Two pieces of the modern political scene demonstrate the wilful cognitive dissonance in Canberra.
One highlights the enormity of the crisis the globe confronts, and the other explains why Australia is condemned to dwell in a world of leadership swinging from Being There to Groundhog Day.
The international Klaxon Horn was blasted by the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which updated its 2013 report with an even more alarming warning.
Every model in the report says we will exceed the tipping point of 1.5 Celsius of warming by 2040, making extreme weather as common as the reports we see on the nightly news. Glaciers will retreat at a rapid clip, corals and other marine species will perish in warming seas, island nations risk being submerged and large populations will be caught in deadly heat waves, deluges and wildfires.
As British climatologist Dave Reay told The Financial Times, this was “hell and highwater writ large”. The IPCC’s most optimistic but achievable scenario pointed to “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions” in emissions limiting any rise in global temperatures to a peak of 1.6C above pre-industrial temperatures shortly after 2050.
This “rosy picture” would see increased disruption from storms, droughts and heatwaves which, while far from comfortable, would still leave the planet mostly habitable. There would be, even at this optimistic end of the spectrum, plenty of climate refugees, many headed to richer nations like Australia.
Not far beyond that the “high emissions” scenario has warming up by 3C by 2060 and just below 6C by the end of the century, a point at which human existence would be seriously threatened.
Australia is portrayed as more prone to the impact of catastrophic climate change than just about anywhere else.
Like other nations that are essentially big land masses – the United States and other northern American countries, those in South America, Africa, the dominant Asian nations – Australia will suffer from not just higher temperatures but a brutal mix of wild weather and coastal inundations.
Also, our economy – tied in recent decades to the fossil fuel juggernaut – is going to have to adapt and change or sink into neglect and decay.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s not a pretty sketch of the future.
Of course, Australia, incapable of stepping up to any challenge, used the IPCC report as an opportunity to indulge our worst instincts.
A wounded PM’s climate gambit
The great divider, ultra-partisan Scott Morrison, saw the report as a branch to cling to as he stared at the abyss he’s been hovering above for weeks because of his pathological failure to get some pretty basic tasks right: having a suitable and sufficient vaccine rollout to build on the good work done (mainly by the states) in 2020 and to plug the gaps in what should have always been a short-term, emergency quarantine fix by building an alternative.
Morrison has to work his way back into the minds and affection of at least some of those who helped him create his electoral “miracle” in 2019. Never mind he was at that time blessed by an Opposition leader who failed to connect with voters, and that he had a cashed-up preference machine operated by Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson.
Morrison tapped into a bunch of white guys who can change a tyre, drive a Dodge RAM and work with their hands, plenty of folk who share at least an idea of faith with him and lots of older people who thought Labor would raid their savings. It was a winning formula.
Now Morrison thinks he can reprise it all and climate is his way in. He may be right because he needs something to act as a squirrel thrown in the air to distract from the vaccine/quarantine debacle that shows signs of improving nowhere but in the Prime Minister’s fevered imagination.
With the national cabinet now resembling the bar scene from Star Wars, Morrison’s last vestige of authority and what could be his last team moment is exposed as just another PR stunt from a self-proclaimed leader who is all slogan and no substance.
Oozing snake oil from every pore
Morrison looks to be betting on black – as in coal and fossil fuels – while saying he kinda likes pink, too. Every utterance he makes about climate policy is coded, calculated and cooked. The thing he and his unhinged deputy Barnaby Joyce accuse Labor of doing – walking both sides of the street and having a bet each way – they do as a double act.
Morrison wants to smile and say “low emissions” in seats like Kooyong, Ryan and Wentworth while snarling to the Hunter and Gladstone he’s going to keep the big diesel twin cabs on the road and those dirty coal towns alive long after the market and the weather spell their end. He is the ultimate snake oil charlatan.
This might work, especially if he runs and succeeds with another scare campaign on taxes and others fear policies targeted at metropolitan and outer suburban seats as well as older demographic cohorts.
It worked for Morrison last time and he is a creature of self-congratulatory habit.
However, Morrison is on his third strike – the first was the way he stuffed up his block-headed response to the national bushfire emergency of 2019/20, the second his failure to “get” how women felt about physical and emotional abuse. The third: the still-unfolding vaccine strollout and quarantine quagmire.
He has little room for error before those three strikes are translated into a call of “You’re out!” from the umpire.
Women and warming
While an often incoherent deputy prime minister was calling for someone to come up with a plan you’d expect from the government, women in state capitals were calling into morning radio alarmed and fearful about climate.
Whether it was ABC metro or the 2GB/3AW/4BC network, these women had one message. They were frightened at what the IPCC was saying about the future and frustrated because they didn’t think the Morrison government was doing anything or had a real plan.
“I can’t talk to my children about this, it makes them scared,” said one caller to 4BC in Brisbane.
If you bring together the sentiment Morrison unleashed with his Trumpian-light response to the revelations of sexual misbehaviour in Parliament House and his politically calculated climate dance you can see more than half of the voting public potentially feeling annoyed if not angry.
Come voting day that might be enough to more than kick Morrison in the shins. They might aim a bit higher.