Over at the new-format Spiked, Rob Lyons has a short piece on the Australian elections.
One of the biggest issues in Saturday’s Australian election will be the ‘carbon tax’. Coalition leader Tony Abbott said this week: ‘If the Coalition wins the election on Saturday, the carbon tax will go. No ifs, no buts, it is gone… We will do whatever is necessary to abolish the carbon tax.’ He has declared the election to be a ‘referendum on the carbon tax’, which Labor has pledged to retain if it hangs on to power.
Lyons confidently predicts that Labor are going to be ‘getting a kicking over carbon’.
Climate policies suffer from a democratic deficit. If the Australian elections are, as Abbott has called it, a referendum on the Carbon Tax, this is perhaps the first attempt to measure the public’s appetite for climate policies in the Anglosphere. Canada, of course, fell out with the UNFCCC process last year, though not after a test of the public mood. In response to the withdrawal, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said,
“Whether or not Canada is a Party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the Convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort,” she said. “Industrialized countries, whose emissions have risen significantly since 1990, as is the case for Canada, remain in a weaker position to call on developing countries to limit their emissions.”
But who is Figueres to tell Canadians what their priorities should be? After all, nobody voted for her. And nobody voted for the UNFCCC process. Climate politics were all about establishing political power above democracy.
This has led to the situation in which Labor are going to be ‘getting a kicking’. But let’s not be hasty…
There has been an obvious attempt to turn the climate debate into an issue of Left vs Right (in terms of party politics). In the UK, Australia and USA, it is the putative Left that has sought to champion the climate agenda. But the Right has been, at best, supine. In fact, in the UK, the Conservative Party argued for stronger climate targets than the then Labour-led government. When Julia Gillard back-tracked on her promise that there would be no climate tax, UK Conservative Party Leader and PM, David Cameron praised the move, saying,
I was delighted to hear of the ambitious package of climate change policy measures you announced on 10 July and wanted to congratulate you on taking this bold step.
Yep, lying to the public is certainly a ‘bold step’, alright. At opposite ends of the planet, unpopular leaders of weak political parties — parties not strong enough to form governments by themselves — slapped each other on the back, from across the political spectrum. What better demonstration of the contempt for the public and for democracy could there be?
In the USA, the Republican Party didn’t create as robust a response to climate politics as many wanted, or as the US Left claimed — a fact discussed in Marc Morano’s interview with Topher Field for the the 50-to-1 project. It has taken a long time for the problems caused by environmental policies to develop into an issue that really can divide politics on party lines.
But only just. And there might not be much else to celebrate about Left/Right party politics in the Anglosphere — which is probably why the climate issue somehow came to dominate, and cross-party consensuses formed, albeit by default.
It would be a good thing if the Australian result sent a message to other climate champions throughout the world that, if they want to be green, they must really seek the public’s consent before they press ahead with far-reaching and expensive policies. But an indication of what is more likely to happen is given in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald… (H/t Paul S.)
How human psychology is holding back climate change action
Behavioral scientists have emphasized that in their private lives, people sometimes display a form of myopia. They may neglect the future, seeing it as a kind of foreign country, one they may not ever visit.
For this reason, they might fail to save for retirement, or they might engage in risk-taking behavior (such as smoking or unhealthy eating) that will harm their future selves.
In a political context, citizens might demand protection against a risk that threatens them today, tomorrow or next month.
But if they perceive climate change as mostly a threat to future generations – if significant sea-level rises seem to be decades away – they are unlikely to have a sense of urgency.
Climate change lacks other characteristics that spur public concern about risks. It is gradual rather than sudden. The idea of warmer climates doesn’t produce anger, revulsion or disgust.
Psychologists, much more than climate scientists, are going to be the experts that politicians consult to establish a basis for their policies and power.