The “Oh Shit” moment

Mark Hertsgaard in The Nation: They say that everyone who finally gets it about c

Sophie Black

Crikey editor

Mark Hertsgaard in The Nation:

They say that everyone who finally gets it about climate change has an “Oh, shit” moment–an instant when the full scientific implications become clear and they suddenly realize what a horrifically dangerous situation humanity has created for itself.

It’s especially alarming when people who, ahem, know their shit, speak about their own personal “Oh Shit” moment.

Take Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, chair of an advisory council known by its German acronym, WBGU, and a physicist whose specialty is chaos theory.

Speaking in July at an invitation only conference in New Mexico, Schellnhuber divulged the findings of a study so new he had not yet briefed Chancellor Angela Merkel about it.

Schellnhuber and his WBGU colleagues’ study states that the United States must cut emissions 100 percent by 2020. Yep, that means quit carbon completely within ten years. Germany, Italy and other industrial nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035.

The world as a whole must be carbon-free by 2050.

This kind of timetable is lightyears from what the IPCC is proposing, and failing to get agreement on.

But even this “brutal” timeline of the WBGU study, Schellnhuber admitted, wouldn’t guarantee staying within the 2C target. It would merely give humanity a two-out-of-three chance of doing so–“worse odds than Russian roulette …But it is the best we can do.”

To have a three-out-of-four chance, countries would have to quit carbon even sooner.

“I myself was terrified when I saw these numbers,” Schellnhuber said. Hans’ suggestion to push past that rising “Oh Shit” feeling and avert paralysis? “War-time mobilisation.”

So, time to share: what’s produced your latest “Oh Shit” moment? Or have you, like many of the Australians polled in the latest Lowy Institute survey, managed to ignore the bad news and pushed climate change down the list of your concerns, to, oh, seventh — just behind job security, the economy, terrorism and the threat of nuclear weapons?

Oh, shit.


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119 thoughts on “The “Oh Shit” moment

  1. sean dwyer

    I’ve had many OSMs over the last decade or so. Have read Diamond, etc and agree with many comments here. But Climategate is the last straw for me. That sceptics are demanding to effectively redo climate change science is a political masterstroke that will satisfy an urge for witchhunts and avoid any serious action at all.

    Douglas Adams was right. We truly are the descendants of the B ark.

  2. Bruce

    I learnt about climate change, and the possibility of a 70 metre or so rise in sea level at high school, around 1980. Even then I was persuaded that climate change would occur in the near future “on the balance of probabilities”. I was (and still am) science mad, and used to look at detailed topographic maps to see which regions of the world would be inundated first. No ‘oh shit”, just a detached fascination. Maybe it was my Aspergers Syndrome.

    Around the same time I read the Club of Rome’s original “Limits to Growth”. I found the basic thesis highly persuasive. Human kind are allowing too many long term problems to grow for short term benefit. One or other sector of our society will always value some short term advantage that puts us all in long term jeopardy. Too many time lags are built into the system so that ultimately we will face a confluence of problems that will overwhelm our best efforts to avert disaster. Climate change is JUST ONE of these problems.

    The Precautionary Principle would be nice, but most often we go for the “Catastrophe First Principle”. Think fish stocks, top soil erosion, depletion of water tables, population growth, weapons proliferation, etc etc. I’ve never had faith in human nature, so no “oh shit” moment there, just resignation, “oh well”. In truth there were some exceptions, like the reduction in CFCs in response to the ozone hole. Maybe there is hope?

    Since then I’ve married and had a child and started caring more about humanity, especially the world my daughter will live in. Maybe things can be turned around. CFC’s were at least one example where change occurred before catastrophe.

    IPCC reports came and went, glaciers melted, heat waves, hurricanes…then in 2007 Arctic sea ice cover fell to by far its lowest level in recorded history – probably the lowest coverage for more than 100,000 years. The Arctic melting was was much faster than even the most extreme estimates of climate scientists. There could not be a clearer message that climate change was real and now and dangerous. Surely this was the event that would provoke action, like the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole. But the reaction of world governments has been diddly squat. there is something of a Greek tragedy to human civilisation (if civilisation is the right word).

    Climate change is real, is happening now, requires immediate action to avert disaster, and we are doing too little too late. Having lost some of my detatched fascination I can now manage an “oh shit”, together with “I knew this would happen no matter what I did.”

    My main concern now is whether my country and especially my family can avoid the worst of the catastrophe that WILL engulf the planet. I hope the answer is not, “OH SHIT!”


    My “oh shit” moment was a few minutes ago, reading Stephen Moreland’s post #19, and realising that I’ve agreed with everything he said and have done so now for so many decades I’m numb.

    Homo sapiens, it was a nice ride, but an aphorism I coined in the 80’s sums it up: “It’s all been downhill since the wheel”.

    The ‘bump’ at the bottom of the hill is (very) rapidly approaching.

  4. Bellistner

    “We have left the Holocene, and entered the Ohshitocene.”

    I’m not sure when my OSM was. Over period of about ten years or so, I moved from “it’s not hapenning” to “It’s hapenning, but it’s not us”, to “it’s us, but it won’t be materially obvious for a long time” to “it’s us and it’s hapenning a lot faster than we thought, but there’s still time” to “it’s us, and there’s not a damned thing we’ll do about it”. For the last three, maybe four years, I’ve been in the last two categories.

    Although AGCC was in my thought process for quite some time, it never really came to the fore until I ‘discovered’ Peak Oil (followed quickly by Peak Gas, Peak Coal, Peak Fertilizer, Peak Farmland, and so on). It was my reading into the ‘theory’ behind Peak Oil that led me finally to the realisation that we were not only conciously devestating our world, but that we would conciously continue to do so even when presented with the evidence.

    Given the nature of the debate, there seems to be two broad schools of thought: Quick, or Slow. The ‘Quick’ faction see the looming Perfect Storm of disasters (Peak Everything, at the same time as we change our environment) as an untimately good thing, as a quick ‘dieoff’ will kill less people in aggregate and more quickly move to let the planet ‘breathe’ again. The Slow faction (derided, with some justification, by the Doomers as ‘Cornucopians’) see technological adaptation (windmills instead of Coal-fired power plants) and social change as all that’s necessary.

    I suggest the ‘Slow’ faction is the larger of the two. Even most ‘green’ proponents argue ‘Business as Usual, but Green’, as the future. There is an implicit assumption we can continue our current way of life, but with ‘alternative’ power instead of digging for and sucking up perfectly well sequestered Carbon, EVs instead of ICEs, BioFuels instead of food, etc.

    My reading into AGCC and Peak Everything has put me squarely into a frame of mind along the lines of ‘Cautiously Pessimistic’. That is, I think we can adapt/fix perfectly well, and keep AGCC within limits, but that we won’t. I occasionally move towards a “we’re freaking doomed!” attitude, which requires me to get off the computer for a week and read a good book.

    The elephant in the room is not Peak Oil, or our choice of power generation, or even offshoring our manufacturing (emissions), but, rather, population. Even if we de-carbonised the economy tomorrow, we still have an ever-increasing population which will eventually come up against some other limit (probably fertiliser) in short order. Yet calls to control our breeding are met with outrage, even amongst those you would expect to support such moves: Green Left

    Population is not the cause of pollution and carbon emissions. In Australia, current total household electricity usage is about 12% of total electricity usage. More than 80% of electricity generation comes from dirty coal-fired power plants.

    Migrants are not to blame for the dirty coal-fired power stations. Increasing population would not increase carbon pollution if electricity were produced by renewable power. For that, we need immediate government investment in solar, wind and geothermal power.

    Similarly, when we look at water usage and the health of our rivers, it is corporate consumption and waste that threatens the environment.

    I read ‘articles’ like this and can only think they’ve got a severe case of Cognitive Disonnance.

    Our Governments don’t help (there’s the old argument that we elect the people we deserve). The Liberals, by and large, are still stuck somewhere between “it’s not hapenning” and “it’s hapenning, but it’s not us”. Any attempt to impose the counting of Externalities upon business must be as minimal as possible (witness the attempts to ‘negotiate’ the removal of the word ‘almost’ from the statement “The Labor ETS would give almost all the funds derived from the sale of Permits back to the polluters”).
    The Nationals seem to live by the motto “the river giveth and the river taketh away”, and assume this is all part of the natural cycle (and will loudly point to any ‘new’ evidence that supports their worldview, even if it’s nonsense and many-times debunked). My other halfs’ father’s father ran (but did not own) farming properties in NSW 50 years ago. He protested the removal of mulga-type scrub and the understory, but was overruled by the owners, who were convinced they could feed the scrub to the stock, and it’d ‘just grow back’. To his fathers disapointment, within years there were salt pans popping up everywhere, and no regroqth. Yet clearing continued. This is the attitude that seems to still pervade a large majority of Australian farmers: we need to subdue the land. No concept of natural limitations. The suggestion that we should do things like ‘tax’ cow farts (agriculture being the cause of roughly 1/3 of Anthropogenic emissions) is met with indignation, if not outright hostility.
    Labor talks a lot, but has achieved almost nothing. The proposed ETS is little more than a case of taking money from polluters, dropping it into a bucket, then taking almost all of it out and giving it back to them. Where’s the incentive to change business practices? The mining and smelting industries are making a lot of noise about ‘job losses’, but the entire mining industry in Australia only employs (directly) about 100,000 people. Woolworths alone employs more. And the job losses aren’t really losses, but ‘delayed’ jobs. Most mining companies aren’t even local anyway (ie, don’t pay tax).
    The Greens have come a long way. They now have a suite of well-rounded policies, a far cry from the days when they were the spokespeople for ‘trees and Mull’. At times, it seems only The Greens have any concept of promoting an ‘onshore’ economy beyond shopping centres and Finance. The Greens have this bizarre idea that we can actually have a real economy! Don’t they know that information is the future (we can replace food and fuel with information!…)? But even back in their heyday of ‘trees and Mull’, The Greens wouldn’t have been able to sucessfully propose a wartime economy devoted to reducing our impact on our ecosystem. Mores the pity, since we needed to start 20 years ago.

    All of the above also believe in the ‘perpetual growth fairy’, where you can keep annual, compounding growth (of whatever kind you choose, be it economic, employment, population, whatever) going forever within a finite system. If we don’t push the Climate outside it adaptation limits, we’ll run headlong into Peak Oil/Gas/Coal, and if not that, it’ll be fertiliser, or potable water, or vacant (desirable) land, or some other Black Swan that economists don’t want to think about and the general public are unaware of.

    I read a suggestion last week that I quite like: we should replace ‘biodiversity loss’ with ‘Holocene Mass Extinction’. Let’s see the 6PM newsreaders spit that one out the first time they read it off the teleprompter.

  5. hgibbs1

    RE Kevin Cox, your main truth is that to solve the IMMEDIATE* climate crisis, MONEY IS ENOUGH. If we put the money (and incentives) in the right places, action *will* follow. And yes, there should be ways to get that money (especially capital) more available and at a relatively low cost, especially through governments, given the “greater good” to humanity AND the flow-on (trickle-down, multiplier) effects of this money through the economy (i.e. green power = more jobs per kwh than coal).

    *Long-term, changing the root causes of the climate problem –consumerism, population growth, economic theory, etc — is a much bigger challenge.

    RE Andrew Lewis and Russian Roulette, I think it was the odds of **surviving** that were being talked about (i.e. not the bullet, the other 5 chambers = 5/6 chance).

    BUT agree population is important – although, population eventually becomes self-limiting (and obvious), but the full effects of climate change are somewhat delayed, and with the potential for strong positive and negative feedbacks, depending on all sorts of complicated interactions. Therefore we could have completely gone past the point of “no return” by the time we realise we need to turn back. And yes, it seems to be completely beyond what current political systems were designed to deal with and can deal with… Yes, it would be good to start moving towards a better system, whatever that might be…

  6. Andrew Lewis

    Here’s another OSM for the rest of you. Our current system of world and national political systems is not equipped to deal with this.

    Never was, never will be. Take an OSM to work out what will replace it!

    Keep doing that until you have another OSM.

    Apologies again to those who have already pointed this out.

  7. Andrew Lewis

    Well I’m glad we have got someone intelligent looking over the numbers.

    Unfortunately, a two in three chance is four times better odds than Russian Roulette, unless he is talking about a different game (1 bullet, 6 chambers). Obviously maths isn’t Shellnhuber’s strong point. I wonder if a fundamental understanding of statistics is at all helpful in the climate change science. Perhaps he just looks at the pretty graphs!

    Apologies to all those who have already pointed this out, couldn’t go through all the comments.

    Of course the only “oh shit’ moment in this is in the possibility of this happening to us, in our lifetimes, and even for the young that won’t really be the case, according to the IPCC.

    Overpopulation, far the greater problem and still the source of this climate change problem, has been ignored for far longer and is still ignored, and is much more likely to give us serious grief in this our lifetimes. Still, nobody (in the IPCC) is talking much about population growth. It is the very essence, the very beginning of just about every problem that humanity faces.

    Climate change is a doddle in comparison.

    But as with all difficult decisions, we will put it off until nature in its various guises makes the decisions for us.

    It is very unlikely that homo sapiens will be wiped out, just a vast portion of it.

  8. twobob

    My first shit was around 20 years ago when I realised that almost everything that humans do makes carbon dioxide.

    My biggest was when I realised that Bush was manipulating scientific evidence and that big industry were using the same tactics that they used to repudiate evidence about tobacco.

    My saddest was when I realised that gw dellusionists were more interested in their own transient well being than they were about their own children’s or grandchildren’s future.

    My last was when I realised that the governments of the world will not do enough. Physics cant be bargained with or bought off and not enough will end in disaster.

  9. hgibbs1

    “Saving the world should be engaging – funky even. If the techno-economic gurus and editorial writers spruik you a solution that bores you to tears or requires a degree in astrophysics to understand, reject their solution.”*

    I agree with the first bit – we can and should do better at creating a positive path forward – but not with the second! Can’t throw out any possible “solution” unless we replace it with a better one.

    *FROM (linked by an earlier post)

  10. zinders

    Interesting reading this blog. I don’t really want to comment on my ‘oh shit’ moment because they just keep on coming.

    Just one comment I wanted to make which might help some who are finding it hard to put the climate change case:

    Some say that even a sceptic believes in using less energy.

    Sometimes I think we might be better to dump all that wording that people find hard to grasp – climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and on it goes.

  11. jack jones

    I thought I posted to this site but can’t find it now. Just to add to the list my OSMs have been:
    1. Recognising the true nature of Rudd’s political deviousness on this issue. I thought he would come up with a pretty flawed scheme but was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt that he actually would be trying to do something real. I’m now fairly convinced that he only sees this as a political play directed at wedging the libs/nats and that many in Labor are just as much part of the problem as the Wilson Tuckey types. They just go about it in a more slick way.
    2. Upping my reading following the last IPCC report and coming out of a number of CSIRO briefings with for the first time ever a real tangible nauseous feeling having grasped the implications for us and our kids in a physical as well as an intellectual sense.
    3. Wondering what the hell we will do as the South East of Australia continues its drying trend, what will this place look like in even 5-10 years time, it doesn’t look great now.
    4.Going to my home town in regional Victoria around Christmas time last year. There is a lake there that’s never been dry in the history of my family (going back 120 years or more), its dry now, you can walk over it. Ironically I’m really hoping that some of this is just due to dumb irrigation policies in the surrounding catchment but I don’t think that’s the whole story. The sight of that dry lake made me feel literally sick.
    5. Realising that the CPRS/ETS call it what you will, will lock in failure in starting this enormous fight for many years, and we’ll all get to personally compenstate some of the biggest most disgusting polluting corporations for the pleasure of watching them screw us further, in the background will be Rudd congratulating himself of being pragmatic and ‘balanced’.
    6. Watching the bickering between liberal and labor and labor and labor states as the Murray, our iconic river of verse and song just dies in the background.
    7. Finally, just looking at my beautiful little kids and thinking in the end that I don’t care so much what happens to me but wondering what what a shocking future we are bequeathing to them.

  12. sean hosking

    Michael – good point re balance. I usually say that if they’re into balance then the ‘insiders’ couch would have some unreconstructed Marxist freedom fighter in khaki’s and beret facing off against the right wing lunatic on the other side of the couch – bolt, ackerman etc. Instead we get annabel crab giggling away….

  13. kdkd

    John Reidy #106

    Well there are natural experiments where suphate has been injected into the upper atmosphere to induce a cooling effect, most notably in post-industrial times during the Krakatoa erruption. The procedure would be fairly straightforward, and probably not terribly energy intensive (maybe the output of one medium sized power station at a guess). However, the unintended consequences of this course of action are unknown. Therefore it’s best avoided if at all possible – mind you the policy vacuum encouraged by industry and politicians encourages the use of these drastic measures to further the continuation of civilisation.

  14. John Reidy

    Meski, – in comment 28 asked if there was a ‘plan B’, well there is one.
    It was reporting in background briefing (aired on March 28 2008) –
    It involved pumping large amounts of sulphur particles into the atmosphere to reverse the process.
    It sounds like it would involve a major, new, energy intensive, big science sort of project.

  15. Michael Wilbur-Ham

    Malcolm – Unfortunately I can imagine some newspapers thinking that a man claiming the moon is made of green cheese would make a good story.

    If he looked eccentric enough, I can even imagine the story getting some TV coverage!

    What I cannot imagine these days is newspapers bothering to ask for evidence, sending this to experts, and awaiting their verdict.

    As shown on Media Watch / Hungry Beast, ten minutes on the internet to check some facts is too much these days.

    As well as being willing to report the nonsensical, and not checking facts, I think that there are other major problems with “balance” in the media.

    In Australia one major problem is that balance is often thought of as just presenting the views of both major parties.

    The biggest distortion these days though is the balance between left and right.

    For example with climate change, the ABC regards itself as balanced. So one side you get someone like Bolt who denies climate change. The other side can just be the Labor view (good talk about the reality of climate change and the need to take action, but no real response to the crises).

    But surely the real balance to a Bolt would be someone who suggest cuts in emissions that would make the Greens look conservative. Ignoring political reality, it would be easy to make a rational case for 20% reductions within two years!

    The great victory of John Howard is that a very conservative view is now seen as centre in Australia.

  16. Malcolm Street

    [email protected] – interesting insights into the psychology of the (very vocal) greenhouse denial lobby. I think it’s also worth noting how visible they are in Australia – we are a materialistic nation built on theft and so presumably this subliminal worry is shared by many. However, very few of this lobby would be as interested in public opposition to vaccination, flouridation, Creationism or Holocaust denial, all similar anti-evidence, anti-science conspiratorial beliefs.

    What’s of particular interest to me is not why the Right writes this crap, but why the non-fringe media publishes it. We’re not talking about occasional columns from outsiders that are thrown in to (rightly) stir the pot, I’m talking about people who are published week in and week out and hence part of the total news and commentary service that the outlet provides. If we had similar levels of condemnation of evolution submitted, I can’t see them being published, let alone if they were submitted again and again.

    There’s a pertinent comment from George Monbiot of the Guardian writing to the Spectator re. its “Relax: Global Warming is just a Myth” front cover splash for Ian Plimer: (

    “If a man walked into your office and claimed that the entire canon of lunar science was wrong and the moon was, after all, made of green cheese, I suspect you would do one of two things: either send him on his way or, if you were feeling generous, ask him for evidence, then give it to experts in the field to assess. When they assured you that it was nonsense, you would drop the matter.

    But when it comes to climate change, you and other editors are prepared to accept assertions which are just as nonsensical, without any attempt to check – or even to request – the evidence. ”

    Indeed. “Balance” is not about allowing one side to be given a free pass to spout whatever bullshit they like.

  17. Malcolm Street

    [email protected] – “The cynical alliance of the political centre [which includes Rudd ahd Turnbull ] and the professionally moulded climate change denialism we see at work in Australia will be exposed more clearly over the next few years. When it is so exposed, when ordinary people in large numbers finally understand how the powerful lobbies for no change are corrupting the debate and stealing all of our children’s future climate security, there will be great rage and great political changes.”

    This is why I see the future political landscape being Labor (joined by the last few Liberal moderates) vs the Greens. As with the rise of Labor, it requires a massive dislocation in society or its expectations for a new party to become a chance at government. This time around, with class consciousness fading and everyone a capitalist via super funds, the rationale for the Labor/Liberal labor/capital dichotomy is fading. The Liberals are increasingly (at Federal level anyway) a party of the hard right with nothing sensible to say about climate change and hence heading for ratbag minority status (think DLP, One Nation and, nearly forgot, the Nationals). Future social consciousness will be on green issues as the effects of climate change increase.

  18. Tony Kevin

    I come late to this fascinating and productive correspondence. I particularly commend Karen Duncan;s [78] perceptive and fluent discussion of the bizarre grip of denialism on Australian policy response to dangerous climate change. She breaks new analytical ground here – her thoughts shoulkd be heeded and built on.

    My OSM was in 2006, during a Camino walk through Spain from Granada to Santiago. I was strugglimg along the verge of a major busy highway – there was nowhere else to walk at that stage of the recommended pilgrimage route – and this is how I recalled the experience in Ch 10 of my subsequent book ‘Walking the Camino”.

    ”Walking along the edges of the roaring N630, I experienced intense physical distress. The motor traffic on the highway assailed ny ears, lungs, nose, eyes. As huge mechanical monsters screamed along the highway, brushing aside my frail human boidy, I felt and smelt huge blasts of heat and carbon dioxide gas they were pumping out into the highwayside air. I experienced with an almost physical pain the fact of how fast humankind is using up its precious stored-energy resources. I thought of this scene infinitely multiplied on every highway in every rich industrial country in the world, and a sense of profligate waste overwhelmed me. I thought: this cannot go on, it is totally irresponsible.’

    That was when I started thinking hard about climate change: like others, thinking about peak oil was my road into it. I am still optimistic that humanity can get through the crisis of childhood’s end we are now entering; as Hansen says, the solution has to be moving to 100% renewable energy and stopping burning coal and oil – fast. This is achievable if we recognise the scale of the challenge, and the impediments to systemic infrastructure change.

    This is mostly about social action through politics – what we do as individuals is important in shifting values, but makes little difference in the immediate GHG crisis.

    The cynical alliance of the political centre [which includes Rudd ahd Turnbull ] and the professionally moulded climate change denialism we see at work in Australia will be exposed more clearly over the next few years. When it is so exposed, when ordinary people in large numbers finally understand how the powerful lobbies for no change are corrupting the debate and stealing all of our children’s future climate security, there will be great rage and great political changes. My new book ”Crunch Time” sets this political analysis and prognosis out in a lot more detail. I hope it will be a contribution to achieving a better future. I refuse to admit we are doomed as a species by our own profound fossil fuel burning mistake over the past 250 years – I believe still that courage and resolute informed rational action as a human society can save our children and grandchildren from a pretty horrible future.

  19. Veronica Guy

    Hahaha. My spelling error. I meant oh shit – but what I read did make me sit down!!!

  20. Veronica Guy

    My oh sit moment came at the end of 1970 just before having my second child. I read The Ghost in The Machine by Arthur Koestler and his comments on global population. My appreciation of anthropomorphic induced climate change has merely become keener as the decades fly by.

    No one person can change this scenario; you can add your own puny effort that makes you feel better (it does me). Our immature emotional responses have not caught up with our cortex and that’s the rub.

    Besides the lack of genetic diversity in the human genome vitually seals the fate of Homo sapiens or should that be Homo greedicus or Homo can’t-see-past-my-big-toe-icus?

    We will have the distinction of having been the shortest lived species this planet has ever known. Could be worse, I suppose.

  21. Scott Grant

    By the way: Did anyone notice that October is BeyondBlue Anxiety And Depression Awareness Month?

  22. David Christian

    My “Oh shit” moment can probably be traced back to pictures taken from satellites showing the shrinking of the Arctic ice cap during recent years. These images were quite scary, but really only tell part of the story. Ice is a very efficient reflector of the Sun’s heat whereas open ocean is a very efficient absorber of the Sun’s heat.
    So here we have a kind of built in accelerator where reflecting ice is being replaced by absorbing ocean, so there’s not much chance of a short term reversal of that process.
    It seems obvious to me that the process of warming now under way will continue far into the future regardless of what efforts are made by the human race and the most we can hope for (best scenario) is to slow the process down a little. I sincerely hope I’m wrong!

  23. Andrew

    This response to Hamilton’s 16-10-09 article is relevant to this blog:

    Over the millenia humans worried about the end-of-the -world-as-we-know-it, repeatedly, the diffrence this time is that the most authoritative science indicates an abrupt transformation of terrestrial climate to conditions that shaprly depart from those which allowed the emergence of civilization some 8000 years ago.

    Our prehistoric ancestors managed to survive through major climate upheavals (mid-Pliocene 400 ppm CO2, 2-3 degrees C rise, 25 meters sea level rise; glacial/interglacial +/- 5 degrees changes in mean global tempratures) mainly through migration.

    Where will the 6.6 billion humans of the 21st century migrate to? (little prospect for an “escape” are offered by the thin film of water detected recently on some lunar rocks).

    Fortunate are believers in devine supervision, snatching them to heaven when the day comes.

    Less fortunate are believers in Gaia, the living Planet, who feel guilty the species to which the belong has betrayed “mother Earth”.

    Looking at the issue with perspective of natural evolution, the question arises whether any species, including humans, has a choice in the matter of its own survival?

    Children of the “enlightnment” have been raised with a notion of “free will”, but while limited choices may be presented to fortunate individuals, does an entire species possess free will ???

    In this instance, a ‘free will’ to transform from the principal energy source – fossil fuels – which allowed the emergence of technological civilization some 250 years ago, to other energy sources?

    Unfortunately the atmosphere is not waiting to human decisions.

    Andrew Glikson

  24. Stephen Moreland

    Oh gawd, the joke’s on me I left out the crucial word ‘can’t’ in Homer’s line!!!

  25. Stephen Moreland

    An Incomprehensible Truth

    (A tragi-comedy in one, very long, act)

    by Stephen Moreland

    The Cast:

    The role of the IPCC and vast majority of the Scientific Community, NGOs & social welfare groups is played by a computer terminal.

    The role of humanity and its system of governance is played by Homer J Simpson.

    The role of the climate denialists is played (with special thanks to Mr Simpson’s proctologist and animators) by Mr Simpson’s sphincter.

    ACT ONE, Scene One
    The Time: 1989
    The Scene: a nondescript room, could be anywhere.
    Stage props: A table, a chair. The computer terminal is on the table. A line of text is glowing on the screen.

    Homer enters from stage left and approaches the table and sits down, reads the computer screen –

    HOMER:- Hmmmm…. “To start, press any key.”

    Homer looks at keyboard. Looks at screen. Looks at keyboard again.

    HOMER:- Oooooooooh, I find the any key!

    Homer continues to sit in front of the computer screen, eyes slowly glazing, jaw slackening, occasionally farting, for 20 years.


    *Producer’s post script: A second act (working title “Common Sense Strikes Back”) was planned but cancelled due to lack of interest and the inability to find a financial backer willing to forgo a return on investment for a measly four or five years. A shame, really. We’d already secured Kermit The Frog to play Bob Brown and Toni Collette to play the UN (she’s SO versatile!)

  26. wilful

    I’ve been increasingly gloomy and depressive about climate change for a long time now. But the last time I felt a real spike of depression was reading Climate Code Red by David pratt and Phil Sutton. An important little update to what science is now telling us.

    Gawd, did someone mention the CPRS? Don’t make me laugh. Thankfully Australia will have a solution imposed on us, but not without unnecessary impacts on the economy.

  27. Mitchell Porter

    I had ten years of emails from Bruce Sterling to prepare me for the day when life was going to be all climate change all the time.

    When I started spending time with local climate activists, from 2007 forwards, part of my line was to argue that huge political and cultural changes do happen in history, and that we should have some confidence that whatever is truly necessary to avert catastrophe will in the end be done. I do seem to remember getting a little anxious around the end of 2008, when I was thinking over that 350ppm paper of Hansen et al and thinking about the physical magnitude of the problem.

    However, I grew up on a different sort of apocalyptic futurism, that involving nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, and in the end I think those trends trump anything to do with unsustainability. Which is not to deny that people may die in very large numbers in the coming decades. But whether we become sustainable is not going to decide the long-term future of humanity. I give it twenty years maximum before we have self-replicating nanosystems that can eat all that atmospheric carbon much faster than a tree. And at that point the climate problem is over and the nanotechnology problem has arrived.

  28. Janet Rice

    My first OSM was coming out of a second year climatology lecture given by Barrie Pittock in 1980. I hadn’t heard of the greenhouse effect before then. Nor had most of the world. I remember walking out of the lecture, into warm spring sunshine, fellow students lolling around, thinking ‘ But this is serious! The world needs to be doing something about this!

    Its been a series of OSM’s since, having kept up with the science and committing myself to activism and Green politics. Readiing Climate Code Red was a recent big OSM, as was talking with Philip Sutton just this week about the implications of melting the arctic.

    Yet I have to stay optimistic because you need that to keep going, and if you don’t fight you lose.

    Imagine if The Greens and Xenaphon had balance of power in the Senate at the moment as we should have had, if not for the deal the ALP did to elect Stephen Fielding. Then the Government would be negotiating with the Greens over the CPRS. That’s the power that a small number of Greens in our Parliaments can have to begin with. Imagine Greens with balance of power in state and federal lower houses in the next five years, determining which of the big old parties forms government.

    Even so, Lovelock’s prognoses seem chillingly likely. Huge amounts of suffering seems inevitable.

    Our best hope I think is a climate change related disaster in the next decade or so that kills thousands and leaves hundreds of thousands of wealthy white people homeless. This might just provide the political will for the world to get moving on the transition, and achieve seeming miracles. And for a positive exploration of just what those actions might be join me at the Green New Deal conference on 24-25 October in Melbourne

  29. Sophie Black

    Agreed Dan, we’re bowled over by some of the comments here. We’re currently trying to figure out what more to do with them… we featured some yesterday in the email but may do it again today… there’s some really very beautiful, thought provoking writing here.

  30. John Reidy

    I approached this from another point of view – that of peak oil. So I never had an Oh Shit moment.
    From the early ’90s – probably around the time of of the first gulf war, I believed that oil would start to run out, it didn’t matter if the peak would be 2010, 2020 or what-ever, the point would be that for a long period oil would be much more expensive than it is now.
    In my mind the issue of enery shortages was more immediate and easier to understand than climate change.

    The changes needed to cope with climate changes are (in the main) the same ones needed to deal with energy shortages. So perhaps our best hope is for long ongoing shortages of oil.
    While there is a lot of coal (perhaps several hundred years of supply), it should be easier to manage/transition a dozen or so coal fire fired power stations than several million motor vehicles and homes.

  31. Andrew

    Further note: The myth of climate “stabilization”

    Schellnhuber’s warning is not new to those who study the evolution of the atmosphere/ocean system.

    Rarely is it acknowledged that scientists like Wallace Broecker, James Hansen, Stephen Rahmstorf, have long pointed out, from ice core studies, to the evidence of tipping points in the history of the glacial-interglacial era during the last 740,000 years.

    Due to the cumulative nature of atmospheric CO2, and the role of carbon cycle feedbacks and ice melt/albedo change/infared absorption feedbacks, no scientific foundation exists for expectations inherent in IPCC reports and derived reviews, such as the Garnaut Review, as if atmospheric CO2 targets can result in “stabillization” of the climate at any specified level.

    Once CO2 levels have risen above 350 ppm, or even above 320 ppm, the atmopshere assumes a runaway mode. An abrupt upward shift is defined at 1975-1976. From that stage only sharp reduction in carbon emissions accompanied with CO2 draw-down techniques (fast-growing plants, reforestation, chemical carbon capure) are likely to be capable of making a difference.

    Requiring a rapid transformation in the behaviour of the species H. “Sapiens”, consistent with the comment by Stephen Moreland (Crikey 15-10-09).

    Andrew Glikson

  32. Michael Wilbur-Ham

    Nick of McEwen – My work for the Greens is now rather minimal, but I did do a huge amount of work last election when I was a candidate. (Note that all my comments here are just my personal opinions.)

    To reduce our emissions requires government to take huge action, and soon.

    There are only three ways I can think of that might make this happen:

    1 – there is a coup and the new government make the changes which are needed,
    2 – a government is elected that promises to make the changes needed, or
    3 – a government in power radically changes policy and makes the changes.

    A coup to bring in the needed changes is very unlikely. (In reality I think the most likely coup for Australia would be if a government was elected that promised to make the changes. The coup would oust them!)

    Either one of the above succeeds or we fail to take appropriate action. Which option should those concerned about climate change work towards?

    I don’t have much faith in democracy, but I think that option 2 is our best chance.

    And clearly I’m talking about something very different from just electing a few more Green politicians. We need a new government and quick.

    This almost certainly won’t happen, but what else might work?

  33. Andrew

    Over the last 20 years or so, a small number of Australian climate scientists who have repeatedly issued warnings regarding carbon gas emissions and dangerous climate change, have been:

    1. Ignored by governments and industry
    2. Some were silenced under pain of dismissal
    3. Some lost their jobs
    4. Most were largely or partly censored by the mainstream media (often under the pretext as if their letters and articles were “too alarmist”, or “too technical” or “too simplistic”)
    6. Subject to ad-hominem and ridicule.

    Had the warnings been heeded in the early 80s, attempts at mitigation may have had a chance of success.

    Sadly, despite confirmation by the world’s leading climate research organizations, the mainstream media continues to offer an open platform to dangerous disinformation perpetrated by so-called “sceptics”, or give a “ballanced” treatment to both science and denial (as if every time someone says the “globe is round”, there is a need to have a “ballanced” view “The Earth is flat”).

    The media and those behind it have much to answer for, not least to the young and future generations.

    Andrew Glikson
    Earth and paleoclimate scientist

  34. Dan Cass

    Wow, there are some very honest, powerful posts here – I do hope Sophie that you publish some in the Sealed Section tomorrow.

    My own climate ‘moment’ was over the course of 1991.

    I read Ian Lowe, Bill McKibben, David Suzuki and Graeme Pearson and got a part time job working for Australia’s first climate campaign – Greenhouse Action Australia.

    Being a serious young man with a heavy sense of responsibility, I forced myself to slog through the IPCC’s first report (and took notes).

    I felt I had read humanity’s final tragedy and that there was no way out. Part of me died.

    My understanding was that the only chance of averting climate change was to do what the science implored – immediately slash emissions, to start the transition beyond the fossil fuel age.

    I helped organise a UN climate conference in Melbourne. I met the world’s best climate thinkers. I watched the fossil fuel and aluminum executives prey on the meekness of climatologists, liberal environmentalists and government. The movement was over before it began.

    By late 1991 is was clear that a fatal political compromise had been made. Led by the USA, nations negotiating the pre-pre-Kyoto framework agreed to forget the immediate transition and instead opt for the future, for “targets and timetables”.

    That’s where the first decade of the climate ‘movement’ went.

    I spent most of my youthful energies and years on climate change. It drove my life choices and often inhabited my dreams.

    Was it worth it? I don’t know what other choice I had.

    I knew by 1991 that the goal of preventing climate change was unreachable, so I concentrated on the journey. I had a meaningful life, learning as much as I could about how power and change operate, working with some of the best and smartest people.

    But yes, it is terrible. It is uncalled for.

    All we can do is stop bothering the future – it will bear down on us fast enough – and learn how to work well with the good people and have a meaningful life of it. Some great changes are happening already and they deserve us.


  35. Stephen Moreland

    This has been a great discussion and a fantastic source of links to important information. Thanks everyone for making my first ever attempt at blogging an amazing experience. Thanks especially to Mark Duffett for your kind words. Forgive me for being a bit flippant in the first instance.

    But I’m not here to rehearse my Oscar acceptance speech. I’m here to observe that absolutely no-one has said “Oh, I’ve had an oh shit moment but I every confidence that the CPRS will come to our rescue” or similar.

    The ‘oh, shit’ moment for the government is likely to be “Oh, shit, no-one with a brain is buying our spin.”

  36. Nick of McEwen

    Michael W-H @64, I admire your commitment to democratic means of achieving change, and I’m sure you do fantastic work for the Greens (if that is you…sorry if I’m getting earlier posts confused with someone else).

    I think what other people here might have a problem with is your faith in the democratic process. Andrew Dobson’s, in Green Political Thought, argues that one of the things letting the green movement down is the fact that we want to achieve quite radical change, but are committed to pretty soft ways of achieving it, and seem to assume that once people understand, they’ll be on our side.

    I’m not saying that he or I or anyone else has the answer as to what the best way to effect change, but I think you have to recognise that a lot of people here believe that democracy is failing us. I think the green movement needs a wide spectrum of action, from those pushing shit uphill within the labor party, to the greens, to (dare I say feel-good?) new media lobby groups like the AYCC and GetUp!, to radical action: those doing their best to physically stop coal being dug up and burnt.

    Georgina @68, you are incredibly inspiring.

  37. donna Mckinlay

    When it became so much more difficult to grow food in the backyard in Summer.

  38. Geoff Russell

    About wine, red meat and methane. Using figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics,
    wine production takes about 700 litres per litre to produce. Milk is about half this but
    with prodigious amounts of methane and cheese comes in at about 4800 litres per kg.
    Red meat ( is over
    50kg co2eq per kg and the actual warming is more than that. At the risk of giving
    people more “Oh sh!t” moments, the current atmospheric CO2 increase is made up of
    stuff that we did … our cars/computers/etc … and stuff that lots of other people did
    going back about 300 years or so. Ie., when our ancestors dynamited and burned
    the Aussie bush in the 19th century, a lot of the CO2 is still up there. But the 1790 ppb
    of methane that’s all ours. All of the increase above preindustrial
    levels is down to us. There is no methane left from the cattle of our ancestors.

    Paraphrasing Hansen, if we don’t control CO2, we are toast. But even
    if we do control CO2, that’s not enough, if we don’t reduce methane, black carbon
    and a couple of others, we are still toast. As it happens, cattle don’t only produce
    prodigious methane, they are the prime drivers of deforestation … always have
    been. When Jack Mundey and the boys were chewing on corned beef sandwiches
    during the famous green bans on a few acres
    in the early 1970s in Sydney, some of that beef will
    have probably come from the 50,000 acres of rainforest
    cleared in the early 1960s by the D9 bulldozers of
    King Ranch in Tully, Qld. This marks the beginning of a long period of
    environmental hypocrisy continuing
    today with the Tassie Greens like Kim Booth who support the beef industry and
    Tim Flannery who not only supports it, but who in his “Now or Never” essay, wants
    to expand it.

  39. Scott Grant

    I was looking back through some old issues of Dissent Magazine, trying to find the precise quote which hit me between the eyes and left me sleepless for a couple of nights afterwards. I could not find it. But I found a couple of other interesting articles along the way. One is an article called “Are We Getting The Third Degree?” by David Spratt, a copy of which can be found at This briefly summarises the likely effects of a one degree, a two degree and a three degree rise.

    I saw another along the way which included a counter to the frequent claim that we “need” a growing population to cope with an aging population. I don’t have the article in front of me, unfortunately. From memory, the point was that the proponents of population growth point to the ratio of retired or old people to working people. This article pointed out, that if you look at the ratio of ALL economically dependent people to working people, the statistics are quite different. This is because, as a society, we have less economically dependent YOUNG people. I thought I would throw that in for use in the next population debate. I had never seen that argument before.

    And thank you to Mark for correcting one of my previous typo’s.

  40. Intrepid Darrell

    My Oh Shit moment was really clear. It was May 2006 and I was taking a holiday with my family to Botswana. At the airport picked up a copy of Tim Flannerys The Weather makers.

    By the time I was comfortably established at our first camp, the book was half way through and it started talking about the impact of aviation on climate change. As it happens, I’m the co-founder of an Adventure Travel company (Intrepid travel) that prides itself on our Responsible Tourism attitudes, and we’d won a host of awards for supposedly being such great corporate citizens. It was then that the penny dropped….

    “Oh Shit – we spend a whole heap of effort as company convincing members of the public to get in a plane and travel from one side of the world to the other in order that we can give them a “responsible” holiday” Let me tell you = there is nothing responsible about aviation!

    I realised we took about 70,000 travellers a year, each traveller’s flights probably emitted around 6 tonnes of carbon on average – meaning the company I had created had single handedly contributed nearly half a million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere. So much for being a responsible travel company – we were environmental vandals of the first order!! Oh Shit!!!

    (OK, so we set about changing the situation, but it was a hell of a shock nonetheless!)

  41. Kevin Cox

    My moment was a “thank goodness” moment when I realised there was a solution and it was achievable without the sacrifices we are told are inevitable. If you want to participate in a workshop to hear how we can act come to my workshop on Sat 24th

    If you want to see the background to the “thank goodness” moment then listen to this presentation

  42. karen duncan

    My Oh shit moment was listening to the scientist James Lovelock basically pronounce that our capacity to address climate change in any meaningful way was pretty much nil and that this century will be one of great human suffering. Stephen Moreland’s post on this thread was of a similar ilk. I think we need more of this – anything to punch through the deafening cacophony of white noise that substitutes for debate in this country and which ultimately leaves most people where they were in the first place- hopelessly passive, willfully ignorant.

    Humans have a limited capacity to conceive of the extraordinary…to change on a profound scale .we’re geared to the everyday….to normalising and standardising our lives. What we know we’re comfortable with…To do otherwise would be to invoke psychological trauma. Much better to take a pill or fall in with the soothing cadences of whatever the dominant ideology tells us is ‘real’. Who nowadays talks about the big picture. The global picture is the biggest picture of them all. We can’t even agree about health care funding or what hair care product works best let alone the planet. No…If the sun comes up tomorrow, and last week it was unseasonally cool and the ABC news still features story’s of cats stuck up trees then everything must be alright.

    We’re not intrinsically judicious, rational or wise – human history tells us that…the programing of commercial tv tells us that, the whole advertising industry is testimony to that. If aroused we can easily be calmed by the reassuring naysaying of the small band of climate sceptics. Its the reassurance we crave, not the argument, not the facts. In a world raised up on the cult of the expert, a world given over to submissive compliance to whatever the ‘specialist’ advises us is true, the fact that Over 90% of environmental scientists subscribe to AGW is not good enough when the implications are so incompatible with our lives as big dumb consumers. No need to worry ourselves with abstract and complex concepts for a generation brought up on sound bites, pop riffs and text messages. And for those who have a nagging feeling that its all true, there’s Kevin the dentist with his tank of nitrous oxide, he’s impenetrable but soothing bureaucratic speak which placates bot our conscience, our need to be responsible to the planet and future generations, and our craven desire to have it all and keep it all.

    And when Kevin isn’t there handing out no fault absolutions, there are that motley crew of sceptics, inspiring in their bold everyman appropriation of the arcane language of science – wandering into the laboratories of the world like a bunch of slack jawed hillbillies wandering around a big city, making it all intelligable to the masses, exposing the scientific community as self interested charlatans just like Hanson exposed the cultural elites with her folksy please explain language. ‘If its too hard to understand then its probably bullshit’. Out there as always out of their worn old kit bags comes that year again, that year 1998! Like a primitive totem warding off the evil spirits. You can just imagine the way their child like gaze was drawn to it. The allure of the simple paired back fact, big, dumb, accessible. ‘It was warmer that year 10 years ago than it is now’

    I suspect the climate sceptics are actually more horrified than most people – conservatism is an ideology founded on fear, denial of any ‘trend’ is their pavlovian response to anything which isn’t about safeguarding their own material priviliges. Its why there’s a clear correlation between political conservatism and climate scepticism. Its not about the science for them, you wont find Miranda, Piers, Bolt et al consulting a resident new age herbal crackpot if they notice a lump in their groin, or angrily ranting about the child immunisation ‘industry’. They’ll go with the consensus of expert opinion every time. No, for them its about their entrenched psycho pathology masquerading as a ‘political conviction’ that the great unwashed masses are gonna rise up and take their stuff. That the hordes of trendy lefty rent seekers forever in search of an ‘issue’ have finally arrived at the big one. That the filthy industrial wheel of production which funnels massive priviliges to them and the (usually corporate) interests that they represent is going to grind to a halt and they’re gonna find themselves on the streets with all the other desperate johnies. If there’s a positive side to global warming its that its exposed the craven pathological selfishness of this class and their willingness to stoop to any level to protect their (material) interests. No need to listen to all the other tosh they dish out in disproportionate volumn about life, society, politics, the welfare state, the chardonay set, and postmodernism etc etc.

    But, this unhinged cohort aside, other than that its exposed us as a society for what we are – not children of the enlightenment, not ‘the most informed and educated generation in human history’ , not creatures of reason, but something altogether more complex and meagre. Kevin Rudd knows all about it. Analysing his strategic efforts to keep himself electable tells the story. Until we accept this, then we won’t be moved by the better parts of out nature.

  43. Sophie Black

    hmmm… Clive Hamilton’s written something for tomorrow’s edition of Crikey… and I’m not sure it’s going to make any of you feel better. Working title? ‘Accommodating Apocalypse”….

  44. Georgina Smith

    My OSM came about 3 years ago, when my boyfriend’s dad gave me a book called Peak Oil Prep. I suppose it wasn’t the book itself, so much as the crushing realisation of what it would be like if/when my comfortable western world disintegrated.

    There’s a bit in the book that talks about learning survival skills. I tried to imagine myself slaughtering an animal. I realised that not only was I too squeamish to ever want to do it, but I also had no idea of exactly how to kill, clean, gut and whatever else you need to do to make an animal edible. I realised, in short, that I wouldn’t last a week in survival mode.

    So I freaked out. At that stage I was convinced we had maybe 5 years. I got a group of my friends together and told them we needed to pool our (scant) resources, buy a farm and start kitting it out.

    Then I went to school. I started by doing renewable energy design at TAFE. Then I enrolled in a master of environmental management, which I’m now 3 weeks from completing. That was another huge eye opener.

    I observed, in my masters cohort, a peculiar phenomenon. We each started out keen as mustard, full of vim to save the planet, me included. Then at some point, usually around 2-3 subjects in, the Crisis hits. It’s like an Oh Shit moment on steroids, because by this point you’re educated. All of us have gone through this time, when we can see in detail exactly how f*cked we really are, and we each have to come to terms with it somehow. Usually via a period of depression, apathy, hopelessness, anger. It’s a real grieving process.

    Anyway, we each seem to come to a conclusion like this: if we quit, we’re doomed, but if we try and try with every ounce of strength we have in us, maybe just maybe we’ll survive. The benefit of this is if we do come good, the human race in general will be much better off.

    Final thought: I see this as a test on humanity. If we’re too selfish and stupid to take the action we know we need to take, then we don’t deserve to survive. I love being alive, so I hope we get it together. I’ve pledged the rest of my life to the effort. Fingers crossed.

  45. hgibbs1

    RE #66 It isn’t mitigation vs adapatation we need BOTH

    But at the moment spending MOST of the effort trying to stop the problem getting worse (i.e. mitigation) makes better sense (it is hard to unscramble an egg)

    Adaptation is already happening – e.g. our bushfire policies are being rewritten to “cope” with the hotter, drier conditions – and more and more money will be spent on it for quite some time to come, regardless of whether we manage to (eventually) turn the ship around.

  46. meski

    The realisation that none of this is going to happen in time? It really isn’t. So what’s the so-called ‘Plan B’ for what we do to deal with not meeting these carbon limitations?

  47. lindsayb


  48. Michael Wilbur-Ham

    Malcolm Street #47 said “Obviously the most effective mitigating action any of us in the developed world could do would be to kill ourselves, especially if before reproduce.”

    There are two things wrong with this statement …

    The first is that under Rudd’s proposal, killing yourself would mean that the companies who would have had to buy carbon credits on your behalf no longer need to do so. But these carbon credits can now be bought by another company, and so total emissions are not reduced.

    Even worse, because there is now slightly less demand for carbon credits due to your death, this means that the price of carbon credits will fall slightly.

    So the only effect of killing yourself is to make it slightly cheaper for industry to pollute 🙁

    The second thing wrong with the statement is that it assumes that individual action is part of the solution.

    To play its role, Australia has to make huge reductions. Even if individual reductions were taken into account by Rudd’s scheme, even under the most optimistic real-life scenarios, individual action is only likely to reduce our emissions by less than say 5%.

    Focusing on individual action is great for setting an example, and for making us feel better.

    But overall I’m convinced this is doing much more harm than good because our attention is diverted from what must be done to fix the problem.

    The only thing that will really make a difference is electing politicians who are committed to the large and radical changes which the science says are needed.

    The relative lack of interest in this view (see post #34) is very telling.

  49. Colin Jacobs

    Great discussion. If I hadn’t had the “Oh shit!” moment years ago, and wasn’t already constantly plagued with a sense of impending doom, this would do it.

    My moment came after some sort of political announcement, when I simultaneously comprehended the magnitude of the problem and the utter impossibility of government action. Wow, I’m going to live to see wars, famine and global destruction. Scary!

    The “oh fuck!” moment came this year when I read Guy Pearse’s “Quarry Vision” and realised that, beyond food rationing and manning the anti-climate-refugee machine-gun nests, at worst, the changing ocean chemistry could enable anaerobic bacteria to proliferate and render the oceans and air uninhabitable to most life forms.

    So now when I picture my future, I’m eating rationed protein powder, while shooting refugees, in an oxygenated dome. I’m not kidding.

  50. Evan Beaver

    Lindsay, that wasn’t Collapse, by Mr (forgotten his first name) Diamond was it?

  51. lindsayb

    my “OSM” was while I was reading a book about the collapse of various civilisations throughout history, and the factors leading to their collapse. We are getting pretty close to ticking all of the boxes for impending collapse. These include (but are not limited to) relying on diminishing critical resources such as oil and water for food production, while continuing to grow our populations, depleting our farming soils and expanding deserts, reducing plant and animal diversity by habitat destruction, concentration by business on efficiency with no regard to resilliance, politial system intent on maintaining the status quo than planning for the long term, while extracting an ever larger percentage of wealth from the productive sections of the community. Regardless of potential catastrope due to climate change, we are walking a pretty frayed tightrope as a species, and when collapse happens, it is always fast and messy.

  52. Michael Wilbur-Ham

    Michael James #57

    So you feel confident to ignore all the scientific work of thousands of experts on climate change because a long time ago some different people looking at different things got it wrong? (and actually their getting it wrong is debatable).

    I don’t think you will find anyone who is worried about climate change who does not encourage further research. And so far the scientific consensus is that it does “stand up to the scrutiny of peers.”

    If you think that it is right to do nothing until climate change is even more certain, then at what stage do we start to do things?

    Given that, if climate change is a real threat, delaying action locks us in to warming of above two degrees, do you really think that the appropriate response is to do nothing until it is to late to prevent a two degree warming?

  53. kdkd


    just to be clear, you have the right to be wrong. You shouldn’t have the right to try to influence policy from a position that is clearly wrong from any honest attempt to examine the data.

  54. kdkd

    err scrutiny not vitriol. And so if you can’t look at the data objectively then you need to be told that clearly.

  55. kdkd

    michael #57

    No, it’s just that your position doesn’t stand up to vitriol, and if you’re ideological blinkers are up so much that you can’t acutually see the data clearly then your opinion is worthless. The debate is over except among the deluded. The cage match thread has been through the points you make ad-infinitum, but just because you can repeat them doesn’t make them right and/or relevant.

    Hope this clarifies things for you.

  56. michael james

    Thank you Crikey, it’s good to see that you seem to support the right of posters such as KDKD to abuse others, to wit:

    “I can put you in your place with a combination of vitriol, abuse and actual data analysis showing that your position is intellectually bankrupt”.

    Good to see that abuse still seems to be the first refuge of those who are confronted by others who take a different position on a subject.

    Thank you KDKD, but I prefer not to have to listen to your self-important Vitriol,and abuse, particularly on a subject where your mind seems closed to any dissension from the ruling orthodoxy on this subject.

    Two thoughts for you to contemplate:

    1. The Club of Rome
    2. The Global Cooling theories of the 1970s.

    Both postulated the demise of civilisation based on modelling that did not stand up to scrutiny by peers.

    Something that should stand as a warning today to ensure that all of the assumptions on which the Climate Change debate stands, are rigorously tested and replicated before attempting massive and cripplingly costly social engineering to counteract.

  57. john2066

    Malcolm at 56, yes melting ice on land will raise sea levels, but what will raise them more than anything is the general thermic expansion of water, where water expands as it gets hotter.

    The main thing is though that the denialists get the full, rich credit they so richly and rightly deserve. I mean, in 15 years the results will be fully in and we’ll say ‘hey look at this weather,and we did nothing! Hey I really want to give some feedback to the deniers’. Like any good conservatives, deniers can reach the rich full rewards they so rightly will deserve!!!!

  58. Malcolm Street

    [email protected] – the melting ice at the North Pole won’t affect sea levels as it’s floating on water. Qv melting ice-cube in a glass of water – ice is less dense than water.

    The real problem is melting of ice *on land*, notably Greenland. That will raise sea levels.

    Of course melting polar ice cap brings its own problems – reduces reflectivity of the earth hence increasing absorption of heat and (I understand) given that it’s fresh water reducing the salinity of the Arctic Sea, which could have all sorts of repercussions.

  59. kdkd

    meski #50

    Generally with the crikey blogs if you put more than one url ( in your post it will be flagged for moderation. The best thing to do is to limit your posts ot one url each, or if you really need to you can always use spaces to split the url up so the software doesn’t recognise it: http://

  60. hgibbs1

    Oh shit moments: when I started my PhD (7 years ago – yep, still going…) and realised climate change was already happening, and how quickly… but it is also ongoing e.g. last week when I read in ‘More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want’ by Robert Engelman that our human population is increasing EACH DAY by more than the number of ALL the chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas on the planet combined.

    When will we realise that 90% of all modern human culture could be regenerated *from scratch* in maybe 4000 years (given that we started with, say, written language, fire, paper and the wheel), whereas biological diversity is a legacy of 4 billion years. If we lose it, we won’t be hanging around until we get it back.

    And this population thing… why are we behaving like bacteria in a petri dish? Why is ecology not the central ‘guiding light’ for humanity? It is only an understanding of how we fit in a living world that can allow us to escape the biological determinism of ‘boom and bust’ (and extinction) to which all species are vulnerable.

    I looked at David Suzuki’s book of a while back, saying there would be a global environmental disaster if we didn’t change things radically in 10 years. Now its past ten years. It both did and didn’t happen, and we did and didn’t change.
    I think the environmental movement need to be very careful in making predictions, that they are clear and testable (perhaps even scientific!!).

    For instance, in the short term (maybe 20-50 years) I would describe the probable effects of climate change as “more of the same, but worse”. More floods, more famine, more wars, more natural disasters, more disease. Not a good thing, but neither will it have a big impact on MOST of the people (and countries) who have the MONEY to protect themselves.

    This is why people-charities (e.g. Oxfam) are doing great stuff raising the profile of climate change – it is a social justice issue as much as anything else.
    (Poor people will continue to get sick and die, rich people will continue to move, build, fly, and even make their own snow)

    In the long-term of course “our” climate change is one of many, but its effects may well be much more severe (and the first to impact on upwards of 6,799,389,982# humans!): firstly it is MUCH faster (I’ve heard Tim Flannery estimate it could be 30 times faster) than anything “similar” in prehistory, and secondly humans have already stressed many (most) ecosystems to near breaking point, and fragmented the landscape so that plants and animals can’t now gradually “migrate” to stay within suitable climates. We’re already at the beginning of the sixth great extinction event (starting 20,000 years ago with our (probable) extirpation of various ‘megafauna’) and climate change could “commit to extinction”^ a good proportion of what biodiversity remains.

    So – how to remain positive?

    FIRST – remember we are all going to die. Anyway. Regardless of climate change.
    SECOND – look at the stars. It is a big, and amazing (and very very old) universe out there. At least there are some things we can’t (yet) destroy.
    THIRD – keep doing stuff – at least we know basically what we need to do, and we have 6,799,389,982 plus humans to think / help / work / create *solutions* (as well as greenhouse gases!!)

    # As of ~10:30am 15/10/2009 Melbourne time – source
    ^ “commit to extinction” = it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen

  61. Fred The Oyster

    The “…oh shit” moment (it really does need that dramatic pause for effect) for mine was I think in a New York Times article discussing how the ice around the North Pole itself had melted. (BBC coverage here. Debate of course was wide & varied on whether or not this was a big deal and how it happened, but simply having it happen in the first place was worrying enough. The inevitable train of thought ran along the lines – “There’s a lot of ice up there, and the water’s got to go somewhere…”

  62. Nigel Molesworth

    I didn’t really have an ‘Oh….’ moment. I’d heard all the stuff starting to build up about it, but basically, I didn’t want to know. What got me interested in it, was hearing an interview with Martin Durkin, director of “The Great Global Warming Swindle” on ABC Radio National Counterpoint. The interview by Michael and Paul was unbelievably obsequious. Durkin said some extraordinary things – global warming was a plot by Margaret Thatcher to undermine coal miners’ unions, the driving force for it came from the middle-classes no longer being able to afford servants… Really strange and curiously, far-left wing – particularly contempt for the middle-classes and a plot by Thatcher. (Denialism really is a fusion of opposites.)

    This was a few months before Durkin’s masterpiece “The Great Global Warming Swindle” was shown on the ABC at the behest of the Right wingers on the ABC board. I watched it, found it convincing, then watched the panel discussion afterwards where it was shown to be completely misleading. I remember David Karoly answering every point the denialists came up with. I remember the humiliating interview with Durkin where, when he was asked some quite reasonable questions, appeared to panic.

    I also remember the graphs that Durkin produced and how they were shown to be a complete fabrication. His excuse for dropping the last 15 years off the graph and fabricating several hundred years of data was “an underling did it”.

    As well as being annoyed at being misled by Durkin, I found myself thinking that if the denialists had to manufacture evidence then their argument can’t be very strong. And I was right. I started reading and now find the evidence pretty compelling. It didn’t help that the denialist point of view was taken up by the far right as an article of faith and seems to me to be now completely irrational. Before it became a right wing shibboleth, Andrew Bolt said in 2007 that he agreed that global warming was happening and that it was probably caused by human activity. His argument was with the doom-sayers, which to my mind was an entirely reasonable point of view. Reasonableness from the denialists is now something in very short supply. As an experiment, people have posted Andrew’s exact words from 2007 on his own blog and been shredded.

    Anyway, my turning point was Martin Durkin and Counterpoint, a denialist own-goal if ever there was one.

  63. meski

    SO what did I say in my comment that made it get left in the moderation pile??

  64. kdkd

    Generally the problem is not what you do, it’s what other people and their governments do. So it’s about changing culture so that the problem behaviours change themselves. The only important thing about your own actions is that you can promote a cultural change. Going dead against your (and especially other people’s) biological instincts is not going to make a difference, and could well be counterproductive. The key is to work out how to push these instincts in the right direction via cultural change.

  65. Sophie Black

    Thanks for this fantastic discussion everyone, we’re going to feature some of your comments in the email today — really great stuff.

  66. Malcolm Street

    Stephen @ 45 – not being a troll.

    Obviously the most effective mitigating action any of us in the developed world coudl do would be to kill ourselves, especially if before reproducing. The old joke slogan “Save the planet, kill yourself” starts to sound less funny.

    BTW, you’re coming over very much like a survivalist, albeit from a left rather than right perspective.

  67. Evan Beaver

    Stephen, while I think it’s mostly good to advocate the old ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ ideal, doing crazy things like not drinking wine will not really fix the problem. If we start playing the ‘luxury items’ game then a lot of things are off the agenda pretty quickly, and for naff-all benefit. How much difference to Australia’s emissions would it make if we all stopped drinking wine? Almost zero.

    What we need to do is stop burning coal. That’s it. If we can do that the problem is solved. I care less and less how this is achieved, but it really has to be the main goal. How can we? Well, personal sacrifice doesn’t make a lick of difference. There’s almost a million customers who have signed up for voluntary action through Greenpower and Australia’s emissions keep on rising. So the decision really has to come from the top down. Which it isn’t.

    As mentioned elsewhere in Crikey, expect to see a lot more direct action in cming years.

  68. Stephen Moreland

    Malcolm @ 35 said “Stephen @ 19 – an interesting and thought-provoking list of things to do, but “Decided not to breed?” is the odd one out. All the other measures help the situation if everyone does it, but deciding “not to breed” if everyone did it would by definition lead to the certain extinction of humanity. Move to a world-wide (and start in Australia) two-child policy by all means (which in practice would lead to a gradual reduction in population), but someone needs to have kids for the species to continue.”

    and kdkd @ 41 said “A worldwide two child policy would cause a halving of human population within about three or four generations. A no child policy would alienate the brownies and some greenies extremely, so as far as dud policy ideas go, this one which forces people to go right against their biological instincts, where a more user friendly policy is just as effective is a dud.”

    Again, I’m not advocating any policy changes. My list is a spontaneous jumble of things that might have made a difference if the vast majority of humans had done them for the last 20 years. My honest opinion is that the horse has bolted regarding mitigating the effects of anthropogenic climate change. The bird has flown. That bridge too far is crossed. The merde has hit the Mistral. We are in deep schtung.

    Specific inspiration for the inclusion of “don’t breed” came from a New Scientist article, 15 November 2008 – Can I Recycle Window Envelopes, And Other Dumb Eco-questions. The last question in the article was “What is the single most effective thing I can do for the environment?” The answer: “Over a 75-year lifespan, the average European will be responsible for 900 tonnes of CO2 emissions. For Americans and Australians, the figure is more like 1,500 tonnes. Add to that all of humanity’s other environmentally damaging activities and, draconian as it may sound, the answer must surely be to avoid reproducing.”

    Really, go and have as many kids as you like. The only people you’ll be hurting is them.

    For those of us who have kids, now that mitigation is futile, the priority is adaptation. We’ll have to teach our children to expect less, do more for themselves and be tough as buggery. My children will be able to grow their own vegies, fix anything mechanical, barter for things they can’t grow, etc. They’ll start their lives in a house that is designed from the ground down (yes, that means underground) to operate without connection to services.

    My post was essentially about the intertwined failure of our selfish genes and our system of government – a system that simply wasn’t designed to cope with a problem of this enormity.

    Does anyone think any political party would be stupid enough to try taking a birth control policy to the electorate, here or anywhere else that people are lucky enough to vote?

  69. Michael Wilbur-Ham

    Venice #43 You say “If we cannot .. force our politicians to act wisely..”

    If the people vote for politicians who say they will do unwise things, how can we force our politicians to do something different?

    Surely the only answer is to lobby for voters to elect wise people. And when it comes to climate change, that rules out Liberal and Labor.

  70. Neil Walker - MediaMook

    Haven’t had my “oh shit” moment on climate change yet. But if Andrew Bolt suddenly admits he’s wrong, we’re all going to die.

  71. Venise Alstergren

    Mine was a gradual Oh shit moment. Seeing the moronic greed of mining companies and how if someone strikes a new mining site the first comments being “Let’s flog it off to America”. Implications being better to sell overseas than retain for our own future use. The greedy politicians my parents knew who accepted kick-backs, ate and drank everyone else’s food and wine, and giving nothing back.

    Year and years ago the Sun newspaper announcing the Mum of the year and her seventeen, twenty, fourteen kids. The Catholics who would fight for the right-to-life for people who were living as vegetables, the relentless statistics of the upward curve and encouragement of life expectancy. The populate or perish mentality. The treatment by farmers of their land. The if it moves, shoot it mentality. The belief that quantity of life is more important than the quality of life.

    Finally my first time in Patagonia and an awesome glacier in Chile and people showing me where previous scientists had marked the height of it since it had been first discovered. Subsequent levels having dropped markedly.

    The deserts in Iran, Syria and Jordan, where, oh those many thousands of years ago, there had been lush vegetation.

    Too many people reproducing constantly. The mentality of various religions where virility of the male was celebrated by the amount of children the unfortunate wives were forced to bear.

    History being repeated over and over again, the realization of the earth not being able to recover continued abuse. Finally, the f/uck-witedness of mankind.

    If we cannot control our birth-rate, cannot force our politicians to act wisely, continue to belch toxic glug and shit into the air, we are quite literally F U C K E D.

    What a legacy!

  72. Stephen Moreland

    Evan @ 23 said “Hang on Stephen. Why is wine off the agenda? That’s a very serious statement. As far as I know, good wine is not irrigated and grown in pretty marginal soil. Why is it a Greenhouse contributor?”

    Firstly, I’m not advocating any agenda with the list that just span off the top of my head. I mentioned wine for a couple of reasons. According to a 2006 or so article written by Keith Austin in the Good Living section of the Sydney Morning Herald, it takes 1000 litres of water to produce one litre of wine. I got the impression he was quoting CSIRO figures. That sounded horrific to me. I don’t know what percentage of vineyards in Australia are irrigated, but on my occasional trips through the expansive Coonawarra I’ve noticed black PCV pipes snaking through mile upon mile of vines. I might cheekily ask what percentage of the wine grown here is “good” wine? And when you describe soil as marginal in Australia, you’re probably talking about land that could do with every drop of rain that falls on it. If that drop isn’t lucky enough to be soaked up by a vine root and sent to London as Hardy’s Chateau Cardboard, it will percolate down to the aquifer for storage until we really need it. Another factor re the wine industry is that hoary old chestnut – ‘special industries’ that need special attention. Here in SA, we have container deposit legislation. Every beer bottle, choccy milk carton, Boooooost water bottle are all worth 10 cents if you get off your arse and return them. Oddly enough, wine bottles and casks, and unflavoured milk containers don’t attract a deposit or consequent refund. Apparently the wine and dairy industries were too ‘price sensitive’ to cope with a deposit. Which is lobbyist talk for ‘touch us and we’ll burn you at the next election’, don’t you think?

    More responses to other comments coming up.

  73. kdkd

    Stephen #19

    A worldwide two child policy would cause a halving of human population within about three or four generations. A no child policy would alienate the brownies and some greenies extremely, so as far as dud policy ideas go, this one which forces people to go right against their biological instincts, where a more user friendly policy is just as effective is a dud.

  74. paddy

    While I’ve had a number of Oh Shit moments, notably listening to James Lovelock, talking to Phillip Adams on LNL.

    My most memorable gasp was caused by this website.

    It sort of brings Lovelock’s predictions on population growth (The *real* cause of CC.) into very sharp focus.

  75. Tom McLoughlin

    Oh yeah like the Donkey in Animal Farm, another depressing thought. If this all goes badly, then there will be a metric reminiscent of the convict days 200 years ago – when people decide those who have gone before us were the lucky ones. It’s a shuddering thought.

  76. Tom McLoughlin

    My oh shit moment? Pardon the egocentric response: – might have been when I thought I was going to die alone in a hostel in Lae PNG after not eating or sleeping, the odd vomit, for 6 days and 5 nights – until I realised it was malaria (Pl. vivox) and I needed to go to hospital quick. A guy in a truck pulled over and gave me 20 toya I looked so pitiful (ha ha, talk about role reversal).

    Might have been when I crab walked on 45 degree slope above a crevasse on hard ice next to Mt Aspiring at 6 am on my first ascent out of climbing school, with the crampons sinking one mm deep, and no rope. Oh shit, I thought to myself.

    Might have been when I was about to turn right on green arrow just south of Taylor’s Square and an old station wagon at 80 km ran the red light coming at me from the opposite direction. I turned away on instinct, a split second either way.

    Might have been when the surf boat flipped at our first carnival competition at Jan Juc in 1981, moved there because the surf was too big at Torquay!

    Oh … you mean climate change. Well I saw this in intuitive terms as excessive humanity fouling their nest in 1982 doing my HSC considering what was ‘a good life’. Talk about earnest. I saw this in terms of climate change apocalypse in mid 2007, standing off the issue knowing it had many other greenie hands to the wheel already and reading the Hansen hammer blow reluctantly.

    By the way the ‘ten years to turn this around’ is a typical rhetorical gesture of the mainstream green movement and others. It usually means those in their current jobs as govt, industry and greenocrats can’t be measured for accountability in their effectiveness or failures “for ten years” so they can continue in their career, rather than any biophyiscal objective metric. I stopped believing in “only ten years left” after the Keating/Howard Govt implemented 20 year old growth forest logging corporate welfare from 1997 onwards.

    That was my campaign and I lost big time. And climate looks about 1000 times harder than that.

  77. kdkd

    Nick #29

    I don’t see how viticulture can be especially greenhouse expensive except that wine is purely a luxury product. Regarding red (hooved) meat, I agree entirely. I’ll eat a hooved animal less than 10 times per year, and kangaroo once every week or two. I restrict sea food to fast growing and fast reproducing invertebrates or small fish species.

    I guess my oh shit moment was whenever I realised that the only thing that can possibly make any difference is coherehent and coordinated policy on an international level, and that idividual action can’t really make the slightest bit of difference (except as a way of promoting an alternative to the consumption culture).

  78. Nick of McEwen

    Michael @ 34, I certainly agree that policy action by governments, and not voluntary action by individuals, is the way to have an impact. I think personal action is important though, especially for people like yourself who are politically active. What personal action does is remove a very important potential criticism of your work – that you’re a hypocrite. Punters will always conflate individual and large scale political action on some level, so being able to back up whatever you’re preaching with practise is a much better position to be in than trying to defend your car use or air conditioner as inconsequential.

  79. chupachup

    Stephen Moreland
    Great post but surely you have confused your former with your latter. I have yet to see any government choose principle/social equity/sacrifice/effort (the former)over self-interest/consumerism/fear/convenience (the latter). But they surely do give the former lip service… mealy-mouthed, Wong-style lip service.

  80. Evie

    The biggest “Oh Shit” moment for me has come from reading these comments and learning about others’ Oh Shit moments.

    I’m not as knowledgeable as I would like to be on the science behind climate change but it doesn’t take a genius to notice the increased occurence of extreme and catastrophic weather events, not to mention the prolonged droughts and extreme temperatures during the summertime. As someone mentioned further upthread the fallout from Hurricane Katrina felt like a horrible vision of things to come.

  81. Malcolm Street

    Stephen @ 19 – an interesting and thought-provoking list of things to do, but “Decided not to breed?” is the odd one out. All the other measures help the situation if everyone does it, but deciding “not to breed” if everyone did it would by definition lead to the certain extinction of humanity. Move to a world-wide (and start in Australia) two-child policy by all means (which in practice would lead to a gradual reduction in population), but someone needs to have kids for the species to continue.

    Tee @ 17 – prosecuting corporate criminals is not “fascism”. Exxon in particular, rather than adapting to a changing world as say BP at least is giving lip service to, has been backing greenhouse denial initiatives for all it is worth. If, as is the overwhelming scientific consensus, AGW is real and we have serious effects from it Exxon will have had a role in delaying action and making the problem worse, affecting the entire planet. We’ve seen this behaviour before with tobacco and asbestos companies: delay, delay, delay, do anything to cast doubt on the science, pay to have your own dodgy studies done to make it appear there are two sides, and use the time to get your assets out of the way of litigation and give time for your plaintiffs to die. The way the senior managament and board of James Hardie got away (literally) with murder is a disgrace.

    [email protected] – note also that the Victorian bushfires and the one that hit Canberra in 2003 were in speed and ferocity totally unprecedented and have required major rethinks in how we react to and fight fires. The new category in bushfire danger warnings is another indication that we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

  82. Michael Wilbur-Ham

    My most recent “Oh Shit” moment was when I thought about “Whose fault is climate change?”, and realized that even those working towards preventing climate change have missed the point.

    Preventing climate change requires major changes. Changes so big that they can only be done by government. Doing things in our own lives to limit emissions might make us feel better, but it will not save the planet.

    Everyone seems to have forgotten that we live in a democracy. And overall, we know what our elected representatives will do when we vote for them, and in power they do not differ too much from these expectations.

    For the last twenty years the Australian people have voted for politicians who have been committed to NOT taking major action. Of course Rudd had lots of spin in the last election, but it was clear that he was not going to take real action. (I followed this closely as I was a candidate for the Greens in the last election (this is a personal post – not a Greens post)).

    Now Rudd is lobbied by the ‘do more’ and the ‘do less’ sides, and unfortunately he has swayed to the ‘do less’ side slightly. But it was always clear that he was never going to take the HUGE steps needed to do our part to keep warming below 2 degrees.

    Global warming is almost a certainty because most of Australia have voted for politicians committed to doing nothing. It is not Rudd (or Howard’s) fault. In a democracy it is the people’s fault.

    My latest “Oh shit” moment was when I realized that most people don’t even realize that it is their fault, and that most “Green” lobby groups are still focused on trying to get Rudd to change his mind.

    Not only has the last ten years proven that this is ineffective. But it is actually anti-democratic.

    The only way that Australia will play its part is if the Australian people elect politicians who are committed to implementing the huge changes needed. Whether people vote for The Greens or ‘Fascists for real action on climate change’ does not matter as far as the planet is concerned.

    Everyone who votes Liberal, Labor or National condemns Australia to continue to lead the world in spin and inaction.

    Yet most of the effort of the lobby groups continues to be the ineffectual “make a difference in your own life” and “lets try and get Rudd to do a little better”.

    Next election it is certain that over 80% of Australian’s will vote for parties committed to not doing enough to prevent global warming. So from Australia’s part, even though it is technically and economically possible to save the planet, we will not do so.

    Given the ineffective lobbying and the fact that the Australian people do not even recognize that THEY are at fault, politically it is now almost certain that global warming is locked in.

    That is my big “Oh shit, we a f***ed.”

  83. EnergyPedant

    Stephen 19 great comments.

    One the point about sacrifice, lifestyle reduction, etc… That was an issue in the states in the 70s during the oil price spikes. However the Republicans managed to convince most people that conservation is unpatriotic and any contemplation of reduction in consumption is a weakness (possibly caused by pot smoking and homosexuality).

    The electorate can’t handle being told how short-sighted, selfish, etc… they are. Australians like being told how great we are and really don’t like being told the hard truths.

  84. Malcolm Street

    Not so much an “oh sh*t” moment, but two continuing “oh sh*t” phenomena.

    The first is the extraordinary coverage and credibility given to the climate change denial lobby. What it resembles most IMHO is the anti-vaccination lobby in its rejection of reputable scientific consensus and promotion of ratbag alternative explanations and conspiracy theories. The difference is that rather than the occasional op-ed article, the climate change denial lobby has a presence in the Australian debate out of all proportion to its objective credibility or even public support. In particular that means you, News Ltd, with The Australian so compromised that the science blog Deltoid has a series “the Australian’s war on science part XXX”, while the biggest selling papers in our two largest cities have Bolt and Ackermann pushing this crap. Mind you, Miranda Devine flies the flag at Fairfax.

    I really have to wonder whether the Montreal protocol (which reduced use of CFCs to save the ozone layer) would have gotten up so easily these days. There seems to be a very post-modern assumption now that journalistic balance means that both sides have to represented, however crazy and unsupported one of them is. When you’re dealing with the physical sciences this is a very dangerous and erroneous development.

    The second is the elephant in the room – world population growth. After the Roman Catholic church and some Muslim nations sabotaged the Cairo Population Summit in 1996, no-one is game to go near this, but continued growth is the one thing that can undo every other measure we undertake. It’s not good enough to say that third world populations use much less per capita at present than those of us in the developed world – at some stage their standard of living and with it energy consumption will have to rise. China found themselves looking down the barrel of a gun re. being able to feed itself and had to adopt the drastic one-child policy. But they’re officially athiest – can you see say the Philipines doing anything similar given the power of the Church and the latter’s genocidal attitude to condoms and AIDS in Africa?

    As for Australia, the baby bonus is insane and boasting about our record population growth when the nation’s infrastructure (notably water) and *all* infrastructure in Sydney is at breaking point is cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. There seems to be an obsession with keeping numbers up to pay retirement benefits in the long term when we don’t have the funds to provide for the population in the short and medium term. Is the fact that the former is a Commonwealth responsibility and the latter that of the states a clue?

  85. john2066

    Yes, the skeptics are right.

    The silly 500+ people who died from heatshock in the Melbourne heatwave in January are just trying to panic us. The 47 degree day we had on Black Saturday, smashing all previous records by a huge margin, was just a trick by the air temperature to make us believe in global warming.

    Thank god the skeptics can see past science, logic, and the death toll in front of their face to hold firm to their well thought out position.

  86. Mark Duffett

    **speaking of irony…

  87. Nick of McEwen

    kdkd @23

    I don’t think his point about red meat, air con etc, wine etc has anything to do with their luxury status. It has to do with the horrendous amounts of CO2 or other greenhouse gases that they produce. I don’t know about wine but I do know about meat.

    My oh shit moment came when I watched James Hansen explaining how the life cycle of producing red-meat for human consumption means that we’re more or less all going to hell. The combination of deforestation of land for agriculture, inefficient use of huge amounts of grain and water to rear animals, the unbelievable amounts of methane that the stock themselves produce, and the CO2 associated with killing, cooling and transporting them is a nightmarish cocktail. I’ve been vegetarian for 7 months and I hope I will be for the rest of my life. I realise that going vegan would be even better, but you have to draw the line somewhere. For those who can stand to be vegan, good on you. If you couldn’t bear to give up meat, try to halve your intake, or only eat it when you’re out for dinner. It all counts.

  88. Pete WN

    Mine came from watching Hurricane Katrina and the situation unfolding at the Super-Bowl stadium. Sure, I’d been aware of CC since primary school in the 80s, but that was the first time I really felt a) the predictions of Extreme Weather Events are truly happening, and b) this is what the breakdown of society will look like. It seemed a vision of things to come.

    Stephen Moreland summed it up pretty well. I – like most westerners – will continue to travel, eat meat, drive to work, when possible invest in ‘good stocks’ like Wesfarmers (which does well from coal) and own a house in the burbs. I will also bemoan the lack of action on CC. A big price dis-incentive stop the above would help.

  89. Mark Duffett

    Stephen @ 22, I suspect some irony in your appreciation of my avatar, in that you may not entirely hold with this map’s main raison d’etre. I’ll buy you a beer* if you can work out what the colours in the map actually represent. Hint: green does not indicate vegetation, or political affiliation.

    *next time you’re in Hobart

  90. Cathy Gayle

    “Climate change may be less than predicted. But equally it may occur more quickly than the present computer models suggest. Should this happen it would be doubly disastrous were we to shirk the challenge now. I see the adoption of these policies as a sort of premium on insurance against fire, flood or other disaster. It may be cheaper or more cost-effective to take action now than to wait and find we have to pay much more later.” Margaret Thatcher, 1990

    I agreed with Maggie – Oh Shit!

  91. kdkd

    Evan #23

    Well, wine is a luxury product, and I think Stephen’s point is that luxury products like red meat, free ducted air conditioning, suburban adventure vehicles and wine should be rationed. The problem is almost certainly not with the co2 from fermentation, but the fossil fuel energy used to fertilise it, harvest it, brew it and distribute it, versus it’s actually necessity for our survival.

  92. meski

    The realisation that none of this is going to happen in time? It really isn’t. So what’s the so-called ‘Plan B’ for what we do to deal with not meeting these carbon limitations?

  93. kdkd

    michael james #18

    You should get over to the climate change cage match comments page ( ) and post some ignorant drivel there, so that I can put you in your place with a combination of vitriol, abuse and actual data analysis showing that your position is intellectually bankrupt.

  94. Mark Duffett

    [email protected]:37 Fermentation?

  95. evidently


    Well I’m with the other stephen’s post at 1.09pm.

    I too agree with the run away train ref. from Jared Diamond, but I also read an earlier book by him (the rise and fall of the third chimpanzee) whereupon he assembles from the things that distinguish us as humans, theories as to the possible advantage they have given us; the two that I can remember, was that human females do not signal oestrus to males – ie. the time that they are most fertile; and secondly that we appear to be uniquely successful suicides, both at the individual and societal level.
    O Shee it.

    Bertrand Russell was said to have his theories of rational utility shaken after being in a tube station and witnessing soldiers, with their prostitutes, girlfriends or wives all crazed drunk, despairing and reckless. He had supposed to that point that people liked money better than anything, but now believed they liked destruction even more (John Gray – Straw Dogs).

  96. Evan Beaver

    Hang on Stephen. Why is wine off the agenda? That’s a very serious statement. As far as I know, good wine is not irrigated and grown in pretty marginal soil. Why is it a Greenhouse contributor?

  97. john2066

    It just really annoys me the lengths people will go to panic us about climate change.

    A good example were the 500 plus people who insisted on dying of heat stress in Melbourne during the unprecedented January heatwave. This is a typical clever tactic of the climate alarmists – have an incredible heatwave, then ‘snuff it’ to panic the rest of us.

    I would really like to give their corpses a real talking to.

    Another thing that annoyed was the all time record temperature of 47 degrees on Black Saturday in February here (smashing the previous record by a huge amount). Again, you can see what the air temperature is doing here – increasing itself deliberately to feed hysteria about higher temperatures.

    I salute the wise and sober skeptics who aren’t swayed by science, logic or the deaths and destruction in front of their faces.

    We really owe you one guys! Lets hope you get the feedback you deserve!!!

  98. Stephen Moreland

    Thank you Mark. And thank you for flashing your little map of Tassie. Good to see there are still some green bits left.

    @michael james “Until you can produce results of research that are replicable outside your own lab or computer model, the science is not proven.” Hmmm, seems to me that the only way to test climate models outside lab would be to find another small, mostly harmless, blue green planet revolving at just the right distance from a not too big not too small star.

  99. Mark Duffett

    I hereby nominate Stephen Moreland’s contribution for the award of Crikey Blog Post Of The Year.

    Seriously, Stephen, I reckon you should send this to [email protected] and see if it can get a run in the main Crikey e-mail. It deserves wider circulation. Thank you for your candour and your insight.

  100. stephen

    My oh sh!t moments keep coming, every time I watch news bulletins (except on Crikey). I suspect business, government and the media have an unspoken agreement that scaring the cattle will be bad for business.
    I think Diamond got it right with his run away train analogy, when he talks about the collapse of previous civilisations. Too many entrenched behaviours, too many vested interests.
    Have you ever seen how enraged stressed people get over little things like parking spaces and red lights? Imagine when the stakes are for survival.

  101. Stephen Moreland

    My oh shit moment came very recently. I’ve been convinced of the reality of anthropogenic climate change since the mid-80s, but it was another issue, just last week, that made me start thinking that we, and the planet that supports us, haven’t got a hope in hell.

    My partner decided to enrol her child (from a previous relationship) in a non-government school. My partner is a Green, left thinking on all issues, assertive feminist public servant. So, you can probably understand my dismay at her deciding to support the concept of a two-tier, elite v the rest, education system. Admittedly it’s a Montessori school (the Toyota Prius of private school options) but still… To make things even more amazing, although the Montessori school is close, the local primary school is half the distance. I was stunned. She admitted that if she didn’t have a child, she’d be maintaining her principled belief – which I hold – that elite education is bad for society. But, she explained, “I’m not going to send a child of mine to a school like that if I can possibly avoid it”.

    When it comes to climate change, the choices between positive action and business as usual are clear, but I bet most people, even the people posting here, aren’t willing to make the many, seemingly hard, changes to their lives that we really need ALL people on the planet to make. Have you given up hooved red meat? Wine and dairy products? Driving to work? Plans for that trip to Europe or Bali with the kids next year? Products from overseas? The dream of a beach house? Signed up to certified Green Power? Moved your superannuation over to an ethical fund? Decided not to breed? I bet you’ve not done half of those things. Do you think we can reduce co2 levels without considering doing the above? The truth is, if we are going to keep atmospheric carbon levels below a catastrophic level, you, me, and every one of the 6.8 million other buggers here should have started doing those things 20 years ago. Oh, shit.

    The lesson I’ve learned is clear: when it comes to a choice between principle/social equity/sacrifice/effort versus self-interest/consumerism/fear/convenience, most people choose the former. Nations and governments choose the former. Obviously businesses, corporations, special interest groups (i.e. unions) choose the former. You might find a politician or two who might lip-sync support for the latter, but not at election time. Oh, shit.

    In fact, in the political sphere, we don’t even have a language suitable to seriously debate short term self-interest and long term shared well-being. Have you heard Krudd or the Wongster mention the word “sacrifice”, or the phrase “changing our life styles and expectations”, or “live simply, so others (including non-vertebrates and plankton) can simply live”? They know that the ideas simply would be incomprehensible to the electorate, which has been born and raised on the (false) expectation of more more more and right now, thank you very much. How would a political party go to an election as “Things are bound to get worse, but slightly less worse, under us”? Do you think cool Todd from The Gruen Transfer could sell the idea of Gandhi or David Suzuki as a pin-up boy to the X-Box generation via a stunning Labor Party TV ad campaign? Shit, yeah.

    Homo sapiens are genetically and socio-politically incapable of weighing up long term versus short term and choosing long term. We’re not bred to think and act any further ahead than one generation. We can’t help ourselves from wanting more.

    So the reality is this: We will experience runaway climate change. There will be mass extinctions. There will be millions, if not billions, of environmental refugees. In the end, it doesn’t matter what school one sweet four year old boy goes to next year, as long as I teach him the really important stuff – how to survive in a much harsher world.

  102. michael james

    Mine came when I saw statements like “the science is proven” and “the evidence is in”, despite reputable scientists still questioning the analysis of the IPCC and their supporters.

    Until you can produce results of research that are replicable outside your own lab or computer model, the science is not proven. The mess over claims of cold fusion are a perfect example.

    It seems on this subject orthodoxy and belief in pronunciations from an anointed group of individuals trumps the power of scientific enquiry and the need for demonstrable proof.

    When I realised that on this subject we seem to have reverted to a period before the enlightenment and all its benefits, that is when I truly went ‘Oh shit!”.

  103. tee

    My Oh shit moment came when I heard James Hansen, the father of the so-called global warming movement suggest that non believers and the executives of coal companies “should be tried for crimes against humanity”.

    It was then that I realized that, although I am concerned with the long term effects of AGW, we were seeing a fascist, totalitarian movement with its leader slink out of the shadows and begin talking like a true fascist. The only thing missing was the uniform.

  104. Mark Duffett

    @Matt B: That reminds me of my other ‘oh sh!t’ moment; the day it was brought home to me (possibly by Brian Fisher when he was still at ABARE) what the sheer scale of development going on in China and India is, and how the emissions from this (just from concrete production, let alone coal burning etc) would swamp mitigation efforts in the West.

    @HelenMac: There are good reasons to read The Road, but getting an insight into our real-world environmental predicament isn’t one of them. McCarthy doesn’t even try to build in even a vaguely scientifically plausible explanation for his scenario.

    @Evan B: Yes, as I said, the sort of measures seen in serious wartime. Not that, as several here have said, this is likely to happen.

    Which reminds me; @Scott Grant, politicians ‘lead’ us, but we’re ‘led’ by them.

  105. SuprF1y

    No snow in Alaska, no surf in Sydney.

  106. cpds

    For me the moment came 2-3 years ago when I first started to look closely at what was being said about the science of climate change. I had been fairly well aware of the issue since the late 1980s, and had taken it as given that greenhouse emissions would be likely to trigger global warming. However study of the debate more recently has showed that we really don’t know enough about the complexities of climate systems to know what is going on or what we should do about it – ‘Uncertain science’ on my web-site illustrates the problem
    My suspicion is that humanity needs to reduce its environmental footprint generally, and that trying to ‘pick winners’ (eg reducing greenhouse emissions) is unlikely to be adequate

  107. Evan Beaver

    Hooray, Mark is baiting me from thread to thread! I don’t want a 15 year approval, but it’s what it will take. Making that less will require granting someone some pretty serious executive powers, which will make a mockery of our democracy.

  108. thirdborn314

    For me it was when the baby bonus was introduced – we were taking short showers to conserve water, meanwhile the government was trying to increase our population – this demonstrated the priority placed on climate change by governement. The recent increased population forecasts have been welcomed by government and economists, another demonsration of their priorities in the face of dwindling resources. I guess I shouldn’t worry, apparently God will provide ….

  109. fredex

    We live on a cliff top overlooking a 4-5 square km wetland backwater of the River Murray.
    Been here most weekends and holidays for 10-12 years then permanently for the last 7.

    The wetland is now gone, probably never to re appear. It one of 80 wetlands between Lock 9 on the river and the Lakes. All but one have been dry for more than 3 years.
    Over irrigation along the river.

    And this:
    “A three-year collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO has confirmed what many scientists long suspected: that the 13-year drought is not just a natural dry stretch but a shift related to climate change.

    Scientists working on the $7 million South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative say the rain has dropped away because the subtropical ridge – a band of high pressure systems that sits over the country’s south – has strengthened over the past 13 years.”

    Its been a series of “Oh shit’ for years here.

  110. HelenMac

    My Oh Shit moment was the evening I read The Road by Cormack McCarthy in one sitting.

  111. Matt B

    I’ll admit it. I’m still not totally sold. I want to be! Honestly! But I’m just not.

    That said I have had an ‘oh shit’ moment of my own. It was mostly in regards to the global security implications. Either way it would seem that the consequences of climate change (if the worst case scenario’s are on the ball) have us proper screwed. If it happens bad, China and India will likely go to war – simple equation of living space and too many people. However it seems there is no way around it without asking these two developing nations to fall on their economic sword… so to speak. And they’ll spit chips over that too.

    There seem to be rather intelligent people on both sides, those saying it is happening and rather badly – and those saying they’re not sure so hold up for a second.

    Reality is the kind of change that Schellnhuber is going for will not happen. It just wont. So where too from here?

  112. Bogdanovist

    For me it was when I saw a talk given at Sydney University, when I worked there, by Matthew England, a climate scientist from UNSW. It was research seminar aimed at the level of a an audience trained at some level in physics, so he was able to go into more details than a general public lecture would allow. This meant the audience was able to really probe at the methodology and look carefully at the details. There was no great emotion or ‘alarmism’ in the talk, just a presentation of the evidence, with a particular focus on Australian conditions. There were at least a few “oh Shit!” moments that day.

    Previous to that I certainly wasn’t in the no worries camp (I hate the terms ‘denialist’ or ‘skeptic’, the first is unhelpful in its hyperbole and the second is a misappropriation of the word), but I had held out at least a hope that we were going wrong in the analysis or modelling somewhere. It was the crushing of that hope leaving only the even more remote hope that politicians will save us that was the really disturbing thing.

  113. shell

    Mine was while studying a uni course from USQ called Communication & the Environment – in 1996. We had to read Charles Birch’s book – Confronting the Future and I remember just sitting there and crying at how hopeless it was and that hardly anybody seemed to care or even realise.

    It seems that finally they do – but it sure took a while and hopefully not too late.

  114. Altakoi

    I think it was the GFC, which meant to me that we had squandered the last burst of real economic growth the world is ever going to see on wankers in yachts and enormous houses. Now we would have to fix everything while everything is also falling apart. Reading Gwyn Dyers “The Climate Wars” was a confirmation of this OS moment.

  115. Scott Grant

    My own attitiudes shifted from “this will happen some time in the next hundred or so years”, to “this will happen in my lifetime”, to “this IS happening”, over a period of a couple of decades.

    I came to the conclusion about five years ago that nothing effective will be done before the sh*t hits the hurricane. Hell, five years ago Climate Change was still a fringe topic for nutters like me. Maybe that is one disadvantage of having had an education in science.

    About five years ago, I had an “Oh Shit” moment when I read a piece by James Hansen. He was determined to be optimistic by saying that we could still save the planet from catastrophe, but we had about 10 years to act. That’s when I realised we are stuffed.

    The big shift in public awareness seemed to happen with Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”. Suddenly people were talking about it, and even some journalists, those not in the pay of Rupert Murdoch, seemed to gain some dim awareness.

    But pollies will be pollies. We are “lead” but a bunch of appallingly ignorant, gutless wimps, who have demonstrated by their actions that they, still, do not “get it”. But I expected no better. I pity those who have children.

  116. Mark Duffett

    For me one was Barry Brook’s pointing out that a first order characterisation of climate change is a poleward shift of climate bands by a few hundred kilometres, and that this would give my hometown of Adelaide something like the climate of Leigh Creek within a century. This is far from the only reason I now live in Tasmania (not to , but it’s in the mix.

    The other was when CSIRO brought out their first high-resolution climate projections specific to individual regions in Australia. A few of my work colleagues and I looked at them in silence for a while, then one said, ‘This place will be unlivable’. We were in Alice Springs at the time.

    “Hans’ suggestion to push past that rising “Oh Shit” feeling and avert paralysis? “War-time mobilisation.”” Exactly, which is why people who say we need fifteen years to even start ramping up nuclear power production (hi, Evan!) are full of, well, shit. If only we could take the problem sufficiently i.e. World War II-variety seriously, we can do a hell of a lot better than that.

  117. wyane

    Like Evan, I followed the coverage in New Scientist regarding the massive release of methane that will follow the retreat of glaciers and ice sheets on land masses in the Arctic circle.
    But my real “oh shit” moment is the the realisation these past 2 years or so that precisely 3 quarters of 4 fifths of bugger all is going to be done by governments, industry and us (collectively) to address CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
    Basically, we’re conducting an experiment where we take the atmosphere back to where it was tens of millions of years ago. There are probably very good reasons that modern humans did not evolve until 200k years ago. One of these is likely to be that the climate was not suitable.
    I’m really not into the whole “survivalist” scene — casting a fishing rod and growing a few tomatoes being as close as I’ve gotten. We need to move towards talking about mitigation, migration, food and water security. We really should have been doing this 20 years ago.
    Oh, and reading James Lovelock interviewed in New Scientist was pretty daunting too … he thinks there will be only 800 million of us left by 2100. Good Luck !

  118. Evan Beaver

    I think mine was probably reading an article in New Scientist talking about the collapse of the Greenland Ice sheet and stopping the gulf stream. I had just started understanding chaos theory and the implications in very big systems.

  119. EnergyPedant

    I saw the long-term rainfall pattern for the bottom corner of WA. Average rainfall in the last 30 or so years is dramatically less than the previous 100+ years of records.

    To met the RET target with Wind a new 2MW turbine has to added every 12 hours.

    A brown coal powerstation with 90% carbon capture will most likely be forced to shut before 2050.

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