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Issue # 1403      18 March 2009

While Rudd government dithers
climate change is accelerating

Last week the Rudd government launched its carbon emissions trading scheme, which is based on the government’s assumption of a pitiful five percent reduction in Australia’s level of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, compared with the twenty-five percent recommended by climate scientists.

In the same week scientists revealed that the Earth’s climate is deteriorating much faster than expected. Mike Raupach, chairman of the CSIRO’s Global Carbon Project, revealed that natural carbon sinks (for example, newly-grown forests) were absorbing carbon dioxide faster than ever before, but at the same time the global rate of emissions is rising much faster than the rate of natural carbon absorption in these areas.

Moreover, as a result of rising sea temperatures and the melting of ice over land masses, sea levels are now rising much faster than earlier predicted. The planet’s ice is melting at an exponential rate, but until recently the rate of acceleration of this process was unknown.

Three years ago the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference reported that by 2100 the sea would have risen between 18 and 59 centimetres. However, a CSIRO scientist, Dr John Church, told this year’s conference that it is unlikely that the rise in sea levels would be less than 50 centimetres, and Eric Rignot from the University of California predicted a rise of at least a metre.

Dr Church stated: “Unless we take urgent and significant actions, the climate could cross a threshold during the 21st century, committing the world to a sea level rise of metres.”

The Antarctic and Greenland land masses hold most of the world’s natural deposits of ice. The Antarctic alone holds about ninety percent. (In comparison, most of the ice in the Arctic is located over the sea, not land, and its melting would not significantly affect sea levels. On the other hand, if the Antarctic and Greenland ice melted, the world’s sea level would rise by between sixty and seventy metres, although this is not considered a possibility within this century).

The Copenhagen Conference was told that the Greenland ice sheet would not reach a catastrophic level of melting unless the average global temperature rose by six degrees, not three, as previously thought. However, no predictions were given as to how fast the world’s temperature is actually rising.

Australia and the US have the world’s worst per capita greenhouse gas emission rates, and the greatest responsibility for taking urgent action to avert climate change damage. However, the governments of both nations are still dodging the emission reduction issue, and have stated that they will only take action to cut emissions by 25 percent if the rest of the world takes the lead.

In the long term, climate change will cause a rise in sea levels, as well as a decrease in food production, a deterioration in air quality, an increase in the incidence and geographical range of tropical diseases, more bushfires, and extreme weather patterns.

Concerning rises in global temperatures and sea levels, the Fourth Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change noted permafrost ground instability, an increase in glacial lakes, destabilisation of lake-supporting moraines, and the loss of polar sea-ice animals. Within Australia we have already seen the effect of global warming in the terrible Victorian bushfires, accompanied by catastrophic flooding in the northern regions.

A rise of one metre in sea levels would have a devastating effect on Australia’s wonderful beaches. Combined with a rise in sea water temperature, we would almost certainly lose the Great Barrier Reef.

Beach front homes would be inundated. Sydney marine scientist Peter Cowell commented recently that saving these areas would be “beyond our means, technologically and financially”.

So how is the Rudd government dealing with this crisis? Despite the revelations about the increasing rate of climate change, the government is still clinging to its motto of “achieving the right balance”. This policy will not help the government to return to power at the next elections, and it is certainly a recipe for total failure in dealing with the demands of climate change.



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