After a recent foray into the debate over Australia's so-called "climate election", I received plenty of critical replies to my argument that Australians should take climate action more seriously. The most common rebuttal was that Australians were right to focus on other issues at the ballot box because Australia's contribution to global climate change is small anyway.
This is precisely the argument Alan Jones advanced in a now notorious Sky News segment in which he used a bowl of rice to explain away Australia's climate obligations.
Australia - Jones - % - Carbon - Dioxide
Australia, Jones noted, contributes only 1.3% of global carbon dioxide emissions from human activity, which in turn represents just 3% of the overall amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere, which in turn makes up little more than 0.04% of the whole atmosphere. So why, he asked while triumphantly brandishing a single rice grain, are we so obsessed with Australia's climate policy when the planet is so big and the consequences of our actions are so tiny?
This is a powerful critique and, on the face of it, a simple and compelling line of argument, which is precisely why it's so often used. Why bother, if we lack the power to do anything that makes a difference?
But there are at least three obvious responses to it.
The first and most obvious response is that Australia emits much more than our fair share.
Emissions - % - Total - Population - %
Sure, our emissions are 1.3% of the global total. But our population is 0.3% of the global total.
This isn't the only way to allocate national emissions targets. But if rich countries like Australia aren't doing more to reduce their disproportionately high emissions, what possible incentive is there for developing countries to take the issue seriously? Nations such as India, Brazil and China can ask—as indeed they have at various climate talks—why they should reduce emissions when Australia does...
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