ALMOST nine years have passed since Kevin Rudd, angling for the Lodge, famously described climate change as the greatest moral challenge of our generation.
History shows that the momentum Mr Rudd possessed at that point in time soon disappeared. While the consensus of scientists has, if anything, grown stronger since then, the will to do anything about the situation, politically, has only weakened.
Calling Australians to the polls on July 2, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull laid out the major issues, as he saw them, on Sunday, and while there was plenty of talk about business and wealth and living standards, there was no mention at all about the climate conundrum. And it is a conundrum.
On the one hand, there is an overwhelming agreement among those with the scientific training and knowledge to truly understand the situation that the very planet we live on – the only one we have – is in dire straits due to the continued combustion of fossil fuels.
Yet for a variety of reasons, not everyone is convinced of the future risk, or if they do accept climate change as a risk, they are banking that human ingenuity, or some sort of miraculous change in circumstances, will avoid the predicted catastrophe.
Politically, both major parties are wedded to policies that effectively ensure the coal industry remains a major part of the national economy. Both Coalition and Labor promise gradual change in their respective ways.
But if the climate scientists – and the 2000 or so protesters who gathered at an unseasonably warm Newcastle harbour on Sunday – are correct, then gradual policies that push the decarbonisation of the economy out over the horizon are unlikely to be enough.
Sunday’s #breakfree2016 protest is surely the largest environmental protest seen in these parts. Although port officials say the kayaks did not disrupt shipping, the reality is that no coal left the port from early morning until after the flotilla returned to shore.
In the normal course of events, a number of coal ships would have left the port on the mid-morning high tide, and the protests on the rail lines will have similarly disrupted coal trains from the mines. Whatever coal industry leaders think of the protests, they must realise that their industry is losing its social licence. Passing tougher anti-protest laws, as the state government has done, is not the answer when the public has such genuine and logical disquiet.