April 12, 2022

The Climate #5: Misdirection

With the Australian Federal Election set for 21 May, what is our Government promising to do about the climate?

The Climate #5: Misdirection

"Magic is the only honest profession. A magician promises to deceive you and he does." – Karl Germain

Central to the art of magic is misdirection. While our eyes are drawn to the waving wand, we miss the rabbit transfer to hat and so… voila! But magic is not the only profession to engage in misdirection.

Peter Carter's latest video couldn't be clearer. 

Misdirection is one of the most corrosive tools politicians use to manipulate us. Take the refusal by John Howard to allow 433 Afghan refugees, saved from drowning by the Norwegian-flagged Tampa, to land here in 2001. This racist act, cloaked in the doublespeak of 'border security', attracted many voters. Particularly 'battlers' with well-founded anxiety that something they couldn't control was threatening their livelihoods. The threat, which they voted into reality, was Howard introducing regressive taxes and undermining their labour rights. The cost was mainstreaming racism into the Australian federal political narrative - where it remains to this day.

Again, in 2022, we find ourselves a few weeks out from an election. Misdirected policies and narratives are dominating the news cycle and social media feeds. These emanate from both the green political left and the blue conservative right. With our attention misdirected, we waste precious time, money and resources needed to save the planet. Below are a couple of illustrations. Let's start with a dominant 'green' issue before moving on to our Government's ruses to ensure total planetary annihilation - I mean re-election!

To EV or not to EV?
Thinking about a new car? The decision to acquire an electric vehicle (EV) rather than an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) is a no-brainer...right?

Maybe, but maybe not. A new car, whether EV or ICEV, always means more emissions compared to keeping our current car. The greenhouse gases emitted in manufacturing our current cars have already been emitted. We can easily calculate and offset the now and future emissions associated with driving our current car, assuming we can read an odometer.

Which vehicles are greenest?

EV manufacture emits about a quarter to a third more CO2 emissions than ICEV manufacture (typical est. 10 tonnes vs 13 tonnes total). The extra emissions are incurred in mining and manufacturing EV lithium batteries (about 3 tonnes). Yes, it is true that over a reasonable span life, the total EV emissions could be up to 20 to 30% less than a similar ICEV, depending on the source of the electricity to power it. But this is hardly a game-changing benefit for the planet. A smaller-engine-than-planned ICEV, used less frequently, could achieve a similar benefit. Who really needs an SUV and giant dual-cab rather than a smaller sedan or ute?

Lithium ore prices have increased fivefold over the last five years and are projected to only go higher. Perhaps we should reserve that lithium for batteries we really need. Trucks, trains, tractors supplying our life essentials and grid connected large scale battery systems are surely higher priorities than a new car. One basic model Tesla’s battery is sufficient for 150 long range eBikes.

Meanwhile, lithium battery waste is a massive and growing problem. We are yet to work out how to recycle any but a tiny fraction (2% in Australia). Nor how to mine lithium without causing major environmental harm. And the above EV emission calculations don’t include the greenhouse gas emissions we will release in transforming our extensive ICEV fueling and fuel distribution infrastructure into EV charging and resilient power distribution infrastructure.

If we are serious about saving the planet, this misdirected narrative must stop. Now. Instead, it is time to r/FuckCars ENTIRELY, whether EV or not.

Car canyons
Across the planet, and not just on Reddit, people are waking up to nearly a century of cars being prioritised over people and a livable environment. Land and building materials given over to suburban ‘car bedrooms’, driveways, urban parking lots and 'stroads' are increasingly and correctly perceived as waste. These are spaces and resources that need to be reclaimed for people and the environment.


Blindly sinking billions into widening, lengthening and complexifying motorways and freeways only attracts more car use and more personal transport emissions. Similar to lithium uses, these roadwork billions are misdirected. Getting on a bike instead of the car to head to the local shops: save 75% of emissions. Take the train instead of the car for the work commute: an 80% emissions saving.


A 1970s oil crisis 'save petrol' advert: Way cheaper, greener and more sense than a 3 billion dollar election bribe (with thanks to @ProfRayWills source)

And mainstream narratives still normalise flying. We have Alan Joyce getting free marketing on the ABC this week for his airline owing to Easter disruptions at Sydney airport. No mention of the fact that not flying and instead spending two whole days live on videoconference, until your relatives are utterly sick of the sight of you, would save 99.98% of the 1.4 tonnes of greenhouse emissions (calculation below*).

But I digress. It is time to highlight some appalling climate misdirection by our Government on the eve our 21 May Federal election.

Petrol populism
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sent petrol and diesel prices soaring across the globe. In a recent post I highlighted the populist responses by Global North governments to prices rises would be devastating for the vulnerable of the Global South.

With the election in a few weeks, the Australian government has joined the Global North petrol populism bandwagon rather than use high petrol prices to foster uptake of the greener, lower cost personal transport options discussed above. Being behind in the polls, nearly three billion dollars, that could be spent on long term mass transit or other genuinely green transport infrastructure or incentives are being misdirected to six months worth of petrol tax cuts.

Hardship and riots as a consequence of unaffordable fuel, fertiliser and food are occurring from Peru via North Africa and Lebanon to Sri Lanka . The suffering and unrest will spread to more countries and increase in severity over the coming months.

Srilankans saying 'THANK YOU' to Australia and other rich countries pricing them out of affordable fuel, fertiliser and food (source)

‘Saving’ the Reef
In slightly earlier election preparations this year, the Australian Government announced an extra billion dollars for the Great Barrier Reef. The announcement was just a few days before reporting back to UNESCO its response to UNESCO’s draft downgrade of the Reef’s health to ‘in danger’. Unesco made this assessment ‘WITH THE UTMOST CONCERN AND REGRET’. You don’t get stronger language than this from an international body.

The funding announcement was designed to ensure most of us missed the Government admitting the existential threat global heating poses to the Reef in their February 2022 report back to UNESCO. In outlining its billion dollar plans, the Government rated its response to the Reef’s threats as ‘second to none’. Effectively excusing itself from needing to meaningfully respond to global heating. Australia is only responsible for 1.3% of global emissions it wrote. Nothing to see here. Meanwhile, the Reef is suffering another bleaching event as I write.

‘Save’ is a powerful word
As bad as the announcement is, worse is the misdirected mainstream media narrative that followed. A widely read daily proclaimed “Morrison promises extra $1 billion to save the Great Barrier Reef”. Unfortunately the word ‘save’ is highly evocative. We read in to ‘save’ other powerful words… like hope.

Saving is an act of heroism, of strong and EFFECTIVE action. The accidental (or deliberate) effect of the headline is reassurance. Yes there is something to see here (risk to Reef) but we are a billion dollars to the good. It will all be OK …until it isn’t.

The only way to save the Reef is to put global heating in reverse. Immediately. But this isn't going to happen. Instead, the gap between our misdirected public & policy discourse and our climate truth grows terrifyingly wider. Peter Carter’s latest video couldn’t make this any clearer. TL/DW: We aren’t making any progress at all towards a less than 1.5 degree C future. 3 degrees C plus is more likely. We can enjoy our silver coin per litre petrol subsidy for the next six months - but forget coral reefs surviving anywhere beyond the next decade or two.

The cultural and political shift required, not just here in Australia, but across the globe, is daunting to contemplate. Less cars and car use is a place to start. If a preschooler in Japan doesn't need to be ferried everywhere by car...why do the rest of us?

A first shopping errand

Greenhouse gas comparison of flying vs videoconferencing:

Perth to Sydney return flight: (6000 Km @ 0.225 Kg/Km = 1350Kg CO2
Videoconferencing: 2 x 8hr days 720p streaming (0.021Kg/Hr for 16 hours = 0.33Kg CO2).


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