Rumour is rife this week that George Bush is about to isolate the Prime Minister even further. The US President, the world’s most famous recalcitrant on global warming, is preparing to make a policy U-turn.
Reports coming out of the US and Britain suggest that after years of attempting to sabotage efforts to tackle greenhouse gases, Dubya is now devising plans to control carbon dioxide emissions and ramp up the use of renewable energy sources.
Combined with the fact that Rupert Murdoch’s powerful media empire is also dramatically shifting on the topic — his Sun newspaper in London announcing last week that it had been too long in denial over the threat of global warming — Mr Howard is looking more out of touch than ever.
The Sun has embarked on a Go Green campaign and is even promoting environmental awareness as being ultra sexy.
Mr Murdoch invited climate change campaigner and former US vice-president Al Gore to address the board of News Corp in June and has since applauded his film An Inconvenient Truth as a ground-breaking and must-see documentary.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair switched on to climate change some time back and in California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has put pressure on the Bush camp by leading a charge to address global warming through legislation.
Britain and California recently entered an agreement to pursue climate-friendly fuel technology. The State of California, in a world first, has this week started legal action against six of the world’s biggest car manufacturers over damages caused by their vehicles’ emissions.
And in Australia, the AFL announced it would become carbon-neutral through buying offsets to negate greenhouse pollution from its activities such as carbon dioxide emissions generated through energy use and road and air travel.
Three weeks on, Professor Lowe’s Press Club comments now seem somewhat profound.
Fossilised in a previous era
Describing Mr Howard’s views on climate change as being “fossilised in a previous era”, the ACF president said the Prime Minister was no longer in sync, even with the business community he purports to represent. “The business community now recognises we have to respond to climate change,” Professor Lowe said.
“I think there are elements within the Government that recognise that that’s the way we have to go.
“But the Prime Minister has drawn his line in the sand and is determined that, on his watch, Kyoto won’t be ratified and he won’t have a coherent response to climate change. That’s looking increasingly out of touch.”
His comments were in part a reaction to Mr Howard’s dismissal of recommendations by the Business Council on Climate Change that Australia should seek to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 60 per cent by 2050.
Professor Lowe is no rabid leftie but rather an esteemed scientist and academic who adds to the credibility of the already well-credentialed ACF. This is the same ACF which the Federal Government considered respectable enough in the 90s to praise its marriage with the National Farmers Federation to tackle the blight of salinity.
The visionary Landcare push from the ACF and the NFF began in the 80s while Labor sat on the treasury benches in Canberra, but what made the subsequent coalition Government’s accolades for the program a decade later even more noteworthy was that the ACF’s president for much of the 90s was perhaps Australia’s most recognisable and controversial environmentalist of the day — former rocker and current Labor MP Peter Garrett.
The reason political parties of all persuasions hailed the joint effort was because they all accepted the reality of land degradation in Australia and the threat it poses for the nation.
John Howard: we make our own assessment
With other highly capable personnel such as Professor Lowe and CEO Don Henry at the helm of the ACF today, Canberra should be paying attention to what the group has to say about the reality of climate change.
But Professor Lowe laments that the ear of the Federal Government is not something the ACF enjoys these days.
He’s not alone on that count. It would appear the Prime Minister is not even prepared to listen to his mate in the White House. Asked on Lateline if Mr Bush’s mooted policy backflip would influence him, Mr Howard insisted it would not.
“We make our own assessment of these things. Our own assessment is that if Australia were to sign the Kyoto Protocol we would damage our country’s interests because the arrangements would impose obligations on us that would not be imposed on countries like China and Indonesia,” Mr Howard said.
“Therefore it would be less costly for industry to invest in those countries and they’d take their investments from Australia elsewhere and we’d lose jobs.”
Shadow environment minister Anthony Albanese says jobs are already being lost to overseas because frustrated renewable energy companies are leaving Australia to invest in nations more open to the progressive industry.
Mr Howard’s own Environment Minister Ian Campbell appears hamstrung on the issue, having to toe the official anti-Kyoto line while being genuinely convinced that the science of global warming is too compelling to ignore.
Certainly Dubya’s motivation must be political, but so what? And who knows what lies behind the Murdoch backflip?
With more shapers of world opinion coming to accept humankind’s impact on global warming, Mr Howard must surely be close to the point of having to reconsider the issue himself — particularly in a political context.
Chris Johnson is a Canberra-based federal political reporter for The West Australian newspaper.
Chris Johnson, in Canberra
Three weeks ago Australian Conservation Foundation president Ian Lowe, speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, said John Howard was becoming increasingly alone in his approach to dealing with the issue of climate change.