Having been trained by Al Gore to become a climate change educator, with 83 other Australians of whom 6 were from WA, in November 2006, I have been travelling around the S-W of WA for the last few months giving community talks about climate change and what individuals can do to become “carbon neutral”. Apart from Margaret River I have been to Albany, Boyup Brook, Bridgetown, Bunbury, Busselton, Denmark, Esperance, Manjimup, Nannup and Narrogin as well as to Perth on a few occasions. It has been interesting to sense that community awareness of the problem has been increasing and that audiences previously hostile to the idea that the issue needs to be tackled are becoming more interested. Councils are recognizing that they have enormous potential to participate, and businesses with significant numbers of employees are seeking out climate change speakers.
Thus far (26 July 2007) I have given 22 presentations to about 1250 Western Australians. Grant Blashki, the other member of the Management Committee of DEA to be trained by Al Gore, has presented to doctors, medical researchers, engineers, schools, university students, philanthropists, Rotarians, surfers and other community groups in Victoria.
Overall it has been estimated that the 84 presenters in the Australian Climate Project have presented to over 60000 Australians over the last 6 months. And Al Gore is coming to Melbourne in late September to train another 120 presenters so this community educational work will go on throughout 2008.
It seems to me that various players in the carbon-emitting equation, in government and in sectors of industry, are attempting to absolve themselves from serious collective action; thus the Australian government has often re-iterated that Australia only emits 1.9% of all the carbon in the world, implying it needs to do relatively little. Similarly the aviation industry says it only emits 2.0% and planes are becoming more efficient, so they are absolved (despite their industry growing at a far faster rate than the fuel efficiencies they are claiming). When enough players push this particular line of argument an absurd situation arises where everyone acknowledges there is a problem and that a catastrophe is looming and then shuffles their deckchairs around the deck of the Titanic while busily pointing their collective fingers at individual passengers (ie individual citizens and/or fliers) to take carbon abatement action.
Individuals can do a lot. If everyone became ‘carbon neutral’ Australia’s emissions would fall by about 30%, but government and business are truly responsible for the remainder. The problem is a global one requiring every government and carbon-emitting business to commit to very significant reductions in the carbon emissions for which they are responsible, almost certainly in the order of 80% reduction from 1990 levels by 2050, easily within the lifetime of many of us and most of our children.
This is an enormous task. It will involve a huge amount of human cooperation, ingenuity, research and effort. California has committed itself to doing it ………….. and I cannot believe they would be attempting to do so if they thought they were going to bankrupt themselves. It is good that the entrepreneurial heart continues to beat on the Western side of the US.
Notwithstanding very healthy economic conditions, Europe’s carbon emissions have finally begun to fall. Despite its bureaucratic overburden and the hiccoughs in its carbon trading endeavour, it is well ahead of Australia and the US in community, government and business cooperation. Their cooperative and educated approach is apparent to anyone who travels to Europe.
On May 10th Rupert Murdoch announced that he intends News Corporation to become carbon neutral within 3 years. His speech to his very large workforce is a model of clarity and intent. It would make a superb policy speech by any Australian political leader who wished to commit to doing something serious about Australia’s carbon emissions.
I can provide the text of Rupert Murdoch’s speech to anyone who wishes to read it.
An earlier version of the handout I have been giving out at climate change presentations has been published on the DEA website, but the up-to-date-one follows. If anyone wishes to copy it or to plagiarise bits of it please do so
HOW TO ATTEMPT TO BECOME CARBON NEUTRAL.
1. Reduce Household and Business Greenhouse Emissions.
Visit Greenpower on www.greenpower.gov.au . Then change your electricity and your business electricity accounts to 100% “Green Power”. DO THIS TOMORROW. When you have done this your energy provider will contract that your electricity consumption will come from renewable energy. Your household and business electricity consumption will be carbon emission-free.
THIS IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING ANY OF US CAN DO AT THE MOMENT.
This will cost the average household $3.00 to $6.00 per week extra.
Save this extra expenditure, and further reduce your carbon emissions by doing the following (most simple first):
Switch off all appliances on ‘standby’ at the power socket whenever possible and certainly every night before going to bed. (Saves the average household about $100 and 750kg of greenhouse gas emissions per year).
Install long-life light bulbs as standard ones fail (Each fluorescent bulb saves $ 45 over its lifetime).
Recycle everything you can. (Saves about 1000kg of emissions per year)
Use less hot water; fit water-saving shower heads, use cold or warm water only for washing machines. Only boil full jugs when you really need to! (Likely to save about $100 per year and 750kg of emissions)
Use air-conditioning and heating more sparingly and judiciously; alter thermostats. (Likely to save about $300 and 1500 kg of greenhouse gases in Perth).
Plant deciduous trees on the West-facing aspect of the house and business. (Every tree will save about 1000kg of emissions over its life and provide shade in summer and light in winter)
Always buy energy-efficient (and water-efficient) appliances, even if they cost slightly more at the time of purchase.
Install a solar hot water system; there is a $500 rebate in WA and it will reduce water heating costs quite dramatically (approximately one fifth of the emissions of a standard electric storage water heater)
Better-insulate your house and business.
Retrofit your house and business premises to become passive-solar; include photovoltaic panels and grey-water systems.
2. Reduce Transport Emissions.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Expenditure Survey calculates each household spends about $139.25 per week on transport. Transport is responsible for about 34% of every individual’s greenhouse emissions. Every litre of fuel saved reduces vehicle running costs by about $1.00 and saves 2.8kg of greenhouse emissions.
Walk or cycle.
Where possible use public transport.
Think about each trip in the car. Is it really necessary just now?
Can I combine several things into one journey?
Can I car-share for this trip or for any others I plan to make?
Can I do away with a car? How many cars does this household/business really need? The RAC (WA) calculates that it costs an average of $ 5000 a year to run a car when all costs including finance and depreciation are taken into account). If a new car is a ‘must’, think of fuel economy and maybe a hybrid.
3. Think if it is possible to fly less frequently.
4. Off-set the carbon emissions you cannot avoid.
The choice of offset needs careful consideration. There are plenty of scams about where the promoter profits and very little carbon gets saved. If supporting a tree-planting scheme, the trees need to remain alive and growing for about 70 years. Carbon Neutral www.carbonneutral.com.au is worth looking at. Its offsets are tax deductible and it is well on the way to achieving Federal government accreditation. Tree-farming for woodchips risks returning carbon to the atmosphere rather quickly.
MANY OF THE ABOVE ARE SIMPLE, COMMON-SENSE ACTIONS, EASILY-ACHIEVED IF ANY OF US WANT TO CARRY THEM OUT.
THE FOLLOWING REQUIRE MUCH MORE WORK. THEY ARE NONETHELESS IMPORTANT BECAUSE INDIVIDUALS ARE ONLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ABOUT ONE-THIRD OF SOCIETY’S CARBON EMISSIONS. GOVERNMENT AND BUSINESS HAVE TO TAKE RESPONSIBLITY FOR THEIR EMISSIONS TOO. ONLY WHEN WE HAVE TAKEN THE TROUBLE TO EDUCATE OURSELVES WILL WE RECOGNISE OUR OBLIGATION TO MAKE BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT KNOW THAT WE EXPECT THEM TO CHANGE.
5. Take time to educate yourself.
Sign on to www.planetark.org.au or another free daily environmental news service.
Sign on to www.realclimate.org to learn about the complexities of climate science.
Read “The Weather Makers” by Tim Flannery, Australian of the Year, and “Scorcher” by Clive Hamilton.
“Heat” by George Monbiot available from www.amazon.com discusses how it would be possible for the UK to reduce its greenhouse emissions by 90% by 2030 without upsetting its economy. Most of his recommendations are appropriate for Australia too.
6. Broaden your social activities to include environmental care.
Join and then support two or more environmental organizations like the Conservation Council of WA, Australian Conservation Council, The Wilderness Society, Greenpeace, etc etc. Donations are tax-deductible. Their publications are informative. The environment and health are linked inextricably.
7. Become politically active.
Contact and write to politicians from any party about your climate change concerns. Without serious government involvement, which includes legislative emissions reduction, a carbon tax, renewable energy targets and global participation, our individual efforts will be in vain. California is proving it can be done.
To better understand global inequity, think about joining Amnesty International, Oxfam and/or other non-political organizations concerned about global fairness and justice. Look at www.getup.org.au
Think about ethical investments for yourself and your superannuation fund.
8. Can you as an individual, your business, your Council or your club either form or become part of a local Climate Action Group?
Many people want to know what they can do to combat climate change; they may not have had access to the information you have received. Know you can make a difference.
Dr Bill Castleden is Chair of “Doctors for the Environment, Australia” (DEA) and an Al Gore climate change presenter. DEA is a medical organization which seeks to educate the public and politicians about the health-damaging effects of global warming. It’s Energy Policy and much more information about how to reduce our carbon footprint is available on the website www.dea.org.au. The material in this “Comment” is that of the author and not necessarily the views of DEA.