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

Sep 20, 2019

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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