Tag Archives: climate
Community ecology, as a relatively new discipline, is fraught with challenges. Here, we look at why an hour spent talking about those challenges may make you feel like the PhD student pictured above (Image Credit: Lau Svensson, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Anyone who has forayed any small distance into academia will probably understand the following quote by Aristotle.
“The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.”
According to Stewart Lee, participating in further education means embarking on a “quest to enlarge the global storehouse of all human understanding”. This might be true, yet venturing into academia also means that the more answers you learn to challenging scientific questions, the more questions get opened up. It’s the circle of academic life.
In case you’ve been living under a rock (in which case, stay there, there’s probably less smoke), you’ll know by now that Australia has experienced wildfires over the last couple of months that dwarf what California and the Amazon went through last year.
The Australian bush fires have been widely covered in the media, but let’s do a quick summary of the stats^. Earlier this week, approximately 73,000 square kilometres – around the size of Belgium and the Netherlands combined – have been burnt and over a billion mammals, birds and reptiles have likely been killed. Tragically, 24 people have died as of Monday, three of whom were volunteer firefighters.
So how has the nation – and the world – reacted? The spectrum has been vast, making analysing the reaction no easy task. So today I wanted to have a look at Australia’s (and in a sense the world’s) ongoing reaction to the Australian bushfires as per the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief.
^Alternatively, check out this link for a more comprehensive overview.
Ok, this one’s obvious. Climate denial is omnipresent in our world, and although Australia’s current government doesn’t exactly deny the effects of climate change outright, they have massively downplayed the role that climate change has played in exacerbating the bushfires. Australia has experienced nine of its hottest 10 years since 2005, and December 18th last year saw a record daily average temperature of 40.9 degrees across the nation. Yes, climate, like any other aspect of the natural world, will have random spikes and troughs, but this goes well beyond that. You can read a pretty comprehensive timeline of our current government’s stance on climate change and bushfires below:
We’ve had some incredible levels of denial lately though, with the fires being blamed on arsonists to the Australian Greens. Whilst arsonists have probably started a small proportion of the fires (in 2018/19 they started around 1.3% of the blazes), the accusation that the Greens contributed to the fires has been labelled ‘simply conspiracy stuff’ by fire experts and former commissioners alike.
In the context of the Kubler-Ross model, bargaining often refers to the need to regain control as a reaction to helplessness. In the case of the bushfires, the efforts of Australians to regain control and have some sort of impact on their fate make a very real difference. Volunteer firefighters have been using crowdsourcing to gain access to better equipment, as the states’ equipment hasn’t been good enough. Australians have been frantically donating anything they can, to the extent that many charities have begged people to stop donating material goods, since it’s taking them too long to sort through. And whilst this sort of response is beyond encouraging, as this anonymous NSW firefighter puts it, it shouldn’t be necessary:
At the end of the day, it shouldn’t be up to the public to be providing funds and equipment for the state’s firefighting services. You wouldn’t expect nurses to start buying their own nitrile gloves or disinfectant if the hospital ran out and this is no different.
Constant pressure from the Australian public has recently led to the deployment of the Army Reserves and other army specialists to help affected areas. The public’s pleas for more assistance seem to be getting heard, but whether the response will be adequate we’re yet to see.
Far from being a progression from denial, the anger sweeping the nation has in this case been a rather natural response to it. Some of it has been misdirected (see the attacks on the Greens). Yet some of it is warranted. Images of Australia’s Prime Minister lounging in Hawaii while the nation burned can’t be forgiven easily, nor can the reluctance to deploy the military reserves until a week ago. The anger shown by locals affected by the fires has been searing, and there’s no better example than the below video, which shows Morrison feeling the wrath of a group of people he’s visited.
The anger hasn’t just been a product of the government’s immediate reaction to the fires, but to the long-term inaction on the part of Australian governments (again, see the article linked in ‘Denial’), especially seeing as scientists have warned that this would happen for years.
Luke Skinner, Secretary of the Climate Justice Union WA articulates how is organisation feels that Australians should channeling this frustration in the link below.
It must be hard for the victims of a bushfire to not feel depressed. Australia has been wracked by drought, heatwaves, and now bushfires this summer, and its only early January, with the worst likely yet to come*. People can lose not only their homes in these blazes, but their livelihoods, and at worst, their loved ones.
Early last year the 10-year anniversary of the 2009 Black Saturday Fires took place, in which entire families were lost, and I’d advise reading the retrospective below on some of the emotional impact they caused.
Whilst the number of people lost to the blazes is at this point much lower than in 2009, knowing that it could get worse must be draining the mental health of all those involved. That constant threat can lead to anxiety, depression, and general distress. Anyone suffering mental health issues can read more at Australian Psychological Society website (link below).
Our concept of normal shifts all the time, so it’s important that we remind our kids that we did not grow up with bushfires of this intensity, and we should not accept that there’s nothing we can do about them. Species, habitat and community loss cannot be normalised. The government has already tried to sell events like these bushfires and mass coral bleaching as a regular part of living in Australia.
This is what really terrifies me. The possibility that people will soon accept this as normal.
We need to be not only helping out the victims of these fires, but focusing our energy on the cause of their increased intensity. To quote Professor Nancy Knowlton:
“Social scientists have known for a really long time that if you give people large problems, but don’t present them with ways of coping with them or addressing them then they tend to not care.”
We can’t fall into apathy here and accept that this is how life has to be. This is a Port Arthur moment for Australia’s climate, where we can step up and make immediate changes that will ensure our long-term safety. We used to be told that combatting climate change would ensure a better world for our children. But now it’s obvious that we should be acting for ourselves as well.
*Previous catastrophic bushfire events like Ash Wednesday I and II and Black Saturday all took place in mid February.
If you’d like to help out the affected parts of Australia, please consider donating to victims of the wildfires at either of the following links.
Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.
I’m generally not one for retrospectives. And in 2019, that feels like an advantage, considering how much of the world caught fire and how many backwards steps were taken regarding environmental policy.
But to take a more positive look back at the last 12 months, we at Ecology for the Masses have gotten to speak to some pretty inspiring people. One of the best aspects of running this website is that we’re able to sit down on a regular basis and talk to some incredibly prominent and interesting ecologists, managers and even politicians and talk everything and anything about the world we live in and the creatures that inhabit it.
So here are my favourite quotes from the interviews we published in 2019. If you want more context, you can of course check out the full interview by clicking on the names.
Image Credit: Julia Ramsauer, CC BY 2.0
Last Sunday, the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid came to an end. It was a summit that marked the end of a year in which climate change has transformed into a climate emergency and in which society has woken up to the urgency of the situation. Taking into account the pressure from global demonstrations of groups like Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion, and the fact that even scientists have further challenged world leaders on the urgent need to act by striking in September, hopes for the outcomes of this year’s climate summit were big. For a couple of days, I was in Madrid to participate in the part of the COP25 that was open to the public and to march with thousands of others in the biggest demonstration ever held in Spain.
First of all, let’s define what the COP actually is. In 1992, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the treaty, nations agreed to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system. Today, 197 countries are parties to the treaty. Every year since the treaty entered into force in 1994, a ‘Conference of the Parties’, or COP, has been held to discuss how to move forward. Because the UNFCCC had non-binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries, and no enforcement mechanism, various extensions to this treaty were negotiated during recent COPs, including most recently the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, in which all countries agreed to step up efforts and reach three main goals:
- Reducing emissions 45% by 2030
- Achieving climate neutrality by 2050 (which means a net-zero carbon footprint)
- Stabilizing global temperature rise at 1.5°C by the end of the century
This years’ COP was the final one before we enter the defining year of 2020 when many nations must submit new climate action plans. Because the clock is ticking on climate change, the world cannot afford to waste more time, and a bold, decisive, ambitious way forward needed to be agreed on. Among the many elements that needed to be ironed out was the financing of climate action worldwide, a set of rules for a global carbon market, and the financing of loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change mainly on developing countries.
The Social Side of the COP
While official parties were formally discussing how to best find a compromise between all their demands, society gathered in a social summit (‘cumbre social’ in Spanish) to speak about topics that have been left out of the agenda. It involved hundreds of events, lectures, and workshops in various locations of Madrid, supported by more than 500 non-governmental organizations. An important part of this summit was that indigenous groups had a visible presence, as bringing the COP from Chile to Madrid had taken away the focus from the southern to the northern hemisphere, and especially Europe. It was encouraging to see that climate action also means social equality. It is no longer possible to have social equality without environmental equality.
I had the chance to participate one evening in this event, where I got to hear inspiring speeches and stories from people that are already affected by climate change. An atmosphere full of inspiration, willpower, hope, but also desperation filled the air of a big tent set up outside of one of Madrid’s universities. On the one hand, indigenous Latin-American tribe members were calling for action against big oil companies that are contaminating and stealing their land. On the other hand, Friday for Future members, for example from Uganda, raised awareness about the social side of the impact of the changing climate in Africa. The critical situations of many families are increasing forced marriages of teenage girls to reduce the burden of their families.
But the social determination of showing the world the actual gravity of the problem we are facing did not stop here. During two weeks, countless climate actions were enforced all over Madrid, including a ‘toxic tour’ of Spain’s dirtiest corporate polluters sponsoring the COP25, to raise awareness about green-washing. The tour was cut short by the intervention of local police officers. The highlight, if you can call it that, was the climate march on Friday the 6th of December. According to organizers, more than half a million people showed up. Officially only 15,000 people participated, which was just another attempt to downplay society’s cry for concrete actions against climate change. I was there, in the middle of the crowd and you can believe me when I say that much more than a couple of thousand people were there. It was a multicultural crowd with a representation of all age groups, including organizations from all over the world speaking up for the fight against climate change and the necessity to act now. It was definitely an important global moment and the biggest demonstration ever held in Spain! We were demanding ambitious measures and actions from the people in power to make real change happen. Half a million people were singing, dancing, and screaming. Desperate to be heard.
So were the hopes for ambitious actions met? Not really. Many official statements, not lastly of Greta Thunberg herself, have pointed out the disappointing results the summit had to offer and the lack of overall ambition to instigate real change. All we got were intents to come to an agreement in terms of the key issues discussed, while especially the most significant polluters (US, China, India, etc.) were trying to find loopholes in proposed plans. The summit was accompanied by a clear lack of ambition from most parties, while of course, the financial side of all discussions was mostly the key hurdle. Thus, the key takeaways of the summit can be summarized as followed:
- No agreement on carbon markets could be reached, while the discussions are postponed to next years’ summit.
- An agreement on a call to boost emission reductions of countries and thus increase global ambition was composed, whereas smaller nations like many European countries seem to act as role models for the biggest polluters.
- The support of developing nations is still undecided due to financial shortfall
- A lot of pressure and hope were postponed to next year, as in 2020 new climate action plans have to be submitted.
Once more it was clear that leaders are not taking responsibility, even though they have the power to induce significant changes, committing their citizens to a collective challenge such as actions against climate change. Unfortunately, the voices demanding concrete actions came from society itself, trying to commit their governments to real changes. The outcomes of the COP25 are clearly below what was expected in terms of increasing ambition at the level that is demanded in the streets and a far cry from what science tells us is needed.
Julia Ramsauer is a landscape ecologist currently working on the integration of ecosystem services in the Mediterranean region. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Image Credit: Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped