Carbon copy

To the streets, tens of thousands of students went on Friday, picketing for climate action.

We cannot wait, their common refrain. There is no time.

Meanwhile, unimpassioned, our leaders squabble still over coal.

And the deja vu sets in – the climate battles of the past two decades, hashed and rehashed, an endless circular argument as the stakes and the temperatures rise.

That it would be hard to disentangle Australia from its coal dependence shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Since colonisation, this has been a country obsessed with wringing every drop of value from the land – we farm the land, we mine it, we buy it up to build investment properties.

That our government would still be so wedded to coal, though, so long after the world’s biggest miners have shifted their gaze to other riches, seems absurd.

The mining boom is a morass for Australia’s self-image. We remain frozen in place, even as the economic and employment prospects of resources fade from view.

It belies all the insecurity of our country. The insecurity of our leaders, who have watched their colleagues fall over support for climate action and taken their bad fortunes as a warning.

So atrophied is our public discourse, Peter Dutton sparring with Ray Hadley over coal power is seen as progress. We are told this is a victory for the climate. It is not, it is the absolute bare minimum.

Still Australia’s carbon emissions rise. This week, they reached a record annual high, with small pollution savings scraped together from the electricity sector squandered by other industries.

And the government’s plan to reach our Paris climate targets is to simply carry over carbon credits from the Kyoto period. The lack of imagination is staggering.

If there is a question to be asked of our politicians, it is: Where is your sense of urgency?

We face arrant disaster, and all they have to offer is accounting trickery.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 16, 2019 as "Carbon copy".

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