Editorial

Five years ago this newspaper in its editorial declared that ”the time for action is upon us”. We were referring to the challenges of climate change. The catalyst for the declaration was the Copenhagen climate summit at which much was said and little effected.

Last week the Senate in Canberra blocked the Abbott government’s attempt to repeal the carbon tax. Environment Minister Greg Hunt said after the vote failed that ”we would like the parliament to respect the will of the people”. The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, told question time on Thursday that the tax – the repealing of which the Coalition had made a central plank of its policies and election campaign – was ”an act of economic vandalism”.

That same day, the government moved legislation in the House of Representatives to kill off the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. It also is trying to kill off the independent Climate Change Authority, too. The authority last month called for an increase from 5 per cent to 19 per cent in Australia’s target of reducing emissions. The government’s plan is ”direct action” by paying polluters to make cuts, aimed at a 5 per cent reduction by 2020.

And all the while Rome burns.

Today The Sunday Age publishes details from the final draft of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The five-year assessment on the state of the world will be released on March 31, following a meeting in Japan next weekend.

The draft report’s section on Australia does not make for comfortable reading. But what it also shows is the incapacity of the political system to react beyond the election cycle. This is not a partisan defect. Power and ideology would seem to trump every time the big-picture, long-term view of a nation’s future.

The list of potential areas of impact is disturbing. As the climate changes, industries such as mining, farming and tourism will be profoundly affected, the report says. As will degradation of the environment and loss of habitat.

Increasing temperatures were a serious threat to Australia’s skiing industry with the retreat of the snow lines. At the other end of the continent the threat to the Great Barrier Reef from degradation of the coral also would have a serious impact on the $ 50 billion tourism industry. Even with emissions reductions, there would still be damage. Unchecked climate change will also result in more incidences of extreme weather such as heatwaves and flooding. Of course, with the heatwaves comes an increased risk of bushfire.

A common phrase in climate change debate is ”the tipping point”, it is the edge from which the world cannot return. Professor Jean Palutikof, one of the review’s editors, warns that there is a limit to what is possible. ”I think it is quite black and white there is a risk we will go beyond the limits of the natural environment and human society to adapt to the climate.”

How humans adapt is our strength to survival. We can move, relatively speaking and despite the political lunacy, quite fast to changing circumstances. Not so, however, other species. Climate, of course, also shapes landscape and with that the capacity to feed the world’s population and provide enough water. Global population is 7 billion and is expected to rise to 9 billion by 2050. Demand for rice, wheat and maize is predicted to rise 14 per cent each decade to that point. The report is more negative than five years ago in its assessment of climate change impact on food supply. Fifty years from then, millions of people will be affected or displaced by rising water levels.

These scenarios may seem to appear on the horizon. But, as cliched as it may sound, each day is a door to the future. Surely, our political leaders should realise this and stop shutting it in the face of future generations. The time for action is upon us.

And another thing …

One of the most contentious tenets of modern schooling is the idea that there are no losers in life. Run last in a swimming race? Dry your eyes, kid – here is a medal for giving it a go. Got every word in a spelling test wrong? Oh well, you managed to scratch a few marks on to the paper, so well done you. Such namby-pambying has been criticised for failing to prepare children for the hard realities of being a grown-up.

Well, those critics are wrong. Losing pays. As we report today, marginal-seat MPs – including bruiser independent Geoff Shaw – will be paid up to $ 70,000 for being voted out of office. The ”resettlement allowance” is paid because washed-up MPs may find it hard to get a job in the real world. Keep that in mind the next time your average child comes home with an award for being special in their own way.