Tony Abbott has described the Australian National University’s decision to divest its stocks in fossil fuels as “stupid”. It has all the nuance of describing climate science as “absolute crap”. Or war deaths as “shit” happening. Or various peoples of the Middle East as “baddies”.
The treasurer, Joe Hockey, described the university as being “removed from the reality of what is helping to drive the Australian economy and create more employment”. To be certain this was about elites and intellectuals as much as it was about the environment, he added: “Sometimes the view looks different from the lofty rooms of a university.”
Then there was the assistant infrastructure minister, Jamie Briggs: “a disgrace … taking green activism to a new level where it is damaging Australian companies and potentially job creation in the country.”
And the South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill: “very strange”. And Queensland resources minister Andrew Cripps: “narrow-minded and irresponsible”.
The university’s decision to offload stock was one of ethics. Its holdings in Newcrest Mining, Iluka Resources, Independence Group, Sandfire Resources, Oil Search, Santos and Sirius Resources represent about 1 per cent of its investments. Its portfolio will not be damaged by the sell-off and nor will the stock market.
But the government’s response has been extraordinary. This is the government of the $100 lamb roast and the Whyalla “ghost town”, the government that threatened the carbon tax would “wipe” entire towns from the map. It is a government with an almost cosmic objection to action on climate change.
No prime minister before has so poisoned a debate of global significance as Tony Abbott has poisoned the debate on climate change.
Having dismantled a viable mechanism for emissions reduction, Abbott has set about cynically killing the renewables sector. The uncertainty his government has created over investment and targets – uncertainly created very deliberately – has seen a 70 per cent drop in spending on renewable energy projects in the past year. Since Abbott has been in government, Australia has slipped from 11th to 31st on the global table of renewable investment. Myanmar and Algeria perform better.
There is no sense in this, just as there was no sense in bullying the ANU. But this is not about sense. It is about ideology. It is about cheap domestic politics at the expense of global realities.
The ANU has acted responsibly because this government will not. What debt Abbott owes to the fossil fuel sector, at the expense of the country he was elected to lead, we may never properly understand. At the very least, however, we must condemn it and act to correct it.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 18, 2014 as "But I divest".
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