As the grate and the not-so-good bewilder the Zulus with their conflicting views of greenhouse gas policy, we have received a serious warning about the fate of the planet.
Scientists at the University of Washington say that we face the certainty of extinction of all animal life.
Earth, warns astronomer Donald Brownlee, can expect to have such life for only one billion years – and we are already past the half-way mark.
The problem? We will run out of carbon dioxide.
The impact here of an ageing Sun getting brighter and a cooling Earth core, leading to declining volcanic activity, will result in insufficient carbon dioxide to support photosynthesis.
Saturday’s New York Times newspaper carries the dire news.
You can read about it on their website under the heading “Hot on Trail of Just Right Far-Off Planet” – they love headline capitals on the “grey lady.”
It is a five-page weekend essay on the quest to find another “lukewarm planet” with Earth-like characteristics and well worth reading.
Meanwhile, there is news from eThekwini (that’s Zulu for Durban as I have told you before; if you have come in late it means “the bay”) – apart from the fact that 6,500 greenies in a rent-a-crowd have stuffed up the locals’ weekend shopping by stageing a Saturday-morning march through the CBD.
(“Civil society organisations” from around the world, it is reported, participated in the demonstration.
(There were juggling clowns, protestors who rolled along the grimy streets, topless women, unicycle riders, giant puppets, young people in dreadlocks blowing bubbles and an articulated octopus wearing an “Uncle Sam” hat. There were also riot police backed up by water cannon.
(And, in keeping with my previous weather prediction for eThekwini, the rain continued to fall.
(And, no, in answer to a correspondent, I have not seen any indication so far of the carbon footprint of the clowns, jugglers and 15,000 others who have travelled to eThekwini for two weeks of discussions and demonstrations. The electricity they are using is almost totally coal-fired.)
However, the important thing is that I can now tell Wayne Swan he needs to find about $1.2 billion over three years to sustain his government’s “good global citizen” stance – a bit tough, given the budget problems the Treasurer faces, but I am sure he can locate programs to slash to enable us to give the money away.
How many public service jobs does he need to eliminate to come up with $400 million a year in savings?
Bearing in mind that this is just the starting figure. The contributions will rise and continue well beyond the life-expectancy of the Gillard government.
Where in the world do I get this number?
Well, you see, Canada, which won’t have a bar of signing up for another Kyoto treaty, is not all bad (even though the South Africans have accused it of being a “bully”).
It has arrived in the Natal capital with a pledge to contribute $1.2 billion over three years to kick-start the green fund to help developing countries tackle the causes and impacts of global warming.
This is the $100 billion a year fund to which the Gillard government committed us at the last UN meeting in Cancun, Mexico.
Ensuring it goes ahead is widely seen as the likely face-saving outcome of the Durban talks.
And will anyone seriously suggest that we should contribute a dollar less than the Canadians?
For us, clearly, $1.2 billion is the benchmark.
Now that the ALP has dealt with gay marriage at its own big conference, perhaps the excitable media pack could return to ground level long enough to ask Julia Gillard and Swan if Greg Combet has been sent to Durban with instructions to match the Canadian offer?
If not, why not?
Surely we are not going to take the attitude of Saudi Arabia?
The world’s richest oil state arrived in eThekwini declaring that it “will never contribute” to the green climate fund.
“It is the responsibility of developing countries,” its representative declared. “Saudi Arabia should receive compensation from the fund as climate policies may lead to a loss in oil income.”
(In passing, I wonder how that thought will play at the Australian service stations in election year 2013 as rising oil prices push up our weekly petrol bill. But then I remember that it is only the 500 “big polluters” who are paying our new carbon bills, of course.)
South African President Jacob Zuma, who is hosting the UN summit, has told us and other Western industrialised nations that we cannot avoid contributing to the fund.
Bloomberg news agency reports this weekend that Zuma has “brushed aside concerns” about the money being found in the depths of the global economic crisis.
“It’s the poorest countries that are expecting to feel the most impact from climate change,” he declared at a “World Climate Business” conference in eThekwini. “We are already facing rising food prices, youth unemployment, poverty and extreme weather patterns. New models for driving investment are urgently needed.”
Pursuing a renewable energy target in South Africa alone, according to Zuma, will add $660 million a year to his country’s annual power bill.
Zuma’s need to make the summit a success, claims the London Financial Times newspaper, requires agreement to be achieved at least on the fund – there being near-universal acceptance that progress on extending the dying Kyoto treaty is out of reach.
The other comforting news from the Natal talks is that oil-rich Venezuela and other Latin American countries won’t have a bar of the World Bank being the green climate fund’s trustee.
And another oil producer, Nigeria, is leading a group of nations that reject a requirement by some of the “rich” West for the private sector to be involved in the fund’s projects – on the grounds that this will limit local government control over how the money is spent.
(Sometime I must tell you about how a corrupt Nigerian prime minister almost sent to the wall a company for which I worked in the 1960s only for him to end up against a wall being shot in one of the many West African revolutions.)
Greg Combet, now en route to Durban/eThekwini, will have missed all the fun of the weekend’s street party because of his need to attend the ALP conference here, but I reckon he can be sure of a gay time on the summit floor in the week ahead dealing with the fund-raisers.
Surely, for a start, he will get a standing ovation for helping to introduce the world’s most expensive emissions trading scheme with its arrangement for us to buy three-quarters of a trillion dollars worth of credits from Nigeria, South Africa and wherever between now and mid-century?
Then he can come back and confer with Swanny on how to factor in to the slashed federal budget what he has further given away on our behalf as a contribution to the green climate fund.
Is to laugh, as Bugs Bunny used to say. (Did the vegetarian Wabbit get a go in the parade, I wonder?)