Her comment came a few days before a major UN climate summit, COP24, held in Katowice, Poland.
Other panellists on Q&A contradicted Ms Vanstone, saying emissions were rising.
This prompted many viewers of the program to call on RMIT ABC Fact Check to investigate Ms Vanstone’s claim.
Ms Vanstone’s claim is misleading.
Latest federal government figures suggest that although greenhouse gas emissions have fallen over the past 10 years, emissions started trending upwards again about four years ago.
The upturn, since 2014, has coincided with the Abbott government’s removal of the carbon tax.
Also, while emissions from electricity production have been falling, the decrease has been outweighed over the past four years by rising emissions in other sectors of the economy, such as transport, where emissions are associated with increased LNG production for export.
Emissions can be measured in different ways: for example, as total emissions or emissions per capita or per GDP.
In the past year, Australia’s total emissions have been rising. But emissions per capita or per dollar of real GDP have been falling, mainly due to Australia’s rapid population growth.
However, it is worth noting that Australia’s progress in cutting emissions under its international obligations (the Paris Agreement) is measured by changes in total emissions rather than by other measures.
As one expert put it: “The atmosphere doesn’t care how many people are contributing to emissions; it’s the total quantity of emissions that matters.”
Ms Vanstone made her claim during a discussion on Q&A about a protest by Australian schoolchildren titled ‘Strike 4 Climate Action‘.
She was speaking about the climate policies of Australia’s two major political parties, and in the broader context of greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the environment, as perceived by young people.
Ms Vanstone did not specify which kind of emissions she was talking about. Nor whether she was referring to simple totals or ratios.
Fact Check invited her to clarify this. She said she had not been expecting to talk about emissions: “I can’t tell you that I had a particular tight construct in my head at the time,” she said.
“I think I was just making a general remark about emissions generally over a long period of time.”
Fact Check considers it reasonable to assume that her claim refers to Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions over the past 10 years — the length of time examined by the Government’s most recent report on emissions.
What others are saying
Ms Vanstone is not alone in claiming emissions in Australia are decreasing, though other speakers have been more specific.
Liberal senator Linda Reynolds, also on Q&A, said carbon emissions per capita and by GDP were at their lowest levels in 28 years.
Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price also highlighted this low ina press releaseannouncing the Government’s latest quarterly emissions data.
Nonetheless, she acknowledged that total emissions had risen over the year to June 2018.
Others have also pointed to the rise in total emissions.
Labor senator Lisa Singh, another of the recent Q&A panelists, argued that “emissions have continued to go up since 2011”.
Andon ABC radiothe same week, Richie Merzian, the climate and energy director for think tank the Australia Institute said: “For the last four years, Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing.”
The Australian Department of the Environment and Energy collects and publishes a series of reports and databases, known as theNational Greenhouse Accounts.
The accounts track greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 onwards, and fulfil Australia’s international reporting obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Kyoto Protocol.
Quarterly reports, released as part of the accounts, track total emissions as well as emissions by sector, per capita and per GDP.
Thelatest report, released three days before Ms Vanstone’s Q&A appearance, provides estimates of Australia’s national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions up to the June quarter of 2018.
The report examines emissions produced by eight sectors: electricity, stationary energy, transport, fugitive emissions (for example, leakages), industrial processes and product use, agriculture, waste, and land use, land use change and forestry.
Are emissions per capita and per GDP useful measures?
Put simply, no.
Dr Saddler said focusing on emissions per capita was meaningless, since the measure used in international agreements was the more crucial total emissions.
“The atmosphere doesn’t care how many people are contributing to emissions; it’s the total quantity of emissions that matters,” he said.
Professor David Karoly, an internationally recognised expert on climate change, said the emissions per capita was a useful measure when it allowed for country by country comparisons.
“The Australian per capita share at the moment is higher than any other developed country in the world — higher than the US. Yes, it’s coming down, but it is still the highest.”
Both Dr Saddler and Professor Karoly confirmed the fall in emissions per capita and GDP were due to rapid population growth in Australia.
Experts assess the claim
Professor Karoly said if Amanda Vanstone’s claim was made in reference to total Australian emissions, “they are going up”.
He noted that the start of the recent rebound in emissions from mid-2014 coincided with thedumping of the carbon taxby the Abbott government in July of that year.
Professor Mark Howden, the director of ANU’s Climate Change Institute, told Fact Check: “I think it is correct to say that Australian emissions were coming down, but are now rising steadily.”
He said an argument could be made that emissions have come down, given they are lower now than at their peak between 2005 and 2008.
“However, this is a problematic argument,” he said.
“Under the current mix of policies and economic activities, emissions are clearly not coming down but instead are rising steadily.”
Pep Canadell, a senior principal research scientist in the CSIRO Climate Science Centre, and the executive director of the Global Carbon Project, suggested that 1990 was a good reference year for gleaning a long-term view of changes to emissions.
“Good annual data only starts from 1990, which is the reference year of the Kyoto Protocol and why the Government started the good quality data then,” Dr Canadell said.
Emissions per capita have fallen 37 per cent since 1990.
However, Dr Canadell added:
“Given Ms Vanstone’s statement is present tense, I disagree [that emissions are falling]. According to the data, emissions have been going up since 2013, with ups and downs, and, if anything, accelerating recently.”
As the COP24 climate summit comes to an end, it is clear that governments have failed to adequately respond to the catastrophic impacts of climate change that were highlighted in the landmark IPCC report on 1.5°C.
Based on a now widely operational Paris Agreement the next two years need to be used to build far-reaching transformational partnerships and reach the level of ambition science makes clear is necessary.
COP24 failed to deliver a clear commitment to strengthen all countries’ climate pledges by 2020. At the same time, a relatively effective though incomplete rulebook for how to implement the Paris Agreement was finalised.
Limited progress was also made with regard to how financial support for poorer countries coping with devastating climate impacts will be provided and accounted for.
The EU has made welcome efforts by building alliances with other countries and finding common ground on sticking points.
It has also set a good example when, together with several other members of the High Ambition Coalition, it committed to increase its 2030 climate target by 2020, in light of the warnings of the IPCC report.
However, it has failed to convince all other governments to make the same commitment.
Germany doubled their support for the Green Climate Fund to support developing countries, but other European countries still have to do the same.
In reaction to the COP24 outcomes,Wendel Trio, Director of Climate Action Network (CAN) Europesaid:
“The weak outcome of this COP runs contrary to stark warnings of the IPCC report and growing demand for action from citizens.
Governments have again delayed adequate action to avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.
The EU needs to push ahead and lead by example, by providing more support to poor countries and increasing its climate pledge before the UN Secretary General Summit in September 2019. It must be a significant increase, even beyond the 55% reduction some Member States and the European Parliament are calling for.”
Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s leading NGO coalition fighting dangerous climate change.
With over 150 member organisations from 35 European countries, representing over 1.700 NGOs and more than 40 million citizens, CAN Europe promotes sustainable climate, energy and development policies throughout Europe.
CAN Europe members made the following statements wrapping up COP24:
Jennifer Tollmann, Climate Diplomacy Researcher, E3Gsaid: “In the end the EU did finally step up as a bridge-builder. But we now need to see whether they can ace the real test. Will they pull their weight in closing the global emissions gap and support their climate vulnerable allies to weather the storm?”
Mattias Söderberg, Climate Advisor, DanChurchAidsaid: “Poor and vulnerable countries are left behind with the agreement from Katowice.
People who face loss and damage due to droughts, flooding and devastating storms are not acknowledged.
This puts more burden on those living in poverty who are affected by the worst impacts of climate change, and who in most cases have very few emissions themselves.”
Christoph Bals, Policy Director of Germanwatch said: “It’s very clear that the world expects the EU to lead in climate politics.
In the end we have seen some attempts of EU countries to play a constructive role in the high ambition coalition. But only far reaching transformational partnerships between EU members and other countries can develop the necessary geopolitical dynamics for transformation.”
Neil Makaroff, European Policy Officer of Reseau Action Climat France said: “The COP24 climate negotiations should be a wakeup call for EU countries: there is no time to waste in childish divisions.
The IPCC report clearly highlighted that our home is burning and we have a limited time to save it.
Governments should be united in engaging Europe in a more ambitious climate policy, both boosting the energy transition and ensuring that it is socially just, benefiting to all. Europeans have this special responsibility to pave the way and lead climate actions by example.”
Sven Harmeling, Global Policy Lead on Climate Change, CARE International said: “At COP24, a number of powerful countries driven by short-sighted interests pushed to abolish the ambitious 1.5°C limit and throw away the alarming findings on harmful climate impacts of the IPCC Special Report.
The most vulnerable countries, civil society and people on the ground have been leading the fight for climate justice.
While governments accomplished the task of adopting a rulebook to further the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the world now requires much faster and stronger climate action at the national level, and support for poor countries to build climate resilience.”
Sebastian Scholz, Head of Climate Policy, NABU/BirdLife Germanysaid: “Again at this COP civil society made their demand clear to those decide to stay within the limit of 1.5 degrees of global warming.
None the less several issues weren’t solved by the delegations.
Even the alarming findings of the IPCC Special Report weren’t properly integrated into the outcome.
The EU had a rather weak position on closing loopholes in the accounting guidelines of the rulebook.
This won’t help to limit emissions, but also incentivise the use of non sustainable biomass for energy supply, and therefore risks a further loss of biodiversity.”
Karin Lexén, Secretary General of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservationsaid: “Two months ago, the scientific community sent an emergency message on the state of the climate crisis.
Coming to Katowice, we demanded no less than an emergency response.
This was not delivered.
Now all countries must urgently pick up the baton, do their homework and get ready to radically scale up climate action at home.
In Sweden, we demand a ban on fossil fuels by 2030.”
Otto Bruun, Climate Policy Officer, Finnish Association for Nature Conservationsaid: “Climate scientists have highlighted a safe option to avert climate chaos. Early retirement of fossil fuels should go hand in hand with the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems. While the governments at the Katowice conference did not produce the rulebook to match the ambition of the Paris treaty, governments must now mind the gap in ambition and increase their efforts at once. The April 2019 general election in Finland looks set be a climate election. Our collective ambition in civil society is to drive through an unforeseen and just policy shift to immediately protect and restore forest and peatland carbon sinks while retiring all fossil fuels altogether within two decades.”
Police estimated the number of green activists at 17,000 while organisers counted 25,000
Up to 25,000 people marched through Paris on Saturday urging greater action on climate change, despite fears that their protest would be scuppered by “yellow vest” demonstrations.
Police estimated the number of green activists heading onto the streets at 17,000 while organisers counted 25,000 urging world governments to better protect the environment.
The numbers were similar to previous climate marches in Paris, despite sporadic violence in the city on Saturday among thousands of “yellow vest” demonstrators who want more help for France’s poor.
Organisers had to change the route of the climate march, marching instead from Place de la Nation to Place de la Republique, due to the yellow vest demonstrations, but refused a request by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to postpone it.
“It was unthinkable to cancel this march.
It’s important to talk about problems related to the end of the world as well as the end of the month,” Elodie Nace, a spokeswoman for green NGO Alternatiba, told the crowds.
Thousands also marched in other French cities, including an estimated 10,000 in Marseille, 3,500 in Montpellier and 3,000 in Lille.
The “yellow vest” movement has been spurred by anger in small-town and rural France at rising car fuel taxes which were aimed at helping the country transition to a greener economy, but which protesters say hurts the poor.
But green activists at the climate marches urged people to find solutions for both environmental problems and the financial struggles of France’s poorest.
“Yellow vests, green vests — same anger,” they chanted.
Some “yellow vest” activists, clad in their emblematic high-visibility road jackets, joined the Paris march after breaking off from their own demonstration.
Marches had been organised in more than 120 towns across France to mark the COP24 climate talks in Poland.
It’s the springof 2043, and Gina is graduating college with the rest of her class. She had a relatively stable childhood. Her parents availed themselves of some of the year of paid family leave they were entitled to, and after that she was dropped off at a free child care program.
Pre-K and K-12 were also free, of course, but so was her time at college, which she began after a year of public service, during which she spent six months restoring wetlands and another six volunteering at a day care much like the one she had gone to.
Now that she’s graduated, it’s time to think about what to do with her life. Without student debt, the options are broad. She also won’t have to worry about health insurance costs, since everyone is now eligible for Medicare. Like most people, she isn’t extraordinarily wealthy, so she can live in public, rent-controlled housing — not in the underfunded, neglected units we’re accustomed to seeing in the United States, but in one of any number of buildings that the country’s top architects have competed for the privilege to design, featuring lush green spaces, child care centers, and even bars and restaurants. Utilities won’t be an issue, either. Broadband and clean water are both free and publicly provisioned, and the solar array that is spread atop the roofs of her housing complex generates all the power it needs and more.
For work, she trained to become a high-level engineer at a solar panel manufacturer, though some of her friends are going into nursing and teaching. All are well-paid, unionized positions, and are considered an essential part of the transition away from fossil fuels, updates about which are broadcast over the nightly news. In any case, she won’t have to spend long looking for a job. At any number of American Job Centers around the country, she can walk in and work with a counselor to find a well-paid position on projects that help make her city better able to deal with rising tides and more severe storms, or oral history projects, or switch careers altogether and receive training toward a union job in the booming clean energy sector.
The AJCs are a small part of the Green New Deal Act of 2021, a compromise plan that was only strengthened in the years that followed. For a brief moment, it looked as if the Supreme Court might strike down large elements of it, but as a plan to expand the size of the court gained popularity with the public, the justices backed down.
Gina might also open her own business. Without having to worry about the cost of day care or health insurance, she can invest everything into making her dream a reality. And the cost of labor for business owners, who no longer have to pick up the health care tab, is reasonable enough that she can afford to pay good wages for the staff that she needs to meet demand.
Whichever she chooses, she’ll work no more than 40 hours a week, and likely far less, leaving ample time to travel via high speed, zero-carbon rail to visit friends elsewhere and go hiking or to the beach; enjoy long, leisurely meals of locally sourced food and drink; and attend concerts in the park, featuring musicians whose careers have been supported by generous public arts grants. As she gets older, paying for health care won’t be a concern, with everything from routine doctor’s visits and screenings, to prescription drugs, to home health aides covered under the public system, as social security continues to furnish her rent, expenses, and entertainment through the end of her life.
That’s the world a “Green New Deal” could build, and what a number of representatives and activists are pushing Congress to help set into motion. Led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 17 representatives and counting have signed on to ameasurethat would create a select House committee tasked with crafting, over the course of a year, a comprehensive plan to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels by 2030 and accomplish seven goals related to decarbonizing the economy.
On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”
On Monday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a town hall on the issue with Ocasio-Cortez inside the Capitol.
All of this raises a question: What, exactly, would a Green New Deal entail?
Like its 1930s counterpart, the “Green New Deal” isn’t a specific set of programs so much as an umbrella under which various policies might fit, ranging from technocratic to transformative. The sheer scale of change needed to deal effectively with climate change is massive, as the scientific consensus is making increasingly clear, requiring an economy-wide mobilization of the sort that the United States hasn’t really undertaken since World War II. While the Green New Deal imaginary evokes images of strapping young men pulling up their sleeves to hoist up wind turbines (in the mold of realist Civilian Conservation Corps ads), its actual scope is far broader than the narrow set of activities typically housed under the green jobs umbrella, or even in the original New Deal.
“People talk often about the infrastructure investment that has to happen, and new technology,” Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, told me. “But there’s also an industrial plan that needs to happen to build entirely new industries. It’s sort of like the moonshot. When JFK said America was going to go to the moon, none of the things we needed to get to the moon at that point existed. But we tried and we did it.” The Green New Deal, he added, “touches everything — it’s basically a massive system upgrade for the economy.”
In a broad sense, that’s what policymakers in other countries refer to as industrial policy, whereby the government plays a decisive role in shaping the direction of the economy to accomplish specific aims. That doesn’t mean that the state controls every industry, as in the Soviet system; instead, it would be closer to the kind of economic planning that the U.S. practiced during the economic mobilization around World War II, and that is practiced internally today by many of the world’s biggest corporations. Should Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution pass muster, the select committee will convene policymakers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to hash out next steps. How widely or narrowly that groups defines a Green New Deal — and whether it’ll ever be given space to meet on Capitol Hill — remains to be seen, as supportive lawmakers huddle in Washington this week to try and gain support for writing it into the rulebook for the next Congress. Ultimately, it will be that committee that fleshes out what a Green New Deal looks like. But the proposal itself, American history, and existing research give us a sense for what all it might look like in practice.
The plan itself — or rather, the plan to make the plan — lays out seven goals, starting with generating 100 percent of power in the U.S. from renewable sources and updating the country’s power grid.
As the first two points of the resolution suggest, one of the main goals of any Green New Deal that spurs a complete switch to renewables will be dialing up the amount of total energy demand represented byelectricity, by switching combustion-based activities like heating systems, air conditioners, and automobiles over to electric power. The Energy Transitions Commission estimatesthat 60 percent of energy will need to be distributed via electricity by mid-century, up from just 20 percent today. Making that possible means developing new technology, and also overhauling today’s grid, making it easier for homes and businesses that generate their own power to feed it back into the system. A modern grid — or “smart” grid, per Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal — would also make way for microgrids, which are self-contained renewable energy generation systems that allow small neighborhoods and hospitals, for instance, to continue making their own power even if there are disruptions (say, hurricane-force winds or a wildfire) upstream. Assuming it won’t be entirely sustainable to import all of that capacity, scaling up renewables will also likely mean expanding the country’s renewables manufacturing sector to produce more solar and wind infrastructure, components for which are today sourcedlargelyfrom abroad.
“We build things here in Detroit, and across Michigan, and we’ve got a lot of people here with manufacturing skills who are being left behind by the corporate greed,” incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D- Mich., among the first supporters of the resolution and who campaigned on a Green New Deal, said via email. “Just this week we heard about how GM, a company that has received billions and billions from taxpayers, is planning to cut thousands of jobs here. So it’s really exciting to be talking about rapidly building up our green, renewable energy infrastructure, because these are jobs that can and should go to our workers here in Michigan.
“We were the Arsenal of Democracy and helped save the planet from real darkness decades ago, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t be one of the regions to build America’s green energy infrastructure and help save the planet again in the process.”
Bringing more clean energy online could entail expanding the types of programs that already exist at the state level, too, though they seldom come with much teeth. Renewable portfolio standards require utilities to source a certain amount of their power from wind and solar.New York state, for instance, set a renewable portfolio standard of 29 percent by 2015. The deadline came and went quietly, without much talk of how it would pick up the slack to reach its next goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030.
Those targets would have to be much stricter to get off fossil fuels by 2035. “You say, you hit the target and you reduce emissions 10 percent every year or you go to jail,” says Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute. “That would get their attention.”
That may sound aggressive by today’s standards, but has been par for the course at other points in American history when the country has faced existential threats. During World War II, for instance, the government was largely responsible for administering prices, wages, and sourcing in sectors deemed vital to the Allies. Corporate productivity and profits boomed with demand for tankers and munitions, but companies that refused to go along with mandates sent down from the War Production Board and associated economic planning bodies faced a federal takeover. Among the most iconic images of these changed power relationships was a widely circulated image of Sewell Avery, the president of Montgomery Ward. During World War II, Montgomery Ward, a mail-order corporation, produced everything from uniforms to bullets for soldiers abroad. In 1944, the National War Labor Board ordered Avery, a Nazi sympathizer, to let his employees unionize to ward off a strike, and the ensuing disruption in war production. When he refused, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the National Guard tohaul him off, chair and all, and seize the company’s main plant in Chicago. The government took over operations at the company’s factories in several other cities by the year’s end. And by the end of the war, around a quarter of all domestic manufacturing had been nationalized for the sake of the war effort.
Notably, Green New Deal proponents aren’t pushing for such drastic action. Yet given the collision course between the fossil fuel industry’s business model and a livable future, simply building up more renewable power will almost certainly need to be paired with constraints on the fossil fuel industry. Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, which is backing the Green New Deal proposal, told me, “Given the fossil fuel industry’s role in creating an untenable situation for billions of people around the world, the government should step up and promote winners and create losers, which has happened before in the United States.” Among the provisions of the committee resolution, fittingly, is that politicians who accept donations from coal, oil, and gas companies can’t be appointed to it.
At a press conference announcing additional support for the resolution, Ocasio-Cortez spelled out the conflict of interest: “This is about the fact that if we continue to allow power to concentrate with corporations to dictate the quality of our air, to … tell us that we can keep burning fossil fuels — to dupe us — people will die,” she said, “and people are dying.”
Evan Weber, of the Sunrise Movement, put it in similar terms. “Dealing with climate change in the way that we need to is not just about passing a suite of policies that will transform our society to both end the causes of climate change and prepare society for the climate change that is already baked in,” he said. “It’s also changing our conception of what government is and who its for.”
Especially under the Trump administration, plenty of government policy has been written for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. According to a2018 analysis by Oil Change International, the U.S. government annually spends about $20 billion on direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; the richest “G7” nations overall spend about$100 billion. This in itself is a kind of industrial policy already in place, and a Green New Deal might at the very least remove those subsidies and redirect them toward the clean energy sector, where wind and solar already enjoy a much smaller degree of subsidization through the production and investment tax credits, respectively.
While winding down fossil fuel production and scaling up renewables will of course be a considerable part of any Green New Deal, so too will investing in the research, development, and manufacturing capacities to get especially difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, like airlines and steel, off fossil fuels over the next several decades, as Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal notes. The latter requires a still largely experimental process called electrolysis, which targeted investments could subsidize research into. In Sanders’s town hall Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez appeared to reference economist Mariana Mazzucato’s work, which lays out the existing progress and potential of using public investment to finance early-stage research that venture capital funds are too risk-averse to support. (Ocasio-Cortez and other members of her team have met with Mazzacuto.)
“For far too long,” she said, “we gave money to Tesla — to a lot of people — and we got no return on the investment that the public made in new technologies. It’s the public that financed innovative new technologies.”
Such a policy umbrella, though, could be just as much about decarbonization as about building out sectors of the economy which simply aren’t carbon-intensive, but are essential to a healthy economy, such as teaching and nursing. A federal job guarantee, which is cited in the draft resolution and a hot topic among 2020 presidential hopefuls, might put people to work remediating wetlands and tending community gardens while providing an alternative to low-paid work bound up in hugely carbon-intensive supply chains. Walmart, for instance, is thebiggest employerin 22 states, paying an entry-level wage of $11 per hour. McDonald’s, another major employer, is estimated to have at some point employed1 in 8 American workers and has consistently resisted calls to institute a $15 minimum wage. A federal jobs guarantee that paying that much, as outlined by several proposals, would effectively create a national wage floor, compelling retail and fast food chains to either raise their wages or risk having their employees enticed into better-paid jobs that improve their communities and make them more resilient against climate impacts.
For extractive industry workers, whose wages are traditionally high thanks to decades of labor militancy, $15 an hour may not be too big of a draw, meaning other programs could be needed to finance what’s widely referred to as a just transition, making sure that workers in sectors that need to be phased out — like coal, oil, and gas — are well taken care of and that communities which have historically revolved around those industries can diversify their economies. Spain’s social democratic government recently sponsored a small-scale version of this, investing the relatively tiny sum of $282 million, with the support of trade unions, to help coal workers transition into other work while shuttering the last of the country’s coal mines.
With the right investment, new jobs won’t be hard to come by. Research from theInternational Labour Organization finds that while a concerted transition to renewable energy could cost as many as 6 million jobs around the world in carbon-intensive sectors, it could create 24 million jobs, or a net gain of 18 million, and far more than the profound job loss that would stem from unchecked climate change.
It’s not hardto imagine cries from Republicans and Democrats alike about how much such a program might cost, and of the dangers of blowing up the deficit. Worth noting is the cost that 13 federal agencies have said are likely if we do nothing, according to theNational Climate Assessmentquietly released on Black Friday. By 2100, heat-related deaths could cost the U.S. $141 billion. Sea-level rise could rack up a $118 billion bill, and infrastructure damages could cost up to $32 billion. Along the same timeline, the report’s authors found, the financial damages of climate change to the U.S. could double those caused by the Great Recession.
By comparison, the 1 to 2 percent of gross domestic product that Pollin has said a Green New Deal would cost seems pretty cheap, never mind the fact that putting millions of people to work would bolster tax revenues and consumer spending. Pollin calls it “equitable green growth,” coupled with “degrowth down to zero of the fossil fuel industry.” Incumbent fuel sources, and coal in particular, aren’t exactly saving anyone money. A recent analysis from the group Carbon Tracker has found that 42 percent of coal capacity worldwide is already unprofitable, and that figure could spiked to 72 percent by 2030.
“The question is, ‘What policy do you use to build up the public investment and incentivize private investment?’” Pollin said. “You can’t just have these private sector incentive programs. That’s just not going to get it.”
As several proponents have pointed out, though, so-called pay-for questions are rarely asked of public spending programs designed to further national interests, be that getting out of a recession or fighting a war. “If we were threatened by an invader, we would mobilize all the resources we have at our disposal to deal with that security threat,” says U.K.-based economist Ann Pettifor. “As in those circumstances, you cannot rely entirely on the private sector.”
Pettifor was among the first people to start thinking seriously about a Green New Deal just after the financial crisis. Then working at the New Economics Foundation, a progressive think tank, she helped convene a series of meetings in her living room that would eventually coalesce into the Green New Deal group. The group produced several reports on the subject. But with European sovereign debt crisis about to plunge the continent’s lawmakers into full-blown austerity hysteria, any public discussion of a big, expansionary spending package faded. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to Labour Party leadership helped change that. And this past March, Chakrabarti, working on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign at the time, showed up on her doorstep wanting to hear more.
For Pettifor, as for many Green New Deal advocates on this side of the pond, the funding question is less about how to reconcile line items than about reconfiguring what goals the economy is working toward — that is, to make it do something other than simply grow GDP by some fixed percentage each year.
Economists’ and policymakers’ fixation on unlimited economic growth as the metric for measuring economic prosperity is a really recent invention, developed in large part by the exponential returns that were being brought in by a ballooning financial sector–and not to that point factored into economic accounts. “If I work hard every day and night I have a weekly wage. If i gamble and win a load of money, I get rich quick,” she explains. “And the finance sector has moved its focus into making money in that way and not in investing in productive activity.” That shift toward measuring growth above all else started to displace an earlier focus on full employment in the 1960s, making multiplying profits and consumption the goal rather than ensuring people’s basic needs were met. As a result, carbon emissions spiked.
It’s why Pettifor largely rejects the premise of debates among environmentalists about growth and degrowth. For the green movement to talk about growth at all, she says, “is to adapt that OECD framing of what the economy should be about” and “to adopt the framing of a neoliberal idea of the economy. I would prefer to us to talk about full employment.”
That’s not to suggest there aren’t nuts and bolts funding issues that can be easily worked out. In contrast to state governments, which rely in large part on tax revenues, the federal government has plenty of tools at its disposal for financing a Green New Deal — tools it deployed to great effect during the financial crisis. It could also set up a National Investment Bank to furnish lines of credit for green investment. A polluter fee or carbon tax could provide some revenue, as well, but perhaps more importantly would punish bad behavior in the energy sector. Loan guarantees of the sort used in the stimulus package could help to build out clean energy as they did then, before getting scrapped when Republicans took control of the House in 2010. (While Solyndra, the most infamous of those loan recipients, failed, the program overall made a return on investment greater than those enjoyed by most venture capital funds.)
In a piece co-authored by Greg Carlock, author of a Green New Deal prospectus for the upstart think tank Data for Progress; and Andres Bernal, an adviser to Ocasio-Cortez; and Stephanie Kelton, former chief economist on the Senate Budget Committee, the writers explain, “When Congress authorizes spending, it sets off a sequence of actions. Federal agencies … enter into contracts and begin spending. As the checks go out, the government’s bank — the Federal Reserve — clears the payments by crediting the seller’s bank account with digital dollars. In other words, Congress can pass any budget it chooses, and our government already pays for everything by creating new money.”
A Green New Deal, moreover, “will actually help the economy by stimulating productivity, job growth and consumer spending, as government spending has often done,” Kelton, Bernal, and Carlock add. “In fact, a Green New Deal can create good-paying jobs while redressing economic and environmental inequities.”
Green New Dealadvocates also have no illusions about just how flawed the original New Deal was in terms of inequities, given that it largely left Jim Crow in place. “It threw black and brown people under the bus,” Chakrabarti said, noting that Roosevelt gave up on enshrining civil rights into its programs in order to win the support of white supremacist southern Democrats. Among the most infamous examples of this dynamic was theFederal Housing Administration, which guaranteed mortgages and subsidized large housing developments for whites on the condition that African-Americans couldn’t live there. African-Americans who applied for assistance to buy homes in predominantly white neighborhoods were refused. It’s from these same policies that the term redlining first emerged, a reference to New Deal-era planning maps which used literal red lines to designate areas where the federally backed Home Owners’ Loan Corporation would and would not insure mortgages.
“Right off the bat,” Chakrabarti says of the Green New Deal plan, “we’ve put trying to fix the injustices that have been perpetrated on black and brown communities front and center. Unless you have targeted investments in communities that have had their wealth stripped from them for generations, it’s going to be very difficult for communities that have faced redlining to enjoy economic prosperity.”
The detritus of FHA-style discrimination serves to make a transition harder, and will need to be overcome to make any new New Deal a success. Dense, transit-connected cities are on the whole more sustainable than the car-centric suburban sprawl encouraged by a mix of mid-century development schemes, segregationist policies and white flight. Yet the home solar market is oriented largely around rooftop installations, which creates obvious barriers to entry for renters in multi-unit buildings, where landlords have little incentive to upgrade. The New York City Housing Authority, accounting for about a fifth of the country’s public housing, could be a model for retrofitting public and affordable housing in cities around the country, but is currently sitting in about $17 billion of debt and remains in dire need of basic updates and repairs.
As sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen points out, density alone doesn’t make a city low-carbon. While they pride themselves as green for buying organic and taking the train, luxury high-rise inhabitants — with their taste for carbon-intensive imports, summer homes, and first-class business trips — have the largest footprints in their cities, which account for around three-quarters of carbon emissions worldwide. “When it comes to the carbon emissions of New York’s individual residents, as calculated in terms of consumption, Manhattan is the worst borough. Because it’s the richest,” hewrites. “Crowded but well-to-do West Villagers’ carbon footprints are comparable to sprawling suburbanites’ all over the country.” Beyond Manhattan,Oxfam Internationalhas found that the world’s richest 10 percent produce about half of its carbon emissions. “It is only residents of Manhattan’s less-gentrified neighborhoods,” Aldana Cohen continues, “who have really low carbon footprints. They reside by the island’s northwest and southeast tips, in zip codes anchored by public housing. … Public housing, well-stocked libraries, accessible transit, gorgeous parks: these are democratic low-carbon amenities. And they’re the political achievements of working-class New York.”
Dense, affordable housing is the key to making a low-carbon city. And with the right investments, NYCHA could cut its emissions by three-quarters or more, “while using the renovation process to clean out mold, seal the cracks and crevices where pests now thrive, and increase leaf canopy. With these and other measures, NYCHA could become the world’s largest—albeit decentralized—green city,” Aldana Cohen adds. A Green New Deal could sponsor similar improvements in towns and cities around the country, rendering cities greener, more equitable, and infinitely more livable.
Beyond redressing some of the ills of the original New Deal, those pushing for its redux are also keenly focused on the people who could be on the losing end of both climate policy and the climate crisis itself. “We know that if we are really going to make it out of the years and decades ahead, we need a government that cares for people and is of, by and for the people and acts to protect the most marginalized amongst us,” Weber, of Sunrise, says. “When we have things like extreme weather events and increased migration because of climate change, we take a more humanitarian approach to responding to those than what we’re seeing from our federal government, which is saying we need to build walls and lock people in cages.”
In the coming decades, climate change is likely to bring about the largest mass migration in human history, both within and between countries. Already, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates that as many as 21.5 million people have been displaced thanks to climate-related impacts, and the civil war in Syria that has led many refugees to flee that country is owed at least partially to climate-induced drought and agricultural crisis. Largely, governments in the global north have treated these flows as a problem. But the Green New Deal could adopt a different approach.
“We’re going to need tens or hundreds of millions of jobs,” Chakrabarti said, projecting that there could even be a labor shortage. “What that’s going to result in is that, yes, we’re going to have to retrain and invest in the current American workforce. But we’re probably going to be begging for more immigration.” He referenced the influx of labor needed to build up the interstate highway system in the 1950s. “It’s not just that we had an open immigration policy. We were actively recruiting.” Chakrabarti’s father, he said, immigrated after visiting an American recruitment center in West Bengal. “They were pitching them on the American dream to try to get them to come to America and build the country together.”
As the immigration question highlights, climate change isn’t an issue that confines itself narrowly to borders. The US represents about 15 percent of global emissions, so acting alone won’t get us too far. Coal is on a steady decline here, but Asia accounts for around three-quarters of global coal consumption, which has actually risen overall in the last 2 years. And while China has backed what might be the world’s most ambitious green spending package, it’s also continuing to finance coal plants domestically and throughout the global south, encouraging other countries to pursue a path to economic development based on a fuel source that climate science is increasingly clear should be zeroed out. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal frames this problem delicately, setting out an intention to make green “technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.”
Aside from turning the US into a major exporter of clean energy — rather than, say, oil — that might involve US capital opening up a path to development for other countries that’s based on renewable energy and not coal or gas, in ways similar to the Marshall Plan shaped the course of economic rebuilding and development in post-war development. The approach wouldn’t be all that dramatic of a departure from current U.S. energy policy in the U.S.; the Trump Administration has repeatedly stated its intent to help bring coal to the rest of the world, including at last year’s UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, and almost certainly at their event this year at COP 24. But extending the Green New Deal beyond the narrow confines of U.S. borders would also involve upending thetraditionally obstructive rolethe U.S. has played in international climate talks, stymying ambition and binding pledges. As Naomi Klein noted last week, the U.S. taking the climate crisis seriously — adopting what could be the world’s most ambitious decarbonization plan, in its most dominant economy — would have a tremendous ripple effect throughout the rest of the world, and more narrowly in the talks themselves as countries figure out how to ratchet up their commitments to the Paris agreement in the coming years.
All of the above is only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a brief and entirely non-exhaustive list of some other issues that might fall under a Green New Deal: farm and agricultural policy; reforming the National Flood Insurance Program and developing a coherent plan for relocating coastal communities away from flood zones; formally honoring indigenous sovereignty and tribal land rights; ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain; a universal basic income; wildfire management; trade policy; building up infrastructure to sequester carbon; fully extending broadband wireless to rural communities; rare earths and mineral procurement; overhauling FEMA; sweeping campaign finance reform; and “Medicare for All” — to name just a few.
Needless to say,the Green New Deal faces an uphill battle on the Hill. Aside from complaints about feasibility, the pushback from other Democrats so far has been largely procedural, Weber says, citing a fear voiced by some House members that should the select committee be empowered to draft legislation, it would undermine the authority of other established committees. As he points out, the resolution outlines only that the committee be allowed to draft legislation, and wouldn’t pre-empt that legislation first going through another body before moving to a floor vote. Moreover, Weber added, “We actually do need a committee that goes beyond the very narrow focus of the existing ones. What we’re talking about is something that effects every aspect of society. A select committee that can have the purview over the issues that all of these existing committees and more is exactly the type of vehicle that Congress — if it want to take climate change seriously — should be creating.”
I contacted several incoming members of Congress that were outspoken in their campaigns about climate change but have not yet signed on to the Green New Deal resolution to ask about their positions. As of yet, no one has responded, although one — Rep.-elect Mike Levin, D-Calif. — announced his support last week.
In the coming days and weeks, House Democrats are expected to release the first version of their rules package for the next Congress, in which supporters hope that a version of the select committee on the Green New Deal will appear. “Whether we get it or we don’t get it, the biggest thing we need to have is a movement backing this stuff,” Chakrabarti said. “The movement needs to keep pushing it and making a plan to go all the way. If we don’t get the committee, it’s up to us to figure out how to do it.”
Three trends will combine to hasten it, warn Yangyang Xu, Veerabhadran Ramanathan and David G. Victor.
Devastating wildfires ravaged California last month. Credit: Gene Blevins/Reuters
Prepare for the “new abnormal”. That was what California Governor Jerry Brown told reporters last month, commenting on the deadly wildfires that have plagued the state this year.
He’s right. California’s latest crisis builds on years of record-breaking droughts and heatwaves.
The rest of the world, too, has had more than its fair share of extreme weather in 2018. TheLancetCountdown on health and climate changeannounced last weekthat 157 million more people were exposed to heatwave events in 2017, compared with 2000.
Such environmental disasters will only intensify. Governments, rightly, want to know what to do. Yet the climate-science community is struggling to offer useful answers.
In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)released a reportsetting out why we must stop global warming at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, and how to do so1. It is grim reading. If the planet warms by 2 °C — the widely touted temperature limit in the 2015 Paris climate agreement — twice as many people will face water scarcity than if warming is limited to 1.5 °C. That extra warming will also expose more than 1.5 billion people to deadly heat extremes, and hundreds of millions of individuals to vector-borne diseases such as malaria, among other harms.
But the latest IPCC special report underplays another alarming fact: global warming is accelerating. Three trends — rising emissions, declining air pollution and natural climate cycles — will combine over the next 20 years to make climate change faster and more furious than anticipated. In our view, there’s a good chance that we could breach the 1.5 °C level by 2030, not by 2040 as projected in the special report (see ‘Accelerated warming’). The climate-modelling community has not grappled enough with the rapid changes that policymakers care most about, preferring to focus on longer-term trends and equilibria.
Policymakers have less time to respond than they thought. Governments need to invest even more urgently in schemes that protect homes from floods and fires and help people to manage heat stress (especially older individuals and those living in poverty). Nations need to make their forests and farms more resilient to droughts, and prepare coasts for inundation. Rapid warming will create a greater need for emissions policies that yield the quickest changes in climate, such as controls on soot, methane and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases. There might even be a case for solar geoengineering — cooling the planet by, for instance, seeding reflective particles in the stratosphere to act as a sunshade.
Climate scientists must supply the evidence policymakers will need and provide assessments for the next 25 years. They should advise policymakers on which climate-warming pollutants to limit first to gain the most climate benefit. They should assess which policies can be enacted most swiftly and successfully in the real world, where political, administrative and economic constraints often make abstract, ‘ideal’ policies impractical.
Speeding freight train
Three lines of evidence suggest that global warming will be faster than projected in the recent IPCC special report.
First, greenhouse-gas emissions are still rising.
In 2017, industrial carbon dioxide emissions are estimated to have reached about 37 gigatonnes.
This puts them on track with the highest emissions trajectory the IPCC has modelled so far.
This dark news means that the next 25 years are poised to warm at a rate of 0.25–0.32 °C per decade. That is faster than the 0.2 °C per decade that we have experienced since the 2000s, and which the IPCC used in its special report.
Second, governments are cleaning up air pollution faster than the IPCC and most climate modellers have assumed.
For example, China reduced sulfur dioxide emissions from its power plants by 7–14% between 2014 and 2016 (ref.).
Mainstream climate models had expected them to rise. Lower pollution is better for crops and public health. But aerosols, including sulfates, nitrates and organic compounds, reflect sunlight. This shield of aerosols has kept the planet cooler, possibly by as much as 0.7 °C globally.
Third, there are signs that the planet might be entering a natural warm phase that could last for a couple of decades. The Pacific Ocean seems to be warming up, in accord with a slow climate cycle known as the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. This cycle modulates temperatures over the equatorial Pacific and over North America. Similarly, the mixing of deep and surface waters in the Atlantic Ocean (the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation) looks to have weakened since 2004, on the basis of data from drifting floats that probe the deep ocean. Without this mixing, more heat will stay in the atmosphere rather than going into the deep oceans, as it has in the past.
These three forces reinforce each other. We estimate that rising greenhouse-gas emissions, along with declines in air pollution, bring forward the estimated date of 1.5 °C of warming to around 2030, with the 2 °C boundary reached by 2045. These could happen sooner with quicker shedding of air pollutants. Adding in natural decadal fluctuations raises the odds of blasting through 1.5 °C by 2025 to at least 10% (ref.). By comparison, the IPCC assigned probabilities of 17% and 83% for crossing the 1.5 °C mark by 2030 and 2052, respectively.
Scientists and policymakers must rethink their roles, objectives and approaches on four fronts.
Assess science in the near term.Policymakers should ask the IPCC for another special report, this time on the rates of climate change over the next 25 years. The panel should also look beyond the physical science itself and assess the speed at which political systems can respond, taking into account pressures to maintain the status quo from interest groups and bureaucrats. Researchers should improve climate models to describe the next 25 years in more detail, including the latest data on the state of the oceans and atmosphere, as well as natural cycles. They should do more to quantify the odds and impacts of extreme events. The evidence will be hard to muster, but it will be more useful in assessing real climate dangers and responses.
Rethink policy goals.Warming limits, such as the 1.5 °C goal, should be recognized as broad planning tools. Too often they are misconstrued as physical thresholds around which to design policies. The excessive reliance on ‘negative emissions technologies’ (that take up CO2) in the IPCC special report shows that it becomes harder to envision realistic policies the closer the world gets to such limits. It’s easy to bend models on paper, but much harder to implement real policies that work.
Realistic goals should be set based on political and social trade-offs, not just on geophysical parameters. They should come out of analyses of costs, benefits and feasibility. Assessments of these trade-offs must be embedded in the Paris climate process, which needs a stronger compass to guide its evaluations of how realistic policies affect emissions. Better assessment can motivate action but will also be politically controversial: it will highlight gaps between what countries say they will do to control emissions, and what needs to be achieved collectively to limit warming. Information about trade-offs must therefore come from outside the formal intergovernmental process — from national academies of sciences, subnational partnerships and non-governmental organizations.
Design strategies for adaptation.The time for rapid adaptation has arrived. Policymakers need two types of information from scientists to guide their responses. First, they need to know what the potential local impacts will be at the scales of counties to cities. Some of this information could be gleaned by combining fine-resolution climate impact assessments with artificial intelligence for ‘big data’ analyses of weather extremes, health, property damage and other variables. Second, policymakers need to understand uncertainties in the ranges of probable climate impacts and responses. Even regions that are proactive in setting adaptation policies, such as California, lack information about the ever-changing risks of extreme warming, fires and rising seas. Research must be integrated across fields and stakeholders — urban planners, public-health management, agriculture and ecosystem services. Adaptation strategies should be adjustable if impacts unfold differently. More planning and costing is needed around the worst-case outcomes.
Understand options for rapid response.Climate assessments must evaluate quick ways of lessening climate impacts, such as through reducing emissions of methane, soot (or black carbon) and HFCs. Per tonne, these three ‘super pollutants’ have 25 to thousands of times the impact of CO2. Their atmospheric lifetimes are short — in the range of weeks (for soot) to about a decade (for methane and HFCs). Slashing these pollutants would potentially halve the warming trend over the next 25 years.
There has been progress on this front. At the Global Climate Action summit held in September in San Francisco, California, the United States Climate Alliance — a coalition of state governors representing 40% of the US population —issued a road mapto reduce emissions of methane, HFCs and soot by 40–50% by 2030. The2016 Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which will go into force by January 2019, is set to slash HFC emissions by 80% over the next 30 years.
Various climate engineering options should be on the table as an emergency response. If global conditions really deteriorate, we might be forced to extract large volumes of excess CO2 directly from the atmosphere. An even faster emergency response could be toinject aerosols into the atmosphere to lower the amount of solar radiation heating the planet, as air pollution does. This option is hugely controversial, and might have unintended consequences, such as altering rainfall patterns that lead to drying of the tropics. So research and planning are crucial, in case this option is needed. Until there is investment in testing and technical preparedness — today, there is almost none — the chances are high that the wrong kinds of climate-engineering scheme will be deployed by irresponsible parties who are uninformed by research.
For decades, scientists and policymakers have framed the climate-policy debate in a simple way: scientists analyse long-term goals, and policymakers pretend to honour them.
Those days are over.
Serious climate policy must focus more on the near-term and on feasibility.
It must consider the full range of options, even though some are uncomfortable and freighted with risk.
In 1974 as a young sailor married with two children I was in Darwin when Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin, my wife and I lay under a mattress with our boys while our house was torn apart. I was just learning the power of nature.
After the clean up I retired from the navy and continued my career in the Australian Airforce.
I read the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth”
The message of this book still holds today: The earth’s interlocking resources – the global system of nature in which we all live – probably cannot support present rates of economic and population growth much beyond the year 2100, if that long, even with advanced technology.
In the summer of 1970, an international team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began a study of the implications of continued worldwide growth.
They examined the five basic factors that determine and, in their interactions, ultimately limit growth on this planet-population increase, agricultural production, nonrenewable resource depletion, industrial output, and pollution generation.
The MIT team fed data on these five factors into a global computer model and then tested the behavior of the model under several sets of assumptions to determine alternative patterns for mankind’s future.
The Limits to Growth is the nontechnical report of their findings.
The book contains a message of hope, as well: Man can create a society in which he can live indefinitely on earth if he imposes limits on himself and his production of material goods to achieve a state of global equilibrium with population and production in carefully selected balance.
Today I do what I can to help people to understand the science, understand the challenge we face.
Liberal MPs have attacked the “rioting” students who took a day off school to protest the government’s climate change policies, with one challenging them to swear off ice-cream to lower emissions.
Climate Strike Protest Melbourne
An estimated 15,000 students marched in cities and regional towns around the country on Friday – despite warnings they could face disciplinary action for not attending school.
Liberal senator James McGrath identified a spelling error in a placard held by one student at the protest, circling it in a photograph he posted on his Facebook page. The sign, which targeted Prime Minister Scott Morrison directly, misspelt “jealous” as “jelous”.
“Given some of the creative spelling on display at yesterday’s [Queensland Teachers Union]-endorsed muck-up day, perhaps these children’s teachers and parents might like to refocus their attention on the three Rs, of which rioting is not one of them,” Senator McGrath said.
Liberal MP Craig Kelly – who sits on the House of Representatives’ environment and energy committee – told Fairfax Media that if the children were serious about combating climate change they should forgo ice-creams and hamburgers.
“Given that the agricultural sector and the dairy sector is such a big contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, they should say they’re going to go without ice-creams for 12 months,” he said.
“If they’re really serious they should make a commitment – no ice-cream, no hamburgers and no trips to the Gold Coast for schoolies, because of all the emissions from the airplanes.”
The comments followed those of Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who told 2GB radio on Friday: “The best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.
“Because that’s what your future life will look like: up in a line asking for a handout, not actually taking charge for your life and getting a real job.”
Earlier in the week, Mr Morrison said the government did not support “schools being turned into Parliaments … what we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools”.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said it was rich of the government to “lecture” students about “missing a couple of hours at school” when its parliamentary sitting calendar for 2019 consisted of so few sitting days in early part of the year.
“The kids might have a look at Mr Morrison and say, well, you don’t even go to work mate,” Mr Shorten said.
The Coalition government under Scott Morrison appears to have forgotten the first rule of holes: when you’re in one, stop digging.
It’s far too early to describe the Morrison government as terminal; the six months or so till a mooted May federal election is a long time in politics. But the government seems content to write off the message from Liberal voters in Wentworth and Victoria, particularly on climate change, because they do not represent its ‘base’. God only knows where the Liberal base is if it isn’t located in blue ribbon Liberal seats, but who are we to argue?
Coalition government policies under John Howard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and now Scott Morrison have failed to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Australia’s emissions are rising when they should be falling.
Worse, the Morrison government appears determined to back policies and projects that will increase emissions and fuel global warming.
It was sickening to watch the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan welcome Adani’s announcement that it was ready to start construction of its mega coal mine before Christmas, at the same time as bushfires raged across Queensland during an unprecedented heatwave.
Mining and burning coal is a major cause of the greenhouse gas pollution that is heating the atmosphere, cooking the Great Barrier Reef and intensifying the extreme weather conditions Queensland is currently experiencing.
For the first time in Queensland’s history, the state’s fire danger warning was raised to ‘catastrophic’, the new category of fire danger that had to be invented following the Black Saturday fires of 2009. It is only five years since the Bureau of Meteorology had to add new colours – deep purple and pink – to indicate temperatures beyond its 50-degree cap. Australia’s extreme heat and fire danger is now literally off the charts.
As far as divine signs to stop burning fossil fuels go, more than a hundred bushfires in Queensland’s tropical north rainforest country during the wet season could not be more obvious. Thousands of residents were given ‘Leave Now’ warnings, with authorities bluntly warning residents who refused to flee that they could “burn to death” and that the firestorm could create “dead man zones” which would be impossible to survive, even in a car.
Even on the beach.
“I’m sure that some people have probably got very good and elaborate systems of pumps and dams and systems and they believe that I’ll be OK and I know what I’m doing and I’ve done this before,” said Fire and Emergency Services Minister Craig Crawford, who experienced Victoria’s Ash Wednesday fires firsthand as a firefighter. “Today is not one of those days. Today is different. We are expecting a firestorm.”
Australia’s extreme heat and fire danger is now literally off the charts.
Queensland residents described 20-metre-high flames fanned by “tornado-like” winds. The heatwave is set to continue. There is no rain forecast. Watching a senior minister tweet photos of bushfire devastation in Queensland while applauding Adani’s coal mine is like watching someone hand out cigarettes to cancer patients.
Australia’s kids are willing to sacrifice their education to stop Adani because they know it is their future at stake, it is their generation who will be forced to clean up the policy mess that ministers like Matt Canavan have left them.
But of course, it should not be up to Australia’s schoolchildren to stop Adani. The Labor party, Australia’s likely future government, should give voters a real choice at the next election and commit to stop Adani’s mine by any means available to it.
Adani’s mine is a dud project for any one of a dozen reasons. No bank would touch it, Adani has had to finance the mine itself. There won’t be many jobs in it, Adani boasts “When we ramp up the mine, everything will be autonomous from mine to port”. Traditional owners do not consent to the mine on their land and are challenging Adani before a full federal court bench next year. Adani is still under investigation for potential environmental breaches in Australia and it has an appalling record of environmental destruction and prosecutions overseas, including allegations of corruption, fraud and money laundering.
The federal Environment Department found Adani probably broke the law in its environmental application by giving false evidence. Federal and Queensland governments are yet to sign off on key water plans which water scientists say are grossly inadequate to protect precious water. As Queensland burns and suffers through drought, it seems grossly unfair that Adani has been granted a license to extract 12.5 billion litres of water every year for 60 years, nearly as much as all local farmers combined, without a full environmental impact assessment, as documents obtained by Lock The Gate Alliance under Queensland’s Right To Information laws showed. And the Queensland government is still offering Adani a secret royalty subsidy.
Frankly Australia’s next government should not only stop Adani, it should put a moratorium on all new coal mines. Even with a ban on new mines, Australia Institute research shows Australia’s coal production would decline only gradually as existing mines reached the end of their economic lives. If Adani’s coal mine goes ahead, with flat world demand for coal, every new coal mine opened in new coal regions like the Galilee simply reduces production in existing coal regions like the Hunter Valley, Bowen Basin and Surat Basin. This will lead to the closure of some mines and layoffs in others. A moratorium on new coal mines would protect existing coal jobs. It is impossible to limit global warming while building new coal mines.
The Morrison government’s determination to use taxpayers’ money to underwrite new coal-fired power is also concerning. Just as you can’t dig yourself out of a hole, you can’t reduce electricity prices by building coal-fired power stations – the most expensive form of new energy to build. Renewable energy and battery storage are cheap and getting cheaper and renewables have been putting downwards pressure on electricity prices for years now.
But Minister for Energy Angus Taylor appears determined to invest in coal – like investing billions of taxpayers’ dollars in Video Ezy while blaming the world for streaming Netflix. Coal-fired fired power stations aren’t even that reliable and our ageing fleet increasingly fails in the heat when we need them most. The Australia Institute’s Gas and Coal Watch has tracked 109 separate breakdowns at coal-fired power stations this year: 67 at black coal plants and 42 at brown coal plants, hardly ‘reliable’.
Taxpayers should be concerned the Government is gearing up to sign risky contracts for billions of dollars, possibly without the authority to do so. It is policy on the run from a government in panic mode, only it is Australian taxpayers, not the Liberal and National parties, who will be left on the hook for any liability arising from the Minister’s rushed process.
The Liberal party is perfectly entitled to keep its ‘homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers’ branding – as Kelly O’Dwyer so succinctly put it – if it thinks it’s onto a winner. The only danger now is that the Coalition will mire Australia in its climate policy bog as it doubles down on coal and digs itself further away from the political mainstream.
Ebony Bennett is deputy director at The Australia Institute @ebony_bennett
They had the signs, the statistics, the anger – and the solutions too. I looked around and felt I had seen the future, clever and full of passion.
I count myself as nearly of the same generation as the strikers.
I’m six years out of high school, nearly graduated from university – but I’ve never seen a protest like this.
I came in with cynicism. In the exact same spot, I have seen so many protests wither on the vine, outnumbered by food-court patrons.
University students like to think that they are the epicentre of social change, or at least they were in the heyday of the 70s. But on Friday inSydneyall you could hear in the CBD were the school kids, and in Melbourne they stopped traffic at 1pm on a school day.
Activism seems to have skipped a generation, and I couldn’t be happier.
In Sydney, Jean Hinchliffe, 14, had the stage and took the roll, in a way. She asked who here was in primary school, who was in high school, who was from western Sydney, who had travelled from the bush, who wanted their politicians to do way more about climate change. The roar sent the microphones screaming into static and camera operators winced with their headphones in.
Scott Morrison hadtold them not to gatherand that only made them feel better about doing it. Finally, something the politicians couldn’t control. That was the theme of the day – the frustration of feeling powerless.
“You have failed us all so terribly,” said Nosrat Fareha, 15, from Auburn Girls High school.
“We deserve better. Young people can’t even vote but will have to live with the consequences of your inaction for decades.”
Morrison was mentioned by every speaker and booed every time. How much he must regret that throwaway line in question time, that “kids should go to school” and be “less activist”, and the electoral harm it threatens to cause in a few more years.
It was so easily turned around, and the irony obvious to all. “IfScott Morrisonwants children to stop acting like a parliament, then maybe the parliament should stop acting like children,” Manjot Kaur, 17, said.
It was an articulate anger, and the speakers made sure to say they had the solutions too, not just the doom and gloom. There was music and happiness. They sang Stand by Me and everyone knew the words – an old-school activist vibe to make anyone dewy-eyed. One girl said to another, “Oh I should have put you up on my shoulders for that!” and then did on the next song.
“Here’s to us”, said Fareha. “The generation that can’t wait until it’s too late”.
There will inevitably be blowback from the rightwing commentariat, and the politicians themselves, that these young activists have been whipped into a false frenzy. But that’s not what this was. It was a hesitant, cautious embrace of something long overdue.
“When I say student, you say power!” Hinchliffe shouted. They did. And it felt like a sense of self-actualisation – hundreds looking around and thinking yes, everyone is actually, really saying it too. Maybe it’s true. The call and response came up and down Martin Place in waves, swimming long laps. They were clutching their ears it was so loud.