climate Malcolm Turnbull
via ABC News: Matthew Abbott

The people on the hard right trying to seize our government may not be climate deniers but climate believers who want to control the hatch.

OPINION: At a special briefing last Friday at Glebe’s Tram Sheds in Sydney for capital city leaders Climate Works executive director Anna Skarbek was focused on a preview of her team’s next report, Tracking Progress on National Emissions, when the first news of a leadership spill in the Liberal Party came through on social media. Peter Dutton was already raring up, preparing to strike at the prime minister.

Given the reason for the mooted spill, the imminent agreement on the National Energy Guarantee, and Dutton’s fierce anti-climate hard right agenda that seems to be all-consumingly focused on halting emissions reductions and renewable energy, The Fifth Estate asked Skarbek if she thought the politics could once again derail the sustainability industry as it did under former PM Tony Abbott.

She’d been talking about the strength of the momentum in renewables and sustainability. How in the US the rise of the pro-fossil fuel administration had ironically pushed so many people off the fence and into strong counter-action. California, for instance, swiftly hosted a mini Paris climate talks to reinforce the message that progress would not be stopped.

Skabek saw little chance that momentum would slow. This thing was unstoppable, she said. You could feel the relief.

Let’s hold that thought, more closely than we should need to. Because what was only a monstrous possibility last Friday, that Malcolm Turnbull would for the second time be ditched as leader of the Liberal Party over climate policy, has come to pass.

Make no mistake, this is the next tranche of the climate wars, but this time there could be a twist.

If the market momentum is so strong, then why is the effort to stop it so determined? If money and wealth is the true prize then why not switch to making money in growth industries like renewables and clean ethical investments like sophisticated, mega-wealthy investors and institutions are doing worldwide?

This week, we again felt the full fury and determination of the fossil fuell-ers to stop progress towards renewables, no matter the cost to emissions nor the cost to our political, economic and social well being.

It just so happens that this encampment is full of the extreme right wing.

The prime minister for now, Malcolm Turnbull, (the next spill will be on Friday) made that abundantly clear in his short address to the nation in the PM’s courtyard at 1pm on Thursday. It’s the right wing that has led the charge against him and it’s the right wing that is determined to let no climate-friendly policy past the post.

You have to wonder what they do to people when they get into power, put a gun to their heads, perhaps, or even threaten to murder their children. It has to be something obscene because no sense or reason will budge them.

But here’s the thing. Maybe the hard right are no longer climate deniers. It could be that they are not all dummies and know perfectly well what’s coming and that the anti-renewables and the anti-climate agenda is a smokescreen. Maybe they are simply determined to seize control of our governments so they can man the hatches as the water rises.

The mega trend to fear here for them may not be the switch to renewables any more than a half-way smart industrialist feared the loss of the horse and cart when motor cars arrived.

The real fear might be climate change and the onslaught of climate refugees along with the fight for resources on a failing planet.

Ask anyone of substance, say the defence departments of the modern world, what their scenario planning looks like and you will see climate change and its disastrous impacts looming large.

And in times of extremes, it’s the “hard man” that certain quarters of the population will turn to make the tough decisions.

Dutton is perfect for the job. He may not win the ballot on Friday but it’s him and his ilk that are being pushed forward to lead the coup.

And if you doubt the scenario planning check out Jeremy Grantham, one of the most successful mega investors around who recently released a report, The Race of Our Lives, that gathers the best data serious money can buy to see what the real people in the world’s governments (not the ones that write the press releases) say about climate and the big trends about to swamp us.

It’s not good. It’s not anywhere near a middling scenario that we may or may not manage to conquer. We are facing serious food shortages and we are facing mass migration of people from the most populated places on earth because of climate change.

The race he’s talking about is technology and its big promise to come galloping over the horizon to help us. Yes, probably true, he says. Trouble is we’re 50 years too late to stop the impact of climate. Africa for one will become pretty much uninhabitable and its people will stream to wherever they can to escape the searing heat and famine.

Technology in my opinion will in one sense win… The truth is we’ve wasted 40 or 50 years. We’re moving so slowly that by the time we’re decarbonised and have reached a new stability of plus two and a half to three and a half degrees centigrade, a great deal of damage will have been done… for even if we stop producing a single carbon atom, ice caps, for example, will melt for centuries and ocean levels will continue to rise by several perhaps many feet. 

I don’t worry too much about Miami or Boston, that’s just the kind of thing that capitalism tends to handle pretty well. The more serious problem posed by ocean level rise will be the loss of the great rice producing deltas around the world–the Nile, the Mekong, Bangladesh, Thailand, and others, which produce about a fifth of all the rice grown in the world. They’re all heavily populated areas. The great Himalayan rivers, which support one and a half billion people, depend on the normal springtime runoff of the glaciers which are now diminishing in size at an accelerating rate.

Agriculture is in fact the real underlying problem produced by climate change. But even without climate change, it would be somewhere between hard and impossible to feed 11.2 billion people, which is the median U.N. forecast for 2100. It will be especially difficult for Africa. With climate change, there are two separate effects on agriculture. One is immediate, the droughts, the increased droughts, the increased floods, the increased temperature reduce quite measurably the productivity of a year’s harvest. Then there’s the long-term, permanent effect, the most dependable outcome of increased temperature is increased water vapour in the atmosphere, currently up over 4 per cent from the old normal. And this has led to an increase, a substantial increase in heavy downpours. It is precisely the heavy downpours that cause erosion.

See what the Lowy Institute said this week about what is already happening at the prospect of mass migration because of climate change:

In December, the world’s governments will be asked to adopt the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The US withdrew from the process early on, and Hungary has signalled it will not sign up. Australia has also murmured that it may refuse to take part. This is despite the fact that the Compact does not impose new legal obligations, but seeks to foster better international cooperation on migration

So where’s the link between the right wing and climate?

The people on the hard right trying to seize our government may not be climate deniers but climate believers who want to control the hatch.

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