Dr Mary Gardner
To avoid global catastrophe, our society has two years at most to start acting on plans to achieve zero carbon emissions in every workplace and home by 2025. With this statement, Professor Will Steffen launched his new global tour The Big U-Turn Ahead to a full house at Byron Theatre on 27 June. Professor Steffen, of Australian National University, is one of the world’s foremost specialists in Earth System science and a leader in international global change research. The event was hosted by Zero Emissions Byron (ZEB) and chaired by Mick O’Regan.
Christobel Munson, spokesperson for ZEB, explained that with state and federal elections coming up in 2019, ‘it’s time to start rattling the cage’. Both levels of governments have not created action plans to reduce Australia’s emissions.
From the panel, Sue Higginson, environmental lawyer and Greens candidate for State seat of Lismore, described the international trade tours conducted by the current NSW government. Their objective is to sell more coal to be sourced from new coal mines which together will exceed the size of the Adani mine proposed in Queensland.
Tony Pfeiffer, chair of Enova, cited the ZEB calculation of yearly emissions in Byron Shire to be 8 tonnes per person. This is half of the Australian average but double the global average.
Professor Steffen explained what this means in terms of the carbon crunch. If carbon emissions were to peak sometime during 2016-2020 and society is carbon neutral by 2040, there is almost a 70% chance that global temperatures would only rise by 2 degrees Celsius. Twenty years may be enough time for society to make that u-turn. If peak carbon is delayed to 2025, zero carbon must be reached by 2035, in only half the time.
The planet is one wholistic system already responding the climate change. Since the 1950s, its oceans absorbed 93% of the carbon emissions, expanding and raising its level. Global land and ice each absorbed 3% in total. Although the atmosphere absorbed only 1%, extreme weather is already changing the planet. For example, the 2016 bleaching event of the Great Barrier Reef was 175 times more likely to happen simply because the Earth System had already changed so much.
In places such as Byron Shire, even the minimal 30 cm projected rise in sea level may alter 30 metres of coast inland; 90 cm a corresponding 90 metres. To join the global effort to reach zero emissions, start with the actions list posted by ZEB on their Facebook page. As Will Steffen said, the urgency and the magnitude of the social action required is great. At stake are the lives of 6 of the 7.5 billion humans, not to mention other life on Earth itself.