The future election and the wrong man for the times

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Despite the urgency for climate change action, the “greatest moral challenge of our times” has barely rated a mention at this election. Liz Conor says Tony Abbott is a dangerous man to give such unprecedented responsibility.

Climate Change is already here: the author's sister's home after Black Saturday, St Andrews.

THIS COMING ELECTION will seal the fate of the coming generations like no other.

Yet the ‘greatest moral challenge of our times’ ‒ as pronounced by the incumbent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ‒ has barely rated a mention. If we credit scientists with the warning that we have only a 50 month window of opportunity to act on climate change, our votes could cast our children into a future of reckoning.

Climate change is more than a moral challenge and it is already here. Recent findings by the Climate Vulnerability Monitor estimate some 400,000 people are dying annually from climate induced communicable diseases and hunger, and that children carry 88% of the disease burden. Over the term of this government, a series of reports have been released with findings that leave the climate aware alarmed before the prospect of a Coalition government.

Our atmosphere that has, for millennia, cocooned us in our ‘goldilocks’ climactic setting reached an unprecedented threshold when, last month, readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii measured 400 ppm of CO2. Ice core samples show that the earth has not experienced these conditions in 3 million years, when temperatures raised 3-4 degrees Celsius and sea levels were up to 40 meters higher. A leaked draft of the IPCC’s fifth assessment report projects sea level rises of between 29-82 cms by the end of the century placing 800 million people and a trillion dollars in infrastructure at risk of storm surges and coastal flooding by 2080.

Another report from the Government appointed Climate Commission has found up to 80% of Australia’s coal reserves will need to stay in the ground if we are serious about mitigating catastrophic climate change. Yet a recent International Energy Agency report shows global emissions of carbon dioxide in 2012 rose 1.4% to 31.6 gigatones, breaking records and setting the planet on a course for warming of 5.3 degrees.

As a former head of the Australian Coal Association has put it:

Every new fossil-fuel project represents death and destruction for communities somewhere in the world, Australia included.’

The ‘angry summer’ that smashed 123 Australian records may have convinced a critical mass of voters that climate change requires urgent, immediate intervention. Yet the majority will elect the Coalition regardless, perhaps convinced by their Direct Action Plan. Polls show that climate change was the key vote-changer following the release of the first Garnaut report in 2008. Although it since waned as the global financial crisis and economic indicators heightened insecurity, it is still a concern for voters.

This is borne out by the ABC’s Vote Compass, in which 61% of a sample of over a million voters believed governments need to do more to tackle climate change. While we argue about the supposed threats to our ‘border security’ posed by a few thousand refuges, the figure of 200 million additional climate refugees has not been mooted. The fact that we Australians could be among them has not entered our thinking.

The international pledge under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce carbon emissions by 5% by 2020 cannot be met by a Coalition Government. Modelling by Sinclair Knight Merz/MMA and Monash University's Centre of Policy Studies initially uncovered a $4bn shortfall in the Liberal’s Direct Action Plan. More recent findings by Reputex have uncovered a $20-34b shortfall and that Tony Abbott’s government will preside over an increase in emissions of 16%.

Rather than meet the target of 5%, Greg Hunt’s Direct Action Plan will increase emissions by 45% by 2050. It will increase Australia’s reliance on coal to 69% by 2030 and would effectively subsidise corporate polluters to the tune of $50bn by 2020.

It appears Tony Abbott has put the momentous implications and stark comparisons of this report where he keeps his suppositories, refusing to accept these reports’ findings. Yet they are supported by a number of studies. His reckless and cavalier relationship with evidence-based empirical science throws his credibility and sense of responsibility into question.

The staggering performance of the Liberal candidate for the northern Adelaide seat of Wakefield, Tom Zorich, who was so ignorant about the threats of climate change as to be unable to provide any detail whatsoever on their Direct Action Plan suggests the Liberal party as a whole has not moved far from Abbott’s ‘climate change is crap’ stance. At best, they are somewhere between denial and indifference.

The costs of inaction on climate change have been estimated into the billions; they are projected to reach 3.5% of the global GDP by 2030. If seas rise as projected to 1.1 metres some 65,000 coastal homes, valued at $20bn, are at risk. Decline in beef production is estimated to reach 19% by 2030 and in sugar — 12%. In the Victorian Alps, the ski industry has skid through the season on scant coverage, depending on man-made and farmed snow and facing losses of over half their annual coverage by 2040. An unstable climate has already had devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of Australians caught up in its extreme weather events.

Australians know the transition from a carbon economy won’t be easy. Coal, gas and oil are daily enmeshed in our ways of being. They underpin our economy and thousands of livelihoods and communities depend on them. Coal provides 85% of Australia’s electricity production and is our largest export earner, employing 40,000 Australians directly.

Being asked to transition from the carbon economy is akin to a Doctor telling us we have a malignant growth in our right hand — and worse, if left untreated, all of our progeny will develop the same growth and in all probability their debility will be more acute, perhaps fatal. Could we then in all conscience choose to live a shorter but habituated life with that growth untreated, passing the injury on to our own children and grandchildren?

(Cartoon by Matt Bissett-Johnson / mattbj.blogspot.com)

This election, we elect whether our grandchildren will have a future at all.

If the Liberals form government, they will quadruple Australia’s coal exports and slash the renewable fund. We will collectively tip over the point of intervention after which there will be nothing we or our children can do to stabilize temperatures. This election will decide if our children are helpless to act for their ‒ not our ‒ future.

We imperil our children by voting LNP on Saturday. If we credit 97% of the world’s scientists and the warnings issued every other week by international agencies ‒ including the World Bank, IMF, UN, OECD and IEA ‒ there is simply no excuse for entrusting our future to Tony Abbott. He poses a clear threat to the viability of our children’s wellbeing into the future. He is by all peer-reviewed measures a dangerous man to place in a position of such historic and unprecedented responsibility.

Liz Conor teaches at the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University and co-convenes climacts.org.au.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License



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