Climate change and politics


Isn’t climate change just a left wing, inner city issue?

In Australia, it took a Labor federal government to take action on climate change, and a Liberal/National government is trying to roll action back. In America, Tea Party politicians have close links to billionaires who are funding climate denial. But worldwide, conservative leaders and business are taking this seriously. Climate change is an issue for everyone, including farmers and people in regional areas.

What other conservative leaders have taken climate change seriously?

No other government in the world openly denies the science, and no other Prime Minister besides Tony Abbott has called the science ‘crap’. Conservative leaders taking climate change very seriously have included Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, and now David Cameron, in the UK; and German leader Angela Merkel.

What did Margaret Thatcher say about climate change?

Back in 1989, Margaret Thatcher addressed the UN General Assembly and dedicated her address entirely to climate change and environmental issues. She argued for continuation of the International Panel on Climate Change, which at first was only established temporarily. She supported development of a framework Convention on climate change (this is the Convention that the Kyoto Protocol and the recent Warsaw negotiations are attached to). About business and the environment, she said

There will be no profit or satisfaction for anyone if pollution continues to destroy our planet.

And she spoke in favour of

using market based incentives to promote good environmental practice.

Did Margaret Thatcher endorse the attack on climate science? Would she?

Before she was a politician, Margaret Thatcher was an Oxford University trained scientist. In her address to the United Nations, she said, about progress since the 19th century:

Today, we have learned rather more humility and respect for the balance of nature. But another of the beliefs of Darwin’s era should help to see us through—the belief in reason and the scientific method.

Isn’t carbon pricing just socialism masked as environmentalism?

Tony Abbott said this to an Australian audience (to the Tasmanian Liberal Party conference, in October 2013) and in the Washington Post. But even for Tony Abbott, this is a really silly line to use about climate action. Was Margaret Thatcher a socialist? Are markets, rather than government “direct action”, socialist ?

Did Tony Abbott really say that the science confirming climate change was “absolute crap”?

Yes, he did (see The Australian, 12 December 2009). He’s also saidI am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change” (7.30 Report, 27 September 2009) Someone who says CO2 is weightless, really shouldn’t set himself up as an expert above the world’s scientific community. Which would be worse – that he actually believes this nonsense, or that he’ll just say anything to get his way?

Has Tony Abbott really said that CO2 is weightless?

Yes, he has (including in 2011 on the John Laws radio program). This is despite his “direct action” policy of spending hundreds of millions of dollars of public money, supposedly with the aim of reducing the number of tonnes of CO2 going into our atmosphere.

Is CO2 actually weightless or hard to measure?

No, and no. Scientists have studied gases including CO2 for centuries. Huge industries based on those studies have grown up from the 19th century on. Industries couldn’t make money selling or using industrial gases if they couldn’t weigh or measure them. Maybe a Prime Minister that doesn’t have a science minister really doesn’t know this?

Solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) is sold by weight. Burning one tonne of carbon produces just under 3.67 tonnes of CO2. Different coals and other fuels have different carbon content and heat value, but energy experts can measure these accurately. How else would coal fired power stations know how much to pay for different grades of coal?

Didn’t John Howard’s government set up a national scheme for measuring greenhouse emissions?

Yes, and Tony Abbott was a senior Minister in Cabinet at the time. Perhaps he was just asleep for that one, too (like he’s said he was asleep when Labor’s package to save Australia from the Global Financial Crisis went through the Parliament).

What has Malcolm Turnbull said about Tony Abbott and carbon dioxide?

When questioned about Tony Abbott’s comments, Malcolm Turnbull said:

Carbon dioxide obviously does have a weight, and if you drop a large lump of dry ice on your foot you’ll find that out very quickly.

What else besides CO2 is invisible but important in our economy and society?

Apart from other gases (like oxygen or methane), we could mention other invisible things that we all only know about thanks to those dreadful scientists that make stuff up. Things like electricity, the radio waves that some shock jocks use to spread their climate denial message, atoms … .

As Labor’s Mark Dreyfus has said in Parliament:

We do not challenge the science of the electric light, even though we do not necessarily understand it

Doesn’t dealing with climate change mean we all have to reduce our living standards?

No. It wouldn’t be sensible or fair to expect lower income people in Australia, let alone the world’s poor, to give up their aspirations for a better life. We need economic growth and reduced emissions. For Labor these are objectives to pursue together.

Shouldn’t jobs and economic growth have priority over climate change?

Labor’s Clean Energy measures safeguarded equity and economic growth, while pursuing action on climate. Developments since then, in particular with plummeting costs for renewable energy, mean that we can do even better into the future.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency offer huge gains for industry and employment. That’s why the ACTU, for example, is so supportive of Labor’s climate change policies.

What has Australia’s union movement said?

There is a good summary in the ACTU submission to the Senate inquiry on “direct action”. Unions support measures that:

  • Price carbon pollution and cap emissions across major polluting sectors of the economy;
  • Provide a transparent framework with clear rules and governance;
  • Safeguard workers in, and communities and regions dependent on, emissions-intensive industries by avoiding carbon leakage and supporting industries to adopt best practice emissions-intensity and energy demand management;
  • Support industries to improve current practices through the adoption of low carbon and energy efficient processes and products while also supporting Australian industries to maximise the opportunities by providing the goods and services needed in a low pollution economy;
  • Fund investment in low carbon technologies and clean energy options in an industry policy framework which supports the development of domestic industry supply capabilities;
  • Provide generous assistance for affected workers and their communities to ensure just and fair conditions, including support to gain the skills and knowledge needed to access employment opportunities in a low carbon economy; and
  • Support low income households.

Tony Abbott’s team, by contrast, is apparently content to watch jobs disappear, and lectures manufacturing workers, on below average wages, about how over-generous their conditions are.

Meanwhile Tony Abbott’s team uses taxpayers’ money to go to weddings, parties, anything.

Shouldn’t poverty reduction have priority over climate change?

The choice some people have tried to set up (including John Howard in a recent speech) between addressing poverty and addressing climate change is a false one. It’s not what poor countries or people actually working on development are saying.

Science says that the poor around the world will suffer most from climate change, whether in storms and floods, or in loss of farming production. As Labor’s Mark Dreyfus has said in Parliament:

There is a reason that a group has been formed in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of the least developed nations of the world because they are likely to be among the countries that are worst affected and of course they are likely to be among the countries least able to afford to deal with it.

Meanwhile, renewable energy is actually giving people access to electricity more cheaply, or even, for hundreds of millions, access to electricity for the first time. No thanks to Tony Abbott for slashing Australia’s funding of development aid.

At the 2014 World Economic Forum, Bill Gates (he knows just a bit about development assistance as well as about commercial success) said it’s inevitable that people will use more energy as they lift out of poverty, and that we need more energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases so that this can happen.

Public attitudes and climate change

Do the Australian public support action on climate change?

Yes. Despite the campaigns by Tony Abbott and others against the science of climate change and against climate action, polls show that a majority of the Australian people accept that human caused climate change is happening, and they want action to address it.

The CSIRO’s most recent survey found less than 8% of Australians thought climate change wasn’t happening. Yet this 8% believed that almost half of Australia shared their fringe view.

Was the last federal election a referendum on climate change?

No. Tony Abbott’s team went to the election saying they were committed to action on climate change, whether or not that commitment now turns out to be effective, sufficient or genuine.

Was the last federal election a referendum on carbon pricing? Tony Abbott was upfront at least about his campaign against the “carbon tax”.

An election isn’t a referendum on a single issue. Labor lost power for all sorts of reasons. But the polls show that, with actual experience of carbon pricing, people were seeing through Tony Abbott’s deceitful and ridiculous scare campaign. Whyalla is still there, and a leg of lamb doesn’t cost $100, for example.

Was the last federal election a referendum on Tony Abbott’s “direct action” policy?

No. Tony Abbott’s team didn’t even share any detail with the public on what “direct action” might mean until December 2013, months after the election.

Didn’t Tony Abbott have a mandate to abolish the “carbon tax”?

We should not accept that there is any mandate to remove Australia’s legal cap on greenhouse gas emissions.

The legislation that Labor put in place provided for transition to a full Emissions Trading Scheme, and termination of the fixed price on emissions, by 1 July 2015. Labor took to the election a policy to bring that transition forward to 1 July 2014. This is the policy that Labor Senators and Members have been defending.

Does Tony Abbott have a mandate to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Authority, and to cut the Australian Renewable Energy Agency?

No. In the words of Labor’s Stephen Jones, in Parliament in November 2013:

Let me say something about mandates … No government has a mandate to turn its back on the public interest.

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