Gillard's got a new carbon weapon

The Climate Commission's report on this year's extreme weather conditions has come at a good time for Labor, and Julia Gillard's camp will milk it for all it's worth.

"The ground most difficult to see is always the patch one is standing on," wrote American columnist Katha Pollitt a few years ago, in reference to the socio-economic position each of us, often unconsciously, occupies. Quite so. But it's even more difficult to 'see' the very air around us. 

We do, of course, 'feel it' – and in Australia in 2013 that feeling has mostly been very hot.

It's been so hot, in fact, that the Climate Commission, led by media-friendly scientist Tim Flannery, has published a report on the heatwave entitled 'The Angry Summer'.

It noted that over the 90 days of summer, 123 records were broken in Australian weather – the hottest day on record, the hottest summer on record, the driest summer for decades in Victoria, and record flood peaks in parts of Queensland.

'Twas ever thus', is the natural retort – didn't Dorothea McKellar pick it in her poem 'My Country', with its 'land of sweeping plains/ Of ragged mountain ranges/ Of droughts and flooding rains'?

Well the Climate Commission thinks something has changed since McKellar sweated over that poem, and points out: "All extreme weather events are now occurring in a climate system that is warmer and moister than it was 50 years ago. This influences the nature, impact and intensity of extreme weather events."

That, in a nutshell, is the battleground on which 'warmenists' and 'deniers' fight. There is no question of the 'greenhouse effect' of CO2 in laboratory tests, meaning the giant body of scientific work on global warming can only be seriously attacked at one main point – the complex interaction of the effects of greenhouse gases and water vapour in the atmosphere, which a small minority think allows the theory of anthropogenic global warming to be challenged (this columnist does not).

In recent political history, extreme weather events have been used around the world to back global warming arguments. The twelve-year drought that gripped Australia through the Howard years was a case in point. Howard went to the 2007 election promising a cap-and-trade plan to reduce carbon emissions, prompted by opinion polls that showed support for climate action at around 68 per cent. Hot stuff.

In 2006/07 voters looked at their brown lawns and thought we'd better do something to make them green again. While that might not be a very flattering picture of the intelligence of the average voter, much of the blame for making such simple correlations has to be laid at the feet of journalists – linking a drought to global warming makes for a great headline.

And if anybody thinks journalists have lifted their game in this regard, it should be noted that exit polls at the Western Australian election showed punters really thought most of the increase in power prices they've experienced was down to carbon pricing. Simply not true.

So expect Labor, progenitor of one of the most controversial reforms in Australian history, to seek to exploit this kind of ignorance going into the September 14 election.

Indeed, somewhere in the sweatshop Labor uses to manufacture its 'messages' for the Australian people, an exploited 457 visa work is raking over the recent weather stats to see where they can be crafted into media bombshells for use closer to election day (his name is John McTernan, and he's undoubtedly earning a motza for his work (Is Gillard's spin doctor getting too much credit? January 3).

The message will be that Labor had the 'guts' to legislate and weather (sorry) the political storms (sorry again).

The Abbott-led coalition also has a plan to 'stop the droughts!' in its direct action plan, but Labor can take the high ground on having the better policy. It's not far off the policy climate change shadow minister Greg Hunt championed in his old honours thesis. It's close to the one John Howard, Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull liked too. It's market based (well, about half of it is). And it will soon link to the EU emissions trading scheme, where permits are cheap due to floundering eurozone economies. Yay!

Moreover, the Australia Insitute has forecast that the 'hundreds of thousands' of applications from companies for direct-action assistance, will require "at least 11,000 bureacrats to administer", which if true would substantially undermine the Coalition's plan to cut the public service head count in Canberra.

Who knows if voters will still remember the heat of the Angry Summer by early next spring. 

But whether they do or not, Labor will milk every opportunity to say ‘we got carbon pricing done, and not a moment too soon’.

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