The two most insightful lines about Scott Morrison’s press conference were written well in advance: “I’ve already run away from that question” and “Australia leads the world in claims that we are leading the world”.
The former quote belonged to Mike Bowers on Sunday’s ABC Insiders program, the latter to the Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian here on Monday night.
OK, Mr Bowers’ quip was in relation to the Prime Minister running away from #carporkrorts questions, but it also applies to his non-answer upon being asked if the government was going to model and disclose the cost of inaction on climate change. (As opposed to the constant fear-mongering about the cost of taking action).
Mr Morrison totally ignored the modelling aspect, instead blustering that “the cost of inaction globally is very clear” – what the IPCC report set out. After that, there was one COVID question and the press conference was over.
The twin themes of the Prime Ministerial climate denials and deflections were the various claims of Australia leading the world and pointing the carbon blame finger at developing nations.
“Unless we can get the change in the developing countries of the world then what we are seeing in the IPCC reports will occur,” Mr Morrison said, remaining true to the government’s repeated nudge-nudge, wink-wink suggestion that it really doesn’t matter what Australia does.
“It’s about technology and technology that works in countries that need it to transform their economies, provide jobs and livelihoods for people, to ensure they can prosper as we have in advanced countries like ours.
“I recognise that equity issue. I think it’s a very real issue but the thing that solves it is not political commitments, it’s real technology that works on the ground.”
And, of course, there’s the old “technology not taxes” line – even while boasting of spending $20 billion raised by taxes to subsidise polluters and favoured technologies, whether or not they work.
Stating the obvious that carbon pollution is borderless was the prime deflection of responsibility. I’ll come back to that.
The big lie was the suggestion the government was concentrating on developing cheap technologies to transform the developing world’s carbon footprint.
There is some very good work being done in Australia, but the government’s two headline acts are not.
Australia’s great bipartisan boondoggle of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is horrendously expensive and doesn’t work in rich countries in near-ideal geological conditions. It has no future in less-rich countries.
And then there’s “Hydrogen Valley”. The use of hydrogen as a fuel may well be a big part of the global future, but the government likes to fudge between “green” and “blue” hydrogen.
Green hydrogen is made with electricity generated from renewable sources – wind and solar.
Blue hydrogen is made with electricity generated by fossil fuels, especially natural gas. Yes, burning carbon, that subsidised gas.
It’s Morrison government policy to go hell for leather to produce as much gas as possible and install as much gas infrastructure as possible before that market collapses and the aforementioned infrastructure becomes stranded assets.
Blue hydrogen is cheaper than green at present and is likely to remain so for some years.
Without pricing carbon, there’s little incentive to move from the cheaper, dirtier blue to more the more expensive, cleaner green.
And if there’s one thing more verboten for this government than having a 2050 zero-emissions pledge it is pricing carbon.
So while the government is pouring billions into expensive fantasies of extending fossil fuel use, it’s cute to be told that it’s all for the benefit of the developing world.
As for being aware of “the equity issue”, that’s less than cute. It’s simply dishonest.
Greenhouse gases are borderless. They are generated by people, not countries, and end up affecting all people in all countries.
Any awareness of “the equity issue” has to begin with recognition that carbon pollution is a per capita issue, not one based on borders.
Rich people emit vastly more carbon dioxide and methane than poor people.
A disproportionate amount of the carbon in the atmosphere was put there by rich people in the process of becoming and remaining rich and comfortable. It is disproportionately added to by rich people using fossil fuels.
Furthermore, it is the particular cruelty of “the equity issue” twist that poor people will suffer much more than rich people as the climate continues to warm and change, even though they are less responsible for it.
Australians are among the very, very worst carbon emitters, worse than North Americans, sharing the podium with the Middle East’s petrocarbon states.
We do more than double what the Chinese do, yet our Prime Minister suggests what we do doesn’t matter.
For us to point a finger at poorer people, telling them they are not allowed to burn carbon the way we do, intimate that there’s no point in us ditching carbon if the poor people want a bigger slice of the carbon cake, is hypocritical even by this government’s standards.
At this rate, we’ll deserve to have Irukandji jellyfish right down the Queensland coast and well into New South Wales, cane toads hopping around Mr Morrison’s Shire, tropical diseases all over, massive crop failures, fires and cyclones, many inland towns uninhabitable.
It’s almost like we’re asking for it.