Australian news, and some related international items

Ethics and Politics in Australia. about climate change

ethicsAustralia’s political climate: Three numbers ignored in this election Byron Smith ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS 3 SEP 2013. The national discussion concerning climate change in Australia has some curious blind spots. Despite having featured prominently in Australian federal politics ever since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared it to be “the great moral challenge of our generation” back in August 2007, at no point in the public debate have three crucial numbers been highlighted by either side of the political divide.

Before I get to the numbers, let me lay out some basic groundwork. First, as an ethicist, I agree that climate change is a grave moral issue, precisely because those least responsible for the problem are those who face the most serious harms. The basic science – the world is warming, human actions are primarily responsible and the projected impacts are overwhelmingly negative – is explicitly endorsed by virtually every relevant national or international scientific body in the world, as well as by every national government, from the most radical to the most conservative……..

The good news is that it is still possible to avert the worst outcomes and there is no great secret what this involves. Principally, it means leaving the lion’s share of fossil fuels in the ground, unburned. Since the stock market value of fossil fuel companies relies on the assumption that they will extract and burn their entire reserves, this requirement is incompatible with their fundamental business plan. Put another way: their business plan is incompatible with a habitable planet. Yet since fossil fuel companies are the most profitable enterprises in the history of money, capable of exerting enormous political clout, perhaps it becomes apparent why the politics of climate change generates so much heat.

Politicians, caught between the economic leverage of fossil energy and the laws of chemistry and physics that drive climate change, have generally opted for a convenient compromise in which they promise action and deliver tokenistic gestures. And since fossil fuel reserves are distributed unequally around the globe, perhaps you can guess which countries will do the most foot dragging when it comes to reaching an agreement to leave most of the stuff in the ground. In fact, there is basically a direct correlation between the size of a nation’s fossil fuel reserves and its unwillingness to negotiate an ambitious climate deal………..

  • The third number is eleven billion. That is how many dollars Australia spends each year subsidising the fossil fuel industry. This number remains largely hidden since much of it takes the form of tax breaks, meaning that it doesn’t appear as a line item in the budget. Despite having made a commitment at the G20 to phase out such subsidies, the ALP currently plans only to tinker at the edges while the Coalition will silently continue this handout. The ALP-Greens subsidies to renewables, which the Coalition will scrap, are tiny in comparison.

These are the three crucial numbers missing from the climate debate in Australia. Neither major party is likely to mention them. These three bipartisan agreements are fundamentally incompatible with the demands of either justice or prudence, let alone the love for neighbour at the heart of Christian ethics, a tradition from which both Rudd and Abbott claim to draw inspiration.

When considering how to vote on 7 September, and how to contribute to an ethical and rational climate policy in Australia thereafter, perhaps we can all work towards eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, significantly increasing the ambition of our targets and winding down the coal industry as quickly and justly as possible. Because there is a final number to keep in mind: one. That’s how many planets we have.

September 4, 2013 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, religion and ethics

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