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How Much Are You Willing to Pay for Fish and Chips?

A high level international workshop has just released a report warning that the combination of global warming (with the oceans warming faster than the land now), excess nutrients (from run-off from chemical fertilizers and urban sewerage), overfishing, and acidification is causing the collapse of whole ecosystems and setting us up for marine mass extinction the likes of which we haven’t even imagined yet.

There’s models in the past.  The same set of circumstances, probably caused that time by an extreme event like a comet or a huge volcanic eruption or a wobble in the earth’s orbit, magnified by feedback loops, caused the last mass extinction in the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum period.  It’s stunning to think we are living through an event that will go down in geological history, recorded in the rocks of the earth.

And it’s all so easily avoidable. The pricing of carbon is not even designed to make people poorer, just to encourage them to actually look at old habits and decide if they are worth anything. It drives me nuts that anybody would say they are not willing to pay anything to combat global warming.

(I should add that it also drives me nuts that the media reports seem to imply that a lot of people think this way, when in fact it is unfortunately bigger than last survey but still a measly 33% – the vast majority of people believe it is a clear and pressing issue and they’re personally willing to put their hand in their pocket to address it). Check it out.  Here’s the original data).

Quite apart from the ethical issue of trashing the earth for future generations, there is the simple self interest involved in “spending a penny to save a pound”.  I guess we all know people who make this mistake in lots of ways, who don’t get their car serviced until it breaks down on the highway and has to be towed at ridiculous expense, who are in denial about the need to spend real money at the dentist until it turns into real money. But we don’t hold them up as opinion leaders!

We’ll pay.  We’ll pay one way or another.  Physics doesn’t take any notice of opinion polls. We’ll get to choose to pay through modifying our wasteful consumption habits, or we’ll pay through increased prices for everything produced from our natural resources (which means everything).  As fish species become extinct, what price will a takeaway of fish and chips reach?


{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Gavin June 30, 2011, 10:15 pm

    I agree Linda. I was reading a report titled “Baseline Survey of Australian attitudes to climate change” from the CSIRO and it really shocked me to learn the following;

    “Preliminary results from an online survey of more than 5000 participants show that most people think that climate change is happening, but there is a lack of consensus about its cause, with only about half of participants considering it to be human-induced.
    Big-polluting nations are considered to be the major contributor to climate change – they are also charged with the most responsibility to act on reducing its impacts. Many people consider that the Australian government is not doing enough to reduce climate change. While most people profess low levels of trust in government, there still emerges a strong link between
    voting intention, climate change belief, and climate-related behaviours.”

    So as I read it, just under half of the people surveyed do not believe they have anything at all to do with causing climate change. This is a sad, sad state of affairs.

    Gav x

  • bellingenseedsaver July 1, 2011, 7:34 am

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments. I feel so powerless sometimes when the media moguls and their big business mates constantly distort the truth and represent the easy argument that most want to hear. It is unpleasant to hear about the consequences of climate change (which can no longer be limted to a two degree warming). It is much easier and appealing to believe it is a hoax, although why would the scientists bother? Food and water shortages, a breakdown of the health system, more natural disasters and more displaced peoples look to be the future for our kids.

  • Linda July 1, 2011, 10:26 am

    The cup is half empty Gav, but it is also half full. The flip side is that just over half the people surveyed – a small majority but a clear one – believe climate change is happening and humans are causing it. More significantly, the other (smaller) half is divided between the “don’t knows”, the deniers, and the 40-odd percent who believe it is happening but not that humans are causing it. The statistic later on is revealing too – that nearly 54% believe the federal government is not doing enough about climate change. Again, the remainder is split between deniers, don’t knows, and other theories. So the headline could, and should, read “The majority of Australians believe that climate change is happening, humans are causing it, and the federal government is not doing enough about it.” That makes me feel much better. I’m actually in the majority.

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