Be careful not to read the wrong lessons from the surprise result of Australia’s so-called ‘climate-change’ election. The conservative political coalition was re-elected after six years of tumult, despite opinion polls suggesting the country was ready for a change.
It would be wrong to infer the conservatives are popular. It would also be quite wrong to read the election result as a sign that voters don’t care about the environment and that climate change is a losing issue. Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who stymied climate policy for years, lost to an independent who campaigned on climate change issue. A few other new candidates prioritizing climate change also won.
In actual fact, voters don’t care for tone deaf politicians. The overall election result is a sign that the conservatives’ political rivals, the Labour Party, did not offer viable enough policy proposals and didn’t sell them in a winning fashion.
It’s not as if Australia is unaware of the effects of climate change. Australia just experienced its hottest summer on record. Water shortages have led to fish dying in drying rivers.
But voters don’t care for politicians who talk about climate change without making clear that moving to clean energy won’t automatically mean coal miners go to the poor house. Voters want to know that climate change policies will be put in place alongside a plan to offer retraining and support to coal-miners.
The Australian Labour Party, alas, did not stress that, with the result that it lost support within the coal-mining community. Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Liberal-National coalition won because of a surge of support in Queensland, the rural, coal-producing, sparsely populated state.
The same sort of thing happened with Hillary Clinton in the US. The message “Trump digs coal” won more support in coal country than Mrs Clinton’s detailed proposals on clean, green energy and her (all but unheard) detailed policies to retrain miners.
It is a lesson in a basic truth – all politics has to be wily but the politics of climate change must be specially so. It needs a good dose of savvy.