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Tony Abbott's climate change policy makes me cringe


Bill McKibben

"Yee-ha!" Prime Minister Tony Abbott was presented with a Stetson and made an honorary guest of Texas when he spoke at ...

"Yee-ha!" Prime Minister Tony Abbott was presented with a Stetson and made an honorary guest of Texas when he spoke at the Asia Society in Houston last Friday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Americans who travelled abroad during the George W. Bush years have some sympathy for Australians and Canadians right now – it’s not easy being citizens of countries run by international laughing stocks. People laugh at you, then get angry: just remember Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo or referring to Australia as Austria.

Americans have a slightly easier time of it at the moment. Barack Obama is no Winston Churchill, and there’s still plenty of reason for the rest of the world to look askance (drone attacks, the NSA collecting your Gmail). But at least he’s a serious human being with a wide-ranging intellect.

Less so Tony Abbott, who is Bushian to the max. Last week he journeyed to Texas, where he gave a talk to some oilmen who awarded him a ten-gallon Stetson hat. Upon donning it he said 'yee ha'. Really.

Abbott’s only real concern is protecting Australia’s world-topping coal industry, whose expansion plans would make it utterly impossible to bring climate change under control. You would think Abbott might have noticed this – his continent is located closer than almost anyone else’s to the Antarctic, where scientists last month offered definitive proof that melting glaciers have committed the planet to an extra three metres of sea level rise. But instead Abbott’s travelling the world to try to stop international efforts to combat global warming. In Texas, he told his audience we must prevent the "ostracizing of any particular fuel", as if he were the global ambassador of coal, determined to prevent his favourite hydrocarbon from having to take a back seat to what his Treasurer recently referred to as "utterly offensive" wind turbines.

VIDEO: Houston welcomes Tony Abbott

Stephen Harper, Abbott’s Canadian counterpart, is just as dangerously single-minded. Harper’s particular joy is not coal but tar-sands oil, perhaps the only fuel source that’s just as foul. A former oil company executive, he’s turned the country’s diplomatic corps into salesmen of the dirtiest petroleum on earth, and in general treated the rest of his great nation as if it were a grubby convenience store tacked on to his Alberta gas station. It’s gotten so bad that hundreds of scientists in white lab coats marched on Ottawa recently to protest his attacks on environmental regulations and scientific monitoring.

Because Canada and Australia have mostly benign and productive histories on the international scene, it will take a while for most world citizens to catch up with their new status. But those who are paying attention know already. Last year, for instance, the staid and venerable journal Foreign Policy began its cover story on Canada noting that it was now a "reckless, rogue petrostate". Those radicals at The Economist called Harper a bully "intolerant of criticism and dissent". Australia and it’s obsessive effort to keep King Coal alive despite its key contribution to climate change is getting similar international attention with the likes of Deutsche Bank and HSBC announcing they would not invest in projects that would bring coal through the Great Barrier Reef as planned.

All of this matters mightily. These men are decades behind the science – Abbott plans to combat climate change by planting trees, which would work better if his country was not by now battling constant drought and record heat – and they’re trying to blow up international negotiations in Paris next year. Canada has already renounced its treaty commitments and Abbott promises no new commitments. That could be enough to derail any agreement. Both Canada’s tar sands and Australia’s coal would then fill the atmosphere with enough carbon that it wouldn’t matter what their successors did. This new Axis of Carbon is a great threat to all of us.

The good news is that their extremism has spawned widespread resistance in both countries. Indigenous Canadians (First Nation) and coastal residents of British Columbia have so far blocked plans for tar-sands pipelines to the Pacific. Last week a mass walk-on at the site of the largest Australian coalmine under construction at Maules Creek helped force a serious delay in the project. Financiers are starting to question their visions for the future: one multinational last month shelved plans for a $10 billion tar-sands expansion plan, and at least half the new coalmines set for Australia are currently blocked. Instead, investors are looking at countries like Germany, where one day earlier this spring the country generated 74 per cent of its power from renewable sources.

Germany is what the future looks like. The leaders of Canada and Australia – highly educated, sophisticated, and wealthy nations, not to mention some of the most spectacularly beautiful places on earth – are clinging to the past, on behalf of the fossil fuel industries that dominate their governments. Eventually (and hopefully before the planet’s physics are completely out of control) voters in these countries will realise they’re being driven off a cliff. In the meantime, perhaps they might want to pretend they’re Americans when traveling abroad.      

Author and journalist Bill McKibben is co-founder of climate change movement,


  • Unfortunately true in almost every regard. Why is the Australian Government so beholden to Big Coal? Are they such a contributor to Government coffers in tax? Don't think so, and even less when PM Tony Credlin does away with the Mining Resources Rent Tax. I didn't think they were such big contributors to the Liberals, but I could be wrong.
    The real question is why the Nationals are putting up with this course of action by Tony Credlin and Liberal Nay Sayers? The Nats have the most to lose from climate change.
    Sorry, I just don't get it. We need to get rid of Tony Credlin and get some sense back in The Lodge. Please bring back Malcolm T and the intellectual horsepower that he brings with him!!!!

    Date and time
    June 18, 2014, 3:14AM
    • Qld mining royalties 2014 are near $9 billion. There are no doubt many more taxes/fees/levies applied between mine and customer. In NSW coal freight is a major source of revenue for the state rail system. Australian governments are addicted to mining revenues.

      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 5:25AM
    • Thank you Bill.
      In my opinion, the greatest obstacle to tackling climate change is the 'Human Condition' - just people simply being people.
      This is hardly surprising.
      Unless there is a huge shift in behaviour by a huge number of people, our efforts will largely mimic Canute's futility - and be very expensive in the process.
      It will cost the world a motza to do something that may just possibly make some small kind of difference - and it will cost a Godzilla motza if we don't address this.
      Of course, there are many dimensions to this issue - I want to raise one factor that doesn't appear to loom large in most discussions.
      We aren't confronting the single most significant issue of (over) population - it appears people dare not mention its name (in particular, the supposedly concerned politicians).
      I don't understand; is it better not to offend people - than to tackle this difficult issue. Bill, if talking about climate change, perhaps you could mention this?
      The earnest amongst us want to think there is hope,
      They will do their best, not just sit there and mope.
      If we stop burning coal and recycle the lot,
      Then having nine billion people won’t mean a jot.

      Howe Synnott
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 7:18AM
    • @Mule:
      The great tragedy in all of this is that our illustrious leader knows full well that his climate change policies and his championing of coal will have calamitous outcomes on the nation he purports to lead. Australia is open for business he trumpets to all and sundry. The great pity is that it is more likely to be a closing down sale. Tony the extremely dangerous phoney will leave a legacy of the man who tore Australia down.

      Gosford NSW
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 7:29AM
    • You are looking in the wrong spot. It may not be the government coffers so much as the LNP coffers ...

      Brenda Loots
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 7:47AM
    • The Lnp are committed to destroying manufacturing (they employ too many unionists) and welfare (hopeless dole bludging leaners, nit like the govt subsidised self funded retirees that listen to Ray and Allan).
      So the only thing they got left is coal. No imagination or vision.

      Fellow bogans, your dystopian future awaits.
      Where GWB created the gfc and now 50 million in the US below the poverty line on food stamps. This is what we deserve from obeying the 80% corporate right wing media.

      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 7:52AM
    • It's akin to spruiking slavery - sure the industry could be cleaned up a bit, but the customers keep coming, we'll be rooned if it's stopped- and anyway the Bible says it's OK.

      The bible tells me so
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 8:08AM
    • Bill, anyone who has been paying attention would know that carbon pricing died at Copenhagen. There will never be a world agreement on carbon. The Chinese proved that. When push came to shove at Copenhagen the Chinese sabotaged it. Obama has given up on trying to get it through Congress. When it fails in Paris it will have nothing to do with Canada or Australia. It is all about China and America. Only blind fools would argue otherwise.

      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 8:42AM
    • Australians own the minerals (the coal) but rogue multinationals own the right to dig and ship the coal.

      That puts Australians' interests utterly at odds with our "masters", who choose the LNP as their crony government. You have read about this in futurist guesses, now it has arrived.

      We are not in a class war, but a war of exploitation, where these almost-criminal multinationals are desperately ripping money from the ground - and paying no tax - and shipping their black death overseas, all while they instruct Abbott to kill off any scientists - in fact, any knowledge except for coal explorers and bankers..

      In fact, they are instructing Abbott to build a small clique of super wealthy of overseas clients, and in Australia we become teeming masses of unemployed, imprisoned, repressed, unhealthy, pensioners and disabled, with no taxes for any infrastructure except roads and rail to the mines and ports.

      This is the world Abbott believes in.

      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 8:51AM
    • Mule -
      Mining accounts for almost 10% of GDP of Australia.
      Australia's GDP last year was $1.5t (that's Trillion not Billion)
      I don't agree with us pegging our economy to the mining industry but facts are facts. Unless you have found a spare $150billion to contribute back into the economy, the point is moot.
      If you pull that out of the economy, we won't have a humanitarian crisis in 100 years, we will have one NOW, people will be dying due to lack of money for health, we will breed an entire generation of under-educated people due to lack of money for education.
      So until someone finds a reasonable solution, it really isn't worth talking about.
      And Wind Farms don't solve the issue, yes they may help reduce carbon footprint, but they basically generate no revenue and no jobs.

      The Rock Says
      Date and time
      June 18, 2014, 8:59AM

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