Saturday, September 22, 2007

Howard spins into hotter water

After ten years of being a climate sceptic, John Howard begrudgingly pronounced himself a climate change realist. But while the rhetoric has changed, Government policy hasn’t. Australia’s greenhouse pollution continues to soar as the renewables industry slowly but surely packs its bags and heads overseas. Meanwhile the coal industry continues to expand with the help of massive public subsidies.

With APEC over and the federal election looming, Howard is behind in the polls. With climate change still a hot button issue, he has a simple choice: He can either do something serious to tackle climate change and win voter confidence, or he can somehow try to take climate change off the political agenda. His trick will be to figure out how to appear to be doing the former, while actually doing the latter - and this is exactly what the Government’s $23 million climate change advertising campaign attempts to do.

Inviting individuals to ‘Be Climate Clever’, the ad urges Australians to take responsibility where the Government is not. The campaign is craftily designed to deflect attention away from the need for policy change. By embracing an increasingly concerned community, Howard is gambling that he can convince voters that they don’t need to worry about climate change; as long as they do their bit at home the Government will take care of the rest.

Without irony, the ad insists that “Together we can be Climate Clever.” It’s as if we each have equal responsibility: You, me, Mum, Cam and Pru next door, and the Howard Government - working shoulder to shoulder to solve the climate crisis. In a sense it is true. We all do need to be part of the solution. Most of us can reduce greenhouse emissions in our own homes. But in another sense, it is a sophisticated manipulation.

Howard knows that in order to really cut greenhouse pollution we need to make the big polluters pay for their environmental impact. We need a legislated emissions reduction target and we need targets and incentives for renewable energy. These are policy solutions that require political leadership. Deflecting the need for climate action back to individual households is a great ploy to delay the necessary action by at least another few years.

Don’t get me wrong, personal, voluntary action is great - but it is not sufficient. When we wanted to stop asbestos being used we just banned it – we didn’t ask people to voluntarily seek alternatives while continuing to subsidise asbestos producers. It’s far simpler to ban new coal fired power stations than it is to convince 20 million people to voluntarily buy green power. It’s easier and cheaper to simply legislate for high energy efficiency standards than it is to voluntarily change 50 million lightbulbs – one at a time. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter how many energy efficient lightbulbs you install if the Government continues to approve new coal fired power stations and coal mines. It doesn’t matter how good you are at turning off your computer if our Government continues to undermine global action on climate change and the Kyoto protocol.

While the Howard Government tries to distract us all with appeals for ‘aspirational’ targets, voluntary action, and the myth that coal can be clean, the reality is that we’re going to need more than words if we’re to avoid climate chaos.

The only really honest statement in the ad campaign is that “Climate change affects us all”. We are all in it together, and we can all be part of the solution, but the key role for individuals is to hold our Government accountable and force them to take real action. We need a legally binding target to reduce emissions by at least 30% by 2020. We need to stop building coal fired power stations and coal mines, and we need a massive investment in renewable energy. Anything else is not climate clever, it’s just more hot air.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Cheat Neutral

Having problems being faithful? Why not offset your infidelity by paying someone else to do the right thing? This very funny and biting project exposes the absurdity of carbon offsets.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Seeing through the APEC police state

It would seem that the battle lines are drawn. On one side are thousands of highly trained police with batons, tazers and a brand spanking new water canon. On the other side are the people of Sydney. Hang on a minute. Isn’t there something wrong here? In an era of anti-terrorist hype, it is all too easy for beefcake politics to trample over democracy and for the issues to be obscured by hyperbole and shows of police strength.

Quite simply, John Howard is trying to use the APEC summit to further undermine global action on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol. So of course people are going to protest. And so we should.

When the laws are unjust or are destroying our future, and when official channels continue to fail, people of conscience have a responsibility to act. We have a responsibility to take to the streets to hold our elected decision makers accountable. Whether it be your State MP that is supporting a new coal fired power station, your Federal MP who is refusing to support renewable energy, or our PM who is trying to wreck the international framework for greenhouse gas reductions.

Peaceful direct action and civil disobedience are a fundamental part of our democracy. The reason we have weekends is because of labour movement protests. Women have the vote because the Suffragettes took to the streets. The anti-slavery movement, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement all used civil disobedience to win fundamental freedoms that we now take for granted.

When your children ask you about climate change and about the future, can you honestly look them in the eye and tell them that it’ll be ok? And that you’re doing enough to protect their future?

Climate change is already resulting in more extreme weather events, displacing people from their homes, and is expected to cause massive problems of starvation, not to mention extinction. It’s time to move beyond the endless rhetoric and posturing of our political leaders. We need to massively cut greenhouse pollution and we need to start doing it now. Howard’s APEC agenda is basically to take us in the opposite direction by undermining the Kyoto process and pushing for non-binding, aspirational targets. In other words - more hot air and no action.

So amid the inevitable discussions about violence on the street, it’s important to remember the overwhelming moral imperative that is driving people to protest. And the serious violence that needs to be exposed is the violence on the people and the planet that will be unleashed if Howard succeeds in his attempt to use APEC to undermine Kyoto and climate change reaches tipping point.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

APEC - Australia Pushing Export Coal

The leaders of the 21 nations of APEC will decend upon Sydney in a matter of weeks. It would appear that Sydneysiders are greeting the meeting with an appropriate level of indifference. Our lives will be disrupted by the security, and our common sense will be assuaulted by the hyperbole that will no doubt eminate from our good Prime Minister.

The Agenda is supposed to be about driving action on climate change but, it's really about positioning in the lead up to the federal election. Greenpeace was leaked a copy of the draft declaration on climate change that is due to come out of the meeting.

The document is long on rhetoric, and short on substance. Typical for Howard, it stresses voluntary targets for greenhouse gas reduction, that can then be changed later on if they get too hard. What kind of a target is that?

It is clear that the real agenda behind Howard's posturing at APEC is to undermine the Kyoto protocol in the lead up to the second commitment period. Sure, Kyoto is highly problematic becuase it doesn't go far enough - which is why it needs to be seriously improved and tightened up - not further undermined.

Australia managed to win significant concessions in the negotiation of the first commitment period under Kyoto - which made it seem odd that we then didn't ratify it. The only obvious explanation for our continual undermining of Kyoto is that it if it is effective in driving down greenhouse pollution in other countries, it will have a big negative impact on the Australian export coal industry. In this context, APEC might well be renamed from 'Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation' to 'Australia Pushing Export Coal'.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Is nanotechnology the new creationism?

Have you ever watched a child carefully taking apart their favourite toy, only to find that they can’t for the life of them put it back together again? It’s a phenomenon that’s as old as humpty dumpty and as old as the enlightenment.

We’re remarkably good at pulling things apart. Scientists have been doing it for hundreds of years - looking at smaller and smaller pieces of our world. Every time we thought we’d found the smallest bit, it in turn was revealed to be made of ever more minute components like so many Russian dolls. But while we may have been able to take the universe apart, until now we haven’t had the first clue how to put it back together again. With the new alchemy of nanotechnology, we’re set to reverse this trend - to create what hitherto has only been able to be reduced.

Working at the nano scale, the boundaries between scientific disciplines are increasingly blurred – a phenomenon known as ‘convergence’. When we add the Bits of information technology with the Atoms of molecular manufacturing, tie them up with Neurons and cutting edge cognitive sciences, and then add Genes to throw a bit of life into the party, the whole thing’s likely to go off with a BANG! The typically lyrical, Canadian based ETC Group has labelled the convergence of these powerful technologies The Little BANG Theory.

The hyper-optimism with which nano and biotechnologies are being promoted has an almost religious zeal. Perhaps we're witnessing the birth of a new creationism?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Kimberley

When you are in the Kimberley in north west Australia, you know you are on aboriginal land. The ancient landscape puts in you in your place. It's a humbling experience.

After nearly 3 weeks of sleeping under the night sky, the tensions and stresses of our strange urban existance all seem to dissolve into nothingness. What was the point of that meeting again? And what about that new electronic gadget I was thinking of getting? Oh look, a billion stars stretching into eternity. And under my feet, a landscape that has sustained a rich civilisation for over 40, 000 years.

The experience is one of humility yet also one of potency. In less than a hundred years, a heady mix of colonisation, technology and ideology all but obliterated one of the oldest living civilisations on earth. And a bauxite mine, if approved on the Mitchell Plateau could reduce a unique and diverse ecosystem to little more than monoculture in the blink of an eye. And yet the landscape engulfs you. The birds laugh at you and the Goanna's ignore you, as your own self importance slowly blows away to swirl and settle in the red soil. More photos