Climate change: It's time to go beyond the political

Picture: Alex Ellinghausen
Picture: Alex Ellinghausen

If I never hear the words "climate change" and "global warming" again, it will be too soon.

It's a long time since the words had much to do with the state of our planet and have instead become political batons wielded in a game of competing philosophies.

Want to hear some settled science? We only have one planet. We can't jump on theStarship Enterprise and warp nine it off to the nearest friendly space colony.

We have to stick around and look after this one, but somewhere along the line, instead of being united in our cause to look after the only home we have, we have splintered into tribes squabbling over competing slogans.

How can something so simple have become so muddied?

Human beings not only have a responsibility to walk as lightly on the Earth as we can, but we are also in the position to be able to do something about protecting the habitats of so many other species.

The problem, of course, is that politics and money have become tangled up in the issue and complicated the heck out it.

You don't need to be a climate scientist to figure out that there is a finite amount of the fossil fuels and minerals we currently rely on. We know we need to find alternatives. Likewise, we know that the current options for renewable resources are not entirely up to snuff when it comes to providing reliable base load power.

With the federal election campaign in full swing, we are going to hear a lot of promises, buck-passing and competing philosophies. There is little chance that any of the major parties will come together and make this an issue beyond politics.

How can something so simple have become so muddied? Human beings not only have a responsibility to walk as lightly on the Earth as we can, but we are also in the position to be able to do something about protecting the habitats of so many other species.

It's frustrating because at any one time, we only ever have half a discussion.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten announces a big push on electric cars and the government pounce on it, pointing out why it won't work and the slinging match begins.

The problem is that both are a bit right and a bit wrong.

Take Mr Shorten's announced goal of massively boosting the current levels of electric cars being used in Australia.

It's a good idea in theory, but the devil is in the details. Indeed, there's a whole flock of devils in the details.

Electric cars, as they exist today, are not good enough to replace the current crop of combustion engine-powered vehicles and how a massive fleet of cars needing constant recharging would be rolled out and maintained has not even been considered.

There are a heck of a lot of complications and that's just on the issue of electric cars. Let's face it, Mr Shorten used the issue to appeal to voters' environmental concerns. He hasn't got a clue how to make it work. Of course, the government doesn't either.

But wouldn't it be refreshing to see that instead of trying to buy "green" votes with undeliverable promises, the two sides of the House could come together and start talking about sensible solutions.

Australia has always punched above its weight when it comes to scientific research. So how about, instead of silly squabbling about the science of climate change, we start looking for ways to solve some of the practical issues that are standing between our nation and revolutionary change?

I'd love to see the establishment of a research fund that deals with sensible, practical solutions that can make massive worldwide change. We know there are issues with, for example, the length of time it takes to charge an electric car battery, how far that charge will get you and even what to do with the old batteries when they've reached the end of their useful life.

Solving these issues will have long-reaching and global implications. There may not be much political mileage, but the benefits are obvious. People will be much more likely to embrace new technologies if their lives are not made harder. Right now, driving an electrical car is not feasible for most people, so that's where we need to be concentrating our efforts.

We need practical, pragmatic solutions that reach beyond the political and the philosophical. Never mind debating the "science". Let's just get on with using science to make real differences.

Jody Lindbeck is an ACM journalist.