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John Howard, environmentalist

By Jennifer Marohasy - posted Monday, 24 December 2007


According to a recent Liberal Party report, the Howard government had $4.3 billion in its 2007-08 budget for the environment compared with less than $500 million in Labor’s last year of office.

If the prime minister had had his own plan, his own vision and ideas for the environment, his government may have been able to better prioritise issues and better able to consider expenditure in terms of its opportunity cost. But in the end, it seems his legacy would perhaps still be the prime minister who refused to ratify Kyoto and “save the world from global warming”.

Lord Nigel Lawson, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer in the British parliament, recently commented that despite Kyoto and innumerable international gatherings of the great and the good, little in practice has been done to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions. They continue to rise and the reason for this, of course, is that fine words are cheap, whereas the 70 per cent reduction in global carbon dioxide emissions which would be required to stabilise carbon dioxide concentrations in the earth’s atmosphere would be very costly indeed.

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The environment, and in particular “stopping climate change”, has emerged as an ideal in which seemingly well-educated people often search for the grand gesture as much as real actions likely to result in practical, lasting solutions. The situation is unlikely to change in the short to medium term, whether global temperatures continue to increase or cool. But what the next Liberal Party leader needs to attempt, at the very least, is to force a consideration of various policy options for Australia, including alternatives, costs and benefits, and global implications.

Environmentalism has been aptly described as the new religion of choice for urban atheists. It is belief-driven. But, hopefully, Australians have not lost all sense of reason - hopefully, Australians are just waiting to be dragged back to reality. After all, facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored.

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First published in the IPA Review, January 2008.

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About the Author

Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs.

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