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Plays for Power

Obvious signs of climate change are ignored in Australia in favour of frivolous arguments about electricity prices and political party leadership.

Despite Australia being a nation of abundant sunshine and natural resources, we have seen electricity prices soar in the past decade as a result of electricity industry deregulation made in the guise of creating a “national market”. Electricity companies, whether state-owned or private, have used the rules of the national market to price-gouge citizens and businesses to such an extent that it has now become a hot-button political issue. If recent media reports are to be believed, the Prime Minister’s job might even be at risk.

Noisy conservative members of the Liberal-National coalition have been campaigning hard within their own party and against their own leader to water-down the government’s own National Energy Guarantee (NEG) proposal. The details of the NEG are baffling, even for an astute political observer, but in essence they seek to reduce electricity prices whilst meeting Australia’s carbon emission reduction targets as agreed in Paris.

View of a power pole from the ground.
Electricity prices have been soaring in Australia over the last decade.

Fundamentally, those members on the far-right of the Coalition either reject Climate Change science entirely or are deeply skeptical about the obvious truth that is there in plain sight to see. Nationals MP Bridget McKenzie said yesterday “I am not afraid to use the ‘C’ word; coal, coal, coal” whilst former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been on record declaring that “coal is good for humanity“. This is less a campaign for lower power prices (although this presents a convenient and popular narrative) but rather a push for the conservatives to retake control of the Liberal Party.

For me, two stories this week highlighted the serious implications of a warmer climate and the need for Australia to play her part in reducing emissions.

The first story was from Sweden, where bushfires have been raging inside the arctic circle. Yes, the arctic circle. There have been occasional fires there before but never on such a scale in an environment ill-suited to such unseasonable conditions. It will likely take decades for the forest to recover from such a disaster. Sweden will also need to reconfigure its fire services which are ill-equipped to deal with such a problem in what is normally a cool climate. Records show that 2017 was the third-hottest year on record (behind 2015 and 2016) and much of the northern hemisphere has been sweltering. Deadly fires in Athens and uncharacteristic heat across Europe have also demonstrated the devastating impact of climate change on our lives.

The second story is closer to home: The entire state of New South Wales has been declared in drought. That’s right; the whole state is in drought and it’s still winter. The Commonwealth and New South Wales governments are spending big on drought relief whilst dangerous bush fires have flared in the south-east of the state near Bega. Even in Victoria, fires in Gippsland have been recorded in August, which is a very rare phenomenon.

A rational person would think that arguments about non-existent climate change would become untenable in the face of such stark and obvious weather patterns that do not fit any definition of ‘normal’ and yet these arguments continue. The Great Barrier Reef is dying, entire nations face submersion and the grass in London parks looks more like an Australian lawn in summer and yet this isn’t convincing enough for the climate denialists. What will it take before the world wakes up and does something meaningful about this?

Peter Dutton may or may not challenge for the Prime Ministership. The Australian Labor Party may or may not win the next federal election. Power prices may or may not go down (a problem easily resolved). Sometimes I think it won’t even matter if there isn’t some serious change soon.

Politicians have wasted a decade squabbling about their various beliefs in the climate science rather than listening to the experts (scientists) and then doing their jobs as politicians and legislating the changes required to take action. On these important issues, there has been a dispiriting failure of leadership in Canberra.



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