Rudd's call for climate action
THE politics of fear were greater than those of hope according to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He says conservative claims that action to fix climate change would "bugger" the economy and cost jobs were easier to sell than the need to provide global leadership.
"People are easily frightened," Mr Rudd said over breakfast at Sunrise Beach this week.
"Global leadership is a harder message to sell, which I discovered to my peril. Tomorrow is rapidly becoming today. Rather than sliding at the back of the pack, living on the driest continent with 70 per cent of people living on the coast, we have a fundamental interest in resolving the issue.
"In the absence of effective action, coastal inundation and of the Maroochy River is inevitable."
Mr Rudd dismissed as "pigs might fly" the persistent claims that climate-change science had somehow got it wrong, saying it was time for the "gaggle of conservatives" who represented the Sunshine Coast to get real about the region's future.
He said climate-change denialists ran the false argument that a price on carbon would kill jobs when there was no evidence of that even in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.
"That argument is old cobblers," Mr Rudd said.
Arriving for a breakfast interview at Chalet and Co in Sunrise Beach, accompanied by his son Marcus and with family dog Abby in tow, he looked positively healthier than my more recent recollections, less pasty and clearly enjoying time in the Queensland sun on the beach, just 10km from where he grew up on a dairy farm outside Eumundi.
Now living in New York City on Manhattan, where he runs the Asian Society Policy Unit (a think-tank first established by the Rockefellers), he and his wife of 36 years Therese Rein still maintain a home on the northern Sunshine Coast beaches.
"We still have a home and come back here," he said. "I grew up in Eumundi and swam here, as have all of the kids."
Mr Rudd believed he had done his bit in relation to climate change, citing the Renewable Energy Target he introduced in 2009 which he said had lifted the use of renewables from 4 per cent to 17-18 per cent, coupled with a carbon price and solar-energy subsidy which put panels on one million homes.
He argues the Great Barrier Reef was in danger of becoming an increasingly irredeemable disaster, saying losing it would crush the Queensland economy.
"It's an enormous natural ecosystem of global significance," Mr Rudd said.
"There are three scenarios: the melting of the of the Antarctic ice shelf, the measurably disappearing Arctic ice cap which is more rapid than early reports and the disappearance of the Greenland ice shelf.
"Logically, the result will be sea level rise."
He said you only needed to look along the Maroochy River flood plain to understand how exposed low-lying and coastal areas were to the subsequent impact.
That those impacts won't be felt for one or two generations on from now, Mr Rudd said, was a poor excuse not to act which denied intergenerational responsibility. Some were already being felt through extreme weather with droughts, bush fires, flooding and sea level rise.
A push for renewable energy driven by a carbon price would encourage what Mr Rudd described as global moonshot involving public/private investment in research to store solar energy.
"We need to throw buckets of dollars at it," he said saying computer technology had developed from military investment during the Cold War. A set of measures mandating the use of more renewables and a real price on carbon would force the use of less and investment in research."
He would not be drawn to comment on Dick Smith's high-profile campaign to bring Australia's immigration rate back from the high 200,000 level to historic trends of 70,000 annually, saying he had not heard what the businessman and environmentalist had said.
Australia's population growth, Mr Rudd said, was a reflection of global population levels.
"Economists tell us unless people are prosperous, the more children they have," he said. "Anything else doesn't work."
Expect him at some stage to join the debate on whether Australia Day should be shifted, although this week he was keeping his cards close to his chest.
In his youth, just out of Nambour High School, Mr Rudd applied for a cadetship on the Nambour Chronicle, at the time the Sunshine Coast's leading newspaper.
He didn't get the job but Australia eventually in 2007 scored a Prime Minister whose legacy he continues to define in his latest book Not For The Faint-Hearted.
The dissertation on Australian politics is a hefty tome of 674 pages: a size he says is mitigated by more than 180 pages of footnotes.
It takes particular aim at John Howard in which he demonstrates a writer's grasp of the power of the English language more than sufficient to suggest he would have had no trouble filling a journalism role.
Mary Ryan's in Hastings Street stocks copies of Not For The Faint-Hearted and they are also available online.