Monday 24 May 2010

A globe warmed by Annabel and Tony, chilled by Ross, Tim, Clive and Bill

Annabel Crabb's session with Tony Abbott at the Sydney Writers' Festival was a great missed opportunity.

I could easily have exited the Sydney Writer’s Festival last weekend thinking there were two planets - one inhabited by people who seem to spend their lives obsessed by the threat of climate change. And another inhabited  by those who remain blithely unconvinced that the the world two decades from now will look substantially different from how it does today.

On Friday, I joined a packed session at the Town Hall where Bill McKibben, Tim Flannery, Ross Garnaut and Clive Hamilton gave a grim but measured update both on the state of global warming and on the national shame that is this country’s approach to it.

On Sunday I heard Annabel Crabb conduct an all too cosy fireside chat (minus fireside) with Tony Abbott. It felt more like she was interviewing a curious, cuddly, blokey Hollywood star than a prime ministerial candidate. Lost was a rare opportunity for an  interrogation of Abbott’s political heart - and his views beyond the immediate political horizon. It was wet and cold outside and Crabb chose to make it warm and cosy inside. Didn’t want to stretch Tony. No asking him about the medium and longer term challenges facing the country. No questions on which credible scientific organisations were informing his views on climate change? Or how he might ready Australia for an era of surging Chinese global influence? No probing on the real moral basis of Abbott’s asylum seeker campaigns either.

Yes, I wanted to see Abbott challenged. And I would have expected that and more of a session with Rudd. But he wasn’t.

I didn’t need Annabel and Tony to make me feel warm. And I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know.

But that wasn’t the case at the global warming session on Friday. I was a little embarrassed by the number of things I heard that night that I had not previously heard. And while Annabel and Tony’s session may have generated enough warmth to raise the climate, there was a distinct chill in the air at the global warming session.

Yes, I did know that we were the worst per capita emitter on the planet (something we still don’t hear often enough). I was also aware that our carbon habit has excesses of both abuse and distribution.

I wasn’t aware however that our gross emissions rank not near as far behind much larger European nations like Italy and the United Kingdom as you might expect. I was also surprised, encouraged and shamed by the news that China, Indonesia and other developing countries, are adopting ambitious measures to curb emissions. Ross Garnaut described Australia as a global "laggard" on climate change.

No, Australians are not lesser moral beings. These countries have simply worked out what the future looks like and decided they need to embrace it. Australia’s unique addiction to carbon abuse and distribution and the powerful lobby behind that addiction still determines our policy.

Bill McKibben pointed out that so called global warming scepticism is confined mainly to Australia and the United States. It is a vanquished force in the most other nations. Yes, Lord Monckton continues his campaign but enjoys more enthusiasm in Australia than at home. Britain’s new coalition government with its distinctly Tory tinge is committed to strong climate action he said.

Pity Annabel missed Ross, Clive, Bill and Tim. It was a moving session. It did lack that high emissions energy that Annabel and Tony had. A good thing too. Australia’s record is bad enough.

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