Two years ago, Australia delivered a warning to American climate activists, when voters threw out the ruling Labor Party and installed right-wing Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott, who pledged to repeal Labor’s carbon tax. It was a reminder how treacherous energy politics can be, which also helps to explain why President Obama treads so carefully on the subject.
Today, Australia delivers another message, that governments cannot survive on trashing the environment alone.
Abbott was ousted by his own party today, as Liberal Parliament members replaced him with Malcolm Turnbull. Six years ago, Turnbull wrote an op-ed headlined “Abbott’s Climate Change Policy Is Bullshit.”
At the time, Turnbull lost an intraparty war over the climate. And today, he has not quite won. Upon victory, Turnbull promised not to alter Abbott’s climate policies for the time being, shelving his own preference for an “emissions trading scheme.” But he may make a symbolic move and attend the international climate talks in December.
More importantly, Abbott was unable to use his repeal of the carbon tax, and his anti-immigration policies, to maintain support. As he lost public opinion over budget cuts to health care, education and jobless aid, according to the BBC, “Mr Abbott’s regular mantra that he had ‘stopped the boats’ and ‘axed the tax’ eventually wore thin.”
Such is the problem with conservative demagoguery. Once it fails to deliver benefits to the public, it becomes exposed.
Australia, the largest per capita greenhouse gas emitter in the world, may not abruptly join the ranks of the carbon cutters. But the next general election (barring another party coup, which in Australia cannot be ruled out) will pit two party leaders who accept the climate science. Only good things for the environment can follow.