BY NATASHA TRUELOVE
According to Italy’s education minister, Lorenzo Fioramonti, public schools will soon require children in every grade to study sustainability, placing the country at the forefront of environmental education. The lessons will be first taught as part of the students’ civic education but will eventually become integrated into a variety of their subjects – a “Trojan horse” that will slowly “infiltrate” all courses.
Although most environmental advocates welcomed the new subject matter, there has been some doubts. Edorado Zanchini, the Vice President of Legambiente, Italy’s leading environmental group, warned that responsibility should not simply be passed on to the next generation. “Science tells us the next 10 years are crucial,” he said. “We cannot wait for the next generation.”
The initiative will kickstart in September next year and, to begin with, will consist of 33 hours of lessons in climate change and environmental sustainability over the course of a year. Yet Fioramonti has described this as a pilot program, with the ultimate aim of folding the climate agenda of the United Nations into the entire curriculum.
Sea levels rose as much as three metres per century during the last interglacial period as Antarctic ice sheets melted – a pace that could be exceeded in the future, given the turbo-charged potential of human-led climate change. At its fastest, about 125,000 years ago when temperatures were about a degree warmer than now, sea levels rose as much as 3.4 metres per 100 years for several centuries, reaching about 10 metres above current levels.
"We don't predict the future, but we show what nature can do even without human interference in the climate," Eelco Rohling, the paper's lead author and a professor at ANU's College of Science, said. "Nature knows how to go much quicker than we thought."
The paper reveals that complex systems can change more rapidly than we thought. As Taryn Noble, a marine geochemist at the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, said, "We've not yet seen the full impact of the temperature changes that we have set off".
Australia is currently enduring a record bushfire crisis that has left four people dead, destroyed over 200 homes, ripped through more than 1 million hectares and prompted warnings of “catastrophic” danger. The blazes have never previously occurred on such a scale and so early on in the fire season, prompting questions on how closely they can be linked to climate change.
So what do the experts say? "We find it very difficult in general to attribute climate change impacts to a specific event, particularly while the event is running," said Dr Richard Thornton, chief executive of the Bushfires & Natural Hazards Co-operative Research Centre. "But what we do know is that the average temperature in Australia now is running about 1C above the long-term average."
Professor Glenda Wardle, an ecologist from the University of Sydney, agreed, "It's not every weather event that is the direct result of climate change. But when you see trends... it becomes undeniably linked to global climate change." She said there has been a "collective shift" in the timing and intensity of weather events and complains that that the government are “passing the buck” on climate change and not doing enough to help stem its rise.
Meanwhile, twenty-three former fire and emergency leaders say they tried for months to warn Prime Minister Scott Morrison that Australia needed more water-bombers to tackle bigger, faster and hotter bushfires.
The Berejiklian government have halted new approvals for coal mining under Sydney’s drinking water catchment until late next year as it considers an advisory panel’s report into the impact of mining on water supplies. Underground mining in the area has become particularly controversial during the drought as the levels of Sydney's dams drop faster than at any time since as least 1940 even with the city's desalination plant at full tilt.
The independent panel led by Jim Galvin, a retired UNSW professor of mining engineering, has made 50 recommendations on how future mining should be managed. It claims that subsidence following coal extraction and the subsequent fracturing involved may result in water losses of as much as 8 million litres per day. Taking into account all mines in the Special Areas, not just the four that the panel examined, puts the loss as high as 42 million litres a day.
In general, the panel supported ongoing mining but said designs for future mines must be supported "by robust, independent peer review and/or a demonstrated history of reliability".
On Thursday, international medical journal the Lancet published its renowned Countdown report, warning that the federal government’s lack of engagement on health and climate change has left Australians at significant risk of illness through heat, fire and extreme weather events, and urgent national action is required to prevent harm and deaths.
Australia was assessed across 31 indicators divided into five broad sections: climate change impacts, exposures and vulnerability; adaptation, planning and resilience for health; mitigation actions and health co-benefits; finance and economics; and public and political engagement.
The report found that while there had been some progress at state and local government levels, “there continues to be no engagement on health and climate change in the Australian federal parliament, and Australia performs poorly across many of the indicators in comparison to other developed countries; for example, it is one of the world’s largest net exporters of coal and its electricity generation from low-carbon sources is low”.
Spokeswoman for Doctors for the Environment Australia, Dr Arnagretta Hunter, agreed Australia was poorly prepared for the health challenge of climate change. The cardiologist said, “Doctors around Australia are already seeing multiple health effects from climate change”. She added that the government needs to acknowledge the risk and act in proportion to the magnitude of the threat.