22 January 2013

Connecting the dots to local climate impacts is a key to community engagement

by Graeme Taylor

Notwithstanding Australia’s record-smashing heatwave, the impacts of climate change are often perceived to be distant in time and space.
     Most Australians do not yet understand the scale and urgency of what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls the climate emergency—the most serious threat facing humanity. The reasons are many, including the poor performance of much of the media, and the complacency of political and business leaders. The most broadly disseminated view is that climate change is a distant and very long-term problem; an international problem (and therefore too big and complex for you or me to influence); and something that can and will be eventually managed with adaptation and new technologies.
     Our challenge is to find ways to overcome these myths, mobilise communities, and then build a national movement for a paradigm shift in Australian climate politics.
     One key path to catalyse this process is to help local communities understand how climate and health and livelihood issues are intertwined, and why the current global climate change trajectory menaces their futures.
     Such an approach could see Australian environmental and climate action advocates focus on helping communities that have already experienced serious climate change damage understand the critical threats they face in the coming decades. These campaigns will work with residents to develop clear, powerful narratives capable of mobilising their communities in support of emergency action. The success of these local initiatives will help lay the foundations of a wider, national movement.
     The campaigns should focus on high profile issues — such as dying coral reefs, coastal inundation, extreme heat, bushfires and droughts as a threat to both health and livelihood — and the communities that these issues will affect first and foremost: exemplar communities that are in the unfortunate position of "canaries in coal mines".  A priority is selecting communities and regions that are iconic in nature, that are vulnerable to climate change; and where there is a close relationship between regional environmental and economic damage. Exemplars could include:
  1. Cairns and neighbouring communities and the Great Barrier Reef. Half the reef has died since 1985 and most of the rest will disappear in the next 30 years. Have residents been fully informed of the threat and its causes?  Have they been asked: Is the loss of the GBR acceptable to you? How will this affect the economy of the region? How will this affect you personally? Will your community and way of life survive? Are governments aware of this? Should they take immediate action to save the GBR? What do you think the community should do? (This approach is being used to some extent in campaigns against the expansion of the Queensland coal export industry.)
  2. Communities that are at particular risk of bush fires increasing in frequency and intensity. This campaign could focus first on building awareness among emergency personnel (such as volunteer fire fighters) of projected weather changes over the next 40 years — increasing heat, dryness and wind — and ask them questions such as: How will a constantly worsening climate affect your quality of life and your work and work safety?  Are these changes acceptable to you, your children and your communities? Will your community and way of life survive? Are your political representatives and government officials aware of this? What will you do to help stop global warming?
  3. Urban communities and workers at particular risk from global warming and heat waves. This campaign could focus first on building awareness among emergency personnel (ambulance, fire, police and hospital staff) and vulnerable groups such as the elderly of the threat to both health and the quality of life of projected weather changes over the next 40 years. How will constantly rising temperatures and increasingly extreme weather affect public health, the quality of life of your community, and your work? At what point will your city become unliveable during summer months? Are these changes acceptable to you, your children and your communities? Are your political representatives and government officials aware of this? What will you do to help stop global warming?
  4. Agricultural communities particularly at risk from increasing bush fires, droughts, extreme heat and diminishing access to irrigation. This campaign could focus first on building awareness among farmers of the threat to both their incomes and the quality of life of projected weather changes over the next 40 years. They could be asked questions such as: How will constantly rising temperatures and increasingly extreme weather affect your production, increase your risks and costs, and negatively impact both your work and the quality of life of your community? At what point will farming become unviable? Are these changes acceptable to you, your children and your communities? Are your political representatives and government officials aware of this? What will you do to help stop global warming?
Dr Graeme Taylor is the coordinator of BEST Futures (www.bestfutures.org) and the author of Evolution’s Edge: The Coming Collapse and Transformation of Our World, which won the 2009 IPPY Gold Medal for the book “most likely to save the planet”.

1 comment:

  1. I guess this calls for a lot of preventive awareness for some untoward incidents that may come our way. Always consider to get a fire extinguisher service since drought always brings about tragic incidents. Other issues regarding health and safety should also be addressed.

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