US economics professor Jeffrey Sachs has slammed the Australian federal government as “unbelievably irresponsible” for its inaction on climate change, and suggested that policy progress in the Coalition – alongside the current US Trump administration – has been held hostage by major fossil fuel interests.
Speaking on ABC TV’s Q&A program on Monday night, Sachs – who is a former director of the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University – described global warming as “a disaster”, and said the failure to act on this represented a breakdown in the democratic process.
“This isn’t about the future, it’s about right now,” Sachs said. “What is the matter with these people?”
“(Either) they really don’t know (about the science of climate change) … or they are so corrupt and taking oil money that they pretend that they don’t know.
“And so that’s the real story here. The governments are not representing you properly right now, because the planet is facing profound dangers, we’re all at risk, and our governments need to act. And they promised that they would act, but they’re not acting right now.”
“In Canberra and in Washington and in other places, they are not representing the common interest at all. They are representing a few big companies, but not the people.”
The comments are a variation on the message that is currently being served to the federal Liberal Party by its own members, and potentially by voters in this weekend’s by-election in the seat of Wentworth.
High profile “small-l Liberals”- including former party leader John Hewson, and the son of recently deposed PM Malcolm Turnbull, Alex – have been campaigning for voters in the blue ribbon seat to withhold their vote from the Liberal candidate, as a protest against the Party’s complete failure on climate policy.
Like Sachs, their key argument is that the party, at its most basic level, is failing to do its job as an elected representative of the people, and to act on core issues like the environment and dangerous climate change.
But whether that message will get through is another matter entirely. After all, we live in bizarre times, where an established, mainstream conservative political party can claim to have been duped into supporting a motion based on a highly offensive white supremacist slogan – and probably get away with it.
“Let’s face it… (Trump’s) absolutely the weirdest president we’ve ever had,” Sachs said, in comments on his own country’s political identity crisis.
“But he’s also representing more than that. He’s representing the corruption of the American political system. This is big oil, big gas, big coal putting a lot of money into the Republican Party so that they all sound like idiots.
“And this is corruption, and we have to fight it. Because why is this happening? It’s a few companies who think they run the world. But we’re the ones in the midst of hurricanes, we’re the ones that are seeing the floods, the droughts… Is this in the interest of Australia? … Of course not.
“Now we’ve had two huge storms – biggest storm in a century to hit the Florida pan-handle – and the senator can’t even tell one sentence of truth! This is a breakdown of the democratic process, and it’s really shocking and very dangerous.
At this point, Sachs gave a nod to the contributions of Australia’s own Rupert Murdoch, who, he said, had “made a mess of the media all over the world by propounding nonsense.”
“Now we’re in it. We’re in the midst of horrendous danger and it’s unfolding before our eyes, and still we are not acting. And the reason we’re not acting is big money and big companies and it’s complete dishonesty.”
And he closed his comments on climate change by making an appeal for common sense:
“Make a plan, make a timeline, tell the world how you’re going to decarbonise, and then we’ll all be happy to hear from Australia that there’s really a plan. All we see is one PM after another falling over thus issue. But we don’t see any action.
“This wonderful country has so much sunshine, you cannot even believe. You could power the whole world from your desert, so the idea that you don’t have alternatives, and so forth, I don’t know who could possibly believe this.
“PV has come down so much in price, it’s clean, you should be exporting sunshine, actually, not coal.
“(WIth) the technology for high voltage DC submarine cables, you could be exporting your massive solar potential to Asia,” he said.
“If you wouldn’t get stuck by politicians defending a 19th or 20th century industry, and would get the 21st century industry in place, you’d really do a lot of good for the whole world, but also a lot of good for this country.”