The importance of being a “greenie”

The Australian case

, by Matteo Manfredini

The importance of being a “greenie”

Some days ago the Australian people chose a new path, which the newly elected leader Mr. Kevin Rudd calls „The new Era of Australia“. The former Prime Minister, Mr. John Howard, was elected in 1996 and re-elected in 1998, 2001 and 2004. He is the second longest-serving Prime Minister of Australia. In his era Mr. Howard achieved several targets and lead Australia into a rising and strong economy. Unemployment is barely 4%, growth of the GDP in 2007 is 3.8%, while inflation stands at 2.7%.

We can argue over those numbers (e.g. the way in which they have been calculated) but the condition of the state is clearly good and prosperous. The export in 2006 was 117 billion of dollars. Its Human Development Index is 0.957, the third in the world. The public revenues from 2005 to 2006 were amounted to a total of 195.661 USD and we have to consider that its population is just 21 million.

Economic success...

The merit of these achievements is also thanks to reforms that Mr. Howard did, like the deregulation of numerous industries and the privatisation of many of the pre-existing monopolies. Telstra, the biggest Australian telecommunications and media company, was privatised in 2006. The Australian Government has funded scientific research and development through university and through join ventures between the public and private sector.

So why have they chosen a new path? Why not carry on with those policies of development and prosperity? Why have they dismissed, as the Economist said: “one of the most successful conservative premierships of recent years“?

Analysts argue about it. Some say Howard was simply in power for too long, others that the fault was of Howard´s tax policy over the last months. Maybe both considerations above are right but we should consider one important component.

...environmental disaster

In the last few years Australia has also held another record, to be the world’s first country in per capita carbon dioxide emissions. It goes without saying that Howard did not sign the Kyoto protocol. Despite its development, Australia is the first to suffer from the global warming and from the greenhouse effect. This is due to the country’s geographical position on our planet Earth and due to its sensitive ecosystem.

Talking about economics, development, welfare, is still relevant of course, but after Australian elections no one can think to win an electoral campaign setting aside environment policies and forgetting to talk about renewable energy.

Maybe Howard’s premiership was particularly unlucky, it is possible, but nothing happens by mere chance: from 2002 to 2006 Eastern and Southern Australia experienced widespread drought, with agricultural production in 2006-07 expected to be at the lowest level since 1994-95. In mid-January 2003, extreme weather conditions led to multiple outbreaks of fire in Namadgi National Park to the South of Canberra. The Far North Queensland coast was declared a natural disaster zone after the severe impact of the tropical Cyclone Larry on March 2006.

That is just to mention the most intensive disasters that hit Australia during the past twelve years. It leaves out the floods and the storms that each year strike the continent, and the process of desertification that force farmers to leave their once-green fields.

During the electoral campaign the proposals of Mr. Rudd were clear. Last November in Queensland he promised 200 million AUD (184 million USD) to save the Great Barrier Reef from more environmental damages. He talked about electricity from wind, solar and other renewable energy and at the same time Howard was talking about nuclear power (in Australia there aren’t any nuclear stations at the moment) to solve the problem of providing energy.

Mr. Rudd centralized his campaign on environmental and green matters, on peace matters (the other big promise was to get Australian troops out from the Iraq deadlock), on giving strategies, in talking about the future. While conservatives were showing the successes that they had achieved in terms of economic growth. The counting of the ballots is not finished yet, but probably it will be the highest labour victory ever.

After the election, in one of his first public speeches as the new Head of Government, Mr. Rudd stated to having accepted the Indonesian President’s, Mr Yudhoyono, invitation to attend a United Nations conference on climate change in Bali during December, where he will announce Australia’s intention to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

So what does it mean?

I think that the Australian poll is a turning point in our history, a milestone. Now all the leaders of the world, present leaders, but above of all future leaders have been warned. They are conscious that if they want to rule their country, especially in a democratic regime, they must bear in mind this sensitive and fundamental subject: the environment. As I said before, in Australia it has happened in advance because of its geographical position but no nation will be immune to this process.

Talking about economics, development, welfare, is still relevant of course, but after Australian elections no one can think to win an electoral campaign setting aside environment policies and forgetting to talk about renewable energy. It is silly to wait until natural catastrophes will strike Europe before making up our minds. Because it is going to happen, the article published on in titled: “Torrid Climate” explains why, how and when. It is a matter that we must take seriously.

Mr. Rudd has been voted especially by young people. That’s why they voted an environmentalist, or as they say in Australia - a greenie.

Image: Kevin Rudd (cc) Getty Images: Ian Waldie; source: Google Images

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