From: Daniel Yeow, Worldwatch Institute, More from this Affiliate
Published October 7, 2013 01:18 PM

Australian Environmental Politics in Denial

We interpret everything according to our own experiences. With that in mind, it would seem somewhat surprising that in Australia, of all places, a startlingly high number of people still deny climate change. Most Australians do believe in it, but in a country that no longer has a science minister, the newly-elected conservative government is populated by "leaders" who believe that it is some kind of conspiracy.




The media that the average Australian consumes is overwhelmingly populated by sources which are owned by people of a highly conservative and libertarian belief. Libertarianism—the belief that people should be free to do as they wish so long as they do not impinge on the freedom of others, is a decidedly human-centric philosophy and as such, large-scale environmental problems are generally not well-handled. In the minds of people like Rupert Murdoch, among others, environmental regulations are an unnecessary burden on people's freedom, and even if you don't really believe that, if that's what you read in the newspaper every day, then that's what you will be led to believe.

Looking at the numbers, we simply cannot deny the effects of climate change. Last summer was the hottest on record, and Australia is a country known for hot summers. I've followed electoral politics in Australia for quite some time, and in November 2009 Tony Abbott (now Prime Minister of Australia) ascended to the leadership of the conservative party after ousting then-leader Malcolm Turnbull 42 votes to 41. The issue that divided the party? Climate change—Tony didn't believe in it, and by extension, neither do the party faithful.

Wiping climate change off the political agenda

So in a rebirth of cold economic rationalism, what does this mean for Australia apart from not thinking science important enough to warrant a dedicated minister? One of the first acts of the new government was to abolish the Australian climate commission. As a country with such sensitive ecosystems, and a climate that is particularly sensitive to impacts, it was felt by the previous government that effectively communicating climate science to the public was important. I guess the current government was not able to justify spending a measly 5.4 million AUD (about USD 5.08) over four years to communicate to the public the effects of one of the largest existential threats ever to face humankind. The above infographic was one of many released by the commission during its brief existence.

High on the upcoming agenda for the new government is to remove the carbon tax. Brought in just over a year ago, Australia's CO2 emissions were down 11 percent from 2008–2009 levels, but one of the central campaign promises of Tony Abbott's new government was to scrap the tax, which would make Australia the first and only country in the world to do such a thing. Will this make a big difference in the global scheme of things? No. Australia is responsible for about 1.5 percent of global emissions, but how a country like Australia deals with the dual challenges of climate change and meeting Kyoto targets will be closely watched because of its physical geography. Its climate and population distribution present immense logistical challenges as it is, indicated by a per-capita carbon footprint of about 20 tons (slightly higher than the United States).

Read more at ENN affiliate WorldWatch Institute.

 Map of Australia image and Time Spiral image from Shutterstock, morphed by Robin Blackstone.

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