The climate giants speak

4 June 2010 – There was enough passion and atmosphere at Sydney Town Hall on Friday, 21 May to ignite a new political movement.

Maybe it was the woman from the bush who waited patiently for her turn at the microphone to spell out calmly, and with cast-iron determination, why the new grassroots movement for 100 per cent renewable energy will not be derailed until it has door-knocked Australia.

Or maybe it was the pure logic and reason coming from the mouths of the speakers.

On stage were four giants of climate change action: Tim Flannery, Ross Garnaut, Clive Hamilton and Bill McKibben. That’s respectively the science, the economics, the politics and policy and the grassroots movement of climate change wrapped up.

Yes, some of the news was heartbreaking. We knew it would be, and it kept many people away. Still, the hall was packed.

And there was such positive news too.

From Garnaut came the economic picture: Not only has Australia enjoyed the bounty of huge natural resources, including coal, but when the shift inevitably comes to alternative energy it turns out we’ll have more than just about any other nation on the planet.

“Australia happens to also be richly endowed with all the alternatives,” Garnaut said.

“If it ends up being the case that solar is the way forward then we have the best resources [of] any other developed country. If it turns out that wave power has a big role role to play, there we are exceptionally endowed.”

And so it is for geothermal, with undersea reserves; hydroelectric with the rivers of Papua New Guinea; biofuels with degraded woodlands and salty, sunny environments for algae.

Yet we still don’t act on these bounties. “The problem is we don’t think about it,” Garnaut said.

Hamilton thought the reason may have nothing to do with logic.

The economic modelling tells us that going green might at worst postpone the doubling of Australia’s income by a couple of years, he said.

What could be more relevant were the psychological drivers: GDP (gross domestic product) had assumed “enormous symbolism” as a measure of our vitality, our progress and our hope, Hamilton said.

Then there was fear – who wants to admit the bleak truth?

“It’s been an economic issue, a science issue, but increasingly it’s a psychological issue,” he said. So Hamilton, these days, has been studying denial and avoidance strategies.

Regardless of how tough it is to change, fight we must, McKibben urged. Two degrees warming might be inevitable –  and even more – but it was better than four (which could still be inevitable) or six degrees warming.

Flannery called for a peak body of scientists to speak for a consensus on climate issues and earn greater respect, because whatever the scientists were telling the Government right now, it was being ignored.

A few days later Flannery announced he would probably never vote Labor again.

But in Flannery’s view the Greens’ refusal to support the emissions trading scheme was a strategic error.

We’re not so sure; there are quite a few people who think it could actually be the most strategic thing that Greens leader Bob Brown has done (after all, he’s barely put a foot wrong in nearly three decades). Instead of caving in to a poor ETS – even if it could be ratcheted up – Brown has instead kept to his strong purist position, knowing that the people who voted in Kevin Rudd on climate change and support Malcolm Turnbull on the same issue will be looking for somewhere else to cast their votes.

New Zealand:  the little country that roared

The other thing Garnaut said at the Town Hall event was that the Prime Minister had a moment of opportunity to win an emission trading scheme (and possibly a double dissolution election and a legacy of climate hero) on the Turnbull was deposed as Opposition leader

We agree.

Turn to our little cousins in New Zealand instead and see a conservative party agitating like crazy for an emissions trading scheme, with the Environment Minister calling for a war-like effort no less than that at Gallipoli.

“When our Anzac troops went to Gallipoli, and when we’ve got our New Zealand troops in Afghanistan, do we really think those New Zealand troops in Afghanistan are going to make a world of difference to the final outcome there?” he asked this week.
“No, we don’t. But what we do say, as New Zealanders, and what those Anzacs said in the tradition of New Zealand, is we, as a country, believe in doing our fair share.”
So there Mr Rudd. See how our little-country cousins can put us all to shame.
OK, must remember: it’s darkest before the dawn.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au