This government is not even pretending to act on climate change any more | Greg Jericho

Grogonomics

This government is not even pretending to act on climate change any more

Greg Jericho
Greg Jericho

We have gone from at least trying to look like aiming to reduce emissions to apparently deciding to do nothing

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) poses for photographs with Australian Energy Minister Angus Taylor after a swearing-in ceremony at Government House in Canberra, August 28, 2018.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) and energy minister Angus Taylor at Government House in Canberra. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

With the appointment of Angus Taylor as minister for energy, Scott Morrison has clearly signalled that he has no care about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So utterly bereft of reason on the issue and so completely consumed by climate change denial the government is now at the point where even the pretence of doing something to reduce emissions is viewed with distrust.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly I have a degree of sympathy for members of the public who are climate change deniers. I have this sympathy because I was once one of them.

I don’t mean I was a climate change denier in the sense of believing it all was some gigantic hoax perpetrated by the deep state and the UN. I mean denying in the sense of doing my level best to deny it was happening.

Because it scared the bejeezus out of me.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s when I was finishing high school and studying at university I was of course well aware of climate change. As a politically engaged, super-serious youth who listened to Midnight Oil and U2 and read every newspaper and news magazine I could afford, I was across all the news about the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

And it didn’t sound good.

So subconsciously I wanted to ignore it. I would read articles spelling out the dire future ahead and would spend the rest of the day in a depressed funk, because the problem with facing up to the reality of climate change is to face up to the fact that your life thus far has played a role. Your preference for driving a car, the aerosol sprays you used, the food you consumed, or heck, the generation of the electricity you depend upon had all contributed to producing greenhouse gases.

It brought with it a level of guilt my 18-year-old self could do without, and even worse, a fear of having to change my lifestyle that I didn’t want to face.

And so I would hold on to anything that would suggest it was not so bad. I would cling to those who suggested that each individual couldn’t really make much of a difference (so I can keep those lights switched on). I would inwardly cheer when a friend would (wrongly) suggest he’d read that it was all due to natural factors and things would balance out; or when another would (wrongly) say he’d heard that ironically the hole in the ozone layer apparently cancelled out the impact of global warming, or yet another who would (also wrongly) assert that the changes would in reality be so small that we wouldn’t notice it.

And if all else failed I just sighed and thought, well, the impact was likely to happen only by around 2050 or so, and in 1990 to an 18-year-old that meant there was ample time and opportunity for something to get done. Surely a fix would occur – we always end up finding a fix.

And yet ... and yet. I knew I was burying my head in the sand. I was not so much denying the science as wanting to deny reality. The more I read the less able I was to do so. But even now I still get a faint glimmer of hope when I read some dumb article suggesting some research has found evidence that it’s all fine.

Because I don’t want climate change to be a real thing. I would love it to all be a hoax.

But it is not.

And so I understand why people choose to believe those who say climate change is not the issue, that the issue is power prices and thus we need to fire up the coal furnaces.

Denial is a very easy way out of guilt that your lifestyle is leaving your children and grandchildren an awful legacy. Denial is a good way to throw away concerns that you might have to actually wear a cost – either through lifestyle changes or monetary loss.

It is a scary thing to hear talk of the impacts of climate change and the suggestions that it might be too late to do anything. It is so much easier to live in denial, especially when you have charlatans in the media and politics who have seen this fear and have sought to profit from it.

So I have some sympathy for those who feel overwhelmed by it all.

But I have none for those in the media and politics who seek to profit from this fear.

There is no excuse for those trying to lull people into believing it is all a great scam, that there is nothing to worry about, or no need for concern, or that little can or should be done.

According to Nasa, of the 1,663 months since January 1880, the top 100 for temperature anomaly have all occurred since 1990, and every month since December 2014 is in the top 100.

2018 is on track to be the third-hottest year behind 2016 and 2017; fourth is 2015.

It is real, it is happening, it is getting worse and we need to act.

And yet this week Taylor gave a speech that made zero mention of wind power – the main renewable energy in Australia – and in which he declared he wasn’t sceptical of climate change, just of subsidies for renewable energy, the Gillard government’s emissions trading scheme and of “excessive renewable energy targets.” This is despite that fact that renewable energy not only reduces our emissions, it also provides cheaper electricity.

It’s a bit like the health minister saying she is not an anti-vaxxer, she is just sceptical of the merits of the National Immunisation Program.

But don’t worry, it’s unlikely the Morrison government will withdraw from the Paris agreement, because, why bother? It just won’t do anything to actually ensure our emissions targets are achieved. Rather than risk offending those lunatics in his party who would rather destroy a prime ministership than have a policy with even a slight reference to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Morrison appears to have decided to do nothing.

The costs of responding to climate change increase, the longer it is put off by those whose wilful ignorance sees them continue to proffer policy based on the premise that climate change is fake.

We have gone from a government under Malcolm Turnbull that at least tried to look like it was aiming to reduce emissions (even if it wasn’t) to one under Scott Morrison that is making no pretence about the fact it is beholden to the charlatans in the party who want to scam votes by lying about the facts of climate change.

And a political party that refuses to act on climate change is not fit to govern.

Greg Jericho is a Guardian Australia columnist