Goodbye Critical Decade – Is this one the End Game?

Do we really have another 10 years?

A popular catch-cry of 2019 was that we have at most another 10 or 12 years to act to avoid catastrophic climate change, that the coming decade is our last chance to turn things around or at least slow the accelerating pace of devastation.

Hello! We’ve been here before, ten years ago coincidentally, oh, and yes, 10 before that too, but I think we’ve finally blown our chance to do this without massive disruption.

 In 2011 the Climate Commission issued its initial report, stating that 2011-2020 would be “The Critical Decade” for tackling climate change, for seriously making inroads into reducing the Carbon Gap, which essentially means the difference between a livable planet and extinction. It was declared to be “The Critical Decade” to turn the emissions trajectory around.

Yet by late 2019 we face a world where CO2 emissions “grew every year this decade. And they didn’t just go up at a steady rate, they went up at a faster and faster clip. In fact, CO2 levels are now rising at a faster pace than ever before.” 

By 2015, mid decade, CO2 hit the 400ppm threshold, now it’s creeping on relentlessly towards 410pmm.

Where the science failed us.

During this past decade we’ve seen numerous key thresholds breached that were predicted to not occur until mid or even late century. We are yet to discover what Tipping Points have been passed, as these can only be acknowledged with the benefit of hindsight.

A major failing of the science is that it has been too conservative, too cautious, too afraid of being condemned as alarmist and too diluted by consensus to communicate the implications and realities of worst-case scenarios.  Now we find so many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ predicted decades ago (some not supposed occur for decades to come) are already being played out around the planet.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) delivered in December 2019 at COP25 reveals the  “reality of high impact global events – drought, ecosystem collapse, forest fires, disrupted weather, ocean acidification, cyclones, floods and much more – are up” In other words, climate disruption, climate breakdown is here, now, and unravelling faster than even the most pessimistic dared imagine.

The past 12 months have seen a new threshold of climate disruption marked by breaking ever new records for extreme weather events, heatwaves, storms, floods, droughts, fires, sea and land ice loss, ocean heatwaves and dead zones, rivers dry and dying. The news is filled daily with multiple catastrophic disasters from all parts of the earth that once would have been considered rare events.  We are now in the era of super-storms, super-fires, super-floods and other super-charged-events, where the unprecedented is becoming the ‘new normal’. The 2019-20 fire season in Australia is but a small taste of the future that awaits.

It’s not just rising greenhouse gases fueling climate breakdown

It’s not just the CO2, CH4 and other Greenhouse gasses, it’s also the deforestation, the land clearing, the industrial agriculture, the mining and fracking boom, the over extraction of ground and river water, the endless growth of cities, freeways and mega-infrastructure projects, that have all been accelerating ecological degradation and biodiversity loss.

Climate disruption is as much fueled by deforestation, degenerative land-use, desertification and water mismanagement as it is by the greenhouse impacts of carbon emissions from fossil fuels. Global heating is influencing the demise of these life-sustaining earth systems, and their loss and degradation is contributing to global heating. These are devastating ‘positive’ feedback loops, self-feeding cause-and-effect cycles that we must reverse.

Part of the failure of this decade has been the almost exclusive focus on fossil fuels emissions and high hopes for techno-fix solutions, and here I include solar, wind and other ‘renewables’, and have overlooked the critical importance of rehydrating and vegetating our landscapes.

Sadly, one of the consequences of this short-sighted techno-energy focus has been the devastating impacts of the ‘biofuels’  industry,  not only the clearing of tropical rainforests for Palm and Soy oil production, there’s also the clear-felling of vast tracks of native forests for wood pellets to feed thermal  power stations. These only serve to accelerate biodiversity loss and deforestation and further dehydrate the landscape.

The science of hydrology and biology management as key climate players has really strengthened during this decade, and urgently needs to be mainstreamed into the climate conversation at all levels.

Water and vegetation are critical players in both our accelerating demise and also for activating solutions. Their continued degradation is hastening and amplifying climate breakdown, however concerted global initiatives to restore natural hydrological cycles and healthy biological growth are central to re-balancing the earth’s energy cycles while concurrently sequestering vast amounts of atmospheric CO2 in soil and living ecosystems.

Ecological solutions – nature holds the key

This isn’t a pipe dream. There are more than enough examples of degenerated and denuded landscapes being brought back into a thriving, productive, life-sustaining, re-humidified, water-retaining and carbon sequestering ecosystems.  You can check out these real-life examples, the web is full of them: Restoration Camps, Natural Sequence Farming, Regenerative Agriculture, Keyline, Holistic Management, and the ground-breaking work of scientists like Walter Jehne and Dr Christine Jones.

We have a massive task ahead of us, from short-term local adaption measures through to larger scale regeneration programs on a bioregional level. I really appreciate how Permaculture brings a vast portfolio of solution-based systems and strategies together with a framework of ethics and principles for selecting the most appropriate solution and actions in each situation, irrespective of scale.  The solutions lie in nature, in earth knowledge, in re-wilding human society, our environments, our law, our relationships with each other and our mother earth.

Procrastinating for another 10 years is simply not an option if we seriously contemplate the remote possibility of a livable planet for our grand children, rather we have to seriously play catch-up on the decade of opportunities we’ve squandered.  Every year lost makes the challenges so much more difficult.

We need courage to face grim reality, we need righteous rage for the wanton destruction, we need to grieve for the loss and suffering, we need to inform our actions with earth-systems science and ecological thinking, and we need act cooperatively driven by love and compassion. We need to become visionaries – vision is not just seeing what exists but imagining what things could become.

We need to regain trust in nature and work intelligently with biology and ecology.

We are all players in shaping the future, witting or unwitting.  Every day, every action is shaping tomorrow’s world.

What future are you are creating? 

The answers are out there.

Prepare yourself, equip yourself with the knowledge and skills to be an effective change maker, to restore, heal and regenerate the earth and transition to a new earth-based culture based on cooperation with nature and each other.
Studying Permaculture is a good start.

Robyn Francis
Permaculture pioneer, educator and activist.

Feb 1, 2020

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