Tony Abbott intends to trash Australia on behalf of the super-rich.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 5th September 2013
His views have changed, but don’t expect Tony Abbott to acknowledge this, let alone apologise to Australians for misleading them. In 2009 he maintained that manmade climate change is “absolute crap”. Now he says “I think that climate change is real, humanity makes a contribution.” But he has merely switched from denying global warming to denying the need to act on it.
Abbott is following a familiar script, the 4 Ds of climate change inaction, promoted by fossil fuel lovers the world over. Deny, then defer, then delay, then despair.
His Direct Action programme for reducing emissions is incapable of delivering the cuts it promises, absurdly underfunded and surrounded by a swarm of unanswered questions. Were it to become big enough to meet its promises, it would be far more expensive than a comparable carbon trading scheme, which Mr Abbott has falsely claimed would incur “almost unimaginable” costs. But it won’t be big enough, because he refuses to set aside the money it requires. Direct Action is a programme designed to create a semblance of policy, in the certain knowledge that it will fail to achieve its objectives.
Why? The answer’s in the name. Coalition policies begin with Coal: getting it out of the ground, moving it through the ports, stripping away the regulations that prevent mining companies from wrecking the natural beauty of Australia – and from trashing the benign climate on which we all depend. The mining boom in the world’s biggest coal exporter has funded a new, harsher politics.
Like the tar sands in Canada, coal has changed the character of the nation, brutalising and degrading public life. It has funded a vicious campaign of mud-slinging against those who argue for the careful use of resources, for peace and quiet and beauty and the health of the living planet. Australia, like Nigeria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, suffers from a resource curse.
To those four Ds you can add an R: retreat. Like Canada, Australia is slipping back down the development ladder, switching from secondary and tertiary industries towards primary resource extraction. Note Abbott’s disparagement of what he calls a “restaurant-led economy” in Tasmania, and his intention to replace it with the businesses that preceded it: logging and pulping, mining and unregulated fishing. A 21st-Century nation is returning to a 19th-Century economy. It makes no financial sense, but mining and logging corporations are more powerful lobbyists that restauranteurs and eco-tourism companies.
That R also makes the difference between coal and coral. If, as we can expect, Tony Abbott allows a massive expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point, which means the dredging and dumping of 3 million cubic metres of material inside the Great Barrier Reef marine park, it would threaten coral, dugongs, turtles, dolphins and much of the rest of the reef’s profusion of life. If it happens, it will be a simple declaration that nothing – not even the Great Barrier Reef, on which so much of Australia’s image and revenue depends – will be allowed to stand in the way of extraction and destruction.
Abbott will dump coal onto the bonfire of environmental protection lit by some of the state governments. He intends to cut what he calls “green tape” – the rules that protect humankind’s common heritage from greed and selfishness – and withdraw the federal powers that are often the last line of defence against state governments captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate.
None of this is to suggest that Labor has distinguished itself on these issues. The announcements of the past few weeks look like a last minute scramble to help voters forget its record of vacillation and cowardice. Labor’s failure to protect the natural world ensures that Abbott’s philistinism is harder to contest. As usual, it’s only the Greens who have consistently been advocating responsibility and statesmanship.
It’s been bad enough under Gillard and Rudd. If Tony Abbott is elected, the natural wonders that distinguish this nation will gradually be rubbed away until it looks like anywhere else: a degraded landscape and seascape, supporting just a few generic exotic species.
The country will be run exclusively for the class to which Gina Reinhardt, Clive Palmer and Ivan Glasenberg belong: the one per cent of the One Per Cent. Forget the pious rhetoric and nationalistic bombast. Abbott’s policies are really about removing the social and environmental protections enjoyed by all Australians, to allow the filthy rich to become richer – and filthier.
Promoting extractive industries is seen by politicians as a proper, manly pursuit, even if it makes no sense.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 20th August 2013
It’s not about jobs. It’s not about securing energy supplies. It’s not even about the money. The government’s enthusiasm for fracking arises from something it shares with politicians the world over: a macho fixation with extractive industries.
Compare the treatment of shale gas to the alternatives. Another source of the same product (methane) is biogas, produced by household waste, sewage and farm manure. The great majority is untapped. Capturing it is easy, uncontroversial and probably a lot more profitable than shale gas. According to the government, its exploitation could generate 35,000 jobs and £3bn a year(1).
But this requires changes to the way waste is handled, and in this respect and others the government has been unhelpful. While it has set up a special office to support the fracking industry, while the Chancellor has announced a tax regime he calls “the most generous for shale in the world”(2), biogas is left unmentioned and unburnt. Who wants to make speeches about sewage, when you can stride manfully around drilling rigs in a hard hat and a yellow jacket?
Or compare fracking to wind power. The government is introducing a special veto for local people to prevent the construction of wind turbines. Downing Street explains it as follows: “The prime minister feels that it is very important that local voters are taken into account when it comes to windfarms and that is why new legislation will be brought forward, so that if people don’t want windfarms in their local areas they will be able to stop them.”(3)
Strangely, he does not feel it is important for their views on drilling rigs to be taken into account. The government’s new planning guidance makes these developments almost impossible to refuse. Planners judging fracking applications are forbidden to consider alternatives to oil and gas(4). There will be “no standard minimum separation distance”, which means that a fracking rig could be erected right next to your house. And they “should give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy”(5). If local voters don’t like it, they can go to hell.
Wind turbines, unpopular as they sometimes are, are less intrusive than fracking operations, with their constant truck movements, their noise and dust, the gas flares lighting up the night sky, the hard standing required, the possibility, if well casings are fractured by the earth tremors fracking can cause, of contaminating the water supply(6). Wind turbines are built on high ground, far from most houses, but no such constraint applies to the distribution of fracking rigs.
And compare the government’s help for fracking companies with its attempts to conserve the gas over whose supply it claims to fret. Poorly financed, poorly promoted, lacking political commitment, its Green Deal has so far been a shadow of the schemes it has replaced.
The prime minister bullshits fluently in defence of the fracking companies. Last week he maintained that “fracking has real potential to drive energy bills down”(7). Rubbish. The government’s projection for gas prices sees them rising (with wobbles) from 61 pence per therm in 2012 to 72 pence in 2018, where, it predicts, they will stay until 2030(8). Even the major fracking company here, Cuadrilla, admits that the impact of shale gas on energy bills will be “basically insignificant”(9).
Cameron claimed “I would never sanction something that might ruin our landscapes and scenery. Shale gas pads are relatively small – about the size of a cricket pitch … The huge benefits of shale gas outweigh any very minor change to the landscape.”(10) What he omitted is that if shale gas is to provide a significant portion of our energy, thousands of these rigs will need to be built. One estimate suggests that replacing current North Sea gas production with fracking on land would require between 10,000 and 20,000 wells(11). Does he have any idea of what that will look like?
All those neoliberal mantras about backing off and letting the market decide have been gleefully abandoned. When they discuss renewable energy, ministers repeatedly warn that they should not pick winners. But they promote shale gas with the enthusiasm of Soviet central planners.
Wherever there are resources to be extracted, you can see this testeria at work. When large areas of sea are declared “no take zones”, closed to commercial fishing, fish populations recover so swiftly that within a few years the spillover into surrounding waters more than compensates for the fishing area lost: the total catch rises, perhaps forever. But the government now refuses to exclude fishing boats from anywhere, except the 0.01% of our territorial waters already declared off-limits(12). Every square metre of seabed must be scrubbed clean, even if it results in lower catches and the slow collapse of the fishing industry.
Extracting resources, like war, is the real deal: what politicians seem to consider a proper, manly pursuit. Conserving energy or using gas from waste or sustaining fish stocks are treated as the concerns of sissies and hippies: even if, in hard economic terms, they make more sense.
So we miss part of the story when we imagine it’s just about the money. It’s true that industrial lobbying often defeats a rational assessment of our options, especially, perhaps, when Lynton Crosby has the prime minister’s ear(13). But cultural and psychological factors can be just as important. Supporting shale gas rather than the alternatives means strutting around with a stiff back and jutting jaw, meeting real men who do real, dirty things, shaking hands and slapping backs, talking about barrels and therms and rigs and wells and pipelines. It’s about these weird, detached, calculating, soft-skinned people becoming, for a while, one of the boys.
Extraction is an ideology, gendered and gendering, pursued independently of economic purpose. As Cameron says, without shale gas “we could lose ground in the tough global race.”(14) It doesn’t matter whether the race is worth running. It doesn’t matter that it’s a race towards mutually assured destruction, through manmade climate change. The point is that it’s tough and a race. And that’s all a politician needs to feel like a man.