Thursday, March 5, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Science vs politics
Action on COVID-19 is science-led. Why not on climate?

Soure: Twitter

Contrast the prime minister’s response to the coronavirus outbreak with his response to the climate emergency of drought, heat and bushfire that Australia faced over summer. Responding to COVID-19, the Morrison government has gotten out in front of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the pandemic, flagged the possible use of emergency provisions in the biosecurity laws, and held numerous press conferences in a fortnight with the PM alongside the health minister and chief medical officers. The government is now developing a fiscal stimulus plan to counter the virus’s impact, which Treasurer Josh Frydenberg this morning said would begin with a “b” for billions, rather than millions.

The prime minister’s response to the climate-forced “black summer”, on the other hand, was late and fumbling. There were no press conferences with the PM standing next to climate scientists. And a hinted-at evolution of the government’s climate policies was soon abandoned, after the first sign of a backlash from the hard right. It is not because the prime minister has learnt from his mistakes, however; it is because on COVID-19 he is free to act on the basis of the best scientific advice, but on climate change he isn’t.

Why is that? A prime minister’s office staffed with former fossil-fuel executives, perhaps. Or a Coalition replete with climate deniers obliged to fossil-fuel donors, who felt they won the last election in the coal seats of Queensland. A case in point is the former resources minister, Matt Canavan, who last night tweeted: “CSIRO has said before that ‘no studies explicitly attributing the Australian increase in fire weather to climate change have been performed.’ When I asked why this view wasn’t included in a recent bushfires ‘explainer’, they couldn’t explain it.”

Within hours, Guardian Australia reported on an authoritative World Weather Attribution study showing that the probability of the fire weather index reaching levels seen during Australia’s bushfires had increased by 30 per cent due to human-caused climate change, and would be eight times more likely under 2 degrees of warming.

Just imagine if the Morrison government could respond on climate as it has on coronavirus, and were not hamstrung by science deniers and vested interests. Just imagine if the federal government put the safety of Australians first on climate, just as it has on coronavirus. Imagine a front-footed, science-led response: setting targets based on scientific advice that put the safety of people and other species first; a climate emergency declaration and a Zali Steggall–style climate change act; a Bob Hawke–like summit with business and community to thrash out the way forward; an all-systems-go approach to doing our bit on climate change once and for all.

We’d be healthier and safer. The economy would be stronger, not weaker, and positioned to exploit the kind of clean-powered manufacturing and export opportunities that Ross Garnaut lays out in his book Superpower. There is nothing stopping Australia from doing any of that.

We don’t consult anti-vaxxers on coronavirus. We don’t waste time waging culture wars over it. We get on with it. As the PM said this afternoon, keeping Australians safe is his top priority, and so it should be. But why can he keep us safe from coronavirus, but not from climate change?

“What sort of people is this government putting in charge of our workplaces?”

Shadow industrial relations minister Tony Burke responds to evidence heard in Senate Estimates last night that Fair Work Commission deputy president Gerard Boyce had to be asked to remove half-clad figurines that were displayed in his office. He replaced them with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Donald Trump.

“While much of our cybersecurity role, and the protection of Australia’s digital borders, is conducted domestically – ASD is prohibited by legislation from producing intelligence on Australian persons except in rare circumstances, and only then under the authority of a ministerial authorisation. This is an important safeguard, and one that is fundamental to ASD’s work. Our responsibility to protect the online safety and privacy of Australians is paramount.”

Australian Signals Directorate director-general Rachel Noble in Senate Estimates last night. She then confirmed that those rare circumstances had occurred in an unspecified number of cases in the past 12 months.

A fear at the end of the earth
James Button spoke to scores of people about climate change and what it means to them. He found deep anxiety – but also a contradiction between how people thought and how they acted. Today, find out what a conversation about ecological catastrophe could look like.

The amount that careers ambassador Scott Cam has been paid since October, during which time he has been at a media conference, appeared in three short videos, made four social media posts and put a profile on a government website, according to evidence in Senate Estimates this morning.

“UNSW Sydney will add to its credentials as a world leader on climate science, renewable energy and sustainability by moving away from investment in fossil fuels. The university will divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include public equities and corporate bonds of companies whose primary business is the ownership and exploitation of fossil fuels reserves by 2025.”

The list

“Shot over three years, and assembled from more than 400 hours of raw footage, it’s not only an extraordinary piece of cinema in its own right, a kind of pastoral epic, but one that seems to exist at a curious yet compelling intersection of reportage and fiction.”

“In Wagga Wagga, it is nearly impossible to get an abortion. It is a problem of access, as most medical stories are in regional Australia, but it is deeper than that, say local doctors, a symptom of the fear cultivated within the local medical community about being labelled ‘pro-choice’ in such a deeply religious town. Now a handful of Wagga doctors are speaking out.”

“When librettist Royce Vavrek suggested to composer Missy Mazzoli that they turn Breaking the Waves into an opera, Mazzoli was reluctant. What more could they add, she asked. But she re-watched the film, noting that, apart from bursts of rock numbers interspersed between chapters, the movie had no soundtrack. Music could become the subtext of the characters on stage.” 

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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