Madeleine King and Anthony Albanese (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

Labor is still battling a climate change stalking horse — and now it’s tackling a straw man as well.

Former resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon — who quit the frontbench to continue chest thumping about coal — was seen by some to be bugling for a leadership change. Now new resources spokeswoman Madeleine King is stepping into the ring on behalf of dirty rocks. She says Labor supports the coal sector, and that Australia will keep exporting coal beyond 2050 — as in, the year in which Labor has pledged to reach zero net emissions.

“It is about having a more mature conversation and explaining exactly what this will involve”, she said. “We all want a renewable energy future but it will not, cannot, happen overnight.

“We need to explain that … [and] junk these climate wars. Some arguments have been turned into a sort of a zero-sum game and it all has to be action immediately. And action is urgent. I think that it’s right to say we must act, but you cannot shut down people’s lives either and shut down industries overnight. And we shouldn’t want to do it.”

It is a wicked trick Labor needs to pull. It wants to talk out both sides of its mouth on climate change. It needs to unequivocally endorse concrete goals to reduce emissions because the vast majority of Australians care about climate change. But it also needs to placate those employed by the fossil fuel industry — and the MPs who need their votes.

The best way to quell the cognitive dissonance caused by this split personality is to produce a straw man, an imaginary figure (possibly spotted in Point Piper) who wants to shut down the coal industry “overnight”.

The launch pad for this rhetorical device was former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s call for a moratorium on new coalmines. But not even he — heck, not even Extinction Rebellion — is talking about turning off the industry overnight. It’s about an orderly transition, not a revolution.

This imaginary radical who wants to pull the plug on the coal industry immediately is not the only scarecrow in the field. King also took aim at the “climate wars”, as though there are two sides honourably duking it out. It’s a flabbergasting false equivalence, not least because of the latest Australian Academy of Science report that warns of the catastrophic consequences we’re barrelling towards.

While King’s tripping over her own fancy footwork on climate change, there are signs the international mood is shifting. The United States and China (unlikely allies in many ways) have announced an agreement to fight climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands”.

With that sort of international sentiment swirling, Labor should drop the straw man arguments and make hay while the sun shines.