The gap between Australian climate policy and science is closing far too slowly – we need to keep the pressure up | Lenora Taylor
Even during the summer vacation shutdown, the settings for the Netflix satire Don’t Look Up could not be overlooked.
Climate scientists reported the helplessness and panic of the film’s astronomers, who spotted a “planet-killing” comet about to hit Earth, only to have their warnings mocked and ignored.
Critics panned it. Too obvious and troublesome, they said. What it could in fact be. But a purely cinematic critique of a parable about missing the point of planetary destruction kind of misses… the point.
In the same lazy week at the beach that I watched Don’t Look Up, I also read Richard Power’s beautiful Confusion, with its harrowing portrayal of a neurodivergent nine-year-old who just can’t understand why adults are seeing the accelerating signs of environmental degradation to ignore .
Both the book and the film made me think about how we report on the climate crisis. Even in the grip of a pandemic, this is the emergency of our time and sounding the alarm is a constant editorial priority for The Guardian, in Australia and around the world.
The undercurrent of this reporting, the grim truth behind every story, is the gulf between what science believes is true and what we are doing about it. In Australian public policy, that chasm is a yawning abyss, a reality that has been drowned out, willfully ignored and viciously misrepresented during a decade of climate “wars”.
The “wars,” of course, have never been about who had the best plan to avoid a spreading environmental disaster, but rather which party or faction is most effective at using, or best misrepresenting, the lack of a plan to their immediate political advantage and could destroy a competitor’s actionable ideas. Perhaps that’s why it was so hard to laugh during Don’t Look Up, when Meryl Streep, who played the US President who had just been told of the global devastation to come, decided it was best until after the ” sit quietly and ponder”. intermediate exams.
Anyone who approaches the topic with a basic scientific education will see the gap between science and politics. Most have dealt with it by focusing on the practical, the possible, the incremental changes that move things forward. Not letting the idea of a perfect climate policy become the enemy of good might have felt more consequential if more good policies were on offer.
But through that lens, towards the end of 2021, there was incremental progress. Both major parties pledged to a target of net-zero emissions by 2050, although, as Guardian Australia’s environment editor Adam Morton pointed out, the coalition’s commitment did not include any new guidelines. largely relied on unproven technology and didn’t really take the country to net zero. Or, as our political editor Katharine Murphy put it, it really was just “the status quo with some new speculative charts.”
Labor then announced a 2030 target of reducing emissions by 43%, more ambitious than the coalition’s 26-28% but still carefully calibrated to try to withstand further scaremongering. Instead of dusting off their hyperbolic lines about destroying the economy, business and employers’ groups backed Labour’s policies, leading Morton to cautiously wonder if the climate wars might be over.
For now, a political truce around inadequate policies seems the best possible scenario. Perhaps even followed by modest progress during the next legislature. But we are long past the time of incrementalism.
As the time to decarbonize the world rapidly dwindles, this year’s election needs to move beyond the tired analysis of how Australian parties could come up with a sophisticated or underhanded climate message that would satisfy both voters on “coal seats” and those downtown, as if “Carbon” seats somehow immune to the environmental and economic impacts of global warming. The questions raised by this gap between science and political reality can no longer be trumped by backroom strategy games.
Does Australia really want to do its part to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees? Do those vying for political office really understand the consequences of not achieving that goal? If they do, why is the government spending $600 million on a new gas-fired power plant in New South Wales – just one of many examples of policies that blatantly betray promises? Its own market operator says it isn’t necessary, and the International Energy Agency said almost a year ago there could be no new investment in coal, oil or gas if the world had even a chance to meet that target.
Perhaps the mobilizing “Voices of” or blue-green independents will force these issues onto the agenda, or if not they, the moderate liberals whose seats they threaten. Perhaps the possibility of a deadlocked parliament and the need to deal with some of these independents will steer the debate back towards something resembling sane. Perhaps the overwhelming concern of the voters will finally prevail.
Since its inception in 2013, Guardian Australia has worked to advance the climate debate through news, analysis, video series and podcasts. We will intensify our efforts this election year, through news and analysis from Murphy and Morton and environmental reporters Lisa Cox and Graham Readfearn, through Readfearn’s fact-checking column Temperature Check, and Peter Hannam’s coverage of the green economy.
Whatever the politics, we stick to the task of asking the questions demanded by science.