AVAST and destructive force slammed into Australia last week. People ran for cover, but there was no avoiding it. And there's worse, far worse, to come. Professor Ross Garnaut's initial update of his 630-page 2008 climate change review is just the first of eight such exhausting, smothering new instalments. This category five snore-a-thon kicked off last Friday in Melbourne.
Possibly aware he was presenting the dullest, most pointless document in Australian history, Garnaut attempted to sex things up a bit. "If we are seeing an intensification of extreme weather events now," said the Rudd-appointed academic, "you ain't seen nothing yet."
Really, professor? That's some pretty fancy precipitation prognostications you got happening there. Especially for someone whose climate expertise is apparently based on an arts degree from ANU, which makes Garnaut no more qualified to predict extreme weather events than any other former arts student, me included. Then again, his specialist area is in economics, which should at least mean he is handy with numbers.
Garnaut rounded on those who've focused on Australia's tiny 1.4 per cent contribution to global carbon dioxide emissions and who use this figure to argue we should not make slashing changes to our economy, on account of it not making any real difference to global carbon totals.
"I note in passing that is not how we usually look at international situations." Garnaut then drew this obscene comparison: "Whether or not we send troops to Afghanistan actually will not determine the outcome of Afghanistan. But we don't look at things in that way. We think in terms of making a proportionate effort to a collective goal we share with other countries."
How perfectly post-post-modern. Nothing we do will make a difference, but let's do it anyway. That line of thinking might have flown at ANU back in 1967, but it's rubbish in 2011. Garnaut's argument collapses when we look at the respective outcomes he's talking about.
In the case of Afghanistan and the global war on terror, Australia seeks an outcome that will preserve our own freedoms while liberating those who suffer under Islamist tyranny.
As an example of how Australia contributes towards this aim, read the citation for Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, awarded the Victoria Cross last month:
"His act of valour enabled his patrol to break in to the enemy position and to lift the weight of fire from the remainder of the troop who had been pinned down by the machinegun fire. On seizing the fortified gun position, Corporal Roberts-Smith then took the initiative again and continued to assault enemy positions in depth during which he and another patrol member engaged and killed further enemy. His acts of selfless valour directly enabled his troop to go on and clear the village of Tizak of Taliban.
"This decisive engagement subsequently caused the remainder of the Taliban in Shah Wali Kot District to retreat from the area."
So one Australia soldier representing just 0.064 per cent of Australia's present commitment in Afghanistan was able not only to save his mates during a ferocious battle with anti-democracy Taliban extremists, but his actions also set the path to clearing Taliban from a village and eventually an entire district. Roberts-Smith didn't accomplish absolute victory in Afghanistan, but he did more to advance towards that result than almost anyone you can name. Roberts-Smith made a vastly measurable difference. Now to Garnaut's battle against global warming.
He's shooting for a 25 per cent reduction in Australia's carbon output by 2020, based on levels from 2000. That works out to an overall cut in our global contribution from 1.4 per cent to around 1.05 per cent.
This is statistically meaningless. Our involvement in Afghanistan changes lives and advances a nation.
By contrast, a 25 per cent cut to Australia's carbon output would do absolutely nothing. For that matter, you could cut Australia out of the equation completely. All 1.4 per cent gone. No factories, no cars, no jobs, no shops, no coal, no electricity, no media, no government, no Australia.
To get around the inconvenient truth of Australia's inconsequential carbon footprint, Garnaut and others resort to the per capita argument, which allegedly demonstrates that we generate more carbon per person than other nations. At his launch, Garnaut said Australia was ranked by a World Bank study as "world champions" for carbon emissions per head of population, "not by a little bit but now by a large margin".
He's probably wrong. According to other studies we're headed by Gibraltar, Trinidad, Qatar, Brunei, Singapore and a whole bunch of superior carbon gushers. But that's not really the point.
Why does Garnaut think per capita output matters anyway?
It's not as though the planet is capable of analysing the source of carbon dioxide. So far as science is aware, the earth and its surroundings just kind of cops it. Planets aren't known for thinking. Even if they were, it's unlikely they'd bother with population-based consumption studies.
Put it this way: if you were the environment, and if you were getting awfully bashed up by carbon emissions, would you worry about whether 1.4 per cent of that scary hurty carbon came from a miniscule fraction of China or the whole of Australia?
Here's some further mathematics for Garnaut to twist on. That 1.4 per cent of Australian emissions is only the figure for human-caused carbon output. Natural sources account for about 97 per cent. So Australia produces just 1.4 per cent of 3 per cent of the rest. Or, to express that amount in precise scientific terminology, less than half of sweet FA.
Which, coincidentally, is what Australian governments really think about climate legislation. Global warming was a great election-winning device, but look how quickly Federal and State governments are ditching expensive carbon policies lately. They can't chuck 'em fast enough.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has made a point of discarding Kevin Rudd's rubbish ideas. She's hanging on to a carbon tax, but it should tremble every time she looks at it.
As for Garnaut's eight-part review of his review, throw it on the pile and burn it.