Chris Kenny The Australian August 6, 2022
For a moment there, one of the teals could have destroyed the planet. Imagine Earth, the only planet known to sustain life, obliterated by a neophyte politician elected on a promise to save it. Simon Holmes a Court would have been asking for a refund. Voters in some of our wealthiest suburbs would have had difficult conversations with trust fund babies about beach houses and hobby farms turned to space dust.
In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, at least Earth made way for a hyperspace bypass. But this destruction by a so-called teal independent would have been planetary extinction by accident, and all for nothing. The member for Kooyong, Monique Ryan, who swept into parliament in May promising a higher standard of politics, forgot to pay attention. She inadvertently voted in favour of new fossil fuel projects instead of against them. Bugger.
Soon afterwards, the climate evangelist sheepishly addressed the House of Representatives to explain her embarrassing misstep. Just two days earlier this newbie had castigated her colleagues in the same chamber, Nurse Ratched-style, to “put your masks on”.
At least Ryan is consistent in her desire to tell other people how to live their lives. And insist they adopt measures that do more to display virtue than fix problems.
The thing is that the Greens’ amendment seeking to ban all new coal and gas projects, which Ryan mistakenly opposed, was comfortably defeated. Her vote made no difference (something the teals should get used to).
But what does this mean for Earth – my favourite planet, by the way – and all who sail upon her? Will the blue planet still be kaput, or will the rest of the Labor-Greens-teal climate bill do the job?
Anthony Albanese says there was no need to legislate a 43 per cent emissions reduction target for 2030 (Labor had made the pledge to the UN already) but it was worth doing to send a message to the world. It seems the first order of business for our national parliament now is to indulge in global virtue signalling via legislation.
Yet the same politicians who said this legislation was unnecessary have celebrated its passage through the lower house, describing it as a significant moment. And the Greens and teal politicians who said it did not go far enough to save the planet – especially without the amendments that one of them accidentally voted against – also claimed the passing of these apparently inadequate laws as a historic victory.
That is the great thing about legislated sanctimony – near enough is good enough. Still, it has helped me to finally understand that alluring Bob Dylan line: “She knows that there is no success like failure, and that failure is no success at all.”
The stupidity and duplicity of what we are seeing in Canberra fills me with mirth, and dread. Our political class is so drastically out of touch with reality, and so fervently infatuated with politicking, that they obsess over climate policies that they know will do harm to our nation without delivering any discernible environmental benefit.
They do this, to varying degrees, because they believe it will deliver them political advantage. They claim a strong mandate when all major parties promised net zero, giving voters near zero options, and they mock the few politicians who dare to make the laboured walk into the teeth of the zeitgeist.
Once politicians practised a hard craft, more or less, for the public good. Now the public good is sacrificed, more or less, for politics.
With global emissions rising strongly, and certain to continue in that direction for decades to come, any politician with even a double-digit IQ must know there are two unavoidable outcomes from our emissions reduction policies. They will cost us dearly, and they will not change the climate trajectory one iota.
All the while serious dilemmas these same politicians could resolve – declining energy security, soaring electricity costs, housing affordability, Indigenous disadvantage, sliding education standards, defence vulnerability – go unattended. Better to chase opinion polls, follow memes and excite the Twitterati with climate posturing.
At this point it is worth telling you that I am a greenie – no, seriously. My first field of study was parks and wildlife management and my aim, partly fulfilled, was to work as a park ranger.
The natural environment, especially our native fauna and flora, matter to me, which is part of the reason climate change obsession annoys me. It pushes aside practical and crucial action such as habitat protection and feral pest management in favour of emissions reduction cure-alls.
Just as the latest theatrics in Canberra will do nothing to prevent the droughts, bushfires and floods that have always, and will always, bedevil this continent, they will do nothing to benefit our natural estate. Whether we reduce our 1 per cent share of global emissions by 28 per cent or 43 per cent, or even Adam Bandt’s 75 per cent, matters not a jot when global emissions are rising by many factors more.
That is just the reality. The science.
We can argue all we like about the natural variability of climate and the extent to which anthropogenic emissions are distorting it – scientific opinions vary – but, simply put, if global emissions continue to rise, our minuscule reductions are irrelevant.
This is not to advocate against any action but to support a cautious approach that weighs costs against benefits. We should not undermine our economy and prosperity for no tangible gain – that is simply irresponsible.
Over the past two decades we have burdened ourselves with up to $100bn of additional costs, forced some industries offshore, increased the burden on companies and families, undermined our competitiveness and prosperity, and destabilised our national electricity grid, paralysing our politics along the way, all for no environmental gain.
When a Senate committee hearing in 2017 asked then chief scientist Alan Finkel what impact a 1.3 per cent reduction in global emissions would have on the global climate, he said “virtually nothing”.
Finkel argued that Australia, like all nations, should do its bit but he could not deny our insignificance. The 1.3 per cent figure was Australia’s global contribution at the time; it is now closer to 1 per cent.
Still, even if we eliminated our emissions overnight, the impact would be even less than “virtually nothing”.
Our World in Data says China’s annual emissions of approximately 10 billion tonnes (and rising) are about 25 times Australia’s annual emissions of just over 400 million tonnes (and falling).
The International Energy Agency says China’s emissions grew by 750 million tonnes over two years to 2021, which means China’s annual growth roughly equates to our total annual emissions: ipso facto, if we miraculously went net zero tomorrow, we could expect to pause global emissions growth for less than a year.
Yet we turn our politics into a hideous sideshow of climate blame games over our puny contributions. Our politicians and media try to convince people that our policies will reduce the threat of bushfires, droughts, and floods.
The Prime Minister told parliament this week that “the risks of climate change are here, right now” as he invoked how “Australians in recent times have experienced first drought, then bushfires, then flood and then more flood”. He spoke about the “catastrophic consequences on human beings” as if his legislation proffered a solution.
This is a cruel and dangerous hoax on a sunburnt people in the land of droughts and flooding rains. Most media play along.
Let me offer the environmental reality. No matter what Australia or any other country does on climate policy, this land and the flora and fauna that have adapted to it over millennia will always be subject to ferocious fires, searing droughts and devastating floods.
Preparing and planning for natural disasters, and protecting ourselves from them, is an ongoing priority that cannot be outsourced to wind turbines and solar panels. Any politician telling you otherwise is a damaging fraud.
Albanese’s parliamentary speech revealed more about the real agenda. He said Australia is “out of the naughty corner in international forums” and his Climate Minister Chris Bowen said the new climate laws would “send a message to the world” that this country was open to renewable energy. In my experience, when offering subsidies and mandated targets, you do not need to send a message to attract rent-seekers.
We all love the planet. We all want the best for our children. None of us would sabotage our future for an indulgent present.
But let us be frank. Australia’s climate policies, so far, have created only economic pain and limited the opportunities for our children without delivering any environmental benefit.
Labor, the Greens and the teals, promise improved weather and cheaper electricity (and a set of lentil spoons I suppose). It is absurd.
Along with the media, they pretend we are saving the Great Barrier Reef (they claim it has been on the brink for decades, but it got a terrific health report this week) and also changing the land of droughts and flooding rains into a Truman Show nirvana with government policies thermostatically controlling the weather. The debate is ridiculous and demonstrates clearly how the public square has diminished in recent decades as our politics has become divorced from reality.
Always at risk of playing to media whims, our politicians are now addicted to the shallow memes and instant gratification of a social media world that also drives traditional media to ever more superficial coverage. We are living through a dangerous period where the mass dumbing down of Western liberal democracies has distracted governments, and possibly whole populations, from what matters – we are TikToking ourselves to oblivion.
Ryan should not beat herself up. It matters little whether she gets her votes confused; the environmental outcomes will be the same, regardless. Whatever their impact on politics, the teals will have zero effect on the environment. Or mask wearing.
1/ Independents Zali Steggall and other teal independents at Parliament House in Canberra. Left to right: Zoe Daniel, Sophie Scamps, Steggall, Allegra Spender, Kylea Tink and Monique Ryan. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
2/ Monique Ryan points at the opposition benches and shouts “put your masks on!”.
3/ Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese with Chris Bowen during Question Time. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage