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BY ROGER HANNEY
The preliminary text of the Garnaut Report has finally started a serious conversation that Australia should have had at the turn of the century.

But rather than indicate progress in Australian politics, Ross Garnaut has highlighted how badly politicians still lag in their understanding of public will, social responsibility, economics, and fourth grade science.

The ultimate success or failure of an Australian program to tackle climate change now rests with the Rudd Government. Even in these preliminary stages, more than just properly framing the environmental and economic problems any proactive nation must now face, Garnaut has provided all the arguments needed to challenge the steadfastly misleading opposition and an irresponsibly slippery media.

To cherry pick some of the crucial nuggets that Garnaut delivered at the National Press Club (you can read the 650 page draft report in your own time):

‘Climate change is a diabolical policy problem.’

Yes! To think that it actually took an economist to tell it like it is. Just a few years ago, George Bush predicted a future where machines will hang from balloons and clean the air. This, unsurprisingly, is the Liberal Party’s end of the solution spectrum.
This ‘diabolical’ policy problem is a bigger problem than what to do with 5c on the price of petrol – which means nobody in Canberra can handle it. Malcolm Turnbull thinks he can, but he owns pictures by Bill Henson.

 ‘Delaying now is not postponing a decision, it’s making a decision.’

Hallelujah! Perhaps I wasn’t listening for the last 15 years, but did anybody ever clobber Howard et al with this simple factoid’ Science, wonderful though it can be, is limited by the fact that techniques and methods are constantly improving ‘ albeit in spite of ridiculously narrow and subjective experimental parameters. Yet somehow the deadline ‘when all the science is in’ has been tolerated from richly paid pollies and journos alike ‘ it took an economist to tell it like it is.

 ‘So why should we be early and before firm commitments by all the big emitters’ The first thing to say is that we’re not that early.’

This fact still escapes many Tim Blair supporters, and that includes most state and federal oppositions. Most European countries, many large American states, and even countries in the developing world, have left us behind in terms of preparing for new energy economies and new carbon markets. No, even if we act now, we will not be leading the pack.

‘The rapid increase in concentrations that are expected over the next several decades, and which makes action to avert dangerous climate change urgent, is primarily the result of activities in the developing countries that are becoming rich.’

The public ‘debate’ over action on climate change is more like the conversation between a parent and a screaming child who sucks buckets of cola and candy but won’t to go to the dentist. Of course the kid would rather stay home. Whichever parent says ‘we’ll go in five years then’, will win instant approval from the little brat.

Not going is not an option. What could still be an option is for the 35 developed countries responsible for 50 per cent of global greenhouse emissions to go first. And for the entire world to develop a simple carbon cap and tax, which the market imposes on the few thousand companies responsible for all fossil fuels and resultant emissions.

This would still mean that Australia has to go to the dentist. Even Brendan Nelson and George Bush know this, which is why they insist that India and China go first.

Garnaut’s discussion is lengthy and his recommendations are numerous, but at their core they are insightful, human and essential. Certain talking heads have obviously missed the point, for they argue against his call to action by saying that Australia really can’t stop climate change.

But if they had actually been paying attention, they would know that he has acknowledged this. Even with committed immediate action, the best possible outcome will be a lessening of inevitable devastation, a partial survival rate among many spectacular but uniquely fragile ecosystems, and the possibility that future generations will live in a world that’s not a lot worse than this one.

Yet some still argue for weak action later.

And until the Rudd Government brings down its preliminary policy on climate change, it remains unclear where this country is actually headed.

It might well get there in better shape were it run by fourth graders.