On the day on which the Earth recorded a global average surface temperature of more than 2 Centigrade for the first time since records began what was the Australian Parliament and media doing?
While the Australian Parliament and the media were obsessed by whether or not the Prime Minister did or did not say something or other to Xi about sonar or how we would fit ankle monitors to refugees much of the rest of the world was looking towards the forthcoming COP28 with alarm and Australian politicians seemed oblivious.
Although perhaps the silence here was not quite as culpable as the words of two Australian former Prime Ministers who recently told a London right wing conference that climate change is not occurring and one of them – Tony Abbott – admitted he lied for political reasons when he said climate change was real.
New Scientist (17/11) reported that the 2 C global average finding was provisional but that it looked difficult to see how the world can meet the Paris Agreement to limited increases in global temperature to ‘well below 2 C’.
Moreover, the recent United Nations Environment Program Emissions Gap report said the world was on track to warm by 2.9 C by the end of the century – nearly double the international target agreed upon less than a decade ago according to the report.
The Emissions Gap report said maintaining the goal of limiting warming to the 2015 Paris Agreement target of 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels hinges on a rapid transformation away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. “The longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be,” Inger Andersen, the Program’s executive director said when releasing the report.
“There is no person or economy left on the planet untouched by climate change, so we need to stop setting unwanted records on greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature highs and extreme weather,” he told the New Scientist.
Ironically Australia was once a world leader in understanding climate change. The Guardian (21/11) is publishing a series of interviews with scientists who pioneered understanding of global warming and identified the problems which would arise. One of them is Graeme Pearman formerly of the CSIRO.
His first job in 1971 at the CSIRO was to develop, test and install instruments which would measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Weekly he and a colleague drew air samples from a 10 metre high mast in a Rutherglen Victorian wheatfield.
At the same time a US scientist, Charles Keeling, was finding very similar results as the top of a mountain in Hawaii. Keeling said his findings showed that levels started creeping up in the 1960s and by the late 1960s he highlighted fossil fuels as the cause.
Pearman then travelled the world talking to other scientists and finding very similar results. Ultimately, he became the head of CSIRO’s atmospheric division. But his CSIRO work was not to continue as the massive disinformation campaign launched by the fossil fuel lobby put pressure on governments around the world – and found countries like Australia receptive. Pearman left for an academic post and is now world-renowned for his research and activism.
David Michaels in his 2020 book -The Triumph of Doubt Dark Money and the Science of Deception devotes a chapter to the Climate Denial Machine – a term coined by the journalist Sharon Begley in 2007.
The very first step in the campaign was to focus on the phrase climate change which seems unthreatening and then disputing the science, references to El Nino, cherry picked data and all the tactics used by the tobacco industry.
The tobacco industry tactics eventually didn’t work in much of the world where some markets gave up smoking. But the industry worked hard to open up new ones. “No such luck with the climate terrorists so far” Michaels writes.
We now know all the tactics – paid and unpaid climate sceptics, appeals to huge costs, dodgy research and attacks on research which isn’t dodgy. The brothers Charles and David Koch, for instance, funded front groups such as Citizens for a Sound Economy, The International Climate Science Coalition and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.
The range of front groups would make Stalin’s efforts in the West look insipid. Although it has to be said that many of those who spruiked Stalin were motivated by ideology (however misplaced) whereas todays denialists are more motivated by money and other benefits.
Similarly, the health dangers of diesels, opioids, deadly dusts, sugar, chemicals made many lobbyists and latter-day fellow travellers rich and renowned – some of them now spruiking for climate denial.
All the usual suspects are present in Australia too. Not many would join Tony Abbott in calling climate change crap but most have been trained to be more subtle.
Meanwhile a change of government in Australia has produced new carbon emission targets albeit targets much lower than the situation requires. The Albanese Government and State Labor Premiers are busily approving new fossil fuel developments which probably make it impossible to reach even the derisory targets the government has pledged.
What can be done? The Federal Labor Government is terrified of offending almost anyone – whether they be the rich about to get generous tax cuts, fossil fuel industries or property speculators benefiting from tax rorts.
Much of the media is addicted to sound bites, conflict, superficiality and speculation. The Murdoch companies are less a media operation and more a propaganda outlet.
Lenin asked one of the most significant question governments can ask: What is to be done?
Sadly, it appears that the answer in Australia is ‘not much’ Indeed, it brings to mind the lines from that famous Australian O’Brien poem Said Hanrahan – “We’ll all be rooned.”