Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Climate Change Political Football

earth wrecking ball On Friday 04/07/2008, in the first comprehensive assessment of the impact on Australia of climate change, Professor Ross Garnaut reported that Australians must pay more for food, petrol and energy or risk a rising death toll, economic loss and destruction of natural wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef.

The Howard Government’s policies on the environment, climate change and global warming: scepticism, inactivity and a steadfast refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol did little or nothing to address concerns raised by The Garnaut Report and other similar studies. None the less, it was to some extent highly politically astute. Howard understood that any positive measures in environmental policy would have a huge economic cost and be political poison. However, Howard failed to accurately gauge the mood of the Australian electorate and the piecemeal environmental policies he took to his humiliating 2007 sydney flooded due to global warmingdefeat were seen as too little too late. The rise of the Greens as a force to be reckoned with attests to the fact that the environment is now a major concern to considerable sections of the community.

The Kevin '07 campaign made considerable ground by declaring environmental policies which at least appeared to have some credibility, as long as the capitulation on the Gunn's pulp mill is put to one side. There were key Tasmanian seats which might have been put in jeopardy had Labor opposed the mill. The Rudd government has undoubtedly been damaged by the recent trauma over petrol prices. The decision to implement an emissions trading scheme and meet the Kyoto goals is likely to damage Rudd's government even more among sections of the population that votes with their hip pockets in mind. It may actually improve his standing among those with a genuine concern for the environment. The backroom boys have undoubtedly already weighed up the statistics. Still, the climate change political football is looming more like wrecking ball for both sides of politics.

sydney desertPerhaps this is the fundamental flaw with democracy. It is natural that any government strives to ensure its political survival. To do so, it necessarily introduces short term policies that aim for approval within the next electoral term. Dealing with the environment has always required much longer term vision and a good deal of short term economic pain; making 'climate scepticism' a very attractive response.

It seems clear that governments will always create policy agendas in line with voting intentions. The responsibility ultimately falls to the electorate. If the majority aren't willing to spend more on petrol and make sacrifices to help save the environment governments are unlikely to do anything more than make expedient noises in an attempt to pacify the minority who understand that sacrifices are necessary to ensure the survival of the human species.

The irony is the long term economic cost of ignoring conservation will be much greater than any short term hardships we might endure securing the future. How much prosperity will we enjoy when coastlines are under water and the rest of the country has turned to desert?


Jenny said...

I think you underestimate the power of the people! As you say, the majority want change on the environement, NOW. We can also read the Garnaud report just like anyone else and it puts the fear of death into me. I won't be the only one. If the ALP stalls on major changes and is so transparent as to protect oil companies, energy companies, car companies and all the others with a short term interest in profit NOW and more of it and damnation to the environmant, then I think there will be mass movements developing for action.

After you wrote this, Bush said that the US wouldn't be doing anything (in relation to climate change) until China and India did. Do they think it is a little football to kick about?

No, I think many will be getting angrier and angrier.

Tonight I saw an Andrew Denton show on a woman who was a Washington press reporter and she was saying how reporters (editors mainly) were complicit in the Bush propaganda machine in that, after years of saying that the US didn't use torture, Bush finally said that he had approved of it and known about it. Only she raised questions, but the other reporters but although the other reporters said nothing, all sent her flowers the next day.

People are not silly. They are scared about losing jobs. They just need some good leadership for their own interests and not those of huge corporations.

Liam said...

I heard on the news this evening that over 70% of people surveyed want an emissions trading scheme. Only a small minority actually know what such a scheme really means. You're right; people do want action.

I did not mean to imply that people are silly; rather that politicians will always seek to ensure their political survival before worrying about real issues. You're also right to point out that leadership is needed, and I think this is provided by people like Bob Brown (the Greens are perhaps the exception to the rule as far as issues go) and other activists.

Bush's attitude to climate change sounds very similar to John Howard's. It's a convenient way of avoiding the issue. What Howard found, and what the Republicans surely will find is no amount of expedience will avoid this issue.