Who is the true Conservative?

Warwick Rowell, Monday, 24 June 2013

Bill McKibben , environmentalist, and founder of 350.org and Go Fossil Free, recently visited Australia.

He was delivering a strong precautionary message to people with self managed super funds, to investment fund managers, to insurers, to corporate leaders, to politicians, as well as to the general public, about the possible financial impacts of climate change.

His message runs like this: 2°C is accepted world-wide as a target for the maximum allowable increase in average temperature. NASA scientist James Hansen, the planet’s most prominent climatologist, is not so sure: “The target that has been talked about in international negotiations for 2°C of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.” But all governments have agreed to it, so let’s work with that figure.

Recent analysis shows that to limit ourselves to that 2°C figure, we can only put 565 Gigaton (Gt) more carbon into the atmosphere by 2050. Currently we are putting 31.6 Gt per year into the atmosphere, and this figure is increasing, not decreasing.

The oil companies and oil dependent nations already have 2,795 Gt ON THEIR BALANCE SHEETS, as proven reserves, ready to sell. If we are to stop the climate from going absolutely way beyond what is sustainable for most species on the planet, including ourselves, McKibben says the very simple maths tells us we need to leave at least 80% of those reserves in the ground, with all this implies for the “valuation” of the “assets” listed on companies’ balance sheets, and so the companies’ share prices.

He also pointed out that planned exploration and projects in Australia, Canada, Brazil, the Arctic and elsewhere have recovery estimates of oil, gas, shale gas, and tar sands that would release something closer to 10,000 more Gt of carbon, well before 2050. This is what lead to his response to Senator Cory Bernardi’s comment on Q and A on June 3, about it being “madness to sacrifice our economy and thousands of jobs.”

Bill responded: “To keep going on this path is madness. You are the radicals.”

“The coal industry calls us radical. But radicals run coal companies. If you’re willing to fund your desire for replica Titanics by altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere world wide, then you’re a radical on a scale that would make any ’60s hippie blush.”

The serious question for Cory, and for all politicians, of whatever persuasion, is how long are they going to keep arguing about the deck-chair arrangements on the Titanic? As citizens, we also have to ask ourselves the same question, and act on the answer. Soon.