John Howard has taken a lot of flak over climate change – being called a fool, a sceptic and a troglodyte. But, smart politician that he is, he probably read the implications sooner than most.
The energy giant Exxon’s first response to the growing tide of climate change evidence was to surreptitiously fund a number of spurious projects and set up websites that promoted climate change scepticism.
Why? Because not only did it see its interests threatened, it also realised that its window of opportunity for record profits was about to narrow appreciably; it was all about buying time.
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Similarly with John Howard, whose time in government has coincided with a prolonged spell of economic sunshine for the profit makers.
He appreciated very early on that economic growth was underpinned by a plentiful supply of cheap energy, a situation that was increasingly unsustainable.
Once climate change was widely accepted, and actual measures were being proposed to address it, the equation would change: profits would be squeezed, costs would be passed on to consumers in order to protect profit margins, inflation would soar, and so on.
In other words, the age of unfettered capitalism – carried on at the expense of a fragile global ecology – was coming to, if not an end, then at least a period of serious curtailment and restriction.
He does not, of course, speak about profits; but what he constantly links the issue to is jobs – and he has a point, and one that the electorate will not dismiss lightly.
He is accused of dragging the chain over Kyoto, but there is more to his stand than mere obstinate gainsaying. He saw the implications of the whole scenario earlier than most; it was just that they were too horrible to face.