Curious Climate schools
Curious Climate schools

Alexander Burton

School of Geography, Planning, and Spatial Sciences, University of Tasmania
Research Areas
Sustainability, crisis, collapse and utopia
Why I do what I do
I grew up hearing about climate change. It made me anxious and scared. I wondered why nobody was doing anything about it. Then I realised, I am somebody! I do what I do because knowing what we mean with our words helps us communicate, and helps bring people and the environment together. The way we talk about a problem changes how we solve it.
Something interesting about me
Only called ‘Alexander’ by substitute teachers and the Government.

Questions answered by this expert

When might climate change slow down?

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Why don't people keep living the way they did before climate change?

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How does climate change affect culture and the way society functions?

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Would our world be the same now if the industrial revolution hadn’t happened?

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Our world would be very different without the Industrial Revolution. It has been so impactful that historians refer to the time before it as the Early Modern Era and the time since the 18th Century as the Modern Era. Make no mistake, these eras are very different. Before the Industrial Revolution most people lived in the countryside. Because of the Industrial Revolution jobs, resources, money, and people became centralised in cities, which had been much smaller beforehand. Much of what we take for granted is partly because of the Industrial Revolution. Modern governments, police forces, property and renting, education systems, jobs types and more would look very different if it had not happened. In other words, our social systems have been strongly influenced by the fossil fuel economies built because of the Industrial Revolution.

Pre-industrial society: The harvesters, Pieter Breugel the elder, 1565.

This is also the case for modern technology and life in general. Cars, planes, modern medicine, electricity, indoor plumbing, shopping malls and supermarkets, we take all these things for granted. This is what makes action on climate change so difficult. The Industrial Revolution has created our modern lives as well as climate change. We can acknowledge how the Industrial Revolution has made our lives better. But we should also acknowledge how it has caused air and water pollution, more diseases, C02 and other greenhouse gas emissions, bad working conditions for many, and more advanced weapons and dangerous conflicts. It also has not unfolded equally or fairly for everyone. 

But we do not need to choose between a carbon-heavy industrialised and non-industrialised life. We can change our societies and economies, just like they were changed to make the Industrial Revolution, and we can focus on what we want to do differently. By decarbonising our economies we will no longer rely on fuel and energy that cause climate change. Pollution that runs into the soil and water can be filtered. The amount of damage we do to the environment can be drastically reduced, and if we change not just our economies but also our societies, we can even work to regenerating the environment as well. It will just take us a lot of work - a real transformation of our current society - to get there.  

How will climate change affect our generation in the future?

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Climate change and its causes will affect your generation in many different ways, in Australia and elsewhere. These include rising average temperatures, more frequent and severe storms, floods and bushfires, and extinction of plants and animals. The loss of topsoil from drought, flood and wind and unpredictable weather will affect farming and could cause more frequent and severe famines. This could lead to increasing political tensions in some countries around access to resources. People and governments will need to spend more money on safety and preparedness. These impacts are all related to one another.  

Boy in the aftermath ofa typhoon in the Philippines. Photo: Climate Visuals creative commons/ADB

A lot of produce will become more expensive as environments change. This includes coffee and honey, and even some vegetables, fruits and meat. Campfires, burn-offs and open-flame barbeques would be restricted for longer parts of the year as fire bans become increasingly common. Take the example of the 2020 bushfires. More than 3 billion animals were impacted, forests were damaged or destroyed, and human tragedies included loss of life, health, homes and livelihoods. Crises like this would be repeated in increasingly worse fire seasons, meaning bigger and bigger expenses for fire preparedness. Taking action on climate change will not stop these impacts entirely, but it can reduce them.

Climate change and its causes impact more than the natural environment. They have knock-on impacts in health. Air, water and soil pollution will continue to cause health conditions and worsen existing ones like cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as cancers. While these outcomes are less common in Australia, they happen here too. People in poorer communities with fewer support structures are impacted most. Your generation will see these impacts in your lifetimes. In fact, you already have. Increased exposure to new infectious diseases in the environment has also been linked with climate change, meaning epidemics and pandemics may be a thing of the future and not just the present.

While these impacts cannot be stopped completely, there is so much that can be done to avoid the worst of it. If we rapidly reduce the greenhouse gas we emit, we can improve the future for your generation and the generations who follow you. Action on climate change now will play an important part in your future quality of life, and in the lives of many others around the world in your lifetime.

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