Will Steffen: Science Meets Action

A version of this article appeared in the Southern Highland News, 5 March 2014. More articles from the CANWin column.

At CANWin’s first Speaker Night for 2014 Professor Will Steffen, of the crowd-funded Climate Council, gave a lot of information and a powerful call to action:

To stabilise the climate at a manageable level, most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.

The global carbon cycle

Professor Steffen showed that the carbon in fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – was locked away under the ground for millions of years. Right up till about 1850, that locked carbon could not affect the climate. The remaining carbon cycled naturally through the “earth system” – air, soil, oceans, plants and animals – but the total amount of carbon in the system stayed pretty much the same.

Then came the Industrial Revolution, when humans started burning fossil fuels. That sets free the carbon that was safely locked away. We are overloading the natural carbon cycle, and the unintended result is that we are changing the world’s climate.

That’s why energy efficiency and renewable energy are critically important. It’s also one, maybe even bigger than the risk to water and food, of many reasons to oppose coal and gas mining. In Professor Steffen’s words:

The evidence for climate change is overwhelming and clear. It is beyond reasonable doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause.
We are already seeing the social, economic and environmental impacts of a changing climate, especially extreme events. The risks rise as climate shifts further.

Six things you can do

  • Learn as much as you can. CANWin’s website resources are one good starting point. Facebook can be an excellent source for breaking news. You’ll find free online courses at websites such as www.coursera.org. Spencer Weart’s excellent The Discovery of Global Warming is available as both a book and a website.
  • Connect with other people who understand that climate is critical. Local groups include CANWin, Lock the Gate, SHCAG, and Stop CSG Illawarra.
  • Just turn up to as many events as you can. Most events are publicised on Facebook, and the CANWin website has a calendar of local events.
  • Keep up those electricity, gas, and water saving habits. They really do help your wallet as well as the climate.
  • Switch to renewable energy or green power.
  • Support renewable energy projects, through organisations such as CANWin partner CORENA

Plus One

And a bonus action: Support the Climate Council. It’s one of Australia’s best sources of climate information that’s both understandable and reliable.

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