Analysis: New industry minister Greg Hunt on Thursday announced he would fund the restoration of 15 climate science jobs at CSIRO after the organisation was decimated with 300 jobs cut earlier this year.
Is it a sign that things are changing in the climate space?
According to people of hope everywhere, it is and it must be.
There might have been huge scepticism among environmental supporters about the appointment of Hunt to his new portfolio. And equally to the appointment of Josh Frydenberg to the resources and energy portfolio. And there still is in many quarters.
But since the election there have been some surprises. Hunt’s announcement on CSIRO is one.
Another is Frydenberg’s demonstration in recent comments that he is open to the reality that we will have more renewables and that we need a transition to a low carbon future.
Both men are now pivotal to Australia’s ability to reduce its carbon emissions.
It’s easy to be disheartened.
There is much scarring from the previous federal administration that will take a long time to heal.
Blair Palese, co-founder and chief executive of 350.org Australia, told us recently there was much to be wary of. Hunt had presided over the approval for one of the biggest coal mines in the world at the same time that the Great Barrier Reef underwent massive rapid bleaching, she said.
Greenpeace said the appointment of Hunt “showed contempt for the Australian public.”
Hunt might have fallen on his ethical sword to stay in the business of politics under Tony Abbott, and Frydenberg might have supported his right wing faction to speak in support of coal.
But the world in 2016 has fundamentally and radically changed.
It is increasingly obvious to observers, professional and otherwise, that the climate is escalating rapidly to the point of no return.
There’s anthrax in Siberia; the Middle East soon to be uninhabitable (see what The Economist said this week); and mass migrations fuelling security and border issues so vast it will expose our detention of boat people in inhumane conditions as nothing but a cruel extension of our treatment of Aboriginals in their own country.
If the economy as a whole and the property industry in particular with all its difficult sectors in mid tier commercial, residential, industrial and retail property, are to make the radical improvements needed to avert the worst excess of runaway warming, we will need massive and unparalleled collaboration from government and industry alike.
Let’s not forget, buildings might produce 23 of greenhouse gas emissions but cities produce 70 per cent. That’s out patch. It’s on our watch
On Thursday Ian Dunlop was also sceptical of change in the parliament but willing to see there could be a shift in the government’s thinking.
It was inevitable, he said, that pretty soon, governments everywhere will have to address this issue. The only question was how and how fast.
“The climate issue is going to drive every part of government from now on,” he said.
“Whether it’s actual climate policy, energy policy, environmental policy, there is a whole range of issues that come out of the climate issue and will drive it,” he said. Migration for a start. A few thousand boat people will look nothing compared with the “millions that will start to move” because they can’t live in their home country any longer.
Defence is onto it, Dunlop said, “well down the track”.
Mind Australia may end up being the last place refugees will want to come to if we keep to our trajectory, Dunlop pointed out. In which case Defence’s efforts on our borders will be for nought.
Radical or rational?
The theme of Dunlop’s talk on Tuesday night (where The Fifth Estate joined Dunlop, Stuart White, director of UTS’ Institute for Sustainable Futures and Graham Davies director of Resonant Solutions for a panel discussion) was the need for an emergency response to climate change, in the same way as we might mobilise for war.
It’s radical stuff. But after watching Dunlop’s presentation of the damage already underway, a war footing seemed much less radical and far more rational.
It’s easy to become disheartened and negative. But on stage Stuart White pointed out that there was much hope in technology. Just as the climate and climate damage can work away almost quietly before gaining critical mass and a tipping point into rapid change, so could technology that could change the game for the better.
Graham Davies said it was the same with social movements, which we need to push the government to action. In his native South Africa under apartheid, he said, the majority of people denied for decades the need for change, then came critical mass, quite suddenly, and apartheid could no longer be tolerated.
These are not just positive thoughts or wishful thinking, but ideas grounded in the evidence of history.
It’s worth hanging onto them closely as we watch the growing avalanche of daily news on our failing climate.
In the portfolios most directly related to this task at hand, energy, environment, industry and innovation, it helps that Frydenberg and Hunt are good friends. Frydenberg in fact was best man at Hunt’s wedding, and is godfather to Hunt’s daughter, Poppy.
The friendship and collaboration of these men will set the tone for how the rest of us need to respond.
The members in the Jumping Jack parliament we’ve elected will need to all grow up and see themselves not so much as belonging to factions as be more like a citizen’s jury, elected, true representatives. Let’s face it our new parliament has a bit of everything. That needs to work in our favour in facing our challenges, so no-one feels left out and unrepresented.
Our big citizens’ jury needs to work together to do the best it can.
For now, the leadership though needs to come from Hunt and Frydenberg. Both are intelligent, educated men. They too can see with their own eyes that come 2016 the game has changed. Radically. The words they may have uttered and supported last year are no longer relevant. Any more than apartheid can be tolerated in South Africa in the 21st Century.