Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Time to take steps in the right direction

Hobart Mercury
Tuesday 19/1/2010 Page: 18
Opinion: Peter Boyer

CHANGE is in the air. Big issues are swirling around us calling for big decisions. Within two months Tasmanians will choose the people who will govern them until 2014. Could this turn out to be one of those rare events in Tasmanian politics, an election worth remembering? We will almost certainly get plenty of campaign trivia, lost tempers and smeared reputations, and maybe a tight finish and frantic post-poll manoeuvring. But a better measure of success would be whether the election deals with the big issues and produces a capable, talented government.

Our chances don't look good. The small size of Tasmania's Lower House allows parties to win only a dozen or so seats. Many of these will inevitably fall to party stalwarts rewarded for loyal service, leaving little room for fresh, independent thinkers tackling big ideas. This is shaping as a humdrum election producing a humdrum parliament.

The biggest of the big issues, everywhere, is man-made climate change. We might have seen this as a double failure of the Copenhagen meeting and Australia's emissions trading legislation put new emphasis on what needs to be done at a subnational level, like here in Tasmania. Yet climate is not considered a significant Tasmanian campaign issue, rating far behind education, health, roads and pretty well anything else. It seems that the major parties believe climate action to be a matter for others, higher up the chain. But isn't that where we've just failed? What is it about climate and politicians?

Do they find it too soft and blurry an issue to sell to the electors, unlike like a new road? Can't they find the time, or sit still long enough, to get their heads around the science? Or do they not even bother to start, seeing it as some green conspiracy to deprive them of their hard-earned lifestyles? Scientists have produced ample evidence of a crisis, including accelerating ice-melting at both poles and an alarming carbon emissions trend. The political response is to postpone international action, quibble over national action (the Federal Opposition remains without a climate policy) and generally try to have the subject buried and forgotten.

In this age of the spectator we like to watch others stuff up while things collapse in a heap, but democracy doesn't let us off that easily. We choose who governs us, so we are partly culpable. Making our democracy work effectively means more than sitting back and watching. Last week, a group called Climate Action Hobart launched a set of strategies intended to start parties and candidates thinking about where Tasmania should position itself on climate change, and then committing to a focused, sustained program of action. The strategies, formulated with expert advice and fleshed out at a community forum late last year call for action in 10 key areas aimed at taking advantage of Tasmania's resources, including renewable hydro power, to make the state a leader in tackling climate change.

Now endorsed by local climate groups around the state. "10 steps to a safer climate" seeks the active engagement of political, community and business interests to contribute effectively to a safe climate while inspiring effective action elsewhere in the world. The ambitious agenda aims to set Tasmania, without delay, on a path to zero carbon emissions by 2050 with a 2020 target for all-renewable energy, and a 20% reduction in overall energy use. It advocates reformed planning laws for sustainable communities, support for public and low-carbon transport, support for local food and sustainable consumption, protection of old forests and rigorous carbon accounting, and the elimination of waste through a 100% recycling program.

The plan asserts that most of the actions needed, while not cost-free, will bring great benefits, including more liveable, resilient communities with better housing, less pollution and less road congestion, more secure jobs, less vulnerability to global economic shocks, and an increasingly valuable reputation as a haven for green tourism and sustainable development. The program will be a demanding one. As the plan points out: "No one can predict where the potholes will lie on the road ahead. We hope and expect this community plan to evolve and expand over time. Yet a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

Over the next two months climate groups across the state will join in publicity campaigns, candidate surveys and lobbying to impress upon political aspirants the over-riding importance of climate policy and the real, measurable value to Tasmania of taking world-leading initiatives. Entering this election campaign, we can choose to put our trust in shaky initiatives elsewhere, higher up, over which we have no real authority. Or we can decide that climate is a significant public issue for Tasmania, then stand up and work to make this place an example for others.

10 steps to a safer climate:
"TEN steps" is an outline of what Tasmania can contribute to preventing dangerous climate change.
Details of the strategies can be found online at or ten-strategies.
  1. Make Tasmania carbonneutral by 2050 with a year-by-year roadmap.
  2. Fully assess and protect the immense carbon stores in Tasmania's old forests.
  3. Reduce energy use by 20% by 2020.
  4. Derive all of Tasmania's energy from renewable sources by the year 2020.
  5. Radically overhaul planning laws to ensure sustainable cities and regions.
  6. Significantly increase investment in public and low carbon transport.
  7. Help communities and businesses make a full transition to a low-carbon future.
  8. Support local and sustainable production and consumption, with a focus on food.
  9. Close resource loops and eliminate waste.
  10. Work actively to achieve climate justice for all and to educate Tasmanians about climate change.