Australia’s climate wars were always stupid. Now they’ve got even dumber | Katharine Murphy

Australia’s climate wars were always stupid. Now they’ve got even dumber | Katharine Murphy

Given Australian politics has transited back to climate change, stupid isn’t really a shock. Stupid is the default.

But even though stupid is to be expected – and stupid always gets supercharged when the Coalition fuses its climate change “debates” with internal leadership tension – I’m still gobsmacked that somehow, over the past 72 hours, we have managed to move to somewhere even dumber. Let me explain what I mean by this.

In the past, the climate action wreckers nestled comfortably at the heart of Australia’s political system have spent years conducting hyperbolic post-truth seminars at taxpayer expense about various policy mechanisms required to reduce greenhouse emissions – policy mechanisms that were floated, worked up bureaucratically, and legislated.

Fully fleshed out mechanisms. Carbon pricing. A national energy guarantee. Real things.

But over the past few days, we’ve broken new ground.

Now, the same self-appointed Luddites of the low emissions revolution, folks with elbows sharper than wits, are posturing hyperbolically about policy mechanisms that, wait for it, [narrator whispers] don’t actually exist.

Wreckers have replaced ranting about something with ranting about nothing.

Given this all might sound implausible to anyone still in possession of their sanity, allow me to step you through the past 72 hours.

Michael McCormack, the federal Nationals leader, opened the batting during a television interview on Sunday when he (sort of) advocated carving out agriculture from the government’s non-existent mechanism to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

We’ll get back to the non-existent mechanism shortly, but first we need to complete the roll call. Given McCormack had taken a hapless swing at a shadow, the Nationals’ interminable leadership soap opera then cranked into gear.

Joyce and Canavan Bush Lawyers turned up on cue to one-up McCormack. Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce thought they might cross the floor against net zero.

Stirring stuff. A volley of verbs in a wind tunnel of nothingness.

In case you’ve missed the trigger for Flamboyant Incoherence: the Musical (also known as the meltdown within the Nationals), Scott Morrison has been warming up to the idea that the government (might) do something to possibly nudge Australia in the direction of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 – as long as technology magics this transition and not a terrible tax that no one is advocating.

Morrison’s frequent tyre kicking and market testing on net zero is promising for those of us who dare to hope. But substantively, the government’s position has not changed.

Let me repeat that: nothing, zip, zero has changed. There is no concrete commitment, no mechanism, no nothing.

Even if Morrison were to replace his musing with a concrete undertaking to sign up to net zero tomorrow, and was prepared to back that with a legislated commitment, it’s entirely unclear how Australia would get there.

This begs obvious questions. Agriculture should be exempted from … what exactly? Exempted from the technology roadmap the Nationals welcomed? Exempted from a nominal, highly caveated, possible mid-century target that Morrison hasn’t committed to adopting, and hasn’t even begun to talk about legislating?

Are people now proposing to cross the floor to oppose periodic prime ministerial emissions of what Tony Abbott was fond of calling colourless, odourless, weightless gas?

Are they crossing the floor against Morrison’s feeling that he might do something? Will we see the first floor cross against a prime ministerial feeling recorded in Hansard?

Is McCormack proposing an emotional carve-out for agriculture: a carve out you feel in your gut? I can see the advertisements now. “I feel like farmers should be out of this thing. Whatever it is. Don’t mind me, I just occupy the second highest office in the land. I’m Michael McCormack, thanks for listening. The end.”

I suppose there is a slim chance these characters are actually on to something.

Perhaps all this hostile warbling has uncovered Morrison’s secret plan to do something (rather than talk about doing something in order to establish whether he can get away with some action without ending up like Malcolm Turnbull).

Perhaps Morrison hasn’t been flying kites.

Perhaps a mid-century white paper with targets, trajectories, mechanisms and enforceable regulations is going to fall, fully formed, out of a cupboard in the prime minister’s office within days. Dare to dream.

But while we are busy dreaming, and hoping that one day what passes for a debate about climate action in this country can be something other than recurrent cycles of post-truth hell, trapped outside this circus are the people the Nationals claim to represent – people trying to make a living on the land.

Regional communities are increasingly embracing regenerative farming and sustainability as a matter of self-preservation. Some days, they must wonder whether or not there are any truth-tellers left in public life.

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