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Stop your lies, Frydenberg, your environment and climate policy is a failure

Bobbing its blue-grey head and cackling, ecstatically, as it greets its mate, the Southern Black-throated Finch, (Poephila cincta cincta) whose rufous wings and cinnamon body evoke a tiny, tan Driza-Bone coat, is fighting to survive.

Only one-eighth of its natural habitat remains in North Queensland. Even that remnant is under threat as habitat-clearing continues. Should seventeen proposed new Galilee Basin mines proceed, we’re all in trouble.

Twenty years ago, we made laws to help. Our Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) was lauded as a way to preserve endangered species. Queensland’s own Vegetation Management Act was set up in the same year to regulate the clearing of vegetation. Neither has succeeded. The fate of the gregarious and plucky black-throated finch illuminates the failure of our attempts at environmental governance.

The EPBC is fragmented, decentralised and inconsistent among states. It is unclear what is state and what is national responsibility. Compounding all is a lack of accountable federal leadership. On cue, Sunday, ScoMo does a runner. He declines an invitation to appear on ABC The Insiders. Josh Frydenberg appears instead. He lies about,

“… why we take our Paris commitments seriously and why we’ll beat our 2030 target, just as we’ve beaten our original Kyoto target and on track to beat our 2020 target. We have $25 billion in renewable investment currently underway in Australia – a record amount. And we are one of the most attractive destinations in the world for renewable energy. We’re also investing in Snowy 2.0 to become the big battery on the east coast of Australia. But you shouldn’t see climate change as a zero-sum game, as a binary choice between doing something and doing nothing.”

Frydenberg should tell the truth. We fudged Kyoto by including land clearing. (LULUCF). Article 3.7, The Australia clause, was added to the agreement by Howard’s environment minister, Robert Hill. It allows countries with net emissions from land-use change, usually land clearing, to include those emissions in their baseline calculation.

Barrie doesn’t call him on it. The lie is repeated each time a Morrison government minister trots out the day’s talking points. Hill’s fiddling the books greatly benefited Australia. In 1990, when the baseline was determined, Australia was land clearing massively. After 1990, a Hawke Government initiative saw land-clearing cut sharply.

The resulting credit was big enough to allow Australia to boost emissions, especially from electricity generation and transport fuels while sticking within its rigged Kyoto-con emissions limits. Yet the credits have run out now and a useful question for the Coalition, sadly not asked on Insiders, is how do we plan to meet our target now?

Given our LULUCF credit has now expired, what cuts will be made in which other sources to meet even the lame 26-28 per cent reductions we committed to in our signing the Paris Agreement? Or why is ScoMo shying away?

What is clear is that the PM won’t appear, Barrie Cassidy explains, until after the election. Morrison’s pathological fear of scrutiny, his love of secrecy and his contempt for accountability are entrenched. As Immigration Minister he’d walk out of his own press briefings. A reverse space invasion. Then he abandoned briefings altogether.

Poorly led at federal level, our attempts to protect our environment are maladministered; open to abuse. Above all, nowhere do they factor in climate change, flaws writ large also in The Murray Darling Basin scandal.

Last October, the UN gave all of us twelve years to curb catastrophic climate change. In March, it called for ambition, urgency “We are the last generation that can prevent irreparable damage to our planet,” warns General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, “climate justice is intergenerational justice.”

If we don’t curb our carbon emissions to 45% by 2030, zero by 2050, keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels expect more droughts, floods and heatwaves; more extreme, freak weather.

Hundreds of millions of us will be forced into poverty. Yet nowhere in our phony election campaign is climate change seriously addressed. Only school children demonstrating, it seems, grasp the reality; the urgency.

Instead, a coal-puppet Coalition ignores its role in increasing carbon emissions; brazenly lies that we’ll meet our Paris targets “at a canter” when, in fact, we’ll miss our modest target of 26 per cent by 2030. Our current policies are more consistent with a scenario of four degrees warming. Disastrous. And it will be expensive.

University of Melbourne’s Professor Tom Kompass sums up, “The severe falls in GDP in the long term will put many governments in fiscal stress. Tax revenues will fall dramatically and increases in the frequency and severity of weather events and other natural disasters, which invoke significant emergency management responses and expenditures, indicate that pressure on government budgets will be especially severe.”

Modelling from Brian Fisher of BAE Economics, a coal-lobby stooge, who never met a climate plan he didn’t like, is used as a diversionary dead cat on the table. Labor’s carbon abatement will be hideously unaffordable – causing GDP to drop by “up to” $542 billion by 2030. The diversion is taken up by MSM, now, while Morrison delights in pretending that Labor can’t cost its policy or it’s hiding the true cost. For ScoMo, it beats trying to save the planet.

What is unaffordable is doing nothing. No coalition MP acknowledges the $130 billion PA, The Australia Institute (TAI) calculates doing nothing would cost our annual GDP. Our climate debate is deficient on three points:

  1. The cost of inaction on climate change is huge – Australia’s GDP would average $130 billion per year lower if the Paris Agreement is not achieved according to a prominent study.
  2. Under the carbon price period, Australia successfully reduced emissions by 2% while the economy grew by 5%.
  3. Economic literature suggests the economic impacts of climate policy will be minor.

For the Coalition to claim we even need modelling to show we can’t afford carbon abatement is a monstrous lie.

“In just two years Australia reduced emissions by 2% and grew the economy by 5% under a carbon price and the sky did not fall in. In fact, employment grew by 200,000 jobs,” writes TAI Research Director Rod Campbell.

The nomadic black-throated finch once foraged for fallen seeds and the odd spider, termite or ant from Inverell in northern NSW to Cape York in Queensland. Today it’s lost the southern two-thirds of its former range. Yet such is the incoherence of our ineffectual environmental protection systems that it is all too easy to play politics

The vast, grassy woodland, the finch once grazed, is now, mostly farm paddock. Clearing for Adani’s massive Carmichael mine would tip the gregarious bird into extinction. Yet this week, the Queensland government puts Adani on hold because its plans to protect the endangered finch do not meet the miner’s approval conditions.

Howls of outrage erupt from Adani and its claque. It’s “a massive blow”. Adani won’t be able to start construction for another five years, “a spokesman” tells The Australian’s Charlie Peel who joins Michael McKenna, in public handwringing, promoting the Coalition lie that state and federal Labor MPs are delaying and politicising Adani’s approval because the mine is unpopular with voters in “inner-city electorates”.

Helpfully, Federal Resources Minister, Barnaby Joyce’s protégé, Matt Canavan, tells The Australian that Labor has caved in to pressure from the Greens and from inner-city ­electorates. “The Labor Party has to answer why they are listening to anti-coal academics in Melbourne and not the workers of central and north Queensland,” he says. Canavan could tell workers the truth. Opening Adani or any other new mine will put existing jobs at risk.

Research by The Australia Institute estimates that developing the Galilee Basin would reduce coal mining jobs by 9,000 in the Hunter Valley (NSW), 2,000 in the Bowen Basin (QLD) and 1,400 in the Surat Basin (QLD), compared to a scenario with no Galilee mines out to 2035. With declining world demand for coal, each new mine opened in The Galilee Basin will cause layoffs and closures in Australian mines elsewhere. And jobs in the industry are scarce.

Across Australia, coal mining accounts for half of one percent of all jobs (0.5%) or half a job out of every hundred. Even in peak coal-mining territory, North Queensland, coal mining represents only four percent of all jobs. Twice as many jobs are to be found on reef regions, jobs which Adani’s Abbott Point pollution has already endangered.

“If Adani can’t safely operate Abbot Point, how can it be expected to safely operate a giant coal mine?” asks ACF’s Christian Slattery.

The Stop Adani convoy which began in Hobart just before Easter, arrives in Canberra today and in a rally on Parliament House lawn, Bob Brown tells thousands that they can’t rely on divine intervention to prevent the Adani coal mine. He also explains that the journey has not always been cheered on by fellow Australians.

“We had rocks thrown at us, we had people spat on, some people were actually physically abused.”

Writer and Booker-prize winning novelist, Richard Flanagan makes an impassioned speech. MPs are patently insincere when they profess to care about workers, Richard Flanagan, who grew up in a coal town, says.

“If they cared wouldn’t they be advocating to end black lung disease, a 19th-century industrial disease now returned, because of unsafe working conditions, to kill Australian coal miners in the 21st century?”

If they cared wouldn’t they be speaking out about the increasing casualisation and pay stripping of coal miners, supported by the Morrison government?

And if they cared wouldn’t they question whether Adani is an appropriate business to employ Australian miners? Adani, such a friend of the working man that, when building its giant Shantigram luxury estate in India, it housed workers in conditions so appalling that there were 15 recorded outbreaks of cholera.”

As the canary is a type of finch, the black-throated finch may be the canary in our national coalmine. Perhaps its fate will receive such publicity that it will serve to alert the nation and its leaders to the need to act on climate.

Adani may never act. Despite it’s epic “gunner” political theatre, Adani may do nothing but endlessly re-announce that work is beginning. A lot of care goes into the performance. “Gunner start” “before Christmas” the latest reveals planning. “Gunner start.” Presto! A yellow grader appears. Workers in Hi-Vis vests clear scrub. But that’s it. Adani, clearly, has no intention of beginning unless it can get funding or compo from our government.

It’s likely to be a long, slow, wait. Environmentally catastrophic, financially unviable yet outrageously oversold, Adani’s Carmichael Mine is surreal performance art with a hefty price tag. Last July it failed to pay $18.5 million for 12.5 billion litres of water, a fee to take water from the Sutton River. No matter. It gets another year to pay while world demand for coal continues its four-year fall. Public subsidies and freebies could sustain it forever.

Currently, thermal coal fetches up to US$90/tonne for top quality Newcastle coal but prices are declining. Carmichael, which has inferior coal, is a basket case unless it can earn over US$110/tonne.

Adani is hanging on, partly to disguise booking a loss of $3bn on its accounts, spent acquiring the mine and partly in the hope its lawyers can persuade an Australia government to compensate it for breach of contract.

University of Queensland economist John Quiggin reminds Guardian Australia readers that the current price of coal is enough to prevent Adani’s Carmichael Mine or Clive Palmer’s or Gina Rinehart’s or any of the other mines from ever opening. Adani has no intention of investing its own money. It would take a massive ongoing government subsidy. For every new Adani worker employed, another job would be lost by a competitor.

But it’s art with a hefty price tag. Adani will string things out until it’s told to go away or long enough to demand compensation from the federal government. John Quiggin suggests that a claim is possible under the investor-state dispute settlement system (ISDS) which applies despite the lapse of our free trade agreement with India.

An emblem for every living, sentient being on our planet ark, the tiny finch is, at best, granted a stay of execution.

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon,” David Attenborough warns the UN. Action, of sorts, occurs late in the week on Adani’s plans.

Despite invisible Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, ticking the box, Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science, (DES) spurns Adani’s offer of a cow paddock as an adequate bird management plan. With seventeen coal mines proposed for the Galilee Basin, Adani may be banking on the finch’s inevitable demise. On the other hand, with coal-mining increasingly uneconomic, the government may be banking on Adani stalling.

Yet we live in a land where coal barons own politicians. Not to mention a media cheer squad. Even ABC 24 anchor Ros Childs asks an expert guest if the creature’s plight is not just “an Adani stalling tactic”. Our national broadcaster plays into mainstream media fictions; false narratives about how noble coal-barons create jobs and prosperity but their mission to boost our prosperity is thwarted by the pettifogging impediments of Green lawfare.

In fact, miners’ bulldozers and land clearing for sugar-cane farms and apartment buildings have razed vast tracts of the black-throated finch’s North Queensland home, its last refuge after pastoralists’ land-clearing and overgrazing led to the species’ extinction in NSW in the 1990s. Solar farms are proposed. Adani and Palmer’s and Rinehart’s proposed giant open cut and underground coalmines, should they proceed, will inevitably spell the end.

A sleek but thickset bird that seeks only to forage for fallen seeds in an undisturbed natural habitat is locked in a heroic battle for survival in a week of dirty electioneering, in which neither science nor nature, nor environmental law has its champion – the southern black-throated finch assumes iconic status; a type of national emblem.

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  1. Keith

    To put the LNP climate “policy” into context … it is nothing more than for a male to be pissing into a strong wind.

    We continually have Morrison saying we will meet our promises to reduce emissions in a canter; except, a number of emission creating sectors are not taken into account.

    Accounting does not take into account all the fossil fuels shipped overseas; the burning of those fossil fuels harms us, and also other countries. It means that the extensive fossil fuel exports make a mockery of the useless goal set by the LNP to reduce emissions, greenhouse gases do not know boundaries.

    The measure of CO2 in the atmosphere is ~410 ppm (parts per million), the last time it was as high was 3 million years ago. Civilisation could not exist in a situation where the sea level was around 60 feet higher than now, or just shy of 20 meters. The Thwaites and Totten glacoers are in poor shape currently. The amount of 4 year + sea ice in the Arctic is down to 1.2%, 35 years ago it was around 30%. Multi year sea ice provides strength and structure.

    So, we have politicians such as Abbott lecturing students on strike; yet, the students clearly have a better knowledge of what is going on with the climate than Abbott. On climate; Abbott, Kelly, Andrews, Kanavan, Joyce et al are a waste of space. Opinion that is derived from pseudo science does not measure up to the science provided by climate scientists with PhDs using sophisticated equipment and observations to add weight to scientific knowledge.

    As any real action has been slowed to a crawl, if that, by the denier industry; we are now in very dangerous territory. The chance of holding global temperature at 1.5C above pre-industrial times is zero, 1.5C is a dangerous temperature. The present business as usual approach means temperatures will go beyond 2C.

    The possibility of an ice free Arctic Ocean is possible any year from now, optimists regard 2030 as being the year. An ice free Arctic is seen to be a tipping point, it will have an impact on permafrost thawing that provides a further tipping point.

    The costs of doing nothing do not bear thinking about. If the LNP had a semblance of a view about climate change they would not be asking Bill Shorten to get out a crystal ball and come up with costs. Years ago Lord Stern warned about the cost of doing nothing. Already the USA has experienced extreme events causing multiple billions of dollars for single events.

    Climate change cannot be said to have caused those extreme events, but certainly has intensified them.

    We need the climate drongos to be voted out. A Labor government needs to do far more. The development of new coal mines or extensions to old coal mines needs to be dropped, and fracking needs to be stopped as well. Tipping points beyond the control of man do not lead to a future for life on Earth.

    Think about young people rather than dollars, dollars do not buy anything on a planet with a destroyed biosphere.

  2. David Tyler

    Well said, Keith. The current federal government has neither policy nor the wit to understand that this alone disqualifies it from office. The diversion is despicable – yet the MSM has now fallen into aping it – asking Shorten what the cost of carbon abatement will be. If only Barrie Cassidy or someone could get the PM to stop his nonsense about Kyoto – challenge the lies that we are meeting any kind of target.

    Instead we have a MSM parroting Brian Fisher, a coal lobby-promoting charlatan. The Australia Institute sums up:

    Fisher’s results are contradicted by a large economic literature. The Australia Institute has identified 17 reports from the last five years alone and 3 major reports from Treasury. They show deep cuts are possible with very small or positive economic impacts and strong ongoing economic growth.

    Fisher uses costs of abatement that are ridiculously high and widely contradicted. They are many times higher than government commissioned assessments from three years ago.

    Fisher explicitly ignores the high cost of inaction. Despite citing a report that says the costs of inaction to Australia are more than $130bn a year – even without considering disaster impacts.

    Fisher misrepresents Australia’s commitment under the Paris Agreement. He conflates Paris with current 26% ‘down-payment’ pledge, when in fact in the Paris Agreement, Australia agreed that “much greater emission reduction efforts will be required” to 2030.

    The Coalition, now depleted by defections and disqualifications and heavily “redacted” in its public climate change statements needs to be asked publicly where, when and how these greater efforts will be carried out in its “plan”.

  3. Keitha Granville

    We are causing extinction of creatures all over the planet, every day another one somewhere disappears FOREVER.

    Perhaps a display somewhere in QLD of tiny finches, paper ones, dropping dead from trees every second as actors playing miners “dig” coal. A tableau, to show what will happen.

    Does anyone care ? I suspect that for Coalition voters the answer is no.

  4. guest

    Keith @9:24am

    “…410ppm…the last time it was as high was 3 million years ago”

    Tony Eggleton (2013) p177 describes a rise from pre-industrial 280ppm to a level of 380ppm during the C20th as being “unprecedented (in at least the past 24 million years”.

    I write this not to quibble with the figure you give – it is correct – but to emphasise the magnitude of the rise in CO2 and the futility of those who try to pretend that rises in CO2 levels have happened before, but never say when.

    Clearly there is a problem when deniers do not know anything near the truth and are aided and abetted by ignorant journalists who do not know the facts, not even approximately.

    So here we have people ridiculing the idea that a little bird is significant compared with a coal mine when they do not seem to understand that the civilisation so profusely promoted by Ramsay Institute, Murdoch, etc is in danger of imminent collapse.

    I remember seeing a cartoon during the Cold War in which one alien is saying to another as they look at Earth being blown to pieces: “It takes a very intelligent being to be able to do that.”

    I see where Paul Ehrlich (the Population Bomb man) is feeling very pessimistic about the outcome of neglecting the reality of Climate Change. The money-grabbers are not listening.

    Thank you, Keith, for your post.

  5. margcal

    I doubt Josh will find a truth serum anytime soon so we might as well get used to him being around, just as he is.
    Local letterboxes have been getting reams of flyers from him – all negative, nasty and loose with the truth about other candidates and parties. Not the slightest mention of anything positive that the Liberals might have on offer, nothing about policy. Of those others, there’s been a flyer from Burnside (Greens) and Yates (former Liberal climate change action man, campaigning hard), nothing from other candidates, including Labor.
    I gather the Liberals are doing different campaigning in different areas. A friend in a different part of Kooyong has had more Liberal stuff than me.

    There are two major disappointments …
    1. That Burnside and Yates will split the vote. With just one strong alternative there might have been a bit of probably vain hope that the Liberals would lose the seat.
    2. The local branch of the Labor party has almost no money. How disappointing that head office didn’t take account of the change in voting patterns in the recent state election and on the strength of that put some money into Kooyong, to look like they’re at least giving it a shot. The local members are working as hard as they can for a candidate whom head office looks like they’ve always written off, blooding her for future elections but no thought of winning this time around.

    When I voted on Wednesday, candidates had one or two people handing out flyers – except the Liberals who had about a dozen, all decked out in bright blue monogrammed tops and jackets. When I drove by on Friday, the number of uniformed Liberal supporters appeared to have doubled. The footpath was a sea of blue. Pity anyone trying to get into the polling booth and even more so anyone simply wanting to get anywhere at all along that footpath.

    For the record, I am not and never have been a member of any political party.
    I voted 1. Greens, 2. Labor on the thinking that the Greens have the best chance, even if it is a forlorn hope, of unseating Frydenberg.

  6. Keith

    Sky News, surprisingly, has produced some very frightening short films about increasing global temperature above pre-industrial times from 2C – 6C.
    Arguably well before 6C is achieved, a dystopian world will have been created where extreme dangers arise from many quarters eg lack of food and water resources equaling conflict.


  7. MöbiusEcko

    guest @ 12:12 pm

    It’s not just the argument against it happening before, but the unprecedented pace of the current global temperature rise. In prehistoric times, flora and fauna lived on a planet with a high concentration CO², but they had millions of years to adapt. In every case where CO² rose rapidly due to cataclysmic events or other imbalances in the planet’s systems, the result has been disastrous.

    Also often quoted by the deniers are the Roman Climatic Optimum and the Medieval Warm Period, which were relative rapid rises in temperature at the time. They state they were global events, but both warmings were limited to specific areas and were not truly global as is the current warming period.

    Also using that argument is a false equivalence.

    “The Medieval Warm Period was warmer than current conditions. This means recent warming is not unusual and hence must be natural, not man-made.”

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