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Living Lightly column

Make a carbon leap for humankind

by Les Langmead

Our family didn’t have telly back in 1969, so we joined the two little old ladies next door and all stared at the fuzzy images of the moon landing.

It was, and still is, an awe-inspiring achievement.  It only happened because the US government took a “whatever it takes” attitude. It took $400 billion [in today’s money] and 400,000 people working on it. And they did it.

But an even more important anniversary slipped past last month:  40 years since the first scientific prediction of how increasing carbon levels will change our climate.  Since then, the evidence has become overwhelming and the predictions nothing short of catastrophic.

The consequences of not landing on the moon would have been minor.  The consequences of not keeping carbon levels to less than 400 parts per million will be catastrophic: not just for us and our children, but for every generation as long as humans exist, and for millions of other living things.

Predictions show that the cost of effective action on climate change would be small compared with the cost of not acting.  Solutions for this problem already exist and exciting new ones are coming on line all the time.  Smaller countries, states, towns, organisations and individuals are getting on with reducing their carbon footprint.

Imagine if the kind of focus and commitment which got humans to the moon was targeted at this far more important project. And this time it will be a cooperative, global project, not a defensive, competitive one.

Imagine if every news service gave weekly updates of the graph showing the level of carbon in the atmosphere [at the moment, it’s steadily rising].

Imagine everyone being very familiar with that graph, and knowing exactly how we’re tracking in keeping below 400 parts per million of carbon.

Imagine children at ‘show and tell’ knowing exactly what their family carbon footprint is, and getting competitive about reducing it.

Imagine an address to the nation by our Prime Minister saying ‘it’s in the Australia character to do our bit’, to even ‘punch above our weight’ in this challenge. Imagine him saying that ‘it just isn’t the Australian way’ to pass on a trashed planet to the people who will follow us.

Imagine the international celebration when the carbon graph finally stops climbing and flat-lines year after year.

And imagine the relief and gratitude of millions of humans who don’t exist yet, when they look back, not just at the first moon landing, but The Amazing Carbon Turnaround of the early 21st century.

What an important step for Australia, and a giant leap for humankind.