San Francisco -- There are a lot of logical reasons for Australia -- along with Canada -- to resist joining the world effort to find solutions to global warming. Australia is a major exporter of coal to China and, except for Canada with its tar sands potential, is the one industrial nation most dependent on producing carbon-based fuels. (It's U.S. opposition that has made no logical sense at all; that's all been ideological.) But Australia, because of its highly marginal water supplies, may also be the industrial nation most at risk from climate change -- Canada's north is at huge risk, but its agricultural regions may actually be among the climatic winners. For years, Australia held on as America's strongest anti-Kyoto ally (along with Persian Gulf oil producers).
Al Gore has been telling me for the past twelve months that the next general election Down Under would produce a revolution in Australia's attitude towards global warming, and that the election was going to be fought on global warming as a major issue. You could see the signs that Gore was right in March when Sydney became the first city in the world to shut off its lights for an hour as a gesture of concern about global warming.
Last Saturday's general election produced the revolution Gore had promised -- George Bush's strongest remaining ally in the world, Liberal Party Prime Minister John Howard, was swept from power in the first major national election anywhere substantially determined by policy on global warming. Incoming Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd made climate change his top priority within hours of Howard's concession, announcing that he would attend the December U.N. climate summit in Bali.
The question now is whether the Australian election is a harbinger of the role global warming will play in the U.S elections next November -- certainly there's now a bigger opening than ever for a U.S. Presidential candidate to offer a big vision of hope and action -- and to make global warming one of the issues that enables America to rejoin the world.