Yesterday on Crikey’s environment blog Rooted we began a discussion looking at that moment many have shared, when it dawns that climate change is a problem of pressing, desperate urgency. The shorthand for that flashing vision of impending doom is the “oh shit!” moment. The comments came thick and fast, spurred by a brief account of the recent work of German physicist and climate scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. According to Schellnhuber, the United States must cut emissions by 100% by 2020. Germany, Italy and other industrial nations must do the same by 2025 to 2030. China only has until 2035. The world as a whole must be carbon-free by 2050. Otherwise … a spiral of chaotic change.

In Australia it is still popular to question the very notion of climate change in the popular press; common to put the line that the “science is inconclusive”. Economic consequences still rate in the political calculus above, say, the reduction of the lower third of this continent to a uninhabitable dustbowl within a generation.

It’s pretty fair to say that as a nation we are yet to have our “oh shit!” moment.

When that moment comes we may finally accept the possibility that resolving climate change may involve more than a half baked gesture toward polluter appeasement and market forces (that’s the Rudd CPRS). It will imply economic pain. There will be reductions in the standard of living; fundamental changes to the way we live. It is something we will have to approach as a people united, terrified and appalled … but ready to act. Think Curtin’s wartime Australia. Think the spirit of the London blitz … a shared acknowledgement of the need for sacrifice. We aren’t there yet, and no one in our political class has the courage to even murmur the awful truth. Oh shit.