ANDREW GLIKSON. The ALP and the great moral challenge of our generation

There was a time when leaders fell on their sword if they were defeated in battle or lost their core beliefs. Nowadays they would not resign their privileged positions to take a stand against even the existential danger posed to advanced life on Earth, including their own civilization. While large parts of Earth are burning, neither do some parliaments, preoccupied as they are with minor political squabbles, declare a climate emergency.

There is something particularly unattractive about the betrayal of core principles. An example is the statement by Malcolm Turnbull, a former prime minister:

We are as humans conducting a massive science experiment with this planet. It’s the only planet we’ve got…. We know that the consequences of unchecked global warming would be catastrophic. We know that extreme weather events are occurring with greater and greater frequency and while it is never possible to point to one drought or one storm or one flood and say that particular incident is caused by global warming, we know that these trends are entirely consistent with the climate change forecasts with the climate models that the scientists are relying on…. We as a human species have a deep and abiding obligation to this planet and to the generations that will come after u.

He later presided over a coal-friendly government.

It is likewise a disappointment to witness the present leader of the opposition, supposedly from the “left”, as well as a self-confessed “values politician”, raising little objection to-date to his front-benchers’ pro-coal policies, now virtually collaborating with climate change denial.

There is no lack of evidence the ALP, by analogy to many governments and political parties around the world, has become weak or two-minded regarding its earlier core value of the “great moral challenge of our generation”. Just as more than 80 large-scale bush fires are scorching Queensland and New South Wales, some ALP front-benchers appear to support coal mining or have joined a pro-coal lobby.

There is no evidence that there has been an internal vote in the ALP to change their policy on climate change, but even their previous focus on reducing domestic emissions through clean energy was never going to affect global warming. This is since cumulative emissions would have continued to grow, albeit at a slower pace, with similar consequences. Thus even a target of 50 percent reduction of emissions would not have touched coal exports, which are at least twice as large as domestic consumption.

A conversion from domestic carbon combustion to wind and solar energy, while at  the same time exporting massive amounts of coal and gas, has been the case in Norway, whose companies have been drilling or leasing for oil around the world, including in the Arctic, until at least March 2019.

Both domestic and exported emissions go into the same planetary atmosphere. Australia is the third largest exporter of fossil fuels (1.1 Billion ton CO2) behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. This includes coal (US$47 billion in 2018, 37.8% of global  coal exports).

In the Australian parliament this leaves the Greens and a couple of independents to worry about climate and the environment. Unfortunately the Greens, hoping to become a dominant “left wing” party, have significantly diluted their efforts on behalf of the climate with a wide range of progressive issues, oblivious to the fact that should efforts at mitigation and adaptation fail, so would all other worthwhile causes. Neither have they shown too much interest in explaining the science to the public.

It appears homo sapiens’ contradictions are catching up with it. The prospect of a hothouse Earth, presided on by ignorance, lies and greed, is rapidly emerging.

Andrew Glikson is an earth and paleo-climate scientist.

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6 Responses to ANDREW GLIKSON. The ALP and the great moral challenge of our generation

  1. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    When you ask: “How is it possible…’ , DA, be reassured: there is an answer. It may be found in V.Gordon Childe’s book published long ago… entitled: “How Labour Governs…”
    Brilliant account, whose author suicided 60+ years ago, chillingly describes what must come when parties, especially Labour, behave as they did/do/have done… in Australia. Don’t be put-off by the date – it is like reading contemporary political history, with the added polish of the past.

  2. David Arthur says:

    I feel your anguish, Andrew Glikson. There is so much that is so terribly wrong with Australian politics at present. How is it possible that we have ended up this government? By any standard, the worst ever. And yet – Labor sinks to even lower levels. Is it any wonder that the thoughtful part of the electorate has given up on their politicians and for the rest of our society, life goes on in ignorant bliss. Unfortunately it will probably take a true climatic calamity to change things – or a true leader with a cabinet of capable ministers who are connected to what is happening in the real world.

  3. Phillip Cornwell says:

    Not to mention that the ALP voted for this motion passed by the Senate in July 2019:
    ‘the Senate supports the development of the Carmichael Mine project and the opening of the Galilee Basin’
    And then, even more disgracefully, the Queensland government extinguished native title over tracts of land in the Galilee Basin so the Adani coal mine could proceed.

  4. michael lacey says:

    Economic turmoil is usually followed by political turmoil !
    Casino capitalism and the rentier economy hold the day! Unchecked corporate power and a massive commodification.

    Neoliberal capitalism is a particularly savage, cruel, and exploitative regime of oppression in which not only are the social contract, civil liberties and the commons under siege, but also the very notion of the political, if not the planet itself.

    The problem lies with politicians and governance
    As such, “governance” has come to be understood as a specific form of management, originally used in the private sector but that increasingly has been adopted by government, which recreates the mechanisms of a free market for the decision-making process.

    This can be seen for example in the use of the language of “stakeholders” by governments in public meetings. In a business context, using the word “stakeholders” could be seen as an improvement with regard to the traditional idea of shareholders.
    It widens the scope of participation beyond those who have invested in a company to include groups that are affected by the company’s actions.

    However, when the concept is used in the public sector, it reduces the importance of government as a decision-maker. Governments, mandated by the people through electoral processes, become just one actor in the decision-making process, rather than the essential dominant decider. Instead of seeing their role as that of representing the public interest, and of protecting that interest by imposing limits on the power of private factions, the language of governance puts government on equal footing with other actors.

    Instead of being subject to limits imposed by government, private factions thus become negotiating partners. Under the concept of governance, there is no longer a role for government as advocate for the general interest.

  5. R. N. England says:

    The Greens’ have a moral foundation the political factions, of greed, and of envy, have always lacked. They, and they alone stand for sustainable civilisation, and are prepared to use government power to educate its enemies, and if that fails, to suppress them.

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