If we are to believe the experts, we have only 12 years to turn around the carbon emissions of the planet. So, this month’s Australian national election has been dubbed the ‘climate election’. Yet, the Government has no climate policy at all and the Opposition is only planning to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by 2030. Meanwhile the Greens, which do propose to reduce emissions to net zero by 2040, are only attracting 9% in opinion polls.
What’s wrong with this country? And is it the parties, the media or the people who are at fault?
We all ‘know’ the climate is changing, here and all over the world, even if some show ‘wilful blindness’ and refuse to acknowledge it. Farmers, greenies, scientists, government officials and even large businesses all ‘see’ it, albeit from different perspectives. Global evidence such as:
- Cumulative carbon emissions (primarily built up during the industrialisation period of the last 100 or so years) pass the 1.5C mark (350ppm), with 2C (400ppm) forecast to be exceeded by 2030
- 99% of scientists agree change is due to human action (industrialisation, population growth)
- The UK declares a climate emergency and legislates carbon emission reduction targets (55% by 2030 and net zero by 2050)
- Global temperature records broken year after year
- The Arctic providing an ice-free passage
- Receding glaciers all over the world
- Fijian towns having to be moved as oceans rise
- Rapid increases in severe weather events (floods, droughts, bushfires, cyclones)
- Species moving into different locales as climates change
touch on what each of us is discovering in many personal ways. the climate is changing. Human behaviour must change, so that carbon emissions reach net zero (not a 30-50% reduction, but a 100% reduction!!) within the short term.
No developed economy is anywhere near on track to do this. Yet we all rollon, making minimal change to our society lifestyles, heading over the cliff.
Why Don’t Parties (and People) Address This?
First, reducing carbon emissions requires major personal and organisational level changes. Powerful organisations (and groups of individuals) with vested interests (most of us!!) don’t want to make these changes, so they lobby against them, casting doubt on their importance, certainty, necessity, implementation.
Second, although parties are supposed to represent their people… they need money, so they are vulnerable to lobby groups.
Third, since people don’t want to change, we can be comforted by ‘experts’ and political leaders who tell us ‘all is in hand’, ‘we are addressing it’, especially when the solutions are complex and very uncomfortable.
Fourth, parties focus on economics – jobs, growth, costs, budgets. Environmental groups have rarely had much political power. Greens have only recently begun to get some significant political representation, and then only in a few European countries, such as Germany. There are no Greens politicians in the US or UK systems, which provide Australia with our cultural leadership. And the Australian Greens actually voted against a tax, because they thought it wasn’t a high enough tax, resulting in no carbon tax being introduced and emissions increasing.
Fifth, people, argue that neither Australia nor them individually ‘can make a difference’, so might as well just carry on enjoying our current life.
What’s the Role of the Media?
The media seems largely to react to address issues which others raise, rather than promote issues which they feel should be the most important. In this Australian election, the Government has run on individual tax reductions, while the Opposition has run on fairer wages and benefits. While economic management, the budget deficit size, unemployment rates, infrastructure and health have also featured… climate change has not been given much attention at all. Proposal for solar panels on schools and encouraging electric vehicles are paltry measures compared with the society-wide changes needed.
It’s notable that the Guardian Australia has recently developed a ‘Climate Change’ feature section (and also an ‘Indigenous Massacre’ section) to provide meaningful content in prominent places, but, otherwise, the environment and climate change are being treated as just another government department, like Social Security, Indigenous Affairs, Transport or Agriculture – of minor importance compared with Finance and Treasury.
There’s no climate emergency here!!
Yet polls suggest that climate has become one of the key issues – but not the key issue – of human survival – that people are concerned about, especially in richer, perhaps better educated electorates.
Where’s the ‘climate’ or the ‘change’ in this election???
Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
I remain an optimist. I believe people will vote in this election for climate change as a major issue. If so, the Greens should do well, Independents running on climate change should do well and the Labor Party should smash the Liberal Coalition. The odds-makers say this will happen, but the general opinion polls have tightened to 51-49 – the smallest possible margin for the Opposition.
They can’t both be right.
And I hope that, in the Senate, where neither major party will have control, the balance of power will be held by some climate change-oriented parties, so that at least some climate change action can be made immediately.
If a government declared a ‘climate emergency’ and focussed on this, instead of short-term self-interested economics, here are some actions that could be taken, with only limited backlash from vested interests:
- Stop any new coal-fired generator being approved or built
- Move to close down existing coal-fired generators
- Rapidly expand all economic renewable sources both in supply and in storage (batteries)
- Set up a different decentralised national energy management system based on renewables
- Legislate for the end of petrol transport vehicles
- Change building regulations to ensure energy efficient housing
- Subsidise energy efficiency measures for old housing and building stock
- Tax flying on an increasing scale over time
And none of these consider other major environmental disasters bearing down on us, such as plastic waste and loss of species (animal, plant and marine)diversity.
Are any of these measures being proposed within our major party’s platforms in this election? Certainly there’s no focus or discussion of any of these reasonable proposals. They would make an enormous difference to our carbon emissions. They would make us close to world leaders in global industries of the future. Now that’s political vision for you.