Sunday, 29 September 2013

Fifth IPCC report - we need to act

Land owners stage a sit in at Parliament House, June 2013. Creative  Commons: Kate  Ausburn 2013.

Classified as: reflective journal, politics, advocacy

The fifth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that climate change is happening and it's caused by humans.

The report says that strong action can keep warming within the 2 degrees Centigrade danger threshold.

But if we fail to act, we can expect to see a "Climate Calamity", as the Guardian describes it.

Continuing the way we are - the 'business as usual' scenario - means  we can expect a 2 degrees Centigrade rise in average (mean) temperatures for Australia in 30-50 years,  with an increase of 3-4 degrees by 2100.

In case anyone thinks two degrees doesn't sound like much, it's worth noting that the Insurance Australia Group has estimated that just a one degree rise in mean summer temperatures would lead to a 17-28% increase in bushfires.

Temperatures on the hottest days would rise by 5-6 degrees under the business as usual scenario.

We would expect to see more floods and droughts in agricultural areas, and sea level rises and floods in coastal areas.  Naturally we would also more deaths and injuries from heat, bush fires and severe weather events, as well as ongoing extinction of other species.

These are just some of the likely impacts, if we don't take serious action. Noting that NSW is already having early bush fires in September should certainly encourage us to act.

As I've noted before, in these circumstances it is ridiculous for the LNP government to be trying to get rid of measures we already have to address climate change, such as the carbon price, the Climate Change Authority, and the Clean Energy Fund. They won't solve climate change overnight, but they are a start. I would urge everyone to advocate to local MPs and decision makers and sign petitions such as this one on the Clean energy fund.

I have also been looking for more ideas on community action, and have found some interesting ideas and projects. I will upgrade this post as soon as possible with more information.

For more information see a summary at The Guardian or the IPCC Summary for Policy Makers

(I am still working on my piece on sexism and left wing politics, but it will be a while yet - it's a complex issue).

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Election reflections: has Tony Abbott really got a mandate on the carbon price? Where to for climate and health?

Classified as - reflective journal, politics, advocacy

From my local cafe: many voters weren't impressed with the party leaders!

So the federal election results are pretty well all in and it looks like we will have:
  • a large Liberal National Party (LNP) majority in the House of Representatives (probably 90 MPs)
  • a much reduced Labor (ALP) representation (probably 55 MPs)
  • two Independents, Andrew Wilkie continuing in Denison (Tas) and Cathy McGowan, newly elected, in Indi (Vic)
  • one continuing Green MP (Adam Bandt in Melbourne)
  • one continuing Katter's Australian Party (KAP) MP, Bob Katter in Kennedy (Qld)
  • and possibly one Palmer United Party (PUP) representative, Clive Palmer in Fairfax (Qld), though that seat is still too close to call
(See the Australian Electoral Commission for details)

The Senate counting is not finalised and won't be for a while, but it seems we may have some odd results, with some "micro-parties" being elected through preferencing arrangements, including possibly The Motoring Enthusiasts Party (which only gained 0.5% of primary votes) in Victoria.

It is clear that the LNP coalition government will not have a majority in the Senate. Therefore it will have to negotiate to get controversial legislation passed through the Senate.

Judging by policy positions of likely new Senators from parties such as the Liberal Democratic Party in NSW and Family First in SA, however, it looks as if the LNP may be able to repeal the carbon price legislation, once the new Senators have taken their seats in July 2014. (For more background on this, please see my previous post)

Greg Hunt, the new Minister for the Environment, has said that the LNP is still committed to achieving Australia's 5% emissions reduction target by 2020. However the Climate Institute has found it is unlikely that the LNP Direct Action policy will be able to achieve this in practice.

Tony Abbott has talked about the LNP having a "mandate" to get rid of the carbon price and supporting mechanisms, but in practice the situation is much less clear.

On primary votes there has been a swing of about 4.5% against the ALP, and about 3% against the Greens, but the swing to the LNP coalition was much smaller, only about 1% (AEC). Most of the swing away from Labor and the Greens went to minor parties, particularly the Palmer United Party (PUP), and to micro parties or independents. Some of this then flowed back  to the LNP on the two party preferred vote through preferences.

So while it is clear that swinging voters voted against Labor, and to a lesser extent the Greens, it isn't clear that they were voting for the LNP, at least not as their first preference.

It is also not clear that the carbon price influenced their votes. A Crosby Textor survey in marginal seats, for example, showed that very few people spontaneously mentioned the carbon price (or "tax" as it was called in this survey) as a factor influencing their vote.

The Australian Health Promotion Association (AHPA) sees climate change as major threat to population health and well-being and has called on the parties to do more to address this. It is important to continue working at local level for a sustainable climate and environment, even if it becomes more difficult under the new federal government.

In terms of broader advocacy, there is currently a petition on asking the LNP to reconsider its decision to get rid of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC). I urge readers to sign this petition.

The government cannot actually get rid of the CEFC until legislation is passed, but they have already ordered the CEFC to stop funding new clean energy projects. As I said in my earlier post, there are two major climate change reports due very soon, one from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on 27 September, and one from the Australian Climate Change Authority (CCA) in early October. (The LNP government also intends to get rid of the CCA but I understand this report will still come out.) The new government should not be taking such rushed action before people have had a chance to see these reports and publicly discuss them.

In a future post I will look at broader advocacy, including what the AHPA and the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) are doing and what people working in local communities can do.

I also plan look at the issue of gender and politics in my next post. I believe that the LNP, in opposition, drew on sexism to create a false impression that Julia Gillard (and the government she led) was unusually incompetent and untrustworthy, to a greater extent than Australian governments have generally been. I also believe that Kevin Rudd, in taking over the leadership of the ALP, was in a sense assisted by this. This raises huge moral questions, not only about the supposed 'mandate' of the LNP, but about politics in Australia more generally.

(About the photo: according to the ABC Vote Compass, overall voters ranked Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Christine Milne all poorly. Mr Abbott pulled ahead a little bit in the campaign, but none of them scored more than 4/10. The Greens were popular in my local area, however, and I think a lot of people there, especially women, didn't think much of Tony Abbott or Kevin Rudd!
Note that Vote Compass was not a random sample, but was weighted to reflect the population)

Friday, 6 September 2013

@WePublicHealth - did you ever have to make up your mind?

Did you ever have to finally decide?
Say yes to one, and let the other one ride?

(A beautiful old Song by The Loving Spoonful)

Classified as: reflective journal - advocacy

Well if there's anyone out there who's still trying to decide, how about putting the future first? Vote 1 for a climate we can live with.

Here is the Party Ratings from Climate and Health Alliance, and here is Croakey's Election Wrap to help you decide.

Below are some recent tweets from @WePublicHealth and a few other goodies I've enjoyed or found inspiring, to finish up this week. It's been fun and I've learnt a lot. Some have links that work, but for technical reasons I couldn't fix them all - so hope it gives you the flavour.

Fiona Armstrong (@WePublicHealth)
Cool! “@ecocreative: Where have people tweeted about the election?...… #auspol

Like the idea of Prime Minister Turnbull? Well... Check this out from @bycrikey #ausvotes cc @TurnbullMalcolm

When our kids ask what we did or didn’t do to protect them from dangerous #climate change, how will you respond?…

It's nearly over. All we have to do now is vote. urge you to put #climate first:… #ausvotes

Tracking the transition to a low-carbon economy: $5.2 trillion invested since 2007, according to report

And when pictures say it all - wordclouds of values and priorities for #health peeps this election… #ausvotes #equity

Soft targets, no caps, hot world? Abbott clarifies his position on #climate policy - by A/P Peter Christoff… #ausvotes

Fiona Armstrong (@WePublicHealth)
Great wrap of election twitter stream from @marcusod and recognition for @croakeyblog for leading coverage on #health…

And here are some related or interesting tweets

John Falzon (@JohnFalzon)
We are yet to see a commitment from either side to lift Newstart by $50 a week.…

Val Kay (@Valakay)
"Those voting for change will get it. The nature of that change may not be what they expect" #AusVotes

John Connor (@jconnoroz)
How far Oz has come after 20yrs of Fed elections & why this one was politics from another planet #ausvotes #climate

Val Kay (@Valakay)
Reducing emissions - "price signals are powerful, policy uncertainty is a drag ..." #climate&health

Mad As A March Hare (@twowitwowoo)
When I was young, I was told that anyone could become Prime Minister. Now I’m starting to believe it.

@WePublicHealth: Great wrap of election twitter stream from @marcusod and recognition for @croakeyblog for leading coverage on #health

@WePublicHealth: Is the future under an Abbott govt? Direct Action cartoon from today's SMH #climate #environment #health

@WePublicHealth: Humanity has pushed world's #climate system to the brink, leaving scant time to act: UN climate scientists #ausvotes

@WePublicHealth: Time for a national strategy on #climate and #health? Email your candidates now to ask them to commit2 one! #ausvotes

@WePublicHealth: Are we stuck “between the impossible and the unthinkable"? What part does hope play? Or fellowship? #climate #health

@WePublicHealth: Health groups want #climate to be a policy priority with a broad sweep of organizations calling for climate action

@WePublicHealth: Fascinating insight from rural mental #health nurse about why & how she will vote - & it's not for the major parties

And others - some fierce, some funny, all informative. Bye for now:

@farm_strong: As extinctions accelerate Coalition 2 seek 2 remove world heritage listing 4 Tas forests 2 allow logging via @abcnews

@Cam_Walker: Just checking my watch. The Coalition has released an Energy policy that doesn't mention climate change. Its the 21st century, yes?

@farm_strong: Tony Abbott admits Direct Action policy won't work writes @beneltham. Its real aim was to "obfuscate and misdirect"

@healthy_climate: How the Votes are Counted #ausvotes

@margokingston1: I voted Green for future - environment, accountability in Senate. Urge protesters at LibLabor choice to power-up vote

@JohnFalzon: We are yet to see a commitment from either side to lift Newstart by $50 a week.

@barnardwind: Sharing this from Melbourne which has best carbon-reduction plan in the world' |

@Valakay: "So the poor will pay" for LNP policy - Tim Colebatch

@PmPaulKeating: Cut they forgot to mention, savings from eliminating Ministry of Environment. Needless
#Barrier Reef
#climate chng

@sydnets: Facing up to #climatechange ? If voting Labor preference Greens, if voting Greens preference Labor.

@Valakay: Reducing emissions - "price signals are powerful, policy uncertainty is a drag ..." #climate&health

@Valakay: "Those voting for change will get it. The nature of that change may not be what they expect" #AusVotes

@TimCostello: Coalition decision on foreign aid risks wiping out a generation of youth campaigning on ideals and principles regarding global poverty.

@hotnanna1: @WePublicHealth Vote for those who already have Climate Change policies! Not Crap lip service.

@jconnoroz: How far Oz has come after 20yrs of Fed elections & why this one was politics from another planet #ausvotes #climate

@twowitwowoo: When I was young, I was told that anyone could become Prime Minister. Now I’m starting to believe it.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

@WePublicHealth - LNP fails us all on climate and health

Classified as: reflective journal - advocacy

As part of the @WePublicHealth citizen journalism project this week, Fiona Armstrong of the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) has been tweeting on climate and health issues.

I have been supporting Fiona though research and background information, some of which I have written up on this blog.

Climate change has been described by the Lancet as the ""the biggest global health threat of the 21st century".

As the election campaign enters its last days, the Liberal National Party (LNP) has failed to meet this challenge.

Several health peak bodies have rated the political parties on their health policies. The LNP scores low in many areas, particularly health promotion and prevention, rural health, mental health, and climate and health. A summary of results can be found at Croakey election wrap

While ratings by CAHA on climate and health found that LNP policy is lacking in most areas, it is Tony Abbott's statement that the LNP will not be bound by Australia's 5% emissions reduction target that raises  particular concern.

Mr Abbott has vowed to get rid of the carbon price, a key mechanism for reducing carbon emissions. It also appears likely the LNP will also get rid of supporting mechanisms including the Climate Change Authority, the Renewable Energy Target and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

In their place the LNP is offering a Direct Action policy. However independent reviews have found that Direct Action is unlikely to meet the 5% target without substantially more funding.

When asked whether he would guarantee additional funding to meet the target, Mr Abbott said he would not.

Until now, the 5% emissions reduction by 2020 has been supported by both sides of Parliament. It is Australia's minimal target to meet our share of global responsibilities under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under this framework, countries adopted targets aiming to keep global warming to 2 degrees Centigrade or less.

Australia also proposed, if there was significant global action, to raise its target to 15% or 25% by 2020.

The Australian Climate Change Authority (CCA) is currently reviewing the target and will produce an interim report in October and a final recommendation in February 2014. The UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change is also due to report in October, and this report will influence our targets.

Many organisations that have made submissions to the  CCA review have argued that:

- the 2 degree centigrade rise is already too risky for the environment, biodiversity and human health, and we should be aiming for 1.5 degrees or less, if this is still possible

Even at 1.5 degrees C, there will be an increased burden of death and disease from famine, malnutrition and extreme weather events. The World Wildlife Fund states that a 1.5 degree C rise will also lead to the loss of  25% of existing animal and plant species.

- Australia can and should commit to a greater emissions reduction target by 2020 (most have suggested a target in the range of 25-40%)

- delaying action will make it more difficult and more expensive

For the LNP to abandon the 5% target at this time, when two major authorities - one Australian and one international - are due to report in a few weeks, is extraordinary. Regardless on anyone's personal views on climate change, the great weight of scientific opinion is telling us that it poses risks to current and future generations.

To abandon what is, at best, a minimal target, in such a way, and at such a time, is a failure in the duty of care our elected representatives owe us all.

(Note: I have updated this post a few times to correct errors and include links. Original errors were 'challenges' instead of threats in the Lancet quote, and 'Clean Energy Foundation' instead of Clean Energy Finance Corporation' - sorry it's been a busy week)

Australian Government Climate Change Authority Caps and Targets Review Issues Paper April 2013

Submissions to the review by:

Clean Energy Council
Australian Conservation Foundation
Sustainable Engineering Association
Climate and Health Alliance
Ian Dunlop
The Climate Institute
Friends of the Earth
Peter Christoff (Monash Sustainability Institute)
Sustainable Business Association
World Wildlife Fund

Taylor L 'Climate change: Tony Abbott says Direct Action needs no modelling' The Guardian 5 September 2013

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Sustainable living is a healthy, positive thing - pollies please note

Classified as: reflective journal - advocacy

My local community garden

Both Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd seem to have been backing away from climate change and environmental issues as if they might bite, in this election.

Research suggests concern over climate change has declined in Australia over recent years (Pugliese and Lyons 2010). There are powerful forces, both corporations and individuals, opposing action on climate change (McCright and Dunlap 2010). 

Once an issue has been 'polarised' (when some people take sides and express strong feelings about it), people in general may become wary of it. In these circumstances, some politicians may think it's best to avoid the subject.

However there is other research, and community experience, that shows a very different picture.

Linking climate change to health impacts (such as disasters, increased diseases, droughts and food insecurity) can lead to greater support for action to reduce emissions (DeBono et al 2010; Nisbet 2009)

Although there has been little research so far, positive messages may be even more effective. Edward Maibach and his colleagues (2010) in the US found that information about the positive health impacts of action to reduce climate change (for example walking vs driving) was positively received across all groups, regardless of their position on climate change.

When people see the benefits that sustainable living can provide for themselves, their families and communities, and the environment, they may feel much more positive.

The emerging themes from this research project (Promoting equity, environmental sustainability and health) support this view. One of key enablers for working with the community to promote environmental sustainability seems to be to address issues that are relevant to people’s lives and that provide direct benefit to them (like reducing energy bills), rather than framing the work around abstract or contested issues like climate change.

Below are some quotes illustrating this emerging theme:

Claire, manager, health and community organisation, talking about an energy efficiency program in a rural area: 

we made a concerted effort not to use climate change words... [a survey later showed that some] people were climate change sceptics, but they were still involved in the energy efficiency program, so it didn't matter if you had this belief [in climate change] or not, this was the practical what's in it for me thing that also had some environmental benefits, you know

Galina, President of tenants' association, large public housing estate in an inner metro area, talking about volunteer programs:

it's absolutely to educate people how to live well, you know ageing well and all that stuff  ... [one program] was a collaboration between our community and [a local environmental organisation] ... changing light globes ... to more effective ones ... we can reuse water ... if people are having a bath, they can use that water ... to flush the toilets ...[and] we've got our garden, and people who like ... can grow some vegetables and flowers

Luke, community member with experience of disadvantage, volunteer and community advocate, taking about community kitchens:

[it's also] preventing waste ... using food, you know from Second Bite's absolutely communal ... [and] people are growing through that whole experience of community kitchen

Pete, officer in health and community organisation, works with Men's Shed networks in rural and regional area:

if you went in to say the shed networks, if I went and talked about solar energy, or talked about water, they would give you fifteen different areas that they’ve actually researched on it, they’d actually give you it all, 
... so they’re actually thinking forward about that, but they’re thinking about lifestyle sustainability, they’re not thinking about saving energy at the power plant, they’re thinking about their own sustainability

The Pass the Parcel report from Southern Grampians and Glenelg PCP, mentioned in the project update, also provides more information on this theme.

So, in summary, what people are doing in these projects is improving their own health and well-being by improving their energy efficiency, reducing their household costs, increasing their access to fresh food, and building more inclusive communities. All of these things have environmental benefits as well as health benefits, and can help to reduce carbon emissions and the risk of climate change.

The Climate and Health Alliance has rated the parties on climate and health issues and I refer readers looking for information to support their voting decisions to CAHA .

Either way, I urge the major parties to stop treating the environment and sustainable living as a no-go zone, and start thinking about them as important issues for our future.

References cited:
Debono, Roberto; Vincenti, Karen; Calleja, Neville, Risk communication: climate change as a human-health threat, a survey of public perceptions in Malta, European journal of public health, 2012, Vol.22(1), pp.144-9
McCright, AM ; Dunlap, RE, Anti-reflexivity The American Conservative Movement's Success in Undermining Climate Science and Policy, Theory Culture & Society, 2010, Vol.27(2-3), pp.100-133
Maibach, Edward W.; Nisbet, Matthew; Baldwin, Paula; Akerlof, Karen; Diao, Guoqing, Reframing climate change as a public health issue: an exploratory study of public reactions.(Research article)(Clinical report), BMC Public Health, June 1, 2010, Vol.10, p.299
Nisbet, MC ; Scheufele, DA, What's next for science communication? Promising directions and lingering distractions American Journal Of Botany, 2009, Vol.96(10), pp.1767-1778
Pugliese, Anita ; Lyons, Linda, Australians' Views Shift on Climate Change; Fewer believe climate change results from human activities.(Survey) Gallup Poll News Service, August 6, 2010