The Politics    Friday, March 4, 2022

Tony Abbott’s flying circus

By Rachel Withers

Sky News Australia commentator Peta Credlin (image via Facebook) and former prime minister Tony Abbott (image © Ritchie B. Tongo / EPA)

Sky News Australia commentator Peta Credlin (image via Facebook) and former prime minister Tony Abbott (image © Ritchie B. Tongo / EPA)

Why would right-wingers choose this week, of all weeks, to resurrect the climate wars?

If there’s one thing this awful week has made clear, it’s that Australia – and indeed the world – needs to do a lot more to adapt to our changed climate, and to prevent further climate change. We didn’t need Monday’s terrifying IPCC report to tell us this, although it certainly added fuel to the fire. The financial and human costs of inaction have again been laid bare through the floods on the east coast, with the death toll rising and the cost of the clean-up expected to run into the billions. The conflict in Ukraine, meanwhile, has highlighted the need for us to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, not only because petrol prices are through the roof and beyond our control, but also because our reliance on them is helping fund an invasion. It’s interesting timing, then, for our most desperate culture-war proponents to use a real war to stoke the climate war, mounting the ludicrous argument that we need to do less about climate change, and claiming that our focus on climate is in some way the cause of the conflict in Ukraine. It’s a bizarre case to be making right now, but it’s also an insulting one. Do they really not care about the tragedy unfolding in our own backyard? And are they really willing to use the tragedy overseas to push their tired agenda?

There was great irony in the fact that Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair on Monday accused “the world’s wokens” of using the conflict in Ukraine to highlight their “pet causes” – that, after all, is exactly what the right-wing commentariat has been doing all week. Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday (and dutifully republished by The Australian), former PM Tony Abbott joined the raft of commentators trying to link Russia’s invasion to a “weakened” West’s obsession with social and environmental issues. “The West’s bigger surrender has been economic and cultural,” Abbott wrote, criticising all three members of AUKUS for their focus on reducing emissions, and implying that it was this that had emasculated the West (along with globalisation, “cultural Marxists”, COVID restrictions and the fact that you couldn’t even make Monty Python’s Life of Brian these days).

Abbott’s former chief of staff Peta Credlin took up the mantle the next day, questioning whether Australians would be willing to stand and fight like Ukrainians, and adding that the security crisis should prompt a “rethink” on climate change. (Writer Jeff Sparrow neatly summarised Credlin’s premise as: “our enemies are evil and we should be more like them”.) Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt was, unsurprisingly, not far behind them, arguing that “the war in Ukraine has exposed the lethal danger of falling for green myths”. “Russian president Vladimir Putin would never have dared invade Ukraine if the green movement hadn’t first made Europe look helpless,” he added.

One favour these bizarre op-eds have done us, however, is to highlight some of the most pressing matters when it comes to climate action. Billionaire climate activist Mike Cannon-Brookes reminded us this week that, while petrol, gas and coal prices soar due to the war, the cost of the sun and wind hasn’t changed at all. “Energy independence comes from renewable abundance,” Cannon-Brookes wrote. US climate envoy John Kerry, meanwhile, has expressed concern over the “massive emissions” the war will cause, as well as the fact it could distract countries from the net-zero goal. “As though future generations have a greater right to life than the children of Ukraine,” Credlin added nonsensically, inadvertently reminding us that failing to achieve those targets is a threat to life on Earth.

For all their complaints about the West’s obsession with emissions reduction, though, we’re not even making any progress on that front. As Kishor Napier-Raman noted at Crikey, we have heard crickets from the government on the IPCC report, despite the fact that climate change is clearly reflected in the floods occurring along the east coast. And while the internal party wars over emissions-reduction targets (2050 for Coalition, 2030 for Labor) were settled at the end of last year, neither side is currently talking much about how to get there, or about what needs to be done (urgently) to end our relationship with fossil fuels. Victorian Labor, to its credit, has just announced a plan to build a major offshore wind industry as coal exits the market, while the Greens last week announced a policy to help coal workers transition to clean energy. But all we’ve got to show for the deal that the Liberals struck with the Nationals just to be able to speak the words “net zero by 2050” is more money for the regions that has nothing to do with climate change.

Australia may not be entering the war in Eastern Europe, but it’s clearer than ever that we are facing our own deadly battle here at home, with lives and livelihoods at stake. What a shame that the culture warriors have decided to use a week positively bursting with examples of why we need to do more on climate to claim that we need to do less.

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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