In an excess of zeal, I’m planning an Australia-specific book (working title, Australia after the Apocalypse: rebuilding a livable future) which will deal with the social, cultural and economic implications of the bushfire and pandemic catastrophes. This will complement The Economic Consequences of the Pandemic which will be global in its scope, but more narrow in its focus on economic issues. Over the fold, the opening section of a chapter on the climate emergency
Among the many lessons drawn by ‘hard-headed’ observers from the 2019 election, the most important was that climate change had to be put into the ‘too hard’ basket. Our experience since then has shown this lesson to be radically mistaken.
First, the bushfire catastrophe made it obvious that catastrophic global warming is not a potential problem for future generations: it is a reality right here and now. We may be lucky for the next year or two, but apocalyptic fire seasons like that of 2019-20 are here to stay, in Australia and around the world. The most we can
Second, the scale of our necessary response to the pandemic has been massively larger than the effort needed to manage the transition to a carbon-free economy. The pandemic is (we hope) a short-term emergency while decarbonization will take several decades, but a modest commitment of resources every year involves far less disruption than a similar commitment made in a very short period.
Finally, it is time to ignore, indeed to ‘cancel’, the voices of those who, whether for financial gain or in the pursuit of a vindictive culture war, use dishonest talking points to deny the obvious reality of rising global temperatures and smear the thousands of scientists and other researchers. Most of these deniers showed their true colours in the course of the pandemic, first arguing that we should accept thousands of deaths rather than damage the economy, then turning on governments (at least those with Labor premiers) when it turned out that restrictions had been inadequate.
A program to decarbonize our economy, beginning with electricity, then moving on to heavy industry and transport will involve substantial investment and restructuring. But it will yield many benefits, including net increases in employment in the energy sector. The problem is to manage the transition fairly, protecting those currently employed in industries like coal mining, which must be phased out. This will be one of the most challenging tasks recent Australian governments have faced, but the resources required are tiny compared to those we have mobilised to fight the pandemic.