By Dr George Venturini
“All generalisations are dangerous, even this one.” Is a quote attributed to Alexandre Dumas, although it is not known who said it – le père ou le fils? With that caution, one could proceed to assert that most Australians live as the inhabitant of Plato’s cave.
In his work Republic Plato compared “the effect of education (παιδεία) and the lack of it on our nature.” The work was constructed as a dialogue between Plato’s brother Glaucon and his mentor Socrates, and is narrated by the latter.
Plato has Socrates describe a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality. Socrates explains how the philosopher is like a prisoner who is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall are not reality at all, for s/he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the manufactured reality which is the shadows seen by the prisoners. The inmates of this place do not even desire to leave their prison, for they know no better life.
Most Australians live that kind of life. And most of their public representatives are not much better.
Neither social group has much time for problems; they prefer solutions, so long as they are ‘fair’ – as defined from time to time, and ‘right’. It is from that attitude that the notion of ‘fair go’ and ‘she’ll be right’ come.
‘She’ll be right’ expresses the belief – even momentary – that “whatever is wrong will right itself with time.” It is considered to be either an optimistic or apathetic outlook. The expression may also be used to refer to a situation or object which is not perfect but is good enough to fulfil its purpose.
With that attitude, it is understandable that ‘there are no problems’ and one should look, if necessary, for solutions – however they may happen.
That attitude is even more strongly held if a problem appears to be too big, or incomprehensible – or both.
A young Greta Thunberg, a Swedish pupil aged 15, was invited (?), permitted to address COP24, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Katowice, Poland between 2 and 15 December 2018.
“Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed. So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past, and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming, whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge. And since our leaders are behaving like children, we will have to take the responsibility they should have taken long ago,” Greta said.
At COP24, 191 nations were eager to adopt the latest United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C, published on 8 October 2018 which gives the world roughly 12 years – until 2030 – to head off the worst effects of the climate crisis. This simple acknowledgement of the best current science available was blocked by the coercion of the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. The power politics of denial, led by the U.S., not only slows any rational response to continued warming, these politics encourage unchecked pursuit of the profitable but globally destructive practices which created the crisis in the first place.
Of course, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is not the only credible scientific body warning of the deepening climate crisis. The United States government’s official 1,596-page National Climate Assessment released in November also sounds alarms that increased warming will cost the U.S. billions of dollars and millions of lives. The White House has rejected it and the president said, “I don’t believe it.” All the same, the evidence is clear, the science is sound, the crisis is real. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres spoke urgently and lucidly to the COP24 gathering in Katowice, Poland, delivering in his own words essentially the same message as Greta Thunberg’s – that addressing and ameliorating climate change is not only necessary but entirely possible:
“We have the ways,” he said. “What we need is the political will to move forward … Failing here in Katowice would send a disastrous message to those who stand ready to shift to a green economy. To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change. It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.”
Of course, had the conference been held in Australia, Prime Minister Morrison would have admonished Greta and told her to go back to school and to her studies, with the implication that she should leave certain matters to ‘those who know’ – presumably Mr. Morrison and his Coalition.
There is a not-so-little problem there. Prime Minister Morrison has not made much fracas about his views on the subject of climate change – rather the warming of the Earth. And so, in the case, nobody is in charge.
Yet he should know that global greenhouse emissions increased in 2017 and again in 2018. (W. Boardman, ‘Climate crisis goes unabated, nations most responsible still anti-future’, Reader Supported News, 22 December 2018).
The sobering result of the U.N. climate summit is that global élites are not taking the climate crisis seriously enough. In its 1.5 degrees Special Report, the I.P.C.C. warns that for every additional tenth of a degree of global warming, there will be even more catastrophic effects on the environment and humankind and that we only have a very short timeframe of 12 years left to change course.
Unfortunately, those global élites cling on to profitable fossil fuel business model and governments defend their national interests associated with them.
The U.N. summit has decided on a rulebook to deal with the crisis, i.e. with general rules on the reporting of climate targets, actions and finance which are all necessary, but such action falls short of what the situation actually requires. Industrialised nations are clearly not making greater efforts to cut emissions, even though this is what is urgently needed. And if this was not bad enough, the resolutions of Katowice lack substance and are unfair in many regards.
The wrangling over the I.P.C.C.’s 1.5 degrees Special Report was scandalous and, despite it having been commissioned by the international community, it was watered down in the extreme by any means necessary due to pressure from Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States, before it could be included in the Katowice agreement. Instead of welcoming the report and its results – or demands, which is what diplomats say when they recognise the Report’s scientific validity, the I.P.C.C. received appreciation and thanks for finishing the Report on time. Parties however avoided making direct and affirmative reference to the Report’s conclusions. At this stage, it is absurd that the reality of climate disaster can still become a matter of debate.
“In many respects, Katowice highlights the fact that we cannot wait for governments to act. This makes more and more people angry. This anger is based on a radical political impetus which no longer believes that ‘those above’ can solve the problem.
This is exactly what we find in many newer movement initiatives: the wave of school strikes that Greta Thunberg initiated, the extinction rebellion movement which began in the U.K. [early in December] and is spreading, Ende Gelände [or ‘Here and no further’ were the words chanted by over 4,500 activists in the days directly preceding the U.N.’s climate negotiations taking place in Bonn in Germany. They marched through the small town of Elsdorf next to Europe’s largest lignite coal mine and planned to shut the mine down. Many residents waved out of their windows to the mile-long rally, just 60 kilometres from Bonn] and the solidarity actions for Hambacher Forst [which is an ancient forest located in North Rhine-Westphalia, western Germany, near Buir between Cologne and Aachen. It is planned to be cleared as part of the Hambach surface mine by owner RWE AG. There have been ongoing protests and occupations to prevent this since 2012], the resistance against the tar sand Keystone XL pipeline, the climate camps, the alliance between the climate movement and the French gilets jaunes ‘yellow vests’ movement.
“The conviction which connects all these initiatives is that the radical challenges of climate change demand equally radical answers. The world needs to delegitimise fossil fuel capitalism – by means of strong grass roots movements.” (N. Charaby, M. T. Lauron, T. Bender, K. Voigt, T. Müller and A. Torralba, ‘COP24: No Response to the Crisis’ – TheBullet, socialistproject.ca, 24 December 2018).
It may not be too pessimistic to conclude that; “The failure to address climate change seriously over the last three decades has put the world on a course toward disaster that will cost millions of lives, cause mass migrations and trillions of dollars in damage. A potentially existential threat has not been treated seriously by governments around the world. The United States has consistently played a negative role, preventing reduction of climate gases in repeated administrations.
It has been observed that the historic commitment countries made [in Paris] collectively [to] reduce emissions and tackle the climate crisis seems more vulnerable than ever to political and corporate obstruction. Inside the negotiations, big oil and gas exporters such as the Kuwait, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States blocked the welcoming of one of the most important scientific reports warning of the dangers of climate inaction. The rest of the world seems to have endorsed the more ambitious goal of limiting global temperature to 1.5 degrees – no small feat.”
While the Trump administration dropped out of the Paris agreement, it continued to try to undermine the international climate agreements. In Poland, the United States brought a pack of climate deniers to the event. DeSmog Blog reported; “There has also been a great dose of disinformation throughout the conference. A tight group of notorious climate science deniers were seen sitting in the front of row of a pro-fossil fuel event held by the Trump administration and backed by Australia’s environment ambassador.” (C. Farand, ‘Final Dispatch From COP24: What Just Happened?’, desmogblog.com, 14 December 2018).
Concluding two weeks of talks on how countries can implement the Paris climate agreement to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the diplomats reached a deal standardising how countries measure their carbon emissions and ostensibly ensuring that world leaders will be more aggressive in reaching their emissions targets in time for the next global summit in September 2019.
The final agreement left out directives on specific reductions in emissions by 2030. While it calls on wealthier countries to clarify how they will provide aid to less well-off nations – many of which are on the front lines of the climate crisis – more in-depth talks about developing countries needs were put off.
Advocates for bold, concrete reforms and directives – outlined in the People’s Demands for Climate Justice – said that the required sense of urgency for avoiding the climate catastrophe, that the world’s top scientists warn could take hold by 2030, was missing from the deal. (J. Corbett, ‘Stand With People, Not Polluters: Sit-In on Last Day of COP24 Highlights #PeoplesDemands for Ambitious Climate Action,’ commondreams.org, 14 December 2018).
“The weak outcome of this COP runs contrary to stark warnings of the IPCC report and growing demand for action from citizens,” said Wendel Trio, director of Climate Action Network Europe. “Governments have again delayed adequate action to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown. The EU needs to push ahead and lead by example, by providing more support to poor countries and increasing its climate pledge before the U.N. Secretary General Summit in September 2019. It must be a significant increase, even beyond the 55 per cent reduction some Member States and the European Parliament are calling for.”
The inadequate agreement, said the Union of Concerned Scientists, was the result not of a lack of understanding at COP24, but a lack of political will.
“There was clear recognition in Katowice that the world needs to get on a low-carbon pathway as soon as possible to meet the steep, near-term emission cuts the I.P.C.C. report indicated are needed by 2030,” said Dr. Rachel Cleetus, an economist at Union of Concerned Scientists. “Once again, developed countries failed to provide assurances that they would make sufficient, predictable funding available for least developed nations to help them cope with climate impacts, including the loss and damage they already face, as well as ramp up low-carbon technologies.”
“People expected action and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable,” said Ms. Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International. “The barely adequate outcome in Katowice means there’s much work ahead to ensure countries live up to their responsibilities to put more ambitious action on the table by 2020,” she added. “Without immediate action, even the strongest rules will not get us anywhere. People expected action and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable and they must now carry with them the outrage of people and come to the UN Secretary General’s summit in 2019 with higher climate action targets.”
“In Poland, there’s a clear rift between political elites who are guilty of a lack of ambition and are supporting the continued use of coal while people are calling for strong climate action,” said Greenpeace Poland campaigner Pawel Szypulski. “Two out of three Poles support a coal phase-out by 2030. The science is clear, we’ve got 12 years left and the technical means to avoid catastrophe. Now politicians need to listen and act.” (J. Conley, ‘COP 24 Deal Is Morally Unacceptable And Inadequate For Climate Crisis,’ popularresistance.org, 16 December 2018).
And in Australia? Would such way of speaking be heard, tolerated in Australian homes, schools, in Parliament? Perhaps only by the Greens.
Correctly Giles Parkinson remarked that the Coalition energy and climate policies had hit rock bottom at end of 2018.
“The federal Coalition government has achieved what most would have assumed impossible at the start of 2018: its position on climate and energy policies has worsened and shifted even further to the right.
The acrimony at the Council of Australian Governments, C.O.A.G. energy ministers’ meeting in Adelaide underlined the extent to which the Coalition policies make no sense. Even their state Liberal counterparts agree on this point.
At C.O.A.G., the Coalition, via the energy minister Angus Taylor, refused even [to] discuss the issue of emissions, prompting outrage by a New South Wales conservative government that is worried about its fate in an upcoming state election, and gleefully echoed by the Labor states.”
“The influential Institute of Public Affairs, the climate-denying “think tank” largely sponsored by Gina Rinehart, wrote an opinion piece for the Daily Telegraph describing the N.S.W. policy of reaching zero net emissions by 2050 as an attack against “ordinary people” and a contest between “Penrith and Paris.” (G. Parkinson, ‘Coalition energy and climate policies hit rock bottom at year’s end,’ reneweconomy.com.au, 20 December 2018).
Clearly, Australia is not on track to hit Paris emission goals, as the United Nations warns that global efforts must increase, wrote Nick Kilvert, online environment reporter in the ABC RN science. (‘Australia not on track to hit Paris emissions goals, as UN warns global efforts must increase,’ abc.net.au, 28 December 2018).
The way things are going, says Stephen Williams, professor of ecology and climate change at James Cook University, about half the endemic vertebrate species of the wet tropics could be extinct by the end of this century. Most of the rest would be expected to be critically endangered.
“We are a mega-diverse country, meaning we have a lot of wildlife that occurs nowhere else on Earth. Endemic species with limited dispersal options and small ranges are particularly vulnerable to extinction from climate impacts.
We have a World Heritage Area rapidly losing the things that made it a World Heritage Area,” he says.
There are other consequences of the present government’ attitude.
“Professor Kingsley Faulkner, an eminent surgeon and chair of Doctors for the Environment, ticks off some of the health consequences:
First, heatwaves. Every single city in this country will have many more days each year over 35 degrees. Over the past 100 years, more people have died of heat-related causes than any other natural problem.
Then, changes in disease patterns. Things like malaria, dengue, Ross River virus, will likely move south with increasing temperatures. Many bacterial diseases are aggravated by heat and more common in tropical and subtropical areas.
There also are effects on air quality and the emissions from fossil fuels. There’s an estimated 3000 deaths per annum from air pollution in Australia.”
The cost of air pollution due to the burning of coal in Australia is estimated at some $2.6 billion a year.
And there are mental health costs associated with the increased incidence of ‘natural’ disasters. Increased suicide rates among drought-stricken farmers, children traumatised by the destruction of their homes.
“No party should be elected without a credible climate policy,” Faulkner said.
“The latest IPCC report shows the absolute urgency of the issue. We wasted a decade, and this report says the next decade will be absolutely crucial. Unfortunately, in spite of the Wentworth result, this lot don’t seem to have learnt. They are still talking about subsidising coal, and having no strong emissions policy. They are appallingly inept.”
And the current sloganeering around “fair dinkum power” – Prime Minister Morrison’s coded slogan for more coal-fired electricity – amounts to “stupidity”.
“We are playing around with the lives of our children and grandchildren – we really are,” Faulkner said. (M. Seccombe, ‘Climate change claims its first mammal extinction,’ The Saturday Paper, 27 October 2018).
Another serious scientist has summed it up this way:
“Australia’s new PM Scott Morrison from its 4th PM-removing Coup in 8 years is a fervent Pentecostalist Evangelical Christian who attends church weekly, sends his children to a religious school and publicly invokes God. However Religious Right Scott Morrison has been intimately associated with successive Coalition Governments and has thus become variously complicit in their numerous and continuing crimes in 12 major areas ranging from gross abuse of child refugees and intellectual child abuse to war crimes and planet-threatening climate criminality. What would Jesus do? (WWJD?) Jesus would certainly not commit any of the numerous, appalling and well-documented Australian Coalition offences with which Religious Right PM Scott Morrison is complicit.
Thus re pro-coal COALition climate criminality, under the anti-science, anti-environment, anti-renewable energy, remorselessly neoliberal, pro-fossil fuels, pro-oil, pro-gas, pro-coal COALition, Australia is among the world leaders for the following: (a) annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, (b) live methanogenic livestock exports, (c) natural gas exports, (d) recoverable shale gas reserves that can be accessed by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), (e) coal exports, (f) land clearing and deforestation, (g) speciescide – species extinction, (h) coral reef destruction, (i) whale killing and extinction threat through global warming, (j) terminal carbon pollution budget exceedance, (k) per capita carbon debt, (l) GHG-generating iron ore exports, (m) climate change inaction, and (n) climate genocide.” (Dr Gideon Polya, Letter to colleagues, on ‘pro-coal COALition climate criminality’, 19 September 2018) See also: G. Polya, ‘Resolutely Promised Prosecutions Of Climate Criminals May Force Urgent Climate Action,’ countercurrents.org, 1 January 2019).
It seems that after seven long years of covering three more or less awful prime ministers the electorate is ready to risk Labor.
Continued Wednesday – Comedy without art (part 11)
Previous instalment – Comedy without art (part 9)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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