Lyndon Johnson said in 1958: “In politics you’ve got to learn that overnight chicken sh-t can turn to chicken salad.”

Kevin Rudd and John Howard are busy trying to make climate change salad. As Paul Kelly says today, Howard is doing is slowly and without passion. Kevin Rudd is a true believer and has already set an emissions target.

The end point will in either case be set by climate change science and the economic imperatives of a nation with lots of coal, natural gas, waves, wind, uranium and sunlight.

Henry’s favourite editor, PP McGuinness has tackled the whole debate in the latest Quadrant editorial:

It is clear that for the time being our dependence on coal and natural gas as a domestic source of energy must continue. Clean coal technology, as well as CO2 sequestration (though still likely to be difficult and expensive) offers the best prospect for stopgap measures, although it will inevitable increase the cost of coal-generated energy substantially. And we will continue to be a major coal exporter, thus indirectly adding to the global emissions level. Motor vehicle fuel will continue to be an important source of emissions, though in the short run hybrid vehicles offer a palliative. In the long run hydrogen would make the best clean fuel for motor vehicles, but this will require a clean source of energy for the production of hydrogen in sufficient quantities. Which of course inevitable brings us to nuclear energy … The real obstacle is the obsession of the spoiled middle classes with Nimbyism – not in my backyard-ism.

This issue may become more important than IR is deciding the outcome of the next Federal election. Paul Kelly concludes:

If the nation wants conviction and passion on climate change then Howard is yesterday’s man. Howard will campaign as a realist, a balancer and a pragmatist who recognises the problem and is taking the first steps to respond. Howard will offer his balance as a virtue and depict the passion of his opponents as a threat to Australia.

One of the bigger risks for Rudd’s Labor is that it, or its supporters in the unions or the media, will go too far and play to John Howard’s administration’s unpassionate pragmatic professionalism. As Lord Melbourne once exhorted his cabinet: “Gentlemen, no enthusiasms, please”, or words to that effect.

John Roskam today points out some of the dangerous issues. For Henry, Sharan Burrow “dobbing” WorkChoices to the ILO is one of the most overt of such issues.

“… most [Australians] would regard it as a travesty to consider our industrial relations laws as somehow being analogous to the treatment suffered by unions and their leaders in Colombia. Last year in that country 70 unionists were murdered.”

The trick for Rudd’s Labor is that a majority of voters will conclude stuff like this is from the back end of the chicken, not a nice roast leg or breast. 

Read more at Henry Thornton.