Posts Tagged ‘History’


Liberals Part 4: Australia has a legitimate government

27 January 2013

This is the fourth part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 examine the party’s climate policies. This part debunks their allegations that the incumbent government is illegitimate.

Both sidesIllustration: Stephen Wight

There has been a persistent campaign by the conservative Coalition, led by Tony Abbott and his Liberals, assisted by most of the mainstream media, to create the perception that the incumbent Labor minority government, led by Julia Gillard, is illegitimate. Don’t get me wrong: I have a long list of disagreements with the government. But the implication it is somehow illegitimate is simply unjustified. Read the rest of this entry ?


2012: The year the world snoozed

31 December 2012

The Guardian described 2006 as “The year the world woke up” to climate change. If that’s the case then I guess 2007 was the year we rolled over and went back to sleep. Our alarm clock has continued to ring ever more loudly and clearly, but we just keep on hitting the snooze button – if we even hear the alarm at all. The events of 2012 have continued the pattern, both in Australia and around the world.


A diverse group of organizations warned there is a “carbon bubble” in global financial markets. Yawn… oh look, Novak Djokovic won the Australian Open!


Mining magnate and climate change denier Gina Rinehart tried to take over an Australian newspaper chain. Business news is so dreary… wow, congratulations to Queen Elizabeth II for reaching her Diamond Jubilee!

Australian ex-PM Kevin Rudd attempted to regain the top job and lock in a meaningless greenhouse gas emissions target. Hey, someone leaked a video of him saying the F-word!


Greenpeace exposed Australia’s plans to multiply its already-world-beating coal exports on a scale dwarfing its emissions at home, to which the government responded by passionately defending the industry. Soporific stuff… look, Clive Palmer is fighting with his soccer team!

Australia introduced a tax on coal mining profits that failed to raise any revenue. How dull… whoa, Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th international century in cricket! Read the rest of this entry ?


Doha climate talks: history

3 December 2012

Representatives are gathering in Doha, Qatar for the second week of the 18th Conference of Parties (COP18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – global climate talks to us laypeople. As the world’s highest per capita emitter, Qatar seems a strange place to hold a climate conference, but that is where it is. Here’s what you need to know about Doha.

I apologize for the length and complexity of the following. The climate talks are highly technical and difficult to understand without a large volume of background knowledge – sometimes I think governments are trying to bore their citizens into being unconcerned about climate change. But as tedious as the details can seem, ultimately they will determine the extent of future climate change, so it is important to know how they fit together.

I have split this blog post into three parts which I am publishing on the same day: this one recaps the history of the negotiations up to 2011; the second covers this year’s battlelines; and the third outlines my opinion on what should happen in Doha and why it matters. If you are broadly familiar with the background you may choose to skip or skim the first and/or second parts. I intend to post further commentary and updates over the coming days.

Fossil fuels formed from fossilized plants, so they contain carbon which has been out of circulation for millions of years. Yet humans are digging up that fossil carbon and burning it in the space of a few centuries. When you burn carbon you get carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping “greenhouse gas”. This, among other human activities, now far outweighs natural influences on climate, causing global warming which poses an urgent threat to human civilization. If we want to be sure of preserving a stable, habitable climate, avoiding tipping points, humanity must leave the vast majority of the planet’s fossil carbon in the ground. We must rapidly phase out fossil fuels to cut emissions to near-zero. The extent of future climate change will depend on decisions made in this decade.

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit resulted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to prevent “dangerous human interference with the climate”. It also established the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR): rich countries are responsible for the majority of carbon already in the atmosphere, and the per capita emissions of poor countries are relatively low. That obliges rich countries to cut emissions first and fastest, and help poor countries follow in their footsteps. Parties to the Convention have met annually since 1995. Read the rest of this entry ?


Gillard’s policy slammed by… younger Gillard

17 August 2012

Charles Berger from the Australian Conservation Foundation has unearthed a very interesting episode in our Prime Minister’s past. In 1999, then-backbencher Julia Gillard criticized the Howard government for trying to delegate to the state government its decision-making power on a proposed toxic waste dump in her electorate:

I rise to speak to this legislation because in my electorate environmental issues are pivotal. My electorate contains within its bounds both internationally protected wetlands, specifically the Port Phillip Bay western shoreline site, which is protected under the Ramsar Convention, and hazardous industries including, most notably, the petrochemical industry. Under this bill, there is nothing to stop—indeed this bill is predicated on allowing—the hand back of approval and assessment processes on issues like internationally protected Ramsar wetlands to the states.

Yet 13 years later, Gillard has promised business lobby groups her government will hand back approval and assessment processes on environmental issues to the states. Business wants all federal environmental protection powers abolished. Read the rest of this entry ?


Yes, the Greens do compromise

10 July 2012

Representatives of the Australian Labor Party have repeatedly accused the Australian Greens of being unwilling to compromise. Though this is obviously a self-serving argument designed to shore up Labor’s own support, it is so blatantly false that I felt compelled to set the record straight.

In negotiations with the Gillard Labor Government over climate policy, the Greens made the following compromises (and this list is probably not exhaustive):

  • The carbon price initially proposed by the Greens in January 2010 was a compromise, beginning as a fixed price of $23/tonne (an inadequate price based on a 550 ppm target) to break the deadlock until agreement could be reached on emissions targets.
  • The Greens guaranteed supply and confidence to the Gillard Government in exchange for initiating negotiations on climate policy.
  • The Greens agreed to not only tolerate, but guarantee in law for at least five years, Labor’s ridiculous compensation package, where the highest-polluting trade-exposed industries will get 94.5% of their pollution permits for free, diluting the $23 price to $1.27.
  • The Greens agreed to give free permits to coal power plants, with the only condition being that they continue to operate, effectively locking in their existence for years.
  • The Greens agreed to allow Australia’s emissions targets to be met by international offsets.
  • The Greens agreed to completely exclude transport from climate policy.
  • The Greens have accepted a Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will not be additional to existing policies, which will spend money on fossil fuels and fossil/renewable hybrid technologies, and may be too risk-averse.
  • The best that can be said about the final policies is they are flexible (in contrast to Labor’s original policy, which would have locked in failure), but that flexibility goes both ways.
  • The Greens’ presentation of the agreed policies has made them sound better than they are. Read the rest of this entry ?

It’s time to stop saying yes

5 June 2012

This is the first in a series of posts about the Australian climate movement.

The Australian climate change action movement (which I will call the “climate movement”) has, in recent years, made an error of strategy. In the hope of winning a victory, however small, activists have become extremely pragmatic and “politically realistic”. This culminated in 2011 in the various environmental groups uniting under the lowest-common-denominator message “Say yes to a price on pollution”. We need to be much more assertive.

Global warming is not just another issue; it is an urgent threat to human civilization. Carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuel burning is its main cause. The extent of climate impacts centuries and millennia from now will be determined by decisions taken in the near future. To avoid passing tipping points for dangerous climate change, humanity must reduce atmospheric CO2 from 392 to ~350 ppm. CO2 in the atmosphere is like radioactive waste: much of it hangs around for a very long time. So to reduce its concentration everybody needs to cut emissions to zero or near-zero as soon as possible. That means we cannot afford to burn most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves; humanity needs to rapidly phase out fossil fuels. If we begin in 2013, we must cut global fossil fuel emissions by 6%/year, and the longer we delay, the steeper the required rate will become. The central solution is to switch to 100% renewable energy. Bear all this in mind over the coming series of posts discussing the politics of climate change.

I’ll begin by going over the history of the current Labor government’s climate policy, for context about how we got to the present situation. Read the rest of this entry ?


Titanic and Global Warming

15 April 2012

After the RMS Titanic’s collision with an iceberg a century ago today, the passengers did not believe the ocean liner would sink. The ship was so gargantuan and stably designed it showed few outward signs of being in imminent danger, and took 2 hours and 40 minutes to sink. But sink it did. The Earth’s climate is rather like the Titanic: an enormous beast that is deceptively stable and slow to respond to disturbances.

(Source: Wikipedia.)

The parallels between global warming and the Titanic disaster begin before the collision, with the failure to heed iceberg warnings. If you’ll forgive me for quoting Wikipedia:

The North Atlantic liners prioritised time-keeping above all other considerations, sticking rigidly to a schedule that would guarantee their arrival at an advertised time. They were constantly driven at close to their full speed, treating hazard warnings as advisories rather than calls to action. It was widely believed that ice posed little risk […] Titanic‘s future captain, Edward Smith, declared in an interview that he could not “imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Read the rest of this entry ?