Floods and fires make climate change a top worry for most people, report finds

Earth is approaching horrific climate change tipping points, writes Michael Pascoe.

Earth is approaching horrific climate change tipping points, writes Michael Pascoe. Photo: Getty, TND

The majority of Australians are worried about climate change, with concern over floods and bushfires at record highs, according to the latest Climate of the Nation report.

The annual survey, managed by progressive think tank the Australia Institute, found most Australians believe governments are not doing enough to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The think tank polled about 2600 adults over 12 days in August.

It said the results showed Australians are frustrated at energy companies and want a speedy transition to a zero-emissions economy.

Costs set to soar

Natural and climate-related disasters cost the Australian economy $38 billion annually.

This is expected to rise to $73 billion by 2060.

Half the population believe that fossil fuel producers should foot the bill for responding to climate change, survey results show.

“Australians are fed up with the mismanagement of the country’s natural resource wealth and want a windfall profits tax on the gas industry and a levy on our fossil fuel exports to help pay for climate-related disasters,” director of climate and energy for the Australia Institute, Richie Merzian said.

The survey shows that 80 per cent of Australians believe climate change is occurring, with younger people more likely to be on board than their elders.

The top three concerns are:

  • More droughts and flooding affecting crop production and food supply (83 per cent)
  • More bushfires (83 per cent)
  • Animal and plant species becoming extinct (80 per cent).

This is unsurprising, given recent devastating floods and the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20.

Energy misconceptions

Australians overestimate the size of gas and oil industry employment by a factor of 58, the report found.

Voters estimate that, on average, 9.7 per cent of the workforce is engaged in oil and gas extraction when the industry only employs 0.2 per cent of the Australian workforce.

We also overestimate coal mining employment as a proportion of total employment – by a factor of 33.

Australians believe the coal mining industry makes up 10 per cent of the entire workforce, when it makes up just 0.3 per cent.

Despite this, the majority still want to stop new gas and coal mines, and three-quarters (73 per cent) want a “well-planned” and “co-ordinated” phase-out of coal mining.

Fossil fuels and tax

Australians also believe that the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT), the main way the Australian government collects revenue from oil and gas exploration and mining, contributed 11 per cent to the federal budget for the 2021-22 year.

In reality, the PRRT contributed just 0.3 per cent.

Only 8 per cent of those surveyed do not want fossil fuel subsidy money spent elsewhere (like health care, cost of living and climate action).

And 62 per cent of Australians support a levy on fossil fuel exports to help local governments respond to climate change.

Getting on track

Australians want more than just the replacement of fossil-fuelled cars with electric vehicles.

“Australians believe the government should help shift away from car use towards public transportation, cycling and walking,” Mr Merzian said.

“The upcoming electric vehicle strategy is an opportunity to get moving on fuel efficiency standards, targeted electric vehicles subsidies, and a phase out of fossil-fuelled vehicles – all of which have strong public support.”

Electric vehicle policies are popular, including government subsidies, charging infrastructure and registration and stamp duty discounts.

Two-thirds (64 per cent) of Australians support requiring all new car sales in Australia to be zero-emissions vehicles by 2035.

And 62 per cent support a national subsidy scheme for bikes, e-bikes and cargo bikes.

“[Australians] want better infrastructure for active transport, subsidies for e-bikes and cargo bikes, and an all-electric Australian bus fleet,” Mr Merzian said.

International aspirations

Energy Minister Chris Bowen heads off to Egypt this week for the world’s largest annual climate conference, the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP).

Mr Bowen can feel confident that most Australians want the nation to be a world leader in climate action, with two-thirds of Australians wanting to host a COP event in the future.

But Mr Merzian said Australia will struggle to be taken credibly as a clean energy export superpower while it “remains a fossil fuel export superpower”.

“Australia’s fossil fuel resources have been exploited at the expense
of the local environment and global climate, but it is mostly
foreign-owned companies – not the Australian public – that have
benefited,” he said.

“Australians are dealing with the high-cost consequences of relying on gas and coal power. Three-quarters want the government to step in and plan the shift to renewables and storage.”

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