October 18, 2021

Editorial

Commentary

Australian Climate and political crises now inextricably linked

Australia’s climate crisis and its political crisis are now inextricably linked. 

The climate crisis and its impact on Australia and the world is now clear.

Australia is likely to be the country most effected by climate change. Since 1901, our mean temperature has already increased by 1.5%, long before the rest of the world.

Spiralling world population growth, with the world population now almost eight billion, is resulting in higher per capita resource use.

If the developing world uses resources at even 20% of Australia we would need to exploit another planet to satisfy demand. And not even Scott Morrison, or at least I hope so, imagines that’s possible.

Climate change will lead to the displacements of people are a massive refugee crisis.

Pandemics will be more common.

The science is clear - the greenhouse effect has been recognised as a major factor in affecting the climate since the 19th Century.

CO2 levels are at their highest as a proportion of the atmosphere for 1,000,000 years.

Methane(i.e. natural gas), while it remains in the atmosphere for a much shorte rperiod than CO2 is, molecule by molecule, about 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas.

Each tonne of coal when burned produces 3.67 tonnes of carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere for more than a century.

The most effective and economic form of carbon capture and storage is to leave coal and natural gas in the ground. There is no economically viable demonstration of CCS anywhere in the world and Australia’s pursuit of it will waste billions.

There are effective policies we can adopt including:

Remaking the export economy to move away from high-volume raw material exports to sophisticated technology driven manufacture.

Reduce our dependence on iron, coal, natural gas, beef, aluminium and other products more generally associated with third world or developing economies than advanced ones. All the exports we currently most depend on are vulnerable to climate change.

This can be done by developing an overarching plan to develop new industries capable of driving the transition to a post-carbon economy.

But we also need to address the political crisis. We need to start by recognising that Government has a useful role to play and reject the Thatcher-Reagan-Trump attacks on what government can do.

A key element of this will be the need to recognise that self-regulation has proved to be a spectacular failure and added inequality, deprivation and the eclipse of values and integrity.

We will be forced by international realities to reject racism and rethink Australia’s response to the refugee crisis.

We need to resist religious fundamentalism – both Christian and Islamic – and remember the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his opinion, but not his own facts”. And we should think of it while updating the pronoun to more current thinking.

We need to reinforce the moral basis of progressive taxation and think more about the moral choices which face us with these complex issues.

We must always take the long view. We need to plan for the year 2030 now and work towards a global network to forestall the potential disaster of 2050.

The greatest challenge for us all is to enable humanity to achieve its full potential, not just as consumer, and to preserve our home, our planet, to understand what we are capable of.

In my latest book, What is to Be Done, I end the book with an updated version of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. There are 15 echoes of Lincoln’s text in mine and some words from Margaret Thatcher in 1988.

A Gettysburg Address for 2021

A score of years ago, we entered a new millennium, facing great challenges. World population explodes; in both rich and poor nations men and women live far longer, and now consume the earth.

Earth’s raw materials are finite. Water, forests, farmlands are threatened by ‘a massive experiment with the system of the planet itself’, causing climate change, droughts, floods, hurricanes. Rich, powerful nations exploit the weak and paralysed.

Now we are engaged in great global conflicts of values. Gaps between inconceivable wealth and desperate poverty create hatred, wars, fundamentalism and terrorism.

Science and technology destroy boundaries but nations turn inward, becoming tribal; political leaders reject global goals of compassion, reconciliation and understanding.

Racism, nationalism, militarism, religious hatred, democratic populism, suppression of dissent poison democracy’s wells. Some leaders use propaganda, resolve problems by suppression, promote fear of difference, attack organised labour, weaken the rule of law, use state violence, torture, execution. Evidence-based policies are displaced by appeals to fear and anger.

The great tasks before us are to dedicate ourselves to overcoming fear of difference, recognise that environment and economy are bound together. The human condition is fragile and we must not confuse prejudice with principle.

We must consecrate ourselves to the unfinished work of saving Planet Earth, our home, where our species, homo sapiens, lives and depends for survival.

All nations, and all people, must dedicate themselves to protecting our global home instead of promoting national, regional or tribal interests.

We must highly resolve to save the air, save the soil, save the oceans to ensure that our species, and the noblest aspects of its culture, shall not perish from the Earth.