The disaster that was Victoria last year when COVID-19 ransacked aged care facilities and ravaged older people was a function of poor planning and preparedness.
Our national tardiness in getting jabs in arms is similarly the result of poor planning and preparedness.
Now, at the start of a pandemic when contagion breaks over communities like a tsunami, we understand that mistakes will be made. Humans are not perfect and human institutions are sometimes flawed.
But even though it takes time and effort to build administrative capability and capacity, it can be done if we make a determined start and if we have a clear actionable plan.
And so we turn to climate change and the impact that global warming will have on society, our lands and seas.
Unlike COVID-19, we cannot say we have not been warned. Most recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Sixth Assessment Report finds that for Australia:
The consequences of these findings are profound. If nothing happens, if governments bumble their way through the next 10 years – as they have mumbled and stumbled over the last 20 – then we are all in deep trouble.
But we also know that it is not too late. We can control our future if we negate the sorry story of our past. As researchers at the International Monetary Fund put it:
… upfront green fiscal packages could help smooth the transition to a low-carbon economy. In the current context of the Covid-19 economic crisis, they would help support the recovery from the crisis and put the global economy on a greener, more sustainable path.
So here’s an idea.
Humans are capable of miraculously good things if we are properly led and properly fed. Given the resources and a plan and a direction, we can say no to the deniers and we can deny the doomsayers.
This does require effort on our part as individuals and citizens. Not just to turn light switches off, not just to act as ‘woke’ individuals, but to demand that governments take coherent, well-planned collective action.
This collective action to limit greenhouse gas emissions must be purposeful and framed by guiding principles. The most important of these is the idea that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The notion, for example, that we can choose between taxes and technology is specious. Technology must be paid for and if it is the government that is paying then the government is also taxing or borrowing.
Other principles also underpin an effective response by governments.
Minimise costs by starting now.
Don’t subsidise fossil fuels.
Act in good faith to ensure effective global action.
Support and protect those who are vulnerable.
Use markets wherever possible.
Don’t bank on untested technologies.
Measure properly and avoid statistical and accounting tricks.
In Australia, the possibility of their own political end concentrates the mind of both politicians and governments. Governments will lead if they are pushed.
So the imperative here is to require that governments – federal, state and local – and companies do the right thing and competently plan, prepare and manage the move to a low-carbon economy.
And then we need to reward those who do.