There is good news and bad news. Let's have the bad news first.
The head of the climate change unit at the Australian National University and science adviser to the federal government, Professor Will Steffen, told the Coast to Coast '08 conference in Darwin last week that the scientific community is underestimating the speed at which the climate is changing.
Steffen said climate change was the "most complex and difficult challenge we have faced as a species" and evidence over the past 12 to 18 months suggests that we have seriously underestimated the rate of change.
"In the 21st century a sea-level rise of at least 0.5 metres is a certainty, a rise of 1 to 1.5 metres is more likely, while a rise of up to four metres this century is possible", he was quoted as saying in the August 20 Sydney Morning Herald.
Just think about it. It will be disastrous for Australia with 80% of the population living on the coast. Dr Jo Mummery from the federal climate change department estimated that 269,505 homes were at risk in NSW alone.
Many Australian residents will have to head to higher ground but the people in the Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu, whose highest point of land is only 2-3 metres above sea level, won't have that option.
"Tuvalu has been crying out about the dire effects of climate change and rising sea levels but nothing concrete, nothing tangible has been done to mitigate the problems that they encounter", Tongan PM Feleti Sevele told the opening of the Pacific Island Forum summit on the tiny Pacific island state of Niue last week.
While Kevin Rudd, the new chief bully of the South Pacific, lectured the Pacific island leaders on democracy and what Australia expects back for every measly dollar of aid it dispenses in the region, his government was giving over climate change policy to the biggest carbon polluters in Australia.
That's some of the bad news. Now for the good news.
Despite the Rudd government removing universal access to the rebate to households for installing solar panels, the rate at which people are applying for the rebate has increased to up to 700 a week. If the present rate continues, the cap of 6000 (imposed in the May federal budget, along with a new $100,000 total household income threshold for the rebate) will be reached next month.
Households are trying to do as much as they can to address climate change: it is the politicians who lack the will to take on the big corporations that want to keep carbon polluting for profit.
We see the same story with water conservation. Over the last few years households have dramatically cut their water usage, but government and big business go on acting like it is not a scarce resource.
Another bit of good news is that the willingness of the community to respond to the climate change emergency is matched by the technological possibilities for a dramatic shift to renewable energy. For instance, Geoscience Australia, a research company, says that using just 1% of Australia's "hot rocks" supply could produce 26,000 times the amount of energy that is now used each year.
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