Australian Leadership Still Waiting For A Climate Change Genius


Tom Switzer and I agree on one thing: Tony Abbott isn’t a climate change “genius”. Where we differ is that Switzer, writing in the Guardian earlier this week, thinks Abbott will be proved one next year by doing nothing about climate change now and staying out of what Switzer predicts will be “yet another climate summit fiasco” at the UN climate talks in Paris in 2015.

On the other hand, I think that Tony Abbott is putting ideology and politics before the national interest and ducking the challenge of our times. When it comes to our Prime Minister, it’s nothing personal. The worst things about him are his policies, and his stance on climate change is worst of all.

Switzer makes two errors, the most glaring of which is that he doesn’t accept the screaming reality of climate change, which he squeamishly describes as an uncertain question.

It’s on this moral failure that the rest of his argument hinges.

The only way that you can describe Tony Abbott as a genius is if you think climate change doesn’t matter. And, of course, it does and Switzer’s wrong. There is no uncertainty about climate change and not even a question about how to fix it.

Unfortunately for Tony Abbott, he will be remembered as the Prime Minister who proved that the carbon tax worked. After it was introduced, Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions fell, the economy continued to grow and the sky remained in place.

When Abbott repealed it and the country’s emissions began to rise again, using Australia as a vast laboratory, Abbott confirmed it: carbon taxes work.

Switzer’s second failing is a little more human: he doesn’t like mess. He thinks Abbott’s played a blinder by “staying on the margins” of what he predicts could be a difficult summit in Paris next year.

In reality, of course, Australia has been decisively marginalised thanks to our luddite positioning on climate change. By abdicating our responsibility, Abbott fell spectacularly out of the global loop as the tectonic plates shifted and the US and China agreed to reduce the carbon emissions exactly as Australia had been doing.

It is this irrelevance, thanks to Abbott’s climate change blindspot, that Switzer dresses up as an artful political manoeuvre, rather than what it is: a mistake leading to national humiliation.

The Paris meeting may or may not be difficult but this is no reason not to be part of it. Democracy is difficult. And it’s messy, slow and erratic. The challenge is to make the best of it. Messy or not, I hope that Paris marks a highpoint in nations taking material and decisive action for the common good.

Any large-scale advances to human wellbeing – the centuries-long fight for the right to vote, women’s emancipation, ending slavery, ending apartheid, take your pick – take place over years, happen in fits and starts and are, yes, messy. The question of involvement is not about staying clean and looking good, it’s about rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in because it’s the right thing to do.

Australia doing its part to fight the challenge of our times is the right thing to do, and I’m not the only one who thinks that it’s simply unAustralian to shirk our duty.

With our resources and size, Australia could lead the rest of the world in showing how to decarbonise the economy, while growing it and thereby exploit the quickly vanishing first-mover advantage.

How many times must it be pointed out that cloudy Germany has a 400,000-strong renewables workforce, while some of our senators want another investigation into the, er, health impacts of wind turbines.

Another uncertain question? Or, as the Australian Wind Alliance said yesterday, there isn’t a question the inquiry will ask that we don’t already know the answer to.

When it comes to a forward-looking, progressive and sustainable country, Australia awaits a leader with real genius.

* Tom Allen is former media advisor to Adam Bandt MP. 

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