Weve wasted three decades since scientists first raised the warning
Im no expert on Australian politics I dont know all the cross-currents that will determine this weeks balloting.
But I do know a fair amount about the climate crisis, having written the first book on the subject back in 1989. So I can say with confidence that if Australians want to play a serious role in fixing the greatest challenge weve ever faced, this may be about the last election where people retain enough leverage to make a real difference.
Global warming, after all, is a math problem: how quickly can we reverse the flow of carbon into the atmosphere? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its report last year, said that unless a fundamental transformation was fully underway by 2030, we stood no chance of meeting the targets the world set in the Paris climate accords. No matter what country youre in, fundamental transformations dont come overnight; if you want to dramatically trim carbon emissions in 2030, it means you better start in 2020.
That means that if Aussie politicians of all stripes are still passing around lumps of coal and fantasising about huge new coal mines, thats not going to happen.
The good news is, if you want change, the timing couldnt be better: the engineers have done their job so well that the cost of renewable energy just keeps falling. In much of the world its now the cheapest way to produce electrons (and thats even without charging fossil fuel a penny for the damage its doing). That means were in a position to make truly fast strides in the right direction (especially those of us lucky enough to live on a continent washed by wind and bathed in the rays of the sun).
Not only that, but were in a climate moment around the globe. Its been inspiring to watch the pictures on social media of young Australians joining the climate strikes now breaking out around the world; their British counterparts, and their older colleagues at Extinction Rebellion, were enough to convince the Tory-led British Parliament to pass a declaration of climate emergency last month. Even in Donald Trumps United States the Green New Deal keeps gaining momentum most of the Democrats vying to replace him are calling for a concerted response to an existential risk.
None of it will be easy, of course the fossil fuel industry continues to flex its considerable muscle around the world, and nowhere more than Australia. Watching the environment minister forced to disregard obvious science and instead rubberstamp proposals for groundwater plans for the Adani mega-mine are just the latest reminder of how the barons of this eighteenth century technology dominate Canberra.
Reading that Tony Abbott bet $100 that the climate will not change over the next decade is the latest reminder of the pervasive intellectual dishonesty necessary to prop up the status quo. Australians literally watched hot water kill off huge swaths of the Great Barrier Reef in two years. Hell, youve watched wildfires wipe out suburbs in two hours.
A decade is an eternity in climate time now. Weve wasted three decades since scientists first raised the warning thats guaranteed that well have massive increases in temperature.It means weve run out of decades to waste, and hence of elections to waste. Every election matters it registers who we are at a certain moment in history, and it sets the course of the next few years.
But this election will matter forever.
Bill McKibben is an environmentalist, author, journalist and founder of 350.org
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