Sometimes when under pressure Kim Beazley succumbs to a bout of unintentional candour:
I’ll tell you something else, too, because sometimes our opponents kid themselves on this. I did spend last week in Queensland trying to sell the policy we put forward on climate change, which was a very good policy indeed and I wasn’t getting this issue of our dispute raised at any point. But every time I boarded a plane and talked to the Qantas workers, all they wanted to talk to me about was our promise to tear up the Industrial Relations Act and the bottom line is, the Australian public moves to a very different agenda from yourself and from many of those who comment on politics.
Bomber forgot to mention that they move to a very different agenda from his own too. After all, Beazley so far this year hasn’t asked a single parliamentary question about Howard’s IR reform. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the Porcine Pollie that the reason his climate change “blueprint” sank almost without trace might have been because it actually wasn’t “very good” at all. There was certainly the odd latte left blogger or old left op-ed pundit who could be counted on to write a laudatory phrase here and there, but that doesn’t make it a “very good” policy unless you’re a beleaguered political leader desperate to grasp any flimsy branch offering even momentary comfort.
In fairness, there were certainly a few positive aspects to Beazley’s climate change “blueprint” . A commitment to raising Australia’s mandated target for renewable energy from Howard’s miserable 2% to “more than” the ALP’s previous commitment to 5% will certainly be welcomed by the solar panel and wind power industries, and maybe even anyone with ambitions to develop tidal power (given that most of Australia’s northern coastline has huge tidal variation and abundant shallow waters ideally suited to tidal power). The negative aspect even here, however, is that Beazley lacks the ticker to tell us exactly what his proposed target will be, presumably for fear that Howard will get the Treasury beancounters onto it and scare the crap out of voters before Bomber has a chance to “cut through” with his dazzling talent for memorable circumlocution.
I suppose one might even welcome Beazley’s assertion that Labor in government will adopt a greenhouse gas emission target of 60% reduction by 2050. Although that depends on whether he intends mandating real reduction targets during the next political cycle. If not, it’s just empty political rhetoric, even worse than “no Australian child will live in poverty by 1990”. If Bomber really does intend real targets, it would be nice to know how he plans to achieve them given that there are currently no viable technologies (e.g. carbon sequestration) that would allow CO2 emitting industries to reduce their emissions. What about a 200% tax deduction for R & D expenditure on greenhouse-reducing technologies, to encourage the development of real alternatives? No wait, we can’t give the Treasury beancounters a glimmer of opportunity can we? Far better to release meaningless policies that sink without trace.
As for Beazley’s “commitment” to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, apart from being old ALP policy anyway, Kyoto is at best a largely symbolic start to real anti-global warming policies and at worst an empty exercise in feel-good tokenism, in that it doesn’t bind any of the countries expected to be the source of future increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
But the real cop-out at the centre of Beazley’s blueprint is summarised by Australian scientist Tim Flannery who, unlike Beazley, doesn’t lack ticker:
Dr Flannery’s stay in Britain fired him with optimism that governments and citizens were serious about fighting warming.
Then he read that the Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, had followed the Prime Minister, John Howard, in announcing that energy from coal was Australia’s future. “It’s like they’re in a totally different space,” he said of Australia’s leaders. “When you travel the world you realise that position cannot be sustained.”
This is the message he wants to bring home: Australia is disconnected from much of the world on climate change. …
“Our planet blazes into the night sky with frightening brilliance,” he said, describing how, from his plane seat, he had looked down at the vast cities of Asia and Europe with their lights on, hungry to consume power.
But Dr Flannery is a pragmatist. Asked whether he thought nuclear power was part of the solution, he said it was “inevitable, indeed desirable” that China and India use nuclear power for energy.
There was a murmur of displeasure in the crowd. The Blair Government is considering expanding its nuclear program, but the plan is contentious. Wind and solar power were the answer, Attenborough declared. People applauded, but Dr Flannery did not back down.
“I am not suggesting that nuclear power is at all problem-free,” he said. Coal-burning was so devastating that hard decisions had to be made.
Yet Dr Flannery believes strongly that although Australia should sell uranium, it should not go nuclear itself. Because of its reserves of gas, geo-thermal power, sun and wind, he doesn’t think it needs to.
Precisely, and about time someone credible said it. And yet Beazley’s “blueprint” unequivocally rules out the nuclear option, in yet another tickerless grovel to the ALP factions and Bob Brown. Does any greenie or social democrat seriously believe that China or India will (or even should) halt their remarkable economic growth because of a long-term concern about global warming, when no-one can say anything precise about its likely size, speed or distribution? China and India, as the world’s two most populous nations, are almost single-handedly driving down global poverty and inequality indices. Is that a dreadful thing? Should it be stopped? Are the chances of China or India actually agreeing to do so any greater than somewhere between Buckley’s and zero? Even British PM Tony Blair agrees:
“The truth is no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem.”
So how the hell do we tackle global warming seriously (assuming one actually believes it’s a real and serious problem, as I do) in light of those political realities? I reckon Flannery is dead right. We have to find a way to safely facilitate China and India’s increasing reliance on nuclear power, because the only current baseline power alternative is coal or oil. But the trouble is that the nuclear option at best gives us a 20 year breathing space unless we’re willing to embrace fast breeder reactors (which can fuel almost unlimited greenhouse gas-free energy almost indefinitely). But that in turn inevitably also means embracing reprocessing, whose products include the plutonium that goes into nuclear weapons.
But does that mean we’re doomed to Hobson’s Choice: unavoidable major global warming or nuclear armageddon? At least the global Satan George W. Bush is aware of the problem and proposes a solution, unlike the supine Beazley. That’s what Bush’s recent deal with India over nuclear energy was all about. And the Bush administration is even grappling with the reprocessing conundrum:
The Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, announced by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, Samuel Bodman, on February 6, 2006, is a plan to form an international partnership to see spent nuclear fuel reprocessed in a way that renders the plutonium in it usable for nuclear fuel but not for nuclear weapons.
I’m certainly not suggesting that the nuclear option is unproblematic either. But, like Tim Flannery, I really don’t see any other viable option. Nuclear is currently the only game in town. Feel free to disagree, but try to come up with rational arguments not just warm inner glow shibboleths.