitting out his venue with low power lighting and said how much eh was saving, it just went from there. As to including it into our promotion, I hadn't thought of that, but will seriously consider it.

Yes even for me at 60, it's still frustrating and infuriating when I see the future that lies ahead for us.

We run a second hand bergy wind generator that produces about 800watts constant and peaks at 1400w, two banks of 8 solarex 80w solar cells, into 4 banks of 580 amp 2v cells x 6, giving us an average 1000amp @ 24v. We use a constant 1500w pure sine wave 24v inverter. As back up, we have a 12hp diesel Honda, coupled to two 24vlt 120amp alternators that run on biodiesel. We get enough wind and sun, to only use the generator occasionally. There's bits and pieces in the system that control lights and we hope to computerise the whole lot as soon as we can, but none of us are techo's so its trial and error. The next step is to install the new quantum solar water heaters, and upgrade the system.

The Frog and the scorpion

I suppose you have all heard the story of the Frog and the Scorpion. Could the frog be mother earth, and the scorpion, us?

Hamish...

Hamish, it was meant to be a general comment, I will try to phrase things like that better in future, so not to give the wrong impression. Thanks for pointing it out.

Hamish: No worries. Apologies for being overzealous.

C Parsons, I understand

C Parsons, I understand what you are saying regarding Greenpeace, but at least they try. How many companies stuff up presentations? My observations are from watching the world, not sitting in a congested city.

I may be a fool, but I run my medium sized hospitality, tourism business on solar and wind, as well as use biodiesel for fuels for our vehicles and large charter vessel. We use 24v LED lighting, which has a life span of more than 20000 hours. The only other fuel we use is gas for cooking and hot water, hopefully with a year or so, we will be using methane from our own digester.

So thats our little ark. With the savings on electricity we recovered our outlay in the first 5 years, fuel costs have been reduced by more than 80%. (that will soon change as the Gov, is introducing taxes on these fuels.) 

Presently we are investigating new solar cells that offer 3 times the output for the same price. That will allow us to put back energy into the grid, if we can convince the power companies to do it.

Currently we are investigating a new battery system that won't wear out.

I always laugh at those that rubbish viable alternative technology, it only shows how lacking they are in understanding and in taking action regarding the situation our world is facing.

But, then again its probably quite frustrating and infuriating knowing that you are inadequate in preparing for the foreseeable future.

Hamish: Alga, I couldn't decide whether your last para was meant to be personal and derisive or a general comment on the existential difficulties of our times. I decided on the latter, as I myself find my inadequacy in the face of the future "frustrating and infuriating." In friendliness, and to all, please be nice.

Dare to dream

Wendy Davies: "Typically when anyone writes a piece about global warming and the potential catastrophic results for our planet and ourselves the disbelievers will probably be out in force debunking this article."

Well, it depends on whether you consider the issue of global warming a scientific concern.

Or a doctrinal matter.

Global warming is potentially so serious an issue, it shouldn't be just left to the true believers.

It should withstand the debunkers.

Merely castigating anyone who isn't prepared to believe, without question, some of the more extreme statements made about global warming and its potential environmental impacts will drive away those very people whom you will need to convince if anything is to be done about global warming.

That is, the great bulk of the world's people who might be a bit skeptical about the claim, for example, the world is going to end in five years.

Or those who wonder about the good of signing the Kyoto Protocol if most of the signatory states don't bother to meet their greenhouse gas emission targets.

"Of 15 countries in Europe signed up to Kyoto, only Britain and Sweden were on target to meet their commitments on reducing harmful gas emissions by 2012, said the IPPR, Britain's leading progressive think tank. In contrast, 10 nations -- including Ireland, Italy and Spain -- would fail to do so unless they took urgent action, it said."

Can you see the problem here?

Planetary Roulette? No Thankyou!

A very good article, Susie - a fine debut for an ex-lurker!

For me, the key point is that, while no one knows the future and even cataclysmic global cooling is possible under some scenarios, this high level of climatic uncertainty is no rational basis for complacency. The contrary is true.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the atmospheric concentration of Carbon Dioxide and other 'greenhouse' gases has been growing fast - and is now well outside the range of recent geological times. CO2 has never been close to the current level since the beginning of the Plestocene – possibly longer. Yet there’s a growing consensus that there has been a  very close correlation between CO2 levels and glacial / interglacial periods over the last few million years.

We have therefore entered uncharted territory and the fast forward button seems to be stuck; societal response, at global level, has been and continues to be pathetically ineffective.

Using the entire planet as a test bed for our experiment, humanity is knowingly modifying the atmosphere so the % of crucial gases lies well outside the range that has been natural throughout the entire period of our evolution into human beings.

The fact we DON'T know what's coming next with any certainty at all should ADD to concern - not be used as a reason for relaxing or sniggering! We are consciously increasing the probability of severe climatic instability within the span of this and future human generations. Our agricultural base has been deliberately narrowed through modern farming practices. No leaders in their right minds should take these kinds of risk with humanity and our planetary habitat as a whole. It's malevolent madness – ecocide and genocide in the fullest sense.

Let's work and hope for much, much better - but at the very least, history should record that many greens around the world have long believed the mainstream response to greenhouse gas emissions amounts to criminal irresponsibility to future generations.

When Bush and Howard - and Robert Hill – stand charge for Crimes Against Humanity for instigating illegal wars (may that day come very soon!) their role in torpedoing even the baby steps towards effective global climate change action agreed at Kyoto should also feature high on their charge sheets.

Up here in Queensland, Beattie plays the game of pretending to care about climate change while pursuing policies that can only increase emissions. The insane proposed 4-Lane Highway between Cairns and Kuranda is a classic case in point.

10 years ago I'd have called this bad policy - probably the result of poor advice and heavy pressure from shortsighted corporate interests. Now I call criminal - wanton recklessness and obvious failure in duty of care.

You are so right, Susie, to give us all a dose of "The Fear", in the words of the lamented HS Thompson.

We need waking up, big time!

Will we ever change?

Typically when anyone writes a piece about global warming and the potential catastrophic results for our planet and ourselves the disbelievers will probably be out in force debunking this article.

Economist, accountants, big business etc rule our planet and politicians do their bidding. As long as this situation continues nothing will change.  Those who show their concern are ridiculed and labeled wacky greenies and usually shouted down in the name of the almighty dollar.  And the average person who occasionally may think about these issues are usually too distracted acquiring "things", paying the mortgage etc to work up any real outrage to do anything about it. We may ease our consciences by recycling or taking our own shopping bags to Coles but that is about as far as it goes.

Really the only way we will ever change is when the harsh reality eventually makes us acknowledge what is occuring. Events like Hurricane Katrina make us take notice for a little while but soon fades into memory. But it won't be until millions of people die in western countries from natural disaster like a tsunami, or some such thing directly attributed to climate change will people demand change from governments and big business.

I'm afraid by then it will all be too late.

who do we believe

Those who de-bunk scientists warning of climate change seem to love to single out "greenies" as doomsayers as though this means the message must be wrong. However, Tony Blair has joined the doomsayers: PM issues blunt warning on climate change. It isn't like this is something we can afford to get wrong.

I think, C Parsons, you are taking Susie Russell's words too literally. If this planet is a constantly changing organism which man is intent on booting along to the next phase, against his best interests, why must the near future mirror the past so precisely? Talk of life before our generation can only really be speculation in the end, which may or may not be accurate.

Unless, like John Howard you have a crystal ball and can talk with such great certainty that there was a Battle Of Hastings in 1066, yet query events of a couple of generations ago.

When everything becomes politicised we are all losers.

May as well all commit suicide, I say

Alga Kavanagh: "It wouldn't be hard to predict, that within 5 years our societies will collapse rapidly."

Talking about arks, this is the Greenpeace 'Solar Powered Ark' on display at the UN Conference on Global Climate Change.

See the solar panel on the left of the ark?

Oddly, though, the cooling system in the ark is actually powered with a diesel generator.

That's it there on the ground next to the ark. The red box thingy with the electric cord running from it. Into the ark.

If you ask them what the power line does, they will tell you that it is for transferring the excess solar power generated by their panel into the conference.

Who could doubt their integrity and honesty?

C Parsons...

C Parsons, take a closer look at the generator, it is branded lepes exposistemas, a company that manufactures exhibition stands and display units

I reckon it would be pretty hard to build that kind of temporary structure with solar power, what do you think?

In the first picture the generator in not connected, the ladder is folded up and put out the back, there is a man standing at the back of a truck, all classic signs that the install is complete and its time for the tradesmen to go home.

Probably in the diesel truck, but that’s hardly Greenpeace's fault is it.

Susie, I couldn't agree more

Susie, I couldn't agree more with you. It is painfully obvious that we have come to the end of the road. Sadly many may dismiss your article as scare mongering, but facts are facts. Our seas are no different to heating pot of water, it slowly warms with no apparent change. But when it gets to a certain temperature, then it rises dramatically and rapidly then overflows.

Nothing can be done about this and as you say, we either build an ark now, or sink beneath the flood of change. The painful truth is, things won't change, the economists refuse to accept reality and just stick their heads into their illusional economic concepts. The politicians, who appear to be either lawyers or accountants, have but one interest, continuing power and control at the expense of everything else. They are backed by corporations whose only aim is to fill the pockets of executives, which is contributing to the demise of a sustainable world.

It wouldn't be hard to predict, that within 5 years our societies will collapse rapidly. The psychological effects upon people faced with a rapidly collapsing and changing environment, will only increase confusion and chaos, along with dwindling energy and negative fuel supplies. You only have to look at the cities of the world, to see that they are a major contributor of climate change. Pouring pollution into the seas, which is increasing local coastal warming. This helps the climate create weather patterns, that attack cities with more and more violent storms and radical weather.

So it will be a very rapid change, over only a few years of increasing chaos. But nature is more intelligent that most give her credit for. As most of the population lives on the seaboard, nature only has to hit them hard and the vast majority of people will be wiped out, or left with no support.

Where I live, we have been watching quite dramatic changes in our climate, weather and seas. Our high tides are now nearly a metre higher than they were 5 years ago, our lows are lower. Now that sounds contradictory. This year, has seen the arrival of tropical sea animals to our sub-temperate climate.

Uh, huh.

"Already we are seeing a range of phenomenon on the planet unlike never before: Like the melting of the permafrost across sub-Arctic western Siberia. This area of a million square kilometres has been frozen for over 11,000 years but is now starting to thaw."

Hang on.

"Unlike never before"? But "frozen for over 11,000 years"?

Every time I start getting worried about global warming, some greenie comes along and says something like that to make me think they're just being hysterical.

I don't want to be a non-doomsayer, but "unlike never before" is not "unlike in the last 11,000 years".

And 11,000 years is not very long in the life of the planet. It's almost within recorded history.

I mean, Aborigines have been living in Australia for almost four times that long.

Statements like that could acount for skepticism like this;

"Could Greenpeace please explain why there was a pre-Industrial Revolution global warming from AD900 to 1300? Why was the sea level higher 6000 years ago than it is at present? Which part of the 120m sea-level rise over the past 15,000 years is human-induced? To attribute a multicomponent, variable natural process such as climate change to human-induced carbon emissions is pseudo-science." - Ian Plimer, Professor of Geology at the University of Adelaide and former head of the school of earth sciences at the University of Melbourne.

Now you could be right. Or Professor Plimer could be right.

At a climate change conference, who do you think they're all going to believe?

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