Australia’s very own Captain Wacky today turns his fertile mind to climate change and, as sometimes happens, he makes a good deal of political sense. In his regular column in a daily financial newspaper (no link, subscribers only, very expensive), Mark Latham predicts a gloomy future for any kind of meaningful action on carbon reduction by governments now enmeshed in managing a global economic crisis.

“Anyone who has experienced public life in Australia knows that the greatest barriers to reform are apathy and greed”, notes the former Opposition Leader. “Policy changes that threaten the household budget also threaten a government’s survival”. And the Rudd government, he predicts quite sensibly, “has no intention of becoming an electoral kamikaze and the middle class has no intention of reducing its reliance on fossil fuels. Everything else is play acting.”

The pre-conditions for serious economic action on climate change have shifted dramatically in the past month. Proponents of drastic action must recognise this and must turn their minds to a pragmatic outcome that suits the (bad) times. As Capt. Wacky so succinctly describes the prospect of car-dependent outer-suburban Australians agreeing to curtail their car usage in the interests of the planet: “It’s a long walk from Struggle Street to the shopping mall and an even longer walk home humping a flat-screen TV on your back.” And therein lies a challenge for the government, opposition and Australian politics broadly: we need a way of dealing with the threats to our economy and environment in tandem and beyond the platitudinous analysis that perceives one as being the victim of the other due exclusively to the pre-eminence of pure politics. We need to find another way of doing things. Maybe two of them at once. 

Peter Fray

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