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Canberra, take note: climate change is what terrifies us

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  • Mike Neuman
    Canberra, take note: climate change is what terrifies us Peter Hartcher Political Editor October 3, 2006 THIS year s Lowy Institute poll reveals Australian
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 3, 2006
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      Canberra, take note: climate change is what terrifies us
      Peter Hartcher Political Editor
      October 3, 2006

      THIS year's Lowy Institute poll reveals Australian concern over
      global warming to be the big "sleeper" issue of national affairs, a
      problem that worries Australians more than Islamic fundamentalism.

      Australian public convictions on climate change have crept up on our
      political leaders and have now overtaken them. The political party
      that can best respond will harness a powerful force.

      As the institute's executive director, Allan Gyngell, observes, "this
      has become mainstream; it's no longer just an issue for Greens and
      people dressed up in koala suits".

      The annual Lowy Institute poll exposes three clear Australian
      conclusions about climate change. There is no ambiguity or hesitation
      on this issue any longer, with the "don't know" responses down to an
      unusually low 1 per cent.

      First, this is a very big issue: 68 per cent of respondents rate it
      as a "critical threat" to Australia's vital interests over the next
      10 years.

      This puts it in the top three perceived threats to the country, with
      international terrorism at 73 per cent and the danger of hostile
      nations acquiring nuclear weapons at 70 per cent, and ahead of
      Islamic fundamentalism, at 60 per cent, and competition from low-wage
      countries at 34 per cent.

      Second, doubt about whether or not global warming is "real" has been
      virtually eliminated in the public mind. Only 7 per cent of
      respondents want to wait "until we are sure" before taking action to
      deal with the problem, even if that action entails costs.

      The third and most powerful finding is that Australians are already
      braced for the idea that there will be costs involved in finding

      Of the three available answers, 68 per cent of respondents chose the
      most emphatic and urgent option presented by the pollsters: "Global
      warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking
      steps now, even if this involves significant costs."

      This does not tell us if Australians are prepared to make personal
      sacrifices. It does not tell us if we would accept a carbon tax and,
      therefore, more expensive power generation.

      It does not tell us if, conversely, we will accept costs only if
      someone else pays them.

      What the poll does tell us, as Gyngell says, is that "people have
      moved beyond the rhetorical concern and understand that addressing
      this will involve a cost".

      This is new information in the evolving Australian grasp of the
      issue. It puts public opinion ahead of Howard Government policy,
      which has only just conceded that the phenomenon is real and has yet
      to admit that the solution may involve any cost.

      Otherwise, the Lowy poll confirms that the pre-existing paradox of
      Australian attitudes to the world remains in place.

      That is, Australians are very suspicious of our only strategically
      significant near neighbour, Indonesia, yet we are also very wary of
      the country which we would expect to help us in the event of any
      conflict, the United States. We trust neither our neighbour nor our
      purported saviour.

      But we have decided we know one thing for sure: the big new threat is
      global warming and we are prepared to pay a price to deal with it.
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