A letter to my great-grandchildren

Written in May 2015, minor editing later, as noted below – ©
Contact: David K. Clarke

Hello. I am your great-grand father. My generation have greatly damaged the Earth that you have inherited and I have written this letter because I felt that I owed you an explanation.

I am writing this letter in the year 2015. I am nearly 70 years old. My grand-daughters, one of whom is your mother, are now aged 3 and 5 (another was born not long after I wrote this letter). I'm supposing that one or more of my grand-daughters will have children when they are around the age of 30 to 35 and that you, my great-grandchildren, will be around 15 to 20 years old when you read this; that makes the year something like 2055 to 2065.

I'm sure that climate change will be a huge disaster by the time you read this. You have a right to wonder how the people of my time allowed the planet to come to this. I was convinced that climate change was going to be a big problem thirty years ago (by 1985, it was called global warming then) and anyone with a fair understanding of science would have come to the same conclusion. Of course the evidence has become stronger and stronger in the decades since then, but you might be surprised if I tell you that there are still many, many people who deny that climate change is real. Of those who accept that it is real, many foolishly doubt that it has been caused by the gasses that we are dumping into the atmosphere.

A South Australian wind farm
Wind farm
Wind farms like this, together with solar power, are gradually replacing fossil fuelled power stations

Many problems being caused by the people of my generation

While climate change probably worries me the most, there are a great many other things that my generation has allowed to happen that will harm the world of your time.

Overpopulation is one at the very basis of all; simply stated, if there were a quarter as many people on the planet there would be about a quarter of the environmental impacts.

Then there's deforestation, soil salinisation, degradation of soils, plastics dumped into the environment, over-exploitation and consumption of limited resources, and many others.

There has been and continues to be a very effective misinformation campaign by those who have a financial interest in maintaining the status-quo. In Australia these are the people who have invested in or are running the coal mines, coal exporting businesses, oil and gas wells, and the electricity generating businesses that rely on fossil fuels. The short-term financial advantage of these people depends on keeping the coal mines going and the oil and gas flowing and they are willing to damage the future of the planet to keep their profits up.

The current Australian government, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, seems to be owned by the fossil fuel lobby. Hopefully the political situation will have greatly improved by the time you read this, but at present in Australia there are only two political parties that have a chance of forming government and both are heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industries.

I wonder what you will think when I tell you that the majority of the many people who do accept the reality and seriousness of climate change are apathetic about it. It is perhaps only one in ten Australians who want serious action to limit climate change and are willing to accept some expense and inconvenience in achieving the necessary changes. Far less, perhaps one in a thousand, are willing to try to do anything significant about their concerns.

Perhaps the brightest light on the horizon in 2015 is the serious decline in the fortunes of the coal industry that we are seeing at present. The bulk of the world's coal deposits are becoming what are called 'stranded assets', which means that they have been considered to be assets belonging to one company or another that once were valuable, but they will never be mined. Why will they never be mined? I'd like to be able to say because humanity has realised that their mining will be too environmentally damaging, but I fear the real reason is that it is looking more and more like there will be no profit in mining them. Coal mining is looking like a very poor investment at present and many people and organisations are putting their money elsewhere.

Sundrop Farm
Sundrop Farm at Port Augusta (in South Australia) uses solar power to grow tomatoes using sea water.
But the Australian federal government would rather support fossil fuels

Our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, continues to do all he can to keep the Australian coal industry going – he just refuses to see the writing on the wall. He has infamously said "coal is good for humanity" in an effort to prop up the dying industry and just a few days ago he proposed spending up to five billion dollars on supporting the industry (he has specified that this money would only go to projects that would not be financially viable without taxpayer's assistance – so that will be money entirely wasted), but I'm pleased to be able to tell you that he is fighting a loosing battle.

I must not give you the impression that the small minority of people who are doing all they can to get action on climate change are having no impact. I'm sure they have had a huge impact. It is the world's wealthy (and greedy) who are running (and ruining) the planet, but it is the world's visionary minority who still have some chance to minimise the damage.

Flinders Ranges, South Australia, 2006
Flinders Ranges
Areas such as this will have suffered great damage by the time you read this letter.
The minority who want urgent action to reduce greenhouse emissions are pushing for renewable energy such as solar (photo-voltaic and thermal), wind and hydro to be expanded as fast as possible and fossil fuel fired power stations to be shut down as fast as possible.

You will think it laughable when I tell you that a number of those who are opposed to wind power claim that wind turbines make people sick! The earliest wind-mills were operating in the Middle-East by the 9th century and as I write wind-powered water pumps have been common in Australia for around a hundred years. Nobody believed that they caused illness. The only fundamental differences between modern wind turbines and traditional windmill water pumps are the size, the greatly increased efficiency, and the use to which the energy is put. Why would any sane person believe that wind turbines could cause illness? And then there have been many studies into the matter and not one of them has supported the 'wind turbine syndrome' claim (I'll call it WTS).

These contagious delusions about WTS got underway around late 2009 when a Dr Nina Pierpont published a book with that title in the USA. You might find it interesting that the most vocal supporter of WTS in Australia is a woman who for a short time was my local general practitioner, Doctor Sarah Laurie. She didn't practice medicine for long, but still lives, so far as I know, about 12km from our house in Crystal Brook. She took up the WTS claim in 2010 when a wind farm was proposed near her house. She continued to use the 'doctor' honorific on her name for several years while pushing the WTS delusion, even though she had not been practicing medicine for several years by then, but about two years ago was asked to stop calling herself doctor by the body that controls these sorts of things, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Agency.

It seems that in 2015 we are at last starting to see sanity in regard to WTS; I believe that most people are at last being convinced by the science, although it is too early to be sure. If only I could say the same in regard to climate change!

Alleged illnesses are not the only unfounded objections to wind power. There is a 600MW, 199-tubine, wind farm proposed for Yorke Peninsula, about 90km from where I am writing. If built, it will probably reduce greenhouse emissions by around two million tonnes a year by displacing electricity that would otherwise be generated by burning fossil fuels. A local group, calling itself the Heartland Farmers, has set up in opposition (I use the term 'group' loosely, they seem to only have two or three active members, although they have made a lot of noise for such a small group). Their main justification for opposing the wind farm is its impact on the local agriculture industry. If built it will take about 90ha of land out of agricultural production and have little other impact. (The total area of Yorke Peninsula is around 600,000ha.) The HF claim that aerial spraying will not be possible anywhere near wind turbines – which is demonstrably false. I could go on, but suffice it to say that their many objections are quite ludicrous.

Sunday May 30th, 2015

As I write there is a program on the radio (ABC) called Australia All Over. It deals with any subject that specifically involves Australia or Australians, is compared by Ian McNamara and has been for, I think, more than twenty years. He is one of those who seem to not accept the reality of climate change; he doesn't say so in as many words, but whenever the subject comes up you can 'read between the lines'. Just this morning he made a passing comment about disagreements and mentioned something like 'one climate scientist saying one thing and another saying something else': in fact there is very little disagreement on the fundamentals of climate change by climate scientists, it is those who oppose climate change action who claim that the science is still in doubt. Ian McNamara is fairly outspoken in his opposition to wind power.

I did a 'walk for climate change action' from Melbourne to Canberra last September and October; a distance of about 750km. We carried a petition, collecting signatures as we went, and gave it to a Greens Senator when we got to Canberra. The man who organised and lead the walk, Alan Cuthbertson, tried three times to speak on Australia All Over; on the third try he succeeded, but listeners could tell that Ian McNamara wasn't very interested.

Monday 1st June 2015

Blyth view
I have just walked from our shack at Elysium to Brooks Lookout, about 2km away, and I took the photo on the right. The hills in the distant are about 40km to the west. If one was to fly west in a 'straight line' and continue on a thousand times further than those hills one would come back to Brooks Lookout again. The world is a big place.

How can anyone say, as do the people who control the fossil fuel industry, that 'my profits are more important than the future of this place'?

How can a Prime Minister (Tony Abbott) of a nation say, as ours does, in effect, "the profits of my party's supporters are more important than the planet"?

It seems that I am not at all typical of a 2015 person, so I cannot apologise on behalf of my fellow Man, but I do apologise to you for my failure to protect the planet that you will inherit.

Failure - Thursday 17thNovember 2022

It seems I have failed even to influence at least one of my own children and one of my granddaughters. Julia or Shayne usually drive Anna the 12 kilometres to school, and pick her up after school, even though there is a school bus that stops only 500 metres from our shared home.

They are probably no worse than 90% of the population.