Twirling towards freedom

Working 9% to 5%

A side effect of the Coalition’s hyper-combative entry into government is that almost every issue has been cast as a battlefield in the resurgent culture wars. Since being elected, the Abbott government has moved to cast public debate in a stark conservative/liberal dichotomy, a paradigm shift in which the environment has become the chief casualty. Science has been jettisoned from the frontbench, the climate commission axed, the CSIRO hobbled, the carbon tax is in the process of being repealed, and the carbon debate and attendant environmental concerns have effectively been reframed as a debate about electricity prices. With each passing day, the conversation moves farther away from the science, and closer towards partisan tub-thumping.

Last Tuesday, speaking to Alan Jones on 2GB, Abbott made his first comments on wind energy and the renewable energy target as Prime Minister:

If you drive down the Federal Highway from Goulburn to Canberra and you look at Lake George, yes there’s an absolute forest of these things on the other side of the lake near Bungendore. I absolutely understand why people are anxious about these things that are sprouting like mushrooms all over the fields of our country [and] one of the things that we’ll be looking at will be the impact of renewable energy on power prices, because not only is the carbon tax adding about 9 per cent to everyone’s power bills and we’re going to get rid of that as quickly as we can, renewable energy targets are also significantly driving up power prices right now.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Abbott shows his trademark ignorance of the technology he’s denigrating, but he would be the first to admit that he’s no tech head. That’s not as worrying though as the fact that he’s marking renewable energy as something to be stamped out in furtherance of the economy. Abbott has already indicated his government is unlikely to lower Australian greenhouse gas emissions by more than the 5% by 2020 as already promised. This is in defiance of a draft report from the Climate Change Authority, which declared the standing goal inadequate. In his 2011 Climate Change Review Professor Ross Garnaut recommended a reduction of about 17%, following the progress of China and the U.S. Of course, that doesn’t fit with the program, especially when you consider the vast amounts of carbon that Australia is aiming to dig up for international consumption during an expected ‘golden age’ of fossil fuel exports – one which, under Coalition stewardship, may supercharge the economy, but only while irreversibly damaging the globe.

The thing is, the environment isn’t a lefty fantasy, like equal rights for queer Australians, or sticking to the UN convention on refugees. When it’s broken, when the climate changes, the damage will be irredeemable. It will last forever.

That is a fact that seems to have been subsumed in the debate. It’s like the first act of a Hollywood disaster movie, with record weather extremes burning down NSW and hurricanes killing tens of thousands of people in the Philippines, all while in Canberra a hubristic government obfuscates the facts and derails the debate. The government decries anyone, like Greens MP Adam Bandt, who links climate change with environmental disaster, all in the interests of a politically entrenched mining industry where barons lurk in the wings (or, thanks to the miracle of democracy, in the House of Representatives.)

To me it seems like, mathematically speaking, the wellbeing of 7 billion people is worth a 9% hike in electricity prices and a lowering of greenhouse gas emissions beyond 5%. But perhaps that is cheap point scoring.



Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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