By Simon Worrall, National Geographic
There are now only 39 days to go until the world’s nations convene in Paris for the United Nations Climate Summit. Six years ago, talks in Copenhagen ended in chaos. Is there any reason to suppose Paris will deliver anything more than well-padded expense accounts for delegates and hot air on the issues?
In his new book, Atmosphere of Hope: Searching For Solutions To The Climate Change Crisis, best-selling Australian author Tim Flannery counsels cautious optimism by showing how the millions of small actions taken by individuals are driving down oil consumption and points out how new “Third Way” carbon-capture technologies promise to reduce emissions and create massive economic opportunities.
Speaking from a café in Melbourne, he explains how the plastic housing on his cell phone is reducing climate change; why geo-engineering is a disastrous idea; and how he is inspired by the desire to leave a better world for his three children.
We can already proclaim it a success at least as far as the unconditional pledges that have been made in the run up to the summit. They are now sufficient to get us off the worst-case scenario trajectory of the last decade, when emissions were at the worst extent imaginable.
At the moment, we’re heading for four degrees [in global] warming by the end of the century. Hopefully, the Paris meeting will see us heading more towards three degrees. That is still far too much, but far better than four. There have been 20 years of annual meetings with no decisions made on a global agreement. But it looks like we’ll get one in Paris, which could be the beginning of a new era in dealing with climate change.
Your book opens with a sport I love. What do Rod Laver and tennis have to do with climate change?
The Australian Open in Melbourne is one of the great events on the tennis calendar. Last year, an unprecedented heat wavesettled over Melbourne spiking temperatures three days running in the Rod Laver Arena above 40 degrees centigrade (104 F) We had 1,000 spectators and several players treated for heat stress. Eventually play had to be cancelled because conditions were so dangerous.
The news outlets were reluctant to cover it as a climate change story. I wrote a story for the BBC in London and they called me back to say, “Unless you can tell us definitively that climate change has caused this, we’re not interested in running the story.” But since then it has become clear that climate change was, indeed, a decisive factor.