Monday, 3 December 2007

Ethics, accuracy and Ziggy Switkowski

Ziggy Switkowski penned this piece for the Age. In it Ziggy asks a lot more questions then he tries to answer and in so doing, puts forth a passive argument for Australia's technology development and export in lieu of working to decrease domestic emissions linked to climate change. He also uses a very poor analogy - population increase - to frame his argument. Sure population increase is a significant challenge in many countries. But it is principally a local problem. It is sometimes difficult to find the linkage between overpopulation in sub-Saharan Africa and life on an Australian beach. However according to the climate experts, it is nearly impossible to break the link between the world's coal plants and bleaching coral in the Whitsundays, increasing Australian farm failures and ever tightening water restrictions.

This argument, that Australia could help the most through high-profile technology development, may be 'technically correct' - any country that cracks the code for clean-coal technology will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on global emissions. Ditto for any other cheap, no/low emissions form of energy production. But the global confidence in this is not high as indicated by the lack of its projected deployment in the recent World Energy Outlook report. Ziggy also repeats a somewhat common argument about Australia's small population and relatively small emissions [which aren't really 'that' small - only 6 countries on the planet crank out more CO2 from electricity production]. But is this argument - and the actions/in-actions associated with it 'right'? Is it moral? Is it ethical? Is it sustainable?

As I have said repeatedly, I believe the clear answer is a certain and obvious - NO. How can we expect other countries [big or small] to take actions, pay costs, endure risks, make sacrifices that we, Australia, will not? As it stands, we are the international poster-society for good living through low cost, high emissions based power. For those seeking our lifestyle, why would they consider any tactics other than our own?

Furthermore, Australia has motivation beyond occupancy of the moral and ethical high-ground to lead the effort to reduce emissions. Unlike many of the other top emitters [such as USA, China, Russia, India, Japan, and Germany] Australia is already seeing the effects of climate change and, according to many, the situation only stands to get worse. In this case, as in most others, leadership means going first, assuming the point and motivating through courage, action and achievement.

At the moment, I think this crown can not be claimed by Australia, but rather California in the USA. Arnold et. Co. have committed to attain 1990 emission levels by 2020 and further reduce them by a staggering 80% [of 1990 levels] by 2050 [ref UN 2007 Human Development Report, Table 3.1, pg 114 and box 3.1, pg 116].

Australia must make a difference globally - and this means driving the herd.

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