Ends versus means on global warming

This month’s Newspoll on nuclear power plants, as reported in The Australian yesterday, again highlights the political complexity of the greenhouse issue. While several polls confirm that the public believes global warming to be a major issue, they do not accept the most feasible ways of reducing emissions. In this poll, 50% are against nuclear power plants, and only 35% are in favour – with most of the remaining 15% of unsure respondents likely to go for a negative response if pressed (if people are forced to choose they tend to go for status quo options; all the more so on an issue ripe for scare campaigns like this one).

Due to the particular history of this issue, with opposition to uranium mining an article of faith on the left, we have the situation of Labor voters being considerably more likely (80%/60%) than Coalition voters to think global warming is a serious issue but considerably less likely (29%/51%) than Coalition voters to support a way of significantly reducing emissions. It is another example of the reluctance of left-of-centre voters to see politics and policy in pragmatic terms.

7 thoughts on “Ends versus means on global warming

  1. It’s interesting how the Oz reported Howard as basically insinuating that people who oppose nuclear power but want to reduce greenhouse gases are being irrational. In my experience, there is no shortage of people who believe that the best way for Australia to reduce greenhouse gases is for the government to subsidise every household to have a solar panel on the roof. This would roughly double electricity bills (including the subsidy). But this is of little importance when up against ideological objections to nuclear power or John Howard or both.

    But even if we in Australia are willing to pay (or require our residents to pay) double for electricity, it is unrealistic to believe that the governments of China or India will feel the same way. So if growth in greenhouse gases on a global scale is to be curbed, nuclear is the only short to medium term option.


  2. “It is another example of the reluctance of left-of-centre voters to see politics and policy in pragmatic terms.”
    Hardly, it just shows that ppl like to have their cake and eat it too. OTOH the right-of-centre voters have a tendency to vote in ppl who’s apparent solution is to deny that global warming exists, and if it does, it’s far too expensive to do anything about it.
    As with everything in politics the right and the left both have different (ideologically correct) ways of dealing with a problem. As of now the left’s approach has been pretty much additional taxation (ie. petrol taxes) and more regulation (ie. Kyoto). (Does that surprise anyone?)
    The right has yet to form an alternative position, it’s still moving away from the denialist position that it has previously held. The nuclear position is prolly the only prominent policy solution which gets widely advocated by the right, and then generally as a cudgel against the left.

    Hmm.. I should generalise less.


  3. I haven’t followed through your links but the way your post is written suggests that nuclear power is the only way to reduce emissions. This by no means discredits the “left-of-centre” actions.


  4. Andrew, I also agree. Nuclear as an option is a cornerstone debate. Solar and other options should play an increased role as well – but as they stand are not able to supply sufficient quantities of power for a modern society.

    As an aside – I would say that Labour in Britain and the Left of centre parties in Europe are often pro-nuclear, so it is not a worldwide phenomena. The whole Rainbow Warrior/Green Peace/Nuclear Disarmament movement has been remarkably able to stop any talk of nuclear in Oz but that is by no means an international outcome. I would say that often the Left has been more pro than against since Kyoto.

    I recall Hawke was arguing that central Australia could be a storage facility for a global fee of global waste: anyone want to take on that debate? from a global stand point it makes sense.

    PS. I like consumption – I am no monk.


  5. The inconsistency will reveal itself in declining electoral appeal for Rudd who has stood inflexible on the uranium issue – he won’t even force Labor states to allow mining it. Rudd’s honeymoon period will end and people will look beneath the verbiage to what he proposes as policy and there isn’t much there. He wants an ‘industry policy’ to address declining manufacturing, wants greenhouse gas controls but doesn’t want a source of electricity that will enable both those things to happen.

    And the careful, cautious Switowski review has been published in the midst of his claims.

    The other big inconsistency that I repeatedly note is between the Green Left’s love for the environment and their hostility to economics. This means they want more people but don’t want to despoil the environment and certainly don’t want to price it. But you cannot have both – more people without measures to price our natural environment appropriately.


  6. opposition to uranium mining [is] an article of faith on the left

    “the left” is a pretty diverse bunch – arguably even more so than “the right”. This lefty does not hold such opposition as an article of faith at all, and I’m far from alone.

    But I’d be more comfortable with the government’s position if it wasn’t so obviously motivated by the prospect of wedging the opposition (which wedge, of course, wouldn’t work if the left’s views on the issue weren’t diverse) and laying smoke to cover its humiliating retreat. The only “careful” thing about the Switkowski review was the setting of the ToR and choice of personnel; Johnny would never hold an inquiry unless he knew its findings in advance.


  7. As Corin has pointed out, there is no intrinsic reason why the left should oppose a nuclear industry – there never was, and even less so now that greenhouse is a major concern. But for various historical reasons virtually all opposition to uranium mining in Australia has come from the left, and that is reflected in both activism and public opinion.

    As I have said before in response to DD’s comments, the generalisations I make are never meant to imply that all cases conform to them – just that there are significant and persistent correlations.


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