The Conservatoriat have been running hard on Labor’s climate change woes, the first real Labor fumbled flick pass of the campaign (as opposed to the simple torpor of their first week).
It certainly looks damaging – ministers having to make same day gang-of-four style retractions, virtually with signs round their neck – whatever “baldy rock geek” looks like in Mandarin. Nevertheless it won’t do the Howard government a blind bit of good for a whole range of reasons.
The first is that the Howard government is never going to own climate change as an issue. That’s not only because Howard fudged it for so long, or because various junior ministers and backbenchers latched onto some fourth rate denialism. It’s simply because climate change doesn’t fit with the idea of the right. People recognise implicitly or otherwise that it constitutes a global challenge to humanity in a way that can’t be dealt with by market forces.
They see it as calling for global supra-market action (effectively by a de facto global state) in the same way as people saw the post WW2 era as requiring Labour governments to set the conditions for social change.
The conservatoriat are way way behind the public on this and have been for years – they’re so used to thinking in terms of cost-benefit risk analyses etc etc that they forget that people see, in their mind’s eye, their grandchildren choking to death.
Yet the other (related) reason is that while the big picture of climate change is as concrete as you can get – life or death – the mechanics of Kyoto have long since shot far beyond anyone’s comprehension or interest.
Labor is being super cautious in not being outflanked a la the 2004 Tasmanian surprise, but I would be surprised if more than 5% of non-green voters had followed the minutiae of Garrett’s announcement and retraction. And the issue simply won’t play out like 2004. The killing juxtaposition of Latham with trees and Howard with timber-workers worked because it called on old memories of Labor – ie of the Hawke/Keating years – as having become elitist, and out of touch.
It was the condensed symbolism of the tree versus the bloke in a miller shirt that gave that moment its kick-in-the-gut effect, and helped it lose Labor key outer suburban seats.
People don’t assimilate climate change to the past in the way the right do. They see it as a question of the future that has ruled a line under older disputes. Thus, though there’s obviously a relationship between trees and CO2 levels, people don’t necessarily make it. They’re quite capable of simultaneously despising tree huggers and thinking that they want a PM who’ll be serious about tackling global warming.
Climate change, after all, is one of those issues where irrationality comes fully into play. To see the truth of that, you only have to look, over the last five years, at the stuff the right’s been saying…