‘Good’ climate policy can no longer be our goal. It’s time to reach for perfect | Greg Jericho | Opinion


While listening this week to the Guardian Australia editor, Lenore Taylor, on the Full Story podcast speaking with sadness and exasperation about the past 30 years of climate change policy, I thought about good intentions and perfection.

We often hear that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. It’s one of those sayings that, when you really think about it, is just a squib.

The reality is these good intentions that are paving our way to hell are not so much good as ignorant, and quite often (such as with much of Indigenous policy) outright racist. They are really considered good only by those seeking to excuse the action in the first place.

And while good people might occasionally do wrong with actual good intentions, there is a much higher strike rate of people with bad intentions doing bad things.

That the road to hell may be paved with good intentions means we should ensure our good intentions are not ignorant or biased; and it sure as heck does not give an excuse to those with bad intent.

We certainly have seen a plethora of bad intent with respect to climate-change policy since 1990.

Similarly, you could probably fill a long list of quotes by people over the past decade or so who have suggested of climate change policy that “we should not make the perfect the enemy of the good”.

And yet rather than this suggesting we need to compromise, what it has come to mean is that we should excuse policy that is bad, because it is not perfect.

If we are so worried about the perfect being the enemy of the good, wouldn’t we at least see some evidence of someone in the major parties actually suggesting a policy that could be described as perfect?

The science of climate change tells us we need to reduce emissions and the sooner we do it the less the impact will be.

And yet rather than see any “perfect” policy with this aim, instead we get supposedly good policy accompanied with caveats – talk of the need for transitional fuels such as gas or that a coalmine is fine – hey, let’s not be perfect! (And please don’t not argue about just how good something has to be before perfect becomes its enemy).

So bad has this become that the carbon price instituted by the Gillard government is now considered some perfect policy too far beyond our political grasp.

Why are we so lacking in ambition?

And given the other side have an ambition fuelled by bad intentions, it might be worthwhile when trying to compromise to ensure negotiation starts from a position rather closer to perfect than just “good”.

Because let us be honest: the government is paving the way to climate change hell with bad intentions.

The government is replete with climate-change deniers who intend to block and retard any action to reduce emissions.

They will do this through obfuscation and outright misinformation – such as the lies about the impact of the ALP’s electric car policy during the last election, or the current lies about the bushfires.

On Wednesday, Peter Dutton told ABC’s Afternoon Briefing that “obviously, as we’ve all pointed out, we’re experiencing hotter weather, longer summers, but did the bushfires start in some of these regions because of climate change? No. It started because somebody lit a match. There are 250 people, as I understand it, or more that have been charged with arson. That’s not climate change.”

It’s also not the truth.

The prime minister has equally betrayed his bad intentions on the issue.

He told the media on Thursday that, “I’m not going to allow a confined, narrow debate when it comes to understanding what it means to live in the climate we’re going to live in. It’s not just about emissions reduction. That’s important. But it’s also about resilience and it’s also about adaptation”

His intent is clearly to actually narrow the debate by excluding as much as possible any discussion of emissions, and instead to focus on building dams as though that is some saviour for a country affected by climate change and by greater periods of drought.

Scott Morrison – and other members of his cabinet – have no good intentions when they suggest Australia is doing well by meeting and beating out Kyoto commitments.

Those commitments are frauds.

The Howard government purposefully ensured Australia alone could include land use because the Kyoto base year of 1990 involved a spectacular level of land clearing, as does 2005, the base year for our Paris agreement.

Saying we will meet and beat our targets is like bragging that you are meeting your target of drinking less beer by comparing how many glasses you drink per day now to what you drank on the day of your 21st birthday party.

Last week Morrison told the National Press Club the United States were doing great because of its increase in gas-produced electricity and that “between 2005 and 2017 US emissions fell by about 13 per cent, that’s just a click over what we have achieved, which is 12.8 per cent by the way.”

What he failed to note was those drops occurred prior to the election of Trump and its withdrawal from the Paris agreement and that it is not on target to meet what were the US’s Paris targets.

His suggestion that Australia is nearly doing just as well is also one of bad faith.

Yes, from 2005 to 2017 we reduced our emissions by 12.8%, just below that of the US, but only if we include land use. If we exclude that very dodgy measure, the US’s emissions still fell by 12%, but Australia’s actually rose by 6.2%.

We are not doing our bit, and you would only argue we are if your intention was to ensure that good policy is not merely blocked but bad policy is pushed.

There has been some talk this week about new Greens leader Adam Bandt’s call for a “Green New Deal” and whether or not Australia should adopt such a US-style political term.

To be honest I’m not all that fussed about the marketing, so long as the policy has large ambition.

We need some good intentions and we need to aim for perfection.

The challenges and forces against action on climate change are large and powerful. As the past 30 years have shown us, being content to argue for a “good” third- or fourth-best policy is no way to win this fight, and neither is allowing those with bad intentions to tell us that what they want is good.



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