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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1276


Mr MURPHY (Reid) (10:00): According to the boringly repetitive pronouncements of the opposition, climate change is either a myth concocted by the government to destroy our country or is a mysterious natural process that is beyond human control or understanding. Neither of these claims is supported by any evidence whatsoever. Instead, it is abundantly clear that the opposition, in an unprecedented campaign of denial, disinformation and deceit, is deliberately exploiting any misunderstandings about this critical issue in order to gain an immoral political advantage at the expense of public confidence in rational policies that are based on evidence and science.

Despite the opposition's relentless dismissal of the warnings of climate scientists, the ever-more frequent disasters such as record-breaking floods, bushfires and extreme heatwaves are increasingly linked by solid, objective evidence to global warming driven by carbon dioxide emissions. Of course, objective evidence is of no interest to the opposition and their supporters amongst the vested interests concerned only to ensure that nothing gets in the way of their unethical determination to dismantle any measures, such as the price on carbon and support for renewable energy, which may interfere with the expansion of the fossil-fuel industry.

I have previously detailed the clearly understood scientific evidence behind the government's decision to put a price on carbon and to expand the generation of electricity from carbon-free renewable sources such as solar and wind power. Yet, so unrelenting is the opposition's cacophony of deception, I believe it is necessary to recount the science and the warnings about the disastrous consequences of unrestricted carbon dioxide emissions. An understanding of these issues is vital if decisions are not to be made on the basis of ignorance, prejudice or unwillingness to even read the extensive documentation.

Here is the scientific evidence for the effect of atmospheric carbon dioxide on the climate and the oceans. These findings have been put to the test so often that they are regarded as facts by the overwhelming majority of scientists throughout the world. First, energy radiated by the sun in the visible spectrum passes through the atmosphere largely unimpeded and is either absorbed or scattered or reflected back to space by the atmosphere, by clouds and by the Earth's surface. The energy that is absorbed heats the surface and the atmosphere and raises the local temperature in proportion to the nature and latitude of the surface, either land or sea. Second, the heated surfaces emit energy in the longer-wave infrared spectrum in accordance with Planck's radiation law, and this energy, perceptible as heat, is lost to space, balancing the energy input from the sun.

Third, carbon dioxide, present in the atmosphere as a gas, is transparent to visible radiation but is partially opaque to invisible infrared radiation and, in proportion to its concentration, traps heat that would otherwise be lost to space by radiation. As the concentration of carbon dioxide increases, so the heat content and temperature of the atmosphere and the Earth's surface increases. Fourth, carbon dioxide molecules absorb energy at specific wavelengths in the infrared spectrum. The absorbed energy is transformed by collisions to other gas molecules and to the surfaces and increases the temperature of those gases and surfaces.

Fifth, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen from about 280 parts per million at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to around 400 parts per million today and is currently increasing by around three parts per million per year. The total heat content of the atmosphere and oceans has increased in tandem with the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and is continuing to rise. The amount of heat stored in the oceans is about 1,000 times that stored in the atmosphere and fluctuations in surface temperatures are caused by heat moving between the oceans and the atmosphere. There is no evidence that the planet is presently cooling.

Sixth, the atomic nucleus of elements consists of protons and neutrons and the number of neutrons affects the stability of an atom in radioactive decay. Carbon 14 has 14 neutrons and is a radioactive isotope of carbon produced by the bombardment of atoms of nitrogen by cosmic rays and has a half-life of around 5,730 years. Carbon 14 dating is used to determine the age of organic materials that contain carbon and this method of dating exploits the fact that when organisms die they cease to incorporate atmospheric carbon and the carbon 14 that they contain decays at a known rate. Obviously, any remains of plants or animals that formed fossil fuels millions of years ago will contain virtually no carbon 14. It is clear from measurements made since the 1950s that the ratio of atmospheric carbon 14 to carbon 12 has been declining as increasing quantities of carbon 12 have entered the atmosphere. Fossil fuels are the only significant source of the additional carbon 12 and despite claims to the contrary volcanoes emit no more than one per cent of the total volume of new carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere annually. Moreover, volcanoes are generally associated with a short-term reduction of global warming since the smoke and ash they emit reflects solar radiation back into space.

Despite this overwhelming weight of evidence supported by nearly two centuries of scientific study the Leader of the Opposition remains at heart a denier as this quote from The 7.30 Report on 27th of July 2009 shows:

I am, as you know, hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change.

Yet the Leader of the Opposition asks the Australian people to trust his own ill-informed judgement against that of the thousands of climate scientists and other experts who warn that Australia and the world are fast approaching a dangerous point of no return unless effective measures are taken to rapidly reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions within this decade. I choose to trust the vast majority of acknowledged experts who understand the complexities of climate science. Is it any surprise that the opposition's so-called Direct Action policy is no more than a disjointed collection of unworkable proposals that will have a minimal effect on the growth of emissions and lacks any measures that will actually reduce the present volumes of emissions?

Statistically-significant increases in the frequency and intensity of climate related natural disasters driven by global warming have been observed in all parts of the world; not least in Australia where long-term records for rainfall and temperatures are now regularly broken while flood levels expected every 50 to 100 years now occur every second year. Do these often destructive events matter to the opposition? Evidently not, if you listen to the leader of the Nationals who, following the recent disastrous bushfires, dismissed concerns about emissions by saying on 9 January this year:

Indeed I guess to be more CO2 emissions from these fires and there will be from coal-fired power stations for decades.

That is what he said. Sadly, the Leader of the Nationals has guessed incorrectly because in fact the carbon dioxide released by these enormous fires produced the equivalent of only one week's worth of emissions from Australia's coal-fired power stations. That is a fact.

Moreover, the carbon dioxide emitted by bushfires is balanced by regrowth. Eucalypt forests regenerate and in a few years draw the emitted carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The same cannot be said of coal-fired power stations, since the slow formation of coal from the plants takes place over millions of years. Scientists warn that even a targeted reduction of carbon dioxide emissions of 25 per cent by 2020 is unlikely to be enough to avoid serious damage, yet at least that figure is a start. However, given the views of people like the Leader of the Nationals, any such rational policies would be entirely abandoned by a conservative government. The largest single source of carbon dioxide in our country is coal-fired power stations. Together they produce around a third or about 200 million tonnes of our total annual emissions. That is a fact.

Fortunately, the development of concentrating solar thermal energy collectors by scientists and engineers from the University of Sydney before 2006 makes it possible to replace as much as 75 per cent of the coal burned in those power stations. Yet, such was the hostility to this important development by the Howard government that the originating company decided to relocate to the United States, where under new ownership it now sells the same technology back to Australia. That is a national disgrace. I have no doubt that solar thermal collectors that could have been manufactured in Australia will substantially displace fossil fuels in existing power stations in the years to come, as the rest of the world moves rapidly to reduce emissions. Anyone who thinks that the coal industry has a long-term future should look to the story by Mr John Garnaut, published on 7 February this year in the Sydney Morning Herald, that warned that the Chinese government intends to cap coal consumption as the leadership shifts priorities towards energy conservation and efficiency. Recent history shows that the directives of the Chinese government are usually strongly enforced and it should be understood that the fossil fuel industry can no longer count on business as usual.

It is evident that a rapid transformation in the world's energy economy is under way, and countries like Australia and other fossil fuel exporters such as OPEC may well find that the market for their products is at risk of decline and even long-term collapse. Sweden, for instance, intends to cease importing oil by 2020 as renewable fuels and energy efficiency replace petroleum, while the United States has discovered the world's largest deposits of oil in its western states, sufficient for 400 years at its present rate of consumption. There is a so-called gas rush in our country as new technology makes it possible to extract methane from formerly inaccessible sources. Nowhere are the downsides to this development more apparent than in New South Wales. Thanks to the antediluvian policies of the present New South Wales Liberal-National government, homeowners in my electorate of Reid, which covers extensive Sydney Basin coal measures, are at risk of having their properties undermined by coal-seam gas drillers. In New South Wales carpetbaggers have been handed the right to drill where they please by a government controlled by climate change deniers, determined to expand the extraction of fossil fuels as they rob property owners everywhere of the value of their assets.

Although the Leader of the Opposition is glibly attempting to rebrand himself as trustworthy, his answer to Paul Bongiorno at the National Press Club on 31 January this year to a question about the price on carbon and the introduction of an emissions-trading scheme entirely discredited his deceptive facade of righteousness. Evidently unable to ignore a deeply embedded compulsion to give answers to suit the occasion, the Leader of the Opposition explicitly stated that:

…the rest of the world was not going anywhere near carbon taxes or emission trading schemes and that's why the Coalition is absolutely right to say no to a carbon tax and to say no to an emissions trading scheme.

I bring to the attention of the parliament that this statement is entirely false. The Leader of the Opposition seems to be unaware of the list of countries on his own direct action website which have introduced a price on carbon or have introduced emissions trading schemes or intend to do so in the near future—or, for that matter, those that should have been added to that incomplete catalogue, last updated in 2009. Are we to trust the Leader of the Opposition when he claims that countries like China, New Zealand, South Africa and Japan, or the European Union or states like California do not already price carbon or do not intend to introduce emissions trading schemes? Or should we trust those countries and California when they say they understand the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and have already introduced a price on carbon and emissions trading schemes or intend to do so?

I am sure that the vast majority of citizens in our country would rather trust the statements of those governments, determined to protect the interests of their people, rather than the unending deceptive claims of the present opposition, which are only interested in getting their hands on the keys to the Treasury by any means whatever. (Time expired)