The now extinct Bramble Cay melomys

What a strange week we’re having in politics. We’ve got Bob Katter shooting at imaginary people like it’s a sales point, Pauline Hanson channelling Trump and the Coalition suddenly realising people really care about the Great Barrier Reef, so they’ll raid the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s funds to fix it… while still supporting coal. Talk about giving the patient a bandaid with one and while stabbing them in the back with the other.

We don’t even need to ask “What’s wrong with this picture”, as the heartbreaking news this week that the Bramble Cay melomys is the first mammal made extinct by anthropogenic climate change probably says it all.

It is the only known mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef, and its four hectare habitat was rendered unviable by inundation, according to researchers at the University of Queensland.

“Available information about sea-level rise and the increased frequency and intensity of weather events producing extreme high water levels and damaging storm surges in the Torres Strait region over this period point to human-induced climate change being the root cause of the loss of the Bramble Cay melomys,” Dr Luke Leong, a UQ researcher, said.

The takeaway is that what happens to a small rodent could very well happen to whole human populations, as the Pacific Warriors and 350.org have been saying.

And currently, neither the Coalition nor the ALP appear to be taking the kind of moral high ground that will really lead to decisive action on climate change mitigation.

Instead, leadership is coming from the states – like this week’s announcement of a state-based renewable energy target for Victoria.

It is coming from the private sector, including all the people involved in the Living Building Challenge Brickworks Design Competition, including Frasers Property, the Living Futures Institute Australia and some of our leading architects, engineers, landscape architects and consultants.

And the federal level of politics simply has to get with the program, and show us some policies with heft about them.

As the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change stated in an open letter published today, neither major party is really acting to phase out fossil fuels and protect the reef and all other life forms.

“So far, the election debates have failed to assign due priority to global warming,” the letter, signed by religious leaders from the Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities, said.

“We urge all those holding public office to hold in proper focus our responsibilities as signatories to the Paris agreement. There can be no more postponement of the transition to a low carbon economy. Now is the time to act.”

Also this week, The Grattan Institute threw down the challenge to whichever of the major parties can best lure us all into voting them in again, with the release of Orange Book 2016: priorities for the next Commonwealth Government.

In a media statement announcing the report, the institute clearly highlighted the need for a long-term and stable climate policy.

“Australia’s political system is not dealing well with the country’s problems. Our politicians are creating expectations that far exceed what government can ever do, while often failing to act on the things they can control. The result is an often barren debate and a dull campaign, yet surveys show the public accepts the need for reform, and is ready to slay sacred cows such as negative gearing,” it said.

“The failure of reform nerve over the past 15 years should not obscure the fact that reform could make a big difference.

“Surveying seven years of Grattan Institute reports in health, school and higher education, energy, cities, transport, tax and other policy areas, Orange Book 2016 identifies numerous reforms to increase economic growth. They include:

  • Tax reforms to increase efficiency
  • Transport spending based on clear need, not marginal seat pork-barrelling
  • Road charging to reduce congestion and connect user demand with public spending
  • Strengthening existing policies to create a stable long-term climate change policy
  • Energy market reforms to align pricing with costs
  • Redirecting school education funding to lift student progress through more focus on targeted teaching and improving teacher feedback, among other reforms

It concludes by stating, “Australia has a proud history of enlightened public policy. It can continue to be the lucky country. But we must make our own luck.”

Some sectors already are, like the CleanTech sector, where stocks are outperforming the ASX200.

The renewable industry is also shifting into a higher gear as the energy-using public votes with its feet.

It’s heading in the right direction as it does.

The Climate Council also this week released research by Ernst & Young showing that shifting to 50 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 would create almost 50 per cent more jobs that the current somewhat lacklustre trajectory of only 34 per cent by 2030.

According to climate councillor and energy expert Andrew Stock, the states stand to gain more jobs than they would lose (And there’s that magic word “jobs!”).

“Research has shown that we need to source at least half of our electricity from renewables by 2030 to be on track to completely decarbonise power generation by 2050, which is essential to tackle climate change,” Mr Stock said.

EY estimate that 28,000 jobs would be created in construction, operation and maintenance of renewable electricity generators and related industries around the country.

Many of them would also be in regional areas, which is a plus in terms of creating opportunities that take the pressure off our major cities as the only places to be if you want a job.

It seems metrics like that are the things we all need to keep in mind when weighing up which box to mark the “X” in.

Just like we also need to think about what decisions will result in the greatest health and happiness for all of us.

As Stephen Webb from DesignInc told The Fifth Estate this week, even in the commercial property space, wellbeing is now about more than just the physiological metrics of indoor air quality and productivity. It also includes the psychological aspect.

He said the question needs to be asked, “Why are we building?”

It’s not just about shelter, he said. It’s also about creating spaces that are about health and happiness. This is the foundation of biophilic thinking that dates right back to the fundamental origins of human evolution. We need both. But how can we be happy on policy settings that will surely see more living things become extinct?