Thursday, August 09, 2007

Alexander downs Alexander Downer

There were atmospherics over climate when Alexander Meekin, 17 years old, from Canberra's Narrabundah College took Alexander Downer to task over the Government's logic behind its climate change/energy policy in a panel debate.

Reprinted in full from the new-look SMH:

Alex v Alex: verbal joust has Downer hot under collar

By Craig Skehan

THE Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, may have taken a cue from the Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch yesterday when a 17-year-old got under his skin on a live panel interview dealing with climate change.

Alexander Meekin, from Canberra's Narrabundah College, was one of four high school students participating in a filmed session sponsored by the National Australia Museum and the Parliamentary Education Office.

He asked if Mr Downer was a climate change sceptic. Mr Downer calmly acknowledged that scientists did "tend to favour" the view that greenhouse gases were a contributing factor.

The persistent student asked whether it was "appropriate" that Government figures such as the Finance Minister, Nick Minchin, did not believe humans were to blame. Mr Downer shot back that people should "escape from intolerance" about others' views.

But Alexander wanted to know if Mr Downer saw a moral comparison between tackling climate change and the recent 200th anniversary of the British Government outlawing slavery.

"No," Mr Downer replied curtly.

But was not climate change enslaving future generations to today's conspicuous consumption, queried Alexander. His peer audience signalled its approval at that inquisitorial strike.

The minister hit back with "Not too many people I know support slavery."

Yes, agreed Alexander, but slavery was abolished by the British only after a long, bitter debate about whether or not it was justified.

As the jousts continued, Mr Downer's temper frayed.

His tormentor asked why a regional program to reduce greenhouse gases was only worth about $20 million a year for five years - less than the Government was spending on political advertising to get re-elected.

His interjection as Mr Downer was answering another student was too much. "I am trying to answer her question and you are trying to make some sort of cheap shot about the Liberal Party," he said, later implying some questions were Labor Party plants.

Alexander later made a point of shaking Mr Downer's hand and denied being affiliated with any political party. He said he thought the minister was being a "bit paranoid".

The slavery argument is a doozy. The parallel holds under scrutiny. Slave-labour powered past economies just as cheap fossil-fuels powers our modern economy. The transition out of slavery to a free labour market didn't hurt the economy in the long run, back then , and made the society we inherited much better. The transition out of our carbon-slavery powered economies won't hurt us anywhere as much as not transitioning out will hurt.

That Downer could not respond in a civil manner to straight-forward questions from a bright 17 year old says volumes about the Government's inability to defend its climate change policy and, being kind, nothing about Downer. I'll make a prediction. Note this as the first face-off of many to come between an older generation addicted to preserving power in all its trappings — at the ultimate expense of the very climate stability they enjoyed all their lives — and the younger generation who will have to live with the devastating consequences of a global climate thrown out of kilter.

If people 25-45 are whinging now about home ownership or mortgages now, they should think about trying to chase the great Australian dream when the climate keeps changing on you. That is what today's teenager will face when he or she starts to think about partying less and making babies more — if the 10-year window that we have to get our global-warming act together is correct. That 10-year prediction comes from James Hansen, chief scientist at NASA.

Alexander Meekin can proudly claim to have won the opening salvo in this intergenerational contest that must happen. Tomorrow's voters must wrest the control over their future from the status-quo now — if they are to have a half-decent one. Clearly some don't want to wait until they vote to start the good fight. Good on 'em: They either fight hard now, or spend the rest of their lives fighting much, much harder just to survive. We need more Alexander Meekins to stand up, speak out and stake their claim on their futures.

In the sixties the younger generation challenged a self-serving status-quo with peace, love-ins and flower-power, rock 'n roll and pot. This time there is far more at stake, and Meekin just showed how today's young people can challenge far more effectively with unforgiving logic, and a handshake. That was a deft touch.

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