There’s a popular cartoon depicting a scientist at a climate summit pointing to a list of benefits that would be achieved if the countries of the world could unite to fight human induced climate change. The list is, ‘Clean Water and Air, Sustainable Prosperity, Healthy Children, Liveable Cities, Energy Independence, Preservation of Rainforests and Biodiversity, Healthy Oceans’.
Someone from the audience stands up and asks ‘What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?’.
In 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential impacts. On Friday in Stockholm, after years of work, the IPCC released the summary of its fifth major assessment. This is taken from the ‘Summary For Policy Makers’.
‘Warming of the climate system is unequivocal…’ ‘The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification’
The most terrifying words ‘Ocean warming dominates…’ suggest an acceleration of ocean acidification.
So how is our new Coalition Government reacting to this climate change information from the IPCC? Do you think our Government is taking action by continuing to implement the previous Government's strategies and building on them in order to protect Australia and its people? Well it's not. Instead, it's doing the direct opposite because it wants to take the budget to an early surplus.
How are we to understand this Government’s determination to conduct its business as though nothing new is happening to our world?
The Liberal Coalition is all about winning and now that it has won the election, it sees itself as the business manager or CEO of the large corporation called Australia with the most important participants in that corporation being the stock holders, Gina Rhinehart, Rupert Murdoch and other wealthy corporate owners.
However, a balanced perspective permits us to see that managing the economy is but one part of the complex role of governance. Without balance, the focus of governance becomes solely money and power. This single focus can lead to corruption, loss of human rights and the exploitation of the masses.
For six long years the Liberal opposition talked the economy down. Many tried to explain that Labor, a minority Government with the help and support of the Greens and some independents, had successfully steered the country through a serious global financial crisis resulting in an economy that was the envy of most of the world. However, the constant negativity of the opposition coupled with a series of unavoidable downturns convinced the Australian public that their country was in trouble. Though the Labor Government proved successful, having passed a record number of legislations, it nevertheless could not prevent the loss of manufacturing jobs, the downturn in retail, a much touted slump in commodity prices and a volatile stock market coupled with a high level of personal debt. Add rising power costs which the Liberals erroneously claimed were due to the ‘carbon tax’ and Labor’s constant internal disputes and leadership challenges and you have a recipe for electoral failure.
And so, despite the fact that Australia enjoys one of the best economy’s in the world, the Australian public believed the negative rhetoric of the Liberal Coalition, while at the same time ignoring dire warnings on climate change. In the minds of the public, jobs trump a healthy environment, even though an unhealthy environment will most certainly create a very unhealthy economy and a drastic drop in the standard of living.
The Coalition Government’s main interest is to protect and increase the finances of what it sees as its financial corporation, Australia. Consequently, its only real focus is the short term profitability of creating a budget surplus and keeping large corporations happy. The larger the corporation, the happier they must be kept.
All businesses are money focussed. Be they banks, energy suppliers, computer companies, mining companies, oil and gas companies, packaging companies, food conglomerates, supermarkets, drug companies or clothing manufacturers, their only aim is to make as much money as is physically possible. Sure, if there are tax breaks involved, they’ll put something back into the community but ultimately, big business simply wants your money. There is no concern for the well being of Australia and its people. Only when Australians, in large enough numbers, stop spending their money do corporations and banks question their own actions. Consequently, one role of the Government is to regulate industry, corporations and banks, in order to protect its citizens and the environment. The economy should work for the people and not the other way around.
In relentless pursuit of profits and left to their own devices, corporations would naturally resort to unlimited exploitation with no concern for consequences such as the escalation of human induced climate change, the degradation of ecosystems, animal and plant extinctions or the well being of the Australian people. The new Coalition Government has shown no interest in taking any action to regulate corporations. In fact it has done the opposite.
That Tony Abbott is our Prime Minister is very bad for the long term health of Australia and its people. If he stays on his present trajectory, he will have a devastating impact on our economy.
So, in this political climate and in this peaceful, democratic society, how do we who dream of a healthy, more equitable and prosperous future for Australia, address such pressing problems? How do we convince the government to continue to regulate corporations in order to deal with the problem of climate change? After all, that’s what the so called ‘carbon tax’ was all about and for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, it did manage to reduce our greenhouse emissions by nearly 10%.
The other day I heard Ann Sherry, the ex-CEO of Westpac, speak of her successful initiative to introduce the first corporate paid maternity leave program in Australia. She said that having worked in parliament in the Keating administration, she was used to speaking in terms of fairness and equity but she soon learnt that such concepts meant little in the corporate world. Rather, she had to demonstrate that this fair and equitable program would save the company money. Fairness and equity alone were not desirable outcomes.
This formidable woman, convinced Westpac to spend a considerable sum for long term financial gain. Without the lure of long term financial gain, Westpac would not have been the first corporation in Australia to offer its employees paid maternity leave. Ann Sherry’s idea became a great marketing coup for Westpac which gained many more new customers and an increase in experienced, quality staff which in turn improved and expanded the Westpac brand and business.
Due to the vice like grip corporations have on our government, it would seem to me that in the present political climate, we who want to achieve all the fair, equitable and sustainable outcomes of a clean and prosperous world, will have to use the language of money and economics to do it. Even though it’s obvious to most that our very survival is at stake, listing good outcomes without reference to finances is simply not enough.
The Coalition Government and big business will continue to ask that seemingly ridiculous question, ‘What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?’ and by ‘nothing’ they mean the possibility of no financial gain. In other words, this Government is more willing to risk our well being and possibly our lives, than to risk its finances.
Addressing climate change is similar to Ann Sherry’s Westpac paid maternity leave. There are untold business opportunities for those who are willing to deal with it. Only renewable energy will have lasting financial value, so those who invest in the research, development and the adoption of renewables will be the successful corporations of the not too distant future. Those who have become sustainable by its very definition, will last.
As much as the Government has everything to gain through regulating greenhouse gas emissions, if it doesn’t continue the previous Government’s strong and immediate action, it also has everything to lose. Rising sea levels combined with king tides and storm surges will destroy much of our valued coast line and huge tracts of real estate along with it. Floods, fires, storms and reduced annual rainfall will eat away at Government revenue. More people, less water, less food and poor air quality will become an enormous financial burden for the Government along with increased demand for public services. There will be ever increasing numbers of climate refugees permanently occupying the army and navy with so called ‘border protection’.
The previous minority Government instigated measures negotiated by the Greens, to help assure a brighter future for Australia but the present Government, with its focus on corporate short term gain, has already begun to shut down emissions reduction strategies. It has dismissed the Climate Commission and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and with its election catch cry ‘We’ll scrap the carbon tax!’ still ringing in our ears, it intends to stop Australia from joining the European Emissions Trading Scheme. Tony Abbott has dispensed with the Minister of Science and the Minister of Climate Change. It’s the first time since 1931 that Australia has not had a Minister of Science.
According to a new report, if Tony Abbott dismantles the price on carbon, electricity prices will certainly go up!
People who think that it makes no difference which party is in power will have a very serious wake-up call when this Government introduces austerity measures in an attempt to take its bank balance to an early surplus. Unsurprisingly, it will not be the big corporations who pay, but rather ordinary Australians who voted the Government into power.
This Government has a choice between short term profit, which will have a bad result for us all and possibly a bad result for it at the next election, or some short term investment with a long term financial reward which will have the happiest of outcomes for everyone, including corporations.
Preventing the worst of climate change and creating a sustainable world for everyone, is possibly the biggest business opportunity in the history of the world. If this Government is to become financially credible, it must make climate change its top priority.