Craig Reucassel races to catch the attention of the PM, hauling his own carbon pollution behind him. Image: ABC's The Fight for Planet A; Our Climate Challenge

News from the Front Desk, Issue 494: Who says satire is dead?

Possibly the most entertaining of all comedians are those who can beautifully satirise the antics of our droll politicians. But it turns out the pollies are doing a great job all on their own.

Stony faced they warned farmers this week not to set targets for zero greenhouse gas emissions “without a plan”.

The occasion was the National Farmers Federation proclaiming they wanted a net zero emissions target by 2050. Now this is the crowd that represents the deep and meaningful lodestones of the national psyche, the backbone of the nation. And the dedicated supporters of the Coalition.

The rebuff to the NFF came after discussions with a wide set of stakeholders and an almost unanimous decision. The only dissenters were those who wanted to set a zero emissions target in 2030.

And after the agricultural ministers of the land met a year ago and decided to create a workplan to meet the demands of climate change.

And after most farmers started to see for themselves that previously once-in-100-years weather events are now happening twice yearly.

But no, no, no, the government scolded these farming leaders: no targets without a plan.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud criticised the NFF for “blindly setting a course” for net zero without a strategy, which he said risked “serious implications not just on farmers but the entire nation”.

(No mention of what he’s got in mind as a plan for the entire nation when we hit peak climate change, probably this summer or the one after that, because last summer, well that was nothing unusual, right?)

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reductions Angus Taylor chimed in (shame his ministry is not called ministry for fossil fuel energy and maximum emissions because at least we’d be clear about his true intentions and we’d know why his resting face always manages to suggest he’s having a private joke at our expense).

Echoing his boss Scott Morrison, Taylor told SBS News, “The government has been clear: we won’t set a target without a plan.”

Tell that to the people at GPT or Mirvac or Investa and the rest of their peers who put their targets out in full public view, no idea how to get there, but promise they will work it out as they go.

They too don’t know how much it will cost to meet those targets. And they have boards to answer to on a quarterly basis, unlike the government that only has to be held to account once in three years.

It goes like this: you set a target then you scramble like mad to get there. The plan is just the set of variables that need to be negotiated in a rapidly changing environment, and now economy, in order to meet the target. Generally, this is called life.

Turns out that the potential for public humiliation of failure is a great motivator. GPT even tightened its targets further the other day, promising to bring the emissions in its portfolio of managed buildings down to zero by the 2024, instead of 2030. This at a time when all the property players are going through the belt tightening pain of the pandemic. Now watch the other major players pull out even more stops to peg GPT back a bit.

The strength of interest and vigour in our Flick the Switch event on 5 August might have been a tad surprising but what we learnt was that people were enthused precisely because they don’t know how to get to the targets they’ve set… and their necks are on the line.

But our pollies revere their necks particular well (probably thinking of the French royalty during the time of revolution who were no doubt equally fond of that part of their anatomy).

They want us to think they are careful managers and don’t want to risk failure by not setting a target. That’s like saying let’s not do an audit of the accounts in case the accounts are found wanting.

Don’t look don’t see. Never mind that the catch holding up the guillotine over all of us is already loosened, climatically speaking.

Other people get it. They’ve set targets and we bet they don’t have much of a plan either yet: Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and some of the big miners.

Careful with some of these big wigs though who are jumping on the bandwagon of goodness and light – the potential for satire here (verging on disgust) is stunning.

For example, Rio Tinto states on its website: “Our ambition is to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Our 2030 targets are to reduce our emissions intensity by 30 per cent and our absolute emissions by 15 per cent (or approximately 4.8mt CO2e).”

But then goes about blowing up a massive chunk of our human history at Juukan Gorge in order to reach $135 million of iron ore.

Much of that iron ore is probably destined for the built environment, by the way. But wherever it ends us, wouldn’t it be good if we could stick a bar code on it as it makes its way through the supply chain so that no one with a skerrick of conscience will touch it with a barge pole? This sort of technology holds so much promise.

In a similar vein was the most entertaining piece in the AFR recently, shining a piercing arc lamp on the sheer nerve of former Dow Chemical chief executive Andrew Liveris who recently co-authored a heartfelt cry to clean up the oceans of plastic waste.

“We are seeing the environment bear the collateral damage of increasing plastic waste,” went the OpEd, quoting a recent study in the journal Science, that “the world is on track to triple plastic waste flowing into the ocean in just two decades”.

And not for a minute in his tirade mentioning that Dow Chemical where he worked for 14 years as chief executive, was the world’s largest manufacturer of plastic, the AFR piece went.

Liveris, all the while serving as a current director of Saudi Aramco, “the world’s largest oil producer, and while calling for Australia to unlock (read: extract and burn) its subterranean sea of natural gas.”

And in yet another comic moment, more slapstick than satire, was the unseemly spectacle of PM Scott Morrison in civvies at the beach scrambling away in the soft sand as fast as can go. He was desperate it seems to avoid comedian Craig Reucassel bearing his own carbon emissions in balloons on his back for an episode of the ABC program, The Fight for Planet A; Our Climate Challenge.

The PM beats a hasty retreat. Image: ABC’s The Fight for Planet A; Our Climate Challenge

For embarrassment and cringeworthiness it rivals the bushfires handshake fiasco. Not a good look.

Poor PM: he was saved by the whack-a-mole minders also cleverly disguised in civvies and we’re sure we saw him rubbing his neck with relief as he got away.

But without a decent target and without a plan, well, Morrison’s hasty exit from public accountability was understandable. His comments early in the year is that he won’t set a target until he can “look Australians in the eye” and tell them exactly how much it will cost.

Admirable. But no. What he’s not telling us is how much the cost of peak climate change will be. Like we’re not going to see the scale of last summer’s bushfires again for another 100 years?

Ummm, there’s an out of control bushfire that just started in northern NSW.

 

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  1. Much as the plastic waste issue is real and important, it is also cunningly being used as a smoke screen by the federal government to show to the concerned amongst their constituents that they do “care about the environment”. I hope everyone sees through this,

  2. Yes, now the bushfire season is starting in August, when it is still snowing further south in the same State, but the Coal-ition is still in collective denial.