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Politics with Michelle Grattan: Clive Hamilton on how Australians must adapt to ‘Living Hot’

Politics with Michelle Grattan: Clive Hamilton on how Australians must adapt to ‘Living Hot’

The debate over climate change mostly focuses on how to best to limit emissions in the effort to prevent disastrous global warming. However in a new book, Living Hot, Clive Hamilton and George Wilkenfeld challenge current priorities, arguing rising temperatures can’t be contained fast enough and we need to turn our attention to “adaptation”.

Clive Hamilton, who is Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, joined us to talk about what Australia can do to not only survive but thrive under these conditions.

Hamilton explains why he’s pessimistic about how much we can limit the warming of our planet:

Simply studying the science makes anyone pessimistic about the possibility of preventing a large amount of global warming and the consequent effects. I don’t think there’s any climate scientist who believes we can limit warming to two degrees centigrade. Most think it’s more likely to be two and a half or three degrees, which will be disastrous, and some even think it will be beyond that. So I’m just following the science on that.

On what needs to change, Hamilton maintains we focus too much on mitigation:

The debate in Australia is completely preoccupied with mitigation. George, my co-author, and I were very much part of this until a year ago. […] The reality is [mitigation is] not going to make much difference, but what will make a difference is if [we] decide to embark on, plan for, fund and carry out a massive multi-decade transformation of Australia – our infrastructure, our farming and housing, building regulations our coastal management and our nature management.

Food security will be one of our biggest challenges, Hamilton says:

There are two elements to this. One is we think globally, we export a lot of food products and we import them too but they’re mostly processed stuff we could do without at the pinch. But I think globally, if there’s widespread failures of food systems there’s going to be an ever greater demand for products from Australia. Which will drive the prices up.

The second thing is that the impact of climate change on farming systems and water availability is already starting to bite and all of that analysis suggests it’s going to get worse and possibly a lot worse. The amount of arable land is declining, and agricultural productivity is falling. For example, cows give less milk when it’s hot, and of course, if there’s less rain, there’s less grass to raise and so they’re less productive.

Hamilton outlines why engineering projects won’t cut it in dealing with the effects of climate change and why relocations are key:

There are all kinds of grand engineering schemes which are either going to be prohibitively expensive or won’t work. Some of them are pretty wacko. So nature will defeat most engineering plans, and it’s best to get out of the way. It’s a lesson indigenous people learned long ago incidentally, and so I think that when you see relocations happen, it always needs a collaboration of three levels of government because local councils themselves, even though they might have the will, frequently don’t have the money, or the powers to carry out those kinds of town-saving projects.

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