An Act of Negligence

Originally posted on http://www.onlineopinion.com.au 

Climate change is not a new phenomenon, and the dangers it poses to our society have been predicted and forewarned for decades. That’s what laces the tragedies we have seen unfold in the last few years with bitterness and frustration as well as grief. That’s why the question always hangs in the air “Could it have been prevented?”

Scientists have warned politicians and communities for years that we are facing catastrophic changes in our atmosphere that will affect all aspects of our lives if we do not act urgently to prevent it. The last year has seen drought, fire and flood end lives and cripple communities. The correlation between climate change and extreme weather events has been agreed upon by the scientific community, yet climate change still remains a peripheral issue that does not feature strongly in the conversations around the 15 killed in Queensland or the property damage in the Victorian fires or the 1400 people in Pakistan who were killed as the result of massive flooding last year.

It’s a simple question of risk assessment which we seem to be repeatedly failing. All businesses, events, governments, banks, and indeed most institutions that make up the framework of our society make decisions based on risk assessment. They consider the potential loss, potential gain and likelihood of occurrence of particular events and then make a decision that hopefully ensures the chance of a disastrous outcome is low, chance of gain is high and if an undesirable outcome is unavoidable, that it has a relatively low impact and can be successfully mitigated. These are the basic principles that our entire society is based upon. Principles that we completely disregard when it comes to climate change. The rational behind making climate change the “exception” to the normal cautionary decision making process is unclear.

All scientific evidence indicates that climate change is real and happening. It also indicates that the impacts of climate change on every aspect of our lives, if it is not addressed, will be disastrous. Therefore the potential loss encumbered by climate change is devastating, the probability of that loss occurring is also high (and we’re seeing it currently) – simple risk assessment principles mandate that the only reasonable course of action is to concentrate resources and energy into solving the climate crisis.

On the other hand, whilst the potential losses precipitated by climate change (like the lives and livelihoods that are currently being devastated by the natural disaster in Queensland) are significant – the potential gains of solving climate change are similarly enormous.

If climate change is real and happening, clearly the potential gain from resolving the climate crisis is substantial. Not only is disaster adverted, but there seems to be no long term loss – a green economy is developed that is not dependent on a rapidly depleting source of energy, jobs are created and there are numerous other perks like cleaner, healthier air to breathe and the security of having a supply of energy that doesn’t have an imminent expiration date. Aside from the age old short-sightedness that commonly afflicts politicians, simple logic seems to force the conclusion that the only rational thing to do is to urgently work towards a more sustainable society because the risks of not doing so are too great, and the benefits of action are similarly too large an opportunity to pass up.

Logic is compelling, but empathy is surely just as commanding a motivator.

The scenes from Queensland are devastating. A brother dies for another. Numerous individuals – mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters – remain missing and their families remain in anguished uncertainty. Countless homes have been destroyed, memories lost and communities ravaged.

It would be wrong to attribute each and every individual natural disaster to climate change. But it would be naïve to ignore all the scientific evidence that links an increase in these tragedies with global warming. More than naïve, it would be an enormous act of negligence that would perpetuate the suffering we are currently seeing.

When lives hang in the balance of probabilities; surely logic, long-term reasoning and compassion should govern the decisions we make. At least 75 have been killed in Queensland, with extreme weather events occurring from Melbourne to Tasmania to NSW.

There are few certainties in life. And taking risks is unavoidable. But when rational, logical decision making processes all point to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change; to watch tragedies unfold and consistently fail to heed scientific advice is not only short-sighted, but an act of negligence with disastrous ramifications.

Let the recent floods be the last tragedy we watch unfold as a nation before we take action on climate change.

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