Australia’s mainstream political class has handled the issue of climate change disastrously.

The Howard years were an extended period of denial, even as the evidence mounted, the public called for action and the scientific consensus developed to the point where only corrupted researchers, climate flatearthers and right-wing bloggers seriously argued against it. Throughout it, a timid Opposition made much of its commitment to Kyoto, but spoke little about taking seriously the challenge of an overheating planet. Only the Greens consistently argued for action.

The consequences of this failure are evident in the profoundly pessimistic nature of the Garnaut Review, which essentially gives away icons like the Great Barrier Reef because it’s too late to prevent significant warming and too hard to forge an effective international agreement.

In spite of this, our two major political parties continue to argue the toss over whether to start in 2010 or 2011, who to exempt and how much compensation should be doled out to our biggest polluters — including motorists.

Based on the small-minded response of Labor and the Coalition to date, Garnaut’s pessimism looks well-founded.