Perhaps Australian Treasurer Peter Costello is a Der Spiegel reader. The rather complacent view of the perils of global warming evident in last night’s budget speech reflect the provocative conclusion to an investigation by the leading German news magazine that “despite widespread fears of a greenhouse hell, the latest computer simulations are delivering far less dramatic predictions about tomorrow’s climate.”

Mr Costello acknowledged the responsibility to manage the environment for future generations and that “one of the serious long term threats is global warming.”

It is just that his outline of the economic direction of the nation failed to contain any new initiatives to do anything about it. Perhaps he, like Der Spiegel’s Olaf Stampf, has concluded that climate change hysteria appears to be more contagious than a flu epidemic and did not want to add to it.

Certainly there are many in our federal government who would agree that while climate change will undoubtedly have losers — it will also have winners. An acceptance that “there will be a reshuffling of climate zones on earth” is behind the investigation being lead by the Prime Minister’s mate Senator Bill Heffernan in to ways of moving agriculture from Australia’s apparently drying south to an increasingly wet north.

And clearly Treasurer Costello agrees with Der Spiegel that there is something else that we can already say with certainty: The end of the world isn’t coming any time soon. His budget give-aways and the lack of urgency about plans to curb carbon dioxide emissions suggest our Cabinet may even be latter day Arrhenians.
It was the Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius, the father of the greenhouse effect, writes Stampf, who dared to predict a paradise on earth for humans when he announced, in April 1896, that temperatures were rising — and that it would be a blessing for all.

Arrhenius, who later won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, calculated that the release of carbon dioxide — or carbonic acid as it was then known — through burning coal, oil and natural gas would lead to a significant rise in temperatures worldwide. But, he argued, “by the influence of the increasing percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere, we may hope to enjoy ages with more equable and better climates,” potentially making poor harvests and famine a thing of the past.

As Der Spiegel reminds us, Arrhenius was merely expressing a view that was firmly entrenched in the collective consciousness of the day: warm times are good times; cold times are bad.

Perhaps John Howard believes that the more things change the more they remain the same.