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Wild weather could help blow in the new carbon tax
by Mal Farr

04 Feb

The Gillard Government is determined to get a victory on carbon emission penalties within 12 months, and a key factor in this political process could be the latest weather reports.

Scenes like this devastation in Cardwell may yet pave the way for a shift in public sentiment on the carbon emissions penalties. Image: AFP
The general public was more receptive to the arguments for global warming the last time the weather was big news, when Australia was dealing with record drought and lethal bush fires.

They might be willing to listen again following the counter events of massive flood and wild winds across much of the continent.

There is no broadly accepted direct link between climate change and Australia’s natural disasters of the past month, but they fit the theory of global warming causing “severe’’ weather.

The theory says that a hotter world generates more energy in the atmosphere and draws up more water, which falls as rain or snow, at times accompanied by powerful winds.

It’s not the appearance of floods and cyclones, it’s the intensity of their effect which global warming backers argue is important.

The oversized and destructive meteorological features in Australia and elsewhere – such as the freak “thundersnow’’ hitting Chicago – have encouraged claims that the forecast consequences of global warning have started.

It’s not just that a cyclone has hit Queensland. There have been some 60 of them in recorded history. The stark factor is the size of the blow.

And it’s not just that there has been heavy flooding in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. This is a regular event. It’s the magnitude of the inundations that is the additional element.

The recent disasters are producing some forthright comments. Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, in today’s Australian, made his strongest public endorsement of nuclear power in this country—unfortunately, perhaps, doing so just a few weeks short of the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe in the Ukraine.

Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne have made clear they blame coal miners for the horrors in Queensland.

As the advance gales of cyclone Yasi were about to breach the north Queensland coast on Wednesday, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet was giving reporters a confidential briefing.

There was little new in what he said. The intention appeared to be to reinforce the pledge from Prime Minister Julia Gillard earlier in the week that the Government would get a price on carbon emissions.

And that it would be done this year.

Combet reaffirmed the Government’s preference for the so-called hybrid mechanism, which would see a price put on carbon – effectively a tax – and the evolution of an emission trading scheme later.

Details will be put to the Greens and cross-benchers as the debate gathers pace.

The expressions of determination by Government figures underlined the key difference between now and the last time voters, in general, were ready to hear about climate change.

Back in 2006-2008, the Coalition also believed in global warming caused by human activity, and had policies to deal with it. Remember Malcolm Turnbull? Remember, indeed, John Howard?

Today the Coalition under Liberal Leader Tony Abbott is hostile to the theory of global warming and the Government’s response.

Gillard will have to bring a majority of cross-benchers, and the Greens in the Senate after July 1, with her if she is to fulfill that legislative pledge, because Abbott will not help her.

The Government will have to convince voters that global warning must be addressed, and that Australia must take action because it is more vulnerable than most nations to climate change.

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