Human activities have released significant quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a greenhouse gas, the more carbon dioxide emitted, the warmer our planet becomes. Partly mitigating these impacts, plants recover 30% of atmospheric carbon via photosynthesis. Using energy from the Sun, they combine carbon dioxide with water to form sugar and oxygen. When the chemical reaction is reversed, carbon returns to the atmosphere – either by cellular respiration in plants and animals, or the burning of coal, wood, or gasoline. Soil scientist Dr Samantha Grover explains that one way of preventing carbon dioxide from returning to the atmosphere is keeping it sequestered in the ground. In fact, there is two-to-three times more carbon in soil than in the atmosphere.
Senior Climatologist Dr Lynette Bettio explains that soon we will no longer be considering how we get through a single intense year, such as 2019, but how we can make it through a stretch of years with no respite. The climate has been set on a warming path – the long-lived greenhouse gasses that are in the atmosphere and the extra energy soaked up by oceans have secured the warming trend continuing for the next few decades. So the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO are investing a lot of effort to solve these problems, knowing the sooner we take action, the sooner we will see a divergence from the alarming projections in current climate models and simulations.
Extreme events are becoming more devastating and more frequent. Communities, economies and ecosystems have increasingly less time to bounce back between them. How do we build resilience for the future? This summer’s devastating bushfires and the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic have given Australians an alarming insight to the sustained uncertainty we will be facing under a rapidly changing climate. Mike Flattley (Royal Society of Victoria) and Anthony Boxshall (Science Into Action) invited a number of speakers to discuss how we can build resilience into our planning strategies for water, agriculture and biodiversity. Featuring David McKenzie and Claire Flanagan-Smith on the Goulburn Murray Resilience Strategy, Lauren Rickards on Climate Change and Systems Transformation, Brendan Wintle on Decision Making for Biodiversity, Briony Rogers on Preparing the Water Sector for Transition, Richard Eckard on the Transition of the Agricultural Sector, and Sarah Bekessy on Building Community Ownership and Agency in the process.
On Sunday, 23rd of August, the Possible Impossibles online forum was live-streamed by Parliament of Victoria, with ABC’s award-winning science journalist, Natasha Mitchell, hosting the event. She spoke with four scientific leaders in the fields of new technologies, medical science, environmental science and space exploration to discuss the role of science in shaping our lives in a post COVID-19 future. What follows is a summary of the key points made by each speaker, featuring: Professor Elizabeth Croft, Dean of Faculty of Engineering, Monash University; Dr Kudzai Kanhutu, Deputy Chief Medical Information Officer, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Infectious Diseases Physician; Associate Professor Julie Mondon, Director of Environmental Science, Deakin University, and; Dr Gail Iles, Senior Lecturer in Space Physics, RMIT University and Member of the Board of Directors, Space Industry Association of Australia.
The UNFCCC Paris Agreement to combat climate change requires commitment and action towards a sustainable, low carbon future. The target set was to limit global warming to 1.5°C – and we are only 0.4°C away. Global carbon emissions peaked in 2019 but have already dropped down this year due to limited air travel and other factors. While the circumstances that brought about these changes are less than ideal, it is a start and hopefully lays the foundation for sustained reductions.
The future climate is in our hands – our actions now will decide that future. Energy production remains the primary driver of greenhouse gas emissions, followed by agriculture, forestry and other land uses, then industry and transport. According to climate scientist Professor David Karoly, countries in the Southern Hemisphere are expected to experience the largest economic impacts of global warming, and it is therefore imperative that Australia takes leadership and responsibility for making change.