Global warming is different to any other political issue of our times. Not because its advocates are more passionate about their cause — there are plenty of other issues with equally impassioned advocates – but for two other reasons.

Firstly, global warming is, literally, an issue of survival. There can be debate about the precision of the scientific evidence, but all that does is make it a debate about the level of risk governments are prepared to take on behalf of their constituents. The very real prospect of a climatic catastrophe sits so far ahead of any other issue – including terrorism and financial wellbeing – that global warming cannot be categorised under G in the filing cabinet of political issues. It needs its own filing cabinet.

Secondly, global warming is generational, not ideological. Most other issues of the political agenda are part of the passing parade of topics that rise and fall in the public consciousness within weeks or months. Those issues are about “values” or “prosperity” or “security” and they play to a range of constituencies. Global warming is an issue that plays to all constituencies, particularly anyone with more than 20 years left to live. It is generational, not ideological.

Those are the reasons why the Howard government, indeed any government, will have no choice but to talk and act as if this is an issue of survival. The spectre of a grandfatherly-looking 67-year-old prime minister urging Australians – 62% of whom are under 45 – to be cautious over claims about the risk of climate change is absurd. Politically and logically.