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A cyclone to save our climate? With Tony Abbottʼs strange ascendancy to the Opposition leadership, the Australian political weather-vane is truly spinning. The turbulence is being driven by spiralling carbon emissions, and what to do – or, indeed, not do – about a rate of climatic change now exceeding the worst-case projections of climate scientists. With the Rudd governmentʼs weak climate legislation fundamentally opposed by a new Coalition team fuelled by denialism, we may need a political cyclone to save our climate. Its first signs may be an insistent tugging on the anchor ropes at by-elections this weekend in the New South Wales seat of Bradfield and Peter Costelloʼs former Victorian seat of Higgins. Both seats are being contested by the Greens, and in both the climate progressives will face off against Liberals in the absence of Labor candidates. If either seat falls to the Greens, the tide will build and the message to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will be clear. Climate is vital to voters and scepticism will not be tolerated. As a now vanquished Malcolm Turnbull sweated out the weekend before the spill, and Joe Hockey was coming to his ultimately doomed decision to challenge for the leadership, Labor was cranking up the pressure to pass its climate legislation when the Senate resumed earlier this week. On ABC Televisionʼs Insiders, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard was diligently repeating to Barry Cassidy Turnbullʼs own mantra, ʻDelay is denialʼ – delaying action on climate change is equivalent to saying the problem isnʼt real. Later that same morning, the Prime Minister tweeted, ʻOnly 21 (sic) days to go to Copenhagen. Further delay and further inaction not an option for Oz or the planetʼ. He had been at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, strutting the international stage spruiking the prospects for international climate talks set to begin in Copenhagen on 7 December. Given that it is now close to certain that Mr Rudd will not take a domestic emissions trading scheme to Copenhagen, what will he do with his plainly admitted urgency for action now that he is likely to have a double-dissolution trigger that could force an election on climate well before the end of his current term? One key is the recent Newspoll showing that emissions trading is supported by 63 per cent of city Coalition voters, that up to 20 metropolitan seats could be lost by the Coalition in an election fought on climate change. That is a loss that could now well unfold with Tony Abbott leading a fractured ship. In a recent opinion piece for The Age, World Vision head Tim Costello wrote that, despite uncertainty over the specific details of trading, Australians who have the science explained to them are willing to 'reach into their pockets to avoid the worst impacts of climate change to protect themselves and vulnerable communities'. Voters are ready to listen. Standing in the way, Tony Abbott has attacked even Kevin Ruddʼs weak emissions scheme with the charge of being ʻone great big taxʼ, repeating Paul Keatingʼs argument against the GST: ʻIf you donʼt understand it, donʼt vote for it. If you do understand it, youʼll never vote for itʼ. To counter this effectively, the Prime Minister will be forced to underline the threat we face from climate change, but in doing so he will need to acknowledge the science as recently and worrisomely updated in the Copenhagen Diagnosis. This new report by leading 1


climate scientists examines the research since the 2007 report of the UNʼs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It paints a grim picture of ʻsurging greenhouse gas emissionsʼ, and the prospect that ʻjust 20 more years of [even current] emissions would give a 25% probability that warming exceeds 2ºCʼ, the level at which catastrophic and irreversible impacts become increasingly likely. ʻEven with zero emissions after 2030, every year of delayed action increases the chances of exceeding 2ºC warming,ʼ the report continues. Our growth in annual emissions means we are helping to steer a collision course with 2ºC at the very least. Projections of a 6ºC rise by the end of the century are now routinely predicted given a trend of business as usual emissions. If Kevin Rudd is to meet the charge that action is just ʻone big taxʼ with the counter-charge that inaction represents an obscene tax on our climate and human life, he will be forced, in marshalling the science, to acknowledge the inadequacy of currently proposed measures. While formulations for a safe climate vary, itʼs pretty clear that 2020 cuts of at least 40% on 1990 emission levels will be needed to shoulder our fair share of the reductions to keep the world inside a rapidly shrinking carbon budget. A recent global campaign supported by Al Gore says we must cut carbon dioxide to at least 350 parts-per-million (ppm) in the atmosphere to achieve climate safety. With global levels of carbon dioxide already approaching 390ppm, Kevin Rudd is proposing a mere 5% 2020 cut on 2000 emission levels, with a best-case 25% cut if the world satisfies his onerous and unlikely conditions for an international deal. The door, however, remains open to leadership at Copenhagen if the Prime Minister signals much stronger action that he is willing to enforce at home via a double-dissolution election. Delay is indeed denial, and he simply cannot advocate anything like the current scheme, which Treasury modelling says will not reduce Australian emissions before 2035. Nations can delay action by failing to pass climate measures, or by putting forward measures so weak they will achieve nothing. While the machinations of the Liberal leadership spill are surely enough to make the head spin, in the end we should remember what is outside our walls, how the hand of humanity is bending the worldʼs climate towards an abyss. Controlling the agenda on Insiders and tweeting in the blogosphere lie strangely distant and abstracted from the weather we have changed, the biosphere in which all life is contingently cocooned. I was reminded of this last Sunday afternoon, as the political moves played out to later crown Tony Abbott the dubious king of the Liberals. On St Kilda beach 25 emergency service workers completed their 6000 kilometre Run for a Safe Climate from Cooktown to Melbourne. Running through all weather, through heat and drought, they heard stories of climate change and loss, but also of hope for something better. They ran to defy denial, having seen, as firefighters and emergency service workers, the devastation of bushfires firsthand. They ran, as Jasmine Condon put it, for all children, but especially the children without a voice to demand climate action. They ran, as Tim Costello noted in his address to them, so malaria – one of the worldʼs biggest killers of children – would not come with changing climate to places it had never been before, and so people would not need to flee 2


catastrophe in boats. They ran, in short, for actions strong enough to prevent the worst impacts. The runners welcomed home, a camera on a blimp overhead captured the human sign later strung along the beach: ʻ000 – Climate Emergencyʼ. It is in the power of Kevin Rudd to take something much more hopeful to Copenhagen than the weak ETS Tony Abbott has described as merely a trophy. It was never more than an urn for the burnt hopes of humanity, with little room to inscribe all the names of the future climate dead. The actions of our Prime Minister will mean nothing if they hover just above denial; they must be good enough. Links (in text order) http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1141402/%27Confident%27-Turnbull-wants-ETSpassed http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/our-carbon-footprint-already-treads-on-the-mostvulnerable-20091130-k117.html http://www.copenhagendiagnosis.org/download/Copenhagen_Diagnosis_ES_English.pdf http://www.350.org http://www.runforasafeclimate.org/ http://blip.tv/play/g_QdgZDUfpmQCg http://twitpic.com/rfqax

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Delay is denial  

With the election of Tony Abbott to the Opposition leadership and a double-dissolution election in the mix, Australian Prime Minister Kevin...

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