Will weather determine the election?

In the NYT, Thomas Friedman turns his attention to Australia and the politics of climate change. It is perhaps the most accurate assessment of the change in political climate that has occurred here this year. How did climate change move straight to the centre?

I asked Mr. Howard how it had happened. “It was a perfect storm,” he said. First came a warning from Nicholas Stern of Britain, who said climate change was not only real but could be economically devastating for Australia. Then the prolonged drought forced Mr. Howard to declare last month that “if it doesn’t rain in sufficient volume over the next six to eight weeks, there will be no water allocations for irrigation purposes” until May 2008 for crops and cattle in the Murray-Darling river basin, which accounts for 41 percent of Australian agriculture.

It was as if the pharaoh had banned irrigation from the Nile. Australians were shocked. Then the traditional Australian bush fires, which usually come in January, started in October because everything was so dry. Finally, in the middle of all this, Al Gore came to Australia and showed his film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

“The coincidence of all those things … shifted the whole debate,” Mr. Howard said.

That is a pretty accurate assessment of how this got on the agenda. And traditional skeptical sectors, such as businesses, did an about face.

Mr. Rudd said, Australian businesses are demanding that the politicians “get a regulatory environment settled” on carbon emissions trading so companies know what framework they will have to operate in — because they know change is coming.

But there is a little worry here. Does it depend on the weather? After a week of rain in Melbourne, it does give me pause to wonder.

John Howard asked people to pray for rain (seriously). But perhaps there is no one who wants rain to come more than he. If the Big Dry turned into a Big Wet for the next six months, would climate change fall back off the agenda?

Now I have written before that I believe that the shift, while sudden in the media’s eyes, was actually more gradual and largely unrelated to either current circumstance and current science. For this reason, there is a sufficient number of people for whom climate change and doing something about it will prove important. The issue are the swing voters. Will the immediate weather concerns loom large for them?

For that reason, those pushing for this election to make a difference will have to keep on their guard. The issue is how to keep it on the agenda in the face of short-term climate change — especially climate change people would be happy to see.

3 thoughts on “Will weather determine the election?”

  1. You beat me to posting on it Joshua. I was also impressed by Friedman’s accurate analysis. I think Howard accurately captured things too.

    While the change was swift I seem to recall that climate change ranked quite high as an issue of concern in the opinion polls last year. From memory it ranked ahead of the Iraq War as issue of concern.


  2. Without a doubt the swing voters will be worrying about the weather, at least where I am in Brisbane. Regardless of what water restrictions we’re on (level 5), everyone is starting to realise they can’t remember the last time it rained and there is little grass left in the whole city. I think the physical evidence that something’s not quite right influences voters more than Gore, Stern et al could possibly say. And if the election comes down to Queensland, then…


  3. Well, I’ve just listened to Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman say it out loud. He is no longer a climate skeptic. Bring on – watersaving, treeplanting, public transport, 5star environmentally friendly building standards, powersaving devices, carbon trading, yep, he’s got the lot except that he says we can have all that and tunnels too, although he admits he is going to have to scale down the 4WD from the V8 ( just to what he wasn’t saying.)
    If JWH says the same things I will start to believe him, even if he doesn’t include the “sorry.”
    Apropos the Friedman article, note that this is behind a payscreen, not just an address registration.


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