Climate change denial is back on the Australian policy agenda again - what would whales and polar bears think?
What an amazing week it has been in Australian politics. Poised as we were for pre-Copenhagen Emissions Trading legislation to be passed, a leadership spill in the opposition Liberal Party (centre-right) and their subsequent radical and swift retreat from climate change policy caused the second defeat of the legislation in the Senate, and a trigger for the Government to call a double dissolution election. Mere hours ago, the Government announced that it will bring the legislation back for a third attempt in February, but this will be after the Copenhagen meeting.
Perhaps the Rudd Labor Government (centre-left) always intended it to play this way, as Ian McHugh on Crikey's - Rooted speculates, but no-one can doubt Senator Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change, who ran a marathon battle to work through the amendments and comments put forward for debate. She was determined to win.
Through all of this, those of us tragically obsessed with politics were glued to our seats to see if enough Liberal Senators would cross the floor (voting against the new policy position of their Party) and pass the legislation in defiance of their Party’s new position. That two Liberal Senators chose to take this rare and very serious action was sensational, but not enough. Seven such brave souls were required to pass the bill.
As I watched I couldn’t help but wonder, what would whales and polar bears think of all this filibustering and hyperboly? It is easy for humans to excuse away the realities of what we face; to deny our own intuition. But, if you food and your home were changing in ways that you couldn't accommodate, could you maintain patience with the human race - I suspect not
The Greens probably got closest to representing what I assume the view of whales and polar bears might be, by saying that the legislation proposed was not strong enough. However, I am unsure if they would have agreed that it should be voted down. The Greens political assessment was likely accurate. After all, this was a bill based on wide consultation with the opposition – before the Liberal Party back-flip – industry and some parts of civil society. It was, without doubt, conservative in its vision and certainly fell short of where Australia should be positioning itself on the world stage. However, it was a position, and positions can always grow, evolve or develop, and wouldn’t our friends of the ice and sea prefer we got on with something?
Instead, Australians find ourselves in climate change limbo-land again, with a newly emboldened opposition leader running a scare campaign about climate taxes and hip pocket impact, backed by conservative cronies once again flying the flag of climate change denialism that many of us had hoped was finally shredded.
Minister Wong is not pulling her punches, telling the ABC that the the Liberal opposition is trying to spook voters. "When you cannot fight the argument you run a scare campaign," she said. "These are people sprinting back to the past. They are sham arguments from people driven, and now led, by people who do not believe climate change is real."
The opposition rebuts this saying that Australians do not want to rush ahead on the legislation and have started to question climate change science. Really? From where I sit it is far from clear who these skeptical Australians are, and on what basis they are making their determination. What is emerging is that we have different generational perceptions about what needs to be done.
Alex Steffen at WorldChanging.com has called the decisions we face the first major battle in a war for the future. He says:
“... when confronted with generational conflict, we naturally tend to see the elders as seasoned and realistic, and the youth as passionate and ethical, and to seek a middle ground of tempered realism … [but] realism now means very different, incompatible things to the two generations…The world looks dramatically different if the year 2050 is one you’re likely to be alive to see. To younger people, Copenhagen isn’t some do-gooder meeting; it’s the first major battle in a war for the future. Their future.”
The irony is that far from being some radical, left wing plot, the climate science is the result of years and years of careful and very cautious consideration, from some of the world’s most respected, published and often conservative scientists – some of who work for Governments – all within the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. You would think that this would appeal to those who want to see careful, measured and reasonable arguments as the basis for making important decisions.
Meanwhile, Copenhagen approaches. We know that warming seas, changing the structure and flow of currents, food webs and levels of ocean acidification, all of which is set to fundamentally change the environment that whales and dolphins (and polar bears) live in and depend upon.
Credible scientists from around the world have said in repeated reports that the likely impacts of climate change on whales and dolphins (and polar bears) will be considerable. Synthesizing their findings, they say that the rate of climate change is well outside the evolutionary experience of existing species. Many species have complicated life cycles and appear to be dependent on finding certain resources in certain places at certain times. We know that many whale populations are already at extremely low levels; and most other species and populations are being impacted by many other threats - like noise and chemical pollution, being hunted or dieing in fishing nets, of them losing home and habitat.
Where climate change many have the most profound impact is with the many vulnerable species that are dependent on limited patches of particular types of habitat, such as coastal and freshwater dolphins or then ice-edge species such as whales and dolphins (and polar bears) that live in the polar regions.
It seems that knowing and doing can be two different things. So right now we can hope that the Rudd Government has a fallback for Copenhagen that will allow Australians to at least stand with our face forward, rather than ashamedly staring at our shoes. And, we can hope that all the other participating Governments come better prepared and most assuredly win the first major battle in a war for the future, and recall that this world and our future is shared by humans and wildlife – including whales and polar bears
(cross posted at The Other Realm.)