Climate scientists sound new warning over devastating warming

May 13, 2024
Protest against more coal and gas outside Outside Kirribilli House on May 8. Photo: Australian Youth Climate Coalition New South Wales/Facebook

On the day that climate scientists said the world is heading for 2.5°C global warming, Labor announced it would accelerate major new fossil fuel projects beyond 2050.

Three hundred and eighty scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said they envisage a “semi-dystopian” future, including famines, conflicts and mass migration driven by heat waves, intense wild fires, floods and storms of a greater frequency.

The Guardian survey, published on May 8, showed 77% of respondents believe global temperatures will reach at least 2.5°C degrees above pre industrial levels, a devastating degree of heating.

Almost half (42%) believe global warming will be more than 3°C. Only 6% think warming will only be 1.5°C.

This catastrophic news comes as the Great Barrier Reef records its 7th mass bleaching since 1998 — this time affecting more than 90% of the reef.

Just like bushfires, which destroy the precious biodiversity leaving behind the plants that grow quickly like scrubby bush and weeds, these mass coral bleaching kill 400 year old corals and the ecosystems they support.

The world has experienced 366 days of continuous temperatures rises above 1.5°C, peaking at 2°C.

Remember those Paris Agreement claims that the world should be at net zero by 2050 to have a 50% chance of remaining under 1.5°C?

Why is this happening when climate scientists have said since 1914 that increasing the burning of coal was causing a hot, blanket effect on the earth’s atmosphere?

The greenhouse effect was discovered by scientist Joseph Fourier in 1824, 200 years ago.

This year, carbon dioxide peaked at 427 parts per million (ppm) from 320 in 1959. Scientists say 350ppm is the upper limit of ecologically sustainable.

The sudden acceleration in temperature has also been predicted by climate scientists who said that tipping points would be reached where the world could no longer use its homeostasis (temperature regulation) to control the earth’s atmosphere.

The most important of these are the Amazon Rainforest — the lungs of the world — of which 25% has been destroyed in the last 50 years.

The dramatic sea ice loss in the Arctic and West Antarctic Shelf has been the largest ever recorded.

The fresh cold water is slowing the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, the large system of ocean currents that carry warm water from the tropics into the North Atlantic, providing warmth to northern Europe and North America. This leaves them prone to massive shifts in the polar vortex, the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles, bringing ice storms to Texas.

The oceans are warming: they are a record 0.64°C hotter than the 1991–2020 mean.

This is because the oceans absorb 90% of the world’s heat — the equivalent to 9.8 Hiroshima bombs each second over the past 3 years.

In Western Australia, after the driest and hottest summer on record, the South West is experiencing forest collapse with large tracts of unique Karri and Jarrah forests and the ecosystems they support dying, as rainfall has decreased by more than 25% over the past 40 years.

The Australian Conservation Foundation said if Woodside’s Burrup Hub is allowed to proceed it would be “the southern hemisphere’s largest gas carbon bomb”. That is because, over its lifetime, it will emit “climate pollution more than 13 times Australia’s annual emissions from all sources”.

Just because Scope 3 emissions from fossil fuel exports are not counted by Australia’s climate laws, it does not mean that all that pollution does not have an impact globally.

Yet, Labor uses scientifically discredited arguments from the fossil fuel industry to claim the country needs more gas to secure the transition to green energy.

Eighty-two per cent of all Australia’s gas is exported, with little or no taxes being raised on it. More gas is used in compressing gas to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for transport than the entire amount of domestic gas used.

The royalties paid by the gas industry to the WA government totalled just $670 million over 2023–24 — just 1.5% of the state’s revenue. Motor vehicle registration contributes twice as much.

The four biggest LNG producers in WA — Chevron, ExxonMobil, Woodside and Shell — made a combined income of $55.2 billion over 2021–22, but only paid $1.7 billion in corporate income tax and petroleum resource rent tax, according to Alan Kohler.

Even the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act recognises the urgent need to transition to renewable energy for all households and transport.

We know what the solutions are. We just need to keep taking to the streets to demand action from our fossil-fuel-captured politicians.

[Dr Colin Hughes is an Extinction Rebellion WA grandparent and a former head of Public Health Perth and Chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. He currently tutors at Curtin University Medical School.]

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