Satirical Picture: of Tony Abbott, ... as Labor storms to poll lead over Coalition, SMH here
A friend who is a wildlife expert once told me the story of how, while driving in the North West of the state, he saw a car swerve across to the opposite side of the road to deliberately hit an echidna. Why would someone do that? I asked, shocked. To prove that they can, he said.
Much of the destruction that the human race wreaks upon the natural world is unconscious, almost accidental in nature, a by-product of the ever expanding material civilisation most of us live in. Our housing and our food, our clothing and technology and internet shopping and travel all come at a cost; not just the dollar cost we pay for them in this man-made structure we call the ‘economy’, but the cost to the planet, it’s ecosystems and wild places, and the millions of other species with whom we share the Earth.
When we buy a packet of biscuits at the supermarket we don’t think of all the inputs from the natural world that went into making it – the bushland that was cleared to grow the wheat and sugar, the petroleum to make the fertilizers and drive the farm machinery and transport the raw materials and make the plastic packaging, the palm oil that was likely grown on land that used to be Indonesian old growth tropical forest and orang-utan habitat. We don’t think of these things not because we are bad people, or because we don’t care about forests and orangutans, but because to drill down into the consequences of every single aspect of modern consumer life would, quite literally, drive us nuts.
That’s the unconscious kind of environmental destruction, and anyone who lives in a Western consumer society participates in it to some extent whether they want to or not.
In contrast to this ‘accidental’ type of environmental destruction I’ve described there’s another type that, far from being unconscious, is deliberate and full of intent, and disturbingly, we’re seeing more and more of it at the highest levels of government in this country. I’ll give you two examples, at both federal and state levels.
The federal government’s determination to repeal the carbon tax in Australia repudiates every scientific, economic and policy expert consensus in this country and the world. It is a fact that carbon emissions from burning fuels are heating the planet and if we continue on our current trajectory, the scientific evidence tells us our children and grandchildren will have to deal with increasingly devastating impacts of dangerous climate change within their lifetimes. It is a fact that most economic and policy experts who have worked on the vexed issue of how to reduce carbon emissions say that putting a price on carbon is critical to changing our course and avoiding dangerous climate change (defined as anything over a 2 degree Celsius increase - we have burned through nearly half of this buffer already).
Australia, under the previous Labor/Green government, had already done this hard work of putting a price on carbon, and at the same time used some of the proceeds of that carbon price to fund expansion of renewables and also educate the public about the causes and effects of climate change via the Climate Commission. Now the Coalition under Abbott are moving to repeal the carbon tax, shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and have already disbanded the Climate Commission (1).
This week, the rest of the world gathered at the UN talks on climate in Warsaw this week, at which the Philippines delegate gave an incredibly moving speech on the impacts of climate change challenging anyone still denying the reality of climate change to visit his devastated country. However Australian Environment minister Greg Hunt wasn’t there to hear it. He was sitting in Parliament to help push through the repeal of the carbon tax. In the face of the scientific evidence on climate change, and the clear worldwide momentum to take urgent action on reducing carbon emissions, the Coalition have made it clear that not only will they refuse to take meaningful action on climate change, but with their goal to increase coal exports they will go out of their way to exacerbate Australia’s contribution to it. Like the driver going out of his way to kill an innocent animal, the Coalition, presumably with the support of the unthinking Australians who voted them into power, continue to assert their right to screw up the Earth’s climate as much as they damn well please if it means a bit more money or power for a select few vested interests in the meantime.
On the state level, we see this same kind of thinking with the Liberals’ forest policy. One of Will Hodgman’s key pledges going into the forthcoming election is to increase logging in Tasmania’s native forests. In concert with the Coalition government, which has promised to reverse the World Heritage status of 120,000 hectares of forest(2), the state Liberals have promised to open that World Heritage classified area to logging. No country has ever sought to do this before, this is an unprecedented action. World Heritage listings are typically highly valued as they not only confer honour on a country but provide tangible economic benefits through increased tourism. No environmental asset achieves its place on the World Heritage list without going through an incredibly stringent and drawn out process to prove its environmental values are worthy of that status. To seek to deliberately destroy those values, as Hodgman with the support of Greg Hunt seeks to do, is to actively want to destroy an area that has been considered by the highest environmental assessment authority in the world as being of irreplaceable value. What kind of mentality would seek to do that? Like Abbott with the carbon tax, like the driver swerving to ensure he kills the echidna, Hodgman and the Tasmanian Liberals are going out of their way to ensure the destruction of places of unquestionable ecological value.
The obvious question when faced with this kind of thinking is the same as the one I asked my friend: why? Unlike the busy shopper who doesn’t think to connect their morning tea treat with the destruction of the last remaining orang-utan populations, conservatives like Abbott and Hodgman don’t have the excuse of not knowing the consequences of their actions.
As Prime Minister of the country, Abbott can call on the best and brightest expertise of the country. And if he bothered to ask all those eminent scientists, economists, and policy makers, they would tell him, as they have told previous governments, that pricing carbon doesn’t only make sense environmentally, it is also crucial economically to transition Australia into the forthcoming clean energy revolution. They would also tell him that his alternate Direct Action program is a dud and will do little more than waste billions’ of taxpayers’ money.
Tasmanian Liberal opposition leader Will Hodgman knows perfectly well that the forestry peace agreement that ended decades of conflict in this state over logging in native forests had the support of most industry, government, and environmental stakeholders, yet he has referred to it consistently as the ‘disastrous jobs-destroying forestry peace deal’. Now he wants to reverse it and open up World Heritage listed forest for logging. Given that world markets have already made it clear they will not accept forestry products from Tasmanian native forests, does he really think that the global market will be interested in timber products from areas that have had their World Heritage values trashed?
Yes, Abbott, Hodgman, and their respective parties know exactly what they’re doing. The environmental costs of removing the price of carbon and increasing coal exports, of de-listing a World Heritage listed old growth forest so it can be logged, are not hidden or unconscious. These acts are overt, deliberate, legislative one-fingered salutes to the members of the public and environmentalists who continue to express the view that driving the Earth’s climate to unliveable temperatures and destroying irreplaceable heritage wilderness would not be humanity’s smartest move.
And it’s here that we come to the real reason why the state and federal Liberals (who have lurched so far to the extreme right they make founder Robert Menzies look like a radical pinko leftie) are so determined to act like environmental vandals on issues like climate change and logging in native forests. It’s not really about the environment; both the state and federal Liberals profess to care for that. It’s not about jobs or the economy; native forestry in Tasmania has cost the state billions in taxpayers money, it’s economically disastrous. Ditto ramping up coal exports while ditching renewables at a time when governments all over the world are moving towards stronger global carbon emissions targets. And it’s not about what’s morally right, because to trash our grandkid’s climate future just so Clive and Gina can make a few more billions on their bottom line over the next few years is ethically reprehensible, as is wiping out world class ancient forest ecosystems that have been in existence for tens of thousands of years.
No, this isn’t about facts or logic or what’s right. It’s about ideology, a deeply entrenched world view that unquestioningly links human progress and civilisation with a failed model of trying to run infinite economic growth on a finite planet. It’s about a mentality that privileges a tiny fraction of the global population who have become unimaginably rich and powerful by exploiting for their own short-term gain the wealth of the Earth that belongs to all of us.
And most importantly it’s about principle – not a moral or ethical principle, but the principle of human entitlement, power and ownership over the natural world. Because, as this twisted world view posits, if humans have the power to destroy nature, it therefore follows that they have the right to do so. God gave man dominion over all the creatures that creep, crawl and fly over the Earth, and by God if man wants to destroy those creatures and even his own planetary home it’s his privilege and don’t anyone dare try to stop him while he does it.
There’s a reason why the actions of Abbott and Hunt and Hodgman look like a giant ‘eff you’ to anyone who cares about the kind of planet we pass on to future generations. We’re not mistaken, we haven’t misread the signs. The contempt they exude for the environment and the people who care about it is intentional, as deliberate as a car swerving to ensure the death of a harmless wild creature. They’ll burn our kids’ climate, they’ll trash our kids’ wild places, and they’ll call it victory. And unless we all wake up very soon, our descendants will be paying the cost of this false‘victory’ for a long, long time to come.
1) Now relaunched through community funding as the Climate Council
Miriam Moriarty is a Tasmanian writer with a focus on environmental and social issues