Oz votes: connecting coal and climate change

(Huffington Post)
(Huffington Post)

A Lowy Institute Poll on climate change for June 2015 found that 50% considered global warming a serious problem and 63% thought the government should commit to significant emissions reductions. But one wonders about how clearly electors think these through questions when, for instance, 13% of respondents thought that nuclear energy would be the major source of electricity in 10 years. Even if it was starting now (which of course it isn’t) any electricity at all from nuclear sources in Australia is at least 30 years down the track and 10 years is clearly impossible. One wonders what triggers a result like this – ignorance, stupidity or just wishful thinking.

A more recent Reachtel Poll (May 2016) indicated that 56.4% want government to do more on climate change and 61.9% agreed that the burning of fossil fuels causes global warming, which in turn is destroying the Great Barrier Reef. The results support the general thrust from a wide variety of polls -that climate change is an important issue and that quite a large majority across all parties support the rapid adoption of renewable energy, in particular solar. However although the man in the street may be worried about global warming many still think that exporting coal is still a good idea. A large section of the public fails to make the link of cause and effect – that the burning of fossil fuels increases global warming and therefore we should endeavour to eliminate this source of greenhouse gas as quickly as possible.

The failure to make the connection between burning coal and global warming, between the development of the giant Adani coal mine and a dying Great Barrier Reef, enables the major political parties to abrogate all responsibility on this most pressing issue. It enables large sections of the media – mostly Murdoch – to continue their scurrilous denialist campaigns and anti-science propaganda. It enable politicians like Abbott and Frydenberg (puppets of the coal lobby) to make outrageous claims that “coal is good for humanity” and “coal will lift people out of poverty” and get away with it.

Ian Dunlop writing in last Friday’s Guardian  noted “Parts of [the] media [are] also to be blamed. The Australian has been an offender but even the more balanced Fairfax press falls into the same trap. Not surprisingly, it still features prominently on coal company websites. The government and opposition, who accept donations from fossil fuel interests… both sing the praises of the Adani Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin, Shenhua’s Watermark Mine on the Liverpool Plains, Kepco’s Bylong Valley adventure and Hume Coal in the Southern Highlands. All based on ill-informed premises and substantially contributing to increasing global temperatures well above 2C. The cost to Australia, if this irresponsible misallocation of resources proceeds, would be enormous.”

The disconnect between cause and effect appears to be most visible in conservative ranks. It highlights a failure in our education system, and is an example of the Jeffersonian principle that “self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight.” What we have currently experienced in the recent election campaign is that of an ill-informed or uninformed public, bombarded from all sides on all manner of issues from the trivial upwards, confused and heartily sick of adversarial politics. The result appears to be a stalemate or very close to it. Each day of indecision, of delay, brings us closer to the ‘climate emergency’.