This comment by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong is a clear and simple example of why the views of the major parties and most environment groups are so far apart on how best to respond to the threat of climate change.

Commenting on the National Climate Emergency Rallies held around Australia over the weekend, Senator Wong said

“What many of these people are calling for simply can’t be done. It can’t be done while supporting jobs.”

That’s a very clear indication that the government is not intending to make the sort of cuts in emissions that the majority of scientific opinion says is necessary, because they don’t believe it can be done with costing jobs.

It’s true some jobs will be affected if an effective carbon reduction scheme is introduced.  But other jobs will be generated. The task of government should be to facilitate a transition to a low carbon economy that is as non-disruptive as possible, not only go half way there to minimise impacts.

The problem with responding to climate change is that, unlike most other issues, there is not much room for compromising or trading off against other priorities. If you seriously believe the majority science view that major climate change is inevitable without rapid and major cuts in emissions, then your bottom line starting point has to be what the majority science view says is needed.

If you weaken that bottom line in an effort to soften economic or employment impacts, you may as well not do anything at all.  Once the climate change tipping points kick in, it will be too late.  Senator Wong’s comment suggests the government thinks it can have two bob each way on this issue – that might be doable in most other areas, but not on this one.

Back in February I wondered about the wisdom of the Climate Action Summit deciding to lock in a strategy of opposing the government emissions trading legislation so far in advance of the legislation being examined and debated.

Now that we are just days away from the start of Senate debate on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill, I believe we would definitely be better off with nothing than a half-adequate emissions trading scheme. I can’t see the logic in saying it would be beneficial for Australia to have legislation in place ahead of the Copenhagen Summit, if that legislation is inadequate. All that would do is tie our negotiating hands in a weak position.

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