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Climate Action – what you can do

Climate action in Australia depends on Federal MPs, who will be watching carefully over the next few months to see where public opinion is heading.

If you’re one of the majority of Australians who support climate action, contact your Federal Member of Parliament and/or the members of the Multi-party Committee on Climate Change (MPCCC) to tell them you support putting a price on carbon pollution.

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Confused about carbon pricing?

Though most details of the Gillard Government’s proposed carbon pricing policy are yet to be decided, public debate is well and truly under way. Activist group Getup is planning a demonstration this Saturday outside Julia Gillard’s offices at Treasury Gardens in Melbourne, to show support for climate action and a clean energy future (see details here).

With all the political posturing on this issue, it is hard to get a clear idea of the actual issues. Here’s our 30 second run down of the key points.

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Gillard eyes carbon price but loses sight of complementary policies

The most worrying aspect of Julia Gillard’s announcement last week of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in funding cuts for climate change policies and programs is not the loss of the programs themselves. Greg Combet has since said that the programs targeted for cuts are ineffective. Even if this is true, it would not justify removing funding from climate change initiatives completely. Instead, the funding should be reallocated to programs that are effective.

Apart from the clear paradox of taking money away from climate change programs to fund recovery from extreme weather events of the very kind that are predicted to increase in frequency with climate change, our worry is that these cuts may reveal an attitude within the Gillard Government that carbon pricing is the silver bullet, and complementary climate change policies are unnecessary.

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Extreme climate costs: the economic case for action

As the clean-up in Queensland begins, the severe economic impact of these floods is becoming clear.  One economist has estimated that the cost could be as much as $13 billion, around 1% of Australia’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The economic impact of these floods will include the slowing or suspending of mining operations which has global implications and affects the price of commodities such as coal and the production of steel, the extreme destruction of infrastructure such as roads, railways and buildings including many homes that will need to be repaired, ruined agricultural operations which will have knock-on effects for the rest of Australia and globally in terms of higher food prices and prices of agricultural products such as cotton, and high levels of cancellations for tourism operators.  Further information on the cost of the Queensland floods can be found in these articles from The Sydney Morning Herald,The Daily Telegraph and The Herald Sun.  See also this incredible interactive before-and-after map on the ABC website to get a good indication of the impact of these floods around Queensland.

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Floods and climate change

Our thoughts this week are with the people affected by the devastating floods in Queensland.  Donations can be made via the Australian Red Cross website and will assist by helping people get through this disaster, and clean up and rebuild once the water subsides.

After a year of extraordinary disasters in Australia and around the world, including these floods, last year’s bushfires in Victoria, record-breaking heat waves and bushfires in Russia and severe wintry weather in Europe to name a few, many people are questioning the link between extreme weather events and climate change.

It is important to remember is that climate change is unlikely to be the sole cause of extreme weather events.  Such events have always been a feature of our natural environment, particularly in Australia.  We have always had floods, droughts, heat waves and bushfires, although sometimes the most extreme events occur many years or decades apart and so we feel like we’re suffering through something new and terrible.  However, climate change predictions do forecast that climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent, more severe and more damaging.

A number of good summaries of the connections between climate change and extreme flooding can be found on the websites of the Climate Action Centre and the Australian Conservation Foundation (see also ACF’s fact sheet).

With some degree of climate change now unavoidable, the Queensland floods demonstrate the urgency of integrating climate change projections into our urban planning and building design processes so we are well prepared to respond to more frequent and severe weather in the future.

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Local markets – healthy, energy efficient and community building

When we think of energy and sustainability issues, we often think first of big polluting power plants, cars and factories.  But we often forget about the ’embodied’ energy in the products we use. That’s the energy required to make the product and transport it to the shop where we buy it, as well as the energy we use getting to the shop itself. And that’s where local markets come in.

Local markets offer a great opportunity to reduce the impact of the products you consume.  You can often walk, cycle or hop on a tram to get to your local market, rather than driving longer distances.  In addition, local markets often sell local produce.  This reduces the distance and thus the amount of energy required to transport the product from the farm – often referred to as ‘food miles’.  Farmers’ markets and ‘slow food’ markets are often the best places to find locally sourced produce. And of course you can always just ask the seller where their produce comes from.  You can also usually find organic and ‘ethical’ produce at local markets, or at least ask the seller directly about a product, where it has come from and how it was produced.

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