Labor’s climate denial, and lies

In a profile of new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek in the current issue of The Monthly, journalist Chloe Hooper at one point suggests that some parts of Labor still don’t really understand the environment as an issue. Well no, they don’t, and it has been plain for some time that they don’t really get the climate emergency, the pre-eminent environment issue. [Pictured: Madeline King, Resources Minister.]

Bill Shorten is supposed to have lost the 2019 election in Queensland, but a fuller interpretation is that he lost it because of Labor’s incoherence and hypocrisy. Shorten was against coal mining when he was campaigning in Victoria, and for it when he was in Queensland. He took to the election a proposal to spend a billion dollars of public money on a pipeline to bring fracked gas from the Northern Territory to the east coast.

Resources Minister Madeleine King has just announced the opening of vast swathes of our sea floor to oil and gas exploration. This is clearly against the advice of the International Energy Agency that there should be no more fossil fuel extraction projects approved after 2021 if we are to have any hope of keeping global warming below 1.5°C.

It also undermines fellow Minister Plibersek’s work to clean up our environment and the work of Chris Bowen, Minister for Climate Change and Energy, to promote a transition to clean energy.

As Adam Moreton notes in Guardian Australia, Labor is sending mixed messages, and some of it sounds like climate denial.

Labor clearly is in climate denial. You cannot promote huge fossil fuel extraction projects if you understand the climate is critically close to tipping into unstoppable runaway. Or perhaps it is already tipping, for all we know.

The IEA also says all public subsidies of fossil fuels should cease and we should phase out the burning of fossil fuels as rapidly as possible. 2050 is far too late, 2035 is a plausible goal. Australia spends more than $10 billion per year on fossil fuel subsidies, and Labor shows no sign of stopping that. We, the Australian public, are paying extra to trash the planet faster.

The reasons given by Minister King for approving more exploration are straight from the fossil fuel lobby’s propaganda. She claimed the new exploration areas would help to secure future energy supplies. But anything extracted from them would be a decade or more away, by which time the world needs to have greatly reduced fossil fuel burning.

Natural gas in eastern Australia is expensive and in short supply, but that is for the simple reason that our Government let the companies export most of it. Much the quickest short-term fix is to require the companies to divert a proportion into the domestic market, as Western Australia was sensible enough to do. WA’s gas is plentiful and cheap. So the bit about securing future energy supplies is nonsense.

King also claimed the petroleum sector is vital to the economy. At the moment that is true, because we need the fuel, but it is rapidly changing and renewables and storage will take over the ‘vital’ role. During the transition available supplies will be ample.

Fossil fuels contribute little to the Australian economy. The extraction companies are mostly foreign-owned and they pay little in royalties and taxes. The employment they provide is only a few percent of the workforce, and renewable energy and energy efficiency will provide much more employment.

King announced the week before that she had approved two marine areas for so-called Carbon Capture and Storage projects. This was clearly meant to be a sweetener for the coming announcement of exploration areas, giving an impression that the carbon would not end up in the atmosphere. CCS of the technological kind is greenwashing. Only minuscule amounts have been captured, and only a small fraction of emissions are ever likely to be captured, at great expense.

There is in any case a far better way of capturing carbon, and that is to grow plants: in polycultural crops and forests. We may well need that to pull ourselves back over the brink, but it requires a major shift away from industrial monocultures, which Labor is showing no signs of promoting.

King made the tired old claim that gas is needed as a transition fuel, but renewables plus storage are rapidly overtaking that role (and could do so more quickly if governments weren’t so distracted by the fossil lobby). The claim is based on the fact that gas produces a little less carbon dioxide than coal when it is burnt, but it is being found that there are a lot of fugitive emissions around gas extraction and anyway burning gas still produces far to much greenhouse gas.

Continuing to supply coal and gas to the world merely keeps the prices down and feeds the addiction.

The Prime Minister says Labor will let the market decide when fossil fuel exports should cease, but fossil fuel companies’ chief business model is buying governments and telling them the world still needs fossil fuels. Contrary to the prevailing free-market ideology, big companies are not agile, always adapting to changing situations, they fiercely and desperately protect their present business model from any change.

Adam Moreton notes that in WA links between the fossil fuel industry and the State Government ‘run deep’. We need to name that as the corruption that it is.

Many commentators commonly tread softly around these issues, possibly intimidated by political interference or legal threat. They normalise the inexcusable. We need to speak more plainly.

The industry’s claims, parroted by King, are lies. They are either clearly untrue or so misleading as to induce quite false impressions.

Industry ‘links’ to governments are commonly corruption in action – secretive and involving donations to parties. Scott Ludlum is correct to say the Coalition Government was captured by the fossil fuel industry (among others). Labor is also on a tight fossil fuel leash. It is corrupt. It is in climate denial.

The ‘climate wars’ will not be over until we have a government willing to be independent of the fossil fuel industry and face up to our dire situation.

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