Showing posts with label President Obama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label President Obama. Show all posts

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Australia's gone cold on climate change action

"Is it just me or is it getting a bit balmy in here?"
Australia’s eastern seaboard is basking in a record-breaking stretch of warm days, two weeks out from the official start of winter. Everybody’s talking about the weather, but hardly anyone's mentioning the climate. As in - change, action, what are we doing? We’re the well-fed lobsters in the slowly boiling pot – screaming at the injustices of the budget to our hip pockets, analysing the nuances of a wink and ignorant of policy that sets out how we’ll play our part in averting a looming climate crisis (not using the term loosely).  

The budget is tough. It’s about heavy lifting, doing your bit and if you don’t, they’ll be not-so-subtle pressure applied to make sure you do – earn or learn, get a job or work for the dole, type of thing. But curiously, the one policy area where sticks would work more effectively than carrots doesn’t have any. Climate change. The Artic ice cap is melting at record levels. Local councils across the country are modelling the impact on sea rises on their coastal communities. Businesses are factoring in the impact of climate change into their strategic plans. But the Government is silent. And as a society, we’re complicit.

In his 3500-word Budget speech, Joe Hockey did not mention ‘climate’ once. In fact, he neglected to allude to any policies regarding ‘Direct Action’, the Coalition’s policy on climate change. The plan is to establish the Emissions Reductions Fund to pay big emitters to build new 5-star energy rated offices, or something. Who would know? The Government will also plant 20 million trees, which will supposedly drink in all the carbon from the atmosphere. Where are these trees going and who’s planting them? The Coalition rarely talks about its Direct Action policy, because we’ve given up holding them to account on climate change.

They’ve also appointed climate skeptic, Dick Warburton, to review Australia’s previously committed to Renewable Energy Target. I don’t mean to be skeptical about a skeptic, but I doubt he’s going to recommend we stick to the current target, let alone a higher one. “China’s making more mess!” will come the inevitable argument.

Some days it’s hard not to feel sorry for Malcolm Turnbull, the man who staked his Opposition leadership on supporting the former Rudd Government’s push for an Emissions Trading Scheme, and lost, watching the whole war on climate change be abandoned shortly afterwards. In 2010, Turnbull  told Parliament, “Climate change is the ultimate long-term problem. We have to make decisions today, bear costs today so that adverse consequences are avoided, dangerous consequences are avoided many decades into the future.”

It’s laughable to think how far away Australians now are from the idealistic, passionate commitment to climate change that existed only a few short years ago. Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd declared, “Climate change is the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.” And then the economic grim reaper – the GFC – killed off efforts to do anything other than focus on getting people out buying white goods again.

“Even Howard…” is a phrase used at the moment to compare Abbott’s performance against that of his self-reported political idol. Well, “even Howard” kicked off Australia’s climate change action in 2007 by laying the groundwork for an emissions trading scheme.

Meanwhile in the US, the Obama administration has just released a very slick, comprehensive study titled the National Climate Assessment. The President is on the road debating its findings with television weather forecasters, because despite their lack of scientific credentials, 62 per cent of Americans trust them on climate change far more than they do climate scientists.  
While Tony Abbott stands with smirking lips beside state Premiers, declaring himself the Infrastructure Prime Minister, President Obama is determined his legacy will be to finally do something meaningful about his country’s contribution to climate change.  The Australian Government is preparing to skittle the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, each of which was designed to promote, regulate and remove barriers to high polluters switching to clean energy and which were already contributing to a reduction in emissions.
Next month, the US Environment Protection Agency will launch the most dramatic anti-pollution regulation in a generation, with a sweeping crackdown on carbon. While our government throws our cash at dirty polluters hoping they’ll come up with something novel, Obama is forcing the behavioural change, because sometimes, tough love is what’s needed. Perhaps this is one of the advantages of knowing you can’t run for a third term in the US – short-sighted, politically motivated parochial interests give way to a desire to leave a legacy that will endure for generations beyond.
In his Budget speech, Hockey finished by saying, “As Australians, we must not leave our children worse off. That’s not fair. That is not our way.” He could have been talking about climate action.
But he wasn’t.
Diana Elliott.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Global climate change politics: an inconvenient truth

Polar bears. Bloody whingers.

On Sunday, Greens Leader Christine Milne called it on the ABC’s Insiders program: “In all this discussion about changing to a flexible price, no-one is talking about the impacts on the climate.” And she’s right.

Barely a month ago, President Obama gave a speech about climate change that reframed the challenge as a global, imminent concern that threatens not only our livelihood, but our life. 
It was the sort of impassioned plea that Malcolm Turnbull made in Parliament in 2010 – about preserving the planet for future generations. 

Turnbull said, “Climate change is the ultimate long-term problem. We have to make decisions today, bear costs today so that adverse consequences are avoided, dangerous consequences are avoided many decades into the future…”

That was three years ago. Australia was still reeling from the Black Saturday bushfires, where a record number of people lost their lives in a raging inferno that followed a two-month, unprecedented heatwave. In 2011, Japan shuddered from the fifth most powerful earthquake in Earth’s history, Christchurch also crumbled, and Queensland and Victoria were inundated with floods. Climate change seemed palpable. It was happening all around us and even as skeptics brushed them off as cyclical events, we shifted uneasily in our seats and wanted something to be done.

Now, America is feeling that same sense of urgency. As Obama said in his speech, the country has had its hottest year on record, the artic ice cap is melting to record levels and extreme weather events have cost the country millions.

But in Australia, we’ve become complacent. Victoria has a desalination plant that the Naphine Government has said we won’t need to draw from until at least 2016, because our dams are up to 74 per cent capacity. We whinge about the plant’s cost, forgetting how recently we would anxiously eye the ‘water storage’ calculator on billboards, watching levels plummet to below 35 per cent.

Do we even remember why we have a carbon tax/price in the first place?

Let’s recap. In 2006, Al Gore presented one of the most powerful PowerPoint presentations of all time in the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Suddenly, work that scientists had been quietly toiling away at for years became of interest to the mainstream. It was compelling stuff. We watched as the graphs soared into unchartered territory and we emerged alarmed and afraid of what we were doing to the Earth.

“DO SOMETHING!” the masses screamed. And governments did. Well, they started to. The British government released the Stern Review in October 2006, outlining the effect of climate change on the world’s economy. In Australia, John Howard kicked things off in 2007 by laying the groundwork needed to set up an emissions trading scheme, as recommended by the Shergold emissions trading task group.

Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd declared, “Climate change is the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.” He was voted in, and then no sooner was the ink dry on his signature to the Kyoto Protocol; he suddenly lost his mojo for the environment that had been so convincing earlier. A new kid had come on stage – the GFC. The message shifted to bugger the planet; we need to get people out buying plasmas again.  So the planned Emissions Trading Scheme that had been worked on for years, and which Malcolm Turnbull had fallen on his sword for in lending bipartisan support to get through, was suddenly off the table in 2010. The greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time could wait another few years (until 2013) said Rudd.

Back then, Rudd’s capitulation on climate change marked a turning point for him in the polls, and soon, the faceless men came for him, quickly installing Gillard, who went into the 2010 election declaring a carbon tax a “never-ever” under her Government. But we know how that turned out, and in fairness, a hung parliament wasn’t on the radar when she said it.

Gillard created a Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, comprising members of the rag-tag Parliament to prepare a report on ways to introduce a carbon price. The result was the Carbon Pricing Scheme introduced on 1 July 2012, which required big emitters to purchase carbon emissions permits at a fixed price for the first two years, after which time the number of available permits would be capped and the price floated in line with an emissions trading scheme. As Milne told Barrie Cassidy on Insiders, the current scheme has been vilified as a ‘tax’, “…when in fact what we legislated was an emissions trading scheme with a fixed price period.” But don't let that get in the way of a good Coalition slogan eh? #bigfatcarbontax

It was part of the Clean Energy Future Plan, which provides investment in clean technologies, support for manufacturers and farmers to reduce their environmental impact, and help for households and businesses to reduce energy consumption and switch to cleaner sources. And it’s working. Just one year in, the Clean Energy Future Report notes that carbon pollution from electricity is down 7.4%, primarily because we’re switching to cleaner sources. The report states: “…renewable energy output increased by almost 30% and the output from the seven most highly-polluting coal generators was down 14% from the same period in 2011-12.” 

That’s a pretty good result, huh? So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Rudd has announced he’ll scrap the second fixed-price year and move straight to the floating price. This means it will cost a lot less for big emitters to pollute, just as their emitting behavior was starting to change.

Tony Abbott’s been imploring me to read his Real Solutions Plan, so I had a flick through to find out what his vision is for the climate. In 50 pages, ‘climate’ is mentioned once. The ‘Real Solution’ outlined is to shut down the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), established by the Gillard Government to invest in businesses trying to get innovative clean energy proposals off the ground.  He’ll also suspend the operations of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (no need for a regulator if you’re not collecting the carbon tax anymore).

The (other) Real Solution is to implement the Direct Action Plan on climate change and carbon emissions. But there’s no detail about that whatsoever in the Real Solutions Plan, so I Googled and eventually found it on Greg Hunt’s website. Not the Coalition’s website mind you, but I digress. The plan has slightly curled leaves on the front page, which seems like a good omen, but in actual fact, the leaves represent the entire plan. 

Yes, that’s right! The Direct Action Plan is to plant 20 million trees to suck up all the extra carbon being emitted into the atmosphere! Well, that, a few incentives for old and dirty businesses to clean up their act. No sticks here, just leaves and carrots.  Oh, and here’s the kicker. Abbott will scrap the carbon tax but keep the compensation to households (so will Rudd). Bills will go down. Power usage will go up and the compo cheque’s in the mail so you can go ahead and buy that third plasma TV. Direct Action to not change behaviour. Brilliant work, Tones! No wonder Turnbull said the policy was bullshit

We’ve lost sense of what action on climate change is all about. As Obama repositions the debate from parochial concerns about jobs and rallies Americans to lead the world on creating a greener planet and industries, the political leaders of Australia appeal to our hip pockets, and back away from the hard decisions that are needed to transition industry and attitudes, work once deemed so important.
Fair-weather politics at its worst.  

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Boston marathon bombing response

"CAPTURED!!!" Boston's finest after securing the city
When I’d hear emergency services personnel responding to questions after doing heroic acts in the line of duty saying things like, “I was just doing my job” or “Any other officer in my position would have done the same”, I’d feel a bit frustrated. Why always the same trite and deferential sound bites? Why can’t they bask in the glory a little?

But it all became clear after I took in the aftermath of the Boston bombings and the now famous tweet from the Boston Police Department: 

“CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won."

Shortly afterwards, people stumbled out on the streets, eyes blinking in the blaze of flashing lights piercing the black night. They’d been holed up in their homes, glued to the TV, watching the drama unfold in 2D. Now, they gathered as the makeshift cavalcade of police cars, military vans, unmarked federal vehicles and ambulances rolled past. And in another hemisphere, we looked at the telly and felt the same sense of relief and happiness to see those people absorb what had just happened - kids in pajamas, men and women waving American flags and cheering.   

It was eerie to reflect that just days earlier, people had stood in much the same way – either side of a road, applauding the feats of other humans as they crossed a finish line. But as with the marathon after the bombing, the end point of this quest seems blurred. And the triumphant, tweeted declaration that “it’s over” “it’s done” seems apt for the battle maybe, but not the war.

As the seemingly endless procession of vehicles drove past, the early golf claps of a few gave way to a more hearty wave of jubilation and praise for the blackened windows of strangers passing by – those who had performed untold feats to deliver a victory savoured by all.

As the crowd grew more confident in showing their appreciation, so too did the recipients of their admiration. A car window wound down here and there to reveal a thumbs up, or a wave. A policeman smiling through pursed lips. And then, emboldened by the roaring cheers of the gathered masses, an ominous looking armoured black SWAT vehicle slowed in front of the TV cameras.

A faceless voice spoke through the vehicle’s PA system, “Thank you. Thank you. It was our pleasure,” it said to the escalating cheers. And then, “BPD! BPD! BPD!” for Boston Police Department. The crowd caught on pretty quickly, chanting “USA! USA! USA!” in response.

It was a uniquely American moment, as only non-Americans could understand. A brazen show of patriotism, in the shadow of an attack seemingly aimed at its heart. Some say sex is the antidote to grief, and is never more passionate than straight after a funeral. Using a similar analogy, it’s not surprising that many Americans turn to highly demonstrable nationalism at times when their way of life seems most threatened.

In the preceding hours, there was little freedom to be found as Bostonians were told to abandon work and school and lock themselves inside their homes, to be opened only to heavily armed SWAT teams. The relief that swept the city once the curfew and imminent threat were lifted was palpable and understandable.

Less so, the lack of professional humility in the wake of what had been a highly volatile and unpredictable build up. Even the usually circumspect President Obama blew on this flickering flame, inciting a modern-day incarnation of Manifest Destiny, in his post-arrest address. “One of the things that makes America the greatest nation on Earth...” he began. It was a speech designed to rally Americans feeling vulnerable in the aftermath of a horrible, illogical act, and to rouse a sense of united belief and pride in the nation’s cultural diversity.

But in the arrogant declaration of supremacy, the President – like the ill-considered Tweet and the faceless voice-over from the loudspeaker – gave the impression to the rest of the world that America just doesn’t get it sometimes. The US is our friend, ally, and first cousin. In this most poignant of moments though, America seemed like the popular kid in school, who makes a dumb, unfunny joke about another kid’s dead mother. The friends look on, shake their heads and say, “That wasn’t cool, man”.

In the supercharged atmosphere borne of adrenalin, fatigue and genuine fear that accompanies a crisis, I want my emergency personnel cool-headed. We can fall about ourselves, get drunk on New Year’s Eve and try to take a copper’s hat and kiss him, but in the end, we want that same policeman to give a reluctant smile and keep looking for trouble in the crowd behind us. I don’t want nurses to recoil when they see my injuries. I don’t want army officers to take ‘glory’ pictures of a fallen enemy. And I sure as hell don’t want police officers leading a chant of Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! after they secure our community. I want them to nod graciously at our adulation, celebrate a good day at the office in private with their colleagues and do it all again tomorrow, the same way. 

So next time I hear emergency service personnel brush off suggestions of gratitude or heroism from a thankful public, I’ll marvel at their humility and grace, as much as I stand in awe of their courage, selflessness and professionalism in doing what they do.

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