Hot debate on climate

FEW topics polarise opinion like climate change, the role of humans in promoting it and the measures people should take to prepare for possible future consequences.

That polarisation is bound to become even more pronounced as costs associated with the federal government’s carbon tax filter through to household budgets.

Most people had been prepared for a rise in power bills, but many had probably not expected their council rates to rise as a direct result of this national measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now that Hunter councils are tipping a collective impact well in the millions of dollars, ratepayers will have another reason to tune in to the climate change debate.

Adding more heat to the issue is the report, released yesterday by the Federal Government’s Climate Commission, outlining the risk of rising sea levels, increasing climatic variability and potential health effects due to heatwaves and severe weather events.

Already this report has attracted criticism, notably from acting NSW Premier Andrew Stoner, who has described it as ‘‘alarmist’’ and accused author and commissioner Professor Tim Flannery of ‘‘being wide of the mark’’ with previous climate predictions.

Many people find the more dire climate change predictions unsettling, particularly where projections of possible future events are responsible for immediate impacts on their lifestyles and wealth.

The anger and anxiety caused by local government moves to limit development on land that might one day be affected by sea level rise is a case in point.

If man-made climate change is accepted as a real and major issue, then it demands action and planning at both ends of the cause-and-effect chain. That is, cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and efforts to minimise the ill-effects of climate change. Inevitably, however, all measures come with their own direct and indirect costs.

People will react unfavourably to those costs, at least unless or until the predicted negative impacts of climate change become undeniably apparent.

Unlike residents of low-lying Pacific island nations such as Tuvalu – where sea level rise is an unwelcome reality – most citizens of NSW can still view the subject as a theoretical one.

The task for policymakers is to steer a sensible path that reduces potential future threats in the event that the dire predictions prove true, while not imposing unreasonable present-day costs when so many still hope and believe the worst-case scenarios may not eventuate.

THE arrest of a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy on charges of intimidation against university students is the latest in a string of disturbing incidents in which students have allegedly been targeted.

It is extremely sad to see children charged with such offences.

Unpleasant as it is, however, the police deserve support in their efforts to stamp out a serious problem that has the potential to detrimentally affect the reputation of the university and the city of Newcastle in the eyes of the world.

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