Home' InDaily : September 4th 2009 Contents www.independentweekly.com.au
The Independent Weekly
September 4 - 10, 2009
an independent voice Don Riddell
That sinking carbon feeling
Every now and then some unexpected
gem, clarity even, shines out to brighten
the dark world of climate change.
It's not on the grand scale of whether or not
it's caused by humans.
That's a debate that flows across the world
and even across the corridors of the science
building at the University of Adelaide where
distinguished professors famously disagree.
It's on the small scale that we can
understand a bit of what's going on: soot, dirt,
gunk, farting animals and belching exhausts
-- things that we know are happening because
we can see or smell them.
According to the CSIRO and Bureau of
Meteorology's Centre for Australian Weather
and Climate Research, dust, industrial
pollution and soot from fires in the northern
hemisphere are mucking up our rainfall
pattern.That's human activity all right, and
it could make our summers drier and hotter.
In Denmark, climate scientist Bjorn
Lomborg says black carbon is causing about
40 per cent of our present net warming and
about a third of the meltdown in the Arctic.
Black carbon is soot.
In the developed world it comes from
diesel exhausts. In the developing world it
comes from burning anything to heat or
cook. All these things are human activity.
Then there is methane. This is the stuff
that floats up from our vast herds of sheep
and cattle, but methane also comes from
sewage/wastewater treatment systems and,
at times, from coal mining.
Again, it's human stuff.
So, before we get to the big one, produc-
ing electricity, and the big response, the
Emissions Trading Scheme or ETS, we have
a lot of practical things to think about --
mainly good engineering and helpful council
Sydney has been worrying about this a
lot, as documented by the Sydney Morning
Herald's implacable Paul Sheehan. "As
Sydney grows," he wrote, "Sydney slowly
It heats because 27 per cent of its area is
the black bitumen of roads.
It heats because of red roof tiles.
It heats because of buildings and houses
jammed in where once trees grew.
It heats because people turn on air-
And for all that you can add Adelaide and
any other city.
Finally, there's that most human activity
of all, sexual matters aside -- generating,
using and paying for electricity and oth-
erwise pushing out "greenhouse gases"
(mainly carbon dioxide).
There's also the decidedly unsexy but
probably unavoidable ETS.
For those who have not been paying
attention, an ETS would set a limit on how
much greenhouse gas we can emit in a year.
Emitting must go on, so the Government pro-
poses to sell or give permits to the industry
involved. Wow. In come pressure and politics.
We'll all have to pay more, of course, so the
Government proposes to help us out a bit.
Wow-ee: more pressure and politics.
The idea is to put enough pressure on
industry for it to come up with less gas-filled
ways and on us to make us cut back on how
much we use.
So far the Government seems to want to
be pretty generous to industry and a little
unambitious in its targets. This upsets the
Greens. But it is proposing to do something
and this upsets those bits of the Liberal
Party who see climate change as a Leftist
Sadly, the Government seems to be as
much interested in making the Liberals
unhappy as getting the details right. It could,
for example, end the idiotic proposal that
anything we do to try to save energy goes
back to help the polluters. The Nationals,
meanwhile, ruminate in their own special
All this is as full of soot, dirt and gunk as
the atmosphere. This thing is so important
for our future that every word in every clause
should be agonised about, examined, argued,
tested -- and then inspire us. Local politics
aside, for the world it's all coming to a head
in an international colossus in Copenhagen
later this year. It will be an unholy mess, for
even most of those desperately seeking a clear
way for the world to respond will have one eye
on how their little part of it will be affected.
But something will emerge. And the
clever nations will fling themselves into the
search for new ways to create and nurture
energy. It will be more than sun and wind
and waves and hot rocks. It will be better
engines, better batteries, better technology
all round. The nations that succeed will be
the new pace-setters. Decisions will be made,
not least because this time the US, freed from
the gormlessness of George W. Bush, will be
active. (Although watching its Senate tear
itself apart on such a seemingly vital measure
as a decent health care system, the activity
may be a little muted. Even with a Democrat
majority, the debate is being undermined
by vindictiveness, greed, stupidity and that
inbred American habit of disliking anything
a government does.) The big developing
nations like China and India will also have
Because over all of this is the unspoken
thought that one day oil will run out, so will
even our own gas, and coal may never find
itself clean enough for the future.
It's not fanciful to think that history will
look back to see Copenhagen as the begin-
ning of the end of the fossil fuel era.
FREE PUBLIC LECTURE
Whoever we are, many of the ethical decisions we face apply to the
actions we take as part of a group.
For example, we must consider the nature of our responsibilities to
the environment, the underprivileged and groups previously wronged.
There are even ethical components to the choice of products we buy.
So what determines whether our actions are right or wrong? Which
groups, ethically speaking, do we actually belong to? And if a group is
neglecting its responsibilities, how should we respond as individuals?
In this provocative presentation, the University of Adelaide's Professor
Garrett Cullity tackles these challenging questions, examines the
complex puzzles they give rise to and offers some answers.
Research Tuesdays is a monthly public lecture
series that showcases the work of the University
of Adelaide's outstanding academic staff.
Ethics for Everyone
The ethical requirements that apply to groups,
and what they mean for us as individuals
Tuesday 8th September, 5.30pm--6.30pm
Lecture Theatre GO4, (Ground Floor)
Napier Building, North Terrace Campus
Admission free, bookings essential
(08) 8303 3692
For more information:
Garrett Cullity is Hughes
Professor of Philosophy at
the University of Adelaide.
He is the author of The Moral
Demands of Affluence, for
which he was awarded the
2008 Australian Museum ACU
Eureka Prize in Ethics.
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