Understanding the Climate Emergency

I have used a number of analogies to show why the climate emergency is upon us and that urgent action is required. In particular, I used that of the inertia involved in Titanic’s progression towards the iceberg showing that by the time the iceberg was sighted it was already too late for the ship to avoid the catastrophic collision. But the Titanic analogy is insufficient as we are still turning up the earth’s thermostat by continuing to put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, whereas the ship closed down its engines immediately. To complete the analogy it would have been “full speed ahead” with a guaranteed disaster and no hope of escape.

I was reminded of the failure of most of us to comprehend this emergency in a recent zoom lecture given by a State government employee who listed their renewable energy efforts to combat global warming. Amongst the list he gave were two projects that I have criticised on a number of occasions – the coal to hydrogen and associated carbon, capture and storage projects and the waste to energy projects – both in the Latrobe Valley and both large greenhouse gas emitters. 

These projects have two obvious disadvantages – they both produce carbon dioxide and they are years down the track, let alone the fact that the earth has yet to see a successful carbon capture and storage operation. These projects are part of the ‘business as usual’ agenda and highlight the fact that our governments are taking advice from business interests and ignoring the best science. These policies indicate that a substantial number of bureaucrats and politicians have yet to comprehend the climate emergency.

The emergency implies the following. Governments will have a major role to play in planning, financing, organising and training labour and many other activities. The first actions will be to abandon support for any project that is not carbon neutral and especially so with unproven technology, including all proposals for mining or exploitation of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects of all sizes should be assisted in some way, and in the case of the large-scale projects like the Star of the South fast-forwarded. The electrification of industry and transportation must also be a high priority. Where possible community consideration and employment should be an important priority but the emergency implies that all unreasonable opposition is ignored. There will probably be a carbon tax somewhere in there too.

When we have achieved zero emissions, we then must devote all our energy to carbon drawdown or sequestration – currently afforestation, soil carbon and a few other forms. When all the carbon emitting projects – including coal to hydrogen and waste to energy – disappear from the government’s agenda, we will know they are beginning to comprehend the climate emergency.