Saturday, 10 January 2009

Unfair, but for the wrong reason

According to this ABC news report, incoming US President Barack Obama is singling out Australia’s coal industry for its responsibility for global warming and “destroying life on Earth”.

Counterclaims that Australia’s coal produces only a very small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions are simply unacceptable. As I have said before, the sensitivity of Australia's ecology and the limitations of its water supply outside the impossibly infertile north should demand that Australia have per capita emissions say, one twentieth those of countries like Sweden or Switzerland, which undoubtedly possess some of the least fragile environments the Earth has known in its long geological history. Yet, Australia has five times the per capita emissions of Sweden, and the difference is growing.

One reason Australia’s coal industry is singled out so much is that it admits the immense and unchallenged political power it has, as was discussed three years ago in the thirty-years-too-late Greenhouse Mafia. The car industry, which must bear some responsibility for the obscenely pro-freeway and pro-car transport policies Australia has had since the Lonie Report, seems much less open about its power. If you believe Kenneth Davidson’s claim that disgruntled outer suburban families support freeways to counter their frustration at traffic congestion, they seem still less open about it and no opinion poll I have heard goes into really deep detail about people's opinions on the transport question in order to really see whether the obscenely pro-freeway policies are what the outer suburbanites want or the product of a dictatorial road lobby. Once that question can be answered definitively, those who realise the need for a car-free Australia can escape from the trap of not knowing what strategy to take to achieve it.

Politicians and the general public abroad do have to realise that reducing Australia’s emissions to absolute zero is the essential step in preventing runaway climate change and eventually in restoring pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels. What the right steps to take in this direction are is something I think of all the time, but certainly refusing to buy food grown in Australia and trying to buy from nations with soils more suitable to cropping is one step to suggest.

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