The thought that bushfire emergencies in spring could become more common is very uncomfortable. That’s why right now – in the middle of a scary, hard to control bushfire that threatens homes and lives in NSW – is exactly when we should talk about climate change and how Australia is actively contributing to making it worse.
In a fight between corporate responsibility and companies fighting for economic existence, the latter will always triumph. That’s why the current shift in the climate debate – from ‘environment vs business’ to ‘business vs business’ – could have a revolutionary impact on global policy and investment decisions.
How would the return to centre stage of Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull change Australia’s climate conversation? It would put us back in the camp of most countries – where both sides of politics and most of the business community accept action is an economic imperative.
It might seem ironic, but environmentalists and farmers fighting the expansion of coal mining and coal seam gas across Australia are the only thing likely to moderate the rude economic awakening we face when the global carbon bubble bursts and the fossil fuel industries start their inevitable, terminal decline.
When it comes to the shift to a low-carbon economy, many are so busy looking at politics for signs of change, they’re missing the signs in the market. Policy might be essential, but markets deliver solutions – and the signs are that this process is now well underway. Meanwhile, that carbon bubble just keeps getting bigger.
What began as a predominantly ecological question is rapidly transforming into an economic one, putting the global climate movement on the verge of a remarkable victory that would include the removal of the oil, coal and gas industries. And the greatest transfer of wealth and power the world has ever seen.
In a speech this week, Paul Gilding said the world was ‘locked in’ for a sustainability crisis that would trigger world-changing climate impacts and resource conflicts. The only question now is how will we respond? Will this be a century of chaos or a few decades of messy but successful transition?
Despite the emergence of the smart phone, Facebook and Google, the economy is still being driven by belching smokestacks and is still being shaped by those who inherited the economic momentum of 19th century England – the coal, oil and gas industries. But after 250 years, their time is coming to an end – and faster than you, or they, think.
Techno-optimism is a form of denial. That things aren’t that serious and that politically difficult change that will confront powerful vested economic interests can be avoided. Such a view is reassuring, it feels good and it fits nicely with our genetic tendency to optimism. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong.
Is the end of growth the end of markets? The end of capitalism? Most definitely not. We will still need competition, we will still want ideas and innovation to flourish and we will want capital allocated as efficiently as possible. Markets are good at all those things.