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Don’t sacrifice workers on altar of climate change

By Jeremy Gilling, John Muscat and Rolly Smallacombe - posted Wednesday, 6 December 2006

According to a recent Climate Institute survey, 54 per cent of rural Australians believe the government should do more to reduce climate change. Let’s accept the earth is warming. The institute and its survey respondents are still grappling with an illusion - in reality the Australian Government is impotent to “reduce” climate change. Even if climate trends are influenced by human activity, Australia’s carbon emissions amount to less than one per cent of the world’s total. What Australia does has little impact one way or the other.

Environmentalists like to dramatise Australia’s role in climate change by damning our relatively high carbon emissions per capita. This means little on a global scale given our small population. Many share the spurious assumption that climatic patterns on the Australian continent are driven by local emissions. If man-made carbon build-up is affecting our climate, it is due to emissions in more populous parts of the world, particularly Europe, the United States, Japan, emerging giants like China and India, and larger developing nations like Brazil and Indonesia. It is mostly sourced in the northern hemisphere.

The notion that Australia must act now to save the planet is delusional. As we are often told, climate is an interconnected, global system.


Some estimate that if we were to shut down our coal-fired power stations these emissions would be replaced by China in under 12 months. Confronted with such realities, environmentalists insist action is necessary to join and encourage a global effort to combat the problem. In other words, Australia’s contribution is essentially symbolic and suasive. Hence they support the Kyoto Protocol.

Would things be different if Australia had signed Kyoto?

The US senate declined to ratify it, major developing nations like China and India are exempt from binding targets, and most EU members have fallen short of theirs. The EU-15 won’t even get close to achieving their target of reducing emissions by 8 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. Some argue forcefully that Kyoto is falling apart.

It is increasingly possible to be both a greenhouse-believer and a Kyoto-sceptic. In any event, Australia’s signature would have had no impact whatsoever. This is as true on a symbolic, suasive level as it is on the level of real climatic outcomes.

Following a recent spate of unseasonably hot days and bush fires, in the context of prolonged drought, Greens leader Bob Brown smugly asserted that had we listened to him, none of it would be happening. This is nonsense. But these events have induced a heightened degree of public concern, mostly of the “don’t just sit there, do something” variety.

Doing his best impersonation of a weathervane, John Howard has started squandering taxpayers’ dollars on inquiries and flashy projects.


The temptation to clutch at straws seems irresistible. Opinion polls are now showing majority support for Kyoto as a quick fix. If only it were that simple. Climate change is not a single issue but a series of complex questions: is the earth warming; how much; what is the cause; what are the consequences; can anything be done; what should be done?

Environmentalists leap blindly from the first to the last of these, without much thought for the others. Yet legitimate differences of opinion swirl around this cluster of questions.

The risk is that Green propaganda, spouted routinely by like-minded journalists, will channel public concerns towards a dangerous overreaction. Recent media coverage of the Stern Review was appalling. The ink was barely dry on Stern’s highly technical 700-page report when most commentators rushed to declare it changed everything. No need for reflection and analysis. This is of a piece with their reverential treatment of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, hailed everywhere as something akin to a fifth gospel. Whatever you call this, it isn’t journalism.

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First published in The New City, a web journal of urban and political affairs in November 2006.

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About the Authors

Jeremy Gilling is a co-editor, along with John Muscat, of The New City, a web journal of urban and political affairs.

John Muscat is a co-editor, along with Jeremy Gilling, of The New City, a web journal of urban and political affairs.

Rolly Smallacombe is a co-editor, along with Jeremy Gilling and John Muscat, of The New City, a web journal of urban and political affairs.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Jeremy Gilling
All articles by John Muscat
All articles by Rolly Smallacombe

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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