Concerted efforts to deny the reality of climate change have delayed genuine efforts to take serious action to deal with the threat it poses. It is hard to describe the federal government’s deliberate refusal to act, combined with their concerted efforts to derail global cooperation, as anything less than culpable negligence. Mind you, some in the ALP, particularly at state level, have not been much better.
It may have come about 15 years later than it should have, but it appears we have finally reached the stage where there is now genuine debate amongst political ‘leaders’ and most mainstream media commentators about what actions should be taken.
One of the messages the federal government has repeatedly used to justify doing very little about climate change has been that to do so would result in massive job losses and economic hardship. Just last week, Treasurer Peter Costello said:
None of us would say it would be an acceptable price to put millions of people out of work and it has to be done in a way which won’t destroy the household budget when it comes to electricity.
This is true of course, but it implies that this sort of price may be required. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that reducing emissions will be completely painless – no major economic adjustment is – but there are many studies which show the necessary adjustments can be made without causing massive social and economic dislocation. (Of course, the longer we continue to delay, the harder this will be.)
That’s why the comments by Senator Bob Brown that we should end all coal exports
within three years are so unhelpful (apart from being totally impractical). These sort of comments actually reinforce the government’s scare campaigns that taking serious action to reduce emissions will cost thousands of jobs and plunge many people into hardship. (edit: there is dispute about whether Senator Brown advocated ending coal exports in three years. However, he is clearly talking about ending coal exports, including saying we should “suddenly ban coal exports”, so my concerns remain the same – see comments thread for more detail)
There are many workable, practical actions which can address emissions on a way which will minimise hardship. We need to recognise that emissions from coal are a serious problem, but we also need to accept that just demonising coal isn’t going to solve the problem – and indeed isn’t necessary. Most of the scenarios that have been done to show how we can get to a low carbon future include coal as part of that – albeit as a reduced proportion of total power generation and using so-called ‘clean’ coal technology.
Queensland-based economist John Quiggin has examined climate change issues for some time. As he says in his latest post:
There’s still plenty of doubt over whether emissions trading will work, and plenty of problems to be resolved. The same is true for CO2 sequestration, solar power, safe nuclear power, big improvements in energy efficiency, and all the other options we have to stabilise climate. But improvements in any of these directions will make us all better off. Neither a hair-shirt hope that nothing but drastic cuts in living standards will work nor a “what I have, I hold” insistence on doing nothing different from what we are doing now is going to be helpful here.
It’s time to move beyond the alarmists on both sides of the debate get on with the practical solutions.