The ABC of tomorrow’s world: Amphibians, Bailouts and Carbon

By Steven Smith
Winthrop Professor, Plant Energy Biology, ARC Centre of Excellence
Posted on 21 July 2011
Filed under Carbon Reduction, Media

Three seemingly unconnected news items caught my attention this week, but they each tell us something about the stresses on our world.

First is the news that Air India is in big financial trouble and in need of a bailout.

Bailouts seem to be in fashion these days. We saw the need to bailout big banks and financial institutions in the USA and Europe during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008/9. More recently we have seen whole countries in need of financial bailouts to keep the Eurozone functioning. As I understand it, the USA’s ‘war on terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan has been funded by borrowed money.

All of this tells me that the wealthy countries are living far beyond their means.

It raises the question whether institutions or countries should opt for austerity to ride out the tough times (as in Southern European countries), or try to grow their way out of financial trouble as is favoured in the USA (which means borrowing more, presumably). Ultimately we hit the buffers of resource constraints – the price of oil for example – which is presumably where Air India feels most pressure.

My choice is to live within my means.

Second is a wonderfully sharp quote from Professor Graham Farquhar from the Australian National University Climate Change Institute. When asked about the effectiveness of Australia’s new carbon tax, he said:

 “The aim of the carbon tax is to reduce Australian emissions by five per cent. In turn, the aim of that reduction is to put political or economic pressure to encourage or shame other countries to reduce their emissions by five per cent. If we are successful and all the countries of the world reduce their emissions to five per cent below what they would have been, then the anthropogenic climate that we would otherwise have seen in 2031 will be postponed until 2032.”

Now, this statement can (and will!) be interpreted in two completely opposite directions, depending which ‘side’ of the debate you come from. Either it means the effect of the carbon tax will at best be insignificant and we should abandon it. Or, we need to do far far more to cut carbon dioxide emissions so let’s increase taxes and introduce new legislation.

Take your pick!

Third, the news that scientists from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) found three long-legged Borneo rainbow toads up a tree during a night time search.

Why so interesting? This toad is absolutely beautiful, has not been seen since the 1920’s and had never before been photographed. Check out the picture on the BBC website! The Global Search for Lost Amphibians in 2010, had listed the toad as one of the "world's top 10 most wanted frogs".

Dr Robin Moore of Conservation International said "It is good to know that nature can surprise us when we are close to giving up hope, especially amidst our planet's escalating extinction crisis. Amphibians are at the forefront of this tragedy, so I hope that these unique species serve as flagships for conservation, inspiring pride and hope by Malaysians and people everywhere."

My conclusion is that even if curtailing carbon dioxide emissions is too big a challenge, working to save forests and natural ecosystems is something that we can and must do.

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