For Australians, the national trauma of fires burning through 18 million hectares of bushland earlier this year is raw and ongoing. But since then the US west coast and Siberia have also burned. China, Bangladesh, India and parts of Africa have suffered catastrophic flooding. Death Valley recorded possibly the highest ever temperature on Earth, at 54.4C. In February the Antarctic temperature rose above 20C for the first time. In March the Great Barrier Reef suffered its third mass bleaching in five years. In June it was 38C inside the Arctic Circle.
None of these events can be attributed entirely to global heating, but scientists are clear that their frequency and ferocity are signs of impending climate catastrophe, of irreversible destruction. What they have warned of for decades is coming to pass.
But there’s still nothing urgent about Australia’s policies on climate and energy. We persist with the great pretence that we can continue to power industry and manufacturing with our abundant fossil fuels, ambling along with plans for a “transition” at some unspecified future time.
With business rationally resistant to the government’s urging that it invest in new coal-fired power, the government has now shifted its focus to gas as a “transition” fuel. Business isn’t rushing to invest in that either, so the prime minister is threatening to use taxpayers’ money to build a power station that will lock in gas use for 30 years. He’s promising to push through the development of five huge new gas fields, including the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory, which alone contains gas reserves sufficient to power Australia for 200 years. Little wonder he is reluctant to put a date on when we might finally reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Gas, the prime minister Scott Morrison insists, is a fuel that “chose itself”. But of course it didn’t. It was chosen by a manufacturing taskforce comprising executives with strong links to the gas industry.
These choices – a gas-fired recovery, a government picking technologies, no pricing mechanism to drive private sector investment – are not what most in the business community want. That these policies are not what anyone concerned about the environment wants goes without saying.