Abbott must get off the fence about climate change

This was the heading, slightly re-arranged, of an article in the Brisbane Times yesterday, written by Tim Colebatch, the Economics Editor of The Age. I was sent it by a friend who thought it was a sign that things had begun to change in the Fairfax Press. I read it almost in disbelief: where had Mr Colebatch been in the last year or so?

‘Sooner or later Tony Abbott will have to reveal his plans to tackle climate change’, goes the sub-heading. ‘Tony Abbott never talks about climate change if he can help it. It is not a subject he is comfortable with. His goal is to position the Coalition with one foot in the climate change deniers’ camp and one foot in the climate change believers’ camp. It is not a comfortable position.’

Well, that’s a fair summary if you can forget that he has said, on more than one occasion, that if elected his first goal will be to end the carbon tax. I don’t think he found that a difficult thing to say, and indeed Mr Colebatch tells us about it later in his piece. All politicians like to be a bit equivocal about some issues, so that they don’t offend too many. Mr Abbott is no different to American Presidents or Australian Prime Ministers in that respect.

What follows after that has to be summarised. Mr Colebatch’s comments are in quotes. Mine are not.

‘[Climate change] will inevitably become one of the major issues facing an Abbott government’. It may do so, but by no means inevitably. The economy and a lower rate of growth will, in my opinion, push climate change way down. ‘Climate change’ was dropping in salience as a public issue even before the wheels began to come off the boom.

‘Climate change has not gone away.’ [He follows with statistics about the hot years we have been having, which is beside the point, as I wrote the other day.] Carbon dioxide emissions have continued to rise, but temperature has not followed suit. The ‘extreme weather’ we have been having is no more extreme than similar episodes in the past. Why isn’t this being mentioned?

He then continues with a scary passage from the Financial Times, about how we are conducting an experiment with the earth, the only planet we have, which is straight out of Al Gore’s litany several years ago. He thinks Australians are waking up to this, and quotes survey results, one of which is that 66 per cent of Australians think that ‘climate change is real’. I don’t know what those 66 per cent thought they meant. I think climates change, too, and I’ve been to places on the planet where you can see dramatic examples of it, like the former Roman wheatfields in Libya.

Apparently 84 per cent want action against global warming, which seems to have paused for a long time. I can’t lay my hands on the exact survey, but a recent one whose results I saw placed ‘climate change’ very low in priority. Speaking as a former survey research person, I would have to say that questions about issues are awkward, even when you think you know exactly what to ask. I regard most of this stuff as close to worthless.

Mr Colebatch thinks that the Coalition has a decent chance of gaining a majority in the Senate, which would mean that Mr Abbott would not need a double dissolution to get rid of the carbon tax. If that were the case, says Mr Colebatch, ‘Australia will have to tackle global warming in other ways’. Why would we have to tackle it at all? No matter what Australia does, its capacity to affect the temperature of the planet is so close to zero as makes no difference.

No, no, says Mr Colebatch. ‘If 84 per cent of Australians want action [on global warming] his government will have to deliver it…’  This is more sloppy stuff. First of all, you need to know how badly the 84 per cent want action. As I’ve said, global warming, ‘climate change’ and the environment generally are not high on the priorities that Australians seem to have. If 84 per cent were passionately desirous of that action, it would already have occurred. The Government has not been talking ‘climate change’ for months, because Ministers know there are no votes there.

Then follows a lot of stuff about how the rest of the world is not standing still. President Obama is going to make a statement about it all, but what is already known about that statement tells us that it is talk but little walk. China is said to be going to do various things. Korea is too. People in the electricity industry think that we will really have a carbon tax by 2020. The International Energy Agency thinks the world could cut its emissions by 10 per cent  by doing various things.

All of these international happenings may be so, but none of them has much bearing on Australia. ‘Abbott cannot stay sitting on the fence, and it is very clear which side most Australians want him to be on.’ I think Mr Colebatch’s eyesight warrants a trip to Specsavers.

All the evidence I have been able to garner suggests that ‘climate change’ is not any kind of game-changer. It might be if warming begins to resume, but even then it would be some years before it was clear that was happening. In the meantime, ‘climate change’ has lost its punch.

I think that Mr Colebatch needs to do some proper homework: there’s a lot out there he doesn’t seem to know.

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