Fierce debate on climate change has raged for weeks, becoming more hysterical by the day. But how did we really get to this point?

There is a wry old saying in the bush: The worst time to talk about drought is in the middle of a drought.

In other words, the time to talk about drought is when there is no drought – that's when you need to plan for it, prepare for it and mitigate against it. That's when cool heads prevail, when money is most efficiently spent and when resources are most effectively deployed.

But of course, it is human nature to bask in the good times and blow a gasket in the bad.


By the time the crisis hits, it is too late.

Crowds flooded the street, signs and face masks in hand. Photo / News Corp Australia
Crowds flooded the street, signs and face masks in hand. Photo / News Corp Australia

A perverse proof of this wise old truth has come to pass in recent weeks, as Australia's largest city has become cloaked in an apocalyptic smoke. The prevailing theme is that now, as fires rage uncontrollably and homes and lives are under threat, is the time to talk about climate change. In fact, precisely the opposite is true.

Now is the time to deploy as many emergency services as possible to save those homes and lives. Talking or even acting on climate change will do nothing to ease the threat against those currently in the most imminent danger.

It's a bit like a World War I soldier trying to bayonet Germans in the trenches while the bloke beside him sits on a sandbag and says: "You know who's really to blame for this? Bismarck!"

Of course there is no doubt – at least in my mind – that these fires have been greatly worsened by climate change.

It is hotter and drier and the size of the area being consumed is unprecedented – and all this began long before the first day of summer.

The only real question is how we – Australia and the world – respond.

And I have equally no doubt that talking about it, or talking about talking about it, or taking to the streets, or taking to the tweets, is going to have the scientifically precise impact of sweet f**k all.


What is needed, as always, is practical, popular action. A political consensus and a pragmatic and effective policy response. And to have any effect on the current bushfires we needed to have had it a decade ago.

And guess what? We did.

Exactly 12 years ago, this was precisely the alignment of the planets that the climate change commentariat is now angrily demanding. Labor under Kevin Rudd and the Coalition under John Howard had both gone to the 2007 election promising to implement an emissions trading scheme. Labor won in a landslide with a clear mandate.

Exactly 10 years ago, the legislation went to parliament.

Still, it hardly mattered. Labor had a commanding majority in the lower house and could easily get the ETS through the Senate with the support of the Greens. A carbon price would become as much a part of the national fabric as universal health care, free education and flies on a sausage.

But then the Greens killed it off.

The Greens joined with the Liberals and Nationals to block Labor's ETS because it didn't meet all their demands. That is why Australia doesn't have an emissions trading scheme today – a fact that should never be forgotten.

The blocking of the ETS also set off a chain of events that eventually led to Rudd being knifed by his own party and replaced with a leader who infamously promised: "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead."

Then when the coup proved disastrous and Labor was plunged into minority government, the Greens declared that the price of them supporting the party they had broken was for Julia Gillard to break her promise and bring on the carbon tax she had promised the people she would never impose.

This breach of faith with the voting public was both shameless and absolute and Gillard was a dead PM walking from that moment forward. Yet, even as she gamely staggered onwards and made good on her deal with the Greens, the minor party then pulled their support when she wouldn't cave in to yet more of their ever-increasing demands.

Former PM Julia Gillard. Photo / News Limited
Former PM Julia Gillard. Photo / News Limited

In short, the Greens prevented a leader with a mandate for a carbon price from implementing one and then forced a leader with a mandate for no carbon price into implementing one.

And then they left her swinging in the breeze.

Thus, in turbocharging such destabilisation and dishonesty for their own political ends, they helped usher in a landslide victory for Tony Abbott – the biggest climate sceptic ever to serve as Prime Minister. Never in Australian history has there been such a potent combination of ideology and idiocy.

The very notion of a price on carbon has been political poison ever since and the Greens were the ones who made it toxic.

And so if they want to talk, let's talk.

Every time a Greens activist tries to tell you that something must be done about climate change, remind them that ten years ago something was being done and they blocked it.

Remind them that they had the chance to tackle climate change but instead, they were prepared to let the planet burn to satisfy their ideological purity.

Remind them that over two successive Labor governments, they first held the planet to ransom and then held the public in contempt.

Remind them that they helped get Tony Abbott elected.

Remind them that the only reason Australia hasn't had an emissions trading scheme for a decade is because of them.

So yeah, let's talk about climate change. Let's talk about that.

Or, better still, let's find ways to act and leave the talking to the perennial party of protest that blew its chance at action a long, long time ago.

The Libs' inter-party jousting had a much bigger impact than who ended up with a knife in the back. Photo / News Corp Australia
The Libs' inter-party jousting had a much bigger impact than who ended up with a knife in the back. Photo / News Corp Australia

Malcolm Turnbull was the leader of the opposition and had pledged bipartisan support. Then, as we know, he fell victim to a party room revolt and was replaced by Tony Abbott.

The only way there will ever be meaningful and lasting action on climate change will be through consensus, not condemnation. Screaming into the void about Scott Morrison will achieve nothing except more resistance – a punishment the extreme left would wholly deserve were there not so much at stake.

So what can we do?

A price on carbon is electorally intolerable in Australia because of the ham-fisted and anti-democratic way the Greens forced Labor to ram it through last time.

And shutting down the coal industry is both unfair to the working people whose livelihoods depend on it and insane in a global marketplace where giants like India and China could simply buy dirtier coal from other countries, leaving Australia poorer and the world more polluted.

But the good news is that renewable energy is going gangbusters and prices are coming down. On the current trajectory, it looks like the market will make electricity greener and cheaper despite whatever the government does or doesn't do.

This map shows where power prices are predicted to fall and where they're expected to go up. Photo / Australian Energy MarketSupplied
This map shows where power prices are predicted to fall and where they're expected to go up. Photo / Australian Energy MarketSupplied

Likewise, it may well be that our long-term electricity needs are met by new technologies such as hydrogen power, yet even as this prospect was raised in recent weeks it was criticised by hardliners because hydrogen could be used to store fossil fuel energy as well as renewable energy. Once again, the good is shot down in the name of the perfect.

And aside from the environmental argument, we need to find an economic path for Australia that can give working people the same quality of life – or just the capacity to survive day to day – that our abundance of fossil fuels currently offers.

One obvious opportunity is our potential goldmine of rare earth deposits – if you can forgive such a geologically conflicted expression – upon which Labor and the Coalition are equally set. Another is our potential for the aforementioned hydrogen exports which is another no-brainer for anybody with half of one.

These are the things we need to discuss if we are serious about tackling the so-declared "climate emergency" and yet there is precious little discussion about such things in a political climate that is as heated and smokescreened as the Sydney air.

Protesters gather at the Climate Change Rally held at the Sydney Town Hall Square. Photo / News Corp Australia
Protesters gather at the Climate Change Rally held at the Sydney Town Hall Square. Photo / News Corp Australia

There seems to be a hope that by simply repeating the words "climate change" over and over again a genie might miraculously appear from the haze.

Indeed, it seems that when some people say we need to talk about tackling climate change they are far more preoccupied with the talking than they are with the tackling.