That a changing climate will affect all aspects of life is not in doubt: precisely when the most serious consequences of our failure to limit carbon emissions will have an impact is still open to debate. We are seeing changes now, all over the planet. Gen Y's children will experience greater challenges, and their children will have good cause to blame their great grandparents for inaction, I suspect.
There is no big issue in the Queensland election that will not be profoundly affected by climate change, but did you hear the words during any debate or phone-in? I have listened to the ABC extensively since 12 January, on both television and radio; I have been busy on Facebook and Twitter; and I have attended an election forum and an election campaign launch. I have read journos' and lobbyists' lists of key election topics. I have, however, heard hardly any serious discussion about how on earth the political parties are going to deal with climate change.
I find that extraordinary.
It was briefly a debating point when Tony Abbott resisted leaders' requests for climate change to be on the G20 agenda in Brisbane last November. President Obama even spoke about its importance the day before the conference. (The nerve of the man; telling Queenslanders what to do.) But it faded from the spotlight just as suddenly, as Australians once again buried their heads in the sands of their glorious beaches and never gave their impending and major lifestyle changes a second thought.
So, back to the election.
If you're concerned about the state's economy and believe that its mineral wealth must be exploited and exported to raise revenue to pay off debt and increase wealth, consider this: there may currently be a huge demand for coal from China, but the Chinese government has ambitious plans for renewable and nuclear energy programmes. The world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the US and China, have overcome the geopolitical gridlock about who is responsible for a warming world and who is going to do most to fix it. China may need to import coal for a while, but it has responded well to the global climate crisis. A carbon trading system is expected by 2016. Australia's Galilee Basin coal mines, should they become a reality, may soon be stranded assets as coal and gas prices fall. Not to mention the vast quantities of water that mines use, which will exacerbate the precarious business of farming the land even more so as the climate becomes more extreme.
When looking at the pros and cons of further resource development – principally coal and coal seam gas – consider the loss of even more strategic cropping land, such as in the Darling Downs west of Brisbane, and what that will mean for food production (for home consumption or for export) as lower yields become more likely in the hotter, drier, stormier conditions on a continent that may experience even higher temperatures than other regions on earth*.
If you are worried about the state of the Great Barrier Reef, consider that, among several problems contributing to the death of corals, a warming ocean is going to require a greater effort than finding an alternative location for dredge spoil or killing off considerable numbers of star fish. In addition, corals don't like silt, and more extreme weather events in a warmer world will not only bring much more sediment down in rivers, but also churn up the shallows.
Precisely how many jobs will eventuate in the resources sector over the next decade is a hotly debated topic. Many jobs have already been lost in the solar industry as a result of the Federal government's reluctance to commit to the existing Renewable Energy Target. In Queensland, the LNP have done their best to thwart the people's desire for solar panels on their roofs. Despite slashing the feed-in tariff and threatening to remove subsidies for installation, half a million Queenslanders have gone and done it anyway. The creation of new jobs in the renewable energy industry would be considerable if it were encouraged. Community energy projects and shared schemes have enormous potential**, as does the establishment of a smart grid to enable alternative energy to be integrated for wider distribution. In farming communities, already struggling with prolonged drought and threats to their water resources, community energy projects provide alternative employment to mines that may never materialise.
Which brings us to privatisation of assets. In LNP world, loadsa money will be made by persuading private business to take on ageing, fossil-fuel-based energy generation and distribution for the duration of 99-year leases. Private companies are motivated by making profit for their stakeholders primarily, not the health of the environment or the future of the planet. How willing will they be to invest in making coal cleaner or capturing carbon? How keen will the network companies be to accommodate renewable energy generated by little people? When necessity of action replaces profit as number one priority in the coming decades, how will they fare? And will you want utility industries in private hands when handling extreme weather events and displaced people becomes commonplace?
When it comes to the cost of living, electricity prices are often close to the top of the list. Politicians of all colours prioritise the lowering, or at least the capping of electricity prices. Renewables are the key to lower prices in the longer term. People's motivation to switch to solar may as yet be mostly economic, but it's a step in the right direction towards the only option in a climatically challenged society.
So, climate change is the silent big issue in this election campaign. Hardly anyone dares speak its name. Because most voters don't want to know, and most pollies don't know what to do. Australia is increasingly out in the cold as big economies commit to climate action programmes. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of this year will be upon us before we know it. Assuming Abbott survives his unpopular period and is still PM, is he going to rise to the occasion and embrace the reality of this ominously warming planet?
Last April, I went to ask my MP, Aaron Dillaway, the LNP member for Bulimba, why climate change wasn't on a list of topics for discussion distributed throughout the constituency. He assumed I meant 'the environment', and started talking about beautifying Bulimba by planting trees. Back on topic, he struggled with the meaning of anthropogenic. I hope he's done some research since, but I doubt it. Not that it matters much, because I suspect he'll be out a job by Sunday. I hope so.
To be ill-informed about such an important and potentially catastrophic threat is indefensible.