Issue 7, Semester 1, 2019
‘Climate change science’ has been known about since the 1880s thanks to a Swedish chemist, Sevante Arrhenius, who calculated the effect of carbon dioxide on our planet’s temperature. Fast-forward one century, and in the 1970s fossil fuel companies started to believe that those physico-chemical equations may have been correct, investing millions of dollars into climate research. By 1977 Exxon senior scientist James Black told the company’s management committee that there was ‘general scientific agreement’ that what was then called the ‘greenhouse effect’ was most likely caused by CO2 released by humans. From 16 October 1979, we already knew that “fossil fuel consumption (would) cause dramatic environmental effects before the year 2050” and that the problem was “great and urgent”. In June 1988 NASA scientist James Hansen took climate change to the US Congress, stating that the planet was already warming. The issue was immediately buried by millions of dollars in lobbying from fossil fuel companies. Today, companies, led by BP and Shell, spend nearly $200m a year on lobbying to delay efforts to prevent climate breakdown. Thank you BP for giving the government the money to pay for my education. But at what cost?
Although, putting it in the ‘clean’ words of then Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, in 1996 “scientific evidence remain[ed] inconclusive as to whether human activities affect the global climate”, there is now overwhelming consensus that we are causing climate damage, and that if we do not act now, the effects will be catastrophic. Of course, they won’t be for everyone on this planet: while, by 2100, billions of people will have died of thirst, starvation, heat strokes, floods, cyclones, fires, or one of the many wars that mass migration and desperation will inevitably cause, the billionaires will have moved to the melted lands of Antarctica, where green grass will be perfect for playing golf. Or perhaps, considering that plastic waste has already reached the most remote parts of Antarctica, billionaires will be floating in space, desperately searching for a Planet B.
The UN already knows that climate genocide is coming. Climatic events predicted by scientists are already occurring, faster than predicted. Sea surface temperatures are rising four times faster than forecasted; temperature records are repeatedly broken; ice caps are disappearing at such rates that even the most skeptical climate scientists (e.g. Prof. Richard Muller) have changed their minds, admitting that “humans are almost entirely the cause". These damages are possibly occurring faster than expected because most climate models focus on greenhouse gasses, whilst other factors influencing climate change, such as the direct release of heat from fuel burnt by cars and factories, CPUs processing data, and every lit lightbulb, etc, are often neglected. These models do not take into account that instead of trees absorbing sunlight and transforming it into sugars, there are grey roofs and deadly black roads absorbing light and releasing it as heat. Per thermodynamics, energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed, so all the energy we consume is ultimately dissipated as heat.
Finding estimates of the global consumption of fossil fuels is difficult.. Some estimates include 944 billion barrels of crude oil and 152 billion tonnes of coal, equivalent a total of ~1.05e22 calories released. That’s a lot of energy to be converted into heat. Once you add the heat emitted by human infrastructure and the fact that we’re trapping all that heat under ever thicker layers of greenhouse gasses, it seems likely that the models are underestimating the issue.
Furthermore, rather than replacing fossil fuels, renewable energies have been using them. We produce more renewable energy than ever, but do not consume less coal. Why? Because the more we produce, the more we need. Take BitCoin for example: a single transaction requires as much energy as 600,000 Visa transactions.
What is even more upsetting is that Homo sapiens is not driving only itself to hell: we've lost 60% of wildlife in less than fifty years. In 2016 and 2017 alone, roughly 50% of superficial corals on the Great Barrier Reef have been boiled alive by ocean temperatures as high as 37°C. That is equivalent to saying that in just two years, bushfires burned 50% of Italy’s trees. As a consequence, there’s 89% fewer baby corals being born. Corals have been around for 535 million years; they have survived many mass extinctions – but maybe, not humanity.
It is clear: we are utterly abusing the system. To use the words of the Australian philanthropist Philip Wollen:
“90% of small fish are ground into pellets to feed livestock... Vegetarian cows are today the world’s largest ocean predators... The oceans are dying in our time... Only 100 billion humans have ever lived and yet, we torture and kill 2 billion sentient living beings every week... Ten-thousand entire species are wiped out every year because of the actions of one. If any other organisms did this, a biologist would call it a virus... This is a crime against humanity of unimaginable proportions... Animals are not just other species, they are other nations, and we murder them at our peril”.
What great respect we are showing to Mother Nature.
The potential damage can easily be absorbed with human genius, but only if we act. While delivering the first people’s address at COP24, Sir David Attenborough said:
“We the peoples of the United Nations are facing a man-made disaster of global scale: climate change. If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon. But together, we can make real change happen.”
We aspiring lawyers, claim to be, and most likely are, some of the most educated people living today. So let’s show our level of education in our care for the environment. To quote Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State:
“We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it. We can all be heroes, joining together in a grand mission to save those living on this little blue planet”.
We will have some of the strongest voices, so put those voices to practice! One day we will likely become decisions-makers and we must act.
STEP 1: Realisation
Unfortunately, nature does not pay cash. Some may think that being an environmentalist is a waste of time. But consider this, do you get paid for doing your housework? No. So why do you do it? Because otherwise you’d be living in dust and mould. Similarly, we should all care for the environment because it is everyone’s home. Or do you want to live in a dead, dusty world where only moulds and toxic bacteria survive?
STEP 2: State of Climate Emergency
Living in big cities, one may not realise our disconnection with the Living Planet. We can be blind to climate damage already affecting Pacific Islands and the poorer people of the world. Federal elections are around the corner, and both major parties are failing to tackle the climate crisis, despite the need for urgent action, such as by approving the senseless mega-coal-mine Adani.
Another climate strike is being organised for May 3. If you think this is serious, consider joining the movement.
STEP 3: Voting Every Day.
Next time you vote, go shopping or spend money remember to take in consideration our home, as well as your home and wallet.
STEP 4: Ecocide
Environmental damage must become a punishable crime. Climate denial by the government is criminal negligence. Lawyers of tomorrow, push for it. Whatever field you end up working in.
Let’s not let the planet go to waste.
A Voice for Nature.
Alexander is a First Year JD Student.
Other articles in this issue: