Author and climate commentator Clive Hamilton launched his new book, Requiem for a Species, at Gleebooks on March 16. He discussed the troubling gap between the scientific certainty that dangerous climate change is already underway and the refusal of governments to respond.
In the past 12 months, climate change denial has made something of a comeback. In the US, attacks on science are reaching a fever-pitch.
Hamilton explained that this is far from accidental. Climate change denying institutes and think tanks receive huge funding from fossil fuel corporations and other vested interests.
"The attack on climate science has been orchestrated, relentless and effective", he told the meeting.
He spoke of how the prominent US climate denier and Republican congressperson, James Inhofe, has even released a report calling for a criminal investigation into climate scientists. "This conjures up images of McCarthyism", Hamilton said.
He argued the theoretical leadership of the climate denier movement had a broader political agenda: to consolidate a conservative social base around "a hatred of environmentalism" and "a backlash against the [progressive] social movements of the 1960s".
Meanwhile, the scientific evidence about global warming is becoming more frightening. Hamilton referred to a recent report released by climate scientists Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
This study estimates that even if global emissions were to peak by 2020, and decline by 3.5% a year (emissions cuts for big polluters like Australia would need to be about 6% to 7% a year in this scenario), atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases could still reach 550-650 parts per million (ppm) resulting a 4°C average temperature rise.
This is far above the recognised safe-climate level of less than 350ppm.
Hamilton ended his talk with a discussion of how people might respond psychologically to the knowledge that human civilisation is in deep trouble. He drew on the French philosopher and writer Albert Camus's concept of "active fatalism" as an example of a psychologically healthy response to the climate crisis. "In facing the facts, we must not submit to apathy", he said.