According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia had its hottest year ever in 2013 and we have now experienced heatwaves and destructive fires in the first month of 2014.
Twitter went viral this week with reports that Prince Charles has said of climate change sceptic that they are like “headless chickens” (of course, we would say chooks in Australia).
Well I’m right with Prince Charles when he says, “It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science”.
All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence.
And I am baffled as to why we have not seen and heard more on climate change during this campaign. After the overwhelming public response in September to the government de-funding the Climate Commission, and it rebuilding as the crowd funded Climate Council, I had naïvely assumed that this by-election would draw significant support and focus to action on climate change.
I had expected to see key environmental groups out on the streets of my suburb backing the Greens and the ALP in their bid to stop the government abolishing legislation that will see not only the abandonment of a price on carbon, but also the end of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and of other related legislation (11 bills in all are targeted to go).
Attention and action has instead been on Medicare, which has significantly less certain outcomes than the Abbott government’s plans for legislation designed to tackle climate change.
In fact, if not for the Greens and some of the minor parties climate change may soon become the forgotten issue in Australian mainstream politics.
The carbon price, or ‘tax’ as the Coalition prefers to call it, has started to become for most people an abstraction or context free concept whose very purpose is forgotten. Dr Glasson has hammered it long and hard during this campaign, always referring to the $500/pa the carbon price is apparently costing voters, without any reference to the costs to the environment if action is not taken. Indeed, I was somewhat bemused to hear him on radio recently, linking the latest heatwave to rising electricity bills and thus to the “need to repeal carbon tax”.
Following his campaign launch on Saturday, Dr Glasson appealed to Greens voters to preference him second. It is surprising after such a statement that there was not one follow-up question put to Dr Glasson on his ‘Green’ credentials, either on climate change or on the recent and topical Great Barrier Reef dumping issues.
“I have a fair environmental rub on my shoulder,” is the phrase he used when talking to me recently. What does it mean? What are Dr Glasson’s environmental credentials and would they influence a Greens voter to preference him?
Dr Glasson’s office declined to provide a response to No Fibs and I had given up the idea of talking with him some time ago. Last Saturday, however, when talking with other candidates at Davies Park markets in the Griffith suburb of West End, a friend spied Dr Glasson in the crowd and pushed me to introduce myself.
I did so, explained my purpose, and said I had been trying to organise some responses through his office. He was immediately apologetic, explaining that a lot of media are seeking interviews. He did not want to be filmed or recorded, but asked me what I would like to talk with him about. “Well,” I said, “I am familiar with the Coalition’s policies on the carbon price, but can you tell me about your personal views on climate change?”
I can’t give you his exact words, but this is the gist of Dr Glasson’s response.
He said he is deeply concerned about the environment. He said that he understands from visits to places like India, the impacts of human-caused pollution on rivers and air quality, and said that in years past, the Brisbane River had also been extremely polluted until action was taken to clean it up. He said that while he thinks there needs to be action, the carbon price has created an impost on the people and businesses of Australia because other countries are not participating in similar schemes. He added that the Coalition’s Green Army concept is about getting young people involved in learning about and taking action to protect the environment.
Later I repeated my conversation to my friend, saying that it seemed to me that Dr Glasson was speaking in code. He responded, “It just sounds to me like he lacks the courage of his convictions.”
And on the courage of convictions, I asked Terri Butler recently why action on climate change was not mentioned at all at the Labor Party launch on January 21. Ms Butler said: “Everyone in the room at our launch and in fact the whole of the nation knows where Labor stands on climate change. The question is whether we can trust the Abbott Government when it comes to the environment”.
“Labor has always believed we must act to reduce pollution. But Mr Abbott does not believe climate change is real,” she added.
The Greens have been out and proud on the issue throughout the campaign.
Their candidate Geoff Ebbs told No Fibs that the best way to address climate change is to have strong leadership from government. “The only way to get that is to get more Greens into power. Social movements like Get Up and 350.org have shown great leadership on this but can only influence government. Governments determine the laws and we must have change in those laws,” he said.
Speaking to No Fibs, Mr Ebbs said: “We live on a river, we are less than 7 meters above the river, which is the point at which Brisbane floods, and so a 7-metre flood is the 100-year event that has made the flood plain of Brisbane fertile, but as sea water rises, we are going to get those flooding events every decade or more often”.
Mr Ebbs said the reason “climate chaos” is not on the agenda for the major parties, “is that it is such a huge challenge”.
We rely on cheap energy to fuel the economy as we know it, and that cheap energy has been oil. So if we keep burning fossil fuels, we’re going to cook, and we can see that in recent heat waves.
“To address climate change means a serious change to the way we live, and you have to be pretty gutsy and hardy to address that, and that’s why the Greens have been pilloried in the media … because we are prepared to stand by a carbon scheme that people see as costing them money. But it’s money we are investing in the long term. We are already seeing the price of renewables come down, so what a carbon tax or any other trading mechanism does, is move us away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy. That’s the way of the future and it’s what we have to do to address climate chaos”, he said.
Greens Senator for Queensland Larissa Waters, who has been campaigning with Mr Ebbs, reminded No Fibs that in the 2007 election, climate change was one of the key issues.
“With the action that was taken on the carbon price [in 2010], people breathed a sigh of relief. Now that is under threat, I think it will come to the fore again. Just look at the sweltering heat wave we have had … and the terrible bushfires around the country, and in previous years the terrible extreme weather events, such as the floods … Griffith itself was underwater in the January 2011 flood”.
“I think people understand that we can’t keep burning and exporting fossil fuels the way that we are … and not have effects on the way that we live and on the way our grandchildren will live. It’s really the extreme weather events that are reminding people that climate change still needs to be tackled, and if we are undoing the very laws that were starting to tackle it, we will only make things worse,” she said.
Labor is not wedded to the carbon price in the way the Coalition represents it, and according to the ALP’s Ms Butler, it wants to see the introduction of a full emissions trading scheme (ETS) to replace the current carbon price. “I support using a market-based mechanism as one of the means by which we work to reduce pollution. That’s why I support terminating the carbon tax if it is replaced with an emissions trading scheme,” Ms Butler said.
Ms Butler also commented: “The Abbott Government quietly released the Emissions Reduction Fund Green Paper just days before Christmas in a desperate attempt to avoid scrutiny. The lack of transparency is, unfortunately, unsurprising. It’s the same lack of transparency we’ve seen from the LNP on financial advice laws, border protection, and of course the so-called Commission of Audit, which has conveniently pushed back its reporting date until after the Griffith by-election,” she said.
As to the government’s Direct Action policy, Ms Butler said it “will do nothing to change behaviour and reduce pollution. There is not one credible economist or expert who thinks his plan is a good idea. Before the election, Tony Abbott claimed his Direct Action policy would reduce Australia’s emissions. The green paper shows that it will allow the exact opposite to happen”.
“It is clear from the Green Paper,” she said, “that there is no requirement whatsoever for businesses to increase energy efficiency and reduce their emissions.”
Ms Butler also said that she is strongly against weakening our renewable energy target. “After promising voters before the election that he would keep Australia’s renewable energy target in place, Mr Abbott now looks set to break yet another election promise”.
“This is a fight between the small minority inside the Coalition who accept climate change is real and those who, like their Prime Minister, think climate change is ‘absolute crap’,” she said.
“Australia’s renewable energy target has been a clear policy success driving a big expansion of wind and solar power as well as thousands of new clean energy jobs.
“Jobs in the sector have tripled, wind power has tripled, households with rooftop solar increased from under 8000 to more than 1 million, and renewable energy increased its share of the National Electricity Market by 25 per cent in 2012-13.
“Any moves to dump or wind back the renewable energy target would be a broken promise that destroys jobs and hurts our environment,” Ms Butler said.
If the environment groups haven’t yet coalesced around action on climate change during this by-election, then maybe they will add their support to the Great Barrier Reef in this last week.
The save the reef campaign has heated up in the past few days, particularly on social media, following the announcement on Friday by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority that it had granted a permit to dump dredge waste in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Pirate Party candidate Mel Thomas tweeted on the weekend:
If the Great Barrier Reef doesn’t become the major issue of #griffithvotes, there’s something wrong.
However, while the protest showing outside Dr Glasson’s launch on Saturday was vocal, it lacked numbers and seemed to lack focus.
The Greens Geoff Ebbs was the only candidate actively campaigning on the issue on Saturday. Mr Ebbs said: “Only the Greens are standing up to the big mining companies to protect the Great Barrier Reef and the sustainable jobs that it supports.”
Senator Waters issued a statement: “The Australian and Queensland governments continue to treat the reef like a coal and gas highway and a rubbish tip for dredge spoil, and risk a fail mark from the World Heritage Committee on their reef homework, jeopardising the $6 billion tourism economy around our reef, and the 54,000 jobs it supports in our coastal communities.”
Senator Waters told No Fibs that people realise the reef is under threat from climate change, from dredging and shipping, and the tripling of coal and gas exports. “I think in recent years, folk who perhaps were not as aware of the climate science have realised through the reef that climate change is actually going to hurt our economy as well as our way of life. There has been a growing community campaign and growing concern about the health and future of the reef. Queenslanders are very much aware of that and the threat to the reef.”
“I do think climate change is a key issue for the people of Griffith. They have seen the extreme weather events, they are worried about the future of the reef, and they’re worried about the future for their grandkids,” She said.
Labor’s Terri Butler told No Fibs that, “like many Australians, I’m deeply concerned by last week’s decision by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to grant a permit to dump dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park”.
“The Great Barrier Reef is an Australian wonder, and sadly it is in poor health. It is critical that we do all we can to protect it, and a project like this could put the reef’s health at further risk, as well as potentially impacting on local tourism.
“The Barrier Reef Authority has always enjoyed bipartisan support to make decisions in the best interest of the Great Barrier Reef. Many people are concerned about last week’s decision, and I hope the Authority has approved this application based on the best scientific advice,” she said.
Where do the other parties stand on Climate Change?
Anne Reid of the Secular Party told No Fibs, that her party is concerned about the move away from scientific thinking on issues such as climate change. “Climate change is being dismissed as something to do with the Gods,” she said, “rather than being taken seriously as a science.”
“For most thinking people,” she added, “it is one of the most serious issues that we have to contend with.”
Where she said the Secular Party departs from other parties was around solutions. “We are very much evidence based, and we feel that nuclear should be put on the table, because it is something that science is telling us could make a difference in substituting some of our carbon based energy with nuclear energy.”
Ms Reid explained that she is not talking about uranium and big reactors, but “small reactors, and different fuels such as thorium.”
Pirate Party candidate Mel Thomas told No Fibs, “We want to see an end to reliance on fossil fuels and we believe that can happen by encouraging innovation in renewable energy. We would like to see a renewable energy grid created.”
“We had the flood in Brisbane, so people who live in the Griffith electorate have seen the results of climate change. We know beyond doubt that we are seeing extreme weather events. That’s one thing that local people can understand,” she said.
Timothy Lawrence of the Sustainable Population Party told No Fibs that population is the key. He said that individual impacts on the environment are multiplied as the population increases.
“The Population Party recognises that, as a global community, we need a whole raft of responses to the climate issue.
“Importantly, global population growth from 2 billion to 7 billion in just one lifetime was a huge driver of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, due to exploding energy requirements.
“Furthermore, acting to stabilise global population at the United Nations’ low peak variant of around 8 billion by 2050 (potentially then dropping back to 7 billion by 2100) will greatly help to minimise future greenhouse gas emissions.
“To not act to stabilise population, on both local and global levels, may allow population to reach the UN’s high peak variant of over 17 billion by the end of this century.”
He added that the party’s responses to climate change should also include, but not be limited to:
- Australia managing its finite and non-renewable resources more cautiously and sustainably.
- Australia progressing rapidly towards using a predominantly renewable energy supply, and a low carbon economy.
He said they are currently working through the specifics of these policies with their membership.
Independent Karel Boele said that as someone with a science background, “Clearly there is an issue. Very few refereed scientific journals do not support the need to tackle climate change.”
He admitted, however, that climate change is a complex issue to address using his participative democracy platform. It requires leadership and careful consultation with voters to find acceptable solutions. He said he thinks to begin with, it is a matter of “marketing and selling” the issue to the constituency, and then engaging with them on solutions.
Independent Travis Windsor was less clear on the issue. “You can’t have factories dumping stuff,” he said, “but again the problem is, one person thinks this, the other person thinks that … let’s get a solution”.
“You don’t win arguments by arguing: we want a solution, we don’t want an argument.”
Both Ray Sawyer of Katter’s Australian Party and Christopher Williams of Family First told No Fibs that they support the abolition of the carbon price, but when asked if they accept the science on climate change, neither seemed willing to commit.