Beware Aussie peril as we slide into climate chaos

ADRIAN FAULKNER
Last updated 10:22 14/01/2013

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OPINION: I flirted with death in September. Septicaemia, aka blood poisoning, has a 50 per cent mortality rate. Bacteria were breeding rapidly in my blood system and filling it with toxins. Within a few days, my vital organs would start shutting down.

My wife would soon be my widow and I would be a fading memory. Only antibiotics and the fabulous services of Nelson Hospital saved me from that fate, but it was a cogent reminder to check my will and clear the rubbish from my house - and my mind.

BBC World News brings similar reminders for our global civilisation. Collectively, we are in dire trouble and should urgently be putting our personal, governmental and global houses in order.

The latest climate-change conference, in Doha, assembled 1000 scientists and politicians for yet another, impotent talkfest.

It also updated the grim news from scientists, that carbon-dioxide emissions for 2012 showed a 2.6 per cent increase over 2011, reaching an atmospheric-level of 391 parts per million (ppm).

Forget the Kyoto Protocol as a corrupted dream. Forget 1 degree Celsius warming - the world's climate might have been held to that level at 350ppm, perhaps leaving a survivable environment for most to live in. Get ready for the brutal world of a 4C to 6C average global temperature rise, which is a bit like global septicaemia and with a similar mortality rate.

Devastating climate change is just part of our future. In the coming decades, we also face the end-game of growth versus resources.

Like the bacteria in my blood, our population is growing exponentially: 1 billion in 1800, 2 billion in 1930, 3 billion in 1960 and 6 billion in 1999. Nine billion people by 2050 is bad enough, but much more serious is the concomitant growth in consumption and pollution.

Every politician and leader since the Industrial Revolution has promised growth and improved living standards - that's "election 101".

It's a double-whammy. Billions who were once peasants have now joined the consumer, growth-based economies. Simple population numbers don't reflect our consumption and pollution - our footprint. The humble bacteria in my blood lived by one command - multiply.

Humans want to multiply and have better, safer, richer lives.

In 1986, we passed the point where one planet could provide our needs sustainably. By 2013, we now need about 1.5 Earths and by 2050 we will need three to five planets for our needs and greeds. With but one available, the maths doesn't work. Only by drastically reducing population and consumption can our inexorable slide to chaos be halted. That will not happen, not without lots of kicking and screaming and some billion deaths.

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Our world has been heading this way for two centuries, along a path that has been well marked for decades.

The science has become increasingly clear and is based on facts and trends rigorously analysed by the best of science.

We can't debate or argue with these truths. They just are. The trends just continue.

Doctors don't argue with bacteria. They zap them so the patient can survive. We can't argue with science.

We can only modify our footprint, hoping that the healthy world we inherited can continue to host us.

The hostile and dangerous reality we are creating will be here within a few decades, perhaps in less than two.

There is hope for some, especially for us in this remote little corner of the world. Our maritime climate will remain less affected than the continental climates where most humans live, and we have enough land and water to grow our food.

Our cultural and consumption patterns will change enormously, not by choice but through our struggle to survive.

Democratic process will evolve to more dictatorial patterns reminiscent of wartime governments.

With the whole world in survival mode, international trade will be minimal. We will have to fend for ourselves, providing our own essential needs and protecting our borders.

In this new world, one of the biggest challenges to New Zealand will be immigration pressure. The need to survive will throw millions towards our shores, desperate people fleeing war, drought and famine. Prominent among them will be Australians who live on an infertile and climatically marginal continent that remains prosperous today only through mineral exports.

They currently have visa-free entry to New Zealand. As their drying continent becomes uninhabitable and their trade falters, millions of Australians will seek to live here.

In the coming years, we must select, and elect the leaders who will prepare lifeboat New Zealand for this brave, new world. Will we welcome the needy and die with them through overpopulation and chaos? Or do we close the borders, and protect what we have for us?

Do we depend on imports or relearn how to make our own needs?

These are among the many difficult, vital choices we must make.

  • Adrian Faulkner is a 65-year-old Nelsonian who trained as an earth scientist and teacher and lived those lives as well as those of an entrepreneur and adventurer. He hopes to live to see the start of the coming crisis.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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