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The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

The climate change divide

climate change divide

Credit: sxc.hu

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Australia is split right down the middle on the question of climate change.

As reported here, Newspoll finds we are evenly divided on whether we would pay more to wind back greenhouse gas emissions. This is critical because Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pledged to introduce a carbon tax next year which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by pushing up the price of electricity from coal-fired power stations. According to Newspoll, three in four Australians believe climate change is occurring. Indeed, 77 per cent are convinced and 18 per cent are not. Twenty-three per cent believe climate change was caused entirely by human activity while 71 per cent say it is “partly caused” by humans. And yet, when it comes to putting a price on carbon, which will put up the price of petrol, electricity and gas, Australians were evenly split. Newspoll found that 49 per cent were against paying more while those in favour of it came in at 47 per cent. There is not much separating the two.

So how will this play out politically? That’s a critical question because it could reshape our next government. Crikey reports that polling from the Essential Report showing that Tony Abbott and the Coalition are now ahead of Labor on the question of climate change. Significantly, however there’s a high proportion of people at 29 per cent - the same percentage as the ones supporting Abbott – who were undecided on the issue. So the poll shows Labor has some serious image problems on the issue. Former Labor party president Barry Jones says the ALP’s handling of the climate change issue has been “absymsal”.

The really interesting part about the Essential research from Crikey though is the way it highlights how deeply divided we are on the issue.

The polling shows that fewer believe humans are causing climate change. According to the poll, 53 per cent said climate change was happening and caused by human activity in November 2009, but that’s fallen to 45 per cent now. But most of that has happened because more people are putting themselves in the “Don’t Know” category. The percentage of people saying they believed climate change was “just a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate” rose two points to 36 per cent while those saying “Don’t Know” rose six points to 19 per cent.

Still, tackling climate change is important to 61 per cent of voters, compared to 35 per cent saying it isn’t important. And while climate change was of high importance to Green voters, even a majority of Liberal-National voters believe it’s important, 50-47 per cent. Labor voters were split 73-25 per cent.

In the end, it all comes down to leadership. Businessman Graeme Wood, the co-founder of wotif.com has condemned politicians for running scared on climate change.

“Our two major political parties are between them the worst combination to get things going,'' he said. ''You've got Tony Abbott and his neanderthals and Martin Ferguson still stuck in last century,’’ Wood says. “Our politicians are scared of everything. We don't elect them to be scared, we elect them to lead. They are like rabbits. As soon as somebody doesn't like something, they jump back down their holes and disappear.”

Our political leaders will need to convince voters that climate change is a problem happening right now. They need to understand the psychology of climate change. As I point out in my column in the Brisbane Times, a lot of people struggle to accept climate change because they have trouble with long term thinking. Many have difficulty conceptualising life in 50 years time with some believing the “far distant future” would happen in their lifetime.

But are our politicians up to the task? Until they do, Australians will remain split right down the middle on climate change.