Friday, April 23, 2021

Today by Rachel Withers

‘Not if, or when, but how’
How do you get to net zero when you refuse to set a target of net zero?

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at the remotely-held Earth Day summit. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking at the remotely-held Earth Day summit. Image via ABC News

As expected, Prime Minister Scott Morrison further alienated himself on the world stage overnight, coming to the virtual Earth Day climate summit – at which the United States, Japan and Canada all increased their 2030 emissions-reduction targets – with no improvements to Australia’s commitments, but plenty more spin. Morrison carried on with the same focus on “technology” that he brought to Monday’s Business Council of Australia event and to his two mid-week funding announcements, and his rhetoric at the global summit was trained firmly on his word of the week: how. “For Australia,” he told other world leaders, once his sound eventually started working, “it is not a question of if, or even by when, for net zero, but – importantly – how”. He then went on to undermine other speakers by implying their when commitments were meaningless. “Future generations will thank us not for what we have promised but for what we deliver,” he said, as if this might distract from the fact that he was promising a lot less than everybody else. Morrison’s hows continued in a press conference this afternoon. “The how is what this is all about,” he told reporters, after announcing a $100 million package to protect Australia’s oceans. “The how decides when you get there,” he added. On the contrary, Prime Minister. In a race against time, when you need to get somewhere must determine how you get there. And, right now, we’re not going anywhere.

Morrison has decided to make this three-letter word central to his target-evading strategy, hoping his new rhetorical emphasis on “how” Australia gets to net zero will distract people from the fact there is still no sign of a “when” – the closest we’ve got has been “as soon as possible”. (And it’s clear, in the way the PM uses it, he doesn’t actually mean ASAP.) Morrison wants to treat the timeline as a secondary issue, even though time is of the essence when it comes to climate change. It’s not a problem in which we can simply let “however long it takes” be the way we make decisions. But with the planet already warming at an alarming rate, Morrison is forsaking net-zero targets in favour of an unknowable date determined by “technology”.

But the more pertinent question is this: how do you get to net zero “as soon as possible” when you refuse to officially set a target of net zero? Perhaps a “what” question would help: what motivation is there to do anything quickly or seriously? Or a “why” question: why would future generations thank us for delivering too little too late? Not only is Morrison’s strategy giving Australia no guidance or motivation, it’s also not clear whether his “technology not taxes” strategy will ever get us there. As many have noted, Morrison’s funding commitments for hydrogen and carbon-capture and storage (CCS) involve continuing to subsidise the fossil fuel sector rather than investing in new forms of renewable energy, and will still allow for the release of substantial amounts of CO2, with doubts over how effective carbon capture can ultimately be.

Morrison is right about one thing. Targets without roadmaps are meaningless. The government has made that crystal clear, what with its failure to properly plan for its goals on administering vaccines (4 million by end of March) or female MPs (50 per cent by 2025), though its funny how not having a “how” never seemed to stop the government from setting targets in the past. Of course, targets have now been scrapped for the vaccine rollout, meaning we’re regrettably relying on “we’ll try our best and get there when we get there” on that issue as well (and let’s be real, probably on equal representation too). Targets without roadmaps, as we’ve learnt, are unlikely to be met. But roadmaps without targets don’t get you anywhere.

“The idea that the police should investigate this horrific failure of the system themselves is absurd.”

Women’s Legal Services Queensland chief executive Angela Lynch calls for an independent investigation of the police interactions with Gold Coast woman Kelly Wilkinson, after it was revealed she contacted police several times in the weeks before she was allegedly murdered by her former partner.

“There’s a new teenage girl in town, and she’s angrier – and a lot more left wing.”

Washington correspondent Adam Creighton compares Mexican-Chilean climate activist Xiye Bastida to Greta Thunberg, after Bastida addressed this morning’s Earth Day summit with what he described as “bizarre” and “incoherent” demands for non-Eurocentric and intersectional climate education.

Will this verdict change the US?
Over the last three weeks, the world watched and waited as one of the most significant trials in recent history took place. On Wednesday, George Floyd’s murderer was found guilty. Mary McGuire on the trial of Derek Chauvin, the verdict, and the future of the movement against police violence.


The increased risk COVID-19 survivors face of dying within six months, according to a new “long hauler” study.

“A new power allowing the treasurer to prohibit superannuation funds from making certain investments or expenditure is needed to protect the national interest, Superannuation Minister Jane Hume says.”


A proposed ministerial authority over super investments – which would allow a minister to intervene should an investment “not align with the national interest” – would be open to political abuse, according to Industry Super Australia chairman Greg Combet.

The list

“To be a football fan is to engage in a stubborn suspension of disbelief. At some level, however subtly, one must pretend that the subject of one’s fandom is not a global brand possessed of vulgar instincts, owned by greedy, aloof billionaires, and staffed by talented, but self-interested contractors … Through love and ritual, the fan’s imaginative and social life can still exist independently of their club’s commodification and condescension of it. But this week, that suspension of disbelief was collectively broken.”

“There is a worrying corollary of this mandated reverence for all things that symbolise our military tradition. Implicit in it is that the role our soldiers play is so deeply and ‘quintessentially Australian’ … that it is nothing less than un-Australian to criticise or challenge it. And in today’s political vernacular it seems there is no worse offence than to be branded ‘un-Australian’.”

“Phaptawan Suwannakudt stretches her arms far above her head and leans to her left, lifting slightly off her chair. She’s demonstrating through a webcam the kinds of movements required when painting large-scale murals. She says there’s a muscle memory that comes with whole-of-body art-making, where teams of painters make their way up scaffolding to complete elaborate compositions.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Monthly Today.



The Monthly Today

Image of Lieutenant General John Frewen. Image via ABC News Breakfast

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Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Question Time today. Image via ABC News

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27 reasons to wonder

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From the front page

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The back of the back of the queue

Young people have waited patiently through the government’s slow rollout, but it’s now killing them

Image of Scott Morrison holding a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine. Image via Facebook

Vaccine resistance

Despite historically high vaccination rates, Australia has developed a significant anti-vax movement in the middle of a global pandemic

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Racing against time

The I-Kiribati Olympic sprinter hoping to draw attention to his nation’s climate catastrophe