The influence of president-elect Donald Trump’s attack on “elites” is taking hold in the Australian parliament, with the Coalition attacking “latte-sipping” opponents of coal mining and joining enthusiastically in a debate questioning climate science in the Senate.
Frydenberg was asked in question time by Greens MP Adam Bandt about a US government report delivered in at the Marrakech climate talks that warned, amongst other things, of a 1.5m rise in sea levels by 2050 if greenhouse emissions continued at current levels.
Frydenberg responded by claiming that Australia had an “ambitious” climate target for 2030 and had been praised “for innovation” and its work on carbon capture and storage at the recent climate talks in Marrakech.
“It it is okay for the member for Melbourne to put his sandals up on the seat, sip his soy latte, sit in the streets of Brunswick and say that it is the end of coal,” but coal would continue to be part of the mix for decades to come, Frydenberg said.
A few hours later, Canada announced it would phase out traditional coal fired generation by 2030 as part of its “vision for a clean growth economy”. The UK is phasing out coal by 2023, and France is phasing out coal too, although it has taken a rain check on that idea because one third of its nuclear fleet are sidelined by safety concerns.
In the Senate, One Nation senator and climate conspiracy theorist Malcolm Roberts managed to have one hour set aside to debate the science of climate change as a “matter of public importance.”
Predictably, Roberts applauded Trump’s “highly moral and courageous position” on climate change, and hailed the links between One Nation and the collection of fellow climate conspiracy theorists in the inner sanctum of Trump’s administration-in-waiting.
For good measure, Roberts attacked renewable energy in South Australia (which, incidentally, has not stopped the state having the highest levels of business confidence in Australia), and he invited Australian law makers to “form a conga line” behind Trump’s proposal to open up more federal lands to oil and gas drilling and eliminate environmental regulations.
He was, of course, enthusiastically supported by fellow One Nation senator and former apprentice boiler-maker Brian Burston, who also referred to the UN climate conspiracy and claims that Trump’s election had “punctured forever” the “fantasy” of global action.
“Even if we were to shut down the whole country, with not so much as a wood fire to warm ourselves in our caves, the difference this would make to the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide would be entirely counteracted by the rest of the world’s action in a matter of months,” said Burston, who lives in a place called Coal Point.
Another cross-bencher, Senator Jacqui Lambie joined in too, accusing the Greens of being “deniers of natural climate change”, which she insisted was caused by “variations in the earth’s orbit around the sun”, which could move the “average world temperature rose about five degrees very quickly to around 19 degrees.”
And she’s not a fan of renewables. “The scientific record shows that no amount of windmills, solar panels, renewable energy targets or Australian pensioners paying over-the-top prices for their electricity will stop the earth’s temperature heating up by another four or five degrees if that is what natural cycles dictate,” Lambie said.
But it wasn’t just the cross-benchers having a go, the Coalition also joined in with gusto.
Senator John Williams, the National’s whip in the Senate, said: “I have not travelled the world much, though I have been to Thailand many times for Anzac Day”. But he could tell quite clearly from his travels that carbon dioxide is “actually odourless, colourless and non-toxic. You cannot see it,” he revealed.
Williams wondered why environmentalists pursued action against this “odourless, colourless, non-toxic gas which is essential to all life on earth” when “poisonous gases” such as sulfur and carbon monoxide were ignored. “Emissions trading schemes are schemes where wealthy people sell fresh air to wealthy people and poor people pay for it. It is as simple as that.”
The Liberal Party’s senator Ian Macdonald admitted he had no scientific knowledge, but said he bowed to those who do, including Senator Roberts (but not the 97 per cent of climate scientists who accept the proposition of anthropogenic global warming).
In any case, Macdonald thought Australia was doing “far more than it needs to” and then offered this brain-crushing leap of logic, suggesting Australia shouldn’t take any action until big emitters such as China, the US, Russia and the EU brought their emissions down to less than 1.2 per cent of the world emissions.
It was all too much for Greens senator Nick McKim, who produced a tin foil hat and asked Senator Roberts if it belonged to him. “Really, seriously, haven’t we all got better things to do than debate the conspiracy theory laden rubbish that you bring into this place?”
Labor senator Jenny McAllister agreed: “It is 2016 and we should not be devoting an hour of time in this chamber to debating whether climate change is real. We actually should be devoting a month to exploring ways we can address it.”