Did you see an elephant following Gillard and Abbott around the campaign trail last week? No, I’m not talking about Mark Latham. I’m talking about the Climate Elephant. Over the past 10 days, everywhere Julia and Tony have turned; the Climate Elephant was there. Its message is simple: you can’t ignore the elephant in the room — the lack of action on climate change.
It was patted by Julia in Pakenham. It confronted Tony in Colac. It got booted from the RSL in Blacktown. You couldn’t miss it on the 7pm Project, ABC News, Lateline, The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and more. The elephant is an initiative of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and while some journalists quaffed at the blatant attention-seeking tactics, they have filmed it, photographed it and tweeted at every elephant appearance. Sky News even interviewed one …
It seems strange that we had to resort to this: dressing up a volunteer in a furry animal costume and literally jumping up and down to get noticed. It’s hardly a dignified way to get attention for such a serious issue. Trust me, we did write many other serious press releases over the past month in an attempt to put climate back on the election agenda. These serious press releases were full of alarming facts such as the fact that an ice island, four times the size of Manhattan, recently broke off from Greenland. The fact that a new study shows that due to warmer water, 40% of phytoplankton (the base of the marine food chain) has died since 1950. The fact that the world has just come out of its warmest April, May and June on record.
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Interestingly, none of these “serious” press releases got picked up by the media. But the elephant did.
It really is no wonder that both major parties are so intent on ignoring the elephant and sweeping climate change under the carpet, given the unpopularity of their climate policies. Labor had two well-publicised flops in the cash for clunkers and the citizens’ assembly. But Labor says it is still committed to an emissions trading scheme, at some point, that is better than nothing — but only just.
Abbott has ruled out putting a price-tag on pollution widely recognised as the most economically efficient and prudent climate change response. Instead, the Coalition has ditched its economic reputation to announce it will introduce a public fund to provide incentives for business to reduce their pollution. Overall, both have been largely silent, making way for broadband, health and education announcements instead. The AYCC decided that we couldn’t just go silent on such an important issue. It was time to start talking about the elephant in the room — and there is a lot to talk about.
Let’s talk about the fact that both major parties have set a target of reducing pollution 5% by the year 2020 but that, with their current policies, neither party has any way of meeting that target. Recent analysis by The Climate Institute shows that under both major parties Australia’s pollution will increase. Let’s talk about the fact that even if they did meet their 5% target, that wouldn’t be nearly enough to meet our fair share of a global deal to keep temperature rise to less than 2° of global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that to have a 50/50 chance of avoiding dangerous climate change developed countries such as Australia need to reduce their emissions by between 25% and 40%. And let’s talk about the fact that 2° warming, actually might be too high, and is very likely to exceed lots of tipping points in our climate system. Many scientists now say that anything more than 1.5° would be too much warming.
Many pollsters and political analysts might tell you that climate change is a third-tier issue for most people, second-tier at best. Some will say that in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, caring about the environment comes after concern for health, education and taxes, and we can’t expect people to keep climate change front-and-centre in an election. Politicians and the media often get away with blaming the lack of interest among the community for lack of action on an issue. These excuses, however, are simply not true.
A recent poll of young people commissioned by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition showed that for two thirds of people aged 18-30, climate change is an important issue when deciding their vote. A recent Lowy poll showed that 86% of Australians still think that climate change is an issue that needs addressing. There is significant interest in the community for more climate action; it’s just not being backed by the media or our politicians. And anyway, even if there wasn’t significant interest from the community — is it not in humanity’s best interests for politicians and the media to lead?
How can the very future of the planet, the clean air we need to breathe, the water we need to drink and the ecosystems we need to sustain our food systems, be secondary issues not worthy of media coverage or policy change? This is not about an abstract environmental issue. It’s not about a political issue. This is about the basic survival of life on earth. If ever there was an issue that transcended polling, politicking and partisan-politics, surely the future of our planet should be it.
This is what the Climate Elephant is about: keeping the issue front-of-mind in an election cycle when climate seems to have dropped off the agenda. So while you might not be seeing more announcements from our politicians or leadership from journalists in these last few campaign days, you’ll be seeing a lot more of the Climate Elephant.