It is not about the Greens, nor even about the teals, it is about the science and the planet. Despite the recent electoral shift, another parliament will desperately evade the truth, that we are destroying our bountiful, beautiful and only life support system.
In a music album by the Canadian group The Weather Station, songwriter Tamara Lindeman sings “At some point you’d have to live as if the truth was true.” The line is in the song Loss and, like the entire album, the reference is both to the loss of a relationship with another person and to our civilisation’s loss of its relationship with the natural world.
As parliament reconvenes with Labor in charge, our society’s relationship with the natural world is front and centre.
Will the Greens refuse to pass the Albanese Government’s bill to enshrine its goal of a 43% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030? Will the Greens allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, as they allegedly did in 2009 when they voted down Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme? That vote, it is claimed, led to a decade-long delay in climate action. At this point the accusers adopt a mien of world-weary sadness at the folly of some misguided people.
The accusations are nonsense of course. Rudd’s bill was voted down because it was bad. It was weak to begin with and any attempt to make it stronger would have triggered billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies to big polluters. In 2011 the Greens and the Gillard government enacted a carbon price scheme that was far better, and that demonstrably worked without wrecking the economy, until Tony-the-wrecker Abbott repealed it.
Perhaps Labor apologists focus on the 2009 vote because it triggered the implosion of the parliamentary Labor Party and a decade of instability and election failures. That episode also triggered the ascendancy of the troglodytes of the right in the Coalition, because of Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull’s willingness to negotiate the CPRS with Rudd. This resulted not only in the Coalition’s version of musical leaders but ultimately in the Liberal lobotomy in the recent election.
Now that Labor is back in power it is proposing some positive actions in both the energy and environment portfolios. There will be some serious efforts to promote the transition to clean electricity, and some efforts to move our transport and industry sectors to cleaner energy.
At the same time Labor proposes to allow continued extraction and export of vast quantities of coal and natural gas, resulting in a tripling or more of Australia’s contribution to carbon emissions. Nearly every week a new carbon extraction project is approved by State and Federal governments of both stripes.
These actions are plainly inconsistent with the urgings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC has been very clear: no new carbon extraction projects, abolition of all subsidies to fossil fuels and phasing out fossil fuel burning as rapidly as possible. Direct and indirect Australian subsidies of fossil fuels amounted to over $10 billion in 2020-21 according to the Australia Institute.
Labor’s excuse for these actions and inactions is that if we don’t sell carbon to the world someone else will. That is more nonsense. If we don’t sell carbon to the world its price will rise and its use will be discouraged. We are just prolonging the addiction. We choose not to sell heroin to the world, though it does far less harm than fossil fuels. Piling insult on injury, the fossil fuel projects are mostly owned by foreign corporations that pay little or no tax but are happy to accept our subsidies.
The old parties and the mainstream political class love to portray ‘climate change’ as just more politics, a contest among political groups. They blame the Greens for being difficult, even in anticipation. They play petty gotcha games.
Australia needs to dramatically lift its game on carbon emissions. It is not the Greens saying that, it is the science. It is the planet. The planet speaks to us in every news bulletin of how we are disrupting its systems, and how we are suffering as a result. Yet it speaks in its own time, oblivious to the petty bickering of our politics-as-used-to-be.
In time, the planet will show us how murdering the Great Barrier Reef, which we are well-along with, disrupts vast ocean ecosystems for decades, centuries, millennia to come, with underwater plagues, famines and other imbalances we cannot anticipate in any but the dimmest visions. We will wonder why fish catches decline and the ocean stinks. The planet will show us failed monsoons, more great droughts, fires and floods, heat deaths, plagues and pandemics of various kinds. It will show us in due course the break-up of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which may already be irreversible, raising sea level by metres.
It may well be, for all our cautious scientists know, that a cascade of tipping points is already underway, reversible, if at all, only with a major global biological carbon capture project.
Labor, in its petty game-playing, fails to perceive the world it now inhabits. It persists with the politics of last century. It lives indoors, in a world of factions, power games, political debts, sponsors, corruption and last century’s failed ideology of privatisation. It says it believes global warming is real, but does not act according to the real state of the planet. It is in passive denial.
Our grandchildren will wonder at the idyllic planet we inherited, and trashed. They will wonder why the truth was ignored, when it was plainly available.
They will wonder why we could not manage to live as if the truth is true.