Dr Terry Annable on why Australia must lead the world by example on climate change action

CLIMATE CONCERN: Dr Terry Annable lectured at Avondale College of Higher Education for more than 30 years. Picture: David Stewart

CLIMATE CONCERN: Dr Terry Annable lectured at Avondale College of Higher Education for more than 30 years. Picture: David Stewart

A COORANBONG scientist said Australia must become a world leader in ameliorating the effects of man-made climate change.

Dr Terry Annable said it was incumbent upon a country of big skies, vast wind-swept planes, and rolling ocean swells to become the world leader in renewable energy generation.

What's more, Australia has the economic prosperity to afford it, he said.

"Australia is extremely well placed to lead the world in renewable energy, but we're just not taking advantage of it," Dr Annable said.

"We are developing a lot more solar power and wind-generated energy, but we need to do a lot more because NSW, in particular, is generating well over 80 per cent of its power by coal-fired power stations.

"So we are producing tens of thousands of tonnes of noxious gases, including CO2 (carbon dioxide), which are detrimental to the environment."

Climate change is one of the divisive issues of our age. It's mired in the complexity of varying scientific data and modelling (more about that later), politics, and even ideology.

But, if we accept for a moment that the climate is changing, that man is affecting that change, and the change is a big problem for humanity, then man could be at the centre of the solution.

That much, Dr Annable reckons, is pretty straightforward. And so are the steps we can take to solve the problem, he said.

"Climatologists now tell us that greenhouse gases must be reduced 'promptly and forcefully'," he said.

"This cannot happen while nearly everyone is still driving petrol/diesel vehicles and using electricity from coal-fired power stations."

But what about the argument that Australia is such a small contributor to this global problem? Our carbon emissions, compared to those of the Big Boys, are minute, so won't any reductions that we achieve by ditching our Corollas for a Prius be so tiny as to be meaningless?

Dr Annable argues there is a principle involved.

"I think Australia should be setting the best example for the rest of the world," he said.

"We are among the top exporters of fossil fuels in the world. The government likes the massive income from the exporting of coal and gas, so even though we are only a small player, we should be setting a better example and encouraging other countries to a higher standard of climate action."

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Dr Annable is a research scientist and a retired senior lecturer at Avondale College of Higher Education, in Cooranbong.

He emphasised that he was a biologist, not a climate scientist, but said his extensive research on the subject had shaped his views.

So we come back to the science.

Anyone without such training in science who might be struggling to form a view about the reality or otherwise of climate change, and its causes, is urged to "trust the science".

What do we do when there's varying and sometimes contrasting data? Or when scientists make dire predictions about sea-level rise or temperature increases that don't come to pass?

Are we still expected to "trust the science"?

Dr Terry Annable said there would always be dissenting views from some scientists about climate change, but most predictions made by climate scientists about temperature increases and sea-level rise had come to pass. Picture: David Stewart

Dr Terry Annable said there would always be dissenting views from some scientists about climate change, but most predictions made by climate scientists about temperature increases and sea-level rise had come to pass. Picture: David Stewart

Dr Annable said questioning, testing and challenging was what scientists did.

"That is part of the scientific method: to check what other people are working on, and what they're finding in their research.

"There are millions of scientists around the world, and there will always be a few who like to buck the trend and go against whatever anybody is saying."

He adopts the same approach in assessing the merits of predictions made by scientists about specific aspects of climate change in specific locations.

"I wouldn't say those predictions [made by some high-profile scientists] have been proved incorrect. Rather, I'd say most of their predictions have proved to be correct, and we are now seeing most of those predictions are being exceeded."

He said scientists often spoke in terms of ranges when discussing things such as sea-level rise and temperature increases.

"We're tending to go in directions now that are at the upper level of the ranges of earlier predictions," he said.

Dr Annable said a suite of changes, at micro and macro levels, was needed to turn things around.

"The 1°C rise in world temperatures has to be reversed if the low-lying Pacific Island nations are to be be saved and catastrophic storms, bushfires and droughts are to be ameliorated," he said.

"One suggestion is to raise land levels or build new higher-level islands as China has done in the South China Sea, but this would cost many billions of dollars.

Another suggestion is that the price of our fossil fuels for export should be doubled repeatedly until exports are reduced to zero.

- Dr Terry Annable

"Because some irresponsible countries are not carrying their fair share of climate mitigation, Australia has to set a world-class example and do much more to reduce emissions. The common recommendation by top climate scientists is that carbon footprints should be reduced by at least 50 per cent by 2030.

"Another suggestion is that the price of our fossil fuels for export should be doubled repeatedly until exports are reduced to zero."

Dr Annable said the Australian government was still subsidizing fossil fuels to the tune of about $4 billion - far more than the support provided for the renewable energy sector.

"It is fortunate that many industries have taken up the challenge and their expenditure on renewable energy has increased dramatically, and they will save in the long run," he said.

SOLAR SOLUTION: Lake Haven Centre installed more than 5000 solar panels on its roof this year. Dr Annable said businesses and individuals were leading the way, but governments still had much more to do. Picture: Supplied

SOLAR SOLUTION: Lake Haven Centre installed more than 5000 solar panels on its roof this year. Dr Annable said businesses and individuals were leading the way, but governments still had much more to do. Picture: Supplied

The climate change problems were significant, but there were potential upsides, he said.

"There will be thousands of jobs becoming available in the field of renewable energy systems, so governments need to facilitate the transition away from fossil fuel jobs.

"Australia is ideally situated to take advantage of the boom in renewable energy technology around the world. Our government needs to support this industry before it is entirely taken over by overseas developers."

Australia should also take urgent steps to reduce its pollution and waste output, and to do all of its own recycling, he said.

That, too, could mean more jobs.

The other imperative was haste, he said.

"The cost of rectifying climate change increases by many billions of dollars for every year of delay in implementing the requisite climate policies.

"The tipping point for melting polar ice may well be already surpassed in which case it could take thousands of years (if ever) to rectify, even if the whole world takes drastic climate action right now."

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