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A delusional climate

Neither the government's nor the opposition's proposed schemes to deal with climate change will help us lose weight.

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight and get fit would know you keep coming back to two fundamental, unavoidable pieces of advice: eat less, exercise more.

For most of us it's that basic. There is no miracle cure for being overweight and unfit, conditions that lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Fad diets come and go, while those who have made the transition from flab to fab do so with hard work and lifestyle changes that looked daunting at the outset, but weren't so hard in hindsight.

The best news about the heart disease and obesity epidemic is that we can do something about it.

So it is with Australia's response to climate change.

There is no miracle cure, no fad diet that will transform our economy from the carbon heavy, inefficient machine it currently is, hooked on the junk food of dirty coal.

Like those poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles that feed obesity, cheap coal isn't really cheap at all. The impacts are felt elsewhere in the system.

Extreme weather conditions and changed rainfall patterns are already affecting agricultural production and our tourism industry.

That's why the debate our politicians are engaging in seems so confusing.

The Government's emissions trading scheme is like a basic diet and fitness program for our economy. It's going to ask us to emit a little less pollution and get a bit fitter in the way we generate our energy. We might go down the equivalent of one dress size, but it won't get us out of the climate danger zone.

The Coalition, on the other hand, is telling us we can fit into that aspirational pair of jeans without diet or exercise. We can keep using the same amount of energy or we can switch from cheap junk energy to healthier cleaner options if we want. And the big polluters, the morbidly obese junk energy users, will be rewarded for any small changes they make.

What's really disappointing is that both major parties seem determined to make it as easy as possible for the big polluters to carry on as usual, terrified that any economic fitness program to clean up our collective act will result in job losses and howls of outrage from the big end of town complaining it's all too hard or too expensive.

What we are missing in all this is a cold hard look at the facts.

If a doctor tells us our lifestyle is starting to have a serious impact on our health, we can accept the advice and take action to change the situation, or we can seek a second opinion, maybe one that tells us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.

So it is with climate science. The vast majority of scientific opinion tells us the health of our planet is suffering because of our greenhouse gas pollution. What passes for second opinions in the climate debate are the equivalent of quacks and snake oil salesmen.

It's time we stopped ignoring the evidence and got on with the job of improving the health and fitness of our basic life support systems.

That means cutting down our greenhouse gas pollution and investing in membership of the clean energy economy club.

Do we want Australia to be the biggest loser in the climate game? Depending on which way you look at it, yes.

Australia needs to get to start shedding the climate kilos and leading the rest of the world's climate "fatties" towards a clean, lean energy future.

Denise Boyd is the Australian Conservation Foundation's campaigns director.