It’s about our planet, not polls and political advantage

ACT Greens Climate Change Spokesperson Shane Rattenbury writes: The level of public and political debate in Australia often digresses away from the substantive issues and into the headline issues of who said what, a series […]

ACT Greens climate change spokesperson Shane Rattenbury writes:

Has listening to a climate scientist ever brought tears to your eyes? Have you seen the footage of the diminishing Arctic sea ice? Have you ever sat alone and thought long and hard about the numbers of people who could be displaced, the people who will suffer as a result of food shortages bigger storms, stronger winds, longer droughts and larger floods?

There are things we know about climate change, and there are things we don’t. We know that climate change is happening and we know that human activity is causing it to happen. We know that the damaging action causing climate change is, in the main, burning fossil fuels and clearing forests.

So why is it that we have forgotten those basics in this carbon price debate?

The level of public and political debate in Australia often digresses away from the substantive issues and into the headline issues of who said what, a series of one-liners that provide an over-simplified response to what are serious issues. This month, on an issue that is fundamental to our survival on this planet, we have seen the debate drop to new lows, and in my view, we’ve seen political tactics and spin used in the very worst of ways by a political leader.

Climate policy experts on all sides of politics know that the most well-established policy framework for dealing with climate change is a price on carbon. Carbon is damaging our planet, therefore we should make the burning of fossil fuels more expensive. By doing so we say it’s time to stop our dependence on fossil fuels, it’s time to start generating power in cleaner, greener ways. We say this in a way that sends long-term signals to industry so that they can transition to new, cleaner technologies. John Howard knew this. Malcolm Turnbull knows this. It’s more than likely that Tony Abbott knows this, too.

So from what moral framework do Tony Abbott, Andrew Robb, and their Liberal colleagues in Federal Parliament, run a hysterical, destructive campaign to stop the development of public policy on climate change? And how is it that Malcolm Turnbull is able to stand by and watch them do it?

Given that the Liberal Party, when last in Government, supported a market mechanism to address carbon pollution, it’s not surprising that the current push-back against the introduction of a carbon price is not about good public policy, rather about Tony Abbott and his colleagues securing their own political futures. They see a political opportunity – a minority government that can be shoved and beaten and battered by opinion polls, and elements of the media and big business who have aligned interests, and are essentially complicit in this fear campaign.

The language has been vitriolic, the arguments have been illogical. Phrases like “conspiracy theory”, “slug everyday Australians”, “reckless”, “rips at the heart of job security” and “economic vandalism” are all phrases that inspire fear. How is engendering fear responsible use of political leadership?

Perhaps the most outrageous thing I heard Tony Abbott say was a line that linked the use of air conditioners and cars to the Australian way of life. A carbon tax, he said, would make it more difficult for people to use these things… well, yes, that is actually the idea! Since when were air conditioners the most effective and efficient way of staying cool? (More frightening, when did they become integral to the Australia way of life?) And why wouldn’t we want to be encouraging people, through price incentives, to keep their houses cool in better and cheaper ways? That’s what this whole debate is about – encouraging people to low-emitting behaviour, instead of the high-emitting behaviour.

Advocates for change aren’t saying you should fry in your homes. We aren’t saying you shouldn’t be able to get from A to B in comfort. We are saying, cool your homes in a way that uses less coal-fired power. Get from A to B in a way that uses less oil.

But perhaps what bothers me most is how does Tony Abbott get away with the kind of arguments he is running? When did he last really listen to a climate scientist? Where is his moral compass on climate change? And is he sleeping well at night, comfortable in the knowledge that he may be using the honour of political leadership in such a destructive way?

My sense is that Tony Abbott could not have ever really listened to a climate scientist. If he had, he may feel less comfortable about bringing unstuck the already belated attempts to implement the first nationally consistent response to climate change this country has ever seen.

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