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False equivalence and the climate debate

Speeches in Parliament
Nick McKim 13 Nov 2019

As we sit here today, we're on track for four to six degrees of global warming by the end of the century.

To spell it out for citizens: that is the end of the human race. I want to speak about the breakdown of our climate, and I want to speak about the existential threat that our collective lack of action poses to humanity.

I also want to respond to some of the tut-tutting that's emerged in this building over the last couple of days, because too many journalists, and too much of the commentariat in this place, have hidden behind the 'both sides' nonsense—that is, the false equivalence of balance—to condemn the Greens for telling the truth about this existential threat that we are facing and for calling for real action on climate change.

It is a false equivalence that is part of the same old school of thinking that has stifled climate policy for well over a decade in this place.

That false equivalence, pedalled by too many journalists and too many members of the commentariat in this building, is exactly what the LNP and the ALP use as cover.

There are not two sides to climate science; there is just the science—but not enough of us are listening to the warnings of the scientists.

What there are two sides to is the political debate about climate in this place. On one side you have the Australian Greens, who've listened to the science and have set their policies accordingly.

On the other side of that political debate are the major parties, who are ignoring the science to benefit their corporate donors and to benefit their post-parliamentary careers.

Every time that anyone in this place pretends there is any kind of moral equivalence between the two, you dumb down the debate and you play into the hands of those who have fed on uncertainty and doubt to lock in their obscene profits, to lock in the personal benefits they are making by destroying the climate and stealing the future off our children and our grandchildren.

There has been commentary recently from some journalists that both sides of the climate debate are over-egging their cases.

Well, I say to those journalists: How the bloody hell do you over-egg four to six degrees of warming? How can you over-egg the fact that people are already dying as a result of climate change?

How can you over-egg a genuine threat to the lives of every single person on the planet? How can you over-egg humanity's extinction? You can't! You can't over-egg those things. It is impossible to be too concerned about those things.

How on earth can you pretend that anything that anyone in the Greens has said this week is more offensive, stupid or damaging than Mr Barnaby Joyce's claim that fluctuations in the sun's magnetic fields are responsible for the bushfires that are currently burning? How on earth can anything that we say be as stupid as that? It can't be.

How on earth can anything we say be more troubling or more stupid than Senator Rennick's claim that the Bureau of Meteorology is altering records for a political agenda? It is impossible to say something more offensive or more silly than that.

How on earth could anything the Greens have said this week be more insensitive than the Prime Minister waving around a lump of coal in this parliament when the country was in the middle of a heatwave? That's where the offence lies in this debate.

It doesn't lie in anything the Greens have said; it lies in the things that Senator Rennick, the Prime Minister and Mr Joyce have said, and it lies in the timid acquiescence of the Labor Party to this government's climate-denying agenda.

Those who seek to silence us are asking us to accept the muting blanket of civility because conflict makes them uncomfortable. Well, here's a newsflash: conflict, at times, is what politics is all about, and right now the forces of darkness are winning.

To those who are offended by some of the strong language used by the Greens and by those brave people who are now taking direct action in our streets to raise their concerns about the lack of action on climate from the major parties, I say we are collectively offended by the death of the Great Barrier Reef; we are collectively offended at this gross act of intergenerational theft that you are perpetrating on our children and our grandchildren through the rape of this planet that you are all supporting; we are offended by the deforestation of Tasmania; and we are offended by the fact that you are collectively cooking and baking this planet for our children to die on.

That is what we are offended about.

There is no opportunity for consensus with the major parties in this place while they still support massive new coalmines like the one proposed by the Adani company.

There is no opportunity for consensus with people who believe in fracking for gas in Queensland and the Northern Territory.

There is no opportunity for consensus with people who still support mining for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

There is no opportunity for consensus with people who still support strip-mining Tasmania's native forests in a direct public subsidy to corporate profits.

There can be no agreement to fix the climate crisis so long as there continues to be a revolving door between parliament and the boardrooms of the big loggers and the big miners and so long as the dirty money flows to the main parties from the major polluters.

If you're worried about a lack of civility, you can stay worried, because this is a time for truth-telling.

This is a time to put all our cards on the table, because the United Nations and the scientific community are telling us we've got a decade to get it right and, if we don't get it right, we are facing disaster

Senator Rennick interjecting—

Senator McKIM: So, while Senator Rennick and anyone else who wants to interject in this debate is calling for civility, I say: if you want civility, get your act together.

Start listening to the science.

Start listening to the warnings from the scientists.

Start listening to your children as they rise up, rightfully demanding stronger action on the climate emergency.

That's how you will get civility into this debate: by telling the truth, by taking the action that science is telling us we need to take and by making sure we help people through the inevitable massive transitions that will need to occur if we're going to avoid causing the extinction of humanity and probably many other species on this planet.

I know that the very, very wealthy are already making their plans for their boltholes, and plenty of them—don't worry—will arrive in my home state of Tasmania over the journey.

But I ask those people, and everyone here, to think about those billions of people in the world wracked by poverty, wracked by climate crisis, who will not have the choices or the opportunities that you have to do your best to look after the lives of your children and your grandchildren.

If you want civility, start acting like you deserve it.

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