It’s the environment, stupid

climate-change-economy-aurich-lawson-ars-technica

In the aftermath of the 2013 Australian election, I spoke to a variety of my friends and colleagues about the core issues that motivated my voting intention. Chief amongst these was the issue of climate change, and the various parties’ approach to Labor’s ETS or another alternative. I voted below the line and took into account several important areas of policy, to the extent it was known, but the primary consideration for me was climate change.

In many cases during my discussions, I was disheartened to hear that climate change just wasn’t top of mind for these people I valued. For them, other issues took priority: Australia’s budget, its productivity, its two-tiered economy. There were others for whom provision of healthcare, education, housing and social benefits were of higher import. And there were some for whom the key issue was the two parties’ policies on refugees and boat arrivals.

What people perhaps fail to fully understand is that climate change will fundamentally alter every aspect of life and governance in this country and around the world. It is already having adverse effects on health, on productivity, on national economies and on food production. And all the scientists tell us that we are on the cusp of a downward slope, that things will get far worse from here.

Already we can see some of the effects of climate change on the front pages of our daily news. In early 2013, a report was published indicating that the 2012-2013 Sydney summer was the hottest on record. That was before the current summer of bushfires began. When every summer becomes the “hottest ever”, we have to start wondering about where the trend will lead. 2013 has seen climatic extremes across the globe: from  floods to blizzards, from droughts to heat waves, from tornadoes to wildfires, all of the linked events are record breaking or without precedent. But climate disasters, even when they directly affect people, are remote in comparison to daily pressures of life. They’re too big to easily comprehend as an immediate and pressing concern.

What seems needed is a connection between the oncoming threat of climate change and the pressing policy areas that do concern people. When the protest is made that money spent on carbon abatement could be better spent on hospitals, real information on the healthcare impacts of climate change is needed. When western Sydney voters are concerned about the tide of boat-borne refugees, a cold-eyed view of the millions of people who will be displaced from our asian neighbours (due more to loss of habitable land and food yields than to rising sea levels, although both are important) might help put the numbers in perspective.

There is one specific objection to prioritising climate change mitigation efforts and carbon abatement policy, and it’s a doozy. Under both Labor and the incoming Coalition government, Australia’s prosperity relies upon a continued efficiency in extracting mineral and fossil fuel wealth from our abundant reserves and selling them overseas. Under the newly elected Coalition, it is likely that this reliance on resource mining will increase, rather than decrease, as the government dismantles Labor’s perfunctory efforts at wealth transfer from the resources sector to high-tech industries and manufacturing. The Coalition’s rabid determination to vilify and destroy the “carbon tax” (more accurately described as an emissions trading scheme) is underpinned by this unspoken need to prop up Australia’s cash cow. Nothing can be allowed to interrupt the gravy train of that lovely, lovely brown coal. If they were to give an inch, to allow the ETS to continue, it wouldn’t be long until greenies were making cogent arguments about Australia’s net carbon export via its sale of coal to China and India. Failing a rational answer to such arguments, and unwilling to be the government under which Australia’s GNP collapsed, the best solution for the Coalition is to keep the fight focused on domestic use of energy.

On the wrong side of history

But the Coalition, as well as Labor and the whole of the nation, are caught up in the march of history. Cutting back on climate change priorities is a false economy. It will hurt us in the long run – not just environmentally, but financially.

Wind-generated power is currently cheaper than coal, and solar is not far behind. A little extra investment and solar power could take care of all Australia’s energy needs. Australia has, or had, some world-leading researchers and companies in the field of renewable energy, and it has wide-open spaces with very few people and plenty of sun and wind. Australia is a prime potential for development of economically viable renewable energy, removing our own need for fossil fuels, but also giving us high-tech energy generation to sell to other countries. Doing so would be costly. But the cost would be borne almost entirely by those energy companies already heavily invested in fossil fuels. Make no mistake: the average Australian would not suffer greatly from an immediate moratorium on coal mining. It is big companies, who hold long-term leases on prime coal-bearing land and whose net company worth is supported almost entirely on the coal still in the ground, which would be most affected. See Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math - I’ve linked to this article before but it deserves it.

Just because Australia has access to all this lovely, lovely coal doesn’t mean the rest of the world is standing still. As other nations implement carbon trading schemes, as new energy generation methods become available and economical, and as shale gas and other fossil fuels become increasingly exploited, the demand for coal and oil will decrease. Australia faces a growing risk of becoming the kid in the corner hawking his trading cards when the rest of the school has moved on to He-Man figures.

The long-term argument against coal goes along the following lines: the rapid emergence of shale gas, falling renewable energy costs, air pollution regulations, governance issues, action on climate change, changing social norms and worsening water constraints are putting pressure on coal’s competitiveness.  - King Coal running out of luck

This may be partly why the Coalition is desperate to clear regulatory blockages to large-scale shale gas (fracking) projects in this country. The writing is on the wall for coal, and Australia will quickly lose its competitive advantage. Then we really will be the poor white trash of Asia.

What would it take?

For every objection to the prioritisation of climate policy (beyond the frankly unworthy “it’s not happening, not listening, nyah nyah nyah”), it is possible to make a case that climate change will have a dramatic deleterious impact.

Regardless, there remain those for whom climate change is not an immediate priority. The question must be asked, what would make it an immediate priority? Will it require the displacement of millions and a logarithmic increase in climate refugees reaching Australia? At what point does the loss of much of Australia’s food production capacity trigger our concern? We’re already facing annual floods/fires/heatwaves/climate events – how far does it have to go before we see the signs? Will the recognition of a “new normal” of climate events and weather spur us to action, or will it simply move us past action to despair? When the tides are swamping our cities and sucking at our toes, will we perhaps think that climate change may be worth our investment?

By the time these things come about, it will be far too late to change them. It may already be too late. Immediate, desperate, strong action may yet provide us a chance to partially mitigate the damage. But we need to make climate change a priority.

Unfortunately those who don’t want to spend money and opportunity now to combat a remote threat from the future are the same kinds of people who don’t want to invest now to build capacity for the future. They’re the economic rationalists, and they’re in charge of the funhouse.

Co-published on Random Pariah

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Categories: General, Politics, Science

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27 replies

  1. Perhaps an environment is “living beyond our means”.
    Although, as someone who studied to be a priest, perhaps Abbott is just trying to hurry on the Apocalypse. :)

  2. TA’s tea party mates certainly look forward to and would welcome the second coming preceeded by the Apocalypse

  3. My thoughts EXACTLY! I also shake my head in disbelief at those who seem to think there are more important issues than the future of our planet, and our ability to live on it! Everything else the Libs mess up can be altered and corrected …unfortunately it will be too little too late for our environment. I fear for our future generations, who will most likely despise us for failing to take action while we still (maybe) had the time.

  4. Definitely agree about this. The refugee issue is particularly ironic. Climate change is going to create millions of them which will pale the 25,000 or so odd asylum seekers currently arriving annually in Australia.

  5. The hypocrisy and stupidity of the LNP never ceases to amaze me.
    It’s a national emergency.How not to have these clowns in for the next three years?
    Confusion and lack of transparency reign. A lot of people don’t read but you would think they would at least look out the window.
    What is this apathy all about. Beats me.

  6. ‘In terms of the environment. I wonder what price the people of tomorrow will pay for the stupidity of today’
     

  7. What people don’t realise is that if the world is habitable at all it will be hell, “climate change has happened before and the world has come good” say the deniers but fail to say that it took 100 million years for the Earth to get back into equilibrium, and that countless species went extinct in that time. Another extinction event of our own making and we may just be in the firing line.

  8. I’ve always found the “Climate Change isn’t real and besides the earth’s climate is always changing” arguments a very strange combination!

  9. As I stated in many, many comments in the lead-up to the election, the principal driver behind my voting intentions was always the environment. How anyone could have been swayed by less significant issues such as refugees, political personalities or government debt – simply beggars belief.

    While these are important issues, the pale into insignificance next to the damage we are wreaking upon the environment.

    For me, the Greens were the only party with long-term, progressive policies aimed at mitigating and correcting the damage, whereas the two major parties were either in outright denial or their willingness to act reduced, due to their commitment to big business and miners, first and foremost. It was this policy alone that determined my vote because everything we are and everything we do, hinges upon the environment.

    The denialist approach of doing nothing because it will harm the economy and cost jobs is at the very least dangerously stupid – at worst it is mindlessly destructive, because if the environment collapses, the economy goes with it and so does everything else we so value in our society.

    If we have no clean water to drink, no land capable of supporting agriculture, oceans devoid of fish, then everything else in life is secondary. If these clowns in government think we have a refugee problem now, just wait for the full effects of climate change start to impact many third world nations, because we’re going to have tens of thousands more refugees flooding our doorstep.

    Here’s an interesting article on yet another overlooked impacts of climate change – ocean acidification: http://theconversation.com/climate-change-plays-russian-roulette-with-the-worlds-oceans-19185

  10. Does TA use terms like “repent” as a dogwhistle or just to infuriate the non-religious sections of the community – or both ?

  11. Absolutely Ozfenric! Your article was a great mirror for a lot of people. I think our only alternative in the face of political moronism is to take on the challenge ourselves. The challenge is certainly made harder by having to go head to head with the rapid instigation of faulty economic reasoning on behalf of a recalcitrant government.

    People power. We need to come together and become a force to be reckoned with. Difficult, considering the current media, but through social media and alternative media like this, not impossible. We need to stop preaching to the converted though and reach out to the people that often make our blood boil the most.

    Bill McKibben, 350.org promote the use of divestment, its’ a powerful way to starve the coal, gas and oil industries. Fight economics with economics. I’ve been working on a way to provide a personalised action plan for the people who, feeling depressed and sidelined, and who feel there is no way forward. http://www.pozible.com/project/35124
    First four minutes of a 30 minute animated movie.

  12. The stupidity of the Aspirational Bogans is difficult to believe. They are condemning us to oblivion.
    We must resist.

  13. There are several issues that are of concern in all this as the dirty deals are bring done. Clive Palmer having the balance of power in the Senate is going to lead to a sizable conflict of interest. The “one-stop shop” for development applications and the cutting of green tape and handing power back to the states is a recipe for disaster.

    Firstly, Palmer’s Queensland Nickel has been slugged with a more than $6 million charge by the government’s Clean Energy Regulator for failing to account for thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions as required by law.

    Instead of following the rules – despite the interest charge of 20 per cent that applies to the penalty – Palmer is fighting it in the High Court, claiming the tax is “unconstitutional”.

    A spokesperson for Palmer confirmed Queensland Nickel filed its petition in the High Court in May, claiming the tax discriminates against businesses on the basis of where they conduct business.

    http://www.brw.com.au/p/business/clive_palmer_nickel_group_hit_with_JaGBBEeofaolsmJGyqPROL

    CLIVE Palmer is demanding Tony Abbott repeal the carbon tax retrospectively and refund billions in revenue in exchange for his party’s crucial Senate support in a move that would enable the businessman to escape a $6.2 million disputed charge for emissions.

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/pup-carbon-tax-support-to-cost-10bn/story-e6frg6xf-1226739247826#

    Secondly, the managing director of Clive Palmer’s proposed $6bn China First coalmine met senior federal Environment Department officials on Monday to determine “whether or not” new federal environmental laws would apply to the project.

    The mining magnate – who has clinched a powerful four-senator voting bloc from next July – needs a federal government decision before he can proceed with plans to export 40 million tonnes of coal each year.

    The decision is required under new laws passed by the former Labor government which demand a cumulative assessment of the impact on water resources of China First and other proposed coal mega-mines in Queensland’s Galilee basin.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/14/clive-palmer-australia

    Third, Tony Abbott is under pressure to rush through the biggest coal mining expansion in Australian history, with Queensland Premier Campbell Newman telling the prime minister-elect to ”get out of the way” in the Galilee Basin.

    In his first phone call with the Queensland Premier since winning the election, Mr Abbott asked his conservative counterpart what his priorities were for Queensland.

    ”[Mr Abbott] … asked me what the blockers were for my government and I said without any hesitation the need to see the massive Galilee Basin coal projects approved as soon as possible,” Mr Newman told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

    ”It’s really just to get out of the way, let this government get on with taking the state forward economically.”

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/get-out-of-our-way-on-huge-mines-abbott-told-20130911-2tks7.html#ixzz2hpyeJnip

  14. I have been trying to conserve on the planet since the early 70s and from what I have seen, through all my frustrations and protesting, is that there are two types of people. Those who care that their children and grandchildren have a good life ahead of them and a preserved environment of all this Earth’s natural wonders.

    The others could not care less. They say “Oh we’ll be dead, so what is the point”. They just dont care or have compassion this way, even for their own children. This is what we are up against. The latter will not change until it is up there right in their faces. The sea rising is gouging away at their lot of land. The air conditioner costs too hefty, to have on full bore every day through summer. Summers seeming to be stretching on forever, and brief winters. Their house keeps getting damage from severe storms. Not to mention severe droughts where heavy water restrictions apply. These people are not hardwired mentally to think about their affect on the future. How do we get their brains functioning in a better way? How do we get them to see past their selfishness and greed?

    What is so tragic is, that when I see a new baby born, the absolute miracle that it is, I lament and think ‘the poor child’ to be born in to these times. What is their life going to be like? It’s almost a sacrilege to be giving birth. But still humanity goes on breeding up big. That is what is so sad about it all.

    One way would be giving women good education, jobs and something to do with their lives other than giving birth, until we get it all stabilized. As it is with this govt. we have now, being so anti women, and climate change deniers, it is looking very dark and depressing indeed. We dont really have all the time in the world at this late stage. It is the hike of the exponential curve is trending up and getting faster and faster with the developing problem, that we are seeing.

  15. Palmer United Party stands for and is committed in its efforts and vision to carry out the following functions:

    •Party Officials should not be Lobbyists, thereby taking a strong position on Paid Political Lobbyists, saving tax payers dollars and introducing Fair Policies

    •Abolish the Carbon Tax

    •Revising the current Australian Government’s Refugee Policy to ensure Australia is protected and refugees are given opportunities for a better future and lifestyle

    •Creating Mineral Wealth to continuously contribute to the welfare of the Australian community. This will be achieved by utilising mineral resources from Queensland and Western Australia, and incentives from the Commonwealth of Australia to establish downstream processing in the States of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia; and exporting products at a higher dollar value, thereby creating more revenue, jobs, tax and more facilities.

    •Establishing a System where people create wealth in various parts of the country and for that wealth to flow back to the Community that generates the wealth. For example, if a particular region creates wealth, a significant percentage of that wealth should go back to the region.

    Now THERE’S a set of policies for you!! That should solve all our problems.

  16. Just when I thought the LNP couldn’t be any more myopic, their leader said, “Repent.”

    Not just suffering from my chronic illness, I just can’t find words now. From the self interest of the Clive Palmers to the complete idiocy of the Tony Abbotts – I truly despair.

  17. I know pitiful isn’t it?. Can you believe an Aussie leader saying repent! If anything he needs to repent his own sins. Like all the rorting etc. etc. and there are lots of those etcs. he needs to bear. He is passing the buck so he doesn’t get clobbered. The guy has a stench about him fior sure. Just send it back. Let him sink in it. Comet ISON is supposed to be the “pope killer”. As mad as all this seems….bring it on for the wannabe Popes! LOL

  18. Heather – it is not for the people who just don’t care that we write articles such as this. It’s for those who really do care about the future and the well-being of their children and grandchildren, but just can’t seem to connect the dots between the science and current symptoms of climate change, and the aspects of life that are just more important to them. They’re a bit like the folk who stoicly ignore the stomach twinges they’re feeling and will feel betrayed in the future when the cancer has become incurable.

    These are the people for whom we need to argue that there is no humane solution to refugees when there are millions fleeing the deserts their homes have become; that there is no relief for cost of living when there is simply not enough food being grown to support eight billion people; that there can be no efficient healthcare when heat stress, climate disasters and the spread of tropical diseases burgeon; and that there is no economic reason we should be staying with yesterday’s fuels when clean, inexhaustible energy is not just possible but cheaper.

    Surely – surely! – most people aren’t selfish enough to recognise the issues but not care. Far more people coast along in the blithe unconcern that the boffins will fix it, or that “carbon dioxide is good for the plants, and besides we could use another couple of degrees during the winter”. We need to convince people that we need to act immediately, and that the outcomes are dire and all-encompassing if we do not.

    First comes belief – and despite a desperate rearguard action, climate change deniers are losing that battle. Next comes relevance. With any luck, that leads to action.

  19. Screeeam!! That “repent” was unforgivable. Unbelievable! Pathetic! etc. etc.

    Going backwards isn’t going to work! With such myopic leaders we just have to stand up and be counted! The time must be here for some street demonstrations. There were some against the ‘Carbon Price/Tax’, we should retaliate! Huh to think that Tony thinks has a mandate!! .

  20. A very well written article OzFrenic, thank you for taking the time to write and share it with us. And some wonderful comments too.

    ‘All Truth passes through 3 stages,
    - first, it is ridiculed,
    - second, it is violently opposed,
    - third, it is accepted as being Self Evident.’ Schopenhauer.

    Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait too much longer for #3 to take complete control in the minds of all citizens/governments of the only habitable planet we have access to…

  21. The Abbott government could face a $4bn cost and corporate confusion if the new Senate — where Clive Palmer’s senators hold crucial balance of power votes — does not rapidly pass the bills repealing Labor’s carbon pricing scheme as soon as it sits next July.

    Palmer said on Wednesday he would not be revealing his stance on the repeal for some time, and repeated his demand that the Coalition refund businesses for the carbon tax they have already paid — something the new prime minister has already said will not be possible.

    Palmer, who is disputing a $6.2m carbon tax bill for his Queensland Nickel mine, insisted the fact that his senators would vote on legislation directly affecting his business interests presented no conflict of interest.

    “Conflict of interest is about personal interest, my interest … it is not about parties having conflict of interest, that is a lot of bullshit, it is a beat up of the press … It’s just a load of rubbish, it’s a beat up by you guys because you haven’t got a lot of news,” he said.

    “The meter starts running on the Commonwealth’s exposure on 1 July 2014 and there is potentially a $4bn barrel over which Clive Palmer’s party and other crossbenches can hold the government, in order to extract their own particular interests or concessions,” said the chief executive of the Climate Institute, John Connor.

    Labor’s acting climate change spokesman, Mark Butler, said “”The problem with this legislation as it stands is that it puts absolutely nothing credible in place of the carbon tax. Come to the table and seriously discuss an emissions trading scheme.”

    Elisa de Wit, partner at legal firm Norton Rose Fulbright specialising in climate law, said until the repeal passed parliament, companies would still be liable and she would be advising clients to continue to pass the tax through to their customers.

    “This legislation does not deal with the scenario that the repeal is not passed by the abolition date,” de Wit said.

    “If that happens companies will still be liable and as a lawyer I would be advising my clients that they still need to comply with the existing laws because they would not know if the repeal was going to be passed, or when, or in what form.

    “It would be prudent for them to continue to pass the price through to their customers, but once the repeal goes through those customers may want a refund … that is going to get very complicated.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/16/abbott-repeal-carbon-tax-stalled

  22. Well the trick is getting it all through to this deliberately deaf, dumb and blind government – “there is none so blind as those who will not see”

  23. OzFrenic, thanks for your inspiration. I found this online. Thought it was very good.

    http://issuu.com/iynforg/docs/gtb/5

    There is so much more we can do. And where are all the solar panels on nearly every roof or multi-unit development in Sydney?

  24. The economic rationalists are making the choice….coal or the reef? money or the environment? tell Gina and her partner yes or n….n…..n….

    “The government is assessing the suitability of Adani Group to build Australia’s largest mine and coal port at Abbot Point after it was revealed the company is facing multi-million dollar fines in India for damage allegedly inflicted on the environment.

    The Department of Environment has requested to view damning documents which state there is “incontrovertible evidence” that Adani Group has violated environmental conditions in relation to a port development in Gujarat. The report also states that the port development has caused “massive ecological changes with adverse impacts”, some in violation of environmental conditions.

    The assessment, conducted by a panel appointed by the Indian government and handed to the country’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, investigated a catalogue of alleged breaches committed by Adani Group at the Mundra port.

    Significantly, given concerns raised by Australian farmers over the impact of mining on groundwater quality, the panel found Adani Group had “failed to fulfill” precautions to monitor salinity intrusion into the water table.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/14/abbot-point-indian-record-scrutiny?CMP=soc_568

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