One of the great imponderables over the life of the first term of the Rudd-Gillard government has been why it is that Climate Change and Environmental policy has fallen, not only off the radar, but off a cliff. From something that a politician could confidently claim, in his role as a mirror of the community, that “Climate Change is the great moral and economic challenge of our generation”, to an obscurantist position, which basically says, it's real, but it should not cause a transformative economic upheaval to our society, and politicians should stand idly by for a few years, almost in fear of the backlash that they think will arise from implementing it. A fear of introducing a cost that we must pay for out of our own pockets, to enable this environmental remediation and pro-active protection of our planet to occur.
Well, I've been around long enough to have seen a few environmental 'Crusades' fought; some won, some lost.
As inconsequential as it may seem now, the battle to introduce recycling and recyclable materials, was a long and hard-fought campaign.
Strangely, with respect to the success of that campaign, and maybe this is the key to the Climate Change debate and Julia Gillard is onto something here with her Citizen’s Assembly on Climate Change idea, the leadership that was required to forge community-wide consensus, came not from our elected representatives, but from passionate voices arising out of the community itself.
In my own State of NSW, we had pioneers who, as a first step, forced their way, through the power of their arguments, onto our local councils, in numbers sufficient to be able to make things happen.
Things like, 'Reverse Garbage' in Marrickville, where I lived, sprang up to cater for refuse that used to just go to the tip, but which actually turned out to be useful. And the glorious 'Tempe Tip', where old furniture could be deposited and 'recycled' back into the community, instead of also being taken out back, to the real tip, and trashed. Stuff that we value as antiques and collectibles today, but which used to be cast-off as rubbish back then.
I even remember the first newspaper recycling scheme, where we used to have to tie our newspapers in a bundle and leave them out once a week for the garbos to physically pick up and put into the back of an open-top garbage truck.
Then came the beer and wine bottle recycling, which we all used to put into our own personal, stolen, milk crates. Finally, once the plastics were called for, we had been given our first Sulo bin to put it all in. And our old plastic garbage bin was the first item into the new bins for recycling! Momentum and enthusiasm carried all these progressions forward.
Also, it was the time of creativity on the ground. I remember all my friends learning how to make new paper from recycling old paper products, and drinking glasses from old beer and wine bottles (we were poor students, and enthusiastic recyclers). We made our own soap and we made our own clothes. I even made my own furniture so I didn't have to buy products made from Tropical Rainforest timber. I made sure I used Plantation Timber. And no woodchip-based materials for me!
That’s how keen we all were then to make the change happen.
I guess you could say there was a 'Community Consensus' for the sort of changes that we knew in our hearts was needed; and we were prepared to provide the spearhead. It then naturally followed that older demographics, more conservative if you like, gradually became able to see the light that was like a beacon to us. And, hasn't it ever been thus?
So, and I am not claiming to know the mind of Julia Gillard, but, being from the same generation as I am, maybe she went through that transformative period like I did, and maybe she has come to the conclusion that momentum for Climate Change action must come from the roots movements in and of our society again.
On the ground, in every city and every town, the populace needs to feel it in their bones that action has to be taken and the time to take it is now, and the time to bite the bullet is now, if all the evidence is laid out before a representative sample of Ordinary Joes and Janes, who might then act as community activists for the cause if they are convinced of the strength of the argument about the need to act locally whilst thinking globally about the effects of Climate Change.
Thus, only when that innate understanding of the issue is gained by almost everyone again, only then will we 'Man Up' to the task of saving our planet's climate by getting out of our comfort zones and agreeing to make substantive contributions that will, necessarily, hurt our hip-pocket nerve. And I say 'almost everyone' because I acknowledge that there will never be complete agreement about going forward with real action on Climate Change, especially considering the advocacy against substantive action and the trivialising of the issue, or downright denial of the existence and seriousness of Climate Change that Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt advocate on behalf of the Coalition.
We must not let the naysayers deter us yet again as we are confronted by the self-interested prevaricators and denialists, or those without wit enough to see what is actually happening around the world to our Climate. All that should not be enough to deter us. It may seem an intangible concept, but have no doubt; Climate Change is a very, very real phenomenon.
We thus have to find a way to make action happen. Just like we did with recycling. It's too important to let conservative, old, white men and corporate interests win the day. Mother Earth is counting on us.
So, getting down to competing Environmental policy stories, we have 'Faux Action' from the Liberals, up against, 'Putting off till tomorrow what should be done today, but at least it will eventually be done once we get people onside again', from the ALP.
Firstly, to the Coalition.
What action to have an effect on Climate Change shouldn't be? You directly want to have an effect, so the action you take ergo needs to be direct. I put it to you that there is no more direct action on Climate Change than making polluters pay for the destructive CO2 that they emit.
I would have been more impressed if the Coalition had advocated 'Effective Action' on Climate Change.
Nevertheless, this is what they have to say about it:
'Direct Action' on soil carbons will be the major plank of our strategy.'
This suggests to me that the Coalition is planning to be a 'One Trick Pony' on Climate Change action, when it comes to implementing its Climate Change 'Action Plan'. That is, anything else it might speak about will only be incidental to its Biochar initiative. It will shoulder most of the burden of bringing down CO2 levels as far as the Coalition's concerned. It also sounds like it is preparing to set up a massive pork barrel for its Agrarian Socialist mates in the National Party, as it is mainly farmers who turn the charcoal back into the ground for soil improvement, which is the basis of the Biochar program.
Yes, it works, but on its own it's not enough. As we all know, the big change needs to happen in the Power Generation Industry, both here, and overseas, where our coal goes. It also needs to have a more ambitious target for CO2 reduction, both to provide an example to other countries and to show that we are good global citizens prepared to do the sort of heavy lifting we expect of those in other countries. This can only come about via the market mechanism of an Emissions Trading Scheme, well designed, to spread the burden as equally as possible between the populace and business and industry. And the Labor Party is the only major political party still advocating one. In contrast, the Coalition has stated that there will 'never ever' be a price on Carbon under its watch.
The Coalition also advocates ‘an Emissions Reduction Fund to support CO2 emissions reduction by business and industry'.
I wonder why it does not want to reward individual action? I thought the Coalition was all for 'the innate worth of the individual...and the need to encourage initiative and personal responsibility'? Well, at least that's what it says in its Mission Statement on its website. Which only leads me to think 'Pork Barrel' again. This time for their mates in the business and industry community who have been their financial backstop.
The Coalition Environment policy goes on to say, 'Through this fund we will support 140 million tonnes per annum abatement by 2020 to meet our 5% target'. Which seems a bit paltry to me, but then so is a 5% target.
Interestingly, the document goes on to add, 'This is a once in a century replenishment of our soil carbon'.
What does this mean?
Has the Coalition committed to 'replenishing soil carbon' only once this century? Has it calculated that a once only commitment of carbon to the soil will satisfy its anaemic target? After that will it be back to 'business as usual'? Not to mention that it stated that Biochar is its main CO2 mitigation plank. So does that mean that their much-touted fund for business and industry will be an overly generous payment for not much action at all to clean up emissions? If only our national journalists would get out of the gutter, from which they have been asking Julia Gillard questions, and ask the Coalition some of these hard questions, instead of simply relaying Coalition Talking Points, ALP gossip and verballing the PM.
Next on to the Coalition's 'One million Solar Panels on a million Roofs' policy.
Well, the fine detail says that the Coalition would invest $100 million/year, Australia-wide, for an additional 1 million Solar Energy homes by 2020. That's 10 years from now, across six States and Territories, or about 12,500/State and Territory/per year.
Now please excuse my skepticism for a moment, but didn't the Rudd government install ceiling insulation into 1 million homes in a couple of years just recently? So actually its a much reduced ambition to spread Solar Energy from the Coalition, as a way of getting CO2 emissions down, when you look at it that way. Also, I imagine that, under the Coalition's plan you would have to have the money to buy the Solar panels first, and then apply for a refund. How many low-income households can afford to do that? Whereas the Rudd government enabled those who are most affected by high electricity prices, which the Coalition have been banging on about endlessly this election campaign, to benefit from their program.
Next, the Coalition go on to promise '...across Australia 125 mid-scale solar projects will be established in schools & communities, and 25 geothermal or tidal power 'micro' projects will be established in suitable towns'.
Now, if you look at these links: http://www.austrade.gov.au/Invest/Opportunities-by-Sector/Clean-Energy/Renewable-Energy/default.aspx
you'll see that the Labor government is already doing these things. So, its good that the Coalition is onboard, but it's hardly visionary policy-making, and it is a case of the 'metooism' they mock the ALP about. Also, as I have noticed on my journeys around my area, all the BER projects, at every school, are coming equipped with Solar panels on their roofs.
The Coalition also has a policy to support a 'study into replacing high voltage overhead cables in our cities with underground cables', and, 'to help reclaim land currently lost to high voltage transmission corridors in our cities'.
Now, whilst an admirable aim, I'd like to see the Coalition's costings for this policy. Dare I say it, due to the massive investment required to make this policy a reality, the Coalition may need to bring in a 'Great Big New Tax' to pay for it, or go into 'Debt and Deficit'. Either that, or a Public/Private Partnership with Energy infrastructure companies that would see electricity prices rise as they pass their costs on to the consumer and put more pressure then on the 'Cost of Living'. All themes that the Liberal Party have been hammering the ALP over in this election campaign, and before.
I also noticed that the Coalition have a plan to 'plant an additional 20 million trees in available public spaces'. Could someone please ask a Coalition spokesman to define an 'available public space'? Will it be confined to Crown Land only? In National Parks? In the park down the corner? On the top of Parliament House in Canberra? I don't know, but I sure would like to because these are the policies that the Coalition promise to implement if elected. One thing I do know, is that when Malcolm Turnbull first announced this policy, he stated that those trees could go anywhere. It was then pointed out that a lot of arable land would thus be taken up by those trees, because they will only grow where there is enough water to keep them alive, and most farmers would rather use that water and that soil to grow a cash crop. So it looks like the Coalition got that message from the farming lobby and has modified its policy as a result. Also, the point was made at the time about what would be the environmental impact of imposing trees on a place where there are none now, and the environment is presently incapable of supporting trees to maturity in 'available public space' where nothing else is at present.
The only area therefore that I can think of that would support large-scale tree planting is in previously logged old-growth forest. However, as that is not public space, yet again I cannot reconcile the facts on the ground with the aspirations of the Coalition policy.
In the Coalition policy document they deride the policies of the Labor government with respect to Climate Change, saying, 'Labor's ETS will increase the Cost of Living, put greater pressure on the household budgets of Australian families, penalise industry, and cost jobs, without delivering commensurate environmental benefits.'
Well, I say to them, prove to me that your policies, which I have outlined above, won't do exactly the same thing to the household budgets of Australian citizens? In fact, I posit that it will have a more detrimental effect to family budgets because the Coalition's policies also call for incentive payments to industry, which is taxpayers' money that they are talking about giving away as 'Good Boy' payments to companies that reduce their CO2 emissions, as opposed to the Labor Party, which would rather use a market mechanism and Emissions Trading Scheme to bring about a positive change in behaviour by companies.
Yes, this would see a flow-through into the price we all pay for our electricity, but I hazard a guess that the price we pay for that ETS-linked electricity would be less than what taxpayers would be asked to pay to fund the 'Great Big New Handout' to industry to thank them for doing what a market mechanism would naturally compel them to.
To say nothing of its Biochar initiative, which whilst it is seemingly an efficient method of locking carbon into the earth from whence it came, nevertheless comes with a hidden cost which lies in the cost of building all the pyrolysis plants to take the biowaste from all across the country to convert to Biochar. I can't see how transporting the large-scale waste far away to a small number of big plants would be economically efficient. Still, I would like to see this initiative eventually get up in some way, as it seems to me from what I have read about it that it has potential to make a valid contribution to our CO2-mitigation initiatives. But only as a bit-player.
No, the heavy lifting WILL have to be done by us all, every individual one of us. This includes business and industry paying their fair share, as we pay ours. Also I cheekily hope that after the election, should the Australian people elect a Labor government and give the Greens the balance of power in the Senate, we will have crafted for us an appropriately responsible Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme of sufficient strength to actually make a difference to our per capita CO2 emissions, which are the highest in the world. Don't let us forget that, despite what the naysayers bleat about any action we may take not ever going to make a difference.
It's time for us to start to build the consensus from the ground up again, and get everyone back on board.
To my eyes the cost of the Coalition's 'Real (Minimalist) Action' policies would be far greater than any ETS, and thus increase electricity costs more, though not in an upfront and obvious way to the end consumer. I think that the only difference is that with the Coalition plan the costs to industry will be paid for with $3 billion of our tax money and this may lead to what looks like lower electricity bills, but we're still paying for it in the end, aren't we? Also, who knows how much it will cost us, as a result of an unstable climate, to suffer the vicissitudes of the sort of climate calamity that will be unleashed in the medium to long term if little or no action is taken (we just have to look at the Black Saturday Bushfires to get a taste of that), and go down the path of immediate self-interest and selfishness, and support with our votes the sort of make-work and feel-good Coalition policies which ultimately seem to be going to cost us just as much, but which will contribute to a less positive effect on Climate Change.
All the polls say that people still believe in the reality of Climate Change. We just have to get together to nut out the best way forward. Create that groundswell movement, and get on with it.
What do you think?