18/09/2019

A Crying Shame: Humanity Sleepwalking To Disaster

Sydney Morning Herald - Ian Bayly


Young climate activism superstar Greta Thunberg has made it to New York City after her 15-day voyage by yacht from Plymouth, England.

Dr Ian Bayly DSc
Ian A.E. Bayly held the position of Reader in Zoology at Monash University from 1971-1995.
He was a Vice-President of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1973-1975, and played a prominent role in the conservation struggles to save Lake Pedder and Fraser Island.
In the course of a six-decade career authored or co-authored of over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers and four books.
In October 2018 a major “popular” essay of his entitled “Our Climate-Change Apathy: gifting our grandchildren a living hell”.
Almost every day I read or hear commentators on diverse fields of human activity blithely talking about trends and conditions that are likely to play out in the future.
Some of them are happy to extend their prognostications decades into the future and adopt a business-as-usual approach.
Very few of them display any overt awareness that humanity is facing the prospect of a climate-induced societal collapse in the near term and that consequently much of their commentary is likely to be incapable of fulfilment.
I recently read Losing Earth: the Decade We Could Have Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich. Which decade was he referring to? The 1980s. To be a bit more conservative, and allow for some reasonable degree of time-lag, my view is that the 1990s is a fairer nomination for when effective climate change mitigation could have, and should have, commenced.
Here I have some personal experience: for six years before my retirement at the end of 1995, I taught climate change science to a second-year class at Monash University.
By 1980 a few scientists understood much of what we know today about global warming and how to stop it.
On June 23, 1988, James Hansen fronted a US Senate hearing and said that a human-induced warming trend could be detected with a high degree of confidence. When the hearing concluded, he told reporters: “It’s time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”
James Hansen gives a briefing on Capitol Hill in 2008, 20 years after he first warned that global warming had begun. Credit: AP
The New York Times then ran the front-page headline “Global Warming Has Begun”. Yes, this was slightly more than 30 years ago.
Some researchers, including Cumbria University professor Jem Bendell, believe that climate-induced societal collapse is now inevitable in the near term and has written at length about its implications. His 2018 paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating the Climate Tragedy made me feel helplessness, great sadness (how could Homo sapiens dishonour its species name and be so stupid?) and profound grief - I was literally reduced to tears.
Here I am not alone. In an August 2019 article, distinguished climate scientist Joelle Gergis said: “Increasingly after speaking events, I catch myself unexpectedly weeping in my hotel room or on flights home.” Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva, who died on Thursday, also shed tears at the recent Pacific Islands Forum.
He was determined to renew the call for action on global warming despite ill health, telling his audience: “I’m sure it is most likely that this will be my last attendance at a forum so it was very important to me to be here.’’
It should be noted that while Bendell considers societal collapse inevitable, he treats catastrophe as “probable” and human extinction as “possible”.
While I believe that Bendell has a high probability of being correct, I am unable to accept the chilling finality of the word “inevitable” and, at the age of 85, I intend to fight on in my quest to raise awareness that humanity faces a climate-induced calamity unless we take immediate, drastic action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
This is my major mission in what is left of my life. The effort is obviously not for me but for my grandchildren and all the world’s youngsters.
In his recent book The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future, David Wallace-Wells raises the question of “whether it’s responsible [for today’s adults] to have children”, and confesses: “I know there are climate horrors to come, some of which will inevitably be visited on my children.”
But most powerfully, Wallace-Wells says: “We are staging [climate horrors to come] by inaction, and by action we can stop them.”
Dr Ian Bayly at work in his private, post-retirement zooplankton laboratory.
For NSW woman Felicity Lochhead, “whether to have a child is a decision increasingly overshadowed by her worry about the impact of climate change”. Lochhead said: “It’s not the only factor, of course, but it’s a big factor because I want to consider the future for that potential child and it’s looking like it will be very damaging, then it’s going to be something I [weigh up] before deciding to bring them into the world.”
Schoolchildren strike for action against climate change in March. Credit: Justin McManus
These comments emerged from a survey that showed 33 per cent of women under 30 were having second thoughts about starting or expanding a family because of fears those children would face an “unsafe future from climate change”. Victorian woman Jane Buckingham wrote a letter supporting Lochhead’s caution and sentiments.
It’s not only actual or potential babies that face a hostile future. What about the current crop of children and young adults in our schools?
A current year 12 student aged 17 or 18 has the potential to reach the age of almost 50 by 2050, but things could then be very nasty and survival by no means assured.
Most of our older school “kids” are mature and intelligent enough to know this, so it’s not surprising that they should become militant in drawing attention to the fact that we are facing a climate emergency as a result of reckless inaction by adult politicians.
Many will attend school strikes on September 20 with my blessing.
When challenged by youthful protesters, adults often resort to a rebuke based on reverse ageism rather than examining the substance of the protest. British schoolgirl Holly Gillibrand, inspired by Greta Thunberg and now running her own campaign, has little time for adult criticism: “I say to people who object to us missing lessons, what is the point of studying for a future that, if nothing is done, we might not have?”
Climate change apathy is accompanied by a dark cynicism and pitiless abandonment of future generations by adults who hold political power.
 Those who have calculated that they will die before things become catastrophic, and care nothing about the next generation, have effectively declared war on humanity.
Climate change inaction is intergenerational theft.
Go for it, young ones - if adult politicians won’t save you, you need to save yourselves.

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