Beyond U.S., Climate Politics Stir Parallel
October 23, 2012, 9:32 pm ET by Jason M. Breslow
Last autumn should have been a high point in the career of Julia Gillard. Instead,
Australia’s prime minister found herself trapped in a script familiar to many in the United
In February 2011, Gillard proposed an ambitious plan (PDF) to establish a market-based
trading program for carbon emissions. Just as health care reform fueled Tea Party outrage
in the U.S., the proposal similarly incensed a conservative opposition in Australia.
Minority Leader Tony Abbott — who has dismissed climate science as “crap” — called
for a “people’s revolt” against the measure. After the legislation narrowly cleared
parliament in November, conservatives turned the plan into a rallying cry, embracing
repeal as a central plank of their 2013 platform.
One year later, Australia’s bruising fight over cap-and-trade stands as a reminder that
despite broad scientific consensus on global warming, an unsettled political debate over
the issue is not unique to the U.S.
The conservative backlash in Australia has led to a shift in public opinion. In June, a poll
from the country’s Lowy Institute for International Policy found that 63 percent of
Australians now oppose the new climate change law, with 57 percent of respondents in
favor of eliminating the cap-and-trade plan. The same poll (PDF) found that little more
than a third of the population, 36 percent, now support “the most aggressive form of
action” to fight global warming, down from 68 percent in 2006.
Fueling the debate in Australia, where 80 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from
coal, are groups that share many of the same doubts about climate science as do critics in
America. One such organization, the Galileo Movement, says its mission is “to expose
misrepresentations of global warming,” and even counts a leading American contrarian
on the issue, Fred Singer, as an independent adviser.
Australia is hardly alone. In Canada, home to the world’s third largest oil reserves, the
debate over climate politics is similarly split along partisan lines. While 91 percent of
self-identified liberals believe global warming is occurring, just 64 percent of
conservatives held the same view, according to a 2011 survey from the Brookings
That divide has contributed to a standoff over climate policy, as well as ongoing feuds
between scientists and the government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In May, for example, the nation’s environment minister accused several environmental groups of money