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Despite years of exposure to the climate science, I don’t believe we are headed for total societal collapse | Rebecca Huntley




LLast Friday, the Guardian published an article under the title “A world close to ‘irreversible’ climate breakdown”. It wasn’t a quote from Greta Thunberg or Extinction Rebellion, but the central message from three UN agencies.

They found that there was “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that current action pledges, even if honored, would lead to global warming of around 2.5C. – in other words, catastrophic climate degradation, with devastating consequences for societies around the world. world.

I read the report, but I admit I skimmed it and read an editorial about the recent federal budget and the story of a boy rescued from a storm sewer. Not because I don’t care about climate change (on the contrary, it’s an all-consuming personal and professional passion), but because since I’ve been involved in the climate movement, I’ve read countless reports like these .

I am not immune to the message. I just know that I can’t do the job that I have to do unless I process this information in a particular way. Namely like a long taffeta dress I once bought for a formal event: it hangs in my closet as a reminder, worn only occasionally, but I can’t relax or work on it.

This requires the functional denial’s elasticated pants.

I’m often asked why other people outside the climate movement don’t immediately react with concern and take to the streets when they read headlines like this. They may actually be immune to the message. They may not pay attention to the United Nations. But more likely, their inability to respond is a very human response.

To feel fear, we must observe and register a threat, such as the sight of a predator. This will then activate our “fight or flight” response. Climate change appears to defy nearly all evolutionary and cognitive triggers for urgent action.

Of course, the kinds of extreme weather events we’ve seen in Australia and around the world are as tangible a threat to us as a terrorist attack or a virus. But to see these floods and fires in the same vein, you have to make the connection – that this is man-made climate change rather than the mere action of Mother Nature.

Weekend in Australia

In other words, our reptile brains haven’t evolved as quickly as our ability to develop the kinds of technology that can alter, in less than 200 years, environments on a planet that took millennia to develop. .

The good news is that research I’ve conducted shows that in recent years, more of us are viewing these climate impacts as signs of impending doom. Around one in three Australians are worried about climate change and would describe it as a ‘crisis’ requiring more government attention than any other issue. And we can see how quickly electoral politics can change around climate when we compare the 2019 and 2022 federal elections.

But research also shows that opinion is still changing slowly, perhaps 1% for each extreme weather event that occurs. Floods and fires alone will not make us all climate champions in the time we have left.

Call me wildly optimistic or semi-delusional, but despite years of exposure to climate science, I don’t believe we’re headed for total societal collapse anytime soon. I always have faith in the ability of dedicated groups of humans to work together to tip the scales in our favor.

But I also have confidence in capital to act quickly and decisively. It is already happening. Once the corporations that fund politicians realize that there is more money to be made in climate action than in climate denial, we will all be amazed at how quickly things can change.

And that brings me to my abiding concern right now beyond the collapse of society: my concern is not that it will be “the end of the world as we know it”. It is rather “the end of the world as we would like it”.

We must act quickly to accelerate solutions to climate action. More renewable infrastructure and – if we are to meet our domestic energy needs and replace coal and gas as an export – large-scale renewables like the proposed Sun Cable and the Asian Renewables Hub. More, not less mining.

My concern is that in our necessary speed towards solutions, we are overlooking the views, values ​​and needs of those who are going to be most affected. The communities where those who work in fossil fuels are concentrated. Those who are geographically, socially, economically or culturally disadvantaged when it comes to accessing all the proposed benefits of this energy revolution.

These communities that have been and will be repeatedly hit by extreme weather conditions, drought and water shortages. And First Nations communities are fighting to have a say in renewable energy projects, after decades of struggle with fossil fuel companies.

My concern is not that the Australia of the future will look like Mad Max. More that it could be a more benevolent version of The Hunger Games.

Again – call me wildly optimistic or semi-delusional – voters and communities now have the opportunity to shape the nature of this energy revolution we are already experiencing.

It’s not just about wind farms and green hydrogen, with worse social disadvantage than it was in the heyday of fossil fuels. This means we must amplify the voices and choices of those most exposed to climate impacts and most at risk if we simply act fast and forget fairly.