Friday on my mind – Coronavirus, Cruise Ships & The Blue Planet

By Michael Barker

A regular column reflecting on things Fremantle.

Oh my! Until a relatively few short weeks ago, only infectious disease researchers were familiar with the word ‘Coronavirus’.
Now we all are.
Like other worrying viruses, it has been accorded its own name – COVID-19.
Maybe giving a deadly virus its own name is intended to make the whole thing seem more scientific, and manageable – appropriately dystopian, perhaps, in our increasingly dystopian world.
Not sure if the scientific, manageable bit is working, if that is what was intended. The dystopian bit is though. Fear has spread far and wide around the planet.
Cruise lines recently began announcing that a number of their big ships would soon start to frequent Fremantle a little more than usual to avoid the dreaded virus, as FSN recently reported. The Queen Mary 2 was the first to tie up, as we also reported, to great local acclaim.
All of this has had me reflecting, over the odd glass of Pinot Grigio as I listened to Flesh footed shearwater birds screeching noisily each night on Lord Howe Island this last week, on the future of the human race. The sort of thing one does on holiday!
We humans have exhibited resilience in the past when epidemics and pandemics have hit hard. The Black Death or Plague, The Spanish Flu, HIV AIDS, SARS quickly come to mind.
The Black Death or Plague hit Europe in the mid 1300s. The human death count estimates range as high as 50,000,000. That is, 50 million.
A wonder it didn’t wipe out all of Europe. The World’s human population at that time is estimated to have been in the region of 400 million.
So, about one-eighth, 1/8, of all humans then pottering through life here on Earth were ‘killed’, to use the awful verb some media outlets like to employ to describe a person’s demise due to disease.
In that context, I suppose, the nearly 2500 reported deaths so far from COVID-19, out of a human population now nearing 8,000,000,000 – 8 billion – doesn’t sound so bad.
Small comfort though. Everyone is nervous about trading with China, going there, letting its citizens come to them, and so on, while the threat lingers; with all the obvious consequential threats to other countries growing, to world economies, health, security, and to peace and harmony.
All up, it’s another timely reminder of how tenuous our existence on this Beautiful Blue Planet really is.
Mind you, I’ve long since abandoned the idea that we humans have any special right, god given, God given, or otherwise, to continue to exist. And I say that as a person with a little more Neanderthal DNA running through his veins than the average human!
No doubt, if we were to go the way of the Dodo, not to mention the Neanderthal, there would be other living things and organisms, including the wonderful thrombolites and stromatolites (remaining uncommitted about cockroaches), that would survive us and continue the Life on Earth experiment!
By nature I’ve always considered myself something of an optimist, but on the assuredness of our continued human existence, here on Earth or somewhere else in the galaxy, I’m beginning to become quite sanguine. (Love that word ‘sanguine’.)
When I read the predictions arising from the reports of the world’s leading climate scientists and then reflect on the urgent need to take steps to get to a net zero carbon atmosphere around the planet by 2050, as required by the 2015 Paris Agreement to which the nations of the planet committed, just to keep our planetary increase in temperature to no more than 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, I’m not sure we’ll get there. But I remain hopeful.
In the end, I have adopted the conservative approach, that I owe it to my children and my grandchildren, and all those who follow them, to do all in my power – human frailties and weaknesses excepted, like flying to Lord Howe Island to observe the cries of the Flesh footed shearwaters – to reduce my carbon footprint.
So where does one start, apart from reducing unnecessary flying?
Well, an electric/battery car – an EV – or possibly a hybrid PHEV, is, I think, a good place. But EVs are expensive. A Tesla Model 3 with longer range capability, for example, will chew up around $90,000. A Hyundai Kona is cheaper at around $55,000. Still a lot.
If Australia, like Norway, and California until recently, truly wanted to promote an uptake of EVs, then we’d offer consumers an economic incentive to buy them, perhaps not forever but for a reasonable period of time. We no longer have anything that pretends to be a local vehicle building industry, so this shouldn’t be a hard step to take.
We have done it, with wild success, State by State, Territory by Territory, in encouraging the uptake of rooftop solar panels to generate our home electricity supply. So much of our domestic electricity is now coming to us direct from the sun. Why wouldn’t we do something similar with EVs as well? After all, motor vehicles powered by fossil fuels like petrol and diesel are major contributors to our currently overheated and overheating planet.
And for the life of me, why would our Governments, Federal, State and Territory, think it such a good idea to continue to promote the use of coal to generate electricity when coal is another major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions on the planet?
There are also, no doubt, difficult discussions to be had in places like Western Australia about the future exploitation of natural gas. It too is a major greenhouse gas, even if it isn’t as frightening to look at as petroleum or coal.
My personal hope is that we start seriously talking about how to transition to a world-beating largely carbon free economy over the next 30 years – which at my approaching septuagenarian age is no time at all – in the least disruptive way. That is, start focusing on solutions and stop debating climate science.
We’ve got great people in this country who can help Governments to start consciously planning the way forward. We must have a solutions plan, not because plans are final or immutable, but because they get you thinking about exactly how you are going to get a difficult job done. Plans help you get started on solutions.
Once we seriously start on transition to net zero carbon, I have every confidence we will experience something of a snowball effect. Our successes, which we can already see with home solar, will breed more successes, to coin a garbled expression. And we will then create the world-beating economy our grandchildren and their children will be financially secure in.
You get the drift, self-interest, if nothing else, should drive us to transition now to a world-class, post-carbon Australian economy.
But there’s more than self-interest at stake here. We don’t want to drive life on our Earth to extinction. We don’t want to be accused later of consciously allowing the Beautiful Blue Planet to become something less than it is simply because we didn’t care enough, do we?
I’m not sure how COVID-19 got me to that point, but there you are.
To the barricades!
Until next time.