This letter appeared in the 1 Jan 2013 print edition of The Canberra Times:

The Coalition seems preoccupied with the government’s level of debt while dismissing climate change as a plot to destroy capitalism. I wonder if it would help to pen a call to arms in terms that would be understood by fiscal conservatives?

Earth has a greenhouse gas loan. Normally, if we repay any additional borrowings from the loan quickly, the bank won’t get upset. In the past, the bank has also not been troubled by our lack of repayments and the interest bill has looked manageable. However, we are now receiving nasty notices telling us that at our current rate of borrowing, we are on track to exceed a balance that will induce much higher interest rates (positive climate feedbacks). This will make paying down the debt that much harder, and perhaps impossible.

Instead of reducing this debt in earnest, Australia has agreed to slightly slow the rate at which it accrues debt. Meanwhile, we are getting off our heads on coal-seam gas, popping the tops off the new shale oil, and opening some of the world’s largest new coalmines, all supported by public subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. Party on!

We have a serious hydrocarbon spending problem and are creating a carbon debt that will take much more than the next generation to pay off.

It may well bankrupt us. Climate change is not a left-wing conspiracy. It is the bank calling.

Ben Elliston, Hawker.

This reply then appeared in the 2 Jan edition:

We all like to start the new year with a chuckle and the silly season obliged with the letters from Marian Saines and Ben Elliston (January 1).

[irrelevant para deleted]

Elliston tries vainly to resurrect the tired old subject of climate change – a debate being played out solely in The Canberra Times when the rest of the country, and the world, have long since moved on and are more interested in actual issues that affect our standard of living, such as the economic crisis and the fiscal cliff.

John Moulis, Pearce.

I replied with this, which appeared in the 5 Jan issue:

So John Moulis (Letters, 2 Jan) would have us believe that climate change is a dead issue that doesn’t affect our standard of living, claiming that the rest of the world has “moved on”.

While News Limited has continued its extraordinary campaign of climate denial (search online for “10 dumbest things Fox said about climate change in 2012” or “The Australian’s war on science“), and Alan Jones has been forced to take a fact-checking course after making a string of blatantly untrue claims on climate, the reality has become more and more clear and urgent.

Eighty per cent of Americans polled in December believe climate change will be a serious problem for the US unless action is taken. The science itself, on the basic questions of whether warming is happening and whether it is mainly caused by human activity, is now incontrovertible: there are mountains of evidence in support and literally zero credible lines of evidence against.

The recent Climate Vulnerability Monitor report, commissioned by 20 governments, found that climate change is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6 per cent annually from global GDP. And this just a very early stage of the impacts – things are projected to get much, much worse in the coming decades unless we stop fiddling around the edges and start taking this thing seriously.

Matt Andrews, Aranda.

Also in the 5 Jan issue was this pertinent comment on Ben Elliston’s original letter:

Thank you, Ben Elliston (Letters, January 1) for your brilliant analogy. It will enlighten some readers who have not yet engaged with the climate change issue. However, the analogy breaks down in the seriousness of failure. The financier who fails can declare bankruptcy and, nowadays, start afresh. If we fail to respond adequately to climate change and the problem escalates (positive feedbacks) beyond our ability to influence the outcome, we and our descendants risk the equivalent of life sentences in a Dickensian debtors prison. That’s why it’s vital to reduce greenhouse gas emissions much more quickly than we are yet contemplating. We already know how to do this.

But instead, state and federal governments are moving strongly in the opposite direction. Yielding to short-term and misguided commercial interests, they are supporting a huge expansion in coalmining and coal seam gas extraction.

David Teather, Reid.