Apart from a few recalcitrant
Greens, the bulk of the Australian public is yet to take much of an
interest in global warming. How else to explain the lack of comment on
the fact that the Howard government has so pointedly contradicted
itself within the space of two days.

First, as reported on the front page of yesterday’s Australian,
environment minister Ian Campbell said that “Australians must accept
that humans contribute to global warming and adapt their behaviour to
save the planet”, and that “argument about the causes and impact of
global warming had effectively ended”, despite the views of, as he put
it, “a very small handful of what we call sceptics.”

also said that John Howard was “100 per cent, very strongly” in support
of this view. But that’s not how it sounded yesterday afternoon, when
Howard made an attack on
Bob Carr, who is lobbying for ratification of the Kyoto protocol. No
recognition of climate change there; instead, it’s all about jobs: “I’m
amazed that a former Labor premier should advocate that we should sign
up to something that would export the jobs of Australian workers.”

no scientist, and I claim no competence on the scientific arguments
about climate change. But making a scientific issue into an ideological
battleground is always a worrying move, as those who remember the 1980s
arguments about asbestos can testify.

We’ve had to deal with
asbestos recently in the compensation claims against James Hardie, and
France has been focused on it this week with a Senate report
detailing its disastrous health consequences. But 20 years ago asbestos
was a matter of ideology, not science, with those on the right arguing
that the health problems were either imaginary or grossly exaggerated,
and that the whole thing was a left-wing conspiracy.

Now the
same sort of people – some of them the same people – make up Campbell’s
“small handful” of climate change sceptics, people such as the Lavoisier Group and Professor Bob Carter, featured in this morning’s Oz. How long will it take for them to look as silly as the asbestos sceptics do today?