Climate prophet tipping for hope

Physicist and climate scientist Bill Hare.

LONG before most people had heard the term climate change, physicist and climate scientist Bill Hare was looking for solutions.

A graduate of Murdoch University, Dr Hare worked on the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the 2015 Paris Agreement, and was a lead author of the landmark 2007 IPCC fourth assessment report that brought the issue to broad public consciousness.

Today he holds some hope that even as several looming tipping points threaten abrupt and irreversible environmental damage, “there’s also positive tipping points: We’ve seen that with the decline of renewable energy costs.

“We’re seeing abrupt, rapid declines in the cost of these technologies, which is starting to cause an economic tipping point where it’s no longer profitable to run old coalfired power stations in many places,” especially if governments cease heavily subsidising fossil fuels, he notes.

Unstoppable

“We’re seeing a tipping point approaching for cars where it’s thought that within another five years or so, it won’t make much sense to buy a new combustion engine car” as electrics overtake them.

His hope is those beneficial tipping points are reached before the harmful ones, such as the abrupt disintegration of the western Antarctic ice sheet which could create unstoppable sea level rise, or the tipping point for the Amazon where more drying and less rainfall could lead to runaway collapse of the rainforest. 

Dr Hare is speaking at the upcoming event Tipping Point: A Call to Climate Action at the WA Museum Boola Bardip, and says there are still actions individuals can take.

“You need to be talking to your political representatives,” he says. “By email, text, calling their offices, and saying ‘we really need you to step up on this, it’s no longer good enough to be silent’.

“It’s my personal view that this [needs] action at a governmental and industrial scale.

“One thing Covid has demonstrated to me is the limits on personal action.

“You do try to reduce your footprint, but if the larger system isn’t set up properly, it doesn’t help much in the end.”

He says government interventions are vital.

“For Australia it means we need to have the most advanced energy efficiency standards for automobiles. We need to have policies on electric vehicles to support them, we need to have major improvements for our housing efficiency standards so we don’t freeze in winter and boil in summer and have to have our air-conditioning on all times of the year.”

He says people must talk to their MPs, whatever their party, to help counterbalance that other voice in their ears: Industry lobbyists and corporate donors.

“I really don’t believe this is a left or right issue. I’ve worked in Europe and I saw parties of the left and right taking action on climate change.

“You can see that in Australia: Where’s the biggest stuff happening on climate change in Australia? It’s probably in New South Wales, under a conservative government. And where is the least happening? We’re sitting in it, in WA, which has a Labor government.

“WA is a particular place. The resource sector, broadly defined, dominates the political economy of the state. That means what you see [are] politicians who are essentially captured by this industry,” he says, noting recent government decisions to expand the gas industry, while retiring politicians walk into resource industry jobs.

“There’s such a tight bond between resource companies and politicians here… the evidence is before us of the political class moving between resource companies at will.” 

While corporate influence is strong he says individuals contacting MPs is not in vain. “I can tell you it does help. Collectively, it adds up to a movement.” 

With so much of the current mainstream conversation focused on the coronavirus, it will be a challenge to get the public consciousness back to climate change, but Dr Hare says this presents an inroad.

“We’re in a luxury situation in WA for the time being, but I think it does allow debate to occur.” He says now that most people have paid heed to research on coronavirus “what about taking science seriously on climate change.”

As governments have shown they can prop up economies through a health threat, Dr Hare says it can be done for a climate threat too. “Governments have spent an awful lot of money on Covid recovery, and if they put their Covid recovery resources into greening our economies, greening our societies, then we’d go a very long way towards reducing our emissions.”

The talk is on September 9, head to visit.museum.wa.gov.au for tickets.

by DAVID BELL

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