In attempting to dictate the terms of the
response to climate change, John Howard is the doctor who denied the disease,
but now wants to prescribe the cure. And the press gallery shows every sign of
letting him get away with it.

In fairness, the gallery may be doing
the best they can, given they are intellectually retarded on this subject,
having shown little interest in it over the years. Search the archives, in vain,
for a serious piece by a serious “insider” on what has been a monumental failure
of national public policy.

As a pack, the gallery has allowed the climate
change debate to be framed by the government – first it wasn’t happening; then
it was happening, but there wasn’t much Australia could do, now it is serious
and nuclear energy will fix it. At each point, the stance has been either
totally wrong, or at least questionable, but the fourth estate has been missing
in action.

There is also a subtle rewriting of history abroad in the
notion that this issue has only recently been settled. Twaddle. For example, on
the 8th November 1989, Margaret Thatcher gave a stirring speech on the subject
to the UN (you find an extract here). The Kyoto Protocol was agreed to in December,
1997 and a total of 163 countries have ratified it.

For the debate in
Australia to catch up with the UK and the US, we have some way to go. No-one
from the cult of denial has yet recanted, as Ron Bailey from
Reason
did in August; and Gregg
Easterbrook in The New York Times
did a few days
ago.

Such intellectual honesty is rare among Australia’s commentariat, but
perhaps a little of it can be expected on the biggest issue facing humanity? It
would help. A few other quick examples might show how far behind the game
Australia is. In October 2004, the
Queen urged Tony Blair
to push George W Bush over the
issue. In June last year, then Conservative leader Michael Howard
wrote this
column
attacking Tony Blair for lack of
action.

A single-minded focus on nuclear energy may leave us with all our
eggs in one policy basket, which would be a governance failure in the course of
addressing a long-term governance failure. As Dennis Shanahan pointed out
in The Weekend Australian (not available online), Bush and Howard are using
nuclear power to “take control of the global warming debate and reshape it in a
developmentally friendly fashion”.

As
they would. And nuclear energy has to be considered as part of the
solution. But, if it is too slow to come online, too expensive or too
dangerous, why is the government getting away with frustrating the
development of renewable energy sources. (Orange-bellied parrot, anyone?)

Australia needs to do better and quick about it. But it is less
likely to until the media does better, faster.

Peter Fray

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