Think of it as a hypnotist’s trick, because that’s what it is. Scott Morrison says it over and over: there is no dispute about the need to take action to reduce Australia’s emissions. No dispute. You are getting sleepy. No dispute.
In fact there is a dispute, and a serious one. By failing to do what is necessary, the government Morrison leads maintains a serious dispute with what the climate science tells us needs to be done both in Australia and internationally to avert the most dangerous risks associated with global heating.
When it comes to mitigation, Morrison’s government is in dispute with the facts.
It is in dispute with the evidence.
It is in dispute with the truth.
Day in, day out.
So despite his gritted-teeth soothing and head-patting from the podium at the National Press Club on Wednesday after a summer of calamity, there’s a dispute alright, and it’s one of the most important disputes of our time.
This dispute is about the future, and how our government shapes it on our behalf. The dispute turns on whether climate change is now all about adaptation, about adjusting and adapting to the new reality – or whether Australia, as a responsible, reformist, middle power, is still at the policy and diplomatic barricades trying to avoid the worst case scenario.
Dear prime minister. That’s a big dispute. Big with a capital B. And this is a dispute that every citizen of this country, and every citizen of the world, has a direct stake in.
Here’s one piece of advice for all you good folks who watched Morrison’s scene setter at the press club: do not consent to having your head patted.
Do not consent to the high stakes hypnotism. When the prime minister says “taking action is agreed”, do feel free to say to yourself or to anyone around you: “No, it isn’t agreed.”
If so inclined, add this: “Climate action remains contested, and it remains contested because the Coalition chose to weaponise climate change at the precise moment in history when we needed to get about solving it.”
If you feel on a roll at this point, add this: “And this political party still weaponises climate change against its opponents if it feels there’s an electoral advantage in doing so.”
Morrison told us, blithely, on Wednesday, that solving the challenge of climate change goes beyond targets and summits. It will be driven by technology, not by taxes – a convenient sort of rationalisation – as if this was all unavoidable, inexorable, a fixed set of conditions, rather than a choice, and a choice the Coalition has been at the epicentre of.
Some facts. When we had a “tax” on carbon in Australia (that wasn’t a tax, either then, or now), emissions came down, which is what the science tells us needs to happen. When the Coalition repealed that “tax” (that wasn’t a tax, then, or now), emissions crept up, which is what the science tells us is dangerous. As my colleague Adam Morton has reported countless times, national emissions peaked in 2007, the last year of the Howard government, came down each year under the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments, and have flatlined since the Coalition was elected in 2013.
Reversing that positive trajectory of abatement was a choice the Coalition made.
It wasn’t something that the universe imposed arbitrarily on the government, a bit of happenstance. It was a choice these people, including Morrison, made. Eyes wide open.
Another fact. When Australia went to the United Nations climate talks late last year and argued we should use carryover credits from the Kyoto period – an accounting fix that means Australia will promise to reduce our emissions by 26% but in practice only reduce our emissions by about half that headline number – that was a choice too. We made a choice to do less than is necessary, hurting ourselves in the long term, and making it harder to sustain any sort of global consensus for ambitious action.
These things aren’t happening because of strange, alien forces beyond our collective control. They are happening because our government is choosing to fail on climate change mitigation.
I’ll say it again because it’s important, and inexplicable, no matter how long you look at the same set of facts hoping to comprehend the incomprehensible: our government is choosing to fail, and trying to make a virtue of it.
Our government has access to the science, to the best advice available, and yet it continues to shirk the mitigation challenge. It continues to gamble with the future in the worst way imaginable.
Morrison still has time to turn this appalling behaviour around, and there are some interesting markers if you can penetrate his various maxims and misdirections. Working with the states on bilateral agreements to reduce emissions is one hint worth watching. I suspect our prime minister is still hedging his bets and refining his thoughts.
But until actions follow words, there is only one reliable measure to judge the government on. It’s record.