Climate propaganda is beating climate science

We have made our bed and now we must lie in it. After 11 consecutive months of global mean temperatures well clear of all previous monthly records, it too late to avoid serious damage from human-caused climate change. Background warming will rise above 1.5C this decade and keep rising well beyond that. If we think today’s weather is unfriendly, it will get worse.

This is no fevered nightmare but a measured, evidence-based conclusion. The average concentration of carbon dioxide in the air is now rising faster than ever. At over 422 parts per million it is more than 50 per cent above what used to be normal and 17 per cent higher than what science has agreed is a safe limit.

Last week, UK environmental journalist Damian Carrington reported the findings of a Guardian survey of 343 leading climate scientists – all senior authors for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Almost 80 per cent had said they expected the global temperature by 2100 to be at least 2.5C above preindustrial levels, and nearly half thought it would be a catastrophic 3C higher.

Why have we failed so miserably to stop or retard climate change? The main reason, said three-quarters of the scientists surveyed, was political will: leaders who didn’t see climate change as important. They believe the best thing ordinary citizens can do to make a difference is to elect politicians supporting strong climate action. 

Australian voting patterns are starting to reflect this. The 2022 federal election saw swings – mainly but not only in urban electorates – towards candidates and parties with strong climate policies, notably Greens and Teal independents.

The trend is especially strong in Tasmania, greenest of Australian states. Having already sent five Greens and a clutch of environment-conscious independents to the lower house, voters have underlined their concerns about the climate by handing the prized seat of Hobart in the Legislative Council to the highly-experienced former leader of the Greens, Cassy O’Connor.

Relatively free of party control, the often-overlooked upper house brings a wide range alternative perspectives to matters of public importance, led by thinking independents prepared to put in a lot of effort. But their efforts notwithstanding, debate tends to be fragmented, directionless and all too often ineffectual.

Given her easy win and her party’s backing, O’Connor has much to offer a chamber famous for resisting government pressure and going its own way. Her many years of political experience both in and out of government will bring real weight to upper house debate on climate change issues. This will be something to watch.

Genuine, knowledge-based authority is something rare in party leadership generally, and it was dramatically absent in Anthony Albanese and his federal cabinet last week. 

Under pressure from the gas industry’s vast financial muscle and lobbying power, the government wilted, blinked and came out in support of new gas production, all the way to 2050 and beyond. Gas is every bit as problematic as coal, and the new gas strategy is a big win for fossil fuels, the main cause of the climate crisis.

As if the industry needs help to shield it from financial risk, the government is funding an expensive mapping exercise to find more resources, continuing a long-standing rort that, along with generous tax breaks, underwrites long-term fossil fuel investment. Given the effort the Albanese government had put into a clean energy revolution, this is pure madness.

The Coalition has hedged its prior support for gas by adding nuclear to the energy mix. The Albanese government derided what they called this risky, massively-expensive nuclear option. Now, faced with the need to offset gas emissions, it has gone one better by backing with public revenue the even more risky, completely unproven technology of carbon capture and storage.

In the face of a renewed push by the gas industry to justify continued government support, the crowd-funded Climate Council promises to develop a “real” national strategy for future gas that will show why its continued use is so dangerous and to describe what we must do to ditch it “quickly and permanently”.

Half a dozen Labor MPs have raised concerns about the new gas strategy because it threatens their personal electoral success, but it will take more than a handful of party rebels to beat this lobbying juggernaut. 

The Albanese government’s failure to stand up to the fossil fuel industry is the latest in a long line of victories for greed over public good, and for propaganda over science. We need politicians possessing enough will and knowledge to break open the industry’s falsehoods. It can’t happen soon enough.

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