Political ethics

Last month I discussed ethical consumption at the personal level.  This month we move from personal to political.  As a Councillor I understood ethical civic decision-making practices; the Elected Member is not expected to be expert on all matters, professional advice is available to assist them in decision making.  What is expected is applying expert advice to determinations in the best interests of constituents, without fear or favour and free from dogma.  The implications of heeding or rejecting expert advice also requires consideration.  Sadly, at Federal level, Climate Change has not been treated in a similarly open and accountable manner.  This is not a cheap shot at our politicians, I assure you those I meet are ethical, hardworking, dedicated people, the problem is a system fostering undue influence and political dogma.  Recently the Federal coalition tore itself apart on this very issue, Malcolm Turnbull displayed the ethics I advocate, whilst Barnaby Joyce and Tony Abbott were in ‘magic pudding land’ denying Global Warming’s threat.

Let’s look at global warming denial.  The science is overwhelming, predicting a greater than 90% probability the planet is warming due to CO2-e emissions from human activity,1 but I maintain a healthy scepticism.  What if we change how we consume energy but the science is flawed and anthropogenic global warming isn’t happening?  We’d have reduced fossil fuel consumption in preference for renewable energy, allowing future generations access to fossil fuels and minerals we would otherwise have depleted, that must be a positive outcome.  Alternatively, denialists advocate no action on climate change, what if they are wrong?  The consequences are drought, famine, extreme storms, millions of displaced ‘climate refugees’ and millions dead.  It follows, ethical decision-making dictates our political leaders cannot ignore the scientific advice.

Why doesn’t Australia have policies to fulfil our Government’s modest target of 10% carbon reduction?   Labor took power with a mandate to address global warming, adopting Kyoto showed commitment, but that impetus has dried up, why?  Ian Lowe puts it succinctly;

               “…. to election funding.  The development (mining) industry is a very strong supporter of both sides of politics, they are backing both horses in a two horse race, so whoever gets in is committed to this mindless pursuit of growth, I think if we’re going have a more civilised future we have to be saying to our politicians this is not acceptable, we have to change the electoral system so that we don’t allow vested interests, who do not care a jot about the long term future of this region, they only care about short term profits.   We should not allow them to buy favours in Parliament.”2

Climate change, a unique problem, not only requires cooperation across governments, business and communities, but also intergenerational cooperation, because we (probably) won’t bear the brunt of our emissions, future generations will.   This problem also requires global cooperation; people worst affected by sea-level rises tend to be low carbon emitters; such as the Pacific islands, Nile delta and Bangladesh, according to UK Royal Society “a one metre sea level rise could flood 17 percent of Bangladesh, one of the world’s poorest countries, displacing tens of millions of people and reducing its rice-farming land by 50 percent.”3   At the other end of the scale, Australia has one of the highest per capita emissions but will fare better than most with sea level rise.

Historically big moral/equity issues were addressed.  The sewers of London were constructed to save the lives of the poorest slums dwellers dying at an alarming rate from infections like dysentery and William Wilberforce stopped the British slave trade at the expense of fortunes built upon it.  These examples demonstrate civilised societies can make political decisions on moral not fiscal imperatives.  This type of leadership is required for global warming, not the horse-trading seen at Copenhagen.

Who’s responsible for reducing atmospheric CO2e?  WE ARE because we, industrialised nations, are responsible for CO2 already in the atmosphere, without our historic emissions we wouldn’t be facing the current dilemmas.  It’s the polluter pays principle; you make the mess you clean it up.   WE ARE because despite knowing the damage we’re doing we continue to generate more CO2e per capita than anyone else.   WE ARE because we’re one of the wealthiest counties on earth and therefore have the financial capacity to invest in alternative energy sources.

Hopefully I’ve convinced YOU our country has ethical obligations to act on climate change and such action must come from our senior political leaders.

 Published in fremantle Herald 1st May 2010

1                  IPCC, February 2007

2                  ABC Radio National, Fora Radio, April 2009

3                  Greenpeace, http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/climate-change/impacts/sea_level_rise

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