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In December last year the Australian Bureau of Statistics released data showing that concern about climate change in Australia is falling. Despite the fact that 2012 saw record sea ice melt in the Arctic, a string of extreme weather events around the world, as well as another year of record temperatures here at home, almost 20 per cent fewer Australians counted climate as a concern than did in 2008. What is going on here?
This statistic astounds me. How is it that one of the biggest issues and possible catastrophes in human history is for most people only a marginal concern? Evidence suggests that not only should we be more concerned about global warming, we should actually be downright alarmed.
In May, scientists in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, recorded a daily average atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) of 400 parts per million (ppm). This is 50 ppm above what scientists agree is safe – a level not seen on Earth for three million years. Humankind has never experienced atmospheric conditions like these before. The last time CO2 concentrations were this high, things did not look too rosy, and were certainly not conducive to life as we know it. Temperatures were on average 8°C warmer and sea levels were 40 m higher. If you think that global warming is only going to affect polar bears, think again Australian coastal dwellers.
And this, I think, is the crux of the problem. Although most people are aware of climate change and realise that it is not a good thing, there is little perception of the actual risks involved. Climate change is occurring now. It will not only be a problem for future generations but for us too. It is not something that we will just be able to switch off when we are ready, and go back to the way things were. Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a century. Our actions to date have already changed the planet irreparably and put us on a possible path to damage beyond imagination. Worse, we are getting dangerously close to that point when our planet experiences catastrophic temperature rises that will spark tipping points from which there is no return… end of game.
I know that people don’t want to hear this and they don’t want to believe it, but sticking our heads in the sand isn’t going to make the problem go away. It is hard to imagine that the world tomorrow is going to look different from today, but unless we do something serious about this now I fear we won’t need to imagine for very much longer.
Georgia Bamber is author of www.thegreenb.com.au, a blog aimed at increasing awareness of environmental issues.