This is going to be a very long year. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has kicked off the political calendar with a sort of mini-election launch in the western suburbs of Sydney. Some media types billed it as a presidential-style event, but the most striking and worrying similarity to the last US election campaign was not Abbott’s shirt sleeves nor his soapbox, but his grim determination to hang on to Tea Party politics and policies on climate and clean energy.
“Isn’t it bizarre that this government thinks that somehow raising the price of electricity is going to clean up our environment, stop bushfires, stop floods, stop droughts?” Abbott said in his speech. “Just think of how much hotter it might have been the other day but for the carbon tax!”
Borrowed straight from the handbook of Fox News in the US, Alan Jones, and News Ltd bloggers such as Andrew Bolt and Tim Blair. Abbott seems grimly determined to ignore the science in the search of cheap trick.
Of course a carbon imposed six months ago won’t knock 0.5C off Sydney’s record of 45.6 in early January – any more than paying utilities to close coal-fired generation would under the Coalition’s plans would.
As the science explains, the climate impacts we are feeling now are the result of man-made emissions built up over decades. And as President Obama explained in his inauguration speech last week, the action we take now will influence our legacy for future generations. It is worth repeating those words. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.
“Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.”
Nicholas Stern emphasized in his address to the World Energy Forum over the weekend, those impacts are far, far worse than he realized when he delivered his Stern Report to the UK government, and the world, in 2006. “This is potentially so dangerous that we have to act strongly.”
Stern said some countries, including China, had now started to grasp the seriousness of the risks, and he said governments should now act forcefully to shift their economies towards less energy-intensive, more environmentally sustainable technologies.
In Australia, those mechanisms have been set in motion – albeit a little too slowly – through the carbon price, the renewable energy target, and the Clean Energy Finance Corp and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
Abbott, though, is determined to throw this transition into reverse.
Apart from maintaining his threat to repeal the carbon tax, on Sunday repeated his vow to close down the $10 billion CEFC, and said he would seek to neuter the institution from the first day the campaign is called.
As the Liberal Party explains in its plan to abolish the carbon tax, the Coalition Finance Minister will move to close the CEFC on its first day of office. But it will also formally request the CEFC “to desist from making any further determinations in relation to grants, funds or financing” on the day the election is called.
That could give the CEFC only a very short period in which to make its first investments. It does not have the capacity to allocate funds until July 1, but Oliver Yates’ team will need a big pipeline of projects to be locked in soon afterwards. It may only have a month or two to play with, presuming Prime Minister Gillard waits that long to call a poll (it must be held by October). Which is why Yates is keen to move quickly.
Instead of investing in the next generation of technologies and infrastructure that will hasten the country’s move to a low carbon economy, Abbott still insists that deploying his “green army” remains a centerpiece of his climate policy.
“There will be a Green Army marching to the rescue of our degraded bushland, our waterways under pressure,” he told his audience on Sunday. Apart from picking up litter, this green army presumably will be able to form a human dam to hold back the rising seas, and create a massive human shield to create shade on those super-hot summer days. Not sure about the bush-fires though.
The whole policy is, of course, absolute nonsense, as even Malcolm Turnbull has revealed on several occasions. It’s a policy designed by vested interests – to sweep away as many environmental checks and balances and initiatives at state and federal level to allow certain organisations to maximise short term profits.
Abbott’s “promise” to repeal the carbon price relies entirely on the acquiescence of the Labor Party. If it is not provided, Abbott promises to take the election to a double-dissolution poll. Unlike this year’s election, which will be an overall judgment on the competence of Labor, a double dissolution would be a referendum on carbon and climate.
Given the fact that Whyalla and Port Augusta still stand, and many of the businesses that Abbott visited and predicted would be out of business are now profiting handsomely from energy efficiency incentives, and most of the population are wondering what the fuss is about, that would be a risky business – and a risk that many newly elected Coalition members would not want to entertain.