While advocates of the Kyoto Protocol have grumbled over Australia's international stand with the U.S. against the treaty, apparently it's a different thing altogther on the Aussie domestic front -- where global warming-related impacts are already becoming apparent with severe drought, low rainfall and record hot summers. According to "The Climate Crucible,"an excellent article by Maywa Montenegro in SEED magazine, this is giving rise to a native optimism that global warming can be solved:
While other nations are debating how best to tackle a somewhat nebulous future scenario of climate change, for Australia that future is today. And this country—with the biggest per capita carbon footprint of any developed nation in the world—is now emerging as an exemplar for sweeping environmental reform. Rising social concerns about water have created a greater awareness of global warming, which has, in turn, prompted a broad political response. Scientifically informed solutions to both the water and climate dilemmas are being rolled out for the first time on a national stage. As experts predict crises akin to Australia's "Big Dry" in many other parts of the world, how this nation responds will reveal much about our collective ability to reverse course on climate change.
Apparently a vast majority of Australians support taking measures to cope with and combat global warming -- 92 percent according to a poll, the highest percentage of 17 countries studies -- as well as 69 percent favoring immediate action despite potentially high economic impacts. The situation may bring about a change that will put a smile on a few faces around the world:
It's the kind of momentum that will likely bring an end to Prime Minister Howard's decade-long tenure when national elections are held in November. A longtime global-warming skeptic, Howard did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. And despite some of his recent gestures in a greener direction, including signing the US-led Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, Australians are now very wary of his rhetoric. "The last polling showed that if the election were held four months ago, the prime minister, and the treasurer, and the environment minister would have all lost their seats—so it would have been an incredible landslide," says Tim Flannery, a biologist and one of Australia's most outspoken environmental advocates. "It gives you the sense of the mood of the public."
Kevin Rudd, leader of the opposition Labor party, is campaigning on a platform that includes $50 million for geothermal energy, $50 million for an Australian Solar Institute, and a 60 percent cut in CO2 emissions by 2050.
There is definitely a mood for change. Has been for a while, I think. It's only been waiting for a viable alternative leadership to become visible. As one commentator put it, 500,000 voters switched allegiance when Rudd become opposition leader. Twelve months on, they haven't switched back, despite the usual pork-barrelling and fear-mongering that goes on in election campaigns.
Still, Howard has stayed power for 12 years for one good reason: he's no fool.
Nor, although he often acts it, is Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki (a well known local science populariser), who is backing a senate ticket for the Climate Change Coalition. At the risk of being accused of political canvassing, I suggest a read of their website for Worldchangers, you will see a number of familiar themes, presented with a good deal more intelligence than the average minority party.
Australia is also a few years ahead of most other countries in its attention to the soil carbon opportunity--though as in the U.S. they are handicapped by the fact that this opportunity has been discovered and made practical by alternative agriculture, rather than by a government agency, by Ph.Ds at a university, or someone with celebrity status.
This soil carbon opportunity will require a transformation of agriculture, but it could, if combined with strong reductions in fossil emissions, bring down atmospheric CO2 concentrations rapidly and significantly, and increase soil fertility, lower the cost of agricultural inputs, and provide more and better water for everyone. See the Australian book PRIORITY ONE: Together we can beat global warming.
This election is going to be interesting - as the cultural climate is certainly changing for the better, but the nation is filled (and led by) ASPIRATIONAL CONSUMERIST SCEPTICS - and a bunch of people who agree that action is great, as long as it doesn't affect their quality of life - afterall - it is all about the economy isn't it???
But try and get the mainstream print media to present an unbiased argument. The big ticket items at present are housing affordability, jobs, health and education. The environment is currently playing a bit of a quiet side role - popping it's head up every now and then - eg. the recent debate between our environment ministers, and in the Labor parties affirmations to sign kyoto - it's still the minor (Greens) party which scores the highest in their approach to addressing climate change - to be expected, but still a little disappointing given in the end, with the Australian voting public, it is still largely a two horse race. It will be interesting to see how many of the recommendations in docs such as the MEA, and Stern Report find their way into the day to day policy agenda of whoever gets in, and more so - into the nation's every day behaviour and future planning. As an optimist, I live in hope - afterall, my job prospects here at home rely largely on a Government that recognises the need to instigate change, and supports it accordingly - otherwise, my greatest opportunity might end up only being in the coal industry, and that's clearly not my preferred option..... of course, I could always move to Sweden.....
Personally, I tend to agree with Michael's assessment on this.
People have become aware of the issue, and there is a genuine desire by many to repair the damage. But despite good intentions, the magnitude of the problem remains underestimated by most. Even the Greens campaign literature speaks of climate change as a future problem, rather than a 'here and now' issue. Overall, other issues remain dominant in the election.
I also don't see people being prepared to make other than cosmetic changes. Mandatory CFL bulbs and green bags to the grocery store seem to be the extent of it for a large majority. Every bit helps, but re-evaluations of our current consumer-driven, suburban lifestyle and our economy based primarily on exploiting our natural resource as quickly as we can must be made before any significant progress can be made.
I'm a 42km-a-day cycle commuter who drives a biodiesel-powered car (rarely), pays for 100% solar power, obviously follows Worldchanging and has spent thousands on water tanks and other sustainable housing choices all while living in Sydney.
Unfortunately, I'm just not seeing what others here seem to when I look around me. I'm still in such an amazingly small minority on all these things, and it disappoints me that my fellow Australians AREN'T caring about climate change.
Whether it's sitting at the shops for half an hour and seeing NOBODY using anything other than plastic bags, or watching the thousands of one-person-per-car or 4WD (SUV) commuters on their way to work, the issue is NOT on the radar of the general population.
As has been pointed out, the election is only about visible, "now" things such as how much money we are being bribed with in tax cuts and private (not public) school funding.