THE YEAR 2007 was clearly dominated by one issue, climate change, climate change, climate change. 2007 was the year that the question mark was removed from the climate question.

Whether in Norway, Naples, Newfoundland, Nigeria or New York, virtually very edition of every newspaper in this momentous year carried at least one climate change story. Virtually every radio and television news bulletin linked climate change to a story of the day. Every parliamentary sitting, there it was.


Millions of school children wrote essays on ‘carbon footprints’ and how to lessen them. In pub conversations, in market squares, across the Internet, at millions of social events, in corporate boardrooms… ‘greenhouse gases’, ‘melting glaciers’, ‘extreme weather events’, ‘adaptation strategies’...  were the order of the day.

Looking back, historians will surely regard 2007 as a turning point in world history. Unbelievably, the world community developed a whole new vocabulary in just one year. We did a collective triple somersault without even trying.  Not since the discovery that the world is round has the humanity gone through such a momentous re-reckoning of itself.

Not everybody is convinced mind you, some still hold out that we are being hoodwinked. Yet the scientific evidence appears to be overwhelming, irrefutable, statistics piling up on more statistics, confirming the scientists’ worst prognoses. Like cigarette smokers who furtively light up in lift wells and alleyways, climate skeptics are dwindling in numbers, a shrunken coterie of outcasts, beaten by weight of numbers and a newly accepted status quo.

Yet, no matter how convinced we all become, the sheer momentum of our economies and lifestyles and spending habits and infrastructure and old technologies makes it almost impossible instantly do what is obviously needed to save our collective skins. As we witnessed in Bali this month, taking action on climate change is proving to be much, much harder than turning around the proverbial Queen Mary.

At night we good citizens watch gobsmacking, disturbing stories of parched farmlands and wild storms, melting ice-caps and ever-growing numbers of environmental refugees. By day we go out and do what we’ve always done, as if unruffled by the bad news. Climate change may be the ultimate ‘moral issue’, to quote Al Gore, but even the most moral soul finds it well nigh impossible to swim against a fast running current.

Nor can anybody allow themselves to be morally smug. Every one of us is trapped in unsustainable cities that were built when it was thought there were no limits.

But stop right there! Depending on one’s viewpoint, 2007 can be regarded as a black year.  Or we can look at it as the Great Turning Point.

Inspirational efforts are being made to turn things around. Its early days yet, but dramatic social change has to carry democracy with it, and that takes a bit of time. In response to a deluge of never-ending bad news, the spotlight is right now on our generation to act as rapidly and decisively as society can handle change. 

Now is the time to inject a positive note, to visualize possible futures. Will our grandchildren’s children look back at 2007 with awe and wonder, seeing how our generation, using the best of its goodwill, its ingenuity and smart technology, finally learned how to live in harmony with the planet’s ecosystems? 

In 50 years time the way we travel will be vastly different to what it is now. The way we build and the way we communicate, the way we get our food, the very food that we eat… will all be beyond our current comprehension. Most satisfying of all will be a renewed sense of local community. Micro economies will be providing goods locally, neighbourhoods will pool their ingenuity and resources. We will be so much healthier, in body and soul. With a positive attitude we can all learn to live much better with less.

At risk of appearing naive, 2007 was a tremendous year. A stupendous year for humanity and a positive year for the global environment. Against popular wisdom, I am convinced that is what the historical record will eventually show.

2007 is the year when the tip of the iceberg was sighted, and its girth measured. 2007 was the year when politicians and business leaders, tentatively at first, came out of denial. 2007 was the year when Prime Ministers and Treasurers of powerful economies finally conceded that the health of world economy and that of the world environment, far from being diabolical opposites, are joined at the hip.

2007 is the year when we found out that jobs and social harmony and human happiness are all utterly entwined with our sustainability. There is no greater social justice issue than the long-term survival of civilization.

That’s not to say all is well in the home of mankind. The world community is gulping through a mind boggling 160,000 litres of oil every second, and rising. On the other side of the ledger, for every nine barrels of oil we consume, we are only discovering one. You don’t need to be a mathematician to read the writing on the wall.

Right now there is much chaos, irrationality and a certain madness to our collective responses to the climate crisis. When our national government mooted the banning of incandescent light bulbs earlier in the year, consumers were simultaneously buying up enormous, energy-guzzling plasma TVs in the thousands, thereby negating any advantage. Oversized 4WDs are still being lovingly bought up, their new owners wistfully wishing the government would do something about climate change - oblivious to their own responsibilities.

Pointing the finger has become the name of the game.  ‘Someone please do something, so long as it’s not me,’ is the silent cry. At the Bali summit, every nation appeared to point the finger at every other nation. Nobody wants to be the first cab off the rank.

All of this is understandable. In these early days of re-reckoning many of our responses are inappropriate. That is how phenomenal social change always takes place. History is replete with examples. At first there is chaos and grumbling and denial and intransigence and insecurity - a common desire that it will all just go away. Then we just knuckle down to it.

Whereas it normally takes decades for a new social paradigm to become accepted and acted upon, humanity has shown time and again that is able to respond with astonishing speed when faced with life-threatening risks. Witness the lightning speed with which the Australian government responded to the HIV-AIDS crisis and the international community responded to the Y2K threat.
 
“Necessity is the mother of invention”, as the saying goes. The whole global community is now at the sharp edge of the learning curve. Few of us have the skill to work out which technologies actually save energy and which are fads. But we are learning fast. And people and local communities are showing themselves to be light years ahead of government, searching out new ways of living, developing new sustainable business models.

Looking forward, Tasmania - with its temperate climate, wealth of natural resources, decentralized communities and environmental consciousness – is in a far better position than most to weather the coming decades of uncertainty.

In many respects we have already jumped the gun. Within the past 15 years Tasmania has totally re-branded itself, even as debates rage over how our resources should best be managed or exploited. Tasmania’s optimum future is now broadly accepted as ‘clean and green’. At this great turning point in global history it will do us well to visualize what the future may hold and seize the moment. The spotlight is on us.


December 2007

Chris Harries  has been a prominent environmental crusader and social advocate in Tasmania since the early 1970s.

Chris Harries Tasmania can seize the moment

Not everybody is convinced mind you, some still hold out that we are being hoodwinked. Yet the scientific evidence appears to be overwhelming, irrefutable, statistics piling up on more statistics, confirming the scientists’ worst prognoses. Like cigarette smokers who furtively light up in lift wells and alleyways, climate skeptics are dwindling in numbers, a shrunken coterie of outcasts, beaten by weight of numbers and a newly accepted status quo.