Nick Minchin is someone in the Liberal Party I respect so I am puzzled about his remarks urging caution over the claimed case for anthropogenic climate change.
Nick is correct that we should maintain a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the likely extent of climate change given underlying climatic uncertainties. We should keep an open mind and be prepared to revise our views as knowledge accumulates. But as I read Nick’s argument he is also saying we should not take determined action to deal with climate change because really disastrous scenarios envisaged might not eventuate. That does not seem sound. As I argued last week, even if there are relatively low probabilities of disastrous scenarios developing we should still take action now if the costs associated with disasters are large enough.
Moreover, Nick’s claim that Australia should not take decisive action to control carbon emissions because our aggregate emissions are a small proportion of total global emissions is not a sensible claim. In 20 years China will be the world’s largest carbon emitter. We need to be among bthe developed countries that can apply moral pressure on China to address this issue. Hypocrisy will not help in this regard.
In practical political terms Nick is opposing any carbon trading scheme for Australia. He sees attempts to get such a scheme off the ground as letting political pressure drive decisions on environmental policy when the stakes for the Australian economy are too high. He states: ‘There is never a finality to almost anything in the scientific world. Even the most hardened advocates of (global warming) accept that the world's climate is the most complex system imaginable. I doubt you could ever say the matter will be settled.’ This complexity of the climatic system is acknowledged but the last statement might be wrongly taken as implying there is wiill never be a case for taking action.
Many conservatives will probably vote for the Liberal Party because they dislike Labor. But climate change is a serious concern that rises above politics. Many conservatives will have serious problems maintaining traditional allegiances if the Liberal Party went into the next election campaign without a convincing, definite position of being committed to deal with climate change. Business and consumer groups - even some coal workers favor taking action.
Moreover, disgruntled conservatives have options for registering a protest vote against the Liberal Party. They can give their first preference to the Greens. This might not harm the Liberals much in the next Federal election, as they will give their second preference to the Liberals, but it won’t help the Liberals much in what looks like a difficult election campaign for them.