Climate change and our “practical” government

30 Mar

The past 24 hours and more have seen whole forests felled in the production of stories about climate change, with much on the electronic media as well. Perhaps the most sensible person I saw/heard was Dr Tony Haymet, former Chief of Marine and Atmospheric Science at CSIRO, now director of the prestigious Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Vice Chancellor of Marine Sciences at the University of California on last night’s 7.30 Report:

KERRY O’BRIEN: As a close observer of how the science and the politics are finally coming together on climate change, how optimistic are you that the politicians now, that governments, are going to come up with a satisfactory end game?

TONY HAYMET: I’m very optimistic at the moment. I’m very encouraged by what’s happened in the last 18 months in Australia, in the United States, particularly in Europe. Recently we’ve been trying to think through, what is the climate end game? I think most observers would say it’s got to be the biggest emitter, the United States, and the fastest-growing emitter, China, coming together and making a compact that they can feel both comfortable with. I think we feel that if that happened then Europe and India would easily be accommodated into that framework. I think that then invites the question, what’s Australia’s role? We’re two per cent of the problem, we’re two per cent of the innovation system. I think there’s a chance that Australia could be the honest broker in that dialogue. I think both the US and China have great respect for Australia’s leaders and I hope that we can play a positive role there.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Do we have the credentials to be an honest broker on climate change?

TONY HAYMET: I think we have the climate scientists and, until recently, we’ve always been part of the United Nations, things like the United Nations’ Convention on the Law of the Sea. 30 years worth of Australian environment, a lot of hidden and unsung hard work by Australia’s diplomats to bring about that international convention. I think our stance in Kyoto hasn’t helped our credentials. But Kyoto’s coming to an end. We’re all looking to the post Kyoto environment, and I think that could be a bipartisan discussion between China and the United States and the question is, what can we do to help that along?

KERRY O’BRIEN: Does it bother you as a scientist that some will see your presence at a climate summit organised by the Labor Party as aligning you politically with one side of politics which could diminish your impact as a scientist in what remains a highly emotive and contentious field?

TONY HAYMET: Well, one of my friends said, “If the Prime Minister calls me I’ll show up at a climate summit from him too.” If any political party in Australia invites me, I’ll be there to try and present the science that Scripps Institution of Oceanography has collected over the last 104 years. We’re in a highly politicised environment. It’s true that scientists do much better in a non politicised environment. We’re much more comfortable trying to solve the CFC problem that led to the ozone hole in a bipartisan or non partisan way. Unfortunately, this climate issue has been seized upon by some parties and it’s become highly politicised. We still have to get the science out, we have to get the truth out. We have to try and explain probabilities and what’s happening to our oceans, what’s happening to our ice sheets. So I’m available for every venue to try and make the case.

There was also a robust sparring match between Tony Jones and Federal Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Lateline.

The mantras de jour from the government are “knee-jerk”, “practical”, “pragmatic” and, with reference to Kevin Rudd, “inexperienced”. The invasion of Iraq was of course neither “knee-jerk” nor the result of any inexperience on the part of George Bush, and was presumably “practical” and “pragmatic”…

The sooner Kevin Rudd is in a position to become “experienced” the better, so long as his “experience” is not like that of the PM, which is essentially to have made up one’s mind about most things some decades ago and to grimly pursue that line no matter what. Let’s hope our “practical” climate change strategies are somewhat more effectual than “practical reconciliation” proved to be.

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Posted by on March 30, 2007 in Aussie interest, Current affairs, Kevin Rudd, News and Current Affairs, Politics, Pontification and raving



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