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Are most Australians really climate ‘agnostics’?

John Howard, Australia

John Howard speaks at a press conference in London with Global Warming Policy Foundation director Benny Peiser, left. Photograph: Julian Drape/AAP


Powered by article titled “Are most Australians really climate ‘agnostics’?” was written by Alexander White, for on Sunday 19th January 2014 20.37 UTC

Last year, former conservative Australian prime minister John Howard gave a speech at the climate change denying Global Warming Policy Foundation in London.

In his speech, he derided climate change mitigation advocates as “alarmists” and “zealots” for whom “the cause has become a substitute religion”. He also said that politicians should not heed the advice of scientists when making policy, and repeated the denialist line that climate change was natural: “Of course the climate is changing. It always has,” he said.

Most extraordinarily, for man who was renowned by the media as having the pulse of Australians, he made the claim that:

The high tide of public support for over-zealous action on global warming has passed. My suspicion is that most people in countries like ours have settled into a state of sustained agnosticism on the issue.

John Howard’s prime ministership was notable for several things in Australia: The cruel and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, the squandering of a once-in-a-generation mining boom, the privatisation of many national assets, trashing of Australia’s productivity through WorkChoices, taking Australia blindly into an illegal and immoral war in Iraq, and the dubious honour of leading the highest taxing and most profligate government in Australia’s history.

On climate change, he was also an abject failure as prime minister. He refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, lumping Australia in with global climate change pariah George W. Bush, and refused to countenance a renewable energy target. His government dithered over the crucial Murray Darling Basin system, pushing it to the point of collapse.

Howard’s excuse was that, so far as climate change policy was concerned, he hit a perfect storm of decade-long drought combined with the release of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth.

Now that the drought has broken, Howard asserts, most people have become climate agnostics.

Agnosticism is a synonym for “skepticism” or “unbelieving”. With deeply ironic theological overtones, an agnostic is someone who believes that nothing can ever known about the existence or non-existence of God. Applied to “climate agnosticism” it implies that nothing is know or can be known about whether climate change is real or caused by human activity. (It is real and is caused by human activity.)

Does his view hold up? Are Australians climate agnostics?

The Essential Report, a regular poll of topical issues and voting intentions in Australia, asked the question:

Do you believe that there is fairly conclusive evidence that climate change is happening and caused by human activity or do you believe that the evidence is still not in and we may just be witnessing a normal fluctuation in the earth’s climate which happens from time to time?

The results are shown in the graph below, tracking along with the two-party preferred vote.

Australians Views on Climate Change

Graphic: Polling of Australian attitudes to climate change, including two-party preferred polling numbers. Graph by Alex White. Poll numbers by Essential Research.


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