Here’s what you can do to save the only planet we have
Stained and weathered like an ancient giant, the Mount Titlis glacier prods the heavens of central Switzerland. Even in this icy, otherworldly realm, surrounded by the Alps of nearby Germany, France and Italy, and 3238 metres above sea level, nature cannot escape the ravages of global warming and a changing climate. Thousands of years old, the glacier is facing its final years thanks to increasingly warmer-than-average summers.
Last year was the second hottest year on Earth since records commenced in 1880. The year before (2016) currently holds the record for the hottest year. However, rather than a few random hot years, it’s an upward trend. “Sixteen of the 17 warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2001,” the NASA climate website informs us.
Draped across the ice like gigantic bandages, sheets of plastic are an attempt by scientists to stop the Mount Titlis glacier melting. Oblivious of its fate, tourists revel in their glimpse of summer ice. Not everyone here is oblivious, though. Thomas, a local tour guide with a 20-year history of visiting Mount Titlis, recalls that in 1992 the tongue of the glacier descended much lower down the mountain. As the cable car dips back down the valley, he points to barren rock beyond the Trübsee Station and says, “The tongue of the glacier once started here.”
An hour-and-a-half away in Lucerne, the Gletschergarten Museum houses graphic evidence of the retreat of Swiss glaciers. Black-and-white photographs from the 1800s show explorers dwarfed before titanic, bulging gorges of blue ice — what the Rhône, Morteratsch, Aletsch glaciers, and others, looked like then. More recent photographs of the same locations show increasingly lengthy treks through barren, stony chasms to reach much more distant and thinner ice margins.
Satellite imagery from NASA reveals Greenland is losing an average of 303 billion tones of ice, and Antarctica an average 118 billion tonnes, each year.
How long have they got? A widely reported new study by Fribourg University in Switzerland predicts most glaciers in central Switzerland will have disappeared by the end of this century due to global warming. All across Earth, ice mass is reducing and contributing to rising seas.
According to prominent Melbourne-based environmental campaigner, Paul Mahony, “The volume of Arctic sea-ice (ice floating on the ocean) has fallen 72 per cent since 1979.” Satellite imagery from NASA reveals Greenland is losing an average of 303 billion tones of ice, and Antarctica an average 118 billion tonnes, each year. Thanks to progressively warmer weather, Greenland’s summer melt season is now 70 days longer than in the early 1970s.
The spectre of rising seas might capture our attention, but a diminished coastline is literally the tip of the iceberg in terms of the consequences of unabated global warming. Potentially destroying some of the most important and beautiful ecosystems of our planet, such as coral reefs, glacial landscapes and inland waterways, as well as significant flora and fauna, global warming could transform life on Earth.
Images of collapsing polar shelves, emaciated polar bears and flooded islands viewed through our TV screens help propagate the notion that climate change is happening elsewhere. But the consequences of climate change are everywhere, affecting industries as widespread as farming, tourism and insurance, and even the weekly shopping bill and how much we need to water our gardens. A common misperception is that climate change lies in some distant, doomsday future. Climate change is already here.
What is global warming and climate change?
While ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ are often used interchangeably, they actually refer to separate things.
Global warming is the rise of the earth’s average combined land and ocean temperature, recorded over the past several decades. Climate change describes more regional climate effects of global warming such as the trend to hotter summers, different rainfall patterns, variations in wind currents or more frequent storms and cyclones.
Despite views to the contrary, climate change and global warming are objective, measurable scientific facts, not opinions.
In a 2013 study, 40 per cent of Australians thought global warming was a natural phenomenon. Fifty per cent attributed it to human activities.
While climate change can indeed be caused by natural processes (such as volcanic eruptions and El Niño patterns), it’s well recognised by the vast majority of government leaders, agencies and scientists that at this moment in history, humans are the dominant force.
It’s thought by some that extreme cold weather proves global warming doesn’t exist. This shows a lack of understanding around how global warming affects the planet. Shifts in upper wind currents, water temperatures, precipitation and other factors related to climate change can lead to more extreme winters in some places.
Climate change and global warming are objective, measurable scientific facts, not opinions.
What’s important is looking at the big picture. Temperature graphs show that in recent times, the number of record hot days far outweighs any record-breaking cold ones, Mahony says. In other words, a single local cold day doesn’t discount the long-term trend of increasing global temperatures across the planet.
Mahony has highlighted the tendency of media outlets to dedicate equal coverage to both views. This creates a false impression there’s no scientific consensus on the issue. However, a study of 1372 top published climate scientists found 97–98 per cent attribute the warming trends of the past century primarily to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
What causes global warming?
Our atmosphere is 480km thick and naturally composed of gases: primarily nitrogen (originating mainly from volcanic sources) and oxygen (a by-product of photosynthesis). “The atmosphere maintains the temperature of the planet by allowing sunlight to pass through and warm the earth,” Mahony says. Some of the heat radiating back is absorbed and trapped by greenhouse gases. These occur naturally in the atmosphere and include CO2, methane and water vapour. This process, known as the “greenhouse effect”, keeps our planet warm enough to sustain life. However, when the concentrations of greenhouse gases increase, the end result is more heat.
Scientists have been able to calculate historical levels of CO2 in the atmosphere by examining Antarctic ice cores. “Carbon dioxide concentrations never exceeded 300ppm (parts per million) in the previous 1,000,000 years,” Mahony says. “Prior to the industrial revolution, the concentration was about 280ppm.” The latest measure, taken in December 2017, shows atmospheric CO2 hovering around 407ppm. Most of this increase has occurred abruptly in the past 50 years, Mahony says. “A key point here is that CO2 takes hundreds of years to break down in the atmosphere. It’s like blowing up a balloon because the gas effectively has nowhere to go.”
Scientists attribute the jump in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), industrial processes, land use (including agriculture and forestry) and transportation, Mahony says. “The carbon contained in fossil fuels is released when you burn them. Carbon is also released when timber burns or decomposes and when the land is mined or tilled.” Thus, deforestation, mining and agriculture (which involves land clearing) are major sources of greenhouse gases.
Since plant life absorbs carbon dioxide through the process of photosynthesis, deforestation (estimated at 18.7 million acres a year by the World Wildlife Fund), contributes to the destruction of a major natural carbon sink. Deforestation is thought to contribute 10–15 per cent of greenhouse gases.
Animal agriculture increases greenhouse gases via land clearing and emissions of methane and nitrous oxide. “Methane is formed in the stomachs of ruminant animals (cows, goats, sheep, buffalo etc) and is released primarily by belching and breathing,” Mahony explains. “The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has conservatively estimated that animal agriculture is responsible for about 14 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.” Others argue it contributes at least 51 per cent.
Challenges facing our planet
Unless we change, Mahony warns, global warming will continue to cause more intense and frequent heatwaves, fires, storms, droughts, water shortages, floods and extreme weather events, making it harder to grow food and feed human populations. Weather patterns may change in some areas. Additionally, pollution, increased heat and changes in the distribution of vectors and diseases will cause health impacts.
The loss of glaciers will shrink inland waterways, lakes and rivers fed from glacial ice. Currently covering 10 per cent of the land area of Earth, glacial ice is a storehouse for about 75 per cent of the world’s fresh water, according to the US National Snow and Ice Data Center. “The Himalayan glaciers control the water system through massive parts of Asia,” Mahony says. “Hundreds of millions of people rely on this for crop and rice production.
A study of 1372 top published climate scientists found 97–98 per cent attribute the warming trends of the past century primarily to human caused greenhouse gas emissions.
“While inland water will diminish through drought, sea levels will rise, encroaching on major cities and landscapes of the world,” he says. Dealing with climate change will drain economies and add to civil strife.
Scientists also warn we’re in the midst of a sixth wave of animal extinction unparalleled since the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Unlike past mass extinctions, the current rate of species extinction is almost entirely human-generated, compounded by many factors and accelerated by climate change. Loss of vital flora and fauna species (for example, bees or coral) will have knock-on effects for ecosystems and humans.
Richard Leck, head of the Oceans Program at WWF-Australia, says, “Thirty per cent of all the fish in the ocean spend some part of their lives in coral reefs. If you think of how many billions of people depend on fish for their daily protein needs and income, you actually start to realise that conserving coral reefs really isn’t just an environment issue — it’s actually a livelihood issue, and a security issue.” And, while coral gets all the limelight, other vital marine ecosystems — kelp forests and mangroves — are being impacted, he says.
Coral bleaching (caused by warmer sea temperatures) seems routine these days, but until 30 or 40 years ago there was no geological or scientific record of coral bleaching events in the world, Leck says. “Coral bleaching is climate change in your face.
“At the moment, the world sits at about 0.9°C above pre-industrial times. The Paris agreement goal is to limit temperature to 1.5°C above. At that, some coral will survive but some will be gone. If the earth warms more than about 2°C, coral is globally very unlikely to survive. When we talk about why we need those global agreements on climate change, that’s what it comes down to. Essentially, there’s only 0.5°C to play with to save coral reefs.”
Earth’s tipping points
While many countries are introducing policies to decrease CO2 outputs, studies published in Nature suggest all major industrialised nations are failing to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
With the window of time for change short, there’s the danger of reaching climate-change tipping points, Mahony warns. “We’re potentially moving to runaway climate change whereby we lose any ability to meaningfully influence the climate system. Runaway climate change involves things like the permafrost (frozen soil) in the Arctic, which covers about 20 per cent of the global land mass. It’s thawing out. There are massive carbon stores in the permafrost. That release would cause an accelerating and potentially irreversible cycle of warming, melting and methane and CO2 release.”
Without further efforts to constrain greenhouse gas emissions, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates the world will “more likely than not” exceed a global average temperature of 4°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.
That might seem minuscule. However, a world that is 4°C warmer would result in “substantial species extinction”, “global and regional food insecurity” and “limited potential for adaptation”, the IPCC report states. Indigenous communities and people in developing countries are especially vulnerable.
Climate change in Australia
Australians were the biggest climate change deniers in a study of 14 industrialised countries. Unsurprisingly, we were also the highest emitter of greenhouse gases per capita of any OECD country. Ironically, evidence suggests Australia will be one of the worst affected by global warming. According to projections on the government site Climate Change in Australia, we’re in for increased drought and heatwaves, and greater occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events like wildfires, floods, extreme rain and cyclones. In fact, Penrith (in Sydney’s western suburbs) was the hottest place on Earth on January 8 this year after climbing to 47.3°C. It’s expected this will stretch water resources, decrease the biodiversity of our animal and plant life and impact on tourism, ecosystems and more.
Rising to the challenge
Defeating climate change requires a worldwide shift from the greenhouse-gas-producing energies we currently rely on to renewables like wind power and solar energy. Mahony says moving away from fossil fuels is essential. “That involves changing our entire infrastructure for generating power. We have to force governments to provide us with carbon-free energy systems.
“A large component of the answer is massive reforestation,” he says. “By growing forest we’re drawing carbon from the atmosphere.” In fact, reforestation has been debated by scientists and governments as a key measure against global warming.
Scientists also warn we’re in the midst of a sixth wave of animal extinction unparalleled since the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
Media outlets reported that in 2017, India planted 66 million trees in 12 hours to honour its pledge at the Paris Climate Change Conference, while in the US a campaign known as the Trump Forest aims to plant 10 billion trees to offset US greenhouse gas emissions caused by Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.
“A key way to reforest is to reduce your intake of animal food products,” Mahony says, “because animal agriculture is a massive cause of land clearing. We have to rely far less on animal agriculture.”
Tackling global warming requires all hands on deck. “If there was a war we would be willing to do what had to be done to defeat the enemy,” he says.
Harnessing the wisdom of our first peoples
Undoubtedly, we should seek the stewardship of our first peoples, those who lived sustainably with nature for millions of years. In Bonn in 2017, the UN climate change talks established a platform for indigenous peoples to help guide us in climate change mitigation, heralding a significant leap forward in recognition of the role we have played in damaging the earth.
The importance of optimism
In the face of such dire predictions it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless to act. In his 2014 book Optimism, Bob Brown reminds us that depression immobilizes, while hope motivates us to act. “Optimism is a key ingredient for any successful human endeavour,” Brown wrote in the intro to his book. “And isn’t keeping Earth viable the greatest endeavour we can ever undertake?”
Ultimately, the fate of Earth depends not on more scientific predictions and analysis, but on what we do next. Fortunately, there are many people and organisations doing things that show the way forward.
Alternatiba — a future vision
Bridging the gap between our visions for a sustainable lifestyle and the reality of our everyday lives, Alternatiba is an exciting showcase of a world that could be.
Founded in 2013 in France as a citizen-led initiative to fight global warming, Alternatiba is a synthesis of ideas, talks, gizmos, workshops, practical solutions, entrepreneurs and NGOs in the sustainable energy space. Offered over a weekend or a series of events, it shows the alternatives available for a low-emission life. Since Alternatiba’s first “village” event (attended by 12,000 people), the movement has hosted 130 “villages” across over eight countries, mainly in Europe.
Julia Mertke of Alternatiba in Limoges says, “We want to show that everyone can do something to stop climate change. We don’t have to wait for governments to make decisions. Many things exist locally to fight against climate change. The public can get information, for example, about composting toilets, how to find local and organic fresh products, how to reduce waste, where to repair electronic devices, what ecological materials exist for house building and renovation. We hope that every visitor goes home with at least one project or idea he/she wants to realise.”
Other ways for people to participate are by taking on “challenges” like purchasing local money (this supports local products) or investing in solar energy projects. For example, people can rent out the roof of their home for the installation of solar cells for others.
The village is composed around thematic zones, including production, repairing, recycling and reuse, health, economy, transport, construction and social links, Mertke says.
Pauline Boyer of Alternatiba’s national management team says the urgency of the climate crisis means it’s imperative we change our way of life. “The people in charge of making decisions for the world are not doing enough. We have 3–10 years to react and drastically reduce greenhouse gases. We have to make a radical change.
“People get scared and don’t do anything: it’s too big and we can’t do anything. With the concept of villages you show that lots of alternatives exist already and you can experiment with them in your everyday life. So you come to climate with a positive message.
“We have to rethink totally the way we see life and the way we live. It’s using less, moving differently, developing a different mobility system with more trains. [It’s] creating bonds with our neighbourhood and family. It’s eating less meat, not producing waste, things that everybody can do as individuals.”
Forming local community co-operatives is central, ensuring all voices (not just big business) are heard when it comes to decisions affecting the community, she says. “It’s essential to build a climate movement strong enough to make things change. We need to collectively pressure governments to make them change. If you want to change the system, alternatives should become the norm.”
Founder of Impossible Food, Dr Pat Brown, has been refining a tasty, nutritious and affordable plant-based alternative to animal meat since 2011. His Impossible Burger patty product (based on wheat and potato protein, coconut oil and heme from soybeans) has been introduced into 1400 outlets in the US, with plans to extend internationally.
“The use of animals as a food production technology is by far the most destructive technology on Earth,” Brown told Time magazine in April. Brown says animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation system of Earth, and produces more water pollution and uses more water than any other technology. “It also now occupies almost half of Earth’s entire land area … Livestock has essentially pushed all the diverse wildlife that used to exist on the planet to the edge of extinction. If we succeed in our environmental mission, we will be the biggest, most impactful business in history.”
Growing new coral reefs
Fate might suggest Professor Peter Harrison was destined to play a leading role in saving coral. Back in the eighties, Harrison and post-grad colleagues from James Cook University were the first people to witness and document the mass spawning of coral, a finding published in Science in 1984. “That changed our global understanding of how and when corals reproduced,” Harrison explains.
Long before their discovery, coastal people in the waters of southern Japan had observed the blood-red slicks caused by the annual release of eggs and sperm that produce the larvae responsible for replenishing coral communities each year. They named it the punitsu. “The myth that was associated with the punitsu was that these were the menstrual waters of the Queen of the Dragon Palace of the Sea,” Harrison says.
Fast forward to now and Harrison’s understanding of the punitsu is instrumental to the future survival of coral reefs. “Most reef systems around the world are losing corals faster than the natural processes of reproduction and recruitment can replace them,” he says. “We now have a global coral and reef crisis. In the Coral Triangle of Southeast Asia, which is the global centre of marine biodiversity, you’ve got about a quarter of all the world’s fish species. Unfortunately, those are the reefs in the world most impacted by humans.”
It was this that led Harrison, now director of the Marine Ecology Research Centre at Southern Cross University, to focus his first efforts [in 2012] on coral larval restoration in the Philippines, in an area degraded by blast fishing.
The technique involves raising coral larvae (reared in tanks within the lab and collected from the ocean during mass spawning events) and re-colonising them on the reef within fine mesh enclosures. “The mesh keeps the larvae in the area but lets the water flow through it.” Because of its relatively low cost it’s a technique that can be readily applied in other developing nations.
Another aspect of Harrison’s project is working with local communities to increase understanding of the link between healthy coral and fish “so that they will value these renewed coral reefs, protect them and only fish outside the areas we’ve restored”.
The success of the Philippines project has led to funding for projects within the Great Barrier Reef, involving much bigger enclosures. “We have scaled the process up to 100sqm patches,” he says.
His team has also had success using a faster-growing coral species. “We’ve gone from microscopic larvae that are less than a millimetre long through to dinner-plate-size corals that are sexually reproductive in just three years.”
It has been described as a game changer for the future of reefs. “Our hope in the future is we’ll be able to do this at large scales very cost-effectively and therefore start to rejuvenate large enough areas on some of these reefs that can act as a source of larvae for other reefs,” he says.
Without action on climate change, however, coral reefs still remain vulnerable. Richard Leck, head of the Oceans Program at WWF-Australia, says about 50 per cent of coral cover was lost from the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest reef system, in two major bleaching events between 2014 and 2016. “The number one threat to the Great Barrier Reef is climate change, in particular coral bleaching caused by ocean temperatures being warmer,” he advises.
There’s still hope if we act now. “The Great Barrier Reef is still resilient. The issue is the amount of stress it can take,” he says. As well as campaigning against climate change, WWF is working on reducing other negative impacts on the reef. A key strategy is working with local farmers to reduce pollution, fertilisers and sediment flowing into the reef that contribute to predatory Crown of Thorns outbreaks, algal growth and other negative impacts.
Pacific island impact
When residents of the coastal village of Narikoso (on the island of Ono, in Fiji) rise in the morning, they’re liable to find water in their living rooms at high tide. Seeping into groundwater and depositing salt in the village gardens, the sea contaminates freshwater drinking supplies and destroys the soil’s fertility.
Narikoso’s coastline has receded 15 metres inland over the past 30 years as a result of rising sea levels. Though dire, the situation isn’t unique. Despite contributing the least to greenhouse gases, island societies in the Pacific are among those most dramatically affected by global warming. The challenges of living on such islands (geographic remoteness, small size, often steep topography, proneness to natural disasters, lack of arable land and fragile economies and ecosystems) have been greatly compounded by climate change.
At Narikoso, part of the solution has been to relocate the villagers onto higher ground. Dr Wulf Killmann is program director of a regional SPC/GIZ (Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) program assisting 14 Pacific Island communities to adapt to climate change. He estimates at least 30 and up to 100 more communities within Fiji will need to be relocated to higher elevations within the country.
Such island communities are facing major livelihood impacts from factors relating to climate change, he says. “The changes in temperature and rain regime have an impact on agricultural crops. The varieties of root crop staples (taro, yam, cassava and sweet potato) that they used to grow are no longer growing that well.”
To tackle such problems, SPC/GIZ has been introducing innovative grassroots strategies in fisheries, forestry, coastal protection and agriculture. Their work includes helping the locals grow fruit and vegetable varieties more resilient against the changing conditions. A honey farm and orchards have been constructed at Narikoso to help safeguard the livelihood of the villagers, while mangroves have been planted to prevent further erosion of the coastline.
“Lessons learned from the pilot village of Narikoso could benefit not just other Pacific islands but the world as a whole,” GIZ stated in a media release.
With Pacific island communities heavily reliant on fish for their livelihoods, one low-cost solution to decreasing coral populations has been creating artificial “convention centres” for fish near the shore. Such fish-aggregating devices consist of “a rope dangling in the water between a float on top and a weight at the bottom,” Killmann says. “The rope has small fibres, which stick out. On the fibres are possibilities for plankton, then bigger fish, then sharks. This is increasing catch.”
Another successful measure has been to fight rain erosion (affecting hillsides where food is grown) by showing community members how to plant vetiver grass.
However, with sea levels projected to rise as high as 1.5m by the end of the century, much of Dr Killmann’s work involves developing guidelines and processes for relocating people. “These low-lying islands are perhaps 2.5m maximum above sea level. So if you consider sea level rise of 1.5m, this will have a severe impact on the country, on the people, on the available land. Even for the high islands you already have an increase in sea level rise, which leads to the necessity of people to move their villages. Planned relocation is a very complex process. You have to come to agreement with the landowners to ensure the land is sustainable and there is no conflict between the people coming and receiving. It’s like cross-border immigration.”
Islands most at risk include Tuvalu and Kiribati (set to be wiped off the map by rising seas) and the Marshall Islands, he says. “But since all Pacific Island countries have low-lying islands, all are affected, and high countries are differently affected. Vanuatu, for example is affected by cyclones forming north.” The Pacific Economic Monitor estimated the record-breaking Cyclone Pam (which flattened Vanuatu in 2015) caused total damage worth 64 per cent of GDP.
Killmann remains an optimist. “It’s a very serious issue, but if we work together we can help with these climate change issues.”
Darren Grover, head of Living Ecosystems at WWF-Australia, says climate change causes a range of different problems for wildlife, with “the large majority of species affected in some way”.
Along with deaths simply from increased temperatures, common impacts include a reduction or change in habitat and loss of water, shelter and food supply. “With a drying climate there’s less water across the landscape,” Grover says. “Those creeks and streams that would have flowed regularly throughout the year are now flowing a lot less. A lot of aquatic species [such as the Western Swamp Tortoise] are starting to suffer.” For land-dwelling animals there are often longer, more dangerous treks to drinking water.
“Where it’s getting hotter and drier, you’re starting to see some plants benefiting from that and others suffering,” Grover says. This can impact on the natural food supply of many animals. “Where you’ve got that denser vegetation that provides shelter and protection for many species, those habitats become more open with less of that protection.”
Another danger is fire. “In parts of Australia, the hotter, drier weather is leading to bigger and more frequent bushfires,” Grover says. In 2015, for instance, Western Australia’s largest wildfire since 1960 burned through 100,000 hectares, killing most of the 500 quokkas around Northcliffe. “So you have that initial impact from climate change, then the follow-up impact of foxes and feral cats getting quokkas because they don’t have anywhere to hide any more,” he says. “Climate change often acts in conjunction with these other threats many of our species are facing.”
To gauge the further impact of climate change, in 2013 WWF-Australia conservation scientist Martin Taylor examined how all of Australia’s threatened (355 plant and 149 animal) species would be impacted by scenarios of 2°C above pre-industrial times — anticipated to play out by 2085, assuming greenhouse pollution follows the current trajectory.
He found 59 of the plant and 11 of the animal species would completely lose their habitats. “The worst thing, though, is that 61 per cent of threatened species would lose more than half their habitat,” he says. “You’ve got things like the Mountain Pygmy Possum in the Australian Alps. If it gets too warm there’s nowhere they can go. They’re already at the top of the Alps. It will disappear unless there’s intensive management to try to save them.”
To help counteract further loss of wildlife, WWF is involved in a number of specific projects such as providing artificial nests for the Shy Albatross, an endangered Tasmanian seabird whose breeding success has been impacted by climate change. By monitoring quokka populations in WA and targeting feral predators they hope to protect the last refuges for quokkas.
Further key projects include helping koalas (listed as a vulnerable species in May 2012) survive the impacts of climate change and habitat loss. “Koala’s need shade,” Taylor explains. As evidence of their sensitivity to climate change, koalas declined by 80 per cent in the Mulga Lands of southwestern Queensland during the millennium drought.
“Modelling shows koalas and their food trees will eventually only overlap in a thin strip along the East Coast as the interior becomes hotter and subject to more intense droughts. But the coast is exactly the area where they’re facing all the problems of habitat loss. They’re caught between a rock and a hard place. WWF has been high-profile advocating for the protection of remaining trees and for the establishment of ‘koala arks’, or refuges where our national icon can survive.”
In addition to such hands-on projects, WWF does a lot of advocacy and campaigning, Grover says. Initiatives include pressuring governments on climate change, industry targeted buyers’ clubs for renewable energy, a Hackathon where groups of innovative thinkers propose ideas to reduce carbon, and support for an App that helps homes and businesses reduce their energy use. “There are some really bright people out there thinking about these things,” he says. “We know historically that when you have these challenges, that’s when innovation comes to the fore.”
What you can do?
Join the fight
- Join a local community group addressing climate change.
- Donate money to the cause.
- Contact your local politician to demand action.
- Urge industry to switch to green power.
- Support climate change campaigns, sign petitions and write letters.
- Volunteer on a specific project such as reforestation, habitat restoration or helping wildlife.
Reduce your personal carbon footprint
The average Australian household generates at least one-fifth of Australia’s greenhouse gases — more than 18 tonnes per household each year, according to the Environmental Protection Authority.
- Measure your personal contribution to greenhouse gases with this free calculator.
- Switch to green energy. Check out Choice’s review of renewable energy retailers.
- Go vegan. A 2016 journal article found worldwide transitioning to a plant-based diet could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70 per cent.
- Learn about what foods contribute most to greenhouse gas emissions from The Low Emissions Diet cookbook.
- Use less power by consuming more foods raw.
- Install solar panels.
- Use energy-efficient appliances.
- Reduce your home’s energy consumption with insulation, curtains, draught proofing and double glazing.
- Employ passive solar design, like increasing north-facing windows and covering windows with overhanging eaves.
- Dry your clothes in the sun.
- Unplug appliances and electricals when not in use (standby mode still sucks power).
- Become a conscious consumer — consider the environmental impact of different products. Apps and websites such ethical clothing site Good on You and others can help.
- Consider where you invest your money and superannuation.
- Eat seasonally and buy local.
- Grow your own food.
- Reduce waste by reusing, recycling, repairing and composting. Use less generally.
- Buy second-hand.
- Walk, travel by bicycle or public transport, and car pool.
- Take your holidays locally.
- Employ low-till gardening methods in your garden, like biodynamic and no-dig gardening (tilling of the soil releases carbon).
- Grow trees and plants.
- Use solar devices for your gadgets.
The growth of renewable energy — solar, wind & more
With reducing greenhouse gas emissions central to defeating global warming, the renaissance in renewable energies in Australia gives hope. Although there’s still a long way to go, the sector is expanding and prices are dropping. According to the Clean Energy Council’s 2016 report, over 30 new renewable energy projects (representing over $6.9 billion in investment) were under construction in 2017 in Australia, an unprecedented amount for the industry. Solar-power production increased by 29 per cent during the year.
Renewable energy supplied 17.3 per cent of Australia’s electricity during 2016 — enough to power almost 8 million average homes. Tasmania leads the way, supplying a whopping 90 per cent of the island’s electricity using renewable energy (compared to 5 per cent for Queensland and 12 for NSW). We should all get on board.
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