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Byron Shire
March 27, 2023

Consolation in the face of the climate catastrophe

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Climate scientist and author Joelle Gergis. Photo www.joellegergis.com.

Byron Shire residents never cease to amaze. Some of the most intelligent people lurk in the hinterlands and suburbs, plugging away at their profession, largely out of the public eye.

Locally-based climate scientist, Joelle Gergis, was a lead author on the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report from 2018 until 2021.

She has shared her insights of that experience in her latest book, Humanity’s Moment – A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope.

Apart from informative – and alarming – statistics, there are insightful local and global references along with inspiring quotes.

Personal stories of the rich biodiversity in the region are weaved throughout, along with the devastating floods that ravaged the north coast earlier this year.

And the way in which she explores the human condition, in particular depression, is not only brave and honest, it demonstrates an enormous depth of intellect and passion for creating the best path forward as we head into the climate change era.

Gergis says she wants the climate change debate reframed.

Reframe debate

Joelle Gergis. Photo www.joellegergis.com.

‘This is a cultural issue’, she told The Echo.

‘I want the book to restore faith in humanity. People say we are doomed – it’s not the case. Look at how the frontline workers stood up during covid’.

‘There is inherent goodness in humanity’.

The recent federal election results were ‘heartening’ she says, and the result ‘removed the social licence for destruction’.

‘We can provide the social licence for the destruction, or the improvement, for the planet’ she says.

Yet the sobering reality that anthropogenic (human induced) climate change has truly arrived is threaded throughout the book.

She writes, ‘Even if it were still geophysically possible to achieve the most ambitious goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C, we will still see the destruction of 70 to 90 per cent of coral reefs that exist today’.

‘For 2°C of warming, 99 per cent of the tropical reefs disappear. As a biosphere, our planetary life-support system, is destroyed. The domino effect on the 25 per cent of all marine life that depends on these areas will be profound and immeasurable.

‘Right now, current policies in place today will lead to 1.9–3.7°C warming by the end of the century, with the best estimate of 2.6°C.

‘This represents a catastrophic overshooting of the Paris Agreement target, which was specifically developed to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’.

Despite the warnings, Ms Gergis says there are no guarantees that countries will honour their carbon reducing commitments, ‘As only 14 of the 196 parties have formalised net zero targets into legislation, and a majority of pledges are still not legally enforceable.

‘To have a chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C by 2100, global emissions need to halve by 2030’.

Denmark’s progressive government is an example of how to design a renewable future, she writes.

On page 143 Ms Gergis writes: ‘Unlike progressive Denmark, Australia’s federal [Labor] government plans to continue expanding the fossil fuel industry, even though the nation has solar and wind power potential that is the envy of the world’.

And on page 195 she writes, ‘Australia only generated 10 per cent of the nation’s electricity using solar power in 2020 to 2021’.

‘It is clear that a powerful group of fossil fuel lobbyists are shamelessly doing everything they can to protect their corporate interests in Australia, while continuing to actively block international efforts to address climate change’.

Head, heart & whole

She says the book was designed to engage people in an emotional way; the book is broken into sections – the head, heart and whole.

On page 266 she writes: ‘People often ask me how I managed to find hope in such a fractured and demoralising world, particularly given my line of work.

‘My most honest answer is it isn’t always easy.

‘It depends on which day you catch me. I’ve come to understand that, for a range of complex reasons, some people are just more sensitive than others.

‘We aren’t all as thick-skinned as each other. Like far too many of us, I’ve experienced trauma in my life that makes trusting the inherent goodness of people my biggest challenge.

‘I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to be sensitive, even in my role as a scientist.

‘I’m learning that emotional honesty is something that should be honoured and protected, not attacked, even if the culture of silence is still dominated by men who often struggle to articulate their feelings’.

Ms Gergis will launch her book at the Byron Writers Fest this weekend, and will appear at session 66 (Saturday, 4pm, SCU Marquee) and session 99 (Sunday, 3pm, The Saturday Paper Marquee).

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