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Climate change debate

This motion seems simple, but accepting it means accepting all the consequences that flow from it. By publicly calling the science of climate change ‘crap' and then cleverly maintaining wiggle room, as the members for Flinders and Mitchell have just done-that, perhaps, any changes in temperature are not in fact human induced - the opposition condemns itself globally as a fringe group unwilling to accept the logical consequences of the argument that they have made for many years.

Those in the opposition have told us for many years that humans are a special species capable of moulding and transforming the world. Many on the conservative side of politics have told us consistently of the powers of science and of our ability to understand the basics of the atom and the elements. So why, when we have heard in the last few weeks from one of Australia's and the world's foremost climate scientists, Professor Will Steffen, that the planet was hotter this decade than in any other in recorded history and that there is now near certainty that humans are playing a significant role in contributing to this warming, do we not accept the truth of what he and the scientists are saying?

But worse than the denial of climate change itself is the denial of the need to act in line with the science.

This is not an issue with which one can play the usual kind of political negotiation. This is not an issue where we can strike a deal with nature and attempt to negotiate the laws of physics and chemistry.

The political party which accepts the science but not the need for drastic action is like the 40-a-day smoker with impending cancer who gets told by their doctor to give up and cuts down to one pack a day, thinking that is a reasonable compromise. So to pass this motion now is to accept the primary role of the science in framing the options that are available to us from here on in.

The planet does not have a finely calibrated thermostat that one can turn up and down by parts of a degree.

The better analogy is with the human body. There is a normal band of the body's core temperature within which human beings can survive. Move the body more than a small amount above normal, however, and fever, hypothermia or organ failure become appreciable risks.

Likewise, there are climate thresholds that must not be breached. For example, if we allow the planet to warm up too far we will unlock the vast carbon stores of the permafrost, driving up temperatures even further.

At Copenhagen it was agreed that we should try to stay below a two-degree guardrail to avoid appreciable risks of these extreme events. But if all the other countries of the world adopted Australia's woeful five per cent bipartisan pollution reduction targets we would be on track for a world that is on average four degrees hotter, with extreme climate events the norm and where as few as 500 million people might survive.

In the face of all of this, when we continue to expand our coalmines, coal-fired power stations and coal exports one wonders whether federal and state governments are really getting the message. We have a carbon budget that requires us to peak in our emissions within the next few years. And yet one of the first acts of the new Gillard government was the approval of new coal export contracts, and hundreds of millions of dollars of public money have been allocated for infrastructure to help export that coal.

In Queensland, we have the Wandoan coalmine and, in the Surat Basin, coal seam gas as the subject of intensive investments. In Victoria, the Brumby Labor government is opening a new coal-fired power station, HRL, which in one fell swoop will wipe out any suggested gains that might be made from the closure of a quarter of Hazelwood. As a country we are on track to overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's leading exporter of polluting energy.

If we were to take this motion seriously, we would be taking real action to end our reliance on coal. The climate emergency requires us to take strong and profound action to cut carbon pollution. That is why the Greens are working with the government to put a price on carbon. We acted swiftly, across countries and with enormous resources, when the financial system was in trouble. Let us extend to the planet the same courtesy as we have to the banks. Our future, and our children's future, depend on nothing less.




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