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Federal

Mar 15, 2016

Hot autumn might catch out a denialist government

Malcolm Turnbull is stuck with a dud climate action policy. But voters want more -- much more.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

The intensely warm start to autumn across the eastern states appears to have prompted a rise in belief in climate change and the need for Australia to do something about it — one that might catch out a government that appears to be doubling down on the Abbott government’s wilful inaction on the issue.

With an unseasonable autumn heatwave across much of eastern Australia in recent weeks, 63% of voters agree that “climate change is happening and is caused by human activity” in today’s Essential Report — the highest level since Essential began asking the question in 2009. That’s up from 56% in November — the biggest jump ever. Belief that “we are just witnessing a normal fluctuation in the Earth’s climate” is down to 27%, from 32% in November and the lowest level ever. While there’s no ostensible connection between short-term weather outcomes and climate change, a global spike in temperatures in February caused alarm when it was revealed on the weekend by NASA.

Traditionally, Coalition voters tend not to accept climate change, but now belief in climate change has even overtaken scepticism among conservatives, 46%-42%.

The shift in voter sentiment is happening at a bad time for the Turnbull government, which remains wedded to the Abbott government’s climate denialist policies, including its commitment to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s bizarre Emissions Reduction Fund, which hands out huge grants to big polluters for energy efficiency measures they would have taken anyway. Hunt also talks about the government’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 26% on 2005 levels; which equates to only a 19.5% cut on the current base year we use, 2000, and a fraction of the 40-60% reduction on 2000 levels recommended by the Climate Change Authority.

Hunt might believe in climate change, but he is a dedicated denialist on the basic issue of whether his industry handout program can get Australia to even the paltry targets the Abbott government signed up to, let alone the ones required to meaningfully contribute to concerted international action to halt what increasingly looks like runaway climate change.

Absurdly, this morning Hunt was boasting on the ABC of “one of the most comprehensive plans in the world to reduce emissions” — a view no expert, and no one outside the government, holds. Even traditional government supporters like the Australian Industry Group have said that to meet the government’s low targets will cost $100 billion to $250 billion. Hunt this morning repeatedly insisted Australia’s emissions had peaked in 2005-06, despite all evidence to the contrary. In short, when it comes to climate change, everything is hunky-dory and nothing else needs to be done.

Unfortunately for Hunt, voters disagree. Essential also shows a jump in the number of voters who think Australia is failing to do enough on climate change. That’s up four points to 57% since August 2015, while the number of voters who think we’re “doing enough” has fallen from 24% to 21%. And more Coalition voters now think we’re not doing enough (38%) than doing enough (36%) — though 12% think we’re doing “too much”.

This is potentially fruitful territory for Labor, which has already committed to a return to stronger emissions targets, an emissions trading scheme and a much higher “goal” for renewable energy — but said virtually nothing in the way of hard detail. But its relentless narrative is that Turnbull has been a “disappointment” and that he is hamstrung by the far right of his party and by the Nationals under Barnaby Joyce — one of the strongest climate denialists in the Coalition. When Turnbull became Prime Minister there was considerable speculation about how he might navigate the climate action issue to achieve an effective policy that didn’t send the denialists into a frenzy. But since then, the issue has simply dropped off the agenda.

All Turnbull now has is a delusional Environment Minister and a dud policy. Voters clearly want much more. And more voters want it than ever before.

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21 comments

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21 thoughts on “Hot autumn might catch out a denialist government

  1. Aethelstan

    While the LNP government appears to have many fanatical and irrational climate change deniers in their midst, they are still spending over 2 billion … yes, that’s right … BILLION … on a climate change policy that uses tax payer funds to clean up the emissions caused by industrial polluters … but amazingly their policy includes no penalties for polluters … so … surprise, surprise … despite this impost on taxpayers emissions are increasing … pathetic. … … and then every now and again, Greg, the Mad Hatter of Climate Change appears to tell us everything is working and is wonderful, just wonderful!

  2. Jaybuoy

    The agile spiv is in trouble everywhere…it’s what happens when you are a fraud and don’t have the courage of your convictions..Supamal crossed the floor on this issue and now look at him..

  3. Jim O'Pines

    63% of voters agree that “climate change is happening and is caused by human activity” in today’s Essential Report — the highest level since Essential began asking the question in 2009. That’s up from 56% in November — the biggest jump ever.

    It seems to follow from this that there are still large swathes of the populace who make up their minds on the climate change question based on what the weather is like outside. Presumably come July these same people will be open to the denialist brigade’s ‘if climate change is real how come it’s still cold in winter?’ argument, the rhetorical power of which is, sadly, not to be underestimated.

  4. Aethelstan

    “All Turnbull has now is a delusional Environment Minister and a dud policy” … … that about sums it up, Mark … well said …

  5. Wayne Robinson

    As someone on a thread on Bad Astronomy noted, the 2016 spike in global temperatures is actually bad news. It means that AGW deniers will be able to claim, perhaps in 2030, that global warming stopped in 2016, as they did with the El Niño spike of 1998.

    Whenever I hear my local Liberal MP boast of the achievements of the Coalition (not many) and includes the abolition of the carbon price I want to get out my baseball bat and punish him. At the polling booth. Not that it would do much good though – I live in a very safe Liberal electorate,, and global warming isn’t generally regarded as a vote changer.

  6. John Newton

    Labor? Approving coal mines? Gimme a break

  7. Venise Alstergren

    WAYNE ROBINSON: I share your grief. I live in a blue ribbon Liberal seat. As far as I can remember, not once has the candidate of my choice ever beaten one of those smug, born to rule and sewshally aware clods.

  8. Roger Clifton

    Bring the Coalition to task by all means. However the other parties are also spectacularly failing action on emissions. Keep in mind that the Paris agreement was for “zero emissions“, requiring the prohibition of all coal, oil and gas.

    Yes, that must include “and gas“. That “and gas” is the phrase that almost all of us fail to include. The ALP says it will bring in “renewables” where the power comes from wind and gas backup. The Greens are even worse, they promise to get rid of coal to rescue the greenhouse, but they should promise to prohibit coal, oil and gas. Instead, all parties should be promising to bring us “non-carbon” energy, and negotiating with us on what that entails.

  9. Dog's Breakfast

    :…though 12% think we’re doing “too much”

    Yeah, when doing nothing at all is too much!

    Although giving away $2b to companies endangering our future is probably too much, so perhaps they have a point.

    Roger, your point is true, but gas backup is the best and logical step along the path to zero emissions. And no, nuclear is not zero emissions, the embedded emissions in the concrete are never ameliorated in the life of the reactor.

    How far off in the future will it be when people incredulously look back wondering how a government boasted about removing a carbon tax.

    That’s right folks, that was one of the big 3 achievements of this government. Not just doing nothing, we have gone backwards at an alarming rate.

    Never under-estimate the stupidity of the human collective.

  10. Andrea

    Letter from our Ambassador to the Editor in the New York Times today:
    Re “Australia turns its back on climate science” (March 4):
    Australia remains committed to climate science research and to increased global action to address climate change. The Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization, or Csiro, Australia’s top science agency, is making a strong contribution to the growing body of international climate change knowledge.
    There is also significant research being funded under the National Environmental Science Program, through the Australian Antarctic Division, and the climate data analysis, monitoring and forecasting efforts of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.
    Csiro will continue to lead the way, spending about 83 million Australian dollars a year on research into climate change mitigation and adaptation.
    Australia will continue to meet its climate change obligations and commitments, including those made in the Paris agreement.
    Joe Hockey, Washington