Behind the bustle, a wall of silence

Tasmania’s major parties have a huge responsibility to implement effective climate policy, but leadership is sadly absent. [4 June 2013 | Peter Boyer]

Lara Giddings hears Rick Leighton describe his ultra-efficient low-energy home, which she opened last week.

If being busy is any guide, climate change is all the rage in Tasmania. Here’s a snapshot of some events, working backwards from early July.

On 5 July students from around Australia will converge on Launceston for a national youth climate gathering. A fortnight earlier scientist Will Steffen from the Climate Commission will address a public climate action forum in Bellerive, organised by Climate Action Hobart.

The 21st of June marks the deadline for public comment on the Tasmanian government’s recently-released “Low Carbon Tasmania” issues paper, while submissions on another paper on feed-in tariffs in a competitive retail electricity market are due by Friday this week, June 7.

Tomorrow night in Hobart (7:30pm at UTas Centenary Lecture Theatre) there’s to be a live broadcast from Canberra of US activist Bill McKibben on his “Do the Math” Australian tour. Last week, climate events were wall-to-wall.

On Thursday a Hobart public forum heard the case for retaining a full feed-in tariff for rooftop solar electricity, and on Wednesday Premier Lara Giddings opened a nine-star home by Hobart’s champion of energy-efficient housing, Rick Leighton.

On Tuesday a Launceston meeting chaired by deputy mayor Jeremy Ball heard from Climate Commissioner Lesley Hughes about how a changing climate would affect northern Tasmania.

The previous day Hughes chaired the Tasmanian Climate Action Council, and a day before that presented the TCAC “Blueprint for Action” to Climate Change Minister Cassy O’Connor. This followed closely on O’Connor’s release of “Low Carbon Tasmania”.

There’s obviously a lot happening here, but to what end? The question commonly comes from those who claim humans don’t affect climate. It’s time the rest of us asked it too.

Don’t misunderstand me. The gatherings express a genuine and valid concern held by many people about the future, and the various climate-related documents deal with matters of high public import. What we lack is a common focus, a sense of direction, and leadership.

The TCAC Blueprint is a start, offering a broad-brush guide to how Tasmania’s government and people should respond to climate change over coming decades.

It envisages that by 2020, Tasmania will be “a renewable energy powerhouse” with “widespread adoption of energy efficient technologies and practices” and increasingly-competitive high-value farm produce in world markets resulting from applied research into low-carbon agriculture.

In pursuit of Tasmania’s legislated 2050 emissions target of 60 per cent below 1990 levels, the Blueprint identifies renewable energy, energy efficiency and agriculture as the three priorities for action up to 2020. For each there are key goals and opportunities to feed off other initiatives.

Identifying these focal points will help us work out a direction, and to clarify thinking about the many possibilities raised in the “Low Carbon Tasmania” issues paper, whose multiple options need to converge if we’re to have a clear plan of action. Which brings us to leadership, the final and most elusive piece in the climate action puzzle.

Lara Giddings’s speech to open a nine-star home in South Hobart last week — a huge step forward in Tasmanian housing — was the first time I’d heard her speak at length and with conviction about how energy-efficient homes contribute to a better future.

Better late than never, but she needs to take another crucial step. She must make the link between using less energy and reducing the risk of dangerous climate change, leaving no doubt that this is the most fundamental challenge facing all governments, at all levels.

I don’t have any illusions about this. Dealing with climate change is as tough an assignment as what the leaders of the world’s democracies faced at the onset of the Second World War. It’s actually tougher in at least one way, in that there’s no visible, tangible enemy.

National leadership would help, as would a bipartisan local scene. But in Canberra we have a stand-off in the lead-up to a likely change of government and massive changes in climate policy, and here the opposition seems to have no interest in the matter.

Last week the Tasmanian Liberals released a detailed alternative budget for 2013-14. The title “Change for a brighter future” might suggest an interest in changing climate, but though I found things to like in the plan, climate policy wasn’t one of them.

The plan contains a handful of disparate energy and agriculture policies that have a connection with climate change, but there’s not even a hint of a directed, holistic response — except for one thing. The Liberals would disband the TCAC and have public servants do its monitoring work.

The TCAC is cheap by any measure, so the Liberals are saving a pittance. Their proposal shows that they either don’t know or don’t care what the TCAC does, and that they have no sense of the wide consultation that’s needed for an effective response to climate change.

Could it be that the Liberals think climate change is something to leave to Canberra — not their problem? Worse, do they not even see it as a problem at all? I’ve sought a meeting with opposition leader Will Hodgman to discuss this further, and will report on any outcome.

As for Giddings, she needs to take up on Tasmania’s behalf what she was encouraging ordinary citizens to do in her speech in South Hobart last week — to “do our bit” and “have an impact at an individual level”. She’s chosen to stay out of that space, but that’s not good enough.

This is what it comes down to. Before the 2014 state election, can Giddings or Hodgman find the strength and courage to declare that Tasmania should and can be a climate policy leader, and commit themselves and their parties to a plan that can achieve that?

The citizenry is out and about, but leadership is absent. We await a response.

• There are four days left for public comment on the Tasmanian government’s issues paper on payment for power from rooftop solar systems. You can get further information on this development at the Solar Citizens (Tasmania) website.

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1 Response to Behind the bustle, a wall of silence

  1. Lesley Hughes says:

    Terrific article Peter! Keep up the pressure at your end and we’ll keep it up at ours, Lesley

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